Don Banks of Sports Illustrated acknowledges that it's early to put together a mock draft.
"A mock draft in January is the ultimate example of the can't-wait-for-it mindset that prevails in today's world," he writes as a lead-in to his first mock draft. " Never mind that this year's draft class just became finalized days ago, or that NFL teams are still very early in the process of immersing themselves in scouting, at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala."
Banks, as usual, is right. But from this perspective, there is value in going through such an exercise because it starts the process of becoming familiar with some of this year's top prospects. It is a process that will extend over the next three months.
Along those lines, Banks pairs the Patriots up with Florida safety Matt Elam at the 29th overall pick.
"As the playoff loss to the Ravens proved, the Patriots still have their seemingly never-ending issues in the secondary," Banks writes. "Elam is a solid value in the latter stages of the first round, and his nose for the football would upgrade New England at safety, where the Pats tend to take a makeshift approach at times. And, of course, Bill Belichick loves him some Florida Gators."
For those focuing on the safety position, Banks' mock first round has a similar look to last year when there were two safeties with first-round grades -- Mark Barron and Harrison Smith.
In addition to Elam, the other safety in Banks' mock draft is Texas' Kenny Vaccaro.