- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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(Each day over the next week, ESPNBoston.com will focus on one position in the NFL draft and highlight a prospect in rounds 2-7 who might fit. With so much attention placed on the first round in mock drafts, “Beyond the first round” focuses on lesser-publicized options beyond the first 32 picks)
Second round: Montee Ball (Wisconsin)
It would be a surprise if the Patriots select a running back as high as the second round, but the 5-foot-10, 214-pound Ball appears to have some of the characteristics that New England targets, such as solid pass-catching ability, intelligence, and a history of protecting the football. The Pro Football Weekly draft preview compared his style to Knowshon Moreno, who was a first-round pick of the Broncos when Josh McDaniels was head coach.
Third round: Johnathan Franklin (UCLA)
A team captain, Franklin (5-10, 205) might not have the prototype NFL size, but that hasn't stopped the Patriots from investing a high draft choice in a running back prospect (e.g. Shane Vereen, second round, 2011). He has solid speed and is viewed as a capable pass-catcher and a willing blocker. He would factor into a special teams type role from the get-go.
Fourth round: Marcus Lattimore (South Carolina)
A top-notch talent who sustained a potentially career-threatening knee injury last season, Lattimore (5-11, 221) is on the road to recovery and could begin his NFL career on the physically unable to perform list (e.g. Brandon Tate in 2009). For a team willing to be patient, Lattimore -- who set South Carolina's record for career touchdowns (38) -- could be a worthy long-term investment.
Fifth round: Mike Gillislee (Florida)
The 5-foot-11, 208-pound Gillislee is a one-year starter (he became Florida's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2004) and also has experience as a kickoff returner. The Pro Football Weekly draft preview notes that he has good work habits and football is important to him.
Sixth round: Spencer Ware (LSU)
At 5-foot-10 and 228 pounds, he is one of the bigger backs in the draft and could offer a power-type element alongside Stevan Ridley (5-11, 220) and Brandon Bolden (5-11, 220), the Patriots' two big backs. With solid size and the ability to catch the ball and block, Ware has some of the traits that could entice the Patriots.
Seventh round: Zach Boren (Ohio State)
A team captain, the 5-foot-11, 238-pound Boren is an effective lead-blocking fullback who moved to linebacker last season when Ohio State had a run of injuries. That type of versatility could catch the eye of Bill Belichick.
(Round projections aided by Pro Football Weekly draft preview and ESPN's Scouts Inc.)