The New England Patriots must like their multitude of options in the 2014 NFL draft.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots can move up, trade back or stay put at No. 29 overall, since they can choose between a running back, wide receiver, tight end, offensive lineman, defensive lineman, linebacker or safety to draft with their first pick. There’s no clear No. 1 need, but there are a ton of holes to fill on the depth chart.
Trading back allows the Patriots to acquire more picks to fill almost all of their needs. The Patriots don’t come away with a wide receiver in this seven-round mock draft, so they’ll have to hope the tight end that they trade down for can coexist with Rob Gronkowski.
Check out how the Patriots’ 2014 draft could go down.
Round 1, pick No. 29: Trade with Minnesota Vikings
It makes sense to trade down in such a deep draft, especially since teams like the Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars might want to trade up for a quarterback. In this deal, the Patriots are trading their first- (No. 29) and fourth-round (No. 130) draft picks for the Vikings’ second- (No. 40), third- (No. 96) and fifth-round (No. 148) choices.
Round 2, pick No. 40 (from Vikings): Austin Seferian-Jenkins, tight end, Washington
If the Patriots want Seferian-Jenkins, Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro or Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas, they probably will have to pull the trigger early. Those three players might not be available at No. 62 overall.
Seferian-Jenkins is the most complete and NFL-ready of those three tight ends. He ran a 4.56-second 40-yard dash with a 37.5-inch vertical leap when he tried out for the New York Jets on Friday. The 2013 Mackey Award winner is big, he can block and he has a basketball background.
Round 2, pick No. 62: Dominique Easley, defensive tackle, Florida
It might seem like wishful thinking for Easley to be available at No. 62 overall, but he’s ranked below 62 in ESPN’s, CBS’ and NFL Media’s pre-draft rankings. Easley is a versatile lineman who could add a spark to the Patriots’ defensive line. He tore ACLs in both knees at Florida, but he impressed at his individual pro day.
Round 3, pick No. 93: Charles Sims, running back, West Virginia
The Patriots need to draft another running back early in this year’s draft, since Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are entering contract years. Ridley also lost his starting job last season after dealing with fumbling issues. That could happen again in 2014 if Ridley can’t hold onto the ball.
Sims is considered the best receiver out of the backfield in this year’s running back crop. He had 45 catches for 401 yards with three touchdowns with 208 rushing attempts for 1,095 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013.
Round 3, pick No. 96 (from Vikings): Christian Kirksey, linebacker, Iowa
The Patriots either need to add a coverage linebacker, or a player who can contribute as a pass rusher early in the draft. Kirksey flls the former role as an athletic linebacker who can drop back into coverage. He also has the size — 6-foot-2, 233 pounds — to cover tight ends and running backs one-on-one.
He ran a 4.58-second 40-yard dash at this pro day.
Round 4, pick No. 130: Trade
Round 4, pick No. 140: Wesley Johnson, center, Vanderbilt
Bill Belichick spent some extra time with Vanderbilt prospects before he ran a half marathon in Nashville this weekend. He individually worked out Johnson, safety Kenny Ladler, cornerback Andre Hal, wide receiver Jordan Matthews and kicker Casey Spear. As Yahoo!’s Eric Edholm wrote on Monday, expect one of those players to be wearing Patriots red, blue and silver after the draft.
Round 5, pick No. 148 (from Vikings): Brock Vereen, safety, Minnesota
If that last name looks familiar, it should — Brock’s older brother, Shane, plays running back for the Patriots. The younger Vereen has been moving up draft boards since an impressive NFL Scouting Combine, where he ran a 4.47-second 40-yards dash, 4.07-second short shuttle and 6.90-second three-cone drill. Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon are the only locks among Patriots safeties to make the 53-man roster, so more depth and competition at the position could be valuable.
Round 6, pick No. 198: Connor Shaw, quarterback, South Carolina
Shaw had a great 2013 season, and it seems like the only reason he’s being rated as a seventh-round pick or lower is because of his size (6 feet, 206 pounds) and the fact that he started his college career as a game manager. Shaw has great athleticism (4.66-second 40-yard dash, 4.33-second short shuttle and 7.07-second three-cone drill), and he proved he could make more difficult throws as a senior.
Shaw improved his decision-making as a senior, as well, throwing just one interception.
Round 6, pick No. 206: Michael Sam, defensive end, Missouri
The Patriots could use some depth at defensive end, and they reportedly were one of six teams showing the most interest in the first openly-gay NFL draft prospect.
Round 7, pick No. 244: Bennett Jackson, cornerback, Notre Dame
Jackson fits the mold of a Patriots cornerback, and we had to fit at least one Brian Kelly-coached player in this mock draft. The Patriots will need depth at cornerback while Brandon Browner serves his suspension.