In the final hours before an unprecedented draft, the only sense of normalcy is that nobody has any idea what Bill Belichick will do with New England’s 12 selections.
The Patriots sit in an interesting position, and all it takes is as a slide for one of the draft’s top prospects for a premier talent to fall in Belichick’s lap in the first round.
The four-quarterback first round currently sits with the Cincinnati Bengals locked into Joe Burrow (as they have been for months), Miami set on Justin Herbert, and the Chargers left to pick between Utah State’s Jordan Love and Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Although it’s unlucky that the Pats would trade up for the oft-injured and still recovering Tagovailoa, if he gets past Los Angeles at six, we could be looking at an Aaron Rodgers-like fall.
Jacksonville is a wildcard in the top ten and could select Tua, but they have a slew of holes and might stick with Gardner Minshew while general manager David Caldwell rebuilds the roster.
After the Jags at nine, there’s no obvious landing spot for Tagovailoa, and that’s where the fun begins for New England, who could sit back and watch as Tua or another stud makes it to 23.
Instead of predicting a stroke of luck, we’ll stick to a realistic view of the first round in our final Patriots mock draft while keeping in mind the possibility that things are never as they seem.
Here’s our absolute best and final stab at a seven-round Patriots mock draft for the 2020 draft:
TRADE: PATRIOTS TRADE NO. 23 TO TITANS FOR NO. 29 AND NO. 93
The Pats move back six spots in the first round while adding a third-rounder from their buddies in Tennessee. New England gets the same player it would draft with the 23rd overall selection at Tennessee’s spot while adding more ammo to move around on day two. We are expecting a run of cornerbacks in the late teens to early 20s, and the Titans might need to leap-frog a few teams to fill a position of need. Tennessee could target Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell at 23.
FIRST ROUND, 29TH OVERALL: DL A.J EPENESA, IOWA
Some team is going to get a good interior rusher with A.J. Epenesa. Stout play-side DE on early downs, but kick him inside on passing downs.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) March 26, 2020
The pick that seems to make too much sense for New England, Epenesa is a plug-and-play starter along the defensive line that plays the position like a Patriot. At 6-5 with over 34-inch arms, Epenesa has tremendous length and upper-body strength to be a highly successful two-gapper at the next level. He’ll post up at the point of attack then use his hand power to shed blocks in read-and-react situations in run defense. The Iowa product usually opts for a hardy two-hand swipe as an edge rusher or a push-pull move to disengage from blockers. He is a disciplined pass rusher that pushes the pocket, uses stiff jabs to soften the edge, and has great lateral agility on the interior. In the Patriots’ system, Epenesa projects as a weak-side defensive end at 275 pounds but has the strength to hold up on the strong side as well. Other teams might covet more athletic prospects with higher upside, but Epenesa is a sound technician that will fill a role immediately in New England.
TRADE: PATRIOTS TRADE NO. 87 AND NO. 125 TO COLTS FOR NO. 75
The Patriots got an extra pick in the fourth round in the Rob Gronkowski trade with the Bucs, so they trade their original fourth-rounder to move up in round three.
THIRD ROUND, 75TH OVERALL: EDGE TERRELL LEWIS, ALABAMA
All you gotta do to talk yourself into taking a chance on Terrell Lewis is watch the first half vs Arkansas. Six QB pressures, two forced interceptions. Dude is amazing.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 12, 2020
Lewis is a high-risk, high-reward prospect, which makes sense after going with the safe pick in Epenesa in the first round. When healthy, he is an absolute force as a rush linebacker with tremendous first-step explosiveness, lateral agility, and ferocious play speed. He can stand up or play with his hand in the ground, pairs his speed-to-power rush with a terrific inside spin move, is a terror wrapping around on stunts, and can drop into coverage. Lewis suffered two severe injuries at Alabama in 2017 (elbow) and 2018 (torn ACL), but his tape in 14 career games is dominant. The Alabama coaches chose to keep Lewis in bubble wrap this past season, opting to have him sit out live contact in practice to preserve him for games, enabling him to appear in ten contests in 2019. His body will need constant management, but he’s a first-round talent on film.
