It's time for the WEEI Mock Draft to get weird.
The first couple iterations of “1st & Foxborough’s” mock drafts didn’t feature any draft-weekend moves, simply mapping out what the Patriots might do in each round based on where the roster stood at the time.
Following a free-agency period that saw the team make some incremental improvements and shore up some holes, it’s time to wheel and deal to get the most bang for Robert Kraft’s buck in the draft.
The last few years, the Patriots have filled a major need (quarterback in 2021, guard in 2022) in the first round and traded up to grab an impact player in the second round (Christian Barmore in 2021, Tyquan Thornton in 2022). We'll take a stab at keeping up that tradition here -- though perhaps not the way you'd expect.
No. 17 (via Steelers): Lukas Van Ness, EDGE (Iowa)
Be prepared for the Patriots to potentially miss out on all of the top three offensive tackles before pick No. 14. If that happens, it’s more likely the Patriots focus on the trenches than cornerback or wide receiver (though Zay Flowers remains a wild card here), and a trade down to accumulate more assets could facilitate some Day 2 moves.
Van Ness combines Deatrich Wise Jr.’s inside-outside versatility along the defensive line with nitroglycerin levels of explosive power and the raw tools to become a monster off the edge. They call him “Hercules” for a reason.
Shoring up the run defense and generating consistent pressure opposite Matthew Judon is quietly a need for the Patriots, and Van Ness can fill it -- with interest.
No. 34 (via Cardinals): Dawand Jones, OT (Ohio State)
The Patriots love their big tackles, having brought Trent Brown in for multiple stints and reportedly sniffing around on Orlando Brown Jr.
They trade up here to get a tackle of the future with similarly mountainous dimensions in Jones, who swallowed up a host of strong edge rushers at the Senior Bowl like a black hole and looks like he’s getting better with time.
Any college tackle who regularly abuses Georgia defensive linemen is not to be trifled with:
Whether you start him Week 1 or not, that's probably going to be your starting right tackle sooner rather than later in this scenario.
No. 49 (via Steelers): Julius Brents, CB (Kansas State)
This might've looked like a stretch not too long ago, but it probably won't be given what Brents has done since the college season ended.
The lanky corner stood out at the Senior Bowl and dominated the NFL Combine with freakish measurements (6-3, 202 pounds, 34-inch arms, 41.5-inch vertical, etc.). But this isn't Joejuan Williams 2.0. The guy isn't a scientific experiment or pet project; he's a press-man coverage menace right damn now.
The re-signing of Jonathan Jones (and the hopeful addition of another vet) means Brents wouldn't have to start Week 1 if he wasn't ready. But if his traits translate quickly to the field, it could be hard to keep him off.
No. 98 (via Browns): A.T. Perry, WR (Wake Forest)
New England might prefer to go with a Tyler Scott or Parker Washington slot-type if it doesn't go with someone like Zay Flowers in the first round.
But why not go with more of an outside guy with DeVante Parker's contract up at the end of next year?
The 6-5, 205-pound Perry was highly productive at Wake Forest (two straight 1,100-yard, double-digit touchdown seasons), has long-striding deep speed (4.47 40 at the Combine) and torches man coverage with craftiness and silky-smooth route-running.
It's hard to think the Patriots wouldn't fall in love with him after listening to him talk about his craft.
No. 111 (via Browns): Luke Schoonmaker, TE (Michigan)
You can’t spend all this time talking up how deep the tight end class is and NOT take one, right?
Schoonmaker played on the Patriots’ Shrine Bosl squad in Las Vegas, making him a prime candidate to get snapped up in the middle rounds. He’s an elite athlete for the position, is a willing blocker, can play in-line (something neither Hunter Henry nor Mike Gesicki do much or do well) and has shown some potential to make strong catches away from his body.
What’s not to like?
No. 126 (via Browns): K.J. Henry, EDGE (Clemson)
Patriots defensive line coach DeMarcus Covington might’ve mainly gone to Clemson’s Pro Day to watch Myles Murphy and Bryan Bresee, but Henry is likely on the Patriots' radar as well.
He’s a bit more of a traditional outside linebacker than Van Ness and boosted his stock with a strong Senior Bowl. The gap between him and Murphy, who’s a consensus first-round pick, might not be as wide as their projected draft stock.
You can never have too many good edge rushers, especially with Josh Uche not a sure thing to get a contract extension and not a ton of depth at the position.
No. 135: Jakorian Bennett, CB (Maryland)
Bennett's far less known than his Maryland teammate Deonte Banks and doesn't have the elite size and length of his running mate.
But he's an explosive athlete with the twitch to lock down quicker receivers in the slot, which might be where he's best-suited to play in the long run. He only allowed completions on 47.5 percent of the targets that came his way in 2022 -- a major improvement on his previous two seasons -- and had a strong Senior Bowl.
On top of that, his 4.3 speed could make him one heck of a gunner on special teams, which could eventually help him work his way into a role the way it did for Jonathan Jones.
No. 184: Atonio Mafi, OG (UCLA)
Breakfast must be this guy’s favorite meal given the way he serves pancakes to anyone and everyone who wants them.
The 6-2, 340-pounder has transformed his body of the years to drop weight and harness his underrated movement skills into a bulldozing machine in the run game. You’re not bull-rushing him in the passing game, either.
Mafi has played solely at left guard in college but would fit well at right guard in the Patriots offense. If the team isn’t prepared to pay Michael Onwenu next off-season, the UCLA product could fill the void right away.
No. 187: Luke Haggard, OT (Indiana)
The Patriots already have Andrew Stueber on tap as a developmental tackle prospect. But why not take another Big 10 tackle for new offensive line coach Adrian Klemm to get his hands on?
The Patriots got a good look at the athletic Indiana tackle at the Shrine Bowl, who excels at run-blocking on the move and could be a weapon as a puller once he gets more weight on him. Here, they scoop him up before he hits the undrafted free-agent market.
No. 192: Eric Gray, RB (Oklahoma)
Rhamondre Stevenson’s former understudy at Oklahoma joins him for another round in the pros.
The Patriots’ running back room could use another body even after signing James Robinson. While Gray isn’t as hot a prospect as Tyjae Spears or someone of that ilk, he’s got a well-rounded game that should translate to the NFL immediately.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him overtake Kevin Harris on the depth chart right away.
No. 210: Nic Jones, CB (Ball State)
The Ball State cornerback didn't have much tape against top-tier opponents in college, but he made a couple plays against Cedric Tillman and Tennessee that showed what he can do against NFL-caliber receivers.
He then locked up pretty much every receiver that came his way at the Shrine Bowl with the Patriots watching.
Jones isn't the twitchiest corner out there, but he mixes competitive footwork with long arms to jar footballs loose at the catchpoint.
No. 258: Michael Turk, P (Oklahoma)
You know it had to happen, right?
There is now a vacancy at punter for the Patriots following the release of Jake Bailey, and Turk would be a natural fit to take over. The team got a good look at him down in Vegas for the Shrine Bowl.
You might have to take him higher than the seventh round, of course. But for the purposes of the PFF Mock Draft Simulator, he’s still plenty available at this point.