The Patriots find themselves in a familiar position heading into the 2022 NFL Draft.
New England will wait until the 21st selection to see their options and don’t need a quarterback. The more things change for Bill Belichick, the more they stay the same.
Although the sense is that the Patriots would like to accumulate more picks on days two and three by trading down, Belichick’s message to his staff is the same every year: “we have to be prepared to pick (at our assigned choice)” since there’s no guarantee that a trade market will come to fruition.
After polling multiple scouts around the league, here’s a shortlist of potential targets for the Patriots with the 21st selection:
LB Devin Lloyd, Utah – The Pats are on the record about their desires to add speed and playmakers on defense, with Lloyd checking both boxes. He’s a physical downhill striker with terrific sideline-to-sideline range, can rush the quarterback from on or off the line, and is one of the draft’s best coverage linebackers. Lloyd’s game has a Jerod Mayo-like feel to it.
CB Trent McDuffie, Washington – Cerebral, speedy, and the best tackler among this year’s cornerback class, McDuffie would give Belichick a matchup weapon on defense. With Tyreek Hill and the Bills’ spread scheme in the division, McDuffie’s play speed and ability to limit yards after the catch would sure up New England’s secondary. Will he fall to 21? Other fits at corner included Kaiir Elam and UW teammate Kyler Gordon.
OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa – New England has actively poked around the offensive line class throughout the pre-draft process, especially at the top of the draft. Penning’s technique is raw, but his nasty play demeanor and elite athletic profile suggest he will be a very good pro. With the “big three” tackles expected to go early, a few of the scouts we spoke with don’t think Penning will be there at 21, and Seattle is among the teams eying Penning ahead of New England. Bernard Raimann is next in line, but the Central Michigan left tackle’s age (25) and lack of experience (18 starts) aren’t first-round worthy.
IOL Zion Johnson, Boston College – Although it’s tough to stomach using the 21st pick on a guard, the Pats will address interior offensive line at some point after parting ways with Ted Karras and Shaq Mason this offseason. Johnson has offensive line coaches around the league swooning due to his pro-ready technique and playing strength. It’s cliche to say, but he’s truly a plug-and-play starter.
DB Daxton Hill, Michigan – A versatile, high IQ defensive back from a Patriots feeder school, Hill is among the best pure coverage talents in the draft. He has the fluidity to play outside or slot corner with the range and route awareness to line up as a deep safety. We’ve used the Devin McCourty comparison with Hill before.
LB Quay Walker, Georgia – Walker would file under the “surprise” category if he’s selected at 21, but mark this one down as a trade down target who they’d be okay with at their original choice. Walker plays all over the defense with an insane wingspan, elite athleticism, and adds physicality to meet running backs in the trenches and blitz the quarterback. The Patriots would love to get a dose of the Georgia defense to Foxborough.
One possibility not mentioned above is New England drafting another wide receiver in the first round. The DeVante Parker trade combined with the 2021 free-agent acquisitions already serves as investments by the team there. The other obstacle is that the Patriots will likely miss out on top prospects like Jameson Williams and Chris Olave.
But continuing to surround second-year quarterback Mac Jones with more firepower is undoubtedly the elephant in the room for the Patriots.
In a draft that lacks a clear consensus in the top 20, there are endless possibilities for the Patriots when they’re on the clock, which should be at roughly 10:30 pm ET on Thursday night.
Without further ado, let’s empty the Patriots draft mailbag on the morning of the 2022 NFL Draft:
who will be the main one drafting here? belichick or groh
— Asad (@RobTouchdownSki) April 27, 2022
It’s a collaborative effort in the Pats draft room. When the team releases post-pick videos, you’ll hear Belichick ask his consigliere’s if they approve of the team’s decisions. However, it’s Belichick’s board. He’s going to have the final say. There aren’t many debates they haven’t already hashed out beforehand once they’re on the clock.
Will They Trade Up!?! If they can move up for stingley or Jameson in the 12-14 range
— WhoMacJones (@TheKingMac10) April 27, 2022
Trading up would make things more interesting, but the Patriots aren’t in a trade-up draft. They don’t have the draft capital sell-off picks, and this isn’t the class to mortgage multiple selections into one prospect. However, a slight trade-up to target three prospects in particular wouldn’t shock me: WR Jameson Williams, DL Jordan Davis, and CB Derek Stingley. We aren’t talking about moving up ten picks here, but if one of those players is falling, they could make a small trade up.
You see any viable situation where we go after Kadarius?
— Craig Mack (@CraigMack_94) April 27, 2022
If you’re clamoring for another wide receiver via trade, the smart money is on acquiring Toney, not Deebo Samuel. The 49ers will either get a Tyreek Hill-level pick package or a top ten selection on Thursday night (hello, Jets and Giants) for Deebo. The Pats don’t have the resources to compete, even if they want to acquire Deebo. On Toney, there are rumblings that he butted heads with Joe Judge, but the Pats could look at it differently. They know what they’re getting into, and if his value is low, it might be a wiser investment than drafting a wide receiver in the top 100. Essentially, you’d get top-100 talent for a day three price. I could see the Patriots trading for Toney.
Let’s say Nakobe dean falls out of the first round dude to size concerns. Would the pats trade up in the 2nd to get him? What could that look like?
