The 2023 NFL Draft begins with the first round Thursday night in Kansas City, and it's hard to understate the importance of this event for the New England Patriots.
The Patriots want to get back to the playoffs ASAP after failing to qualify in 2022. This challenge just got much tougher after Monday's trade that sent future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers to the New York Jets. All of a sudden, the Patriots are now the favorites to finish last in the AFC East -- something that hasn't happened since 2000 (Tom Brady's rookie year!).
It's for this reason -- and several others -- that the Patriots are under immense pressure to hit a home run with the No. 14 pick in the first round. They need an impact player at a premium position -- wide receiver, offensive tackle, cornerback, etc. -- who can contribute right away.
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Which names should Patriots fans keep their eyes on as the last few days before the draft wind down? Our Patriots insider Phil Perry and Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer discussed this topic (and many others) on the latest episode of the Next Pats Podcast.
"Are there any names that you're hearing late in the process here that are picking up some steam? I'll give you one," Perry said. "Just at this other position that we haven't talked about yet -- we talked corners and tackles -- at receiver, and I've been kicking around some names here, too. Quentin Johnston, who's been with us on the podcast this offseason, would he be a fit in New England? The feedback that I've gotten is maybe not.
New England Patriots
"It might take him a while to kind of adjust to the pro game and what they'd be throwing at him here in terms of workload and information and everything else. Zay Flowers, people love him. He just is what he is, a little bit smaller. The name that I've heard quite a bit is Jonathan Mingo from Ole Miss because he's a bigger body player in a draft class that doesn't have a lot of bigger-bodied receivers. He interviewed out of the park, from the Scouting Combine, even a little bit before that at the Senior Bowl. And so it kind of sounds like a Patriots-type to me, and I think they'd be looking specifically for somebody to play with some size outside the numbers, picking up JuJu (Smith-Schuster) to play in the slot. I guess I should ask if you have any thoughts on Mingo, but if there's any other names here and that makes sense for the Patriots."
Breer noted Mingo and North Carolina's Josh Downs both could make sense for the Patriots on Day 2.
"I think Mingo is one of those guys like -- I think Josh Downs is sort of in this category, too, the receiver from North Carolina, where if you're a team that needs a receiver, are you better off waiting to Day 2? If you think guys like that are going to be available to you on Day 2, are you better off waiting? The history, if you actually look at it, the history of Day 2 receivers is pretty good.
"You look back at the 2019 draft and, again, this is PTSD for all the Patriots fans listening because that's N'Keal Harry, but the guys in the second and third round that year were D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown, Terry McLaurin and Deebo Samuel. If you go further back, you can find guys like Michael Thomas in the second round who wound up becoming better than the guys who were taken in front of them. I think it's a position that's a little harder to project. And so I think that there is some merit to the idea of waiting on a Jonathan Mingo or a Josh Downs who might be available in the second round."
Breer also had a few other players of interest.
"There are a couple of names I would throw at you. One is Deonte Banks from Maryland, who's wildly talented and is apparently a really good kid. I think he could wind up going in the mid-first round. I have him right now going to Pittsburgh. I think Pittsburgh might trade up for a tackle. And that's one thing Patriots people might want to keep an eye on -- could the Packers move back to draft at 17 and the Steelers try to jump the Patriots to take a tackle there at 13? I had Deonte Banks to the Steelers, though, because he was in the same recruiting class at Maryland as Mike Tomlin's son. I think he's a good kid. He's athletically really, really strong. He is a guy who's already a good player who's got a ceiling to get even better. So he'd be one."
What about a running back? A lot of the debate is focused on Texas running back Bijan Robinson, but Alabama star Jahmyr Gibbs has a bright future, too.
"I think the cat's out of the bag on Jahmyr Gibbs already. Enough people are talking about him. But if you want to talk about him, the way he's described to me is a faster but less shifty Alvin Kamara, If you watch him, and I'm no scout, but I can see how he pulls away from people in the open field. He's a pretty exciting guy to watch, obviously. Bill O'Brien coached him last year at 'Bama and he'd be a really interesting guy for the Patriots. I just think he's going to wind up going between their picks, you know what I mean? So they're probably not going to have a shot at him.
"The other guy who is sort of fascinating to me is the Pitt defensive tackle, Calijah Kancey. I think he goes in the bottom of the first round somewhere, but the defensive tackle class is so light, and somebody's going to take a chance on Jalen Carter in the top 10. And then I think you have Kancey after. He's not going to be for everybody and probably wouldn't fit the Patriots because he's smaller. ... But he's one that I sort of have on my radar that he could wind up going higher than people think because he's a good player, but also because after you get past him and Carter, it's kind of thin when it comes to true defensive tackles."
Also in this episode: Perry and Breer discuss whether the Patriots should trade up in Ronud 1, and Perry breaks down his final mock draft. Subscribe to the Next Pats Podcast or watch on YouTube below.