With Bill Belichick looking for another monster draft, it’s time for our fourth annual Patriots top-50 big board.
After a comprehensive deep-dive into the 2022 NFL Draft, these are the best fits for New England in this year’s class, with an eye towards potential selections for the Patriots in the top 100.
As a reminder, we don’t include prospects out of the Patriots’ reach in the first round. For example, you will not see Michigan’s Aiden Hutchinson or Alabama’s Evan Neal here.
Instead, we will focus on realistic targets who fit New England’s mold based on scheme fit, athletic testing, intangibles, and other trends in Bill Belichick’s draft history.
Over the previous three drafts, the big board hit on the following players: Mac Jones, Christian Barmore, Josh Uche, N’Keal Harry, Chase Winovich, and Damien Harris.
|21. EDGE Boye Mafe, Minnesota
|31. LB Leo Chanel, Wisconsin
|41. WR Khalil Shakir, Boise State
|22. CB Kyler Gordon, Washington
|32. LB Chad Muma, Wyoming
|42. OT Daniel Faalele, Minnesota
|23. S Lewis Cine, Georgia
|33. WR Alec Pierce, Cincinnati
|43. CB Martin Emerson, Mississippi State
|24. WR Skyy Moore, Western Michigan
|34. DB Jalen Pitre, Baylor
|44. DE Josh Paschal, Kentucky
|25. WR Jahan Dotson Penn State
|35. OT Tyler Smith, Tulsa
|45. LB Channing Tindall, Georgia
|26. WR John Metchie, Alabama
|36. LB Troy Andersen, Montana St.
|46. LB Brandon Smith, Penn State
|27. WR Christian Watson, NDSU
|37. WR Wan’Dale Robnson, Kentucky
|47. CB Tariq Woolen, UTSA
|28. WR George Pickens, Georgia
|38. IOL Jamaree Salyer, Georgia
|48. EDGE Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma
|29. DT Phidarian Mathis, Alabama
|39. LB Darrian Beavers, Cincinnati
|49. CB Marcus Jones, Houston
|30. DL Perrion Winfrey, Oklahoma
|40. CB Zyon McCollum, Sam Houston State
|50. OL Sean Rhyan, UCLA
Above, are the prospects from our first three tiers that were ranked in the 21-50 range of our big board.
20. CB Roger McCreary, Auburn
Measurables – HT: 5-11, WT: 190lbs, Relative Athletic Score: 5.44
The age-old debate between athletic profiles versus tape takes us to one of the best pure coverage players in the draft. McCreary is incredibly sticky in man coverage and held his own against the top wide receivers in the SEC. He has the smoothest hip transitions out of all the corners in this class and ideal foot quickness to stay glued to receivers through the break point. However, some teams have him off their board due to 28 7/8-inch arms (zero percentile). Although he has first-round cover talent, McCreary doesn’t have a first-round athletic profile. The Auburn product will either be the steal of the draft on day two or a limited pro due to a lack of length and long speed to play on the outside. At the very least, we are willing to bet on McCreary as a starting-caliber slot corner.
19. DT Travis Jones, UConn
Measurables – HT: 6-4, WT: 325lbs, Relative Athletic Score: 9.37
I'll be talking a lot more about Travis Jones moving forward. True NT/1Tech at 6-4/326 pounds. Press-and-shed single blocks, occupy combo blocks, split doubles, bull rush/arm over pass rush plan. Killing it in Mobile this week. Really intriguing day two NT for the #Patriots. https://t.co/KAN0aRAFN3 pic.twitter.com/Mk0tRvIPDy
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) February 2, 2022
After creating 325 pounds worth of buzz in Mobile, Jones has nailed the pre-draft process to the point where he’s getting late first-round consideration. The UConn product generates legitimate knock-back power with good explosiveness out of his stance and tremendous upper-body strength. He can control the line of scrimmage as a natural two-gapper at nose tackle or shaded into the A-Gap. But where he really made himself some money at the Senior Bowl was during one-on-one’s where he made a statement to teams that he could provide value as an interior pass-rusher. If the Pats want to beef up their D-Line and miss out on Jordan Davis in the first round, Jones is Plan B.
18. EDGE David Ojabo, Michigan
Measurables – HT: 6-4, WT: 250lbs, Relative Athletic Score: 9.40
Ojabo’s Achilles injury during his Pro Day was an absolute bummer. You feel for him and hope he can get back to where he was pre-injury, which was a high-impact edge rusher with top-20 value. Ojabo’s first-step explosiveness, length, and flexibility made it easy for him to turn the corner on tackles last season. He also pairs his speed rush with a hesitation move, spin move, and dip-rip finisher to keep tackles off-balance. He has the length and leveraging technique to post up as a run defender. Unfortunately, he’ll sit out his rookie season, which makes this pick less likely for New England since the Pats need draft picks to make an immediate impact. Still, they could decide the talent is worth the wait if Ojabo slides into the second round due to the injury.
17. LB Quay Walker, Georgia
Measurables – HT: 6-3, WT: 241lbs, Relative Athletic Score: 9.63
Another rangy day two linebacker target for the #Patriots: UGA LB Quay Walker. At 6-3/240, Walker had a great blend of size and athleticism.
Sideline-to-sideline range, lateral agility, loose/fluid in space to cover TEs up the seam or play over the slot. Great athlete w/size. pic.twitter.com/19CWpUqtUv
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) February 4, 2022
It’s easy to see the comparisons between Quay Walker and longtime Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins. Walker isn’t as big as Collins. But his nearly 80-inch wingspan, elite athletic profile, and freakish flashes of athleticism on tape are Collins-like. Walker is a heavy hitter who moves laterally to meet running backs in the hole, makes rangy plays in coverage, and can rush the passer from on and off the line. He would drop into the deep hole or line up over the slot with regularity, showing off his fluidity in space. Plus, his 96th percentile wingspan allows him to clog passing lanes over the middle, and he was often used as a stand-up edge rusher in passing situations. Walker only has one year as a starter under his belt and needs to improve as an off-ball processor. But he’s exactly what the doctor ordered for the Patriots at linebacker.
