3 first-round ‘risers’ the Patriots could take in the 2022 NFL Draft

Could the fast-rising Dax Hill out of Michigan be a dark horse to go to the Patriots in the first round?

Daxton Hill
Michigan defensive back Daxton Hill. Tony Ding / The Associated Press
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Last year’s NFL Draft started off by-the-book for the Patriots, who took the best available quarterback — Mac Jones — after he fell to them with the No. 15 overall pick.

This year, things could get more interesting.

Though New England no longer has a gaping post-Tom Brady hole at quarterback thanks to Jones, they now badly need upgrades and/or future investments at key positions on the offensive line and every defensive position aside from safety.

Plenty of speculation naturally exists regarding which top prospects could fall to the Patriots at No. 21 — like, say, Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie or Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd.


But the team has also been linked to several prospects whose stock has steadily climbed from being potential second-round picks to guys who could go at the back end of the first round.

Here are a couple of fast-risers in this year’s class the Patriots might consider with their first-round selection.

Daxton Hill

The versatile Michigan defensive back has long been thought of as a late first-round or early second-round pick throughout the draft process.

But the last few weeks have seen him linked multiple times to the New England Patriots by names like ESPN’s Mel Kiper, with some suggesting he could even go as high as No. 21 overall.

Hill’s fringe status in the first round likely isn’t a question of his talent. He has talent in spades, and he’s as versatile a defensive back as any in the draft. The issue? He’s primarily thought of as a safety rather than a cornerback, which is typically valued more highly on big boards. (Kyle Hamilton will be the exception this year, though.)

But Hill’s size, 4.38 speed and elite 6.57 3-cone time (second-fastest of any participant at the NFL Combine) suggest he has the physical tools to competently play cornerback at the professional level if asked to.


With that in mind, it’s conceivable the Patriots might see something more in Hill than his draft profiles suggest — perhaps even a surprising steal in the first round.

If Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie is indeed off the board by the time the Patriots pick at No. 21, Hill might just be the next best option to boost a secondary in need of some speed, whether he goes at that pick or New England grabs him in a trade-down scenario.

Bernhard Raimann

The Austrian-born tackle wasn’t being discussed much as a first-round pick when his college career at Central Michigan concluded.

But a solid NFL Combine performance and the general importance of good offensive tackle play has driven Raimann’s stock up to a point where it’d be almost surprising if he didn’t end up a first-round pick.

Interestingly, Raimann came to the Chippewas as a tight end, spending his first two college seasons at that position before switching to tackle in 2020. That background is evident in his movement skills, which produced top-10 performances among offensive linemen at the combine in the 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle.

He also has the type of strength the Patriots love in offensive linemen, putting up 30 bench press reps at the combine. More importantly, you can see that strength when he gets his hands locked firmly on a defender. When his technique is right, he makes pass-rushers disappear and routinely bullies defensive tackles or linebackers five yards past the ball.


Raimann’s inexperience still manifests itself on occasion, though. He occasionally gets lost on stunts, giving up easy sacks. Pass-rushers can time up when exactly to swipe his arms down or make a move to get past him because he’s more reliant on technique than savvy at this point. He also doesn’t consistently use his strength well, leaning on or lunging at blockers at times rather than driving them with a strong base.

But a team that’s willing to keep mining his potential might be getting one of the most intriguing high-upside picks in the draft at a premium position.

Arnold Ebiketie

Kiper took an interesting route with his third mock draft of the offseason, tabbing the redshirt senior from Penn State as the Patriots’ pick at No. 21 overall.

“At 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, he could put on a few more pounds and add the position versatility that New England loves, shifting all along the defensive line,” said Kiper of Ebiketie, who had 9.5 sacks last season with the Nittany Lions. “He has extremely long arms and can create leverage on his pass-rush moves.”

Ebiketie hasn’t been a household name compared with other top edge rusher prospects like Jermaine Johnson or George Karlaftis, but the former First-Team Big Ten pick has been slowly creeping upward.

Though he might be a tad undersized (6-foot-2, 250 pounds) for what the Patriots typically like in their outside linebackers, his length (34 1/8-inch arms) and explosiveness are things you can’t teach. He also converts his speed into quick-twitch power well both as an edge defender and pass-rusher, making him stouter than expected for his size.


Though scouts see his pass-rush arsenal as a bit raw at the moment — being more reliant on athleticism than technique — there’s reason to think that a team looking to improve the speed of its defense (like the Patriots) could be interested in what he brings.

Oh, and he blocked two kicks in college as well. That’ll play with the special teams-obsessed Belichick.

Ebiketie might not be No. 21 pick material given the other players that should be on the board at that time. But if the Patriots moved back in the first round, he could be on the short list of players on their list. You can never have enough dynamic pass-rushers on your team, after all.


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