You'd think that with the No. 14 overall pick, this year's first-round selection for the Patriots would be easier to peg than in other years when they've picked late on Thursday night of NFL Draft weekend.
Not so much.
Given the dearth of blue-chip talent in this year's class, and given the uncertainty surrounding some of the top players at positions of need in New England -- offensive tackle, receiver, cornerback -- this has been as confounding a year as any to try to decipher their leanings.
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Of course, you could say it's always difficult trying to climb inside the mind of Bill Belichick. True. But at least last year -- the height of a first-round no-one-saw-that-coming selection at One Patriot Place -- folks had a good idea of which position the Patriots would be targeting. They needed a guard. They took a guard. It was just that no one thought that guard would be Cole Strange.
The scenarios I could see unfolding? Stay at No. 14 and address one of those glaring needs. Because the receiver class is not strong with top-end boundary talent -- which I believe the Patriots are thirsty for -- my guess is that a stick-and-pick scenario would result in either a corner or tackle.
New England Patriots
If either Devon Witherspoon of Illinois or Christian Gonzalez of Oregon -- the two consensus top corners in the class -- are there? Home run. If they're not, things get... a little dicey.
SEC offensive tackles Broderick Jones of Georgia and Darnell Wright of Tennessee could be available, but I've heard from coaches and front-office personnel that both aren't exactly surefire fits in Foxboro from a football character standpoint. Especially along the offensive line, where effort and work ethic are critical.
Late in the first round, could Belichick accept those types of traits -- which an offensive line coach described to me in the cases of both Wright and Jones as "not horrendous" but noteworthy -- and bring 'em into his program? Perhaps. But at No. 14? That might be a tough sell.
"Character (questions) at that position is scary as (expletive)," an NFC offensive coordinator told me. "You really shouldn't have to deal with it there."
The Patriots, as their followers know by now, could always try to trade back.
They made somewhat drastic moves down the board in 2013 and 2020 in order to pick up extra selections, dropping out of the first round entirely in those years. They moved down 23 spots in 2013 to eventually take Jamie Collins at No. 52 overall in what was a talent-deficient first round in hindsight. They moved down 14 spots in 2020 to take another high-end athlete from a smaller program (like Collins) in Division II safety Kyle Dugger.
A similar move could be in the offing this year if the Patriots feel they are out of the range of impact players at positions of need in the middle of the first round. Add picks. Take more chances. Go to work on Day 2.
But that doesn't happen here. They stick and pick. They make their team better. And they make Belichick happy with a modern-day athlete who fits an old-school paradigm at a premium position.
Without further adieu, here's our final mock of draft season. We'll roll through all Round 1 picks, and then fill out the rest of the Patriots picks on Days 2 and 3 to see how they can fill out their roster with program fits.
1. Carolina Panthers (from Chicago Bears): Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
Don't overthink it. Bryce Young may be pint-sized, but he has big-time ability at the game's most important position.
2. Houston Texans: Tyree Wilson, ED, Texas Tech
Wilson coming off the board at No. 2 overall is indicative of the uncertain nature of this entire first round. He's an immense talent off the edge. But he has production questions and injury questions that could cause him to slide.
3. Arizona Cardinals: Paris Johnson, OT, Ohio State
Will Anderson of Alabama has been the chalk pick here, but I've heard concerns about his game translating to the NFL level, because for a player who doesn't have overwhelming size, he was very reliant on his strength at the college level. Johnson is the cleanest tackle in the class from a physical and mental standpoint.
4. Indianapolis Colts: CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State
S2 test be damned. Jim Irsay wants a quarterback. He gets an accurate one here in Stroud.
5. Seattle Seahawks (from Denver Broncos): Will Anderson, ED, Alabama
Pete Carroll will gladly pick up the safe-bet help for his front four, even if Anderson might not be an eventual All-Pro.
6. Detroit Lions (from Los Angeles Rams): Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
For a team interested in kneecap-biters, Witherspoon fits. He's the most aggressive and instinctive corner in the class. Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn will be thrilled.
