Which position should the New England Patriots target in Round 1 of the 2023 NFL Draft? You could make compelling cases for several.
Offensive tackle and cornerback look like their most glaring holes on offense and defense, respectively. But the Patriots also could use their top pick to add a game-breaking wide receiver, or a plug-and-play replacement for safety Devin McCourty. Bill Belichick also has a strong track record of finding talented front-seven defenders on Day 1, so a defensive lineman or linebacker can’t be ruled out, either.
The latest mock draft from Daniel Jeremiah, however, has New England taking a decidedly different route.
The NFL Media draft analyst pegged Texas running back Bijan Robinson as his Patriots selection at No. 14 overall.
“The Patriots don’t think like every other franchise,” Jeremiah wrote. “I believe they would see Robinson as a valuable addition instead of a player at a non-premium position. He would team up with Rhamondre Stevenson to give New England one of the best backfields in the NFL.”
Robinson is the consensus No. 1 player at his position in this year’s draft class, and adding him surely would improve New England’s backfield, which features an excellent top option in Stevenson but backups who either have injury concerns (James Robinson and Ty Montgomery) or are unproven (2022 draftees Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris). The Patriots let talented but injury-prone veteran Damien Harris, who joined the Buffalo Bills on Monday, walk in free agency.
But running back is far from the Patriots’ most pressing need, and recent history suggests using premium draft picks on running backs (or giving them big-money contracts in free agency) is bad business. New England has drafted just two Round 1 running backs in the Belichick era: Sony Michel, who went 31st overall in 2018, and Laurence Maroney (21st, 2006). Ten of the 13 backs they’ve selected were in the third round or later.
Jeremiah’s projection also has the Patriots passing on offensive tackles Paris Johnson Jr. (15th overall) and Broderick Jones (17th); wide receivers Jordan Addison (20th), Zay Flowers (21st) and Quentin Johnston (27th); and cornerback Joey Porter Jr. (22nd), all of whom have been mentioned as potential New England targets.
NESN.com’s mock draft 2.0, published Tuesday morning, had the Patriots taking Porter to address their lack of size and length at cornerback.