ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. held a conference call on Thursday. Here are a few draft notes with a Patriots twist:
1. Kiper's top three guards -- South Carolina’s A.J. Cann, Duke’s Laken Tomlinson and Florida State’s Tre Jackson -- are jockeying to be the first player selected at the position. Kiper has them all as second-rounders, and if it unfolds that way, the Patriots would have a crack at the top-rated guard at No. 32, the final pick of the first round. Guard currently ranks as one of the team's top need positions. At tackle, a player like Texas A&M's Cedric Ogbuehi could be good value, as he was viewed by Kiper as a mid-first rounder before battling some injuries last season.
2. Kiper compared versatile Florida State offensive lineman Cameron Erving (17th on "Big Board") to another former Seminole, Walter Jones. Given the Patriots' success selecting Florida State center Bryan Stork last year, it makes sense to pay some extra attention to Florida State blockers. Erving has the type of positional versatility the Patriots generally value, with the possibility to play all five spots, but Kiper seems to doubt he'll be available at No. 32.
3. UConn's Byron Jones was pinpointed as a cornerback/safety with high football character who falls into the late first-round/early second-round area, while Kiper also noted Utah's Eric Rowe as another versatile defensive back who falls into the "interesting" category because he tested well and has lined up at corner and both safety spots. Washington's Marcus Peters and LSU's Jalen Collins are viewed as press corners who will draw first-round consideration, along with Michigan State's Trae Waynes (possibly as high as No. 11 to Minnesota). Meanwhile, Kiper views Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson as more of an "off" corner and Quinten Rollins of Miami (Ohio) as a potential surprise "wild card" as a late first-rounder/early second-rounder.
4. At running back, Kiper sees Georgia’s Todd Gurley falling into the late first-round, early second-round range. If that’s the way it unfolds, and he’s available at No. 32 to the Patriots, that could be an intriguing storyline. As for two of the better pass-catching backs, Miami’s Duke Johnson and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, Kiper sees them as third-round projections.
5. Kiper called it a “very poor safety group.” The Patriots shouldn’t be affected too much by this, as they have Devin McCourty (signed through 2019), Patrick Chung (2017), Duron Harmon (2016), Tavon Wilson (2015) and Nate Ebner (2015).
6. For what it’s worth, Kiper views Tom Brady as having “another five years in him.” The topic came up when asked about the Jets possibly going for quarterback Marcus Mariota if he’s available at No. 6, and how there’s an aspect of trying to close the gap with New England.