It's not a great year for the Patriots to be selecting at No. 21 overall.
Sure, they found Vince Wilfork at 21 back in 2004. And Chandler Jones went at the same spot in 2012. But after speaking with scouts, executives and coaches leading up to the 2022 NFL Draft, the consensus is that by the time Bill Belichick is on the clock, the players with "first-round" types of grades will likely be gone.
"It could be one of those years," said one AFC exec. "After the first 20 or so, you're looking at the next 20 being pretty similar (talent-wise)."
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Not ideal for the Patriots.
Not only could they see the premium talent come off the board well before they pick, but where they're sitting -- near the top of a hefty second tier of talent -- may make it difficult for them to find a trading partner if they want to move back and add draft capital.
New England Patriots
Why bend over backwards to trade up to No. 21 overall if you can get a similarly-talented player by picking somewhere late in the first round or the top half of the second?
That said, the Patriots are in an interesting spot in the first round where they could end up moving back if the receiver-needy Chiefs (picks No. 29 and 30) are looking to leapfrog the receiver-needy Packers (pick No. 22). And players do, in fact, fall. Wilfork's tumble down the board was an unexpected gift. Eighteen years later, he could be the next inductee into the team's Hall of Fame.
So how will things transpire this weekend? I got together with Tom E. Curran and DJ Bean to run through a first-round mock to see who may be left on the board for Belichick at No. 21 overall. Then I went ahead and finished off a seven-round mock for the Patriots to address a variety of holes on the roster.
Here's how it all shook out...
First Round, No. 21: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
Told you. Slides happen. This is a Wilforkian fall, depending on who's doing the forecasting.
NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah has Lloyd as the No. 13 overall player in this year's class. Pro Football Focus has him as the No. 15 player on their big board. Dane Brugler of The Athletic has him as No. 9 overall. Sports Info Solutions ranks him 12th. The 33rd Team ranks him No. 8. You get the idea. He's widely considered the top linebacker in the class and one of the best players available. Period.
So how does he get to the Patriots? The linebacker position has been devalued across the NFL. Plain and simple. It's easier to find a capable veteran player for a few million bucks at this spot than it is to do the same at outside linebacker, corner or offensive tackle.
But good inside 'backers can be game-changers. Lloyd projects as such at 6-foot-3, 237 pounds and with the versatility to align off the ball as well as on the edge. A former safety, he has plenty of range to be an impact player in coverage on backs and tight ends, and his length (33-inch arms) helps make him stingy in space.
He's not the most explosive hitter in this class, and he's not a freak athlete, but he understands how to attack the line of scrimmage in the running game and he'd be a speed upgrade for the second level of the Patriots defense. He looks like he could be a similar player to San Francisco 49ers All-Pro Fred Warner, and the two tested almost identically to one another only four years apart.
"He's got it all," one AFC evaluator told NBC Sports Boston. A two-time team captain with extensive special-teams experience and a player NFL coaches consider a film junkie, he certainly has more than enough going for him for the Patriots to select him here.
Belichick passed on plenty of talented athletes by taking Lloyd, including some at more valuable positions. But passing up the chance to draft Central Michigan tackle Bernhard Raimann, Purdue edge defender George Karlaftis, Florida corner Kaiir Elam, Arkansas wideout Treylon Burks or Michigan safety Dax Hill would be worth it to get a borderline top-10 player.
Second Round, No. 44: Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington*
*TRADE: Patriots send No. 54, No. 127, No. 183 and No. 245 picks to Browns for No. 44 pick.
After landing an immediate starter in the first round, the Patriots make a trade in the second round similar to the one they executed in 2021.
Last year, they dealt two fourth-rounders away to shoot up the board and take Christian Barmore. Here they send away a second, a fourth, a fifth and a seventh to the analytically-minded Browns -- drafting in bulk is the way those teams typically want to go -- to move up 10 slots and jump ahead of the corner-thirsty Ravens.
Why? There's a corner still available here who shouldn't be (as was the case with Barmore at defensive tackle a season ago.) Gordon is a special athlete whose movement skills would be coveted in Foxboro. At 6-feet, 198 pounds, he blazed a 3.96-second shuttle at his pro day (96th percentile) to go along with an equally-impressive 6.67 three-cone time (94th percentile). For Belichick, change-of-direction skills matter at this position, and Gordon's may be the best in the class.
Gordon showed the versatility to play both outside and in the slot for Washington -- Myles Bryant's alma mater and a go-to cornerback factory for teams across the NFL -- and played over 400 special-teams snaps as a collegian, per The Athletic. He's a willing tackler, is very disciplined (no flags in two seasons) and didn't miss a game in three years.
He only has one year as a starter under his belt and his instincts aren't completely polished. But with more coaching and more time on the field, he could develop into a shutdown defender. He's worth a move up if the Patriots can pull it off.
Third Round, No. 85: Cole Strange, OL, UT-Chattanooga
The Patriots address perhaps their most glaring need in their starting lineup late on Day 2 in this scenario.
Strange comes from a smaller program, but after watching him at the Senior Bowl, the Patriots should be comfortable handing him a real role as a rookie. He's nasty and an excellent athlete -- at 6-foot-5, 307 pounds he ran a 5.03-second 40 (90th percentile), a 4.50-second shuttle (90th) and hit 10-feet in the broad jump (99th) -- making him a nice complement to the massive Mike Onwenu at the other starting guard spot.
If the Patriots pass on the opportunity to draft Zion Johnson in the first round, landing Strange in the third would be a nice consolation prize. Strange has the ability to play center as well, which the Patriots would appreciate after losing guard-center combo player Ted Karras to free agency this offseason.
Fourth Round, No. 142: Bo Melton, WR, Rutgers*
*TRADE: Patriots send No. 158 and No. 200 picks to Rams for No. 142 pick
The Patriots may not end up with an SEC player in this mock. But you didn't think they were also going to strike out on players hailing from programs coached by close friends of Bill Belichick, did you?
Melton followed up a strong performance in Mobile, Ala. at the Senior Bowl with an electric combine (4.34-second 40, 38-inch vertical, 121-inch broad). Melton looks like a slot option at 5-foot-11, 189 pounds, but he has the juice to get deep quickly, and he could provide some special-teams value as well.
If the Patriots are thinking about life after Jakobi Meyers -- who is in a contract year -- this two-time captain would provide toughness and speed as a succession plan.
Sixth Round, No. 210: Thomas Booker, DT, Stanford
At 6-foot-3, 301 pounds, Booker may be a little on the light end but he could be a late-round option as a base 3-4 end in Belichick's scheme.
He impressed at the combine with a 4.94-second 40 and a very quick 1.69-second 10-yard split. He also has almost 11-inch hands that could help him control play in the trenches. He played all along the line for the Cardinal and blocked three extra points in his career, per the Athletic.
Booker checks a number of intangible boxes as well as a two-time captain and a Campbell Trophy (aka the academic Heisman) finalist as an economics and communications double major at Stanford.