16. LB Christian Harris, Alabama
Measurables – HT: 6-0, WT: 226lbs, Relative Athletic Score: 9.05
Alabama LB Christian Harris is one of my favorite #Patriots draft targets. Sideline-to-sideline athlete, coverage ability, play strength to take on blocks, & impact blitzer/on the line pass rusher.
Projected late 1st/early-2nd rounder. Fits exactly what the Pats need. pic.twitter.com/D99DUZ18w4
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) February 4, 2022
With the Patriots stating publicly that they need to get faster on defense, Harris is an explosive player, whether he’s chasing running backs or quarterbacks. He packs a heavier punch-and-shed technique than you’d expect for a 226-pound linebacker and easily follows running backs into gaps with his lateral movements. He’ll sometimes get lost in coverage, but none of his statistical shortcomings in that phase are due to physical limitations. As a three-year starter for Nick Saban, the Pats will be familiar with Harris. Harris played in a defense that will make for an easy transition if they’re looking to go completely new-age.
15. IOL Zion Johnson, Boston College
Measurables – HT: 6-2.5, WT: 314lbs, Relative Athletic Score: 9.73
(No. 77 at left tackle in first clip and left guard in second clip)
Listeners to the Patriots Beat podcast know my feelings about taking a guard in the first round, but it has nothing to do with Zion Johnson’s projection to the NFL. Johnson is a polished, NFL-ready guard who plays a rugged brand of football to create consistent movement as a run blocker and is very smooth in pass protection. His eyes are seldom wrong in pass protection either, picking up loopers and blitzes, and he is an effective pull-blocker who connects and drives out defenders as a lead blocker. Johnson is one of those guard prospects who will be a plug-and-play long-term starter.
14. IOL Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
Measurables – HT: 6-4, WT: 323lbs, Relative Athletic Score: 5.93
(playing left tackle in both clips above)
Although Johnson tested better than Green at the combine, the eye test shows that Green has more initial quickness and athleticism in space to block on the move. Green is graded a fraction higher for those reasons, but they’re in the same tier. Green’s standout trait is his hand power and explosiveness out of his stance to knock back defenders. He consistently jolts defenders back at the snap and will feed IDLs into double teams for smooth combination blocks. The Texas A& product is also a wider body than Johnson, which helps him stay square to pass-rushers, drop anchor, and stay connected through the rep. Green is another prospect with long-term starter potential on the interior.
13. OT Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan
Measurables – HT: 6-6, WT: 303lbs, Relative Athletic Score: 9.87
One other #Patriots draft target worth mentioning before the Senior Bowl gets underway: Central Michigan OT Bernhard Raimann.
A TE-to-LT convert now up to 6-6/304. Pass sets are impressive. Has quick feet and gets out of his stance easily. Really good tape vs. LSU last season. pic.twitter.com/ziQxeKysIU
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) February 1, 2022
Another very close ranking along the offensive line, we have Raimann and Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning in the same bucket. Starting with Raimann, his body control and technique are ahead of Penning’s at this stage. But he doesn’t finish blocks with the same snarl as Penning. Instead, Raimann is a very sticky blocker, using good balance and body control to stay connected to defenders throughout the rep, seldom falling off blocks. He also redirects and strides out of his stance with ease to mirror pass-rushers. The one concern you have with Raimann is his age (25-year-old rookie) and too many quick losses around his edge. But he has picked up the position surprisingly fast for a player with only 18 career starts under his belt.
12. OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
Measurables – HT: 6-7, WT: 325lbs, Relative Athletic Score: 9.96
Can't recall seeing very many OT prospects that finish blocks as regularly as Trevor Penning (LT, #70). Feels like every other play he's planting someone into the ground.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 8, 2022
If you’re someone who aligns themselves with an old-school offensive line coach’s mentality, Penning play demeanor and finishing will make you fall in love with his game. Nobody wanted to dominate an opponent more than Penning in my four-plus years covering the draft. It isn’t enough for him to win the rep; he wants to assert his will on the defense. There’s a line that Penning crossed too many times, resulting in 34 career penalties at UNI. You also see some stiffness when he goes to redirect against inside counters. But Penning checks every long-term starter box with ideal size, length, athleticism, and physicality. If you’re worried about the level of competition, Penning was named the “offensive lineman of the week” by his teammates at the Senior Bowl. You’d rather have to tame a tiger than paint stripes on a cat.
11. CB Kaiir Elam, Florida
Measurables – HT: 6-1, WT: 191lbs, Relative Athletic Score: 8.62
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) March 6, 2022
Elam enters the conversation as a potential top target for the Patriots when you talk about physical press-man corners in this draft class. The Florida product plays like an alpha versus top competition, with great tape against Alabama this past season. Elam uses controlled aggression to crowd receivers at the line of scrimmage, play bump-and-run down the field, compete at the catch point, and his 4.39-second 40-yard dash quieted any apprehensions about long speed. However, the concern here is segmented hip transitions through the break point. His hips tend to stall out on horizontal cuts, and his steps aren’t efficient at the top of routes, which prevents him from consistently staying glued to receivers. There’s still an excellent outside corner profile if you keep Elam away from the quick-twitch guys, and the Pats could use someone like that.
Relative Athletic Score – each prospect is given a score from zero to ten based on how their athletic testing matches up to those of the same position throughout history.