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 top players in the draft, so Joe Burrow and Chase Young will not appear. But rather a look at prospects that will be available when the Patriots pick at various points in the draft.
As we begin the countdown to number, here’s the 21-30 tier on our board, which consists of prospects projected to go in round two of the 2020 NFL Draft:
30. LB Malik Harrison, Ohio State
Watching Ohio State LB Malik Harrison, perfect #Patriots fit. Taking on a pulling Cesar Ruiz in the B-Gap. Harrison stands up even the best college OL and has the hand technique to shed the block and make the tackle. pic.twitter.com/p5i0FINfxk
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 6, 2020
The Ohio State linebacker offers everything the Patriots look for at the position. At 6-3, 247 pounds, Harrison is a physical take-on linebacker that will stand up and shed blockers with menacing punches and active hands in the trenches. He blows up blocking schemes with a physical downhill trigger, playing with excellent pad level, leverage, and power into his engagements. Harrison also tested in the 77th percentile with an above-average 40-yard dash time (4.66 seconds) that offers some hope that he can play on all three downs. He’s an effective blitzer and can handle underneath zone responsibilities as a spot-dropper, but he’s a little stiff in man coverage. Harrison’s processing speed and play recognition is a work in progress. Due to his downhill style, he can get sucked up by play-action and fooled by misdirection. But he fits the Pats’ mold to a tee, and we saw improving mental processing as the season progressed.
29. WR Van Jefferson, Florida
Van Jefferson's route running is so advanced. Always one step ahead and setting things up throughout the game.
1st play – gets up on the CB, works outside, shows late for the back shoulder
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) January 30, 2020
Jefferson has the best release package in this class and is arguably the best route runner overall. He’s an absolute technician with the skill and savvy to stack release moves together and get defensive backs to open their hips in the wrong direction. Jefferson goes into every game and every snap with a plan; he’ll hit a corner with a release early on and then come back to that same release later in the game but run a different route, creating all kinds of confusion. Jefferson’s father, Shawn, played 13 NFL seasons at wide receiver and is now the receivers coach for the New York Jets, and it’s clear that his son took to his dad’s coaching. My ceiling comparison for Jefferson is Green Bay Packers wideout Davante Adams. Adams has arguably the best releases in the NFL that help him run explosive routes despite a below-average 40 time (4.56). The concerns about Jefferson’s ability to win over the top remind me of the knock on Adams back in 2014.
28. TE Cole Kmet, Notre Dame
Cole Kmet isn't a good blocker at this stage but he's a NFL-ready receiver with the frame to develop as a blocker if technique improves.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) February 11, 2020
We view Kmet and Trautman as nearly interchangeable at the top of an underwhelming tight end class. Kmet currently offers three traits that project to success in an in-line role: massive size (6-6, 262 pounds), generally efficient blocking, and solid burst and speed up the seam. If you’re looking for a nimble-footed tight end that can cut and create separation, Kmet isn’t your guy. But his large catch radius and frame offer a big-bodied rumbler between the numbers that can also be a potential matchup weapon in the red zone. As a blocker, Kmet has all the necessary strength and lower-body flexibility to be effective. However, his technique and balance need work, as he falls off of blocks and ends up on the ground too often. Still, with coaching, Kmet should round into a good blocker and offer some big plays in the passing game.
27. TE Adam Trautman, Dayton
#Patriots fans need to know Dayton TE Adam Trautman this draft season:
250 lbs ✅
In-line blocker ✅
Upside as a receiver ✅
There aren't many tight ends that meet the Pats criteria like Trautman. Serves up a pancake at the Senior Bowl below. pic.twitter.com/vuso9m94ad
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) February 5, 2020
Kmet was ahead of Trautman for most of the pre-draft process in our rankings, but with one last look at the tape, he slightly edges out the Notre Dame tight end. The main reason we have Trautman as TE1 is his fluidity and flexibility as a route runner. Trautman makes horizontal cuts to separate away from coverage far more consistently than Kmet. He isn’t as big or straight-line explosive as Kmet, but he’s looser in his lower body and a more nuanced route runner. He manipulates off-coverage by varying speeds in his stems and adding a variety of fakes at the top of routes while still offering a 6-5, 255-pound frame that can win on contested catches. As a run blocker, Trautman gives all-out effort and has the power to take on front-seven defenders. Dayton also used him as a lead blocker in more of a fullback or H-back role off the line at times. Trautman looked like a man amongst boys at the FCS level, hauling in 70 catches for 916 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Although there are always reservations with small-school prospects, Trautman looks like the real deal adding an impressive Senior Bowl week and combine to his FCS film.
