Patriots upgrade at key position in Todd McShay's first 2024 NFL Mock Draft

Patriots upgrade key position in McShay's first 2024 NFL Mock Draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The 2023 NFL Draft just ended, but it's never too early to start preparing for next year.

ESPN expert Todd McShay has already released his first 2024 NFL Mock Draft, and it features two quarterbacks taken in the top four and plenty of pass rushers in the top 10.

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The New England Patriots have the No. 9 overall pick in McShay's new mock draft, and he projects them taking Penn State offensive tackle Olumuyiwa Fashanu.

"I actually think Fashanu could go even higher, and he only fell to No. 9 here because teams with earlier picks have different projected needs," McShay wrote in his analysis.

"That isn't the case with the Patriots, who are relying on Trent Brown and Riley Reiff -- both are 30 or older -- to keep Mac Jones clean in the pocket. Fashanu has the length and quickness to develop into an elite pass-blocker, with the ability to erase speed rushers, take away inside moves and anchor at the top of his set. At 6-foot-6 and 321 pounds, he's also strong enough to move defenders off the ball in the run game. Fashanu played 520 snaps at left tackle last season and didn't allow a single sack."

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Offensive tackle was a huge need for the Patriots entering the 2023 draft, but they didn't take a single player at this position despite making 12 picks. Eastern Michigan offensive lineman Sidy Sow could potentially move to tackle at some point, but it was pretty surprising the Patriots didn't address that roster weakness with any of their picks. Instead, the Patriots took three interior offensive linemen.

Barring some sort of surprise, offensive tackle will again be a primary need for New England in the 2024 draft. Neither Trent Brown nor Riley Reiff are good long-term options. Both of them are able to become free agents after the upcoming season, too.

The Patriots still have to find that franchise left tackle who can play a pivotal role in the offense's success for the next five to 10 years. At this rate, the 2024 draft might be the best place for them to acquire that kind of difference maker.