Round 3 (No. 76 Overall): Warren McClendon, OT, Georgia
The Patriots desperately need to bolster their offensive line and solidify that group with their young signal-caller in Mac Jones standing behind them for years to come. There have been too many inconsistencies between Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown at right tackle over the last few years, and it’s time for the Pats to upgrade the position.
That player could very well be offensive tackle Warren McClendon out of Georgia. At 6’4”, 306 lbs. McClendon is a three-year starter and two-time national champion. He was primarily used as a right tackle, but it’s been said that his high football IQ will allow him to slide along and across the line as needed.
Needless to say, he knows how to play the position, and that’s all that coach Belichick is looking for, as he’ll mold any player into doing what he needs from them.
McClendon had a great outing at the Senior Bowl and turned a lot of heads while there. He’s big and solid and moves exceptionally well for a man of his size. He would be an ideal draft candidate to potentially hold down the right tackle position for years to come.
Round 4 (No. 107 Overall): Emil Ekiyor, OG, Alabama
If there’s one thing that can be agreed on between Bill Belichick and Bill O’Brien is that Emil Ekiyor is the real deal.
At 6’3” tall, 307 lbs, Ekiyor won the starting right guard job in 2020 and earned First Team All-SEC in 2022. He’s wide and fast, has great footwork and pocket technique. However, I’m unsure how Ekiyor was able to drop to the fourth round in the handful of mock drafts that I did.
The only consistent negative I’ve seen about him is that he’s considered undersized at 6’2 ½”. However, Shaq Mason held down the guard position for seven consecutive years and is only 6’1”. So I don’t buy into the narrative of Ekiyor being undersized.
Ekiyor would be a great addition to the line for years to come, working with Mac Jones and Bill O’Brien, two people who also came from Alabama and knew the system he was just in.
Round 4 (117 Overall): Nick Hampton, EDGE, Appalachian State
One of Bill Belichick’s greatest assets is finding defensive talent and manufacturing a high-powered defense. He’s been trying to find the proper outside linebacker duo over the last few seasons. Starting with Chase Winovich (2019) and Josh Uche (2020), but that pair didn’t pan out, eventually parting ways with Winovich.
Then in 2021, the Patriots signed a game changer in Matthew Judon to a 4-year, $54 million contract in free agency. Uche is great off the edge, but I think he can be more valuable in the middle. So perhaps we’ll see Uche slide into the defense and have someone else come off the outside.
Nick Hampton would be a great fit for this role. A 6’2”, 236 lbs. beast of an athlete, Hampton has the strength to stand up offensive linemen and the skill to make tackles around them in the backfield. In addition, he has 4.5 speed which allows him to make plays in coverage throughout the flats and middle of the field.
Hampton is fourth in Appalachian State history with 26.5 career sacks in 49 games with 29 starts. He also finished his career with 133 QB hurries and 82 QB pressures, 40 tackles for loss, and 175 total tackles.
A realistic comparison, given the way he plays, is Chandler Jones. Hampton would be a great addition to the Patriots.
Round 4 (No. 135 Overall): Eric Gray, RB, Oklahoma, or Deuce Vaughn, RB, Kansas State
The Patriots have drafted a running back in every draft since 2017. If history means anything, New England will draft a running back in this year’s draft.
After parting ways with Damien Harris and deciding to lean on Rhamondre Stevenson in his third year, the Pats could revamp the running back position.
In doing so, the Pats acquired veteran workhorse James Robinson, drafted Pierre Strong Jr. in 2022, and they still have veteran Ty Montgomery on the roster as depth behind Stevenson.
Two running backs could prove valuable in the fourth round (or even later) for New England: Eric Gray out of Oklahoma or Deuce Vaughn out of Kansas State.
Eric Gray is 5’9” tall, 206 lbs., and is a three-down power running workhorse. He carried the ball over 500 times in his career for 3,089 rushing yards and scored 21 touchdowns in four years. Although his numbers aren’t eye-popping, he averaged 5.6 yards per attempt for his career. Gray is a chunk runner and is similar in ways to Stevenson.
Deuce Vaughn has a smaller and stockier build than the other running backs currently on the roster but has the potential to be a steal in this year’s draft. He’s a 5’5” tall, 179 lbs. beast of a runner. Vaughn carried the ball 651 times and finished his career with 4,884 all-purpose yards for 43 total touchdowns in his three-year career.
Both Gray and Vaughn would be great additions to this Patriots team.