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 in the 2021 NFL Draft.
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 Patriot draft trends and ranked by my overall grades.
Here are the first batch of prospects in our 41-50 tier:
50. QB Davis Mills, Stanford/QB Jamie Newman, Wake Forest
Round Projection (Mills): 2-3, Round Projection (Newman) 3-4
Okay, so this is a top 51, but it’s for a good reason. It’s difficult to leave either Mills or Newman off the board entirely with the Patriots’ need for a future starting quarterback. Still, it’s hard to imagine Belichick taking a chance on two very raw prospects before the third round.
#Patriots draft target: Stanford QB Davis Mills. Ideally, they aim higher, but Mills is a sturdy pocket-passer that has plenty of zip on his throws w/a smooth release and had above-average accuracy.
Sees MOF open/split-safety. TE leverages the deep safety and Mills rips it. pic.twitter.com/DTCrBGeiyI
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) March 22, 2021
Mills is a well-built pocket-passer with a quick release and adequate accuracy within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage. The Stanford product threw with good zip and timing between the numbers. His ability to attack the middle of the field makes him a fit for the Pats, as does his pinpoint ball placement on touch throws outside the numbers (drop it in the bucket passes, back shoulders, etc.). Plus, he has sound footwork from under-center and off play-action, typically throwing from a balanced base which helps him generate velocity. However, he only made 11 career starts at Stanford and had 17 turnover-worthy plays in those games. Some of Mills’s best work came in a comeback victory over UCLA last season, a game that perfectly describes who he is as a prospect. He threw for 428 yards and three touchdowns in the double-overtime victory but also threw three interceptions, including a pick-six, and that’s the type of volatility you’ll get. You can read my complete film review on Mills here.
Jamie Newman's poise in the pocket allows him to relocate and drop dimes downfield. His best quality, imo. He is seldom rattled and will work to find a throw rather than just taking off. Side-steps the pressure here and drops a dime on third-and-8. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/TXZKxPTuQr
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 1, 2021
As for Newman, he has NFL-caliber arm talent and superb mobility to create with his legs. Although some will hold the Wake Forest offense’s simplicity against him, it also forced Newman into many tight-window throws in which he had the second-highest PFF grade among FBS passers in 2019 on both tight-window passes and deep balls. Newman also showed impressive poise in the pocket while under pressure. He has the potential to run an explosive offense, creating big plays with his arm and legs, but there’s a lot of projecting here. First, Newman has mechanical issues to work out in his footwork that’s currently very inconsistent in stepping towards his targets and keeping the mechanical chain on schedule. Second, he’ll have to learn more complex passing systems in the NFL, as there weren’t a lot of NFL-style concepts in what he ran at Wake. Still, Newman presents the highest upside of the second-tier quarterbacks and might be worth a developmental flier. You can read my complete film review on Newman here.
49. LB Derrick Barnes, Purdue
Round projection: 3-4
Purdue LB/DE hybrid Derrick Barnes has #Patriots written all over him. 3-year starter as a standup EDGE, hand-in-the-dirt DE, off-ball linebacker, and core special-teamer.
Very good play strength, frame for work in the trenches, open-field tackling, mirroring from 2nd level. pic.twitter.com/6RJcbqbccm
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 19, 2021
With a thick frame at 240 pounds, Barnes played a hybrid role as a three-year starter for the Boilermakers, splitting time on and off the line. Barnes has the speed-to-power as a bull rusher, toughness to set the edge, and athleticism to drop into coverage off the line. As a result, he lined up as a standup outside linebacker and an effective hand-in-the-dirt defensive end. In 2020, Purdue moved Barnes to inside linebacker as an NFL showcase of sorts. He’s obviously green at off-ball linebacker, but his physicality showed up there too to meet running backs in the hole and he has decent range. Add in a body type made for special teams, and you have a four-down player in New England. The Patriots love these kinds of prospects.
