As free agency approaches the one-week mark since the “legal tampering” window officially opened, a clear divide of the cliche “winners and losers” thus far has become apparent.
For the New England Patriots, unlike prior offseasons, it’s been a simple process thus far: spend, keep spending, and spend some more. Jonnu Smith, Matthew Judon, Jalen Mills, Hunter Henry, Davon Godchaux, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Kyle Van Noy Raekwon McMillan, Montravius Adams, Ted Karras… those are just the new faces—and a couple of old ones making their return. The team also re-signed Cam Newton, guard David Andrews, and Deatrich Wise to shore up the defensive edge. It’s been a whirlwind of an offensive for do-it-all head coach Bill Belichick, and it could lead to the team approaching the draft in a “best player available” mentality as April 29 quickly approaches.
Unlike my first mock, where value was addressed early with depth added in later rounds, the Patriots’ approach now could look dramatically different with positional depth and day one starters already in town via free agency.
So, let’s get right to it. Using our Mock Draft Machine, I looked at which prospects New England could target in this “post-free agency” seven-round mock.
Round 1 (No. 15 overall): Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
Cam Newton isn’t the future, and neither is Jarrett Stidham. If New England wants to compete in an increasingly competitive division, their future under center must be addressed, and soon.
Despite just one season as the starter at Alabama, Jones’ stock skyrocketed after a 464-yard, five-touchdown performance in the National Championship Game and an excellent week at the Senior Bowl. For Jones, his success has been often accompanied by criticism, as many have described his game as a “product of the system” under Nick Saban. I mean sure, does it help to have Heisman-trophy-winning DeVonta Smith out wide, Najee Harris alongside you in the backfield, all the while playing behind potential first-round selection Alex Leatherwood and day-two selection Landon Dickerson on a stout Crimson Tide offensive line? Sure, you can make that argument.
However, on the contrary, Jones was without future top-20 pick Jaylen Waddle for nearly the entire year, played with a trio of sophomores out wide in John Metchie, Jahleel Billingsley, and Slade Bolden, all the while in his first year as the starter under center for Alabama. Jones, like Tom Brady, is a pure pocket passer. Is he mobile, yes, and better than Brady at that, but for the most part, Jones is a first-read quarterback who dissects defenses before the snap. In fact, when targeting his first read, his passing grade sat at 96.5—best in the nation via Pro Football Focus. He would represent the future under center for the Patriots, and within a veteran roster ready to compete immediately, Jones could find himself in an optimal situation at the onset of his career.
Round 2 (No. 46 overall): Levi Onwuzurike, IDL, Washington
With Godchaux and Wise in the fold, I envision Onwuzurike working in the Patriots’ three-man front here on the edge opposite Wise. Although he has the frame ready to play from day one at nose in the interior of an NFL line, he could also opt to add a good amount of play weight where he could shift inside and work in tandem with Godchaux if need be. The former Huskie in Onwuzurike is one of, if not the most physical, violent interior defensive talent in this year’s class. With New England’s defense touting veterans at every position, an influx of youth and energy up front could propel the Patriots’ defense back to success.
Round 3 (No. 96 overall)*: Olaijah Griffin, CB, USC
Time will tell how long Stephon Gilmore remains in Foxborough, but for now, he’s New England’s CB1. J.C. Jackson has been given the second-round tender and is currently exploring the semi-open market, so it could be wise to add a similar ball-hawking talent like Gilmore and Jackson in Griffin, who offers ideal length with excellent playmaking skills on the outside if either, or both, leave town in the coming months.
Round 4 (No. 120 overall): James Wiggins, S, Cincinnati
Adding Mills was a step in the right direction, but the team will still rely heavily on 33-year-old Devin McCourty. As it stands, the Patriots are one injury away from trouble within their safety room, with limited depth. Wiggins wouldn’t be relied upon to play massive snaps as a rookie, but rather he would offer a nice addition rotationally in the slot who could work at the apex alongside Mills if need be. He’s extra-versatile and would present Belichick with a unique chess piece defensively that could step in immediately as a starter in case of injury.
Round 4 (No. 122 overall): David Moore, IOL, Grambling State
As the rounds progress, this is where I see New England deploying their BPA (best player available) approach. I would have liked to add a linebacker here, but the players available did not fit schematically. So, I added Moore, a developmental interior lineman with an uber amount of talent who could develop into one of the top linemen in New England with increased snaps over the next couple of seasons. With proven starters at all five spots on the line, Moore’s rookie campaign would likely be tailored to progression as a pro off the field, with improvement in the weight room and overall body composition. A chance to learn behind David Andrews, Michael Onwenu, and Shaq Mason could do wonders for Moore, who would most likely be used as a depth piece in his first year.
Round 4 (No. 139 overall)*: Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State
Bottom line, the Patriots need more production from Damien Harris and Sony Michel. Hubbard would, and should, raise eyebrows from the young duo of backs who have failed to live up to their draft status as a first-rounder (Michel) and third-rounder (Harris).
One of the top players at the collegiate level, Hubbard has the ability to trump either of the two on New England’s depth chart. He’s patient at the point of attack with an elite first step that quickly allows him to get into the second level before first contact. Oh, and he touts track speed.
This is a home-run selection in the fourth round with a chance to compete for snaps if Belichick opts to move on from either of two prior mentioned ball-carriers.
Round 5 (No. 177 overall)*: Justin Hilliard, LB, Ohio State
Judon and Van Noy will prove to be nice adds, but D’onta Hightower is a question mark after opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID concerns. He’s also 31, and with little depth behind him, an addition such as Hilliard—who touts excellent experience and range at the second level—is a must-add this late in the draft.
Round 6 (No. 188 overall): Tarron Jackson, EDGE, Coastal Carolina
With ideal size and length at 6-foot-2 and 285 pounds, Jackson has all the makings of a productive edge defender at the next level. He isn’t limited with his hand in the dirt and could move around the New England defense if need be. He’s excellent in the run game with pristine gap control stemming from excellent hands and vision who would offer additional depth on the edge at an ever-important position in today’s NFL.
Round 6 (No. 197 overall): Josh Imatorbhebhe, WR, Illinois
You’ve seen the physical highlights of the kid, he’s this year’s D.K. Metcalf with raw athletic ability. However, when he puts on the pads, that’s where his progression is desperately needed. If he’s able to put it all together, he’ll be the steal of the draft.
Round 7 (No. 242 overall): Tre Norwood, CB, Oklahoma
In today’s NFL with unique schemes, flashy personnel groupings, and uber-athletic talents from the inside-out, corners are in high supply. Norwood, a primary nickel defender, has shown the ability to cover wideouts and backs working out of the slot against the high-flying offenses of the Big 12. It’s best player available here, and Norwood fits the bill.
(*) denotes compensatory selection