7. Las Vegas Raiders: Peter Skoronski, OL, Northwestern
For a team wanting program fits, there may be none better than Skoronski. Try him at tackle. If it doesn't work out, coaches in the league believe he could be an elite-level guard.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
When the draft is short on blue-chippers... when you're a team in need of blue-chip talent anywhere...
9. Chicago Bears (from Panthers): Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
Talk about needing capable players. That's Chicago. They get a very capable one, if not completely immaculate one in terms of his makeup, in this one-year wonder from the SEC.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (from New Orleans Saints): Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia
The slide stops here as Howie Roseman takes advantage of a strong culture and core of leaders in Philly to bring aboard the biggest question mark in the draft.
11. Tennessee Titans: Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
Wright doesn't have to go far to land at his new locale. What he did to Anderson and LSU's BJ Ojulari last season will impress Mike Vrabel, who understands how vital it is to see a player dominate top competition when given the opportunity at the college level.
12. Houston Texans: Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
No quarterback here? They could go with Hendon Hooker, who could have a strong grade in a Nick Caserio-led front office. Instead they can't pass on a top-flight corner. They're rebuilding whether they add a quarterback or not. And with Gonzalez along with last year's top draft pick at corner, Derek Stingley, this secondary looks formidable.
13. Green Bay Packers (from New York Jets): Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
As Anthony Richardson and Will Levis fall, the Packers snag a weapon for their new quarterback, Jordan Love. Smith-Njigba isn't the favorite receiver in this class for all teams, but his savvy and short-area quickness appear to make him one of the safest bets at this spot.
14. New England Patriots: Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
The top-four tackles are off the board. Ditto for the top-two corners. Smith-Njigba might've been an enticing option had he fallen to No. 14, but the Aaron Rodgers trade leapfrogged the weapon-needy Packers ahead of the Patriots and eliminated that possibility.
No matter. I believe Banks is a very realistic option for the Patriots at this spot. He's a ridiculous athlete (4.35-second 40, 42-inch vertical). He has real size, which the Patriots desperately need at this position (6-feet, 197 pounds). He can play in a variety of coverages, as he showed while with the Terps.
He can hold his own against top-flight competition, which he proved against Ohio State phenom Marvin Harrison Jr. last year. He's confident. He'll play on special teams -- he saw time at gunner, played on Maryland's kickoff unit and blocked a point-after attempt last season -- which you know the Patriots will weigh.
He's a little handsy (eight penalties in 2022). And he's not the best tracker of the football in this year's class. But he has just about everything Belichick usually wants in this position.
For instance, physicality. Right near the top of the list of critical characteristics for the Patriots at this position is tackling. And Banks ain't afraid. He'll quickly provide support in the run game, and he knows how to get ball-carriers on the ground (he only missed one tackle last year, per Pro Football Focus).
That piece to Banks' game -- emphasized by Belichick back in the 1990s and emphasized to us by Devin McCourty on Next Pats recently -- could make him too enticing to pass up here. Belichick would also have to be aware that if he does pass on Banks and trades down, the Steelers may pounce on him at No. 17.
It's a deep corner position, but no one else in the class has the profile Banks does. Big. Twitchy. Fast. Physical. And in this scenario he may be the last player worthy of this No. 14 overall slot. The receiver can come later. Who knows? Maybe there's even a tackle who makes sense in the second round.
Worry about that later. Get the impact player now.
15. New York Jets (from Packers): Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma
There are league evaluators who like Harrison's tape better than that of Wright or Jones. The argument is he's a better athlete with higher upside as a pass protector. With Rodgers now in the fold, pass protection obviously becomes paramount.
16. Washington Commanders: Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
Big changes happening in DC. What better way to usher in a new era of Washington football than by bringing in an uber talent at the quarterback position?
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
Too perfect? Maybe. Porter isn't the most fluid athlete -- which is why I think the Patriots would pass on him in favor of Banks -- but he has unbelievable length and he's excellent at the catch point. Add to that the Porter family lineage in Pittsburgh, and I'm going to go ahead and say that this has to happen. Has to.
