American Football

NFL mock draft: Mel Kiper Jr. predicts the Patriots will go cornerback in the first round


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ESPN’s veteran draft expert sees the team address its defensive backfield in the draft.

The New England Patriots have several options with their first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. One of them is addressing a defensive backfield that looked good last season, but might be in for some turnover.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. is in that camp, as his first mock draft of the season shows:

14. New England Patriots

Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois

Will the Patriots bring back free-agent corner Jonathan Jones? That could determine what Bill Belichick & Co. do here, because this is a strong cornerback class in the back half of Round 1. There could be a run on defensive backs in the 20s. Witherspoon is my top-ranked corner, a long and physical player who shut down an entire side of the field for the Fighting Illini. He also is not afraid to stick his head in and make a tackle.

Outside of corner, New England could target offensive line or wide receiver with this pick to try to support quarterback Mac Jones, who struggled in Year 2.

One of the best defensive backs available in the draft this year, Witherspoon brings CB1 potential to the table — something the Patriots do not really have on their roster right now. Add the fact that starter Jonathan Jones is headed for unrestricted free agency, and New England might have a need to bolster the position group early in the draft.

While a lot will obviously happen between now and late April, the Patriots targeting the 6-foot-0, 180-pound Witherspoon would make some sense.

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