48. LB Dylan Moses, Alabama
Round Projection: 3
Moses brings excellent versatility and athleticism to the second level of the defense with eye-popping play speed. He logged snaps at all three linebacker spots and as an edge rusher in Nick Saban’s defense, playing with a downhill attitude in run defense and the movement skills to drop in coverage. Plus, that pursuit in space translated into the kicking game as well. There’s some rawness to how Moses handles misdirection, and he will go for the big hit rather than the wrap-tackling, which gets him into trouble. But his occasional overaggressiveness is a blessing and a curse. Moses suffered a torn ACL at the end of the 2019 season that likely lingered into his 2020 campaign, so he probably has another gear that we didn’t see on his 2020 tape. If Saban gives the thumbs up, Moses could wear a lot of hats in New England.
47. LB Cameron McGrone, Michigan
Round Projection: 3
Michigan has become a pipeline for the Patriots, and McGrone has some traits that remind you of Josh Uche a year ago. He’s an explosive athlete with three-down versatility due to his abilities as a pass rusher and coverage linebacker. McGrone also has the lateral mobility to mirror ball carriers from the second level and meet them in the hole, playing with natural pad level and heavy punch to take on blocks as a 3-4 inside linebacker. Like Uche, McGrone had to wait his turn with the Wolverines and only made 15 starts, so he’s a little green. But I liked how he moved through the trash in the box, and he has explosive pursuit speed to close on ball carriers when they bounce runs outside. McGrone could develop into a starting inside linebacker for the Patriots. Although, I wouldn’t count on him for challenging coverage assignments.
46. RB Demetric Felton, UCLA
Round Projection: 4
Let's see if Demetric Felton is as good of a fit for the #Patriots as it seems: Demetric Felton takes angle route 94 yards to the house after dusting LB (#10 out of the backfield). Yup. pic.twitter.com/XbZGMmLjvt
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 13, 2021
The Patriots re-signed running back James White to a one-year contract this offseason, which means the future is a bit murky when it comes to pass-catching backs. Some might list Felton as a wide receiver because he has those kinds of traits. He’s a dynamic receiver out of the backfield that was a nightmare for linebackers in coverage and starred at the Senior Bowl at outside receiver. The technical refinement to challenge coverage in his stems and burst out of his breaks is impressive for a player that primarily played running back at UCLA. However, Felton tanked his pro day with a RAS of 1.06 out of ten and a three-cone time of 7.31-seconds, which could see him fall. He looked plenty bursty on tape and at Senior Bowl practices, though, so maybe the Pats trust the film here. Felton has the looks of a future James White.
45. CB Ambry Thomas, Michigan
Round projection: 3-4
Getting into some day three CBs that fit the #Patriots' mold. Ambry Thomas only started one season for Michigan. Physical, long press-man corner with good speed that stays glued to guys both on the outside and out of the slot. Would be talked about more if he didn't opt out. pic.twitter.com/n8nYEuZYyd
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) March 31, 2021
Going back to the Michigan defense, Thomas is one of my favorite cornerback prospects in the draft who opted out last season. Otherwise, he’d be talked about a lot more. The Michigan product has plenty of experience as a press-man corner in the Wolverines’ man-heavy scheme. He’ll throw a heavy jam, ride receivers downfield, possesses the footwork to mirror routes in man coverage, flashed high-point skills, and is a sound tackler. Thomas also showed solid instincts in zone coverage, especially in the flats in cover-two, to jump routes and make plays on the ball. Lastly, he’ll cover kicks and return them as well. Thomas can shadow Z receivers since he has the physicality for outside work and speed for inside responsibilities out of the slot. Due to the pandemic opt-out, Thomas only has one season of starter tape on his resume, but he is a natural fit in New England.
