The Patriots have several holes to fill on their roster as they begin the post-Tom Brady era.
Our big board is based on my grading of 50 prospects that fit from a traits, scheme, and athletic profile perspective in New England.
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 50-41 on our board, which consists of prospects projected to go on day two of the draft:
50. WR Antonio Gibson, Memphis
Late to the party with Memphis WR/RB Antonio Gibson. Big plays on carries, screens, double moves make highlights but consistent wins come with route running.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 11, 2020
Gibson was a one-year wonder after sitting behind Rams running back Darrell Henderson and the Cowboys’ Tony Pollard at Memphis. In that one season, however, Gibson starred as a do-it-all offensive weapon, putting up 1,104 yards and 12 touchdowns, mostly playing in the slot but also carrying the ball 33 times and returning kickoffs. His speed (4.39 in the 40) and ability to break tackles in space litter his tape with explosive plays. But his attention to detail as a route runner, where he sets up route breaks by attacking leverage and crowds defensive backs downfield to separate at the top of routes, should lead to consistency at the next level. Gibson is a slept on wideout prospect with great size, explosiveness, and versatility.
49. DT Leki Fotu, Utah
Utah nose tackle Leki Fotu wasn't a great fit in their slanting/penetrating system. But for the #Patriots, he could be a really good two-gapping nose in the round 3-4 range.
Excellent upper-body strength, punch power, and motor. pic.twitter.com/OPzaTpCnMv
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 10, 2020
Fotu is an enormous body in the middle of the defensive line at 6-5, 330 pounds that fits as a traditional 3-4 nose tackle. At Utah, Fotu wasn’t an ideal fit in their slanting-based scheme, where he was asked to penetrate rather than hold at the point of attack too often. He still made his presence felt, though, overwhelming opponents with immense upper-body power. As a two-gapping defender over the center, Fotu would thrive as an early-down run defender for the Patriots.
48. DL Jordan Elliott, Missouri
Getting into the defensive line class. Already broke down some first-round #Patriots targets, but liking Jordan Elliott for them as a mid-round option. Two-gapper vs run, plays multiple alignments, heavy hands.
Textbook stack, read, shed two-gapper on the DL. pic.twitter.com/IbgK9pefsa
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 3, 2020
Elliott is another perfect scheme fit as an advanced two-gapper that can play both inside and at defensive end. His hand technique and upper-body power noticeably jolt back blockers and help him lock out and shed blocks against the run. Elliott also has the lateral quickness to cross blockers’ faces with sudden short-area movements, but it’s his well-schooled hand fighting that will be the basis of his NFL success. Elliott’s production didn’t match his talent level at Mizzou, but a fit in Belichick’s scheme might get the best out of him moving forward.
47. 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
Wallace is a hybrid defensive back that spent most of his time guarding slot receivers but can also play high zone in split-safety coverages. A stellar combine workout landing him in the 97th percentile, fourth-best among safeties, put Wallace on our radar. Although he isn’t the flashiest prospect, Wallace drew the tougher slot matchups this past season and was featured in many of defensive coordinator Brent Venables’s complex coverage rotations. Wallace understands his weekly assignment and play-to-play responsibilities and seldom strays, making him a perfect “do-your-job” type of prospect. He got lost on a talented Clemson defense over the last few seasons, but his ability to play within the structure and in big games could entice the Patriots.
46. OL Matt Hennessy, Temple
Temple center Matt Hennessy is another potential #Patriots target on day two that caught my eye at the combine. Might be better suited for zone-heavy schemes, but he can block gap runs too, and very good in pass pro.
Balance, feet, & hand technique in pass sets are great. pic.twitter.com/yvHndDnbdY
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 1, 2020
Hennessy was a three-year starter at center who earned permanent captain status and a single-digit practice number signifying the toughest players on the team, a “Temple Tough” tradition. He’s a cerebral prospect that also garnered interest from the Ivy League out of High School, but it’s his movement skills that drew us to him following the combine. Hennessy flashed great lateral slides with proper weight distribution both on tape and on the field in Indy. He also creates leverage points with upward momentum and lower-body flexibility to get underneath defenders and move them out of gaps. Hennessy’s movement skills and size might make him a better fit in a zone-heavy scheme, but the Pats have a thing for undersized centers, and he’ll be a quality backup to all three interior spots that should blossom into a starter.