18. Detroit Lions: Calijah Kancey, DT, Pitt
It wouldn't stun me if Kancey went earlier than this. But if he makes it this far, it would stun me if the Lions passed. They need defensive upgrades. They already got one at corner in this mock. Now they get a potential force as an interior pass-rusher. Not a bad Day 1 haul.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Lukas Van Ness, ED, Iowa
The Bucs and general manager Jason Licht are in full-on rebuild mode. This pick would represent the kind of down-the-middle-of-the-fairway selection at a critical position this franchise could use right now.
20. Seattle Seahawks: Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee
Now we're having some fun. Geno Smith is around, but he won't be forever. Hooker, coming off an ACL tear, will need some time -- both to get healthy and to learn the pro game after playing in a wonky college offense at Tennessee. But his leadership traits and sound mechanics could coax Pete Carroll to make this move.
Levis continues to slide after what has been a bumpy pre-draft process.
*22. Los Angeles Chargers: Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
Speed and versatility for Justin Herbert. Yes and yes. One of the most talented quarterbacks in the game today, Herbert could use an infusion of dynamism. That's Flowers.
*The Miami Dolphins forfeited the No. 21 overall selection as punishment for tampering with Tom Brady.
23. Ravens: Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State
Could I see the Patriots moving down and taking Forbes? I could. He's everything they want in a corner. Except that he weighs 166 pounds.
He's a willing tackler, which is good. But there are going to be moments when Patriots corners are left alone in the flat with a running back, and at Forbes' size that could be a problem. They already have a slender cover man in Jack Jones. Having two could pose them problems.
24. Minnesota Vikings: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
Levis finally finds a home in Minnesota, where they're likely itching to get out of the Kirk Cousins Era.
He has every trait. He may have been worthy of a trade up. But the analytically-minded front-office for the Vikings stands pat, holding onto their other picks, and it ends up paying off.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars: Brian Branch, DB, Alabama
The Jags, like most others, aren't enamored with this draft class. But they need help on the defensive side. And Branch is the kind of pure football talent -- even if he's not an otherworldly athlete -- Doug Pederson would gladly welcome aboard here.
26. New York Giants: Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah
Kincaid has been medically cleared by his doctors, but that doesn't mean there won't be teams who steer clear because of his injury history (back). The Giants are OK with the risk at this point in the first round, landing the player who may be the most talented pass-catcher available in this crop.
27. Dallas Cowboys: Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
Jerry Jones has to be thrilled. Jason Witten vibes here. A do-it-all option, Mayer won't be as dynamic after the catch as Kincaid, but his value in Dallas will be in his versatility.
28. Buffalo Bills: Jordan Addison, WR, USC
The Bills could use a true slot to play alongside Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis. Addison has the route-running ability to align anywhere and win, but his size may force him into the slot, where he'll be protected from jams at the line of scrimmage.
29. Cincinnati Bengals: Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama
Scary pairing here. Joe Burrow is smart enough to know when he needs to check it down. Imagine those checkdowns going to a back with sure hands and 4.36-second speed?
30. New Orleans Saints (via San Francisco 49ers): Myles Murphy, DE, Clemson
This just feels like a Saints pick. Murphy is the kind of power end who has some Cameron Jordan to his game. He's a little unrefined. But he's a high-motor player with rare physical gifts.
31. Philadelphia Eagles: Nolan Smith, ED, Georgia
The Eagles are going to scare some opposing offensive lines next year with what they have up front on the defensive side. First they add Carter. Now they get Carter's teammate, who is on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to football character and off-the-field concerns
32. Kansas City Chiefs: Jaylin Hyatt, WR, Tennessee
The Chiefs had to become a more dink-and-dunk offense last year when their opponents played deep and forced Patrick Mahomes to pick them apart. If there's now a league-wide reaction to that adjustment to Mahomes' game -- if teams say they don't want to be killed by the MVP's paper-cut approach -- then Hyatt is the kind of talented deep threat who can make them pay.