44. DL Milton Williams, Louisiana Tech
Round Projection: 2-3
Williams is one of the strongest defensive lineman in this class that has an excellent understanding of how to play with leverage and use his hands to defeat blocks. He’ll also absorb contact and anchor against double teams and has some suddenness to his movements to win with quickness on the inside. In the Patriots’ system, Williams projects as a base 3-4 defensive end that can kick inside to rush the passer on passing downs. The only knock to his game is 31.5-inch arms, or the lack of ideal length for work as a two-gapper, but he’s so strong in his upper-body and smart with his hands that it can be overlooked. In a weak defensive line class, Williams is one of the few that consistently stood out on tape.
43. CB Tyson Campbell, Georgia
Round Projection: 2-3
Georgia CB Tyson Campbell could be on the #Patriots' radar in the 2nd round. One of the smoother corners in the class in terms of change of direction at 6-2. +man coverage skills. Just needs better technique at the catch point to round out his game. pic.twitter.com/psPKpEaHRu
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) March 29, 2021
Patriots fans will probably have flashbacks to Ras-I Dowling, and other failed day-two corners when they read what I have to say about Campbell, but he’s an intriguing scheme fit nonetheless. At 6-2 and with very smooth movement skills in man coverage, Campbell is a size/athleticism prospect that played a lot of press-man for the Bulldogs. Campbell’s hip fluidity is rare for a corner with his height and length, which gives him tremendous upside. However, he doesn’t play to his size and needs to improve his downfield ball skills. Campbell will lose the ball in the air and struggles to track it when his back is to the quarterback, leading to late wins for receivers. He’ll also need to improve his route anticipation and eye discipline in man coverage. If he can refine his technique, Campbell will develop into a starting outside corner.
42. DL Marvin Wilson, Florida State
Round Projection: 2-3
#Patriots draft target: Florida State DL Marvin Wilson. Let's hope the Pats don't take Wilson too early, but it's easy to see the fit.
3-4 DE or NT. Needs to play with more consistent pad level but his hand power and strength allow him to eat and beat blockers, two gap, etc. pic.twitter.com/zcaD8VHWfv
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) February 22, 2021
Wilson is a former five-star recruit whose production didn’t match the hype at Florida State. Still, he moves very well for 6-3, 319 pounds, and is an aggressive hand-fighter in the trenches. The Pats will likely view him as a 3-4 defensive end in their base defense. He’ll take on blocks or defeat them with various moves and has the lateral mobility to work down the line of scrimmage. The concerns with Wilson are that he was a very streaky player for the Seminoles, and he’s a little top-heavy, causing him to get pushed around at times. Some of that might also be due to developing block anticipation, which would help him get to his spot earlier in the down. If the Pats draft Wilson, it wouldn’t be the first time Belichick took a chance on a big-time High School recruit.
41. QB Kyle Trask, Florida
Round Projection: 2-3
Trask is at his best when he can put a little touch on the ball. Drops it in the bucket extremely well. Play-action/moving pocket makes the LB late to the RB wheel. Roughly 50 yards in the air on a dime while taking a hit. pic.twitter.com/R90xq07aAQ
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) January 14, 2021
Trask checks Patriots boxes as a redshirt senior with two years as a starter that was successful throwing from the pocket. The Heisman finalist put up terrific stats surrounded by excellent playmakers, so Trask deserves credit for not holding Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney, and company back. He’s also an efficient, rhythm-based thrower that can get the ball out quickly and throws a very catchable ball. Trask won’t “wow” anyone with arm talent or mobility, but he’s got a game-manager style to him that will be attractive for teams that believe their scheme and skill talent can carry him. However, if he’s going to be the optimal game manager at the next level, he needs to make better decisions with the football. Trask is capped by his lack of physical tools, so he needs to significantly cut down on turnover-worthy plays. For a passer that will need to pride himself on making quick and accurate reads, there were far too many instances where he threw the ball into danger. With that said, if you’re looking for a point guard to distribute the ball to the open man, then Trask is appealing. I wrote an in-depth review of Trask here.