Lazar’s Patriots 2021 NFL Draft Big Board: 20-11

The Patriots could take one of these ten prospects in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

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Predicting Bill Belichick’s plans for the Patriots in the NFL draft is a difficult task, but we will do our best by creating a big board with the top 50 fits for New England.

The big board produced five future Patriots in N’Keal Harry, Joejuan Williams, Chase Winovich, Damien Harris, and Josh Uche over the last two drafts. Hopefully, 2021 will be better than 2020.

My goal is to hit on as many players as possible that New England might select in the first three rounds, emphasizing the premium picks, in which the Pats currently hold three (no. 15, no. 46, and no. 96). With that in mind, we will include prospects projected to go in the first four rounds.

The players were decided by comprehensive film study, scheme fit, and Patriots draft trends and ranked by my overall grades. 

Here are the first batch of prospects in our 11-20 tier:

Click here to view the prospects in the first tier (41-50)

Click here to view prospects in the second tier (31-40)

Click here to view prospects in the third tier (21-30)

20. OT Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame

Round Projection: 1-2

Eichenberg is the latest top-50 prospect from the Notre Dame offensive line factory. Like 49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey, Eichenberg combines excellent balance and upper-body strength to become a powerful, technically sound machine. As a run blocker, the 6-foot-6, 306-pound tackle has everything you want from flexibility to create leverage to heavy hands that make generating movement easy for Eichenberg. In his pass sets, Eichenberg’s balance and smoothness in his slides are notable, and it’ll take an elite speed-to-power rusher to go through him to the quarterback. There are more athletic tackles on the move, but few OTs fit the mold as a power/gap scheme blocker better than Eichenberg. The Patriots haven’t drafted a Notre Dame prospect since 2007, but Eichenberg was a three-year starter that has very translatable traits into their system. 

19. EDGE Azeez Ojulari, Georgia 

Round Projection: One

If the Patriots didn’t load up on edge defenders in the last few offseasons, Ojulari would be higher on the big board. The 6-foot-2, 249-pound former Bulldog is a stout stand-up outside linebacker that plays with a high motor and great leverage as an edge-setter. Ojulari has an excellent blend of first-step explosiveness, flexibility, and hand strength to separate off blocks and move literally to the football. He’s also effective using his lateral mobility on stunts and has a coordinated rush plan to beat tackles as a pass rusher. Plus, Ojulari was tasked with dropping into short zones from on the line of scrimmage, where he showed smoothness in space and good awareness to sniff out routes. The scheme fit is there with Ojulari as a 3-4 outside linebacker who can threaten tackles as a pass-rusher, set the edge, and drop into coverage. But the Patriots already have a loaded depth chart at the position. 

18. EDGE Jaelen Phillips, Miami 

Round Projection: One

There are major injury concerns with Phillips after a slew of ailments slowed his progress in college, but he’s one of the best athletes in the draft with a RAS of 9.87 out of ten. Phillips transferred to the U for the 2020 season after the injury bug derailed his career at UCLA. He played both as a stand-up edge rusher and a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end for Miami, flashing an excellent first step, using his long strides (6-foot-5) to turn the corner in a hurry. He has a series of rush moves that include an arm over/swim, a long-arm stab, and a dip-rip move that all display his heavy-handedness. As a run defender, his length and block recognition allows him to set the edge, while his athleticism gives him fantastic range to the ball. Phillips needs to keep his pads down, and NFL tackles will love to fire stiff punches when he exposes his chest. Still, the upside is off the charts due to his athletic profile, and it all came together with an eight-sack, 15.5 TFL season last fall.

17. OL Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC

Round Projection: One

Some project Vera-Tucker as a guard after he started games at both left tackle and left guard in college. The USC product is one smooth operator with excellent movement skills as a pass protector and run blocker. He’ll excel in either zone schemes or systems that ask him to make lateral-moving blocks or climbs to the second level of the defense. Vera-Tucker fires out of his stance to create movement at the line of scrimmage, sustains blocks and finishes, and wins with very good body-positioning as a run blocker. As a starting left tackle for the Trojans, he was excellent, so you’re inclined to leave him at tackle. Vera-Tucker is a Pats archetype in terms of measurables and versatility, even if he’s not a pure people-mover at the point of attack. He’s quietly one of the best prospects in this draft that doesn’t get talked about enough. 

16. CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech

Round Projection: One

As we get into the first-round corners, it’s important to note that starting outside CBs Stephon Gilmore and JC Jackson will both be free agents next offseason. With that in mind, corner becomes a long-term need that Farley could fill. The knock on Farley is injury concerns, including a recent back surgery for a nagging issue, and a torn ACL in 2017. Still, the Patriots will love Farley’s length, fluidity, and explosive athleticism as a press-man corner. As a former wide receiver and quarterback, Farley reads routes and tracks the ball extremely. Although Patrick Surtain and Jaycee Horn are more polished, Farley’s ball skills surpass both of them due to his reactive athleticism. He has an alpha-mentality at the catch point and plays the ball in the air like a wide receiver. Farley is a corner that projects to be an interception machine if he puts it all together at the NFL level. Due to a position switch from wide receiver, Farley only started one season at corner, but he was already one of the best lockdown CBs in the FBS, and the Pats love guys with experience at other positions. 

15. EDGE Kwity Paye, Michigan

Round Projection: One

From both an athletic profile and playing-style standpoint, Paye reminds me of former Pats edge rusher Trey Flowers. Paye measured in at 6-foot-2, 261 pounds while Flowers was 6-foot-2, 266 pounds at the 2015 combine. Paye is explosive off the ball, uses his lack of height to his advantage to get underneath blockers, and has powerful hands. Paye loves to use push-pull and bull rush techniques by firing out of a low stance to generate power. He’ll also press-and-shed as a two-gapper and aligned everywhere from a zero technique to a five-technique over the tackle. The Patriots love their Michigan defenders, and Paye plays with the type of effort and technique that will allow him to thrive in New England. Some teams will label Paye as a tweener who plays like a defensive end but doesn’t have the size to hold up in the trenches. But again, I think he’s Trey Flowers 2.0. 

14. WR Elijah Moore, Ole Miss

Round Projection: One

There are rumblings around the league that Moore could be the fourth receiver off the board. Although he’s only 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, Moore’s skillset is the “it” thing in the NFL at the wide receiver position; an undersized slot that is a big-time athlete with 4.32-speed, jitterbug-like footwork in his breaks, and is a dynamic ball carrier. As teams outside of Kansas City search for their Tyreek Hill, Moore is an absolute blur on the football field. He will be an effective ball carrier on schemed touches, a game-breaker on vertical routes, and can separate in his breaks with lightning-quick change of direction. Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin spent the entire 2020 season scheming ways to get Moore into foot races out of the slot, and the wideout didn’t disappoint with 86 catches for 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns in eight games. The league is extremely high on Moore, and it’s easy to see why. 

13. WR Kadarius Toney, Florida 

Round Projection: One

Another undersized, speedy slot receiver, Toney, is the best ball carrier in this wide receiver class, which is very high praise. The Florida wideout is built like a running back with a low center of gravity and excellent contact balance to break tackles. He runs through tackles, jukes out of tackles, and breaks away from the defense better than anyone. He’s also an instant-accelerator off the line to create vertical separation and thrived on Florida’s version of the juke series between the numbers. His change of direction on juke/whip routes was scary good, and he stacks multiple moves together in his breaks in such quick succession that he leaves defenders in the dust. Toney was a High School quarterback, is a return specialist and would eat out of the slot in New England’s scheme. The only issue with getting Toney to New England is that 15th overall might be too high while he’ll be long gone by the Pats’ second pick in the draft (46th overall). In other words, the Patriots will need to move around a bit to get Toney at the right value. 

12. QB Mac Jones, Alabama 

Round Projection: One

Click here to read a full film review on Mac Jones 

Although Jones is a solid prospect, I’m still not convinced he’s worth it for the 49ers at three. The Alabama product has machine-like consistency from the pocket with excellent accuracy, timing and does all the little things well that it takes to thrive as a pocket passer (pocket management/movement, pre-snap reads, protections, etc.). The story also goes that Jones’s grasp of Alabama’s playbook is so advanced that he’s teaching the offense to new OC Bill O’Brien this offseason. If the Niners don’t take Jones, there are a million reasons why his style as a thrower would make him a perfect long-term option for New England. However, as good as his 2020 season was, it’s hard to imagine that Jones will get exponentially better at the pro level with his lacking physical tools. We’d be assuming he could master his skill set at the NFL level in the same vein that Brady, Manning, and Brees did, which is a lofty expectation. Nevertheless, it’s hard to ignore the fit for the Patriots and the Belichick-Saban connection. If Jones doesn’t go to San Francisco, the Pats could position themselves to take him in the first round.

11. WR Rashod Bateman, Minnesota 

Round Projection: One

Bateman is this year’s Justin Jefferson, which makes him very appealing for the Patriots. The Minnesota product is an elite route-runner, YAC producer, and versatile receiver that creates constant separation as a dynamic talent. He separates at all three levels of the defense by showing an advanced understanding of how to attack defensive backs in his stems and is an instant-accelerator in his breaks. Bateman also has a series of moves with excellent footwork to beat press coverage and is more physical than his size would suggest. Plus, he has the body control and feel for the sideline to win in contested situations or the red zone. There aren’t any major flaws to his game, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he has a Jefferson-like rookie season where we are talking about Bateman as the best pro receiver in this class.