The start to Patriots Training Camp is finally almost upon us as it is set to start in just under a week. One of the biggest issues the Patriots had at times last year was at defensive line, most notably in the Super Bowl where they couldn’t generate any pressure on Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, as well as being unable to stop the Eagles in the running game. The Patriots will return some of their main core on the defensive line, such as Trey Flowers, Malcolm Brown, and Deatrich Wise Jr., as welcome in a few new faces.
One of the new names that people should expect to see a lot from this season is defensive end Adrian Clayborn. Clayborn signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Patriots this offseason after spending the previous three seasons in Atlanta. In 2017 Clayborn finished with a career-high 9.5 sacks, and while that total looks good on the surface it’s worth noting that six of his sacks came in one game going against the Dallas Cowboys and backup left tackle Chaz Green. A former first-round pick Clayborn is a player who so far has not lived up to his full potential and hype around him following his career at Iowa, partly due to playing in three games or less in two of his four seasons while in Tampa Bay due to injury. If Clayborn can stay on the field and continue to build off maybe his best season as a pro in last season I would expect him to be a big contributor on the Patriots defensive line opposite Trey Flowers.
Another new face that should make a big impact on the defensive line this season is Danny Shelton, whom the he Patriots acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Browns this offseason. Shelton is a former 12th overall pick in the NFL Draft by the Browns, the same draft where the Patriots selected Malcolm Brown in the first round.
Both Brown and Shelton are true run stuffing defensive tackles and while Shelton had a down year in 2017, Brown is coming off his best year as a member of the Patriots in 2017. Having two big defensive tackles in Brown and Shelton in the middle of your line with a combination of Flowers, Wise, Clayborn, Lawrence Guy, and Derek Rivers as edge rushers, as well as having Vincent Valentine and Adam Butler to play in the middle, gives the Patriots lots of flexibility on all three downs and in all types of situations. If players are able to stay healthy and play up to their potential this Patriots defensive line is one that offers tons of flexibility and can cause problems for opposing offenses.
The 2018 NFL Draft is just over a week away and the Patriots still have some holes and needs on the roster that they will look to address in the draft. After a surprising trade that sent wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams, the Patriots now own two picks in the first and second rounds and own five of the first 95 picks in the draft.
This seven-round mock draft was conducted on FanSpeak.com using their mock draft simulator. I used the ‘Big Board’ rankings done by Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, with ‘NFL Mock’ for team needs, on the difficult draft setting. Some players may be ranked higher in other rankings and projections then were taken in this mock draft.
The Patriots linebacking core was terrible in 2017. The Patriots will benefit heavily from getting Dont’a Hightower back from injury in 2018, but is someone the Patriots can not rely on to stay healthy and even with Hightower returning and healthy the Pats could use an upgrade at the position. The Pats select another Alabama linebacker in Evans to pair with Hightower. Evans is extremely versatile and has the ability to play both inside and outside in the pros, as well as get after the quarterback and drop into coverage. Selecting Evans gives a great complimentary piece to Hightower, as well as gives the Patriots insurance if Hightower misses time again in the future. Evans had an official visit with the Patriots last week and is someone who is definitely on the Patriots radar.
I had the Patriots selecting Miller here in the first version of my mock draft and stick with him again here. Following the departure of left tackle Nate Solder tackle immediately becomes one of the biggest needs for the Patriots, despite the team re-signing LaAdrian Waddle in free agency. Waddle filled in nicely last year at right tackle for Marcus Cannon, but is not a full-time starter. Miller can step in right away and protect the blindside of quarterback Tom Brady. Miller has good size and arm length similar to Solder which will help him defend speed rushers off the edge. 2017 third-round pick Tony Garcia is reported to be getting healthier after missing all of the 2017 season due to having blood clots in his lungs and the Patriots could defer to take a tackle later on in the draft if they believe in Garcia, but I have them taking Miller here who can step in and start right away. Miller visited with the Patriots last week and wouldn’t be surprising to see his name called by the Patriots on Day One of the NFL Draft.
