The Patriots have several holes to fill on their roster as they begin the post-Tom Brady era.
Our big board takes the 50 best fits from a traits, scheme, and athletic profile perspective in New England and ranks them based on our grading system. For clarification, this isn’t an overall ranking of the draft’s top players, so Joe Burrow and Chase Young will not appear. But rather a look at prospects that will be available when the Pats pick at various points in the draft.
As we continue our countdown to numbers one, here’s the 11-20 tier on our board, which consists of prospects projected to go in the top 50 picks of the 2020 NFL Draft:
20. OG Jonah Jackson, Ohio State
Ohio State LG Jonah Jackson deserves more love. Experience playing all three spots, footwork and lateral quickness, nasty/finisher.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 2, 2020
The one-year wonder with the Buckeyes took us by surprise. Why did he surprise us? We weren’t expecting to have him as our second-rated interior offensive linemen. Jackson spent his first four seasons at Rutgers before transferring to Columbus for his redshirt senior season, earning third-team All-American honors after 14 starts at left guard. Jackson has experience playing all three spots on the interior, offering immediate swing potential to back up multiple spots. He’s also the best pass protector in this interior class with a wide base, tremendous lateral slides, and a sturdy anchor to hold up against the prolific interior rushers he’ll face at the next level. Jackson is also great at passing off stunts and twists. Although he needs to work on sustaining blocks, he has smooth footwork and initial pop as a run blocker and plays with the right amount of aggression. He also effortlessly climbs to the second level and reaches blocks in outside zone. Jackson needs to play with better leverage in the running game to get underneath and drive defenders off the ball. But he should be a starter within his first two seasons.
19. SAF Grant Delpit, LSU
Grant Delpit has tackling issues but there's a lot to like about his overall game. Ball-hawking abilities from high zone are definitely a strength. Look at how early he starts breaking on the go ball. Diving INT is nice too. #Patriots #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/QMO8t77FZK
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 7, 2020
Delpit became a consensus top prospect after being named a unanimous first-team All-American following the 2018 season. However, his play in man coverage and tackling efficiency took a significant step back this past season. There’s no denying that the 6-2, 213-pound safety is a playmaker with a nose for the football, and it shows with eight career interceptions and 24 passes defensed. He also has the size and versatility to play a big nickel role guarding slot receivers, the physicality to play in the box, and impressive range and instincts over the top in high zone. But he’s lower in our safety rankings because of 20 missed tackles that filled his 2019 tape with question marks about his ability to anchor the backend of a defense. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise us if Delpit’s tackling woes took him off of Bill Belichick’s board altogether; Belichick won’t play a safety that can’t tackle since they’re often the last line of defense to prevent big plays. Deplit played through a high-ankle sprain last season that explains some of his struggles, but there are cleaner prospects that don’t have an Achilles heel.
18. SAF Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois
Jeremy Chinn: another versatile safety with an off the charts athletic profile. Looking real smooth here playing deep. Once he clicks into the double move, that drop step to point his hips upfield is next-level. Ball tracking is good too. #Patriots #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/vMmxC5tBce
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 7, 2020
Chinn blew everyone out of the water in Indy with a dominant workout, landing in the 99th percentile. The Southern Illinois product offers a rare combination of size (6-2, 221 pounds), speed (4.45-second 40-yard dash) and explosiveness (41-inch vertical) that is hard to find in the power five let alone at the FCS level. Chinn dominated the competition, playing all over the defensive backfield. He has the man coverage footwork of a cornerback and the flip-and-run skills to take terrific angles from high zone to roll over the top. Chinn also possesses excellent closing burst and a fiery downhill trigger to fill in the alley against the run. We already knew Chinn was a great athlete, but his understanding of angles, advanced footwork, and timing as a deep defender present the necessary polish for him to make an immediate impact. He also brings core special teams value, and with a little more experience, his instincts will catch up to his athleticism.
17. WR Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State
Big fan of ASU's Brandon Aiyuk. Might be my favorite WR prospect so far. Explosive, easy change of direction. Watch him set up the slant on the goal line here. Uses a dead leg into a stretch release to sell a fade. Then the quick change of direction and its over. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/icO0pohanF
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) January 29, 2020
Would the Patriots even entertain another Arizona State wideout after selecting N’Keal Harry last season? Conventional wisdom says no, and Aiyuk has similar concerns to Harry, although he’s a much more fluid and explosive downfield route runner. He is terrific at probing downfield coverage to properly set up his vertical breaks, sneaking into blind spots, and attacking leverage as he releases upfield. Adding to that are snappy, sudden, and explosive route breaks that do lead to downfield separation. Aiyuk also averaged 9.9 yards after the catch, best in the 2020 class, offering terrific vision, contact balance, and explosiveness as a ball carrier in the open field. All that sounds great, but Aiyuk ran a limited route tree due to the nature of Arizona State’s offense, with 70 percent of his production coming on only three routes (screen, post, go). His releases against press coverage and ability to play through contact are in the developmental stages still, which could lead to a slower breakout than other wideouts in this class. Aiyuk will likely need schemed touches to produce as a rookie, but the route-running potential is there for him to blossom beyond that soon.
