Although the Patriots continue to make moves to fill out their roster, most of the NFL world’s attention will begin to turn to the 2021 NFL Draft.
This year’s draft, which begins on April 29, is the most unique in recent memory. Without the scouting combine or in-person top-30 visits, it’s filled with uncertainties.
There are dozens of players throughout the draft that have limited college tape due to the pandemic-shortened seasons, and in some cases, prior injuries that cost them games.
Pro Day testing across college campuses is misleading and inflated; everyone runs a sub-4.4 in the 40-yard dash, and there are no unbiased times from Indy to assess athleticism on an equal playing field.
Without in-person top-30 visits, teams aren’t getting the seam feel for players’ personalities, football IQ, and on-field abilities with very little hands-on scouting taking place.
Adding the fact that the Patriots already have 80 veterans on their 90-man roster with currently ten draft picks and an incoming UDFA class, New England’s draft board could be smaller than ever. Notoriously, Bill Belichick’s board is one of the smallest in the NFL anyways.
Speaking to several league scouts, they routinely mentioned two approaches regarding the Patriots’ draft strategy and how they’d expect Belichick to do things.
First, New England could consolidate picks due to a massive free-agent class and influx of veteran talent; fitting ten draftees on the roster is unlikely, and trading into future years with more information on prospects post-pandemic gives the better odds of hitting on those picks.
Secondly, a few others brought up the idea of the Patriots selecting not one but two quarterbacks in April’s draft, which is not unheard of in the NFL by any means.
Since the draft settled on seven rounds in 1994, there have been 11 instances of teams taking two quarterbacks in the same draft, and four of those were by teams that selected first-rounders.
After a disappointing second season for Jarrett Stidham, he will have competition along with Cam Newton. The Pats could take a similar approach as Washington did in 2012 by taking a more physically gifted quarterback early (Robert Griffin III) and following it up with a system fit later on (Kirk Cousins).
With the 49ers trading for the number three pick with Miami, its even more unlikely that the Patriots will land one of the top four quarterbacks. So taking two quarterbacks from the lower tiers gives them two chances at finding an answer out of that group.
The Patriots have long-term needs they could address, such as corner, offensive tackle, linebacker, defensive line, safety, or running back. Plus, adding another wide receiver is in play.
But those aren’t immediate holes with veterans currently slated to man those positions in 2021, so taking multiple swings at quarterback makes sense.
Ultimately, the Patriots’ draft strategy will depend on other teams’ willingness to trade with New England if they do want to move up in the first round for a quarterback.
Using the 49ers-Dolphins trade as a starting point, the Pats are looking at a similar deal to move into the top six (no. 15, first-round picks in 2022 and 2023, third-round pick).
As Bill Belichick followers, trading that type of haul for one player would be completely out of character, but so was handing out nearly $175 million guaranteed to 23 free agents.
We are in a different world with an “uncharacteristically aggressive” Belichick, so we can’t rule out trading up for a quarterback or take two quarterbacks in April’s draft.
And for the inevitable Jimmy Garoppolo questions, yes, I think the Patriots will monitor Jimmy G’s trade market. I was told before they re-signed Cam Newton that the Pats called on Garoppolo but were rebuffed by the 49ers. If San Francisco makes Garoppolo available, I would expect the Patriots to be involved, but Garoppolo will need to re-work his contract.
Without further ado, let’s get into some of your questions this week. There were so many good ones, and I’ll try to answer as many as possible. Thanks, as always, for participating:
Your order of preference from the draft QBs out of Mac Jones, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, Kellen Mond, Kyle Trask (excluding Wilson and Lawrence for obvious reasons)?
— AJ (@woofite) March 25, 2021
My order on the draft quarterbacks hasn’t changed, and I’ll include Wilson. I like Wilson as a prospect, but I think he’s a tad overrating in this class. He has issues throwing to the middle of the field and anticipating passing windows at the intermediate level. As good of a deep-ball thrower as he is, I wish he’d be a little more willing to take the shorter stuff sometimes. Here are my rankings for the Patriots: Lance, Fields, Jones, Wilson, Mond, Trask.
I dont undersand why you feel more confortable going all in for Lance than Fields. I feel like Lance is way more raw, and Fields got all the athletic ability that Lance does.
I just think Fields is clearly the best option between those two.
— Arthur A. Ribeiro (@RibeiroArthurTO) March 25, 2021
I discussed some of my concerns with Justin Fields’s projection into New England’s system in a film breakdown this week, which also briefly touches on why I like Lance more. Both are extremely talented, and I have no doubt the Pats could make it work with Fields, but here’s a summary: Fields isn’t a quick processor, and I don’t see a ton of Patriot-like things in the Ohio State offense. Ohio State is a vertical passing scheme that operated 90% of the time from the gun or pistol. Unlike Lance, Fields doesn’t have the reps from under center or in a quick passing game. When you watch Lance, he routinely makes quick decisions and turns his back to the defense to sell play-action fakes, two things New England asks of their quarterbacks. Lance and Fields are equal talent-levels, and Lance is a better system fit in my mind.
Kyle Trask from Florida is he a good fit for the Pats?
— juice (@JuiceIsWinning) March 25, 2021
The issue I’m having with Trask is that there isn’t good value for the Patriots where he’s slated to go in the draft. I don’t think he’s a definitive answer like the top five quarterbacks, but they’d likely need to take him in the second round. Trask checks some boxes as a rhythm-based thrower that’s generally accurate with good touch and understands how to find his best matchups. However, he’s a questionable decision-maker that will need to answer questions in the NFL about his ability to drive the football into tight or closing passing windows. I don’t see the same zip on the ball as others ranked ahead of him. For that reason, he’s kind of a tweener for me, and I think he’s going too high for questionable upside.
