Mel Kiper Jr.’s First 2017 NFL Mock Draft Has Patriots Taking Alabama Tight End

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The New England Patriots aren’t putting their primary focus on the 2017 NFL Draft just yet, but it’s not too early to look at which players Bill Belichick could target in the first round.

ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has released his first mock draft of the season (ESPN Insider account required), and he has the Patriots selecting Alabama tight end O.J. Howard with the 32nd overall pick.

“Howard, my top-ranked tight end, had only seven touchdowns in his four-year career, but three came in national title games,” Kiper wrote. “The Crimson Tide didn’t use Howard (6-6, 250) much in the passing game, and he could be more productive in the NFL.

“He can stretch the deep middle of the field and be a dynamic weapon. New England’s No. 2 tight end, Martellus Bennett, could get a big deal in free agency this offseason, and it’s too early to tell how Rob Gronkowski’s back injury will heal. Another tight end to keep an eye on here: David Njoku, a talented and athletic guy from Miami (Florida) who had a great junior season.”

Howard caught 45 passes for 595 yards and three touchdowns. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “exceptional,” ESPN rates his production a 2, height-weight speed a 1, durability a 2 and intangibles a 1.

The Patriots love to use two-tight end sets on offense, but Gronkowski’s injury history has thrown a wrench into that plan in recent seasons. Drafting another talented tight end from a winning program with excellent coaching isn’t a bad idea for the Patriots.

Belichick also has selected four Alabama players in the last seven drafts.

Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images

Thumbnail photo via Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide tight end O.J. Howard (88) in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game against the Clemson Tigers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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