Last year, the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick experienced their first losing season since 2000. The organization responded by shelling out several massive contracts in free agency. Despite the new additions, New England faces an uphill battle in the NFC East and might elect to draft for the future.
Even after re-signing Cam Newton, the Patriots don’t have a long-term solution at quarterback. The team’s long-time leaders, like Julian Edelman and Devin McCourty, are entering the final seasons of their celebrated careers, while Stephon Gilmore and Dont’a Hightower hope for a few more peak years. This franchise needs a promising crop of new leaders.
Belichick’s draft history took a nosedive about midway through the 2010s. Very few teams have drafted worse than the Patriots over the past five years. It’s easy to see why the team looks so out of sorts without Tom Brady. Belichick needs to start drafting at an average level again if he wants to author one final noteworthy chapter to his legendary career.
I used The Draft Network’s mock draft machine and Pro Football Focus’ mock draft simulator to justify each of my selections. At least one website had the chosen players available at their listed spots over several simulations. I didn’t include any trades and added an “ideal pick” after every selection for optimistic fans.
Round 1 (No. 15): Micah Parsons, LB Penn St.
Everyone wants to know if the Patriots will take a quarterback in the first-round. Various simulations have Justin Fields, Mac Jones, Trey Lance, or none of the top five quarterbacks falling to New England. Carolina trading for Sam Darnold removed another team from the quarterback market, increasing the likelihood that one of the top five passers falls into Belichick’s lap. However, I find it highly unlikely that anyone other than Jones reaches 15.
This whole mock draft process is highly predictive and slanted toward my biases, but I’m deciding to operate as though all five quarterbacks are off the board at 15. A team will jump New England in a trade if one of the top five quarterbacks slides outside of the first ten picks. I’m basing this pick on that premise.
Parsons is the consensus top linebacker on every draft board. He’d be a steal for New England at 15. A linebacker isn’t as valuable as a quarterback or a wide receiver, but Belichick is a defensive coach that loves versatile personnel. Parsons has sideline-to-sideline speed and can play on the edge.
Ideal pick: Justin Fields, QB Ohio St.
Round 2 (No. 46): Asante Samuel Jr., CB Florida St.
Belichick coached Asante Samuel Sr. for five seasons. Samuel prospered during that time, leading the NFL in interceptions one year and earning an All-Pro selection. The older Samuel was only 5-10, 185 lbs. but still intercepted 51 passes in 11 seasons. Now, the younger Samuel enters the draft facing questions about his 5-10, 180 lb. frame.
At Florida State’s pro day, Samuel posted similar testing numbers to the ones his father recorded nearly two decades ago at the NFL Combine. The young corner isn’t simply riding on comparisons to his father. Samuel has fluid hips and mirrors receivers well in man coverage. He sticks to wide receivers well, but his ball skills have room to improve.
The former Seminole battles for the ball and creates drops in contested situations. Sometimes he can get too grabby and draw penalties, but that play strength and aggression make up for his lack of size. Samuel also flashes good footwork that keeps him stride for stride with receivers.
Samuel could begin his career in the slot and transition outside once New England moves on from Gilmore or J.C. Jackson.
In recent years, there’s a decent track record of slot corners moving outside as they develop.
Ideal pick: Elijah Moore, WR Ole Miss
Round 3 (No. 96): Davis Mills, QB Stanford
Mills is the latest media darling getting draft hype because of smokescreens laid down by NFL teams. Some people even have him climbing into the first-round. That’s insane. Mills is more likely to fall to the third-round like Mason Rudolph did in 2018. Mills only played in 13 games during his final two seasons with Stanford, throwing for 3,468 yards, 18 touchdowns, and eight interceptions.
Mills has the size and arm strength to entice teams. His throws have plenty of zip on them and usually arrive as tight spirals. However, Mills displayed plenty of inaccurate throws during his collegiate career and doesn’t possess the same mobility as other prospects in this class.
Assuming the Patriots don’t get a quarterback in the first-round, it’s hard to imagine them finding a starter through the draft. Rolling with Newton for another year with no potential successor in place isn’t an ideal situation either. Don’t be shocked if the Patriots take a flyer on a mid-round quarterback.
I want it on record that I largely disagree with taking quarterbacks in the mid-rounds. Perhaps that’s the inner Steelers fan in me remembering Joshua Dobbs, Landry Jones, and Rudolph, but quarterbacks make it to the third-round for a reason. Every few years or so, teams find a Russell Wilson, but most mid-round quarterbacks turn into Ryan Mallett, Kevin O’Connell, or Jarrett Stidham.
Ideal pick: Paulson Adebo, CB Stanford
Round 4 (No. 120): Benjamin St-Juste, CB Minnesota
New England doubles down at cornerback by adding a physical specimen. St-Juste is 6-3 and 202 lbs. with above-average length. He lacks elite speed but turns well in short spaces and has enough agility to stick with crafty receivers. St-Juste’s length also makes him an asset in press coverage.
Cornerback is one of the most important positions in today’s NFL, and the Patriots would be foolish to head into 2021 without pouring more resources into the position. They can’t guarantee that Jackson will intercept nine passes again or that Gilmore returns to All-Pro form. Instead, Belichick’s team must prepare for life without Gilmore and more roster turnover after the upcoming season.
