With Rhamondre Stevenson entering the 2024 season on the final year of his rookie contract and only unproven running backs rostered to play alongside him, it's time the Patriots draft a guy who can help dominate out of the backfield as they have for years in Foxboro.
A great choice would be Bucky Irving out of Oregon, as he is a productive halfback who would allow Stevenson to carry less of the load in every game.
He was a reliable fixture for the Ducks' offense during his last two years there, recording back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons on the ground, 712 receiving yards, and a total of 21 touchdowns. He consistently averaged above the expected yards per carry in the NFL, with a career average of 6.2 yards, which would be just one benefit of having him on the roster.
The Patriots will enter free agency with no tight ends under contract for the 2024 season, so they will need to prioritize the position then and in the draft. Depending on how successful they are in signing a veteran next month, perhaps they should draft one earlier than the fifth round. But in this mock draft, they wait to take AJ Barner out of Michigan.
The 6'6" rookie's résumé isn't the most impressive, but pairing him with his college quarterback, J.J. McCarthy would ensure a smoother transition to the pros. He had his most successful year in 2023, recording 22 receptions for 249 yards and one touchdown in 15 games, and he demonstrated his solid blocking skills all season long.
Barner would be an excellent addition to the roster to work with a guy like Hunter Henry, who will hopefully be re-signed in free agency. He appears well-versed in one of the more underrated parts of a tight end's job (blocking) and will just need to be given more opportunities to be involved in the passing game to show what he can do.