With the first wave of NFL free agency complete, we now have a clearer picture of which positions the New England Patriots might prioritize in next month’s 2023 NFL Draft.
Without further ado, here’s our first crack at a post-free agency Patriots mock draft, which aims to address the team’s two most glaring needs in Rounds 1 and 2. Like our first mock, which was published March 7, this one does not include simulated trades.
The Patriots own 11 picks in all after acquiring a seventh-rounder in last week’s Jonnu Smith trade.
First round, No. 14 overall: CB Joey Porter Jr., Penn State
After re-signing Jonathan Jones, tendering Myles Bryant and cutting Jalen Mills, the top four players on New England’s cornerback depth chart all are 5-foot-11 or shorter. And the tallest of those (Jack Jones) is coming off a team-imposed suspension that put his standing with the franchise in question. Enter Porter, who stands 6-foot-2 with 34-inch arms and plays with the aggressiveness and physicality that New England typically looks for in its corners.
The son of ex-Steelers linebacker and noted Patriots hater Joey Porter, the younger Porter only had one interception in college but forced incompletions on 40% of his targets in 2022, per Pro Football Focus, the best mark by any Power Five cornerback.
To make this pick, the Patriots would need to be willing to buck tradition, as they’ve selected just one Round 1 corner during the Bill Belichick era — and later moved that player (Devin McCourty, 2010) to safety.
Second round, No. 46 overall: OT Dawand Jones, Ohio State
If the Patriots want to address their offensive tackle need on Day 1, Jones’ Ohio State teammate, Paris Johnson Jr., would be one potential target. But there’s plenty to like about Jones, too, who boasts an enormous 6-foot-8, 359-pound frame and was one of college football’s best pass protectors. A two-year starter at right tackle for the Buckeyes, he allowed zero sacks, zero quarterback hits and just five total pressures in 2022, per PFF, leading all FBS tackles in pressure rate.
The Patriots’ free agent moves at the position so far (adding Riley Reiff and Calvin Anderson; retaining Conor McDermott and Yodny Cajuste) were more about stabilizing that group than upgrading it, and projected starters Reiff and Trent Brown both are entering contract years.
Third round, No. 76 overall: WR Tyler Scott, Cincinnati
Compared to both Tyler Lockett and T.Y. Hilton during the pre-draft process, Scott was a big-play threat in college, averaging more than 16 yards per reception in each of the last two seasons and scoring 10 of his 14 collegiate touchdowns from 30-plus yards out. His 4.44-second 40-yard dash was slower than expected given his track background but still more than sufficient, and his vertical and broad jumps both ranked in the 89th percentile or better for receivers.
Scott would be the Patriots’ smallest receiver at 5-10, 177 pounds and could stand to improve his route-running, but he excels in run-after-catch situations as a former running back. Adding more YAC potential was a clear impetus for the Patriots’ decision to swap out Jakobi Meyers for JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Fourth round, No. 107 overall: S Jordan Battle, Alabama
If the Patriots are looking for an experienced, intelligent, versatile safety with an SEC pedigree, Battle could be on their radar in the middle rounds. He played in 54 games and was a three-year starter for Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide, rotating between deep safety, box safety and slot alignments. The Patriots don’t have an obvious internal replacement for the recently retired McCourty, and Battle logged nearly 600 snaps at that position in 2022, per PFF.
Fourth round, No. 117 overall: TE Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State
The Patriots made what should be an upgrade at tight end by dumping Smith and signing Mike Gesicki, but there’s still work to do at that spot. Gesicki essentially is a jumbo-sized receiver with minimal blocking ability, and he and Hunter Henry both are set to hit free agency next March. In Kraft, they’d be getting a well-rounded tight end who’s a smooth mover for his size (6-5, 254) and a raw but willing blocker. He’s also a former college teammate of 2022 Patriots draftee Pierre Strong.
Fourth round, No. 135 overall: LB Ivan Pace, Cincinnati
First things first: Pace is drastically undersized at 5-10 1/2, 231 pounds, and that makes him an odd fit for the Patriots, who’ve long preferred bigger ‘backers. But opponents were able to exploit New England’s lack of speed and playmaking ability at the second level in recent seasons, and Pace can provide that in spades.
After transferring in from Miami (Ohio), he racked up 137 tackles, 21 1/2 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in his lone season with the Bearcats, including a terrific 17-tackle, two-sack showing in Cincy’s bowl game at Fenway Park. A downhill terror, Pace led all off-ball linebackers in both run stops and total pressures in 2022, per PFF, which called him “one of the best blitzers you’ll ever see.” He followed that up with a standout showing at the Senior Bowl, which produces multiple Patriots picks in nearly every draft.
Sixth round, No. 184 overall: RB Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State
The knock on Vaughn is obvious, as very few 5-foot-6, 176-pound running backs have enjoyed successful NFL careers. But the Patriots haven’t cut bait with the unproductive J.J. Taylor despite his similarly tiny stature, and they’ve found gems in the past in slightly larger backs like Dion Lewis and Danny Woodhead. Vaughn was phenomenally productive at K-State (3,604 rushing yards, 34 touchdowns over three seasons), and his talents as a pass-catcher (40-plus receptions in 2021 and ’22) would fill a void in New England’s running back room.
The Patriots added some necessary backfield depth by signing veteran James Robinson, but he had less than 500 yards from scrimmage last season in his return from a torn Achilles. Strong and Kevin Harris also are unknown commodities after playing sparingly as rookies.
Sixth round, No. 187 overall: P Adam Korsak, Rutgers
The lone holdover from Mock Draft 1.0, Korsak looks like a natural fit for the Patriots, who no longer have any punters under contract after cutting Jake Bailey. The 25-year-old Australian won the Ray Guy Award as the best punter in college football, owns the NCAA records for career punts and punt yards, allowed -11 total return yards in 2022, was a three-year captain and played for a friend of Belichick in Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano.
Sixth round, No. 192 overall: K Jake Moody, Michigan
Yep, two specialists in a six-pick span. Unlike punter, kicker isn’t a glaring need for New England, but Nick Folk turns 39 in November and saw his effectiveness dip slightly in 2022. Moody starred for the Patriots-coached West Team at the East-West Shrine Bowl, going 4-for-4 on field goals with a pair of 51-yarders to earn co-MVP honors.
Sixth round, No. 210 overall: LB Mohamoud Diabate, Utah
Patriots coaches reportedly “singled out” Diabate when listing their top performers from Shrine Bowl week. He started 29 games and played in 49 across stints at Florida and Utah, and he has the ability to play either off the ball or on the edge. The Patriots drafted at least one linebacker in Round 5 or 6 in five of the last eight years.
Seventh round, No. 245 overall: CB Nic Jones, Ball State
Jones isn’t as tall and long as Porter, but the 6-foot, 189-pounder would add size and ball skills to New England’s lilliputian collection of cornerbacks. He played well for the Patriots’ Shrine Bowl squad and was an asset on special teams in college, blocking one kick and one punt in his career.