With the 2023 NFL Draft now less than a month away, it’s time to roll out another seven-round New England Patriots mock draft.
Unlike versions 1.0 and 2.0, trades were fair game in this projection. We wound up moving up the board once and down twice, including an especially Belichickian deal on Day 3.
Without further ado:
TRADE: Nos. 14 and 187 to Los Angeles Chargers for Nos. 21, 85 and 125
First round, No. 21 overall: OT Darnell Wright, Tennessee
In this scenario, the offensive tackle Big Three of Peter Skoronski, Paris Johnson Jr. and Broderick Jones all were off the board. So, the Patriots trade down seven spots, pick up extra picks in Rounds 3 and 4, and still land a talented tackle whose draft stock seems to be soaring.
Wright is highly experienced (42 collegiate starts at three different positions), monstrously powerful as a run blocker, did not allow a sack last season and starred at the Senior Bowl, which is one of the Patriots’ favorite pre-draft scouting spots. The 6-foot-5, 333-pounder could push for a starting job as a rookie or learn behind Trent Brown and veteran newcomer Riley Reiff for a season. Brown and Reiff both are set to hit free agency next March, and both have lengthy injury histories.
TRADE: Nos. 46 and 135 to Tennessee for No. 41
Second round, No. 41 overall: CB Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State
Bill Belichick has a reputation as the trade-down king, but the Patriots actually traded up in the second round of each of the last five drafts. Here, they toss a late fourth-rounder to the Titans to move up five spots and grab one of the more intriguing cornerbacks in this year’s class.
Forbes, who reportedly has a visit scheduled with the Patriots, had 14 interceptions and six pick-sixes (!) over the last three seasons and is considered an excellent man-coverage player. At 6-foot-1, he’d also add some much-needed height to the Patriots’ short cornerback group. Forbes weighing in at only 166 pounds was a bit of a red flag, but New England didn’t value bulk when drafting corners last year (Marcus Jones and Jack Jones both were sub-175).
Third round, No. 76 overall: WR Jayden Reed, Michigan State
Reed wouldn’t be the No. 1 receiver many Patriots fans are clamoring for, but he’s a savvy route-runner and can play multiple receiver spots. He’s also better in contested-catch situations than you might expect from a 5-foot-11, 187-pound wideout. Twenty percent of his receptions in 2022 were contested, per PFF, and he drew 12 defensive pass interference penalties over the last two seasons.
Another big winner at the Senior Bowl, Reed would be a solid addition to New England’s new-look receiving corps.
Third round, No. 85 overall: DT Siaki Ika, Baylor
New England could use more depth along its D-line, and Ika would be a big addition. And we do mean big. Baylor listed him at 6-foot-4, 358 pounds, though he trimmed down to 335 by the NFL Scouting Combine.
Ika has the brute strength necessary to be that prototypical run-stuffing nose tackle — his player comp on his NFL.com draft profile is ex-Patriot Danny Shelton — but also showed surprising fluidity as a pass rusher, though his effectiveness in that area dipped in 2022.
Fourth round, No. 107 overall: S Ji’Ayir Brown, Penn State
Brown’s draft stock undoubtedly took a hit after he ran a 4.65-second 40-yard dash at the combine (later lowered to 4.57 at his pro day). But his total package should appeal to the Patriots as they look to patch the Devin McCourty-sized hole in their secondary.
Standing 5-foot-11, 203 pounds, Brown was a versatile ball hawk for the Nittany Lions, grabbing 10 interceptions over the last two seasons while rotating between deep safety, strong safety and slot alignments. He also packs a punch as a run defender, notched 4 1/2 sacks as a blitzer last season and was a team captain, checking an important box for a New England team that values leadership.
Fourth round, No. 117 overall: TE Luke Schoonmaker, Michigan
Mike Gesicki should add some pass-catching juice to the Patriots’ tight end room, but he’s essentially a jumbo-sized slot receiver with limited blocking ability. With Hunter Henry also ranking as one of PFF’s worst run-blocking tight ends in 2022 — and he and Gesicki both set to hit free agency next offseason — New England could use someone who can help out in that area.
Enter Schoonmaker, who’s considered one of the top blocking tight ends in this year’s class. He posted respectable numbers as a pass-catcher, too (35-418-3 in 12 games last season with a 78% catch rate), and played for a program that produced at least one Patriots pick in each of the last four drafts. Schoonmaker also was part of the team the Patriots coached at the 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl.
Fourth round, No. 125 overall: RB Eric Gray, Oklahoma
The Patriots drafted a running back in the third or fourth round in each of the last two years and three of the last four. But with every Patriots back outside of Rhamondre Stevenson carrying some sort of question mark into 2023 (injuries, inexperience, etc.), there’s room for another draftee in that group.
The 5-foot-10, 207-pound Gray is one of the more accomplished pass-catching backs in this year’s class, totaling 86 receptions with just two drops over the past three seasons, per PFF. Gray, who transferred to Oklahoma after Stevenson left for the NFL, also rushed for 1,366 yards (6.4 per carry) and 11 touchdowns last season.
TRADE: Nos. 192 and 210 to Arizona for No. 168
Fifth round, No. 168 overall: P Adam Korsak, Rutgers
Round 5 is where the Patriots traditionally have targeted specialists (Joe Cardona, Jake Bailey, Zoltan Mesko, Justin Rohrwasser). Here, they make an aggressive move for Bailey’s successor, sending a sixth and a seventh to Monti Ossenfort’s Cardinals to land Korsak. The 25-year-old Australian holds multiple NCAA punting records, was a three-year captain under Greg Schiano, played in the Senior Bowl and allowed -11 punt-return yards in 2022.
The Patriots signed punter Corliss Waitman last week, but he’s not a roster lock and shouldn’t prevent them from also drafting a player to challenge him.
Sixth round, No. 184 overall: WR Puka Nacua, BYU
Yet another Senior Bowl alum, Nacua said the Patriots are one of the teams with whom he’s had the most contact during the pre-draft process. He has good size (6-2, 201), quality route-running chops and the ball skills to make contested catches.
There’s dual-threat potential there with Nacua, too. After transferring from Washington, he carried 39 times for 357 yards in his two seasons at BYU — a healthy 9.2 yards-per-carry clip — and scored five rushing touchdowns in 2022.
Seventh round, No. 245 overall: FB/DE Derek Parish, Houston
The Patriots close out their draft with a freakishly athletic two-way project. Parish primarily was an edge rusher at Houston (against Texas Tech last season, he had 4 1/2 sacks and 6 1/2 tackles for loss) but plans to transition to fullback in the pros. He posted wide receiver-esque times at his pro day: 4.56-second 40, 6.76-second three-cone and 4.09-second short shuttle at 6 feet, 241 pounds.
Parish, who’s coming off a season-ending torn biceps, also was a team captain in college and won the Pat Tillman Award at the East-West Shrine Bowl, given to the player that “exemplifies intelligence, sportsmanship and service.” Sounds like a worthwhile late-round flier, even if his only contributions come on special teams.