The New England Patriots’ preparation for the 2023 NFL Draft is nearly complete.
The pro day circuit is over. Prospect visits will be wrapping up soon. Before long, the Patriots will have their draft board finalized.
With Round 1 of the draft now just two weeks away, here is our latest attempt at predicting which players the Patriots will select.
First round, 14th overall: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
In our first four Patriots mocks, we shied away from taking a wide receiver on Day 1. That just doesn’t feel like a swing Bill Belichick would take, seeing as his first 23 drafts featured just one first-round wideout (N’Keal Harry, 2019). But perhaps a shift in strategy is overdue. A true game-changing receiver could transform the Patriots’ offense, and a talent like Smith-Njigba could be hard to pass up if he’s still available at No. 14, especially if some of the top offensive tackles and cornerbacks are off the board.
Smith-Njigba isn’t a can’t-miss prospect. The hamstring injury that wiped out most of his 2022 season is concerning, and he might not have a ton of positional versatility after operating almost exclusively out of the slot in college. But he’s a fantastic route-runner with unmatched quickness and the skills to become, as NFL Media’s Eric Edholm put it, “a juiced-up version of Julian Edelman” for New England.
Second round, 46th overall: LB Jack Campbell, Iowa
The 6-foot-5, 249-pound Campbell offers the linebacker size the Patriots traditionally have valued and the top-tier athleticism they’ve lacked at the position in recent years. His 6.74-second three-cone drill was the third-best of any player at the combine, regardless of position. On the field, he averaged more than 10 tackles per game over his two seasons as a starter and was PFF’s highest-graded Power Five linebacker in pass coverage. Campbell also is an intangibles king as a two-year Iowa captain who won the William V. Campbell Trophy (aka the Academic Heisman) in 2022. Off-the-ball linebacker isn’t a dire need for New England, but starter Ja’Whaun Bentley is entering a contract year.
Third round, 76th overall: TE Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State
Part of this year’s vaunted tight end class, Kraft might need some seasoning as he jumps from the FCS to the NFL, but he has the tools to be a well-rounded offensive weapon for the Patriots. He can spend his rookie season learning as the TE3 behind Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki, both of whom are on expiring contracts. New England saw a lot of the 6-foot-5, 254-pounder when they were scouting fellow SDSU product Pierre Strong before last year’s draft, and Alabama reportedly tried to recruit him to transfer last offseason with a big-money NIL offer. The Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator at the time was Bill O’Brien, who’s now running the Patriots’ offense.
TRADE: Nos. 107 and 184 to Cleveland for No. 98
Third round, 98th overall: OT Tyler Steen, Alabama
Could the Patriots wait to land Steen with their first pick on Day 3? Probably. But with a clear need at tackle, they package a sixth-rounder to move up nine spots and grab a player who started 46 games in college, has experience at both tackle spots and played under O’Brien last season.
Fourth round, 117th overall: S Jartavius Martin, Illinois
Martin played every position in the secondary during an Illinois career that spanned 55 appearances and 36 starts, starting as an outside corner before morphing into a versatile safety. Sounds a lot like a certain Patriots defensive back who recently retired. On top of his versatility, Martin also is an excellent athlete, a sound tackler and a team captain whose college coach, Bret Bielema, was a former Patriot assistant. He tallied 22 passes defended over the past two seasons in an Illini secondary loaded with NFL talent.
Fourth round, 135th overall: CB Riley Moss, Iowa
The Patriots value experience and proven production when drafting DBs, and Moss checks both of those boxes. He started 38 collegiate games, played in 54, defended 37 passes, grabbed 11 interceptions and returned three for touchdowns. He also boasts elite quickness (6.60-second three-cone drill) and extensive special teams experience and was a team captain and respected tone-setter for the Hawkeyes. And at 6 feet, 193 pounds, he’d add a bit of much-needed size to the Patriots’ shorter cornerback group.
Sixth round, 187th overall: P Adam Korsak, Rutgers
That’s now five Korsak picks in five mock drafts. He just makes too much sense for the Patriots.
Sixth round, 192nd overall: RB Evan Hull, Northwestern
The Patriots could use a receiving-focused back to complement Rhamondre Stevenson, and Hull caught 88 passes for more than 800 yards over the last two seasons. He also had just shy of 2,000 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns during that span and showed good speed, quickness and explosiveness in his combine testing. Scouting reports also laud Hull’s work ethic, with The Athletic’s Dane Brugler writing that Northwestern’s coaches “had to force him to sleep more.”
Sixth round, 210th overall: OL T.J. Bass, Oregon
With Adrian Klemm taking over as the Patriots’ offensive line coach, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him import one or two of the players he worked with last season at Oregon. Bass started 13 games at left guard and 21 at left tackle for the Ducks, and though he played the latter during Klemm’s tenure, he projects as an interior lineman at the NFL level.
Seventh round, 245th overall: DT Scott Matlock, Boise State
Matlock played for the Patriots’ coaching staff at the East-West Shrine Bowl and visited New England last week. A three-year starter at Boise State, he had seven sacks in 2021 (though just two last season). He also blocked three kicks in his college career and caught two short-yardage touchdown passes. Matlock wasn’t invited to the combine but had a strong showing at his pro day, pumping out 29 bench press reps and running the 40-yard dash in 4.81 seconds at 6-foot-4, 296 pounds.