The Patriots head to Las Vegas this week to kick off their preparations for the 2023 NFL Draft.
For the first time under Bill Belichick, the Patriots will supply the coaching staff for one of college football’s postseason all-star games, the Shrine Bowl, which serves as an early showcase for draft-eligible players. By getting to work with players every day in practices, which start Saturday, the Patriots will get an up-close look at the 109 attendees.
With that on the horizon, this seems like a good time to dust off the mock draft machine and fire up our first look at what the Pats could do in April. One note before we get started: The NFL doesn’t announce compensatory picks until March, but the Patriots are projected to have three, so we’ve included them below in addition to the seven draft picks they currently own.
Round 1, 14th overall: Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
The Patriots might need to get a bit lucky to draft one of the top three offensive tackles. Our draft expert, Dane Brugler, said all three should be off the board within the first 15 picks. The question for New England will be whether one of them makes it to No. 14.
Here’s a quick synopsis: Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski might be the best of the three tackles, but he has short arms that could lead to teams questioning whether he’ll play tackle or guard at the next level. Then there’s Ohio State’s Paris Johnson and Georgia’s Broderick Jones. Brugler thinks Johnson is a bit more NFL-ready, but Jones has a high ceiling and could catch up quickly.
There’s a good chance that if the Patriots end up with any of those three, Jones would be the team’s day-one starter opposite Trent Brown on the offensive line.
Round 2, 46th overall: Rashee Rice, WR, SMU
Even if the Patriots do manage to re-sign Jakobi Meyers, which is no given, they could still use help at wide receiver. If they don’t re-sign Meyers, they’re going to need major reinforcements at the position. Nelson Agholor is probably gone. DeVante Parker could be, too.
At 6-foot-2, Rashee Rice would give the Patriots a possession receiver who could play opposite Tyquan Thornton, who is more of a downfield burner.
Rice caught 96 passes last season for 1,344 yards and 10 touchdowns to cap a four-year career at SMU.
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Round 3, 76th overall: Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, CB, TCU
Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson is one of the best players the Patriots will get a firsthand look at later this week at the Shrine Bowl. He’s the nephew of Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson and helped take TCU to the national championship game this season.
Hodges-Tomlinson is a bit undersized at 5-foot-9, but Belichick has played shorter corners on the outside before. Jonathan Jones is a pending free agent, and Jalen Mills is a candidate to be cut in a cap-saving move, so the Pats will surely have their eyes on corners throughout the pre-draft process.
Round 4: Jordan Battle, S, Alabama
It wouldn’t be a Patriots draft without selecting someone from Alabama. Jordan Battle was first-team All-SEC as a senior this season, his third straight year as a starter in Nick Saban’s defense. He was a top-100 prospect out of high school in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and notched six career interceptions, three of which he returned for a touchdown.
If Devin McCourty retires, the Patriots could use depth at safety even if Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips are slotted as the starters for 2023.
Round 4: Tucker Kraft, TE, South Dakota State
It also wouldn’t be a Patriots draft without a small-school pick. Tucker Kraft is a South Dakota native who helped the Jackrabbits win an FCS national championship this season.
The 6-foot-5 tight end became a starter as a redshirt sophomore in 2021 and notched 773 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games.
The Patriots still have Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, but it’s no guarantee either will be on the roster in 2024, so it would be wise to start developing someone soon.
Round 4 (projected compensatory pick): Tuli Tuipulotu, Edge, USC
The Patriots boast one of the best edge-rushing pairs in the NFL with Matthew Judon and Josh Uche, but the depth behind them falls off quickly on obvious passing downs. A pick like this would add depth in case of injury.
Tuli Tuipulotu enjoyed a breakout season in 2022, notching 13 1/2 sacks in 14 games.
Round 6: Yasir Abdullah, LB, Louisville
Yasir Abdullah is another player the Patriots will work with at the Shrine Bowl and is someone, Brugler writes, “who can play multiple spots in the front seven.” We know how much Belichick values positional versatility, so it’ll be interesting to see how Abdullah plays in front of the Patriots coaching staff.
Round 6: Tyler Steen, OT, Alabama
Even if the Patriots take an offensive tackle in the first round, they could use depth here, too, where Tyler Steen could fight for the job as the swing tackle.
Steen was at Vanderbilt for four seasons before transferring to Alabama before the 2022 season, when he promptly earned the left tackle job.
Round 6: Kei’Trel Clark, CB, Louisville
It wouldn’t be a shock if, for a second straight year, the Patriots selected multiple cornerbacks in the draft. Kei’Trel Clark is someone Belichick will see this week at the Shrine Bowl. Clark spent three years at Louisville and was an All-ACC selection.
It’ll be interesting to see what the Patriots do at cornerback, both in free agency with Jones and Mills and in the draft.
Round 6 (projected compensatory pick): Ronnie Bell, WR, Michigan
This pick came from Brugler, who wrote that Ronnie Bell “just feels like a Patriot.” The receiver was Michigan’s offensive rookie of the year in 2018 and led the 2019 team in receiving yards with 758. He suffered a season-ending injury in the 2021 opener and returned to lead the Wolverines with 889 yards this season. He notched six catches for 135 yards and a touchdown in Michigan’s playoff loss to TCU.
Round 7 (projected compensatory pick): Bryce Baringer, punter, Michigan State
Jake Bailey’s status is unclear. He went from one of the best punters in the NFL in 2021 to injuries and struggles in 2022 — all before a team suspension ended his season. So while it’s not clear what his status will be for 2023, it couldn’t hurt to have some competition for him. Bryce Baringer averaged 49 yards per punt as a senior at Michigan State last season.
(Photo of Rashee Rice: Rob Carr/Getty Images)