45. EDGE Josh Uche, Michigan
Josh Uche has a lot of the same traits as Zack Baun but less buzz. Hybrid player at his best rushing the passer but can also play off the line.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 9, 2020
Uche is an undersized edge rusher that offers versatility as a standup outside linebacker or inside backer that can rush over the guards or drop into coverage. He possesses an excellent first step and snap reaction with a full repertoire of pass rush moves (speed, rip-dip, long arm), making him best-suited for situational pass rushing against tackles. But he also has terrific range and coverage skills, even running the seam with Penn State speedster K.J. Hamler and putting the straps on tight ends last season. With improved processing skills from off the ball, Uche could play inside linebacker where he’s a better size fit. But pairing him with fellow Wolverine Chase Winovich as sub-rushers would give the Patriots two young pass rushers with some juice.
44. TE Thaddeus Moss, LSU
LSU TE Thad Moss is an extremely impressive run blocker. Definitely a potential #Patriots target in this year's draft. Blocks on the line, on the move, whams. You name it, he did it for the Tigers. Big-time versatility & power at the point of attack (🔊) pic.twitter.com/WHteuhbxnv
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) February 11, 2020
Bringing another member of the Moss family to New England would be a great story, and although he does it differently than his father, Randy, there’s a lot to like about Thaddeus. Despite his lineage, Moss is a better run blocker than pass-catcher, offering terrific power at the point of attack and versatility to make any block, both in-line or on the move. He can truly be a featured component of your running game, but Moss lacks explosiveness and playmaking ability as a pass-catcher. He will offer a reliable set of hands and smarts reading out underneath zones, but he’s more of a check-down receiver than a big-play producer like his father. His skill set suggests that the Patriots will view Moss more as a TE2 option behind a starter with more upside as a receiver. But he’s a perfect fit in a Dwayne Allen type role.
43. WR K.J. Hill, Ohio State
K.J. Hill isn't the fastest receiver in the class but he's lightning quick and shows great attention to detail. Takes that extra step to get on the CB's toes before he breaks off the route. Extra upfield step runs his man into traffic and makes his break more effective. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/YHIg8wXJ2Y
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) January 30, 2020
Hill isn’t for everyone after speed concerns on tape were exacerbated by a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, putting him in the 17th percentile for wideouts. However, he’s arguably the best underneath route runner in this class, consistently displaying terrific separation quickness and an advanced understanding of how to read out and attack coverages. Hill’s route tree came from the OSU coaching staff watching tape of Julian Edelman, then taking that and adapting it to their scheme. With a heavy dosage of option routes and crossers on tape, it’s easy to see how the Pats could peg hill as a potential successor to Edelman. Despite more athletically gifted teammates such as Terry McLaurin and Parris Campbell, Hill broke the Ohio State career receptions record in his four seasons in Columbus (201 receptions).
42. 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
Decision making, accuracy, throwing mechanics; that’s what Belichick wrote about his ideal quarterback in a 1991 handout tweeted out by NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah recently. Based on those criteria, it’s hard not to see the fit for Fromm in New England. He’s got mediocre arm talent, but Fromm is a clean thrower that puts the ball on-time in places where his playmakers can do their thing. Plus, he rarely turns the ball over with a 78-18 touchdown-to-interception ratio in three years as the Bulldogs’ starter. At his best, Fromm is a facilitator that functions well within structure. There are ways to mask his arm strength with shorter drops and a tweak or two to his throwing mechanics. But he’s unlikely to improve arm talent-wise dramatically, so you’re getting a quarterback that’s more game manager than a playmaker. My ceiling comparison for Fromm would be someone like Kirk Cousins.
41. CB Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State
#Patriots had a video call with Mississippi St. CB Cameron Dantzler. Locked down Ja'marr Chase better than anyone in 2019.
Patient press corner with length, fluid flip & run to stay in phase. WR wants to make CB move. Dantzler stays square through the release to prevent that. pic.twitter.com/n9HUUPtGg7
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 11, 2020
Before you start to moan and groan about another day two cornerback, hear me out on Dantzler. There’s always a handful of teams and games that you constantly watch to study prospects, and the LSU offense was that litmus test for many defensive players this year. Out of all the cornerbacks that faced Biletnikoff winner Ja’Marr Chase, Dantzler had the most success, holding him to a season-low 9.6 yards per catch (five receptions, 48 yards). The Mississippi State cornerback plays a brand of press-man coverage that the Pats covet. He has terrific patience at the line of scrimmage to stay square through the receivers’ route release, gets physical within the contact window, and then reads the break to flip-and-run with whoever he is guarding. Some teams will sour on Dantzler after inconsistent tape and a 4.64-second time in the 40-yard dash. He’s a traits-based prospect, but his long speed was not a significant concern on film due to his hip fluidity and smothering style, and there’s nobody better at developing defensive back talent than Belichick.