ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. put out his latest mock NFL Draft, and the New England Patriots end up with a Wisconsin linebacker to help solidify the defense.
While the New England Patriots could go one of a number of different directions with their first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, particularly on offense, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has them instead reinforcing an already good defense with the No. 23 overall selection.
Kiper released his latest mock just over a week ahead of the 2020 draft’s start on April 23, and the Pats end up grabbing one of the more heralded linebackers in this year’s class, Wisconsin’s Zack Baun.
Here was Kiper’s rationale for the selection:
"It’s really tough to predict what Bill Belichick is going to do in a draft, but we know that he likes versatile front-seven pieces. That’s Baun, who broke out for the Badgers last season with 12.5 sacks and 19.5 total tackles for loss. The Patriots lost linebackers Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts in free agency, so Baun fills a need. Since it appears New England is happy with Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer at quarterback, I’ll stay away from that position."
Kiper points out a few things most fans seem to already understand. First, head coach Bill Belichick is impossible to predict, especially when it comes to the NFL Draft. And it also appears as if New England won’t try grabbing a quarterback early to replace the now-Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Tom Brady.
The Patriots boasted one of the league’s best defenses in 2019, and that figures to be the team’s primary strength heading into this year, too. But that same defense lost some key players, as Kiper pointed out, particularly Van Noy, who signed with the Miami Dolphins after a 6.5-sack campaign last season.
Baun, meanwhile, was a pass-rushing force his senior season with the Badgers, and that unquestionably propelled him into first-round discussion. Although he wasn’t much of a factor in this department his three years prior.
Now there’s a little extra wrinkle in Baun’s prospective analysis for the NFL Draft. According to reports from around the league, Baun tested positive for a diluted urine sample at the NFL Scouting Combine. Baun explained the result was due to “drinking significant amounts of water before his weigh-in,” which can happen (I personally have administered such tests before, and it’s common). Yet prospects are cautioned about preparing for this outcome leading up to the test, so Baun missed something somewhere.
But there’s a major difference how diluted samples are handled this year under the newly adopted collective bargaining agreement. Last season and before, such samples would have been considered failed tests. Yet that’s no longer the case under the new CBA.
As such, it’s highly unlikely the sample results will hinder Baun’s draft stock, putting him squarely back in the discussion for a first-round pick.
And at least according to Kiper, the Patriots won’t be shying away from interest in the 6-foot-3 linebacker.
The 2020 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday, April 23.