While nearly every other sport is on hiatus due to the coronavirus epidemic, the NFL goes on.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a memo on Thursday that the NFL Draft will go on as planned on April 23-25.
The Patriots hold the 23rd overall pick. They don’t have a second-round pick, but they have three third-round picks and 12 picks in total.
Here’s who NFL Draft experts have the Patriots picking in the first round of next month’s draft.
Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN: Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
ESPN’s longtime draft analyst sees the Patriots attempting to replace Tom Brady with their first-round selection.
While there is some speculation that the Patriots will roll into the season with Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer, and Cody Kessler as their quarterbacks, Kiper Jr. does not buy it.
“It’s tough to know whether Bill Belichick is going to treat the season as a rebuild, but taking Love makes sense either way,” Kiper Jr. wrote of his projected Patriots pick.
Love threw for 20 touchdowns but also had 17 interceptions with Utah State last season. However, that isn’t a cause of concern for Kiper Jr. He says the 6-foot-4 quarterback has “all the traits teams look for in a starter.” Kiper Jr. believes Love’s 2019 season can be excused because he lost his entire coaching staff from the 2018 season, when he threw 32 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
Love is the fourth-best quarterback and the 15th-best prospect in this draft, according to Kiper’s big board.
Todd McShay of ESPN: A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa
McShay has New England selecting Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa with the 23rd pick.
McShay believes that Epenesa is a “perfect fit as a 3-4 defensive end replacement for Trey Flowers”, who left the Patriots for the Lions after the 2018 season. He also cites Epenesa’s size (6-foot-5, 280 pounds) and power as his strengths for a fit with the Patriots’ 3-4 defense.
Epenesa had 11.5 sacks, 49 tackles, and 14 tackles for a loss for the Hawkeyes in 2019. Over his three-year college career, Epenesa had 26.5 sacks, 101 tackles, and 36 tackles for a loss.
Lawrence Guy and John Simon, who were the Patriots’ two primary defensive end starters last season, combined for seven sacks, 105 tackles and eight tackles for a loss in 2019.
McShay rates Epenesa as the third-best defensive end and the 26th-best prospect in the draft.
.@HawkeyeFootball DE A.J. Epenesa runs a 5.10u 40-yard dash.
Epenesa is @MoveTheSticks' 23rd overall prospect.
— NFL (@NFL) February 29, 2020
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Media: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
Jeremiah thinks the Patriots will take a quarterback with their first-round pick: Oregon’s Justin Herbert.
Jeremiah, who released his mock draft following the NFL Scouting Combine on March 2, wrote that “it’s highly doubtful Herbert will make it this far, but I could see New England targeting him if he starts to slide.”
Herbert’s 2019 season was the best of his college career. He threw for 3,471 yards, 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions, leading the Ducks to a Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl win.
Herbert didn’t have an impressive game with his arm in Oregon’s 28-27 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, throwing for only 138 yards and an interception. But he impressed with his legs as he rushed for three touchdowns in the win.
Jeremiah has Herbert rated as the third-best quarterback on his big board and the 20th-best prospect overall.
Josh Edwards of CBS Sports: Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State
For the second straight year, the Patriots will pick a wide receiver from Arizona State with their first-round pick, according to Josh Edwards of CBS Sports.
Edwards has the Patriots selecting Brandon Aiyuk to join his college teammate, N’Keal Harry, in the Patriots’ wide receiver corps.
“Although N’Keal Harry did not produce as expected in Year 1, his potential is vast. [Harry and Aiyuk] can usher in Jarrett Stidham and the new look Patriots offense,” Edwards wrote of Harry and the receiver who he predicts will go to New England.
Aiyuk had an impressive 2019 campaign for the Sun Devils. He caught 65 passes for 1,192 yards and eight touchdowns. In the year prior, Aiyuk had 33 receptions for 474 yards and three touchdowns. (If you’re wondering, Harry had 73 receptions for 1,088 yards and nine touchdowns playing along with Aiyuk in 2018.)
While New England did select a wide receiver in the first round last season, it makes sense to think it could happen again this year. Julian Edelman was the only Patriots wide receiver to have more than 30 receptions and 400 receiving yards last season and he will be 34 when the 2020 season starts (or if it even does).
Philip Dorsett, who had the second-most catches (29) and receiving yards (397) for a Patriots receiver last season, departed New England for the Seattle Seahawks last week.
Edwards has Aiyuk ranked as the seventh-best wide receiver in this draft and 38th prospect overall. He also predicts the Patriots to select Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, Southern Illinois safety Jeremy Chin and Missouri tight end Albert Okwuegbunam with their three third-round picks.
#ArizonaState WR Brandon Aiyuk is one of the most underrated NFL prospects in this class.
Poor pursuit angle by the safety, but Aiyuk’s route speed forced the miss and did the rest. pic.twitter.com/smMjMdEm2w
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) October 12, 2019
Matt Miller of Bleacher Report and Walter Football: Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller has the Patriots selecting Patrick Queen, a linebacker out of LSU, with their first-round pick.
“Queen fits what New England needs in an athletic, rangy coverage ‘backer who can stay on the field no matter the defensive package or down-and-distance,” Miller said of his predicted Patriots pick.
Queen was a key part of the Tigers’ defense that won the national championship in 2019. He had 85 tackles (12 for a loss), three sacks, one interception and a fumble recovery last season.
Queen’s most impressive game might have come in LSU’s 42-25 win over Clemson in the National Championship Game. He had eight tackles, a combined sack, and a season-high 2.5 tackles for a loss.
Over his three-year college career, Queen had 131 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, and four sacks.
The linebacker position may have been the second-most hard-hit position for the Patriots over the free agency period. Starting linebackers Kyle Van Noy (signed a four-year, $51 million contract with the Dolphins) and Jamie Collins (signed a three-year, $30 million contract with the Lions) departed the team earlier this month.
Eight-year veteran Dont’a Hightower will also enter the last year of his current contract in 2020. Queen would give the Patriots much needed youth at a key position.
In addition to selecting Queen in the first round, Walter Football also has the Patriots picking Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm, Baylor wide receiver Denzel Mims and Oklahoma defensive tackle Neville Gallimore with their three third-round picks.
#LSU LB Patrick Queen runs a 4.56 40-yard dash.
One of the best linebacker times of the day. His National Championship Game showing capped off a huge season.
Real chance we see Queen land in the first round. pic.twitter.com/Sr4lcaufKF
— Shea Dixon (@Sheadixon) March 1, 2020