The Patriots came away from the 2021 NFL Draft with two first-round talents from the top college program in the country. One plays the most important position on the field and gives New England's offense a plan for the future. The other, who slid to the second round due to maturity concerns held by other clubs, plays one of the most important positions in Bill Belichick's defense.On a team that isn't loaded with openings after a whirlwind spending spree in free agency, to get two promising players on the first two days of the draft means the way-too-early draft grade here has to be a good one. Especially since the quarterback, arguably the best fit for the Patriots in this draft class, fell into their laps at No. 15.So what's the grade? Give them an A-.Why? Let's comb through each one of the picks with some superlatives and by laying out who we saw as the best options for the Patriots had they decided to go a different route with each of their selections.
The Patriots came away with one of this year's consensus top quarterbacks, filling a need at the game's most important position. That on its own would be worthy of a strong grade.
But to get
the prototype of this year's Prototypical Patriots list -- remember: the Patriots don't care about having an athlete back there, even if it looks like that's the way the game is going -- for the offense and to do it without giving up any draft capital to move up the board? That puts this entire class' grade in the "A" range. The position matters that much. The need was that glaring.
The only way the Patriots would've landed a higher mark here would've been if they'd found a way to acquire Justin Fields, who in the opinion of some talent evaluators was the second-best passer in the draft. Fields fell to No. 11 overall and was taken by the Bears, who traded up from No. 20 overall to make the selection.
Next Best: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa (No. 16 to Arizona Cardinals)
Because Bill Belichick has a reputation as a pick accumulator with an insatiable desire to trade down, even longtime Patriots followers get surprised when he does the opposite -- despite the fact that over the course of his tenure in New England he has traded up and down on draft weekend at similar rates.
It was pricey for Belichick to jump up eight spots, costing him two fourth-rounders. Not great value, according to the value charts. But the reason this is a very Belichickian pick is layered. It goes beyond the fact that this was an opportunity for Belichick to add yet another 'Bama defender.
No. 1: Barmore is the kind of defensive tackle Belichick has taken in the first round for years. Barmore's length, strength and ability to two-gap as well as power into opposing backfields is something the Patriots coach has long admired in high-end picks. (
Barmore led our Prototypical Patriots list of defensive tackles this year.)
No. 2: With this pick, Belichick gained ground in his pursuit of maxing out his roster in the here and now. That's how he's handled the draft of late. With obvious holes to fill, he'll fill 'em. And there was a hole up front with penetrating three-tech Adam Butler gone via free agency.
But because this year there were not many realistic open spots on the 53-man roster after spending like crazy in free agency -- could 10 rookie picks really make the team? -- packaging picks together to get a good player made sense. There were questions swirling around Barmore prior to the draft, but his talent and the state of the Patriots roster made getting him worth a move up.
Next Best: Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue (No. 49 to Cardinals)
OK, so that business about addressing obvious holes? At this point in the draft, it seemed as though the Patriots didn't see wide receiver as one. Staring at another deep group of draftable wideouts this year, this could have been an area to consider one. Instead, the Patriots used the compensatory pick they got for Tom Brady on Perkins.
Physically, Perkins is very similarly-built to Chase Winovich. Their heights, weights and arm lengths are
almost identical. Perkins just cleared the bar in several categories to land on this year's list of Prototypical Patriots, but Winovich tested out as a better athlete. This is a move that indicates -- after a season in which Winovich's playing time cratered in certain weeks -- the team is trying to create a little more competition on the edge.
Kyle Van Noy and Matt Judon look like the starters here with Perkins, Winovich and Josh Uche filling in depending on the situation. If the team plans to use Van Noy and Uche off the ball, then another body on the outside might've been necessary in this draft class. Perkins was suspended for six games between 2019 and 2020 due to a failed drug test, but he was productive when on the field, with 11.5 sacks in 19 games over the last two seasons.
But the fact that the team already had some depth on the edge, the fact that Perkins doesn't bring great size or athleticism to a position that usually requires one or the other for NFL success, the fact that the team still doesn't have a go-to, early-in-the-down separator to work from the slot offensively . . . add it all up and this one was a bit of a head-scratcher.
