With each day that passes, it seems like the chances of Nate Solder returning as the right tackle for the New England Patriots appear slimmer and slimmer.
While the new league year has not yet begun, it somehow seems like Solder will move on. The Patriots historically do not pay huge contracts to free agents under Bill Belichick, and that could be the case here. Nate Solder could be in line for a pretty hefty payday, and that could come from a different team.
New England will have a need for a starting left tackle to go along with their to-do list to add to the linebackers, on the edge, and to find a cornerback to replace Malcolm Butler. The 2018 NFL Draft will provide a chance to address all of those needs and more, with a deep draft class and players that can step in to play immediately.
This mock draft comes after the NFL Combine, in which some players have increased their stock while others took a slide. No mock draft is perfect, and surely some will think I am so far off in these predictions. I welcome all feedback in the comments or on Twitter.
Through Mockdraftable, I have been able to provide a comparison to a historical player taken in the NFL Draft. That is not to say that the 2018 player and the player taken in the past are the same or will have similar NFL careers, and that is important to keep in mind. The site simply looks at the players’ height, weight, wingspan, arm length, hand size, 40-yard dash time, vertical jump, broad jump, 3-cone drill time, and 20-yard shuttle time. They are ranked by percentile, and players that match up to that skill set from the year they were drafted, are mentioned as comparable players. Again though, that is not to say that the two players are exactly alike or that the new player will follow a similar career path.
Round 1, Pick 31: OT Kolton Miller, UCLA
Draft Comparable: Eric Fisher, Central Michigan (2013)
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.95 sec
- Bench Press: 24 reps
- Vertical Jump: 31.5 in
- Broad Jump: 121.0 in
- 3-Cone Drill: 7.34 sec
- 20-Yard Shuttle: 4.49 sec
If New England is unable or unwilling to strike a deal with left tackle Nate Solder, they need to strongly consider drafting a player that can step in immediately at the position. Kolton Miller can be that player if he’s still available. He’s a big body at 6’9″, 310lbs and he excels with a high motor on every play. Miller plays with great timing and angles to take advantage of his size, and he plays extremely well with his footwork. The tape shows that he has the ability to adjust in game, and he has the potential to be an NFL starter right away. He lacks flexibility and his height hinders his ability to get low, but we have seen that left tackles with height can still succeed in the league. Late in the first round, he would be a great pick for the Patriots, addressing an immediate need right away.
Pick Change: Previously DT Trenton Thompson, Georgia
Round 2, Pick 43: LB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma
Draft Comparable: Yannick Ngakoue, Maryland (2016)
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.77 sec
- Bench Press: 27 reps
- Vertical Jump: 38.0 in
- Broad Jump: 121.0 in
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo had a great career for the Oklahoma Sooners. As a senior in 2017, he helped lead his team to the College Football Playoff with 75 tackles, 8 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. That came after a great 9 sack junior season.
Okoronkwo is a natural pass rusher and has great instincts to attack the pocket. He needs to improve his ability to set the edge to succeed as a NFL linebacker, and is so far unable to break free from quality run blockers. He has the ability to improve upon those weaknesses though to develop into a very solid starter in the league.
Pick Change: Previously CB Nick Nelson, Wisconsin
Round 2, Pick 63: DE Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State
Draft Comparable: Jermaine Cunningham, Florida (2010)
- Vertical Jump: 35.5 in
- Broad Jump: 122.0 in
Defensive end Tyquan Lewis is likely going to go through more events at his Pro Day, as he only took part in the vertical jump and broad jump on the field at the NFL Combine. He’s viewed as a player that could sneak into the end of the 1st Round, but he is more than likely a 2nd Round guy. The New England Patriots will hope he falls to their second pick in that round to select him 63rd overall.
Lewis would help the Patriots on the edge with his great lean and ability to gain ground in his first two steps. While he currently wastes too much time in the pass rush, that is something that coaches can work with. At the NFL level, one move is usually all you have time for, and he will need to learn that in order to find success. New England has the benefit of being set with Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise as their starters on the edge, with Derek Rivers returning to the mix in 2018. Tyquan Lewis would be able to slot in behind that group to get into the rotation.