Round 2 Pick 43: Maurice Hurst, Defensive Line, Michigan
Let me start off by saying that I do not think Hurst will be available at this pick, hell I don’t even think Hurst be around at 23 if were being honest but it’s the way the simulator goes and if for some reason Hurst was available here the Patriots should run up the stage with the draft card with his name on it. As a Michigan fan I’ve watched a lot of Hurst over the past few years and he is an absolute monster on the defensive line. His speed and explosiveness allows him to go through an offensive line with ease and disrupt plays in the backfield. Hurst also has the ability to play inside or outside due to his combination of size and speed. Would be small for a true interior defensive lineman listed at 6’2 282 pounds, but has size flexibility to gain weight to his frame to become more of an interior player or stay where he’s at or slim down and play primarily on the outside and move inside on third down and passing situations. Hurst did have a medical condition for an irregular heartbeat at the NFL Combine but was cleared medically prior to his pro day.
Round 2 Pick 63: Mike Gesicki, Tight End, Penn State
While I believe that Rob Gronkowski will return to the Patriots for 2018 his status is currently unknown. Even if Gronkowski returns, Gesicki is an improvement from Jacob Hollister and Dwayne Allen, the latter who still could be released from the Patriots and save the team $5 million in cap space, as well as be a nice compliment to Gronkowski in the passing game. Gesicki has good size listed at 6’5 247 pounds, and had a great combine running a 4.54 40-yard dash. While Gesicki isn’t polished as a blocker he has great hands and route running ability, which could allow the Patriots to draft Gesicki and still keep Allen, who was used primarily as a blocker last season.
The big question of who is going to be Tom Brady’s successor has finally been answered in Richmond quarterback Kyle Lauletta. Lauletta could end up going earlier than this due to the need of quarterbacks around the league, and the reported Patriots interest in Lauletta earlier in the draft process and offseason. Lauletta was the MVP of the Senior Bowl and has drawn comparisons to Jimmy Garoppolo, primarily due to the two both being quarterbacks from the FCS and some similarities in their play style. If Belichick sees Lauletta as a similar player to Garoppolo you could see the Patriots, and other teams attempt to move up earlier in the draft to select him. There were reports that the Patriots were the team most interested in Lamar Jackson, and while I think Jackson is a great player do not want the Patriots selecting a quarterback too early in the draft, especially with the team likely having to move up in the first round to select Jackson.
Round 6 Pick 198: Taron Johnson, Cornerback, Weber State
Cornerback looked to be a big need for the Patriots after Malcolm Butler signed with the Tennessee Titans and the Patriots missed out on top guys on the market such as Aqib Talib and Richard Sherman. The Patriots then made a call to their farm system the Cleveland Browns to acquire Jason McCourty, which doesn’t make corner as big an area of need for the Patriots. Johnson player both outside and in the slot during his time at Weber State, but projects as more of an inside corner in the pros due to his size. Johnson has good ball skills having 42 passes broken up during his time at Weber State and could push Cyrus Jones for a roster spot if the former second-round pick doesn’t show signs of improvement.
Round 6 Pick 210: Christian Sam, Linebacker, Arizona State
Patriots go linebacker again in the sixth round taking Christian Sam, who is a slightly undersized linebacker but has the ability to play inside and outside linebacker. Sam is a good coverage linebacker which is something the Patriots lacked last season and can help fill a role on defense and is someone who always seems to be around the ball. Sam is another player who has had an official visit with the Patriots prior to the draft.
The Patriots lost Dion Lewis in free agency but retained Rex Burkhead as well as signed Jeremy Hill in the offseason which doesn’t make running back a huge need. Edmonds was an extremely productive four year starter at the FCS level but dealt with some injuries during his time in college. The Patriots could take a flyer on him late to see how he translates from the FCS.
The Patriots have lost some key contributors from their 2017 team in the early stages of the NFL offseason so far in players such as Nate Solder, Dion Lewis, Malcolm Butler and Danny Amendola; and could still lose several other contributors as the offseason goes on.
This seven round mock draft was conducted on FanSpeak.com using their mock draft simulator. Some players may be ranked higher in some rankings and projections then were taken in this mock draft.
Following the departure of left tackle Nate Solder tackle immediately becomes one of the biggest needs for the Patriots, as they could still also lose both LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming to free agency. Miller can step in right away and protect the blindside of quarterback Tom Brady. Miller has good size and arm length similar to Solder which will help him defend speed rushers off the edge. The Patriots added tackle Matt Tobin in free agency who as part of an abysmal Seattle Seahawks offensive line last season, and drafted Tony Garcia last year in the third round who missed his whole rookie season due to blood clots. Garcia’s status and health is currently unknown and Miller can step in and start right away.
