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2023 NFL Draft Preview – New England Patriots

The Patriots need to get Mac Jones receiving weapons and this seven round mock draft gets him a few - which players should the Pats be targeting in the 2023 Draft?

Credit for the mock draft simulation goes to NFL Mock Draft Database. Team needs are also generated from this site. Compensatory picks have not been assigned and will not be included in this exercise.

The Patriots failed to make a jump with second-year quarterback Mac Jones. Jones could not show the same floor game to lift the Patriots into the playoffs. Rookie Bailey Zappe stirred things up mid-season, but the starting job went back to Jones. Jones will likely be back under center again, but he’ll need weapons in the passing attack. His best target, Jakobi Meyer, is a free agent heading into the 2023 off-season. Meyer performed well enough as a solid WR3 or flex option in fantasy. Last year’s high rookie pick, Tyquan Thornton, flashed the speed he showed us leading up to the draft. After that, it’s a bunch of one-hit wonders, which are, at best, depth pierces.  

Regarding tight end, Hunter Henry is the only threat in the passing attack, but he is in the final year of his contract. Jonnu Smith has been a major bust, and I’ll leave it at that. The run game has always been an essential part of the Patriots’ offense, but we know they love to bring in new faces every year. Even with Rhamondre Stevenson’s breakout year, no one is safe. The 2022 rookie running backs only got a little work into the rotation, but Pierre Strong did have a few moments. Cole Strange, the rookie guard, was the only decent offensive lineman they drafted in 2022 that did well.

Their front seven is talented on the defensive side of the ball, with Matt Judan on 15.5 sacks. In the secondary, no defensive back had more than four interceptions. While they find promising production from Marcus Jones and Jack Jones, there is room to grow younger and faster in that secondary. 

1.14 Jordan Addison, WR USC

The New England Patriots’ first pick in the 2023 draft goes with Addison. It’s too bad that Addison couldn’t declare in 2021, as he put up an elite college season with 1,593 yards and 17 touchdowns. His 2021 season made Kenny Pickett a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft. He decided to join Lincoln Ridley in USC for 2022 and did not have the same elite season. An ankle injury in 2022 limited him to producing 875 yards and eight touchdowns. At Pittsburgh, he was used more on RPO Bubbles and quick throws allowing him defenders to miss and gain extra yards. At USC, he was targeted underneath, given room to turn upfield. This slip in production with the injury will significantly benefit the Patriots in finally drafting an elite receiver. 

It’s no surprise the Patriots have bombed in drafting wide receivers over many years. Addison is going to change that and offer a much-needed weapon for Jones. His separation at all three levels on the field is amazing to watch, and he does it without top-tier speed. Addison’s route running will greatly help Jones as he is crafty at the point of attack on routes to fool defenders. Addison also has proven that he could handle a heavy target load as a receiver which he’ll likely receive as a rookie.

2.46 Emmanuel Forbes, CB Mississippi State

In the second round, the New England Patriots selected Forbes, a cornerback from Mississippi State. As I mentioned in the Patriots recap, their top interception leader had only four picks. Choosing Forbes here gives them a ball-hawking defensive player in the secondary. Forbes had 14 interceptions in three seasons, plus at least 40 tackles. He has the most pick-sixes in FBS SEC history too. Forbes has a high football IQ to anticipate where the quarterback will throw the ball and disrupt the play. He shows aggressiveness at the catch point to break out passes or, as I stated, create turnovers. Forbes’ coverage versatility will make the Patriots’ defense stronger and help create turnovers. If he can work on his build a little bit, the Patriots may have found their next elite cornerback. 

3.76 Jaelyn Duncan, OL Maryland 

In the third round, the Patriots selected Duncan. When you see him, you have to notice the size and length he offers as a tackle. He has quick lateral agility and movement skills that would help benefit the ground game and protect Jones. Duncan can kick out blockers and move into the second level to make impactful plays. The Patriots’ depth at tackle is weak, and Trent Brown has been a disappointment since arriving with the team a few years ago. Duncan can give youth and size to an offensive line that needs to get younger and faster. 

4.106 – DJ Turner, CB Michigan 

The Patriots are revamping their secondary with younger and faster defensive backs selecting another cornerback in the fourth round. Turner was a cornerback with Michigan who had a solid overall career. He has coverage versatility to play everywhere in the secondary as needed. His superb athleticism allows him to quickly get from sideline to sideline to break up a play or make a tackle. Speed, hip, and light feet stand out when watching Turner play, making him an underrated pick in the fourth round. Turner’s IQ to eliminate routes for receivers is next level and forces the quarterback to look for other directions. Hence why folks may say his lower interception ratio is a negative which could be, but his ability to stop receivers from producing has been elite-level. He may have some issues with bigger and taller receivers, but his speed and instincts will make up for that. 

