BOSTON (CBS) — We’re just a week out from the NFL Draft. The Final Countdown is blaring in the homes of mock drafters everywhere.
The mockers are all over the board when it comes to New England making a pick at No. 23 overall, but most have Bill Belichick focusing on defense with his first pick in the draft. Some are hanging on to the slim possibility that New England will draft a quarterback to help replace Tom Brady. And closer to reality, both of the local guys in this roundup have Belichick trading down and out of the first round, which we all know is a very real and very likely possibility, considering the Patriots don’t have a second-round selection among their 12 scheduled picks.
Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun’s name pops up on a few mocks, and he’s made news recently for testing positive for a diluted sample at the Combine. He said “drinking too much water for weight-related weigh-in purposes” was responsible for that diluted sample, but that may hurt his draft stock. That will likely hurt his draft stock for other teams, but for a Pats team in need of some depth at linebacker, it probably won’t scare them away.
Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin
It’s really tough to predict what Bill Belichick is going to do in a draft, but we know that he likes versatile front-seven pieces. That’s Baun, who broke out for the Badgers last season with 12.5 sacks and 19.5 total tackles for loss. The Patriots lost linebackers Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts in free agency, so Baun fills a need. Since it appears New England is happy with Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer at quarterback, I’ll stay away from that position.
Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama
Yes, the team just re-upped Devin McCourty but Patrick Chung is 32 years old. McKinney is one of the most versatile defenders in this class and can line up in deep centerfield or closer to the line of scrimmage.
Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
The Patriots may have to trade up for Love, but with him falling into their lap here, they can’t pass on him.
Will Brison, CBS Sports (from April 2)
K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU
It would be very Patriots of the Patriots to trade down here but I’ll give them one of the edge guys out of a stout LSU defense.
Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin
They love players who are versatile and Baun is that. He can play the edge and some teams think he’s a middle linebacker. He fits the Patriots way.
Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
With teams like the Raiders, Jaguars and Saints possibly in the market for a QB, either at their own picks or via trade, the Patriots make a bold move to secure the last first-round talent at the position, giving up No. 23, 87 and 125.
Harrison Bryant, TE, Florida Atlantic
First time you’ve seen Bryant’s name in the first round of a mock draft? Don’t be shocked — I can see it happening. New England has tried to get Jared Cook and Hayden Hurst in back-to-back offseasons, with no success. Bryant is a big body who can both catch balls and block. He isn’t Gronk, but no one is. What he can be is a building block for whomever Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels groom to be the QB of the future.
Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama
Bill Belichick loves defenders who are smart, tough and physical.
A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa
The Patriots love size and power on the edges. Epenesa isn’t an elite tester, but he’s a very productive football player.
A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa
We are resisting the urge to assign a QB to the Patriots here and instead are going with a pick that feels very much in the B.B. wheelhouse: Epenesa is from a program led by a close Belichick friend, Kirk Ferentz; he pops on tape but didn’t wow at the Combine; and plugs in nicely to the Patriots’ scheme as a 5-technique.
Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
The Patriots have had a ton of turnover in their LB corps this offseason, and they could use a stud in the middle of their defense. It’s been a while since they had an every-down inside linebacker in the middle of their case. Murray is a physical specimen and speed demon that can go from sideline to sideline with ease. He is a strong tackler and also possesses the playmaking ability the Pats love.
We love Doug, and it’s not just because he gave us an excuse to use that awesome gif again. Using a draft simulator, he has New England swinging a trade with the Carolina Panthers, sending the No. 23 pick for the 38th and 69th overall picks. And with those selections…
No. 38: Julian Okwara, DE, Notre Dame
The Patriots need front-seven help after losing Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts in free agency. Van Noy essentially served as an edge defender last season, and Okwara could compete with Chase Winovich and John Simon for two starting edge spots.
Okwara didn’t test at the NFL Scouting Combine, but with the way he moved on the field, it wasn’t necessary. He’s 6-foot-4, 252 pounds with 34 3/8-inch arms, and he’s athletic enough to rush and drop from outside linebacker. He also was a team captain in 2019. He had 32 total pressures on 211 pass-rush snaps in 2019, per Pro Football Focus.
ANOTHER TRADE!!! MORE BILL.GIF!!!!
In that same simulation, the Pats trade picks Nos. 69 and 172 to the Colts for Nos. 75 and 122. More picks for Bill, which is really the most likely scenario this year. And with No. 75…
Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame
Claypool’s draft rankings are all over the place. He was still available on Fanspeak’s simulator using CBS’s rankings, so we grabbed him. He runs a 4.42-second 40-yard dash in a flex tight end’s body at 6-foot-4, 238 pounds. The Patriots could use his speed and power and move him around the offense whether he’s playing wide receiver or tight end.
TRADE!!!! EVEN MORE BILL.GIF!!!!!
The local guys looooooove first-round trades, and we can’t blame them. Perry has New England sending picks Nos. 23 and 87 to old pals Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn for Nos. 35 and 67. And with those picks…
No. 35: Marlon Davidson, DL, Auburn
In this scenario, the Patriots traded down a dozen spots and still landed a first-round talent. Davidson played in Derrick Brown’s shadow for the Tigers, but he’s an immense talent in his own right. Having played a great deal on the edge — despite measuring 6-3, 303 at the combine — he’s a good athlete for his size and has some positional versatility. A four-year starter and a captain for Auburn, Davidson looks like the type of strong football character type who’ll contribute immediately for Belichick as a big-time two-gapper opposite Lawrence Guy. He might not have the same value to other teams that he’ll have to the Patriots, but they’ll gladly take a run-stuffer after what happened to them in the Wild Card Round in January.
No. 67: Michael Pittman, WR, USC
Pittman checks a lot of boxes for the Patriots. At 6-4, 223 he’s a rare combination of size and athleticism — a don’t-grow-on-trees type Belichick often refers to — in this draft class. He ran a solid 4.52 40 to go along with a 4.14-second short-shuttle and a 6.96-second three-cone. Those are all solid numbers, particularly for someone with his frame. His hands are special, having dropped just five passes on 176 catchable balls sent his way in his career, per Pro Football Focus.
Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama
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 someone like Xavier McKinney, who is the perfect safety for Bill Belichick’s scheme.
No. 87: Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia
Jake Fromm was tremendous as a freshman for SEC champion Georgia. He struggled a bit in 2019, but he could still be a second-round pick, though it’s more likely that New England could obtain him in the third frame. Fromm seems like the sort of quarterback Bill Belichick would love to coach.
No. 98: Willie Gay Jr., LB, Mississippi State
The Patriots have lost some linebackers to free agency, so they’re expected to use some picks on the position in the 2020 NFL Draft.
No. 100: Neville Gallimore, DT, Oklahoma
The Patriots lost Danny Shelton this offseason, so they’ll need to address defensive tackle.