The 2017-2018 season came and went in a blink of an eye. Even though Super Bowl 52 was only two weeks ago, we’re already suffering football withdrawals. Taking things day by day at the start of the NFL offseason is too tedious, so analysts and reporters enjoy looking toward the future. There are 164 grueling days between us and August. The 2018 NFL Draft and today are separated by 67 days. The start of free agency, our saving grace to get us through the waning moments of winter, is only 24 days away. On top of that, we are just a whopping nine days away until the NFL Combine. The only thing to do until then is to dream of what teams will look like in September. What will transpire in free agency? Better yet, who will each team draft?
The Patriots are at an important crossroads entering the offseason. There will be very little panic going into the 2018 season, but the team needs to set themselves up for the future. Tom Brady won’t get any younger, even though we’ve all been convinced that he can play forever. But pliability can only help for so long, and both Brady and New England’s defense can only bend for so long without breaking. The Patriots’ pass rush cannot go on in its current state without bringing in new talent. Also with defensive starters like Malcolm Butler presumably leaving us for new homes, the Patriots need to act quickly. Free agency can only dictate the state of the 2018 squad.
This year’s draft class boasts the most defensive talent we have seen in a long time. The Patriots have a chance to draft prospects that could make a difference down the road with their early picks. These mock drafts might be premature, but it will be updated as April rolls around the corner. It’s impossible to get into the heads of every front office in the league, especially right now. Some teams will look to address problems in free agency, and the rest will utilize the draft. The big board won’t come together until the Combine finishes up in early March. However, it’s great to have a baseline prediction on prospects. The following mock draft is updated from the one I made back in December. Fellow BSE writer Andrew Lykins will also give his insight on potential prospects in his three round draft after mine.
Mike Clement’s Mock Draft 2.0
Round 1 (Pick 31): Marcus Davenport, DE , UTSA
Pass rush is arguably the Patriots’ biggest problem going into the offseason. Part of the reason that New England possessed the 29th ranked defense in the league was because of their lack of pressuring opposing quarterbacks. The defense looked lost against mobile quarterbacks to say the least. Ever since Rob Ninkovich’s retirement last year the team has not found someone to line up parallel to Trey Flowers on the defensive line. Deatrich Wise Jr. and Eric Lee were formidable defensive ends this season, but they were not perfect.
After Dont’a Hightower’s season-ending injury, the linebacker corp did not look any better. Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, and Marquis Flowers held down the center of the defense, but also struggled on pressure. Roberts seemed to primarily play coverage and Van Noy rushed the gap a few times. Flowers, who will be a free agent, shined when pressuring the quarterback. James Harrison’s stint in New England was instrumental as well. The only problem is that he is nearing the end of his great career. Pass rush is a group effort. It isn’t one position’s responsibility.
In comes Marcus Davenport. Listed at a 4-3 outside linebacker, Davenport made his presence felt in 2017 against opposing quarterbacks. He finished four years at UTSA with 185 tackles and 21.5 sacks. The Conference USA might not be the most rigorous conference in college football, but Davenport was able to steamroll his way through offensive lines.
Davenport saw adversity at the Senior Bowl. He struggled a bit against the talent of other NFL prospects. However, he showed enough flashes of dominance to scouts to boost his draft stock. One of his highlights from the Senior Bowl was returning a fumble 19 yards for a score. The Combine will be his next test as he attempts to push into the NFL.
Round 2 (Pick 41): Mike Hughes, CB, UCF
Mike Hughes remains on my draft list. He’s been doubted by scouts due to his lack of consistency and experience in college. However, his speed helped him be a dominant number one cornerback for UCF during their perfect season. He can jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and has ball skills to pick passes off in man coverage. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein places Hughes as New England’s first pick in the draft surprisingly. In his first mock draft Zierlein writes, “Hughes isn’t the biggest cornerback, but he has tremendous speed and twitch. He’s also an outstanding kick returner.” Hughes’s speed makes up for his size to be a tough cornerback.
