With the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine now complete, it’s time to roll out NESN.com’s first seven-round New England Patriots mock draft.
First, a few notes:
1. The Patriots’ draft needs could and almost certainly will evolve depending on which moves they make in free agency, which officially opens next Wednesday.
2. The NFL has yet to announce its compensatory draft picks, which are awarded to teams that lose more veteran free agents than they sign during the previous offseason. Those are tacked on to the end of Rounds 3-7, so the exact positioning of New England’s selections in those rounds is subject to change. Projected comp picks are marked with asterisks.
3. Though you can safely expect the Patriots to execute one or more draft-day trades to move up or down the board, we made this first mock draft trade-free. Those will be included in future editions as the 2023 NFL Draft (April 27-29) draws closer.
Now, with that preamble out of the way, let’s get to the picks, starting with one that would fill New England’s most glaring roster hole:
First round, 14th overall: OT Broderick Jones, Georgia
The thought of taking Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba crossed our minds here. But ultimately, we went with a pick that both addressed a more pressing weakness and more closely aligned with Bill Belichick’s traditional draft strategy, which always has favored solidifying the line of scrimmage in the opening round. Jones isn’t as experienced as your prototypical Patriots-drafted lineman with less than two seasons of college starting experience, but he’s powerful, mean and very athletic, running a 4.97-second 40-yard dash at 6-foot-5, 311 pounds. He’d be an ideal pupil for new O-line coach Adrian Klemm and projects as the franchise tackle New England needs. Trent Brown, Conor McDermott and Andrew Stueber are the only Patriots tackles currently under contract for 2023, and Brown has one year left on his deal.
Second round, 46th overall: WR Josh Downs, North Carolina
The Patriots will need a new primary slot receiver if Jakobi Meyers leaves in free agency, and there’s a lot to like about Downs. At just 5-foot-9, 171 pounds, he’d be a return to New England’s pre-Meyers slot preferences. Scouting reports rave about his footwork and athleticism, and he’s surprisingly effective in contested catch situations and in the red zone for a player his size. Downs also was phenomenally productive at UNC, averaging eight catches and nearly 100 yards per game over his final two seasons with 19 touchdowns. It would be unlike the Patriots to use high picks on wideouts in back-to-back years (Tyquan Thornton, 50th overall in 2022), but if they focus on a different position in Round 1, Downs would be a fascinating Day 2 target.
Third round, 76th overall: LB Jack Campbell, Iowa
If the Patriots are seeking an athletic off-the-ball linebacker who also boasts the size they’ve traditionally looked for at the position, Campbell’s their guy. He’s 6-foot-5, 249 pounds but isn’t an old-school plodder, running a slot receiver-esque 6.74-second three-cone drill while also testing well in both jumps. That skill set made Campbell an asset in the passing game, with Pro Football Focus grading him as the second-best coverage linebacker in college football this season. The Patriots received strong 2022 seasons out of Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai but still could use an upgrade at the position.
Fourth round, 107th overall: CB Julius Brents, Kansas State
At 6-foot-3, 198 pounds with 34-inch arms, Brents has garnered comparisons to another long, athletic young corner: Tariq Woolen, who finished third in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. Woolen lasted until the fifth round last year before Seattle grabbed him and made him an instant starter. Brents might wind up going higher than this after a stellar combine performance that saw him rank first among participating corners in the three-cone, short shuttle and broad jump and second in the vertical jump. Some teams, though, might be turned off by his nondescript 4.53-second 40, which could cause him to slip. He’d fill a need for New England, which lacked size and length at cornerback this season.
Fourth round, 117th overall: TE Sam LaPorta, Iowa
The latest in a long line of impressive Iowa tight ends (Dallas Clark, George Kittle, T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant), LaPorta is an athletic, versatile pass-catcher who was a chore to bring down in the open field. The 20 missed tackles he forced last season were the fifth-most by any college tight end since 2014, per PFF. Checking in at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, LaPorta isn’t an overpowering blocker and has some issues on contested catches, but he has difference-maker potential for a Patriots team that needs to get more out of its tight ends. New England also should start planning for the future there with Hunter Henry entering a contract year.
*Fourth round, 135th overall: S Jartavius Martin, Illinois
Martin and fellow Illini safety Sydney Brown both crushed their combine workouts with 40s in the 4.4 range, broad jumps around 11 feet and 40-plus-inch vertical jumps. We considered both players for this mock but gave the edge to Martin for his tackling ability. In addition to intercepting three passes and breaking up 11 more, he was one of the nation’s highest-graded tacklers by PFF this past season. Martin also checks several other Patriots boxes as a versatile, experienced player (55 collegiate appearances) who played for a former New England assistant in Illinois head coach Bret Bielema. NFL teams are split on where he should play, but he could be an eventual successor to Devin McCourty.
Sixth round, 184th overall: RB Evan Hull, Northwestern
Rhamondre Stevenson had to carry too much of New England’s backfield load this season, wearing him down as he led the team in both rushing yards and receptions. Hull offers proven pass-catching ability (88 receptions for 810 yards over his final two collegiate seasons) and was a productive rusher, too, averaging 5.0 yards per carry on some dreadful Northwestern teams. Hull had a solid combine showing and surely endeared himself to old-school football folks by finishing every one of his drills — including his 40-yard dash — in the end zone.
Sixth round, 187th overall: LB Isaiah Moore, North Carolina State
A player the Patriots reportedly “couldn’t stop raving” about at the 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl, Moore was a five-year starter and three-year captain at NC State. He has the leadership and football IQ that New England typically values in its second-level defenders. Think of the 6-foot-2, 233-pound inside ‘backer as a smaller Bentley, before the latter’s recent improvement as a coverage player. The Patriots also love drafting linebackers in Rounds 5 and 6. They did so in 2021, 2020, 2018 (twice), 2016 (twice) and 2015.
Sixth round, 192nd overall: P Adam Korsak, Rutgers
It’s unclear how the Patriots plan to proceed with Jake Bailey after his forgettable 2022 campaign ended with a team-imposed suspension. But if they’re looking to move on from the 2020 All-Pro, Korsak would be a natural target. Beyond the obvious Rutgers connection, the 25-year-old Australian won the Ray Guy Award as college football’s best punter, played in the Senior Bowl and allowed an almost-unbelievable -11 total return yards this season.
Sixth round, 210th overall: QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA
The Patriots selected a quarterback in four of the last five drafts, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them add another developmental option to learn behind Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe. Thompson-Robinson played for New England’s coaching staff at the Shrine Bowl and, by all accounts, was easily the most impressive QB in that all-star game. He’s highly experienced (48 collegiate starts), completed 69.6% of his passes in 2022 and, with more than 1,200 rushing yards and 21 rushing touchdowns over the last two seasons, brings a different skill set than the more pocket-bound Jones and Zappe.
*Seventh round, 258th overall: FB/TE Jack Colletto, Oregon State
Colletto played running back, linebacker and quarterback for the Beavers and won the 2022 Paul Hornung Award, given annually to the most versatile player in college football. The Patriots, who’ve always valued multipositional ability, employed three of the previous six Hornung Award winners this season: Marcus Jones (2021), Lynn Bowden (2019) and Jabrill Peppers (2016). They received an up-close look at Colletto at the Shrine Bowl, and he could have a role if new coordinator Bill O’Brien plans to reintroduce the fullback into New England’s offense.