[Editor’s Note: Version 1.0 below originally published on February 21]
The 2019 season ended in disappointment for Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, as they lost a home playoff game to the Ryan Tannehill-led Tennessee Titans. It was quite evident that a lackluster arsenal of weapons really hampered the play of Tom Brady and the New England offense. The wide receivers and tight ends were not getting open, the offensive line was overwhelmed by the Titans defensive line, and the offense was only able to score 13 points.
In this New England Patriots 7-round mock draft, the main objective will be to add some dynamic receiving targets for Tom Brady, which will allow the Patriots to make one final run for his 7th championship.
Before we jump into the mock draft, we must mention that Tom Brady is an unrestricted free agent. There are rumors floating around, which have the Las Vegas Raiders and the Los Angeles Chargers interested in Brady’s services. When the dust settles, cooler heads should prevail. The Patriots and Brady will hammer out a contract, which will allow him to rightfully retire as a Patriot.
Make no mistake about it, the Patriots’ offense was a shell of itself after the retirement of Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski, possibly the best tight end in NFL history, was key in the Patriots offense as a blocker and as a reliable pass-catcher. No disrespect to the Patriots, but the combination of an aging Ben Watson and Matt LaCosse isn’t going to get the job done.
The Patriots lost offensive tackle Trent Brown to free agency last year and are poised to lose offensive guard Joe Thuney in free agency this year. It will be paramount that the Patriots use some of their resources in the 2020 NFL Draft on finding themselves quality offensive linemen. Protecting Tom Brady has to be priority number one, and the offensive line didn’t do a great job of doing so in 2019.
Losing Trey Flowers to the Detroit Lions in free agency last year was a big blow to the New England defensive front. To make matters worse, nose tackle Danny Shelton is an unrestricted free agent, and promising defensive tackle Adam Butler is a restricted free agent. The trio of Lawrence Guy, John Simon, and Deatrich Wise, Jr. is a solid start, but the Patriots must get better here.
Kyle Van Noy is one of the unsung heroes of the New England Patriots. He is a playmaker who brings a ton of energy to the Patriots’ defense. Jamie Collins enjoyed a renaissance in 2019, as he had a very nice season for the Pats. Both players are free agents, and the Patriots defense would take a step back if they could not find a way to replace Van Noy and Collins adequately. Chase Winovich will fill one of these voids, but the other hole needs to be filled in the draft.
The main objective of the New England Patriots 7-round mock draft will be providing dynamic targets for Tom Brady, so he and the New England Patriots can chase that 7th championship.
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New England Patriots 7-round Mock Draft
Round 1, Pick 23: Cole Kmet, Tight End, Notre Dame
I know what you’re thinking. A team should never go the route of filling a need rather than taking the best player available. However, the Patriots are desperate for an upgrade here. Cole Kmet is the best tight end in the 2020 draft class and provides New England with a major upgrade to Ben Watson.
As Pro Football Network Draft Analyst Nick Farabaugh points out in his article, Kmet thrives as a vertical seem threat. He is a good athlete, playing both baseball and football for the Fighting Irish. In addition to being a great route runner, Kmet has flashed soft hands and the ability to get open. He is a functional blocker, but he will make his money catching the ball.
He is a great fit in New England, as the Patriots are starved to find their next “Gronk”. With that said, if the bar is Rob Gronkowski, Pats fans will be disappointed in Kmet, as he isn’t the same caliber of player. However, he has the tools to develop into a Pro Bowl tight end, and due to his competitive nature, he will quickly become a fan favorite.
Round 3, Pick 87: Lloyd Cushenberry III, Offensive Line, LSU
The Patriots could lose both Joe Thuney and Ted Karras in free agency, which would put quite the hole in the interior of their offensive line. Even with them, the unit needed improvement. Over the last two seasons, Lloyd Cushenberry III started all 28 games at the center position for the LSU Tigers, highlighting his extreme durability. The LSU coaching staff awarded Cushenberry with the prestigious #18 jersey, which is given to players who exemplify greatness on and off the field.
Cushenberry is stoutly built, yet possesses great length. He is strong, quick, and is a very effective second-level blocker. He is more than adequate as an athlete, which allows him to excel in pass protection. One thing that screams out when watching tape of Cushenberry is his tremendous football intelligence. He understands the game and can process blitz recognition quickly.
While it is not a sexy pick, it is paramount that the Patriots dedicate resources to protecting Tom Brady. Not only would Cushenberry be a replacement for free agent Ted Karras, but he would also be a drastic upgrade.
Round 3, Compensatory Pick: Akeem Davis-Gaither, Linebacker, Appalachian State
Akeem Davis-Gaither is one of the best small-school players in the 2020 NFL draft. He is light for the Patriots defense, weighing in the ballpark of 220 pounds. However, there are some borderline elite traits that he brings to the table. He moves extremely well, showcasing exceptional lateral movement skills. He might surprise you, as he plays a physical brand of football despite being a bit undersized. He plays with tremendous instincts, and his quickness allows him to explode to the football.
In today’s passing league, NFL defenses need explosive players like Davis-Gaither to mirror athletic tight ends and running backs. It would be wise for Davis-Gaither to add some bulk to his frame, allowing him to hold up against the run.
The Patriots’ defensive coaches should be salivating to get an explosive athletic marvel like Davis-Gaither. With proper coaching and NFL strength and conditioning, the Patriots might get one of the biggest steals of the 2020 NFL Draft.