THIRD ROUND, 93RD OVERALL: TE HARRISON BRYANT, FLORIDA ATLANTIC
Florida Atlantic tight end Harrison Bryant runs routes like a wide receiver. Smooth vertical transitions. Attacks inside leverage in his stem, hop and acceleration to jump outside and stack, goes up with strong hands to secure the catch. #Patriots #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/5SSIbIP3Dh
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) February 21, 2020
The one piece of information that is trickling out of Foxboro is that there’s real support in the building for the Mackey Award winner (nation’s best tight end). Is that a smokescreen? We’ll find out. But Bryant is a favorite of coaches in this underwhelming tight end class due to his technical savvy and clean tape. Bryant runs precise routes with excellent releases and understands how to create space for himself down the field despite modest speed (4.73). Our hesitation with Bryant that kept him off our Pats big board is a well below-average athletic profile (18th percentile) and that he does not project as an in-line blocker. Looking back on recent history, tight ends that test below the 20th percentile at the combine don’t usually pan out. Still, maybe Bryant can be an exception after hauling in 65 receptions for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns in his senior season. The analytics like Bryant, his tape is decent, and he offers pass-catching upside and isn’t afraid to throw a block.
THIRD ROUND, 98TH OVERALL: DB K’VON WALLACE, CLEMSON
K'Von Wallace isn't the flashiest safety/nickel prospect in this year's draft but I could see him on the #Patriots. Already has a "do your job" mentality. Knows his role and how he fits into the bigger picture (? on). pic.twitter.com/kPB7hS5RQa
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 8, 2020
We couldn’t get through four day-two picks without Belichick taking a defensive back. This year’s crop of safeties is filled with versatile, do-it-all type guys, but there are only a few pure free safeties (Antione Winfield, Grant Delpit, Ashtyn Davis). Wallace falls under the do-it-all category as an assignment-sound football player that feels like what the Pats wanted out of Duke Dawson in the 2018 draft. He isn’t the flashiest prospect, but Wallace routinely does his job and understands his role in the bigger picture. He projects as a strong safety and slot cornerback hybrid that can play deep in two-high structures, intermediate zone, and man coverage in certain matchups. Wallace tested in the 97th percentile in Indy with above-average speed for the position (4.53), so this isn’t another case of the Pats reaching on a subpar athlete. He should have a role on defense within his first two seasons in the league.
THIRD ROUND, 100TH OVERALL: QB JAKE FROMM, GEORGIA
Potential #Patriots QB target: Jake Fromm. One of the fastest processors in this class, Fromm's arm talent won't "wow" you, but he let's his receivers do the work.
Here, all verticals. Fromm knows he's got 1v1 outside thanks to slot vertical occupying the safety. Perfect throw. pic.twitter.com/0mLjcTT7N6
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) March 30, 2020
Is the end of the third round considered a premium pick? It depends on who you ask. With four bites at the apple on day two, it’s hard to fathom that Belichick will pass on Fromm. The Georgia quarterback is a cerebral passer that plays chess by college standards before the snap and understands how to read coverages after the snap to make smart decisions. He’ll put the ball in the right spot consistently enough to let his playmakers shine, seldom turns it over, and makes up for average arm strength by dropping it in the bucket on touch throws instead of trying to rifle the ball into tight windows. Fromm is a facilitator that keeps the offense on time and functions well in structure, relying on the scheme and his supporting cast to do most of the heavy lifting. Our only hesitation with Fromm’s fit in New England is below-average hand size, which could impact ball handling in bad weather. However, one of Fromm’s best traits is his ball-handling on play-action and other fakes, albeit in warm-weather SEC games. Although he isn’t a game-changer, Fromm’s projects as a Kirk Cousins type who can push Jarrett Stidham as the starter.
FOURTH ROUND, 139TH OVERALL: OL NETANE MUTI, FRESNO STATE
Muti only played in 19 collegiate games because of injury, but he brings tackle-guard versatility and immense knock-back power at the snap. Due to his inexperience, Muti is raw, but he played some left tackle as well as right guard and is a people-mover up front, pushing around some of the best interior defenders in college football a year ago. He’s got a solid anchor against power, but a lack of length and foot speed leads to trouble against quicker inside rushers. With some technical polish on his initial footwork into engagements and pass-rush posture, Muti can develop into a starting guard at the next level.
