Nov 20, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on the sideline during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium. The New England Patriots defeated the San Francisco 49ers 30-17. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
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A look ahead to the 2017 NFL Draft for the New England Patriots with a complete seven-round mock draft.
The 2017 NFL Draft may not currently be on the forefront of the minds of the New England Patriots, but it never hurts for us to look ahead. The Patriots are once again clear Super Bowl contenders this season, but they have far from a perfect roster on their hands.
The brilliance of quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick is carrying this team right now. They undoubtedly have a great bunch of players, but there are obvious holes on this roster that need addressing.
How will the Patriots attack the 2017 NFL Draft? Belichick and company are always extremely difficult to predict around draft time. After all, they are probably best known for their draft strategy of trading out of a late-first round pick for multiple mid-to-late round picks. However, there are specific players and positions that I believe they will be targeting and should be looking at come April.
Let’s give it a shot. Here is a complete seven-round 2017 NFL mock draft for the New England Patriots.
Sep 17, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets running back Dedrick Mills (26) scores a rushing touchdown against Vanderbilt Commodores linebacker Zach Cunningham (41) in the third quarter of their game at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Yellow Jackets won 38-7. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
The Patriots shockingly traded linebacker Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns earlier this season. Collins is an extremely gifted player at the linebacker position, but there appeared to be a rift of some sort between Collins and Belichick. The talented linebacker was not playing within the Patriots’ system, seemingly roaming around the field doing his own thing far too often. The Patriots want players who stick to the system and do what they say.
Star linebacker Dont’a Hightower is set to hit free agency this off season. While I would be surprised to see them let Hightower walk, the Patriots could sure use some sort of replacement for Collins.
Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham would be a perfect replacement. Cunningham is a long and athletic linebacker who has an incredible overall skill-set. He is great in pass coverage, can make plays on the blitz and is surprisingly impressive against the run for a relatively slight linebacker. Cunningham does a fantastic job of weaving in and out of traffic in the middle of the field, getting away from blockers to attack the ball carrier with consistency. He is a quick and elusive player, but Cunningham also shows nice strength and power at the inside linebacker position.
The primary weakness in Cunningham’s game is his tackling ability. He typically does a fantastic job of getting to where the ball is, but he tends to attack the ball carrier too high. His natural height works against him at times and it has certainly hurt his consistency in tackling.
The issue with tackling is real, but Cunningham is a talented player who would be a perfect fit for the Patriots defense. Make no mistake about it, he is a big-time playmaker who would immediately make their entire unit much better.
Sep 5, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Mississippi Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly (10) fumbles the ball after being hit by Florida State Seminoles defensive end DeMarcus Walker (44) in the third quarter at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
EDGE, Florida State
The Patriots’ pass rush has been up-and-down this season. After trading away Chandler Jones over the offseason, they do not have a consistent impact rusher from the edge. Chris Long has played well at times, Rob Ninkovich is a strong veteran and the duo of Jabaal Sheard and Trey Flowers have shown upside. But the Patriots lack consistent impact pass rushers. Here in the second-round, they find an edge rusher with big-time upside.
DeMarcus Walker is not the most well-rounded defensive prospect in this draft class. He struggles to compete against the run and there are questions about his motor. That being said, he is an extremely quick and athletic pass rusher who has massive upside at the next level.
The Florida State product shows great explosive ability off of the snap, consistently getting an immediate advantage over his opponent. He also does a great job converting his high-level speed into power in the rush and has nice mix of pass rushing moves.
Walker is an extremely exciting pass rush prospect who would be a great value for the Patriots the bottom of the second-round. He is far from a perfect player, but at worst, he has some value attacking the quarterback on obvious passing downs.
Nov 12, 2016; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns running back D’Onta Foreman (33) carries the ball against the West Virginia Mountaineers during the third quarter at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. The Mountaineers won 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
Running Back, Texas
LeGarrette Blount has been great for the Patriots this season. He has carried the ball 230 times for 957 yards (4.2 yards per carry average) and 13 touchdowns in 12 games. Blount has been a stable force for the Patriots offense and particularly performed well for the team early in the season without Brady.
