BOSTON (CBS) — Ready or not, the NFL draft is approaching rapidly. So if you’re keenly interested in what Bill Belichick’s first move will be in the post-Tom Brady era, it’s time to do some homework.
And of course, while the draft “experts” don’t ever really know which players will go off the board and when once the draft kicks off, it’s always worthwhile to see what they’re thinking so that you can be a bit more knowledgeable when draft night rolls around.
The latest expert to throw out a pick is ESPN’s Todd McShay, who has the Patriots selecting Iowa defensive end A.J. Epensa at No. 23 overall.
These aren’t the Patriots we are accustomed to seeing. They could use upgrades in a bunch of areas, including quarterback, wide receiver and a handful of spots on defense. I don’t expect coach Bill Belichick to reach for a QB here, and while wide receiver is in play, it seems unlikely two years in a row on Day 1. So how about an edge rusher? LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson is the better player, but Belichick has a strong relationship with Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, and Epenesa fits nicely with the Patriots’ 3-4 system as a 5-technique.
The note on wide receivers is an interesting one. Most experts agree that the talent at receiver is deep this year, but with the Patriots using the 32nd overall pick on N’Keal Harry last year (the first time Belichick had ever used a first-round pick on a receiver), it feels unlikely that they’d take another receiver in the first round this year.
At 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, Epenesa was given a comparison to Carlos Dunlap in his NFL.com draft profile, an evaluation which projected him to be a starter within his first two years in the NFL.
Epenesa recorded 49 total tackles last season, with a career-best 11.5 sacks. In his sophomore season, he recorded 10.5 sacks, and he forced four fumbles in each of the past two seasons.
NFL.com noted that he was a three-sport athlete in high school, boasting the athleticism to be a three-time All-American in football, a winner of consecutive state discus throw titles, and a scorer of 1,000 points in basketball.
“Epenesa did not start any games in his sophomore season, either, behind veterans Parker Hesse and Anthony Nelson,” NFL.com said. “He still garnered second-team All-Big Ten honors, though, by leading the Big Ten with 10.5 sacks and topping Iowa’s defense with 16.5 tackles for loss (among 37 total) and four forced fumbles. As a junior, Epenesa came on strong at the end of the year, receiving second-team Associated Press All-American and first-team all-conference accolades with 49 tackles, 14.5 for loss, and 11.5 sacks along with four forced fumbles in 13 starts.”