Round 2 pick 43: Leighton Vander Esch, linebacker, Boise State
The Patriots linebacking core was terrible in 2017. The Patriots will benefit heavily from getting Dont’a Hightower back from injury in 2018, but is someone the Patriots can not rely on to stay healthy. Vander Esch has very good size at 6’4 250lbs which will allow him to play both inside and outside in the NFL, but projects best as in inside linebacker in the NFL. Vander Esch can be a great compliment to Hightower and also gives the Patriots insurance at linebacker if Hightower misses time again in the future and is a big improvement over guys like Elandon Roberts, Marquis Flowers and Kyle Van Noy.
Round 2 pick 62: Mark Andrews, tight end, Oklahoma
While I believe that Rob Gronkowski will return to the Patriots for 2018 his status is currently unknown. Even if Andrews returns he is an improvement from Jacob Hollister and Dwayne Allen, who still could be released from the Patriots and save the team $5 million in cap space, as well as be a nice compliment to Gronkowski in the passing game, Andrews has great size and was a big red zone threat during his time at Oklahoma. Andrews weakness is that he isn’t a great blocker and is primarily just a pass catcher on offense. Because of this the Patriots could look to keep Allen even if they draft Andrews, who is a great blocking tight end but was practically invisible in the passing game last season.
Round 3 pick 95: Lorenzo Carter, edge rusher, Georgia
Carter has great size at 6’6 250lbs for an edge rusher and had a very good showing at the NFL Combine running a 4.50 40 yard dash. Edge Rusher is a need for the Patriots but I don’t put it at the top of lists for things they need. Trey Flowers had a good season last year and rookie Deatrich Wise showed signs of promise. The Patriots will also get back Derek Rivers who missed his entire rookie season last year after tearing his ACL in training camp, and I expect the team to bring back James Harrison on a veterans minimum deal. The team has also signed defensive end Adrian Clayborne to a two-year deal. Carter will have time to learn and fill out his frame more as well as be able to contribute as a pass rusher on third downs for the Patriots and give the team another nice piece to have for the future.
Round 4 pick 136: Tarvarus McFadden, cornerback, Florida State
Cornerback looked to be a big need for the Patriots after Malcolm Butler signed with the Tennessee Titans and the Patriots missed out on top guys on the market such as Aqib Talib and Richard Sherman. The Patriots then made a call to their farm system the Cleveland Browns to acquire Jason McCourty before the team released him. McFadden has good size at 6’2 and has very good ball skills. McFadden could use more time to develop and cornerback isn’t a big need for the Patriots right now with Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones on the roster but could look to add another corner in the draft.
Round 6 pick 185: Jaylen Samuels, North Carolina State
Samuels seems like a player that the Patriots would value and love. During his time at N.C. State Samuels spent time at running back, fullback, wide receiver and tight end. His versatility on offense is something that Bill Belichick would fall in love with. These rankings had him listed as a running back, but other rankings have him listed as a tight end so it’s tough to project what position he will play in the NFL, if he’d even have a true defined position. With the losses of Amendola and Lewis someone like Samuels could have value and step into numerous roles in the Patriots offense, or spend time on the practice squad and work on developing a defined position rather than being a Swiss army knife on offense.
It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if the Patriots didn’t address the Quarterback position at all in this years draft. It also wouldn’t surprise me at all if they took someone they liked earlier on in the draft. Right now you have to think that Tom Brady has at least three more years left and Brian Hoyer is a more than capable backup QB. The Patriots met with Litton at the NFL Combine and seems to be someone they could have some interest in if they do want to address the quarterback position in the draft, but as of right now they have other holes and needs to fill.
The start of the NFL Draft is just under a week away. Currently the Patriots will not pick until the third round with the 72nd pick overall after trading their first round pick to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for wide receiver Brandin Cooks and their second round pick to the Carolina Panthers for defensive end Kony Ealy and the Panthers third round pick which is 72.
I did a seven round mock draft using the draft simulator on FanSpeak.com. While some players may not be around in the actual draft while they were in the simulation I selected the players who I thought helped fit the biggest needs for the Patriots.