Pick Change: Previously OT Brandon Parker, North Carolina A&T
Round 3, Pick 95: RB Royce Freeman, Oregon
Draft Comparable: Eddie Lacy, Alabama (2013)
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.54 sec
- Bench Press: 17 reps
- Vertical Jump: 34.0 in
- Broad Jump: 118.0 in
- 3-Cone Drill: 6.90 sec
- 20-Yard Shuttle: 4.16 sec
- 60-Yard Shuttle: 11.64 sec
Royce Freeman performed well at the NFL Combine, but he didn’t blow anyone away. He doesn’t have blazing speed, but he is a player that has more than just the measurables. At Oregon, he ran for 5,621 yards with 60 touchdowns in 4 seasons. Freeman can also catch the ball, as he hauled in 79 receptions with an additional 4 scores. From his freshman season through his senior year, Freeman was a playmaker for the Ducks, and that’s exactly what the New England Patriots look for in a running back.
Freeman is extremely patient in waiting for blocks to develop, and he’s at his best when he makes just one cut. He finds a way to maximize his yards after contact and will fight for every inch. The knock on Freeman is his lack of speed to get to the hole before it closes and to pull away from defenders in the open field. The Patriots have had success with another former Oregon running back though in LeGarrette Blount who ran just a 4.59 40-yard dash. The Patriots could look to use Freeman in a similar way to how they used Blount during his two stints here.
Pick Change: Previously QB Chase Litton, Marshall
Round 4, Pick 136: CB Nick Nelson, Wisconsin
Draft Comparable: Chris Davis, Auburn (2014)
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.52 sec
- Bench Press: 17 reps
- Broad Jump: 123.0 in
Cornerback Nick Nelson seems to have slipped a bit on the draft boards after the NFL Combine. It’s not that he performed particularly poorly, it’s that he was already viewed as a prospect that could go anywhere between Round 2 and Round 5, and others stepped up. Nelson didn’t take part in every event as well, which hurt his stock a little. A solid pro day could change that though. That could end up helping the New England Patriots if they can wait until this pick to select the Wisconsin product.
Nelson certainly has the skills that would allow him to play on the Patriots defense and special teams units in 2018. He would be a depth cornerback, and New England would need to find a holdover player for a year or two to become the #2 corner alongside Stephon Gilmore before Nick Nelson is ready for that role.
Pick Change: Previously LB Micah Kiser, Virginia
Round 6, Pick 205: QB Mike White, Western Kentucky
Draft Comparable: Tom Brady, Michigan (2000)
- 40-Yard Dash: 5.09 sec
- Vertical Jump: 27.0 in
- Broad Jump: 96.0 in
- 3-Cone Drill: 7.40 sec
- 20-Yard Shuttle: 4.40 sec
Western Kentucky’s Mike White doesn’t have any extremely close matches on Mockdraftable, but surprisingly his second-closest was Tom Brady at 76.9%. Like Brady, White could become a Patriots 6th Round draft pick. As New England begins the process of once again finding TB12’s successor, he seems to fit the bill.
New England would surely love to land a quarterback in this draft, but they have other more immediate needs that require the use of their earlier picks. White should still be available here in the second-to-last round, and with this being the Patriots final pick of the day, it’s their QB time.
White stands in at just over 6’4″, 225lbs. In 2016 as a junior, he threw for 4,363 yards, 37 touchdowns, and just 7 interceptions. He completed 67% of his passes as well. He took a slight step back in 2017, though he still completed 65.7% oh his throws. White had 26 touchdowns and u interceptions as a senior.
Pick Change: Previously DE Mike Love, South Florida
The Patriots may very well find their next starting quarterback deep in the NFL Draft like they did surprisingly with Tom Brady. White would benefit from a few seasons learning behind Brady before eventually taking over as the leader. Those seasons would be critical and crucial to his success in the NFL, and if he hopes to win playoff games in New England he needs to become a sponge around Brady. Taking in all that he can in order to become successful in his own right because there is no easy way to follow up the greatest QB of all-time.
New England can also address their more immediate needs in the 2018 NFL Draft by adding a tackle, cornerback, linebacker, defensive end, and even a bonus running back. While Brady and Bill Belichick are still around to lead the Patriots, they have to find players that can step in and contribute almost immediately. The players in this mock draft seem to have that potential, especially in terms of the first 3 (Miller, Okoronkwo, Lewis). Running back Royce Freeman may also be able to play a role behind James White and Mike Gillislee is New England does lose both Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis.
A draft like this, could wind up as one of the best under Bill Belichick, even though the team has less picks than usual. The talent in the 2018 class seems to be extremely deep, and that benefits New England with their late-in-the-round positioning. They should still be able to find productive players at slot 31 to help them make another Super Bowl run.