BOSTON (CBS) — The free agent frenzy has calmed down and, for now, there is only one thing to look forward to in the NFL: The Draft. And not that they had to wait until the free agent hoopla was over, but the mock drafters have already been out in full force, mock mock mocking all offseason long.
With Tom Brady leaving New England for Tampa Bay, this draft season is going to be a pretty important one for the Patriots. At least Bill Belichick is armed with 12 picks to help revamp the team, which has lost a lot more players than its signed so far this offseason.
There are needs aplenty up and down the roster, from quarterback to tight end on offense, to linebacker and the line on defense. Belichick has had a spotty record at the draft in recent years, but really needs to hit on most of his picks in 2020.
Who can Belichick take that will be a can’t-miss, surefire “hit” with the 23rd overall pick? Here is who the mockers want to see fly off the draft board when the Patriots select for the first time come April 23 (with a few bonus selections from the mockers who got really into their mocks):
Phil Perry, NBC Sports Boston: Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
“Safe to say quite a bit has changed across the NFL landscape since we last compiled our first-round NFL mock draft and slotted Mims in at No. 23. Still, we’re sticking with the selection. For an offense in need of speed, Mims provides it. His athleticism is off the charts for someone who measured in at 6-foot-3, 207 pounds at the combine. He’ll block. And he’ll be able to co-exist with Harry because his skill set is different. Harry excels in space with the ball in his hands as a hulking wideout. Mims has the speed to threaten safeties, the size to win jump balls and the change-of-direction ability to separate on a variety of routes.
It may seem unlikely for the Patriots to take a first-round wideout for the second straight year. But to give, say, Jarrett Stidham a starting trio of receivers that includes Mims, Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry? That’d make the second-year passer’s impossible job of filling in for Brady a bit easier.”
Mims is a big and speed outside threat who caught 28 touchdowns during his four-year career at Baylor, including 12 as a senior last season.
Perry actually mocked up all seven rounds for the Patriots, and has a handful of very intriguing selections for New England.
Ryan Wilson, CBS Sports: Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin
“Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts are all gone (they landed in Detroit, Miami and Miami — all home of former Pats assistant coaches) and Baun, who can play on the edge or at the linebacker position, has the type of versatility and smarts that makes it easy to connect him to New England.”
Baun was everywhere in the Wisconsin defense during his senior season, logging a career-high 75 total tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss. He also had two forced fumbles and a pick-six.
Wilson went ahead and drafted the first three rounds of the draft, and his trio of third-round by New England will definitely garner more excitement among Patriots fans.
No. 87: Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame
“The Patriots felt like they had no passing-game weapons at times last year, and now they don’t even have a QB. Claypool can come help the former, and he should stick at receiver after blowing the doors off the combine.”
No. 98: Adam Trautman, TE, Dayton
“The Patriots land a small-school sleeper at the tight end position that they hope can fill the void left by Rob Gronkowski’s retirement last offseason.”
No. 100: Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia
“The Patriots take a QB in the middle rounds for the second straight year as they adjust to life after TB12.”
Chris Trapasso, CBS Sports: Zach Baun, LB, Wisconsin
“With Kyle Van Noy signing with the Dolphins in free agency, the Patriots need a versatile linebacker/edge rusher hybrid. That’s what Bill Belichick gets here in Baun.”
Kevin Hanson, Sports Illustrated: A.J. Epenesa, Edge, Iowa
“Epenesa isn’t a speed rusher, but he could remind Bill Belichick of one of his former players (Trey Flowers). The former Hawkeye wins with a blend of power, length, technique and heavy hands and has the versatility to rush from the inside as well. While he started the 2019 season slowly, Epenesa closed the season strong with eight sacks and four forced fumbles over his final five games.”
Epenesa had 26.5 sacks in his three-year career at Iowa, including 11.5 sacks as a junior last season. He forced nine fumbles in college. Nine fumbles!
Hanson also mocked the first three rounds, and has the Pats splitting their first four picks between offense and defense:
No. 87: Logan Wilson, LB, Wyoming
No. 98: Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, Michigan
No. 100: Jonah Jackson, OL, Ohio State
Lance Zierlein, NFL.com: Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
“Figuring out what Bill Belichick is going to do isn’t getting any easier. However, Queen is tough and fast. He could become the new leader of the defense by next year.”
Get ready to become familiar with Queen, who racked up 131 tackles in his three years with the Tigers. Lots of mockers like this kid; we’ll find out in a few weeks if Belichick shares that opinion.
Bucky Brooks, NFL.com: Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
“The former Wisconsin standout’s versatility and athleticism would upgrade the Patriots’ linebacker corps and give Bill Belichick more options when determining how to attack opponents.”
Dan Jeremiah, NFL.com: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
“It’s highly doubtful Herbert will make it this far, but I could see New England targeting him if he starts to slide.”
Herbert is coming off a senior year where he threw 32 touchdown passes to just six interceptions. He threw for over 10,000 yards over his four-year career with the Ducks.
Michael Middlehurst-Shwartz, USA Today: Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
“Jarrett Stidham or a forthcoming trade option (Andy Dalton?) seem like more reasonable successors to Brady than any rookie. Yet Bill Belichick might have a difficult time bypassing a passer with Love’s considerable gifts if the quarterback were to fall to this point. With easy arm strength to attack downfield and mobility to throw defenses off balance, the 6-4, 224-pound signal-caller would open up a new world of possibilities for Belichick following the many years of Brady’s quick-trigger approach.”
After throwing 32 touchdowns and getting picked just six times as a sophomore in 2018, Love had a down year for Utah State as a junior, throwing just 20 touchdowns to 17 picks. But he has a cannon for an arm and can fit passes into tight windows, so if Belichick wants a project who may become his future QB, Love could be the guy.
Walterfootball.com: Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
“I’ve been mocking Jake Fromm to the Patriots in this spot or quite some time, but given how much Fromm struggled at the combine, New England might be able to obtain him in the third round. If Bill Belichick believes that to be true, he could opt for a linebacker, given that three of his top four players at the position are heading for free agency.”
Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN: Jacob Eason, QB, Washington
ESPN’s resident draft “expert” hasn’t mocked in a while, but even before Brady left for Tampa, he had New England drafting a quarterback at the end of the first round.
“Yes, that’s right, I’m now going with a quarterback for the Patriots, who still don’t know if they’ll have Tom Brady under center in 2020. Even if the 42-year-old free agent returns on a short-term deal, the Pats have to address the position on the first two days of the draft, so why not do it now? I like 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham’s potential, but I’m not sold on him as a long-term starter. Eason has been getting a lot of buzz from people I talk to in the NFL lately, though he’s not a lock to be the fourth quarterback taken; he’s still battling with Utah State’s Jordan Love, but I’ll give the 6-6 Eason the edge for now. He has the best arm of any signal-caller in this class, though he can be erratic at times. It’d be ideal if he got a year or two to sit behind Brady, but he has a much higher ceiling that Stidham. Safety and linebacker are other positions to keep an eye on for New England’s top pick.”
Eason spent his first two collegiate years at Georgia, but transferred to Washington after losing his starting gig to Fromm. Eason injured his knee in the first game of the season, and Fromm never surrendered the starting job from that point on. In his lone season at Washington, Eason completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 3,132 yards, 23 touchdowns and eight picks.
And if you were curious, Jacob’s father is named Tony, and though he did play quarterback during his college days, he is not the Tony Eason who was quarterback for the Patriots during the 1980s.