That being said, Blount is a 30-year-old back whose powerful running style does not suggest a lengthy career in the backfield. He’s also a free agent this offseason. I would not be surprised to see the Patriots bring him back. At the same time, I would not be surprised to see them look to add a power back in the 2017 NFL Draft to replace him.
Here in the third round, D’Onta Foreman is a perfect replacement for Blount. Foreman has burst onto the scene from seemingly out of nowhere this season, carrying the ball 323 times for 2,028 yards (6.3 yards per carry average) and 15 touchdowns for the Texas Longhorns. Foreman is an extremely powerful back who rarely goes down on first contact. That being said, he is not just a power guy. Foreman has shown a second gear that should get NFL scouts excited.
Foreman’s game is undoubtedly built on power, but he is not just a “three yards and a cloud of dust” guy. He is elusive in space and has the overall speed to beat defenders to the end zone. Also, while Foreman is not much of a pass catcher out of the backfield, he shows strong pass protection ability.
The Patriots are likely happy with their combination of James White and Dion Lewis as speed/receiving backs, but I would not be surprised to see them look for a more long-term option at the power back position. Foreman is an extremely talented player who would make an immediate difference in this offense. Foreman is the kind of back that could take pressure off of Brady and help lengthen his career. Great value selection at a relative position of need here.
Sep 3, 2016; Pullman, WA, USA; Eastern Washington Eagles wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) makes a touchdown catch against Washington State Cougars defensive lineman Samson Ebukam (3) during the second half at Martin Stadium. The Eagles won 45-42. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
Wide Receiver, Eastern Washington
In exchange for Jamie Collins, the Patriots received the likely third-round compensatory pick that the Cleveland Browns will earn from losing Alex Mack in free agency last offseason. With that pick, the Patriots find an extremely interesting small school wide receiver prospect in this mock draft.
Cooper Kupp is one of the most productive wide receivers in the history of college football. Through his four years at Eastern Washington, Kupp set many records. Those include being the all-time FCS leader in receptions (402), receiving yards (6,061) and receiving touchdowns (68). Kupp was an absolute force to be reckoned with throughout his college career and undoubtedly has the skill-set to compete at the next level.
A smart and efficient player, Kupp gets the most out of his ability each and every time he is on the field. He is an incredible route runner who simply has a knack for getting open and he almost always makes the catch when given an opportunity.
Kupp is not the fastest receiver in this draft class, but he does have the athletic traits to be successful in the NFL. He can go up and get the ball well, timing his jumps to absolute perfection. Kupp is never going to be a huge deep threat, but he has such a well-rounded skill-set to make up for it. In college, Kupp showed the ability to dominate both on the outside and in the slot. His versatility at the wide receiver position is obvious and that’s a trait that Bill Belichick always loves.
A productive player who shows great awareness, versatility and high character, Kupp is a Patriots kind of player. I would not be surprised to see them specifically target the Eastern Washington product in the 2017 NFL Draft and finding him at the tail end of the third round is strong value.
Sep 10, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego State Aztecs cornerback Damontae Kazee (23) defends a pass to California Golden Bears wide receiver Demetris Robertson (8) during the fourth quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Cornerback, San Diego State
The Patriots forfeited their 2017 fourth-round selection due to the Deflategate sage. However, they will still pick in the fourth-round because of a trade last year with the Seattle Seahawks. With that fourth-round selection in this mock draft, the Patriots find help at the cornerback position. Malcolm Butler is becoming an extremely strong player for the Patriots at cornerback. Butler is great, but he needs more help.
Logan Ryan is simply not a strong starting option. He is a decent player, but teams can easily exploit him in coverage. Eric Rowe has shown some nice upside, but he struggles against quick and elusive wide receivers, and last year’s second-round pick, Cyrus Jones, has been awful. I do not see cornerback as the Patriots’ biggest need, but it is undoubtedly on the list.