4.116 – Sydney Brown, S Illinois 

The Patriots are getting older at the safety position, so let’s get them a young versatile player in that secondary. Their second pick in the fourth round goes to Brown, a safety from Illinois. He had a terrific 2022 season with six interceptions and seven pass deflections, a true lockdown season. Over his career, he had at least 50 tackles in four of five seasons with Illinois. Brown has high-end versatility that Illinois used all over the field to best suit his talents on the defense. We know Bill Belichick loves to use his players to their advantage to improve his team. He was a track star too, and his reactive quickness will help in the run game and cover deep on passing plays. Brown has a few holes in his game outside of his tackling consistency, but he has a ton of potential in New England. 

4.134 – Owen Pappoe, LB Auburn 

The Patriots select a gem with their last pick in the fourth round in Pappoe, a linebacker from Auburn. When you first look at him, you see tremendous athleticism to do it all as a three-down linebacker. Pappoe’s best trait is his coverage ability; he has amazon upside with his speed to keep up in the passing game. He needs to develop more in the run game because there is room to grow. Pappoe needs to get back to basics, as he missed a ton of tackles in 2022, even with 91 tackles. His upside frame could affect his tackling, but his leadership can shine through that and be a productive player for the Patriots defense. 

6. 183 – Ryan Hayes, OL Michigan 

The Patriots take their second offensive lineman with Hayes, an offensive lineman from Michigan. Hayes’ size and frame easily stand out when you see him on film as a big left tackle. He has a competitive drive as a run blocker and seeks to push defenders off their rush toward the ball. His massive frame allows him to take on double and even triple teams better than most linemen. Coming off the ball, Hayes has solid explosiveness and burst to push off defenders. He has some detail to his game that he needs to fix, as his technique can be inconsistent, but the Patriots need to find a better way to give Jones more time, and Hayes can help. 

6. 186 – Dontay Demus, WR Maryland 

With their second sixth-round pick, the Pats select Demus from Maryland. He started 2021 on a hot streak with five games and 502 yards but would go on to tear his ACL and miss the rest of 2021. He never seemed to return to himself, as he only produced 255 receiving yards in 2022. At times in 2022, we saw that Jones liked throwing to Devante Parker’s way, and it worked many times. Demus is a younger version of Parker, someone you can throw the ball to, and he’ll go up and get it. He is a 6’3″ and 217-pound receiver who can win those 50/50 balls easily. Drafting Demus gives Jones each type of receiver, as Thornton can beat defense deep, Addison can do work underneath and gain yards after the catch, and Demus will win those jump balls and stretch the field with his frame. If he can improve on his route running and master his techniques on cuts, then he’ll be a steal in the sixth round. 

6.191 – Eric Gray, RB Oklahoma 

The Patriots have a star in Rhomandre Stevenson and have already drafted Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris, but why not add another back to the group? Gray was a transfer from Tennessee as he made his move to Oklahoma and eventually got the workload in 2022. During this past season, Gray put up 1,366 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. He is a quick running back with good elusiveness. He has fantastic short speed, being able to stop and go on a dime. I could see Gray in New England because of his ability as a receiving option. Stevenson was solid, but Gray has a better skill set than Stevenson. Once he gets the ball in his hands in the open field, it’s incredible what he can do. He’ll have to improve his pass protection to see meaningful minutes on offense. He isn’t going to win with power and strength but with his ability to move quickly.

6.209 – Jaxson Kirkland, OT Washington 

The final pick in the sixth round goes with Kirkland, an offensive lineman from Washington. This pick gives the Patriots an intelligent and experienced blocker. Kirkland has a good time within the run game and has excellent awareness of pass protection. He does well with angles and positions his body to be the most effective in pass protection. His body control is slightly concerned as he can be thrown off his base while blocking. Kirkland is also coming into the league at 25, which isn’t always great, but the Patriots need depth and experience at the offensive line.

7.257 – Robert Beal Jr, EDGE Georgia 

The Patriots’ final pick in the 2023 mock draft is Beal, an EDGE rusher from Georgia. He was a former 5-star recruit who projects as a rotational player at the NFL level. Beal has a motor to his game and has the power to use that to his advantage. His leverage control is special to beat blockers one on one. He uses his speed to create a powerful force. Unfortunately, those positive traits have not done well with production, as his 2021 season was his best year, with sacks totaling just 6.5. The Patriots could use some depth for an EDGE rusher, so they are taking a shot on a developmental player who had upside at one point. 

Fantasy Impact and Analysis

Regarding fantasy impact for the upcoming 2023 season, the easy stand is Addison. He could see the Garrett Wilson-like treatment where he saw over 130 targets as a rookie. Due to his quarterback play, he doesn’t reach the elite Justin Jefferson or JaMarr Chase-like rookie year. He can perform as a low-end WR3 and would like to be a late first-round pick in most rookie drafts. Demus and Gray likely would have little impact as rookies. Demus is coming off an injury and would like to wait another year before showing his worth. The Patriots don’t usually let rookies play much, so unless Gray has a stand-out off-season and shows off his receiving ability, he will likely be inactive most Sundays. 

On the defensive side of the ball, Forbes would be a nice IDP depth piece, especially if interceptions are worth heavily in those leagues. Brown and Pappoe would likely be late-round picks, and I could see both seeing some time but not full-time starters until 2024. 

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