Patriots NFL Draft news: Todd McShay mocks A.J. Epenesa at No. 23

ESPN’s Todd McShay released his latest mock NFL Draft, and the New England Patriots still address the pass rush by landing Iowa EDGE A.J. Epenesa at No. 23 overall.

It’s becoming a rising theme the New England Patriots aren’t going to be selecting a quarterback at No. 23 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft to replace now-Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady.

And one can add ESPN’s Todd McShay to the budding list of speculation around a non-quarterback being head coach Bill Belichick’s selection.

McShay recently released his latest mock, which has a nice slip of a prospect landing in New England’s lap at No. 23, Iowa EDGE A.J. Epenesa:

These aren’t the Patriots we are accustomed to seeing. They could use upgrades in a bunch of areas, including quarterback, wide receiver and a handful of spots on defense. I don’t expect coach Bill Belichick to reach for a QB here, and while wide receiver is in play, it seems unlikely two years in a row on Day 1. So how about an edge rusher? LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson is the better player, but Belichick has a strong relationship with Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, and Epenesa fits nicely with the Patriots’ 3-4 system as a 5-technique.

There’s a lot of merit to this idea, grabbing an outside pass-rusher early in the draft. For starters, the 2020 class is heavy on wide receivers and cornerbacks, not so much on quality defensive linemen or edge rushers.

Getting more of a standard four-man pass rush should be on Belichick’s priority list, particularly after losing EDGE Kyle Van Noy to the Miami Dolphins this offseason. This will cut down on the number of times the Pats call on blitzes and schemed pressure, and Epenesa and his 22 combined sacks the last two seasons should help with that quite a bit.

As McShay noted, Chaisson has a far higher ceiling and could be a better overall impact player. He’s been mocked to New England, too. But one could also make the argument Epenesa is the safer bet.

The idea of the Patriots going with a pass-rusher first makes a lot of sense, even though wide receiver is among the other needs Belichick has. Earlier, the Pats parted ways with backup quarterback Cody Kessler, leaving signal-callers Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham the likely two to have roster spots this season.

On top of that, the wide receiver depth in this class means Belichick could target another solid addition with one of two picks in Round 3, as there will be some talent there to help bolster the depth behind the veteran, Julian Edelman, and insurance against second-year pro N’Keal Harry not bouncing back from an otherwise disappointing 2019 rookie season.

The Patriots already boasted one of the league’s best defenses last year. Yet with some key free-agent losses, and the understanding the defense will be heavily relied upon this upcoming campaign, it does make sense to find some prolific help up front right out of the gate.

Next: Patriots' top 3 needs heading into 2020 NFL Draft

The 2020 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday, April 23.

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