Tom Brady has dominated the headlines throughout the early portion of the Patriots offseason thus far due to his free agent status, but New England will soon shift its focus towards late April and the 2020 NFL Draft. While the upcoming decision from Brady will unquestionably alter how the Patriots attack the draft and the rest of free agency, the club does have an array of needs beyond what is occurring under center.
The likes of Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Devin McCourty and Danny Shelton are also set to hit the market and were all players who were key pieces to the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL a season ago. Along with that stable of defensive anchors, starting left guard Joe Thuney has himself in position to see a market-setting deal somewhere across the league. With all those statuses in question, it's good news for New England that they own 12 selections at this year's draft, tied for second-most in the league.
On Wednesday, NFL Draft writer Chris Trapasso released his seven-round 2020 NFL mock draft, and has the Patriots addressing a number of holes that they may lose in free agency. One of those, however, is not the quarterback position. Let's take a look to see who Trapasso has landing in Foxborough later this spring.
No. 23 overall: A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa
After going offense with their previous three first-round picks, the Patriots go back to the defensive side of the ball with their top overall selection in 2020, which has been a bit more fruitful for Bill Belichick over the years. Trapasso puts Iowa's A.J. Epenesa in the same breath as former Patriots defensive lineman Trey Flowers, who was one of New England's better defenders over the course of his tenure with the team.
The 6-foot-5, 275 pounder has a great physical stature to him, and measures similar to former No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett, but doesn't possess the same blazing speed. That said, he has that hybrid ability to move across the defensive line and even line up at the edge, which was extremely similar to what Flowers was able to do in New England's defense. That Patriots tried to replicate that with Michael Bennett last season after Flowers signed a mega-deal with Detroit, but it never came to fruition. With this pick, they can try to get that same type of playmaking ability back in their front seven.
Day 2 picks
Round 3, No. 87 overall: Saahdiq Charles, OL, LSU
Round 3, No. 98 overall: K.J. Hill, WR, Ohio State
Round 3, No. 100 overall: Ashtyn Davis, S, California
Thanks to the Mohamed Sanu trade around the 2019 deadline, the Patriots currently do not own a second-round pick. Thanks to the compensatory pick formula, however, the Patriots were awarded two more third-rounders, giving them a total of three for the 2020 draft. With the first two picks, the Patriots address two key needs on offense -- offensive line and wide receiver.
Saahdiq Charles was the blindside tackle for LSU en-route to a national championship this year. The 6-foot-4, 321-pound lineman may be more of a swing tackle or move to the interior of the offensive line at the NFL, but the Patriots could use the help in both areas. If Joe Thuney and Ted Karras both leave in free agency, New England will be looking for a new starting left guard to replace Thuney and a versatile lineman that can play multiple positions like Karras. If former first-round pick Isaiah Wynn needs to be moved to the inside, there's an opportunity for Charles to land a left tackle.
With the second third-rounder, Trapasso has the Patriots bringing in the first of multiple wide receivers in K.J. Hill out of Ohio State. Historically, Bill Belichick struggles at finding impact receivers at the NFL Draft, but Hill, who caught 57 passes for 636 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2019, comes into the league with the reputation of being a stellar route-runner, which is of great importance in New England's offense.
Cal's Ashtyn Davis is looked at as the third-best safety in the NFL Draft, according to CBS Sports's rankings, and the 42nd overall prospect. Safety is a position that the Patriots would be wise to address even if Devin McCourty re-signs. McCourty, Duron Harmon and Patrick Chung, three mainstays at the position, are all at the tail end of their careers and it'd be smart for New England to bring in a talent like Davis, who is looked at as a speedy, hard-hitting safety, and get younger in that area.
Day 3 picks
Round 4, No. 125 overall: Solomon Kindley, OL, Georgia
Round 6: No. 195 overall: James Proche, WR, SMU
Round 6, No. 204 overall: Benito Jones, DL, Ole Miss
Round 6: No. 212 overall: Oluwole Betiku Jr., EDGE, Illinois
Round 6: No. 213 overall: Grayland Arnold, CB, Baylor
Round 7: No. 230 overall: Aaron Parker, WR, Rhode Island
Round 7: No. 235 overall: Robert Windsor, DL, Penn State
Round 7: No. 241 overall: K.J. Osborn, WR, Miami (FL)
The Patriots have eight selections on Day 3 of the draft and it would come as a shock if they actually used all of them. Bill Belichick and company love moving all around the board and will likely target specific players that fit whatever need they have and use their capital to go get them.
In the fourth round, Trapasso's mock has the Patriots doubling down on the offensive line with Georgia's Solomon Kindley. This wouldn't be the first time that New England has dipped their toe in the Georgia waters as there are a number of Bulldogs on the roster including left tackle Isaiah Wynn and center David Andrews. With Kindley, the Patriots are getting an interior presence that could possibly fill that left guard spot if Thuney leaves in free agency.
New England does not own a fifth-round selection, but this could be an area we talked about above where they could use some of the capital they have piled up in the sixth and seventh rounds to package and possibly grab a player they have graded highly that is falling lower than they projected.
With their first of four picks in the sixth round, the Patriots are taking another receiver in SMU's James Proche, who does fit the mold of a typical New England receiver. The 5-foot-11, 201-pound receiver Trapasso says, is a "candidate for having the best ball skills in the class." He caught 111 balls in 2019 for 1,225 yards and 15 touchdowns. New England's top receiver in former Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman will be 34 years old in May, so addressing a potential slot option is key going forward.
Benito Jones is another draftee that could directly be related to a potentially replacing a free-agent-to-be in Danny Shelton. The 6-foot-1, 316 pounder flashes potential, but needs to be a bit more consistent. He has the frame of a nose tackle, but moves like a three-technique, says Trapasso, and could be a solid rotational piece right in the middle of New England's defensive line.
With the possibility still out there for the Patriots to lose Van Noy and/or Jamie Collins in free agency, it's smart for the club to take a flier on Illinois edge rusher Oluwole Betiku Jr., who is a transfer from USC. During his junior season in the Big 10, Betiku Jr. totaled nine sacks and 13 tackles for a loss.
The last pick in the sixth round has the Patriots addressing the cornerback spot for the first time in this draft. With the talent that is already in New England's secondary headlined by Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones and former second-round pick Joejuan Williams, the team can wait to address what is already a pretty deep unit. In Grayland Arnold, the team is getting someone who can play both corner and safety.
To open the seventh, New England goes back to the receiver well and stays in their own backyard by taking Rhode Island's Aaron Parker. The 6-foot-2, 209-pound receiver had a strong three-cone drill at the combine and comes from a football family, which is something that Bill Belichick does put some stock in. He's known for strong balls skills and being good on 50/50 throws. Given the desperate need the Patriots have at receiver, New England needs to take multiple stabs at the position at various points in the draft.
Windsor is another attempt by the Patriots to deepen the defensive line and the Penn State product is said to have a pretty deceptive first step. His 13 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss over the course of his collegiate career are proof of that.
To wrap up the draft, the Patriots bring in another wide receiver. K.J. Osborn has 4.48 speed, which is something the current unit is severely lacking. He transferred to Miami for the 2019 season and caught 50 passes for 547 yards and five touchdowns.