26. OT Lucas Niang, TCU
TCU right tackle Lucas Niang played through a torn labrum in that eventually ended his 2019 season. On the left, Niang takes a normal set to mirror Chase Young in 2018. On the right, you see Niang use a hop step back set in '19 to protect the hip? Hop-step set won't work in NFL. pic.twitter.com/t5BWUNktGt
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 14, 2020
To get the entire picture with Niang, one must go back to his 2018 film when he was fully healthy. Niang suited up for seven games last season before shutting it down due to a torn labrum that required surgery. The hip issue first began during fall camp, forcing Niang to use an unconventional hop-step pass set that will not fly in the NFL. Back in 2018, Niang’s pass sets were much more conventional, and he had great tape against Ohio State edge rushers Nick Bosa and Chase Young. He also has terrific awareness in pass pro to sniff out blitzers or stunting defensive linemen. And at 6-6, 315 pounds, Niang has no problems dropping his anchor against power rushers. Last season, Niang was also an effective run blocker, driving Big 12 defenders off the ball with fantastic leverage, upper-body power, and effort to finish on the backside of plays. There are concerns that Niang’s foot speed and early-opening pass sets will lead to struggles with mirroring edge rushers as they turn the corner. But he’s an ideal right tackle prospect for New England, who usually looks for bulldozers on that side of the line.
25. DL Raekwon Davis, Alabama
There are legit concerns with Raekwon Davis, maturity and lack of production last two seasons, but easy to see how he fits the #Patriots on the field.
Power/length, two-gap ability, edge setting. Sheds the down block, sheds the puller, makes the play. Some heavy, heavy hands. pic.twitter.com/LJ5g27P7Yc
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 10, 2020
Like many of the prospects in this tier, Davis is another draftee with uneven tape. The 6-6, 311-pound giant exploded onto the scene with 8.5 sacks and ten tackles for a loss as a sophomore. Since then, however, Davis managed only two sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss in his final two seasons despite appearing in 26 games. He’ll also have to answer questions about maturity concerns that stem from a 2017 incident where Davis shot himself in the leg at a bar in Tuscaloosa. If the Patriots can get through all of that, his on-field talent is undeniable, and he’s a perfect fit in Bill Belichick’s defense. Davis has dominant upper-body power and hand strength to rag-doll opponents and does just about anything he desires in the trenches. His two-gapping skills are terrific, he plays with excellent leverage despite his height, and he’ll use his immense length to lock-out and shed blocks with heavy hands. As a pass rusher, it’s more of the same, with Davis using a stiff punch to separate from blocks with an effective arm over finisher to get into the quarterback’s lap. Davis can rush from anywhere on the defensive line, but the character red flags might lead the Pats elsewhere.
24. OT Ezra Cleveland, Boise State
Boise State OT Ezra Cleveland tested in the 92nd percentile at the combine and that athleticism shows up on tape. Quick feet, fluid pass sets, effective blocker in space.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 2, 2020
The only offensive linemen to perform better at the combine was top-ten lock Tristan Wirfs. Cleveland tested in the 92nd percentile, not shying away from a single drill in Indy, and the athleticism shows up plenty on tape in his pass sets and blocking on the move. Cleveland comes out of his stance with excellent explosiveness and depth that lead to smooth lateral slides to mirror edge rushers. He’s also got terrific posture, balance, and quick hands that are fast to recover when rushers get into his chest. Cleveland is great working up to the second level and getting out in front of outside runs or screens. He consistently reaches and seals the backside and works his hips and feet to roll through blocks. Cleveland’s weakness on tape is power in pass protection. He needs to build up strength in his core and find a quicker anchor to prevent bull rushers from walking him back into the quarterback. But he offers immediate swing tackle services and should be a starter before long.