Next Best: Dez Fitzpatrick, WR, Louisville (No. 109 to Tennessee Titans)
If ever there was any doubt as to what kind of team the Patriots want to be in 2021 and beyond, the selection of a 230-pound running back in the fourth round buried 'em. The Patriots are going to be a heavy-personnel attack featuring two tight ends at a time, two backs or both. They're going to try to overpower teams with a power running game that leans on big backs running behind big linemen.
Stevenson, who like Perkins also served a suspension after reportedly failing a drug test, fits that mold nicely with his size and his uncommon agility for a man with his frame. An
admirer of LeGarrette Blount's game, Stevenson isn't quite the same athlete Blount was. (He didn't make our list of Prototypes but popped up on our " Best of the Rest" list in this year's class of backs.)
Unless the team plans to have him "redshirt" -- as drafted Patriots backs like Damien Harris, James White and Shane Vereen have in the past -- Stevenson could find himself in the rotation quickly since this team is going to ask a lot of its backs. He also has experience on special teams so perhaps he makes a push for an immediate role in the kicking game.
This would have been another good spot for a wideout, as several went off the board soon thereafter who looked like Patriots fits -- including North Texas slot dynamo Jaelon Darden, who was drafted to play with Tom Brady a few picks later.
Next Best: Jaelon Darden, WR, North Texas (No. 129 to Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
For the third straight year, the Patriots have taken a Don Brown pupil to play in their front-seven. It started with Winovich. Then came Uche. Now McGrone, who is an eye-popping athlete as an off-the-ball linebacker. Brown -- the former Wolverines defensive coordinator who has a good relationship with Belichick and now works under former Belichick assistant Jedd Fisch at Arizona -- likes to blitz his 'backers just like the Patriots do. McGrone was a force in that role because of his explosiveness and his change-of-direction ability.
Perhaps the reason we didn't see this one coming -- even if we should've because of the school connection -- was because McGrone has been injured. Belichick acknowledged after the draft he may not contribute until 2022. If that's the case, that the Patriots were filling out roster spots for next year at this point in the draft, it's pretty clear they feel comfortable at the wideout spot.
Simi Fehoko, who went a couple picks later, looked like a good fit on the outside for New England since they like next-level athletes. And his acquisition might've allowed Nelson Agholor to play inside and serve as that short-area separator for whoever's playing quarterback come September.
Next Best: Simi Fehoko, WR, Stanford (No. 179 to Dallas Cowboys)
According to Pro Football Focus, Bledsoe played all over the field for Missouri over the last four years. In 2018, he was primarily a slot corner and free safety. In 2019, he saw more time in the slot but also aligned plenty as a box safety. In 2020, he saw some time on the outside, aligned on the line of scrimmage and in the slot.
Playing a whopping 46 games over the course of his career in the SEC, Bledsoe is considered to have a high football IQ and a nose for the football (17 pass breakups in 22 games the last two years). He should be a kicking-game contributor as well.
Next Best: Elijah Mitchell, RB, Louisiana (No. 194 to San Francisco 49ers)
Is it looking like Sherman is going to be the next Day 3 success story for the Patriots? Impossible to say for certain, right? But given his affinity for run-blocking -- "Running the ball is everything," he told reporters after being drafted -- as well as his appreciation for Isaiah Wynn's game, and his willingness to play all five spots along the offensive line, he looks like the kind of "super sub" who could carve out a legitimate career for himself in a place that values versatility and toughness the way New England does.
The Patriots probably needed a depth piece for their line in this year's draft. But even at this stage of the weekend there were Patriots receiver fits available, including South Carolina's Shi Smith, who checked enough boxes to be featured on this year's
Prototypical Patriots list of pass-catchers.
Next Best: Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina (No. 204 to Carolina Panthers)
The Patriots eventually dipped their toes into the receiver waters by taking Nixon out of UCF with their final pick. There's upside here. He checked out as an elite athlete relative to others at his position -- something the Patriots typically look for from their drafted wideouts, especially early in drafts. He clocked a 4.44-second 40 as well as a 6.81-second three-cone drill. He also jumped 125 inches in the broad and 35.5 inches in the vertical.
Nixon is a little light at 6-feet, 187 pounds, and he missed six games with a shoulder injury last season. But his athleticism -- as well as a real potential opening on the roster for a dynamic athlete at the position -- makes him a good candidate to pop coming training camp.
Next Best: Shaka Toney, OLB, Penn State (No. 246 to Washington Football Team)