There are two ways to put together a mock draft: Focus on what you think the team should do, or focus on what you think the team will do. Guessing at Bill Belichick’s draft strategy is a thankless task, and so we won’t even waste our time. It’s more fun putting on our general manager cap, anyway.
The Patriots have more needs than you would expect for a Super Bowl champion, with defensive tackle and guard at the top of the list. That being said, need, value, and availability don’t always match up perfectly, so using CBS Sports’ prospect rankings, let’s see how our mock draft panned out.
Here’s a link to the full draft, with all the picks for all the teams.
Throughout the mock draft, links have been embedded to video clips that highlight specific traits in each player.
Round 1, Pick 32: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
By some accounts, ASU wide receiver Jaelen Strong should be gone by this point in the first round; all four of CBS Sports’ draft analysts projected him to be taken ahead of No. 32. He was available here, though, and the opportunity is perfect.
He’s a big guy at 6-foot-2 and 217 pounds, and gives his quarterback a big target in the red zone, but he has good shimmy in his routes. The Patriots will love that he can line up all over the field, presenting a vertical threat from the slot that they currently don’t have on the roster.
The only question with Strong is the same one that plagues so many other Patriots receivers: can he make the transition to a pro-style offense that relies on precision routes and perfect timing between the quarterback and receiver? If the Patriots think he can, then he’s worth their choice with a first-round pick.
Round 2, Pick 64: Jalen Collins, CB, LSU
Two Ja(e)lens, one draft. Both great fits at great value.
Collins features all the traits teams look for at cornerback. He boasts the big frame at 6-foot-1 and 203 pounds, the speed (4.48-second 40-yard dash) and the quickness with a 6.78-second three-cone drill. Those traits don’t only show up in shorts and sweats, though. He showed the necessary route recognition and closing speed to play in zone coverage, and he’s not afraid to come into the box in run support.
He’ll sometimes give his receivers a free release off the line of scrimmage, but if he can learn to use his physical skills to his advantage, he’ll be exactly the kind of well-rounded cornerback the Patriots love in their defense.
Round 3, Pick 96: Javorius Allen, RB, USC
The Patriots have already taken dramatic measures to ensure their backfield doesn’t fall to pieces without Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley. They have a back for any situation, but what they still haven’t found is a back who can contribute in any situation.
Allen isn’t your typical USC product at running back; he’s six-feet tall and 221 pounds, making him considerably bigger than the likes of Reggie Bush and Joe McKnight. He’s also not quite as fast as those two, but he has the toughness and vision to run between the tackles, and still has plenty of zip to break long gains in the open field, and he has soft hands and route-running savvy to go with it.
Allen would be joining a loaded backfield, but with his versatility, he could very quickly end up being the leader of the group.
Round 3, Pick 97: Marcus Hardison, DT, Arizona State
The Patriots’ roster feaures a deep group at defensive tackle with Sealver Siliga and Dominique Easley as the starters, and Alan Branch and Chris Jones as the backups. Siliga has never had to bear the burden of a starting role for a full 16-game season. Easley had a slow start to his career, and he’ll have a lot to prove (not the least of which is whether he can stay healthy) after ending the season on injured reserve.
So, the Patriots may need another quality interior lineman, and Hardison could be the right man for the job. A former defensive end, Hardison has every bit of the explosiveness you’d expect from an edge defender. He times the snap well, and has good initial quickness to get past his assignment. He’s not going to plug lanes as a two-gapping nose tackle, but he can still knife through the line to make a play. As a three-technique in the 4-3, he could be very disruptive on passing downs.
Round 4, Pick 101: Josue Matias, OG, Florida State
The Patriots are dead serious about scouting offensive linemen; why else would they have brought back former offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia? They still have not re-signed veteran Dan Connolly and they don’t have a “true” starting guard on the roster right now. If the season started tomorrow, it would be Ryan Wendell as the right guard and either Jordan Devey, Josh Kline, or Marcus Cannon as the starting left guard.
Matias is the kind of big-bodied interior lineman the Patriots need. Measuring in at 6-foot-5 and 309 pounds with 33.1-inch arms, he has the length to redirect rushers in the passing game. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein describes him as using “technique over power,” which should impress the Patriots, who like their linemen to be fundamentally sound. He will need to add some power to become more effective in the running game, but give him a full season in the Patriots’ strength and conditioning program and he could improve dramatically in that area.
Round 4, Pick 131: Ray Drew, DE, Georgia
Why not double-dip on defensive linemen for a second straight year? The Patriots grabbed Easley and Zach Moore last year, and in Hardison and Drew, they’ll have added even more depth to the line.
What sets Hardison and Drew apart, though, is the fact that both can play multiple positions on the line. Drew has lined up at defensive end and defensive tackle in a 4-3, and also at defensive end in a 3-4. The Patriots’ defensive strategy adjusts to its opponent, so it stands to reason that they would want defensive linemen who can adjust in-step with those on-the-fly changes.
Drew has good burst off the snap, but he isn’t a dynamic pass-rusher off the edge and will need more weight if he’s going to line up on the inside — of course, at the risk of losing some of that explosiveness. The Patriots would need to have a vision for how to use him, but he could at least provide versatile depth to the defensive line.
Round 6, Pick 177: Ladarius Gunter, CB, Miami (Fla.)
Gunter isn’t going to make a play on every ball thrown his way; he lacks the speed to consistently keep up with his assignment in man coverage, and he sometimes lacks the awareness to know where his assignment is. That’s not a surprise, though. Typically, late-round picks are not masters of their craft. So, instead, they have to dabble in many crafts.
Gunter has done it all, lining up on the boundary, in the slot, on tight ends, at safety, and on special teams. At 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds, he has the size to match up with many of the bigger-bodied receivers he’ll meet in the NFL, and to redirect them off their route when in press coverage.
Gunter may not make a huge impact on the depth chart at cornerback, factoring in as the third or fourth man up on the roster, but his versatility gives him a great chance at making the roster.
Round 7, Pick 219: Erick Dargan, SS, Oregon
Late-round prospects can often be lumped into three categories: those with supreme athleticism but limited football intelligence; those with a high football IQ and a low ceiling due to their lack of athletic gifts; and the prospects with first-round on-field talent and seventh-round off-field issues.
Dargan falls into the second of those three categories.
“He’s ‘Johnny on the spot’ with all those plays he makes,” an NFC scout told NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein. “I don’t think he can run at all. I think he’ll run a 4.7, but his football IQ is off the charts.”
He’ll be at his best if limited to a role where he is kept near the line of scrimmage, helping in run support and covering in small spaces against slot receivers and tight ends. Like Gunter, Dargan also contributes on all four special teams units and could find a home on the Patriots’ practice squad.
Round 7, Pick 253: Jarvis Harrison, OG, Texas A&M
Remember those prospects with first-round on-field talent and seventh-round off-field issues? That’s where Harrison comes into play. The Texas A&M guard has been projected to be taken anywhere from the third round (by NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein) to the seventh round (by CBSSports.com’s Rob Rang). He has a lot of the physical tools to succeed in the NFL, with the quick feet that will allow him to react to exotic pass-rush packages and the size (6-foot-4, 330 pounds, 33.5-inch arms) to match up with nearly anyone he’ll face on the interior.
Now, if only he could resolve the questions about his commitment to football, he’d be a lock as a Day 2 pick. He was benched for the first two games of the 2014 season due to conditioning concerns, and he arrived late to Texas A&M’s pro day. Whichever team takes the chance on him will have to take a leap of faith that he can stay committed to football, and that he can realize his full potential in the NFL.