Patriots

Patriots Mock Draft roundup 1.0: Most experts have the Patriots going quarterback

The Patriots hold the 15th pick, but they may have to trade up if they want a top quarterback prospect.

Justin Fields could be a Patriot, according to draft experts. AP Photo/John Bazemore, File

The NFL Draft is quickly approaching. With teams around the league putting together their draft boards and prospects holding pro days to impress scouts, draft experts are putting together mock drafts and making their best guesses as the draft nears.

Many of those experts believe the Patriots are going to pick a quarterback in the first round. Here’s a look at what some of the top draft experts are predicting what the Patriots will do.

Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN: Justin Fields in round one, Amari Rodgers in round two. One of the most eminent draft experts likes the Patriots to take a swing in the upcoming draft. Kiper has the Patriots trading up to the No. 10 pick in his latest mock draft, giving up the 15th pick and their 2022 first-round pick to the Cowboys in order to draft Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields.

“All the moves the Patriots made in free agency showed me that they believe they can get right back into competing for the AFC East title, but I don’t think Cam Newton is the quarterback to get them there,” Kiper wrote of the pick. “He had too many accuracy issues last season. He’s not the long-term answer. Fields had an up-and-down 2020 season, but he can be a star if he becomes more consistent. And I trust that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will get him there.”

The Patriots drafting a quarterback makes sense. After relatively lackluster play from Newton last season, the team still lacks a clear solution at quarterback for the long run. They did re-sign Newton, and Jarrett Stidham is still around, but they haven’t brought a new face into the fold.

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Fields is considered by most draft experts to be anywhere between the second to fifth-best quarterback in this draft class. Entering the 2020 season, Fields was thought to be the clear second-best quarterback prospect and someone who could possibly challenge Trevor Lawrence for the top spot. However, Fields put up a couple of performances that left some questions in the eyes of experts (his performance against Northwestern being the most concerning).

After struggling against Northwestern in the Big 10 Championship Game, Fields dominated in the Sugar Bowl, throwing for 385 yards and six touchdowns in a blowout win over Clemson to earn a spot in the title game. Against Alabama, Fields wasn’t as spectacular, throwing for just 194 yards as his team trailed for much of the 52-24 loss.

With the Patriots’ second-round pick, Kiper projects them to select Clemson receiver Amari Rodgers.

“Rodgers is one of the top slot receivers in this class,” Kiper wrote. “He’s built like a running back and is stellar on jet sweeps and bubble screens. He can make defenders miss after the catch.”

Wide receiver may be the Patriots’ other big need entering the draft. Sure, they signed Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne in free agency, but Agholor plays more on the outside and Bourne was typically the third receiver or lower on the 49ers’ depth chart. Not to mention, Julian Edelman retired on Monday, leaving a noticeable hole in the slot.

Rodgers caught 77 passes for 1,020 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020. NFL Draft analyst Lance Zierlein compares Rodgers to Cardinals receiver Christian Kirk, giving him credit for his ability to break tackles.

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Todd McShay, ESPN: Justin Fields in round one. Elijah Molden in round two. Like his ESPN colleague, McShay also sees the Patriots trading up for Fields. McShay has the Patriots moving up to pick 11, giving up their third-round pick and either a second or third-round pick in 2022 to the Giants.

“The Pats haven’t spent a first-round pick on a QB since 1993 (Drew Bledsoe), but now is the time,” McShay wrote of the pick. “Fields is accurate downfield and can develop into a top-tier starter for a team searching for stability at the position in the post-Tom Brady era.”

If the Patriots do select Fields, they’d add another quarterback who’s a mobile threat. At Ohio State, Fields averaged roughly 39 rushing yards per game and had 15 rushing touchdowns over two years.

With a strong ability to run, Zierlein compares Fields to Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. While Fields’s legs are a plus, Zierlein praises Fields for his ability to throw with “zip” and his accuracy while throwing on the run. He also notes Fields’s toughness and leadership are what one looks for in a quarterback.

For their second-round pick, McShay has the Patriots selecting Washington cornerback Elijah Molden.

“Molden is a nickelback who would join Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson to form an elite CB trio,” McShay wrote. “He is excellent in zone defense and has good hands, hauling in five interceptions over his past 17 games.”

As noted by McShay, cornerback isn’t much of a need for the Patriots entering the 2021 season. However, the futures of Gilmore and Jackson remain in question after that as both are set to become unrestricted free agents after the year.

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Zierlein compares Molden to Chiefs star safety Tyrann Mathieu, praising him for his ability to tackle and versatility in the secondary.

Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network: Micah Parsons. Jeremiah has the Patriots going defense in the first round of the draft, projecting them picking Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons.

“The Patriots have been bold this offseason, so I won’t be shocked if they decide to trade up for a quarterback,” Jeremiah wrote. “If they stay put, Parsons has the versatility to fit in New England.”