Round 3, pick 72: Ryan Anderson, Edge Rusher, Alabama
Edge Rusher remains the biggest need for the Patriots after the offseason, even with the addition of Kony Ealy. The team lost Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard to free agency and have little depth at the position. Anderson is a very good pass rusher and can get after the passer standing up and with his hand in the dirt. One down side with Anderson is his size, only standing at 6’2 253 pounds he could face problems against bigger tackles. Given the relationship between Bill Belichick and Alabama head coach Nick Saban, Anderson is someone who the Patriots could definitely look to draft to help their issues at the defensive end/ outside linebacker position.
Round 3, pick 96: Sidney Jones, cornerback, Washington
While I don’t expect Jones to last near this long the Patriots should draft him immediately if he does. Jones would have been a first round pick if it wasn’t for the torn Achillies injury he suffered at his pro day. Jones is a very physical corner who possesses good speed, and also has a knack for finding the ball with his nine career interceptions during his time at Washington. Jones insisted that he would be ready in time for training camp, and even if he isn’t would still be a great pick at this point in the draft with the talent he possesses. If the Patriots do part ways with Malcolm Butler either this year or next, Jones could be a great replacement in the secondary.
Round 4, pick 131: Jake Butt, tight end, Michigan
Like Jones, Jake Butt saw his draft stock slide due to injury. Butt suffered a torn ACL in the Orange Bowl against Florida State and is currently rehabbing the injury. Butt wont burn you defenders with his speed but is a consistent, reliable pass catches and a very good blocker for the tight end position. When you watch Butt you can see flashes of Cowboys tight end Jason Witten in his game. The Patriots lost Martellus Bennett in free agency but acquired Dwayne Allen in a trade from the Colts to pair up with Rob Gronkowski. The issue? Both Gronkowski and Allen have had their share of injury problems since entering the league. Adding another tight end into the mix would be a wise move for the Patriots in the draft; and because of the deep tight end class and injury that he suffered Butt could be a potential steal for the Patriots in the fourth round.
Round 5, pick 163: James Conner, running back, Pittsburgh
Running back is not a huge position of need for the Patriots, especially if Buffalo does not match the offer sheet that the Patriots gave restricted free-agent Mike Gillislee earlier this week. But as of now Gillislee isn’t a member of the Patriots so James Conner is the pick here. Conner is a big physical back with a powerful running style, similar of LaGarrette Blount, who still remains a free agent. Conner could give the Patriots the big, physical back that the team is currently missing and has been a key piece to the offense over the past several seasons. Even with the addition of Gillislee, Conner could be someone who could find a place on the Patriots practice squad.
Round 5, pick 183: Erik Magnuson, tackle, Michigan
Magnuson has experience playing both guard and tackle while at Michigan. He has pretty good size at 6’6 305 pounds, but could bulk up a little bit if his full-time position is at tackle. Magnuson was named to the first-team All-Big Ten team this past season with the Wolverines and played well against good competition such as Ohio State and Wisconsin. Magnuson would be an upgrade over LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming as a backup tackle.
The son of former Patriot Bryan Cox, Cox Jr. has the size to play defensive end and outside linebacker in the NFL at 6’3 265 pounds. Cox Jr. had a productive first three seasons at Florida before battling injuries during his senior year. Cox Jr. isn’t a very polished pass rusher and only ran a 4.89 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, but is a good run defender. During his best season as a junior, Cox Jr. had 10 tackles for a loss with 3.5 sacks. Adding Cox could give the Patriots another big body on the outside that the team currently does not have much depth in.
Round 7, pick 239: Fred Ross, wide receiver, Mississippi State
Wide receiver is not an area of need for the Patriots this season but could be later on down the road and drafting Ross could give the Patriots someone they could hold onto and develop more and maybe keep on the practice squad. Ross possesses good size and speed for the position, standing at 6’2 and running a 4.5 40-yard dash. Ross had a breakout junior season with Dak Prescott at quarterback, setting a school record with 88 receptions and surpassing over 1,000 yards receiving. His numbers slipped a little during his senior season without Presott, but had 12 receiving touchdowns. Ross also contributed on special teams for Mississippi State and could help the Patriots in that department as they struggled with Cyrus Jones returning kicks and punts last year.
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