— Liam Frieswick (@FrieswickLiam) April 27, 2022
Despite failing to meet New England’s typical size thresholds for the position, I was tempted to put Dean as a potential target for the Patriots in the intro section. I’ve heard two things about Dean in the pre-draft process that screams Patriots: first, he picked up Kirby Smart’s playbook faster than any defensive player Smart has ever coached, barking out signals on the practice field as a true freshman. And second, his character and leadership are off the charts. He’s undersized, and he didn’t test at the combine or his Pro Day because he wasn’t going to test well. But the tape and all-around makeup with Dean is tremendous. He flies to the ball as the fastest processor in the draft and is never wrong about what he sees in front of him. If they want to move up to draft Dean, the Patriots traded their second-round pick and two fourth-rounders to move up for Christian Barmore last year. They could also trade down in the first round and target Dean with their top pick. As a person and football player, Dean’s general makeup could see Bill Belichick gravitate towards him.
If there was one prospect that you had to bet money on them being a Patriot, who would it be?
— Josh (@joshaber_sports) April 27, 2022
Depending on the order in which they address their needs, a few prospects qualify here. If I had to put money on it, I’d say Zyon McCollum from Sam Houston State. Small school press-man corner who tore up the combine and rose up boards in the pre-draft process. As I’ve said before, McCollum is this year’s Kyle Dugger.
In your opinion which position has the most depth in this draft class? Bonus question – what is one position where the Pats may double dip?
— Brian Ruell (@BRuell510) April 27, 2022
The consensus among the draft community is that edge rusher and wide receiver are the two deepest position groups in the draft. We have 13 EDGE defenders in our top 100, with eight potential first-rounders. Wide receiver doesn’t have the elite top-end talent we saw over the last two years, but it goes on for days. That’s why we could see the Pats wait on wide receiver. On the double-dips, offensive line and defensive back are good bets.
We have obvious needs like CB, WR, OL, and LB. What are some less obvious needs that you think we may be able to touch upon in this draft?
— Kyle Stathead Sheridan (@KSRealmKyle) April 27, 2022
We wrote about under-the-radar needs in a recent mailbag here. But, in summary, the biggest one from this perspective is at running back. The Patriots have no idea what they’ll get from James White in his return from intense hip surgery, while Damien Harris is a 2023 free agent. I would expect the Patriots to draft a running back in either mold, receiving back and early-down back, then target a UDFA who fits the other role. In other words, expect multiple rookie running backs in camp this summer.
Which Day 3 / UDFA CB prospects stand out to you as Patriots fits, a la JC Jackson and Malcolm Butler?
— Mike Biscardi (@mikebiscardi) April 27, 2022
There’s a very easy answer, and it’s Arizona State corner Jack Jones. The Pats hosted Jones on a top-30 visit and met with him once before in Tempe. Jones’s journey to the NFL is similar to the path that led J.C. Jackson to undrafted free agency. He started his career at USC, where he was an immediate contributor. Jones was kicked off the team for academic reasons and then found himself in trouble with the law. After the dust settled, Jones transferred to ASU and is now squarely on New England’s radar. He has excellent foot speed, change of direction ability, and hip fluidity to mirror receivers in man coverage. You write down the word “sticky” more than once with Jones. If the Pats don’t draft him in the later rounds, it’s a good bet that he’ll make his way to Foxborough as a UDFA.
Do you think the Patriots may target a day 3 QB planning to be a future backup?
— Hugo McCorkle (@hugodemouralima) April 27, 2022
Yes, we should discuss potential backup quarterback options late on day three. Brian Hoyer’s clock is ticking with a looming transition to the coaching staff, while Jarrett Stidham is in the final year of his rookie deal. We chose Western Michigan’s Kaleb Eleby in the sixth round in our final mock draft. The team also worked out Brown’s E.J. Perry and Miami athlete D’Eriq King. The trade with Houston to add a sixth and seventh-round pick sends off backup QB smoke signals.
Who are some prospects that are on their radar that they should absolutely stay away from? I remember you being iffy on Harry and JoeJuan, and I believe you said that Uche never really got going in college bc he was always nursing an injury and didn’t really have a position.
— Dave (@ChefdDds89) April 27, 2022
Besides meeting with Treylon Burks at the combine, which means nothing, the Patriots haven’t been linked to a prospect who screams “stay away” at me. However, this offensive tackle class outside of the top three, who are likely top-ten picks, isn’t great. As we saw in 2021, Penning and Raimann aren’t top five prospects at the position in a better tackle draft. I wouldn’t be overly thrilled with an offensive lineman in the first round this year.
If the Pats draft Punt God, are there prospective trade partners for Bailey or do you expect him to just get released? If traded, what return would you expect?
— Eamon Murray (@BarstoolQB) April 27, 2022
We went over the reasoning behind drafting a punter and moving on from Bailey in our final mock draft. After earning 2020 Pro Bowl honors, Bailey is set to be the highest-paid punter in football this season at $3.9 million. Plus, he’s in the final year of his deal. Matt Araiza is considered a generational prospect, he’s cheaper, and there is some precedent for trading a punter. The Rams recently swapped Corey Bojorquez and a 2023 seventh-rounder for a 2023 sixth-rounder with Green Bay. In 2019, Baltimore traded punter Kaare Vedvik to Minnesota for a fifth-round pick. Bailey’s salary will hurt his trade value. But the Vikings-Ravens trade for Vedvik might be a starting point. You’re looking at a day three pick in return for Bailey.