Patriots

Mock draft roundup 1.0: Who experts have the Patriots selecting with the No. 14 overall pick

The NFL Draft is still months away, but that doesn't mean you can't look ahead with Patriots' season already over.

TCU's Quentin Johnston might be the top receiver in the 2023 NFL Draft, making him an intriguing option for the Patriots. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The NFL playoffs might be going on, but for the Patriots and a couple dozen of other teams, they’re onto the offseason.

With teams making plans for the 2023 season, that means look ahead to potential offseason moves. Possibly the biggest in New England this offseason will be the next offensive coordinator after the unit ranked as one of the worst in 2022.

After that though, all eyes will turn to free agency and the draft. The Patriots are set to have a considerable amount of cap space and will hold the No. 14 overall pick in the NFL Draft. As the offseason is just beginning, here is who draft experts are projecting the Patriots to select with their first-round pick.

NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah: Alabama S/CB Brian Branch

With Devin McCourty possibly retiring this offseason, Jeremiah has the Patriots selecting his replacement with their first-round pick in his first mock draft of the season.

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“Branch is one of my favorite players in this draft class,” Jeremiah wrote. “He’s an outstanding nickel defender with the versatility to move around the secondary.”

Branch is widely viewed as the best safety in the 2023 class and for good reason. He recorded 90 total tackles (58 solo) with 14 of them going for a loss along with two interceptions with the Crimson Tide this past season.

With the number of tackles he’s made, Branch has been praised for his ability to stop the run. He’s missed just four tackles over his three-year college career and had the fifth-most run stops in the nation in 2022 (24), according to Pro Football Focus.

The Athletic’s Dane Brugler: Clemson edge Myles Murphy

The Patriots aren’t in need of pass rushers after they had the league’s top sack duo in Matthew Judon and Josh Uche in 2022, but Brugler thinks that Murphy’s just too special of a player to pass up on.

“Smooth, strong and long, Myles Murphy has a lot of the traits that would appeal to Bill Belichick,” Brugler wrote. “Given his expected testing numbers at the scouting combine, Murphy will create buzz throughout the process, even though his rush plan and setup are still in the development phase.”

Murphy brings great size for a defensive end. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman ranked Murphy third on his “Freaks List” entering the 2022 season for his strength (he reportedly benches 405 pounds) and his speed (he runs a 40-yard dash in the high 4.5s, Clemson coaches told Feldman). He was also productive over his three seasons at Clemson, recording 18.5 career sacks (14.5 of them came over the last two seasons).

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Murphy’s viewed as the best edge rushing prospect in the draft after Alabama’s Will Anderson, who is currently projected to be a top-three pick.

Brugler also has the Patriots selecting SMU Rashee Rice with their second-round pick. Rice had a huge senior season, recording 96 receptions for 1,355 yards and 10 touchdowns.

NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry: Northwestern OT Peter Skoronski

Many view offensive tackle as the Patriots’ biggest need entering the offseason, and Perry has New England addressing that in his first mock draft.

“Skoronski looks like he has the chops to pass-protect effectively from Day 1 on the left side,” Perry wrote, believing he could play left tackle while the Patriots would shift Trent Brown to right tackle in this scenario.

Perry also mentioned that Skoronski allowed just six pressures last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Because of that, PFF’s Mike Renner wrote that Skoronski is “quite comfortably the most NFL-ready offensive lineman” in the 2023 NFL Draft.

At 6-foot-4, Skoronski’s length might make teams want him to move to an interior lineman position, according to Perry and Renner. But you can’t deny he was productive at left tackle in college as he was a unanimous All-American in 2022.

Pro Football Focus: Illinois CB Devon Witherspoon

Considering the Patriots’ inability to stop elite receivers consistently this season, cornerback might be their biggest need on the defensive side of the ball.

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If the Patriots want to add a corner in the draft, Mike Renner believes Witherspoon is their guy.

“Great cornerback class, but I think Witherspoon just feels like a Belichick pick,” Renner wrote. “Belichick has talked about his draft philosophy over the years, and it’s not height, length, size, speed. It is intangibles and how guys play the game of football. And if you flip on Devon Witherspoon’s tape, he plays the game of football the correct way.”

Witherspoon had a standout season in 2022 that might make him the first corner selected in this spring’s draft. He had three interceptions and allowed just 22 receptions on 63 targets in 2022, per PFF, helping him become a unanimous All-American.

CBS Sports: TCU WR Quention Johnston

The Patriots lack that elite playmaker at one of the skill positions that nearly every playoff team had this season. With Jakobi Meyers set to become a free agent, they might be without their best wide receiver over the past few seasons, too.

That’s why CBS Sports’ draft panel has them selecting the TCU stud, with Ryan Wilson writing that Johnston is “a talented wide receiver who will help whomever is calling plays in New England.”

“Certainly from a what-this-team-needs perspective, Quentin Johnston, being the first receiver off the board, vertical threat for this offense makes sense,” Chris Trapasso added.

Some draft evaluators view Johnston as the top receiver in this draft class after he helped the Horned Frogs reach the title game while posting a 60-catch season for 1,069 yards and six touchdowns.

Johnston certainly has ideal size for a receiver, being listed at 6-foot-4, and decent speed as he reportedly ran a 4.4 40-yard dash prior to the season.

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