Like with cornerback, linebacker isn’t as big of a need for the Patriots in 2021. They signed Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy, plus they’ll get Dont’a Hightower back, too. While they make a solid linebacker core, they’re all either at least 30 (Van Noy and Hightower) or are close to 30 (Judon turns 29 before the season begins), so adding some youth at one of the more important positions isn’t a bad idea.

Parsons is considered by many experts to be the best linebacker prospect in this draft. Due to some character concerns though, his placement in mock drafts has been inconsistent.

Parsons would add some speed at linebacker, too. He ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at his pro day. Zierlein compares Parsons to Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack with his range and athleticism, which he says allows Parsons to cover players in man coverage.

Peter Schrager, NFL Network: Justin Fields. Schrager also has the Patriots taking Fields, but he has them trading all the way up to the fourth pick to get him. In order to get him, Schrager has the Patriots giving the Falcons the 15th pick, their second-round pick, and their 2022 first-round pick.

“This would be a trade that rocks the NFL, but I don’t think it’s too crazy,” Schrager wrote. “The Patriots don’t envision having a pick as high as they currently do (15th) anytime soon, and this is their year to make a big move if they’re ever going to get their blue-chip QB to develop. Fields was a highly recruited player who performed on the biggest of stages.”

Much has been made about how much the Patriots would have to give up in order to move up in the draft. The answer to that really depends on how far up they’re trading. Most think that they’d have to at least part with their first-round pick next year or this year’s second-round pick, but to jump all the way up to the fourth pick, they may have to give up a similar package the 49ers gave the Dolphins to get the No. 3 pick.

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Danny Kelly, The Ringer: Justin Fields. Another mock draft, another Fields-to-New England prediction. Kelly, who also compares Fields to Prescott, has the Patriots moving up to the No. 7 pick, giving the Lions No. 15, their third-round pick, and their 2022 first-round pick.

“I’d love the pairing with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who could design a scheme that best exploits Fields’s talent in both the passing game and run game,” Kelly wrote of the pick.

Speaking of McDaniels, the Patriots’ offensive coordinator scouted Fields at his second pro day on Wednesday. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Patriots will pick Fields, but they were one of just a handful of teams to scout him at Ohio State on Wednesday, suggesting that they’re one of the teams that’s at least interested in him.

Charles Davis, NFL.com: Trey Lance. There are other quarterback prospects in this draft, and Davis has the Patriots selecting North Dakota State’s Trey Lance with the 15th pick. Like Fields, Lance is considered to be in that second-to-fifth-best grouping.

“With Cam Newton signed to another one-year deal, his doppelgänger, in many ways, gets to learn behind him for a season,” Davis wrote. “I see a lot of Josh Allen in Lance’s game.”

After throwing 28 touchdowns and zero picks in 2019, Lance played just one game in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. His lone showing, from a passing standpoint, was unspectacular. He completed just 15 of 30 passes for 149 yards with two touchdowns and a pick. He did add 143 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground, though.

Like Davis, Zierlien also compares Lance to the Bills quarterback Allen, praising him for his ability to not turn the ball over and using his legs to make plays that other quarterbacks can’t.

Sam Monson, Pro Football Focus: Mac Jones. Unlike many recent mock drafts, Monson doesn’t have Alabama quarterback Mac Jones getting selected by the 49ers with the No. 3 pick. Instead, Monson sees the Patriots trading up to No. 11 to select Jones.

“If Jones begins to fall, I envision the Patriots jumping up a few spots to grab a quarterback whose selling points are the same ones that Tom Brady brings to the table,” Monson writes of the pick. “Expecting any rookie to be the next Brady is unrealistic, but the point is that while Jones has marginal physical tools and a 2000 Brady-esque physique, he possesses elite accuracy, decision making and an ability to diagnose a defense and process after the snap.”

Jones is the third quarterback of the four quarterbacks (BYU’s Zach Wilson is the other) in that aforementioned mix after Lawrence.

After backing up Tua Tagovailoa for much of 2019, Jones burst onto the scene in 2020. He threw for an NCAA-best 4,500 yards along with 41 touchdowns to just four interceptions. Jones’s 77.4 completion percentage also set an NCAA record as he became a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.

Jones ended up leading Alabama to a national championship last season, going 13-0 on the year to make himself a first-round prospect.

Jones’s sudden rise has led to some questions as to how much of his success should be attributed to the receivers around him (Alabama receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle are projected to get selected in the top half of the first round), but there are still a good amount of strengths in his game. Zierlein compares Jones to Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, praising him for his accuracy, lack of interceptions, and his ability to make tough throws.

The one noticeable downside Jones has to his contemporaries is his lack of mobility. He rushed for just 14 yards in 2020 and 36 yards in 2019.

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