After a disappointing 2022 season, it is obvious that the New England Patriots need an injection of talent, but where? What position? With the 14th overall pick in the 2023 draft, one of the highest picks The Patriots have had in recent memory, they could go a couple different directions. There appears to be three obvious needs, at receiver, tackle, and cornerback.
With Jakobi Meyers heading to Las Vegas, that leaves Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker, and Tyquan Thornton being the only receivers that are guaranteed to be back on the roster in 2023. New England recently acquired JuJu Smith-Schuster in free agency, and it will be a big question whether the soon to be seventh year receiver can fill Meyers’ shoes. In a rather tumultuous year of overall offense, Meyers still prospered, with 804 yards and six touchdowns, proving to be Mac Jones’ go-to guy. At the same time, it may be fair to say that Smith-Schuster is the more dynamic player, but overall Meyers to Smith-Schuster appears to be a lateral move.
Other names that have been linked to the Patriots in free agency have been Deandre Hopkins, Jerry Juedy, and Odell Beckham Jr., which would all be big improvements. If the Patriots don’t go to free agency or trade for another receiver, they could go for one in the draft. Taking a receiver high in the first round is rare for the Patriots, and may not happen this year, due to the overall strength of this receiver class being lower than previous years. If the Patriots do want one of the better receivers in this class, they are in a good position to get one.
One of the names that has been tied to the Patriots recently is Ohio State receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who is an acrobatic and twitchy slot receiver. Smith-Njigba has great short area quickness and scored an impressive athletic score of 9.39 out of ten at the combine. One of the concerns with JSN is that he lacks breakaway speed, but his ability to make people miss in the open field makes up for it. Another option in the first round could be TCU receiver Quentin Johnston, who is a bigger receiver, standing at 6’4 and weighing 215 pounds. Johnston is a vertical threat who is great in open space.
Two of the higher-end talents that could potentially drop to the Patriots would be Jordan Addison from USC and Jalin Hyatt out of Tennessee. Both Addison and Hyatt are deep threats, with Hyatt being the better of the two, having blazing speed and good size. It would not be surprising to see Hyatt be the first receiver off the board.
On the cheaper end, there are options such as Zay Flowers, from Boston College who is a dynamic slot that can also work outside, having a great second gear. Standing at 5’11 and weighing 172 pounds, Flowers makes up for his lack in size with explosiveness. Josh Downs (UNC) and Marvin Mims (Oklahoma) are two receivers that are projected to go later in the first round and possibly into day two and could prove to be solid options.
Unlike this year’s receiver class, this year’s cornerback class is very deep with talent, and size. Like the offensive side of the ball, the Patriots have needs on the defensive side of the ball as well, most obviously in the defensive backfield. New England has had a pretty good track record of developing cornerbacks, but not necessarily out of the first round. At the same time, there are so many good corners in this draft that it would be hard to miss. With the Patriots resigning homegrown corner Jonathan Jones, they have locked down at least one part of the backfield, whether that be outside or slot, but they are still missing that true number one corner.
In last year’s draft, New England took two corners, two Jones’, Marcus Jones and Jack Jones, who both had impressive rookie years, but are not your prototypical outside corners. Some names the Patriots could potentially look at for corner would be Christian Gonzalez out of Oregon, Joey Porter Jr. out of Penn. State, and Devon Witherspoon out of Illinois, among others. Gonzalez, Porter Jr., and Witherspoon are all rangy, fast, and physical outside corners that are well worth the first-round pick price tag. Gonzalez and Porter Jr. both scored nearly perfect athletic scores at the combine. Along with being the son of Steelers legend Joey Porter Sr., Porter Jr. exhibits another novelty with his arm length being in the 99th percentile.
The thing is that this draft is so deep with corners that it is very likely that The Patriots could go for another position at 14th overall and still get a pretty good corner on day two. Some of those day two options consist of guys like Deonte Banks out of Maryland, Kelee Ringo out of Georgia, or either two of the South Carolina corners in Cam Smith and Darius Rush. A good percentage of the corners previously listed all measure at or over six feet, which is becoming a must for outside corners, to match up with the bigger and taller outside receivers that are taking over the league today.
The more realistic, less sexy option for New England’s first round pick would be an offensive tackle, with Isaiah Wynn hitting the market and Trent Brown approaching the last year in his contract. Watching the Patriots last year, it was clear the protection had some issues, this was also due to injury throughout the season.
It already appears that the Patriots are stacking up on tackles, with the recent signings of former Broncos tackle Calvin Anderson and NFL journeyman Riley Reiff. All these factors indicate that it is very realistic for New England to take a tackle, and it would make sense. Although understandably some fans are likely clamoring for a receiver at 14th, we must remember that this class is a far cry from the great receiver classes of recent such as 2019. Tackle is another position like corner, deep in talent. Another thing that fans may not want to hear is that it is entirely possible for New England to trade down if they are to take a tackle, due to there being a fair number of good ones that can go late in the first round and into day two.
If the Patriots do decide to take a tackle at 14, there are some very intriguing options. Paris Johnson from Ohio State is very likely to not last until 14, but he is a great tackle to watch out for if he does slip, due to his massive 6’6 313-pound frame. Johnson has the arm length and footwork to pair with his size. Darnell Wright out of Tennessee is another great tackle to look out for, like Johnson, Wright has the ideal size for tackle, standing at 6’6 and weighing in at 335 pounds. Other names the Patriots are likely looking at include Anton Harrison (Oklahoma), Peter Skoronski (Northwestern), Dawand Jones (Ohio State), and Broderick Jones (Georgia).
Of course, as we have learned in the past, with the Patriots, you must expect the unexpected, especially when it comes to the draft. A position that could be considered a wildcard for New England’s first round pick would be an edge rusher. Taking an edge rusher 14th overall may leave people scratching their heads, as the Patriots already have Matt Judon and Josh Uche, but this class has some top-level talent at edge. With Uche entering the last year of his contract and Matt Judon set to hit the market in 2025, New England may be looking at some talent to bring in and develop long-term, and this is a great draft to do just that.
This is a very important year for New England, having many needs in all three phases of the game, and having 11 draft picks to help. It will be interesting to see which needs the Patriots choose to prioritize, and whether they will fill them through the draft or free agency. The question still lingers, what will the Patriots do with their 14th overall pick in the 2023 draft? Trade down? Trade up? - not likely, swing for the fences on a receiver? Play it safe with a tackle? Pursue one of the many talented corners? Take a wildcard? Obviously, there is not much for anyone to do but sit and wait to see how things play out, like every offseason.
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