Damontae Kazee is a long and aggressive cornerback prospect who will have nice upside at the next level. Kazee does a great job in press coverage and uses his long arms extremely well to make life difficult on opposing receivers. Kazee is a bit limited in the speed department, but he has typically shown the ability to keep up with most receivers. Kazee is strong at the point of attack and is undoubtedly best used a press coverage corner. He also does a great job in run support.
Simply another talented player to throw into the mix, Kazee would have an opportunity to be an impact player in the Patriots defense.
Nov 26, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Nathan Peterman (4) scrambles with the ball against the Syracuse Orange during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
When you have Tom Brady under center, quarterback is never really a position of need. However, when it starts getting this late in the draft, everything is on the table.
Brady is as great as it gets at the position and is not showing any signs of slowing down. Jimmy Garoppolo is a high-level backup who showed starting caliber ability earlier in the season in the absence of Brady. However, Garoppolo becomes a free agent after the 2017 season and demand for him appears to be high. The Patriots would be wise to look to deal Garoppolo this offseason.
Even though the team drafted quarterback Jacoby Brissett last year and he looked decent when forced into action earlier in the season, if the team trades Garoppolo, drafting another quarterback would make a lot of sense.
Nathan Peterman has not put up huge numbers in college. His raw skills do not immediately stand out on tape. However, he is a talented player who shows incredible toughness on the field. Peterman is a fearless competitor who will stand in the pocket and make the play regardless of pressure in his face. He also shows great field awareness, consistently making the right play on the field.
The Pitt Panthers product is an extremely smart quarterback who also shows fantastic leadership ability. He is simply a guy who you like to have around your team. With his elite-level intangibles, I could see the Patriots really liking Peterman as a quarterback prospect in the 2017 NFL Draft. He may not have a ton of natural ability or raw upside, but he is a guy who you can count on with the ball in his hands.
At worst, Peterman could be a solid backup for this team for many years, and could create competition to make Brissett a better player. However, as we saw with a sixth-round selection named Tom Brady, you never know what a smart and tough quarterback can become.
Nov 12, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Cougars quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (1) rushes against the Tulane Green Wave at TDECU Stadium. Houston won 30 to 18. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Greg Ward Jr.
Wide Receiver, Houston
Seventh-round selections are a coin flip at best of actually making the active roster their rookie seasons, especially on deep and talented rosters like the one in New England. With that in mind, taking a shot on upside is typically the best move here.
With their upside shot in the seventh-round of this mock of the 2017 NFL Draft, the Patriots land Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. What? Another quarterback with already having Brady, Garoppolo and Brissett on the roster? Not quite.
Ward is not going to be draft as an NFL quarterback. He is a quick and elusive player, but his size and lack of throwing ability will force him to switch positions at the next level. The obvious comparison here is Julian Edelman. The Patriots’ star slot receiver was a seventh-round selection by the team after entering the draft as a quarterback out of Kent State. The Patriots liked Edelman’s speed and quickness and took a chance on him making a successful transition to slot receiver.
Clearly, that was a move that worked out extremely well as Edelman became Brady’s favorite target in the passing attack. I wonder if Ward has the similar kind of ability.
Ward clearly has the speed, quickness and athletic profile to be successful in the NFL. He is an extremely elusive runner whose skills should translate extremely well to the slot at the next level. Similar to Edelman, I could certainly see Ward having success running quick, underneath routes in the Patriots’ offense.
His speed and quickness is great, but it is more than that. Ward is a smart player whose experience at quarterback would help him at wide receiver. While it is hard to say for sure, I imagine that Ward would be a receiver who would seemingly always find the open space in the defense.
There is a lot of projection here and it is far from a guarantee. That being said, Ward has a ton of upside as a slot receiver in the right system. There simply is not a better system in the NFL for success out of the slot. Great upside grab in the seventh-round of this 2017 NFL Draft.