Do you see Jamie Newman as a potential fit in the New England? If so what round would you be happy to take him in?
— Ryan Fuge (@RyanFuge) March 25, 2021
I like Newman as a developmental quarterback on day three, but his footwork and mechanics left a lot to be desired, as did his processing speed. Newman routinely threw from a narrow base, which hurts both velocity and accuracy, and wasn’t asked to do much as a passer in Wake Forest’s offense. There are certainly physical tools there, which is why I’d take a flier as a developmental backup, but he shouldn’t be considered a long-term solution.
What’s our next biggest need outside of QB? CB or ILB?
— Jeff Scanlon (@jscancoach) March 25, 2021
The answer to this question will depend on what the Patriots do with Stephon Gilmore, but assuming he’s staying put, I’d say offensive tackle. Isaiah Wynn is entering year four, and we all know his injury history. While starting right tackle Trent Brown is on a one-year deal. Unless the team really believes in Justin Herron or Yodny Cajuste as future starters, they don’t have much behind Wynn and Brown looking at the tackle position beyond 2021.
Best pick at #15 other than the QB?
— Pats4Life (@TB12BBGoat) March 25, 2021
Sticking with the tackle theme, Rashawn Slater and Christian Darrisaw are two names that could make sense at no. 15 if they don’t go quarterback. I’m beginning to fall for South Carolina corner Jaycee Horn on the defensive side of the ball. Alabama’s Patrick Surtain likely won’t make it to 15, and Horn has all the tools: size/length, athleticism, press-man coverage traits, and an alpha mentality on the field. Horn’s tape against Auburn last season was the best cornerback film in this class. I wouldn’t mind linebackers Micah Parsons or Zaven Collins either, but would worry about year-one playing time after the free-agent additions.
Since Devin McCourty won’t be around forever, who would be a good prospect to target in the draft to eventually replace him?
— Alex Clauss (@ajclauss3) March 25, 2021
The draft has far more box safety types in the Kyle Dugger mold than pure free safeties, but a few names are UCF’s Richie Grant, Syracuse’s Andre Cisco, or Georgia’s Richard LeCounte. Grant strikes me as an excellent replacement for McCourty. He can play the deep middle as a center fielder, and at the Senior Bowl, he showed impressive man coverage skills if you want to line him up over the slot or against a tight end. Cisco is raw and has a bit of an injury history, but his flashes of range over the top are impressive. LeCounte would be more in the Duron Harmon mold as a steady deep-zone defender. If you’re looking for a first-round safety, TCU’s Trevon Moehrig is the real deal. He can play anywhere in the secondary, including the deep middle, and be an impact player. He would be great alongside Kyle Dugger.
What does James White have left in the tank; do the Pats need to look for another pass-catching RB?
— Yayger says GET VACCINATED (@_Yayger) March 25, 2021
It’s a fair question after White had a down year last season. Granted, I’m sure the tragedy with his parents heavily influenced that. Still, his role in the offense regressed, and he took a step back in blitz pickup, having the worst year of his career in pass protection. Without the off-field distractions, hopefully, White returns to form in 2021. The Pats have always had a successor in that role. With Kevin Faulk, it was Danny Woodhead who passed the torch to Shane Vereen, who gave way to White. The team does like 2020 UDFA J.J. Taylor, but his size presents a problem in blitz pickup. Looking at the draft, UCLA’s Demetric Felton is the obvious name on day two. I also like Memphis’s Kenneth Gainwell or the idea of taking one of these smaller wideouts like Rondalle Moore or Jaelon Darden and converting them to pass-catching backs.
Ultimately, the only key rotational player missing from last year’s defensive line is Adam Butler. Butler took the same money before taxes to play in Miami, and the Pats replaced him with a stouter run defender in Davon Godchaux. The focus this offseason was on beefing up the front seven to improve against the run, and swapping Butler for Godchaux did that, at least on paper. We’ll see how it all shakes out, but they should be a much better run defense, which, again, was the goal.
How much cap space limit does needs New England for the Draft? What do you think?
— Patriots Fans Costa Rica (@alepowan) March 25, 2021
According to cap guru Miguel Benzan (aka @Patscap), it will take roughly $3.3 million to sign all ten draft picks and an undrafted free-agent class. The Patriots likely won’t make all ten picks, so that number will be lower.
With all the new additions to the defense, do you see BB shifting fronts like in years past from 3-4 to 4-3u, and amoeba? What is your defensive scheme and rank prediction? @ezlazar with the variety from speed and size it makes me think top 5 🤔
— NoMossGathers (@NoMossGathers) March 25, 2021
I don’t expect anything to change with their defensive fronts. They’ll base out of a 3-4 and roll through their various pass-rushing fronts on third downs. The signings of Judon (strongside EDGE), Anderson (3-4 DE), and Godchaux (3-4 NT) solidify an odd front base. I don’t see those players as fits in a 4-3 scheme.
Who do you think will win Godzilla or kong?
— Shy Sullivan (@CheyenneSulli14) March 25, 2021
Godzilla is overrated. His only advantages are his size and chomping power, which leaves humans helpless against him in battle. But Kong has the size to match up and actual arms/limbs to control his prey. Do you think Godzilla can grab Kong and pin him down with those tiny, little arms? I’m not buying it. It’s a little like a heavyweight boxer going up against a middleweight. Sure, the heavyweight could catch the smaller boxer with one big blow, but Kong has the speed advantage. I’m team Kong.