23. OC Lloyd Cushenberry, LSU
Watching the LSU offensive line this morning, and it's beautiful. Two interior OL that could be on the #Patriots radar: center Lloyd Cushenberry and RG Damien Lewis.
Working together on the double-team. Split defender down the middle, work hip-to-hip, feet in unison. Textbook. pic.twitter.com/DQ1Yb3QB0D
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 3, 2020
Cushenberry is the second center prospect to make our top 50. We all want to see David Andrews make a full recovery and play out the rest of his career, but the nature of blood clots makes the future uncertain for the Pats captain. Cushenberry doned a no. 18 patch on his game jersey that signifies players that display a selfless attitude and play like a Tiger. Cushenberry shared the jersey with defensive captain K’Lavon Chaisson. Although Cushenberry couldn’t wear the number during games due to NCAA rules. Along with his character and attitude, Cushenberry is a fit with the Patriots because of his power and core strength to use his long arms to redirect defenders out of gaps while also making smooth climbs to the second level as a run blocker. His pass sets are clean with terrific posture and a stiff jab to slow down rushers, and he smoothly passes off stunts and line games. Cushenberry should be a longtime starter at center in the NFL and could easily slide over to guard in a pinch.
22. DL Marlon Davidson, Auburn
Lot of mocks with the #Patriots taking Marlon Davidson out of Auburn. Not flashy, but he'll set the edge, has natural leverage, & plays both run & pass well.
Working against Saahdiq Charles. Fires inside hands to get the blocker off, extends and uses inside hand to control. pic.twitter.com/miGsrXie3r
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 10, 2020
To select a player in the first two rounds, you want them to stand out, but Davidson was more of the steady Eddie type. Belichick would be the first to tell you that consistency and durability are incredibly underrated, and Davidson started four seasons and was the same guy every Saturday. The Auburn coaching staff did some odd things with Davidson in his four years in their system. Weighing in at over 300 pounds didn’t stop the Tigers from standing Davidson up at outside linebacker. He didn’t just play on the edge, though, taking some reps at both defensive end and tackle, and projects as an interior defender at the next level. He plays with natural leverage and pad level thanks to his height (6-3), has decent lateral movement to use his quickness inside, and alters his stride length as a pass rusher to confuse blockers. But his biggest weapon is heavy hands, landing accurate punches into the chest that helps him control engagements. Davidson won’t rack up gaudy statistics or flash on tape like teammate Derrick Brown. But he’ll set the edge, play with terrific gap discipline, and get to the quarterback the way the Patriots want.
21. QB Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma
Jalen Hurts: generally accurate, poise, mobility (off-script & designed QB runs). But still has a ways to go as a passer.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) March 27, 2020
Hurts’ landing spot is one of the fascinating storylines to monitor on draft weekend. There’s no doubt that he can win as a passer and a runner, and he got substantially better with his footwork and throwing mechanics in the pocket under Lincoln Riley. However, Hurts is a “see it, throw it” passer that lacks anticipation between the numbers and sometimes hesitates to pull the trigger on open receivers. He’s generally accurate to all three levels, though, and due to his playmaking ability, there’s a potentially successful NFL offense built around his mobility that will put him in a position to succeed as a passer. As a ball carrier, Hurts isn’t as fast as Lamar Jackson, but he’s extremely slippery with excellent contact balance to run through tackles and builds up to a pretty good top speed. For evaluators, it comes down to this question with Hurts: is he more Tyrod Taylor or Dak Prescott? Dak improved his accuracy and became a complete passer in the pros, while Taylor never got away from a shy trigger finger. Hurts’s leadership qualities and improving skill set are enticing for any team that hopes they can bring his game along the rest of the way.