What will the New England Patriots do in the 2014 NFL draft? Keep track of all the predictions made in our mock drafts leading up to Round 1 on May 8.
Round 1, pick 29: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
We said: The fact that New England won 12 games and took the AFC East crown is a testament to its improved defense and Bill Belichick’s overall acumen … because Tom Brady was seriously lacking in targets for most of the year. Belichick has built his offense around the two-tight end concept in recent years, and with Aaron Hernandez’s um … departure and Rob Gronkowski’s injury history, help is needed. Ebron is the most complete tight end in this class, providing an excellent mix of blocking prowess and playmaking ability from inline or in the slot.
Round 1, pick 29: Kony Ealy, DE/OLB, Missouri
We said: Not as high on Ealy as some others, but this is a Patriots prospect if I’ve ever seen one. Ealy has desired size at 6-4 and a little more than 270, plus he excelled in the three-cone drill which is a favorite of this Patriots regime.
There might be more of a pressing need inside on the line — Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan or Minnesota Ra’Shede Hageman jump off the page a bit there. Ealy’s a tough prospect to get a handle on right now, so how he does at Missouri’s Pro Day and in individual workouts may determine his final standing.
Round 2, pick 62: Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin
We said: Good luck avoiding the “scrappy” receiver comparisons if Abbrederis winds up in New England — he might be another of their 100-catch guys if he does.
Round 1, pick 29: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
We said: There's almost a pre-combine consensus that has formed: Amaro is virtually a clone of Aaron Hernandez and would fit perfectly in New England's two-tight-end sets (providing Rob Gronkowski can get healthy and stay on the field). He's a big, productive target in the middle of the field and knows how to use his body to create separation from defenders. But if he doesn't last until the Patriots' pick, New England could address its need at defensive tackle, opting for Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman. He's an explosive, disruptive playmaker who can play almost anywhere on the defensive line, which is exactly what Bill Belichick prefers of his guys up front.
Round 1, pick 29: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
We said: Clearly, Tom Brady needs more targets. And clearly, with Aaron Hernandez out of the picture and Rob Gronkowski bringing new definitions to the term “injury-prone,” the Pats could use a productive and consistent presence at tight end. That’s how Bill Belichick has designed New England’s current offense. Amaro was a yards-after-catch monster in college, lining up in the slot most of the time and creating nightmares for linebackers and safeties. He’d be a perfect plug-in for Hernandez’s old role, and could take some of the heat off of Brady should Gronk continue his recent injury trend.
Round 1, pick 29: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
We said: True to Patriots form, they’re actually getting a lot of miles this season out of players like Joe Vellano and Chris Jones, relative unknowns. Hageman has shown dominant effort up front at times for the Gophers, and he just needs an NFL coaching staff that can max out his abilities. Playing on the Patriots front would give him a wonderful shot to do just that, while providing New England with another talented body in the trenches.
Round 1, pick 28: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
We said: Hageman plays smaller than his 300-pound frame would indicate, but it’s that size that would up his value for a New England team that lost Vince Wilfork and then traded for Isaac Sopoaga this season. The Patriots covet guys who can both anchor and press into the backfield from the DT spot, and Hageman has those traits.
Round 1, pick 28: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
We said: The Patriots utilize both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts (as a lot of teams do these days). Tuitt has been a dominant force at end in the Irish’s 3-4 look, but he appears to have the mix-and-match versatility that would work well with a shifting front. Vince Wilfork, 32 and with one year left on his contract, is not going to be around forever.
Round 1, pick 28: Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
We said: I wanted to find somewhere to drop Purifoy in this mock, and the Patriots seemed a natural fit. Why? Well, the 6-0 Purifoy has shown the ability to stuff receivers one-on-one … and he’s practicing at wide receiver this offseason, so he can play both ways. A high-end Julian Edelman.