St-Juste never intercepted a pass in college, but he’s excellent at contesting catches and throwing wide receivers off their routes. He played in the slot and outside for Minnesota, but he’ll probably stay outside in the NFL.
Ideal pick: Demetric Felton, WR/RB UCLA
Round 4 (No. 122): James Wiggins, S Cincinnati
Wiggins is an athletic safety prospect that brings a little bit of everything to the table. He’s an explosive athlete packed into a 5-11, 209 lb. frame. Wiggins attacks ball carriers with ferocity and has a tremendous feel for the game. His instincts and ball skills flourished when he intercepted four passes in 2018. Cincinnati deployed him from multiple positions, including in the slot and single high coverages.
Wiggins suffered an ACL tear in 2019 that likely caps him as a fourth-round pick at most.
New England recently invested a second-round pick in Kyle Dugger and gave Jalen Mills a four-year, $24 million contract. The team is preparing for life without McCourty, which is quickly approaching. Patrick Chung even caught fans off guard by announcing his retirement earlier this offseason. He and McCourty were consistent starters together in New England’s secondary for nearly a decade.
The Patriots could draft Wiggins despite their recent indulgence in available safeties. Mills is a highly inconsistent player, and Dugger played fewer than 550 defensive snaps as a rookie.
Ideal pick: Alim McNeill, IDL North Carolina St.
Round 4 (No. 139): Dazz Newsome, WR North Carolina
Newsome had a less than inspiring pro day, finishing among the bottom 20th percentile in the speed and agility drills. Luckily, the 21-year-old’s tape reveals a player that creates after the catch and does the little things well. He’ll struggle against press coverage, but playing in the slot could buy Newsome some extra space.
The four-year contributor also served as a punt returner during his final three seasons with the Tar Heels. His ball skills and reliable hands are all over the tape. Newsome’s consistency and willingness to battle for balls over the middle could prevent his draft stock from free-falling into the late rounds.
While Edelman posted faster times than Newsome during his pro day over a decade ago, neither receiver stood out in the pre-draft process as a fantastic or imposing athlete. Edelman’s nagging knee injuries could sideline him permanently during the 2021 season. Having Newsome around as a backup plan could at least relieve some of the organization’s stress.
Ideal pick: Kendrick Green, IOL Illinois
Round 5 (No. 177): Khyiris Tonga, IDL BYU
A 6-3, 320 lbs., Tonga ran a 5.02 40-yard dash and posted 35 reps on the bench press at BYU’s pro day. Tonga saw significant snaps during each of his four seasons with the Cougars, finishing his collegiate career with 130 tackles and 8.5 sacks. He has good athleticism for a lineman his size but doesn’t have much punch for a guy with his strength.
New England recently gave Davon Godchaux a two-year, $15 million deal. The 26-year-old nose tackle missed most of the 2020 season and could turn into a cap casualty after 2021. The Patriots have an out after this coming year, and they may need it considering how many significant contracts they shelled out to mediocre players.
Ideal pick: Ambry Thomas, CB Michigan
Round 6 (No. 188): Simi Fehoko, WR Stanford
Fehoko never had a season as productive as Clemson’s Cornell Powell just authored. However, the Stanford product will likely make it to 188, while Powell could go in the late fifth-round. Fehoko’s combination of size and speed makes him an alternative to N’Keal Harry, who has similar size and struggles to create space consistently.
At Stanford’s pro day, Fehoko’s official measurements came out to 6-3, 222 lbs. with 31-inch arms and 10-inch hands. He wasn’t explosive in the jumps but ran a 4.42 and had slightly above-average times in the short shuttle and three-cone.
Fehoko isn’t a massive upgrade over Harry, but teams rarely find immediate upgrades in the sixth-round. If Fehoko walks through the door and is already at Harry’s level, then he’s worth this selection.
Ideal pick: Cornell Powell, WR Clemson
Round 6 (No. 197): Elerson Smith, EDGE Northern Iowa
Smith authored two impressive seasons for UNI. According to the school’s website, he recorded 10.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in 2019. Smith planted his flag in 2019, amassing 21.5 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, and five forced fumbles. The UNI standout weighed in at the Senior Bowl at 6-6, 262 lbs. with 33-inch arms.
While Smith doesn’t have the strength to battle in the trenches, his athleticism gives him a chance at succeeding on the edge. He has a quick first step and good redirection skills that produce tackles in pursuit. Smith needs to add playing strength, especially in his lower half, before battling for starting time.
Ideal pick: Tyree Gillespie, S Missouri
Round 7 (No. 242): Tony Poljan, TE Virginia
Readers of my previous seven-round mocks know that I value Poljan as an “elite” seventh-round prospect. He’s 6-7, 265 lbs. with only two years of full-time experience as a tight end under his belt. While Poljan is new to his position and doesn’t possess elite athleticism, his sheer size creates mismatches in coverage and works in blocking schemes.
The Patriots love their tight ends.
Ideal pick: Sam Ehlinger, QB Texas