Patriots' Day 2 and Day 3 selections
No. 46 overall: Matthew Bergeron, OT, Syracuse
Football character through the roof. Bergeron has fans across the NFL. They just aren't sure his tape is first-round caliber. If the Patriots can land a "smart, tough and athletic enough" tackle prospect in the second round, that's a steal.
No. 76 overall: Michael Wilson, WR, Stanford
Here's another player who will fill a need for the Patriots while also helping steer the culture in the direction Bill Belichick wants. While he isn't the most dynamic wideout in the class, and while he has a troublesome injury history, Wilson is great off the line of scrimmage and he has the kind of size (6-foot-2, 213 pounds) that is rare in this year's draft.
If the Patriots can't get Jonathan Mingo of Ole Miss in the second round -- perhaps by trading up? -- then Wilson is an excellent consolation prize.
No. 107 overall: Luke Schoonmaker, TE, Michigan
In the deepest tight end draft in recent memory, there's no way Bill Belichick leaves the weekend without one. Right? Schoonmaker is one of the top true "Y" options as an in-line blocker with the kind of athleticism necessary to threaten the seam.
No Darnell Washington from Georgia? No Tucker Kraft from South Dakota State? Schoonmaker makes all kinds of sense as their guy.
No. 117 overall: Jon Gaines, OL, UCLA
Smart. Versatile. Played for Chip Kelly, a pal of Belichick's, at UCLA. He's a fit as a super sub with tremendous athleticism for a big guy. Gaines' closest height-weight-speed comps on Mockdraftable.com are Joe Thuney, Rashawn Slater and Joel Bitonio -- all next-level athletes on the line.
No. 135 overall: Eric Gray, RB, Oklahoma
Gray emerged as one of the best pass-catching back options for the Patriots in this class after we had a long Next Pats conversation with James White. Pass protection matters so much in that role that it could be what lands Gray in Foxboro.
He's willing. He's smart. He has loads of experience as a receiving back and as a between-the-tackles option. His profile is similar to White's when White was drafted out of Wisconsin in 2014.
No. 184 overall: Clayton Tune, QB, Houston
A three-time captain who is willing to stand behind center and read the field, Tune was an easy choice for our Prototypical Patriots series this year. He has enough arm to dial up the RPMs when needed, and he's an excellent athlete at the position.
Perhaps he can give them a little more off-script action in practice as the "look team" quarterback -- their defense sees athletic quarterbacks every week, so it's not a bad idea -- as he develops and potentially turns into something more.
No. 187 overall: Tyrus Wheat, ED, Mississippi State
After a strong Shrine Bowl performance for the Patriots coaching staff out in Vegas, Wheat should be on our radars as a Day 3 possibility. At 6-foot-2, 268 pounds, he's solidly built and capable of playing the run. But he also has some quick twitch to his game, which helped him rack up 18.5 sacks in 33 starts in the SEC over the course of his career.
The Patriots have been in on top-end pass-rushers during the pre-draft process. They don't get one in this mock scenario, but Wheat would help them add some depth at the outside linebacker spot.
No. 192 overall: Starling Thomas V, CB, UAB
Maybe I'm just a sucker for Roman numerals this year? No. It's not that. Promise. Thomas is an elite athlete (4.38-second 40 at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds) with the demeanor to play on special teams early in his career. He has a lengthy injury history, but at this stage of the draft that's a risk a team should be willing to take.
No. 210 overall: Brandon Hill, DB, Pitt
No punter. No kicker. Wouldn't expect the Patriots to take a player at either position in this year's draft. But that doesn't mean they won't be interested in special teamers late on draft weekend.
Hill is the kind of player special-teams coaches may be standing on the table for this year. He ran a 4.43-second 40 and a 4.12-second short shuttle at 5-foot-11, 194 pounds. And he's aggressive. Nice fourth-down fit here to wrap up this year's class.