In our two previous mocks, post-Super Bowl and post-combine, we took a combined 10 different players, but after much research, these are the prospects we feel are the best fit and would most help the Patriots.
After all the fallout of free agency, the team's needs have finally become clear, and we'd rank them:
- Wide Receiver
- Defensive Lineman
- Coverage Linebacker
- Interior Offensive Lineman
Outside of those the Patriots are generally set, with wide receiver remaining the only glaring need. While team needs certainly play into our selections, it's also about finding the best fits at the best value spots, and that's what we've attempted to do here.
Without further ado, here's our final Patriots mock draft of the 2013 draft season.
While wide receiver is the Patriots' biggest need, a top-notch defensive lineman could have the biggest instant impact on the Patriots roster. It's an interesting defensive line class, with diverse players of all shapes and sizes. Finding the perfect Patriots fit depends on how they plan to evolve their defense.
In the end, we're going with UCLA defensive end Datone Jones, a versatile player who could step in anywhere along the line. Jones would fit a number of needs. He could contribute immediately as an interior rusher in the sub-defense, but also be a long-term solution at left defensive end in the base defense as Rob Ninkovich enters the final year of his contract.
At 6'3" and 283 pounds, Jones has the size to play any spot along the defensive line, giving Bill Belichick another versatile player to play matchups with. It's possible he could even see time at defensive tackle in the base defense, where his speed would give the Pats an early-down pass-rush presence.
When you look at his long-term value, versatility and how his presence would have a positive trickle-down effect on the rest of the defensive line, a first pick on Datone Jones would be well spent by the Patriots, and one that would address their biggest weakness.
Other possible picks: Jesse Williams, Johnathan Hankins
There's little question the Patriots will come out of this draft with a wide receiver. After much consideration, we're going with Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton in the second round as the best choice.
While Patton might not be the Randy Moss clone many hope Justin Hunter could be, Patton simply plays the game like the Patriots want their receivers to. He's competitive, polished and plays with a "feisty" attitude.
He was also second at the combine in the 20-yard shuttle, an area the Pats always pay close attention to. Add in Patton's off-field character, demonstrated by his donation of his $300 Best Buy gift card from his bowl prizes to kids participating in the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and it seems clear that he has everything the Pats like in a player.
As always, the ultimate question is can Patton read defenses and determine the necessary routes? That is the hardest part about New England's offense, and one that has burned nearly every receiver, rookie or free agent that has tried to pick it up since 2007.
The praise for Patton's route-running certainly seems like a positive indication that he understands the game. His awareness and toughness help as well.
There are plenty of good wide receivers projected to go in the first two rounds. It's possible the Pats will like one of them enough to use a first-round pick on him, but from our perspective the best fit and safest of them all is Quinton Patton. He could immediately step into the starting lineup as a complement to Danny Amendola to form a promising young receiving corps.
Other possible picks: Robert Woods, Aaron Dobson, Stedman Bailey.
Earlier this offseason, we wrote that the most specific fix for the Patriots defense was to address the pass defense on early downs. A pass-rushing upgrade with Datone Jones is one step in that direction, and the addition of a mobile middle linebacker like Iowa State's A.J. Klein would be another.
The biggest thing that stands out about Klein is that he plays the game the way the Patriots like, with intensity, physicality and great instincts. He'd have the ability to at least back up all three of the linebacker positions, with his biggest potential being at middle linebacker against pass-happy teams.
Brandon Spikes is an electric player, and one who can single-handedly destroy an opponent's running game, but he is miscast as a three-down linebacker, at least thus far in his career. The Patriots must add another tool to their linebacker toolbox to help him.
Klein has the coverage ability, but also the tough-minded attitude that Bill Belichick requires. Add in his versatility and ability to play special teams, and Klein's potential impact on the Patriots defense is sizable.
He doesn't need to replace Spikes, but he would be a valuable asset should injuries strike, starting out at least as a core special teams player and potential nickel coverage linebacker.
If he can ascend to a starting role in the base defense, even better.
Other potential picks: Jelani Jenkins, Zaviar Gooden
Many Patriots fans look at the suspect pass defense over the past few seasons and put cornerback and pass-rusher atop the needs board, but with the entire starting secondary returning I don't quite see it that way.
Yes, Aqib Talib could bolt for greener pastures in 2014 if he turns in a great 2013 season, but there's not a major need to fix that problem just yet. And really, the move would be redundant if Talib does turn in a great season.
Add in Kyle Arrington's four-year deal and it essentially eliminates the need for a starting slot corner, regardless of how Pats fans feel about him.
So we're left with a seventh-round selection of Miami's Brandon McGee, who was captain and possesses outstanding speed. McGee would round out the cornerback depth for 2013, while playing special teams and being groomed for a potential expanded role in 2014 if the need arises.
McGee played both sides of the field as a corner at Miami, and also has the quickness (fourth-best 3-cone drill time) and strength for the slot.
There's no question the Pats could use some depth at the corner position, but they can take a long-term approach for now. Developing a low-round prospect makes better sense at this point.
With our final selection in our mock we're bringing back an offensive lineman from our previous mock, offensive guard Eric Herman. With the departure of Donald Thomas leaving a void that still hasn't been filled, the Pats need to restock the shelves on the interior of the line and Herman is a great fit.
He has ideal size at 6'4", 320 pounds and did not miss a game as a three-year starter at Ohio (51 straight games). But perhaps most intriguing is Herman's playing temperament, which echoes that of Logan Mankins. Guards with a nasty streak always add a lot to an offense.
There's no question Herman would need time to develop, but there is no one better to oversee that development than Dante Scarnecchia. His combine-best 36 reps at 225 pounds in the bench press are a good indicator that he not only has strength, but is willing to work.
It's undeniable that Herman has all the tools. With a couple seasons of development, he could be the long-term solution at right guard for the Pats.