16. SAF Ashytn Davis, California
Think we might've found a potential Harmon replacement in Cal's Ashtyn Davis: terrific closing speed from deep zone, brings the hit stick to separate receiver from the ball, former walk on with A+ work ethic, core special teams value. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/OGnDtBhUcB
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 7, 2020
Davis is a favorite of the online draft community, so it should be interesting to see if the NFL agrees. He made his way to Cal on a track scholarship and walked on to the football team. After earning a spot on the roster, Davis won special teams MVP honors for the Golden Bears in back-to-back seasons, earning a role at safety shortly after that. He jumps off the film with his play speed and physicality, and although he didn’t test due to injury, his track background and game speed tell you all you need to know. Davis is one of the smoothest center fielders in this class, flashing terrific instincts to read the quarterback, smooth transitions at the top of his pedal, elite closing burst, and will drop the hammer when necessary. He also immediately clicks into running plays and short throws with a fierce downhill trigger that, despite weighing a shade over 200 pounds, makes him a tone-setter on the backend. Davis went from track star walk-on to a potential first-round pick in the NFL draft. He’s an excellent football player that worked his butt off to get to where he is today.
15. WR Michael Pittman, Jr., USC
One last thread to get to from the top wideouts: Michael Pittman. Catch radius, jump-balls lead to big plays.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 13, 2020
Pittman quickly gets the contested catch guy label because he’s 6-4, and his highlight plays are mostly on jump balls. But a closer look will tell you that he’s more a possession receiver than a wideout solely reliant on winning above the rim. Pittman pairs his field-stretching abilities with impressive short-area burst to separate on underneath routes. He understands how to move press corners off their spots, get physical in the route to gain leverage, and will make sudden movements to separate. Pittman is also a back-shoulder magician that can stop on a dime and watch defenders blow by him. He doesn’t have elite speed to create huge amounts of separation, but he’s a complete receiver at the X spot.
14. SAF Antione Winfield Jr., Minnesota
Best interception so far in this safety class belongs to Antione Winfield Jr. Receiver running at him at full speed with the space to break in or out. Winfield matches him no problem, tracks the ball, goes up for the INT. Great play. Top 50 player. #Patriots #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/9TjNxq9BW9
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 7, 2020
One last prospect to round out a safety-heavy tier, Winfield, is the most instinctive safety in this class. The son of former NFL All-Pro corner Antione Winfield, the younger version is a ball-hawking safety that makes excellent reads, transitions, and plays on the football. He can flip-and-run with a receiver moving at full speed or read the quarterback’s eyes to jump a route he has no business being near. Despite his smaller stature, he also isn’t afraid to mix it up in the box or lay the wood from a high zone and offers some flexibility to play man coverage in the slot. There are very few flaws in his game, none that are deal-breakers. If he was taller than 5-9, he’d be a first-round lock.
13. EDGE Zack Baun, Wisconsin
Zach Baun has hybrid OLB for the #Patriots written all over him. Play him at the end of the LOS or off the ball, but he should get regular reps as a pass rusher.
Baun's inside rushes are his best. Quickness is too much for OTs. Get them thinking outside then crossover inside. pic.twitter.com/cRPvJXpLWg
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) March 26, 2020
Every mock drafter pegged Baun as a potential Patriot over the last few months. In Indy, Baun leaned into comparisons to former Pats linebacker Kyle Van Noy by saying he studies Van Noy and models his game after past and present edge defenders in New England. Baun is at his best as a pass rusher where he uses a two-hand swipe move to soften the edge as a basis for a deep arsenal of rush moves that also includes a deadly inside spin and long arm (speed to power). He also looks comfortable dropping into coverage and is a sure tackler, but there are concerns about his ability to set the edge against powerful run blockers due to his limited length and upper-body strength. Although he’s inexperienced in this role, Baun projects for some teams as an off-ball linebacker that shows adequate lateral agility to scrape and tackle at the second level. He’s a little undersized and broke his left foot in consecutive seasons early on his career. But Baun can play on or off the line of scrimmage in New England, offering similar versatility to Van Noy with good upside as a pass rusher.
12. WR Jalen Reagor, TCU
Jalen Reagor is nice. He gets guys spinning on his releases, understands how to set up and attack leverage. Add that to track speed and good high-pointing skill for his size. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/PpMHkeFzCh
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) January 27, 2020
Reagor gets lost among the top wideouts in this stacked class. The TCU product is a big-play machine that has terrific initial burst and explosiveness. Opponents respect his speed as you often see corners bail or fly open quickly to transition into a sprint. His route releases make it difficult for press corners to get their hands on him, he’s impossible to cover on double moves, and Reagor is all kinds of elusive after the catch and translates that to punt returns as well. But what we love most about him is his willingness to play through contact and go above the rim downfield (42-inch vertical). Reagor has some concentration drops on tape, but he isn’t easily pushed off his line or bodied at the top of routes, which is the case for many burners. Reagor is also a terrific punt and kickoff returner. He is one of our favorites for the Pats in this draft.
11. LB Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma
Kenneth Murray does a lot of #Patriots-type things at LB. Fits their measurables better than Patrick Queen at 6-2, 241 and took snaps on & off the line.
Not as fast to key on plays as Queen, but range + closing speed is there. Plays the speed option, beats the TE, makes TFL. pic.twitter.com/paJUWg72g1
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 6, 2020
Murray is the consensus second-best off the line linebacker in this class behind LSU’s Patrick Queen. His sideline-to-sideline speed to chase down ball carriers is his calling card, as is his splash plays triggering downhill into the line, and he offers more size (6-2, 241 pounds) and versatility than Queen. In passing situations, Oklahoma put Murray on the line where he was extremely effective wrapping around on stunts to pressure quarterbacks due to his play speed. Unlike Queen, however, Murray’s play recognition and ability to quickly process blocking schemes is a work in progress. He is very reactive and is often late to click into running plays. Due to his slow mental processing, Murray didn’t receive a first-round grade in our system. But he’s a top 50 player that will probably be a first-round pick.