Perfect Picks: New England Patriots
With the NFL Draft approaching we will be looking at each team and evaluating where they need to improve. In this particular series we will run a seven round mock using the Draft Network Mock machine and find the ‘Perfect Picks’ for each franchise.
We will highlight four players that could help each team. This will feature picks 1 and 2, a mid round gem and a late round sleeper.
2020 was a tough year for New England and Bill Belichick. The Patriots had the highest number of Covid opt-outs, with various defensive starters choosing not to play, and their offense was transitioning from Tom Brady to a game but limited Cam Newton. Not to mention Brady’s Super Bowl success in Tampa Bay, which had to sting.
It should be no surprise then that with a huge cap advantage relative to most of the rest of the league, the Patriots went on a free agency spending spree. A number of key spots were addressed, and it frees them up to have their way in the draft. There’s always a chance that the Pats look to trade up and get their QB of the future, but if not, here are my perfect picks selections for Belichick and company as they try to regroup and get on the offensive again in the post-Tom Brady era.
Round 1 - Pick 15 - DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Despite signing Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor, the Patriots would love to add young, cheap receiving talent to their offensive overhaul, especially as N’Keal Harry could well be on his way out. Smith is in the conversation as the best receiver in this class. If he falls to 15, it will be hard for New England to pass up the chance to add his intriguing blend of speed and versatility.
At Alabama, Smith lined up at numerous spots, excelling across the formation as both a Z and an X receiver. He had a monster 2020, catching 117 balls for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns, despite plenty of mouths to feed in the Crimson Tide offense including fellow likely first round pick Jalen Waddle. A fantastic route runner and a useful returner, he can contribute immediately on special teams, an area of the field Belichick has long focused on far more than other coaches.
Round 2 - Pick 46 - Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington
The Patriots could do all sorts of things in the second round but I love Onwuzurike, the defensive tackle out of Washington, at 46 overall. The Husky would be an immediate boost to a New England defensive interior which is, as always, bereft of big names. At 6’3”, 290lbs he’s big, but not so huge as to be pigeonholed in any one spot across the defensive line.
Belichick and his son, Stephen, who acts as a kind of joint DC alongside Jerod Mayo, both covet defensive versatility up front for their multiple look defensive scheme. Onwuzurike has the length to be an effective run stopper at the pro level, with the athleticism needed to rotate in and out and play different spots for the Pats.
Mid Round Gem - Pick 94 - Kenneth Gainwell, RB/WR, Memphis
As it stands, the Patriots have Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, James White, JJ Taylor and Damien Harris at running back. Nevertheless, there’s no guarantee that anyone after Michel, Harris or White makes the roster come September. So even though there’s a busy running back room in March, perhaps the Pats would take a chance on Kenneth Gainwell here as a dual threat rushing and pass catching option.
He has an intriguing skillset which isn’t just that of a running back. Similarly to Antonio Gibson, who flourished in Washington in his rookie year, Gainwell caught a lot of balls in Memphis (over 50 in 2019), but unlike Gibson he is a more polished feature back, rushing for 1,459 yards and 13 touchdowns in his sophomore season. Not to bang on about versatility, but Gainwell could absolutely operate in the slot as well as out of the backfield for New England, and even played QB in High School.
Late Round Sleeper - Pick 188 - Jack Anderson, iOL, Texas Tech
I’ve had my eye on Anderson as a potential starting NFL Guard for a while. The Patriots have a lot of late round picks (7 picks from 120 to the end of the draft) and is very likely to use at least one of them on a multi positional offensive lineman. Anderson is a huge, strong, versatile (sorry) guy, who can play center or guard. He had the choice of multiple blue chip colleges but wanted to start right away so chose Texas Tech over teams like LSU and Georgia, and has therefore gone under the radar a little. He also missed some time in 2019 due to a shoulder injury, which may have affected his draft stock too. I love Anderson here for the Patriots.
Draft In Full:
15. Devonta Smith, Alabama (WR)
46. Levi Onwuzurike, Washington (DT)
96. Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis (RB)
120. Israel Mukuamu, South Carolina (CB)
122. Dayo Odeyingbo, Vanderbilt (Edge)
139. James Wiggins, Cincinnati (S)
177. Marlon Williams, UCF (WR)
188. Jack Anderson, Texas (iOL)
197. Drew Himmelman, Illinois State (OT)
242. Marco Wilson, Florida (CB)