I believe that Mike Hughes could drop to the early second round for New England to take him. There are about five or so higher ranked corners, but Hughes could help the Patriots’ foreseeable problems at corner.
Round 2 (Pick 63): Akrum Wadley, RB, Iowa
New England’s running back corps have fared well thus far. Josh McDaniels set up an offense last season that incorporated Dion Lewis as a primary runner and had Rex Burkhead and James White go wide for passes. Lewis had a career season in 2017, only making him more valuable as he enters the free agent market. Burkhead will be a free agent as well. Dion Lewis is more likely going to leave New England, meanwhile Burkhead might stay after having an under par year due to injury.
Akrum Wadley is the best of both worlds. At Iowa, he has exhibited his ability to excel in a passing offense. He also has the strength to push up the middle. What is most admirable about Wadley is his footwork and athletic ability.
Round 3 (Pick 95): Kyle Lauletta, QB, Richmond
Can Kyle Lauletta be the heir to Tom Brady’s throne? Possibly. Lauletta has been under the radar in Richmond, but has some great intangibles. In 2017, Lauletta racked up 3,737 yards with 28 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He only started in his sophomore and junior years after switching over from lacrosse. Most scouts will disregard Lauletta as just another backup, but he has a lot of potential for Bill Belichick. Belichick loves lacrosse and will likely scavenge Lauletta’s film from high school.
Lauletta put on a show at the Senior Bowl. He threw three second-half touchdowns and was named Most Outstanding Player. He might not have the best arm but his production has risen in the past few years as he becomes more accustomed to football. His leadership and his passing on the move makes him an admirable target in the third round. If any team were to take him it would be the Patriots. He will do wonders working under Tom Brady for a year or two.
Andrew Lykins’s Mock Draft
The top four Patriots draft needs are: starting CB, tackle (either depth or starter depending upon Solder resigning), edge rush, and running back. The order of these needs will change depending upon the moves they will make in free agency. This pre-FA mock reflects on a few moves that I think will happen.
Round 1 (Pick 31) Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA
I’m shooting for the stars with my first pick. The pass rush sorely needs to be upgraded. Derek Rivers, Trey Flowers and hopefully a veteran addition will be joined by the raw but talented small school product. I would also consider Sam Hubbard with this pick as well. I fully expect the Patriots to resign Solder for left tackle. If that doesn’t happen, this pick immediately changes to the best OT available. I would also consider cornerback, but the position is slightly deeper, so I opted for Davenport with this pick.
Credit to USA Today.
Round 2 (Pick 41 from 49ers) J.C. Jackson, CB, Maryland
Many people will think that this is a knee jerk reaction to losing Butler. I think we would be able to weather his loss with Cyrus Jones return as well as J.Jones returning. I want an upgrade though. If Eric Rowe and Gilmore are the presumptive #1-2 for 2018, I want a young talent to push them and provide depth for a strict outside press-man scheme. Would also consider a top flight RB if available (Guice, R.Jones, or Michel).
Credit to USA Today.
Round 2 (Pick 63) Luke Falk, QB, Washington State
Spending a day two pick on a quarterback has worked out well for us, and I see no reason to break this trend. The Patriots will continue to stock the talent at this position until Tom Brady makes it clear as to when he is hanging them up. I understand if you are not thrilled with this particular prospect, but the need is undeniable and I would rather get a good prospect sooner rather than later. I would go with best player available if he doesn’t test well and look to pick up a quarterback on day three.
Credit to The Seattle Times.
Round 3 (Pick 95) Ronald Jones, RB, USC
There are tons of high level running back prospects in this draft class, and that means that there will be some sliding of starting level talent. Free agency and the Combine will really serve to slot the prospects into their respective rankings. Ronald Jones is my favorite of the 1-2 tier that could slide. I would also consider Nick Chubbs, Kerryon Johnson, and Jaylen Samuels here as well.
Credit to the Daily Trojan.
Cover image courtesy of Sporting News.