It’s a strange year to evaluate NFL draft prospects.
Without pro days — most of which were canceled out of caution because of the coronavirus pandemic — a plethora of data on this year’s prospect class simply doesn’t exist. We typically identify New England Patriots prospects by testing numbers. But many of those measurables aren’t available this spring.
In some ways, it’s simplified and opened up the process of picking out draft fits. The lack of data only eliminates certain prospects who tested poorly. With more time at home, we’ve frequently been running mock drafts on Fanspeak’s simulator. These are the players we find ourselves picking over and over again.
OLB Zack Baun, Wisconsin
The Patriots should have a chance to draft Baun with their 23rd overall pick. He’s a fringe first- or second-round pick, according to most draft sites. Baun is a versatile linebacker who can play on the line as an edge defender or off the line. He would perfectly fill the void left by Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins.
He produced well in 2019, collecting 12.5 sacks. He also tested well at 6-foot-2, 238 pounds, running a 4.65-second 40-yard dash with a 7-second 3-cone drill.
WR Denzel Mims, Baylor
Mims tested the best out of an extremely talented wide receiver class. He ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash with a 6.66-second 3-cone drill at 6-foot-3, 207 pounds. He’ll be a late-first or early-second round pick.
He caught 66 passes for 1,020 yards with 12 touchdowns as a senior at Baylor.
OT Ezra Cleveland, Boise State
The Patriots reportedly FaceTimed with Cleveland recently. He has ideal athleticism for an offensive tackle. At 6-foot-6, 311 pounds, he ran a 4.93-second 40-yard dash with a blazing 7.26-second 3-cone drill. He’s another late-first or early-second rounder.
Cleveland does have relatively short arms, so some teams might look to move him to guard.
OL Cesar Ruiz, Michigan
Ruiz should be able to play guard or center in the NFL. The Patriots could need a center if David Andrews doesn’t get cleared after blood clots were found in his lungs last season.
Ruiz is undersized but super athletic, which fits in the mold of a Patriots interior offensive lineman.
TE Adam Trautman, Dayton
Trautman comes from a small FCS school, but he might have the best combination of athleticism and blocking prowess among tight end prospects. He’s 6-foot-5, 255 pounds and ran a 6.78-second 3-cone drill.
Trautman caught 14 touchdowns as a senior.
LB Malik Harrison, Ohio State
The Patriots like their big thumping linebackers who can blitz, and that’s what Harrison is at 6-foot-3, 247 pounds. He also tested very well with a 6.83-second 3-cone drill and 4.66-second 40-yard dash.
DT Davon Hamilton, Ohio State
If the Patriots want a big body who can two-gap in the middle rounds, Hamilton is their guy. He’s 6-foot-4, 320 pounds and won’t provide much as a pass rusher, but he’ll hold the point of attack and stuff the run.
QB Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma
First off, he’s a Nick Saban guy, which always helps. He’s also a good athlete, a proven winner, and he improved as a passer in 2019 at Oklahoma.
He could add a spark into the Patriots’ offense.
WR Lynn Bowden Jr., Kentucky
Bowden’s another guy who could add a spark. He played quarterback as a junior in 2019 when Kentucky was desperate under center. He’ll mostly serve as a slot receiver in the NFL who could do damage on options, jet sweeps and wildcat packages.
RB AJ Dillon, Boston College
New Englanders know him well from his BC playing days. He doesn’t have typical Patriots running back measurables, but here’s our thought process: The Patriots got torn up by Derrick Henry in the playoffs, and Dillon is the closest thing in the draft at 6-feet, 247 pounds.
He ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash with a crazy 41-inch vertical leap, 131-inch broad jump and 7.19-second 3-cone drill.
DE Derrek Tuszka, North Dakota State
Tuszka excelled at the FCS level with 13.5 sacks in 2019, but he proved he has the size and athleticism to translate to the NFL level at the combine when he ran a 4.79-second 40-yard dash and 6.87-second 3-cone at 6-foot-5, 251 pounds.
CB John Reid, Penn State
The Patriots love a cornerback who runs a sub-4.5 second 40-yard dash and sub-7 second 3-cone drill. That’s Reid, who projects in the slot at the next level.
S Josh Metellus, Michigan
Big, good athlete, sure tackler, versatile, he’s considered a late-round prospect, which means the Patriots will probably take him in the third round.
OL Jon Runyan, Michigan
Runyan played left tackle in college but doesn’t have the ideal size of his famous father, so he’ll probably switch to guard in the NFL. He’s a good athlete who would fit in the Patriots’ offense.
K Rodrigo Blankenship
He’s considered the best kicker in the draft, and that’s exactly what the Patriots need. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Patriots use their fourth- or fifth-round picks on a kicker.
Thumbnail photo via Vasha Hunt/USA TODAY Sports Images