No one needs to tell the Patriots the value of the No. 32 overall pick in the NFL Draft. Since the league expanded to 32 teams for the 2002 season, New England’s taken the two best pros from that last-in-the-first-round spot, nabbing the recently retired Ben Watson (2004) and 11-year guard Logan Mankins (2005) in back-to-back years. In the last year of the 31-team league, San Diego took Drew Brees in the No. 32 spot. (Also a notable 32nd pick: Local legend Fred Smerlas, to Buffalo in 1979 out of Boston College.)
The mock draft industry is ever growing, and there’s no shortage of ones believing the Patriots — well stocked in the later rounds and frequently willing to add picks in the future — will deal their first-round selection to a team eager to select a quarterback. Be that as it may, here’s a septet of players whose names are frequently coming up as possibilities should the Patriots stand pat.
WR A.J. Brown, Mississippi
Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal declares the Patriots will do the “unthinkable” and finally take a wide receiver in the first round. (Belichick’s teams have drafted 19 wideouts, but never in Round 1.) “Brown can play in the slot and outside the numbers,” Daniels writes. “This 6-foot, 226-pound receiver is a good route runner and has good hands.”
DE L.J. Collier, LSU
ESPN’s Todd McShay did a three-round mock based on his perceived team needs, taking Collier — “effective both as a pass-rusher and against the run” — at No. 32 and Duke quarterback Daniel Jones in the second round.
QB Daniel Jones, Duke
ESPN Patriots writer Mike Reiss acknowledged New England’s needs at wide receiver, tight end, and offensive tackle in making his selection as part of ESPN NFL Nation’s mock by team beat reporters, but declared “if they feel Jones has the potential to be Jimmy Garoppolo 2.0, this is the spot to pounce if Jones somehow falls this far.” Jones, or whomever is taken at No. 32, would be under team control for five seasons. That would potentially allow Brady to play through his age-45 season in 2022, retire, then hand Jones the reins for the final year of his rookie deal after a four-year apprenticeship.
Kiper credits Jones for his leadership skills as a two-year captain with the Blue Devils, his toughness for missing just two games after breaking his collarbone, and excuses his 59.9-percent completion rate in college by concluding “just turn on the film from last season, and you’ll see a quarterback who can play.”
DT Dexter Lawrence, Clemson
NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah has Lawrence the choice in his third of four mock drafts, due to his status as a dominant run defender and his upside as a pass rusher. “While the rest of the league moves away from massive DTs,” Jeremiah writes, “the Patriots see the value.”
His previous mock had Tigers teammate and edge rusher Clelin Ferrell as the pick, while his mid-January run had … Kyler Murray, whom he now has going No. 1 to Arizona.
NFL.com colleague Don Banks also tabs Lawrence despite believing “the need for play-makers at either receiver or tight end is considerably greater” because of Lawrence’s size and pedigree.
OT Dalton Risner, Kansas State
Charles Davis mentions Mankins in the comments of his NFL.com mock, declaring that if the Patriots don’t trade the pick to a team needing a quarterback, it could grab the “versatile and accomplished” senior who can play tackle, guard or center.
DE/OLB Montez Sweat, Mississippi State
Citing Sweat as a potential Trey Flowers replacement who dominated at the Senior Bowl, Charlie Campbell of the respected WalterFootball.com notes “New England has been willing to take chances on players with character and medical issues in the past, so perhaps the organization would be willing to roll the dice” on a player with both a dismissal at Michigan State and a diagnosed heart condition in his file.
“Multiple teams told WalterFootball.com they flunked Sweat medically because of the condition,” Campbell wrote. “Some teams that did not flunk Sweat told me that they ruled him out because of character issues.”
Sweat notably set a record in the 40-yard dash for defensive linemen at this year’s Combine.
The site’s other primary mock draft has New England taking Ohio State wide receiver Parris Campbell.
TE Irv Smith Jr., Alabama
Purporting to combine the choice from more than 60 mock drafts, the SB Nation Database concludes Smith Jr. is the choice on 13 percent of boards, edging wide receivers Marquise Brown of Oklahoma and Mississippi’s Brown.
NFL.com’s profile of Smith Jr. compares him to Watson, and says he has Pro Bowl potential. Though he’s “still green in terms of overall experience, which shows up in run-blocking and route-running … he has plenty of talent and is likely to get much better in both areas.” He was also the choice by Dave Dameshek in NFL Network’s live mock draft.
In the Boston Herald, Karen Guregian thinks Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons would be the choice if he fell to No. 32, but short of that, “they really need a tight end. Smith is a must. No doubt he comes highly endorsed by Nick Saban.”