FIFTH ROUND, 172ND OVERALL: WR JAMES PROCHE, SMU
#Patriots scouts were reportedly impressed by SMU WR James Proche at the Senior Bowl. He’s got unreal hands and body control to pluck the ball in traffic and contort his body. Varies speeds in his stems and has some wiggle too. Mid-round prospect. pic.twitter.com/OH8xvqVvy8
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) January 23, 2020
The Patriots wait to draft a wideout until day three to get optimum value with one of the most valuable receivers in college football last season. Proche won’t run by anyone, and along with his uninspiring press releases, he’s likely a slot receiver at the next level. But he’s a pro on the inside with excellent route-running, unique hesitation moves to freeze defenders and ball skills with the best set of hands in this class. Despite a 6-foot, 193-pound frame, Proche’s 20 contested catches tied for second-most in college football, his average of 2.54 yards per route run was impressive, and he caught ten red-zone touchdowns in 2019 (second in FBS). He’s a little on the older side (23) and isn’t going to create mountains of separation, but he’s in the Emmanuel Sanders mold as a receiver that wins with craftiness, sudden explosiveness in small spaces, and unreal hands.
TRADE: PATRIOTS TRADE NO. 195 & NO. 204 TO DOLPHINS FOR NO. 173
The Patriots package two of their four sixth-round picks to move up the board for one of the draft’s best athletes. The Dolphins get two more picks on day three to fill their many needs.
FIFTH ROUND, 174TH OVERALL: S/LB TANNER MUSE, CLEMSON
Tanner Muse is too stiff to play deep, but a hybrid LB role where he takes RBs, TEs, and handles underneath zones could work for him.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 8, 2020
Muse is a fascinating study due to the multiplicity of his role in the Clemson defense. In any given game, he can be seen playing high zone in cover-2, in the box as a strong safety, linebacker, or edge rusher. As a 94th percentile athlete, Muse’s best role is as a sub-package linebacker who can offer more speed and range to play tougher zone assignments and guard running backs out of the backfield. He’s too stiff in his movements for a deep safety role and too raw defeating blocks in the box for early-down run defense. But Muse’s versatility, core special teams projection, and specialized role on passing downs give Belichick a fun chess piece to develop.
SIXTH ROUND, 212TH OVERALL: K TYLER BASS, GEORGIA SOUTHERN
The Pats get their kicker of the future with a relaxed demeanor in Bass. Bass succeeded and learned from Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo at Georgia Southern, where he made 93 percent of his kicks in the 30-to-50 range last season. According to scouts, Bass has a very even-keeled personality to go along with a monster leg that also makes him a kickoff specialist. Bass won’t dwell on misses for long and has a kicker mentality to focus on the next one.
SIXTH ROUND, 213TH OVERALL: WR JOE REED, VIRGINIA
Virginia WR Joe Reed is an intriguing day 3 option for the #Patriots. Versatile player (slot, backfield), runs 4.47, thick frame like a RB. Routes running is raw. But he's a YAC monster with vision & speed. Give it to him on schemed touches too. We'll get to the return ability. pic.twitter.com/gfbCed27ho
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 21, 2020
Reed is a versatile return specialist that has above-average speed to win in space (4.47). Along with burst and vision as a ball carrier, Reed has never dropped a target of over 20 yards in his career at Virginia, making great mid-air adjustments on the ball. He is an underdeveloped route runner at this stage, but he’ll make the team as a decorated kick returner, setting school records for career kick return yards and touchdowns, and can contribute on offense on schemed touches. We see a poor mans Deebo Samuel in Reed.
SEVENTH ROUND, 230TH OVERALL: S LUTHER KIRK, ILLINOIS STATE
Outside of the top three prospects we mentioned earlier, it’s difficult to find rangy safeties that you can trust in the deep third. Kirk might be a late-round flier on a small-school prospect, but his length and loose hips help him range over the top and disrupt the catch point. Kirk is not afraid to lower the boom and is a punishing blitzer as well. He’d be a training camp favorite.