NFL Draft week is finally here.
The first round of the NFL Draft kicks off Thursday evening, and the Patriots (for now, at least) hold their highest draft pick in 13 years with the No. 15 overall pick. Much speculation has gone into which direction the Patriots will go with their first-round pick. Sitting at 15, it’s unlikely the Patriots would be able to get one of the top quarterback prospects without trading up.
Would the Patriots be willing to give up what’s necessary to move up? Or would they rather stay at No. 15 and maybe draft a receiver or add a top defensive prospect?
Here’s what draft experts are predicting for the Patriots with the draft just days away.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay: Mac Jones in the first round, Tay Gowan in the third round. ESPN’s top draft experts have the Patriots ponying up to get their potential quarterback of the future. They have New England trading up to No. 7, flipping the No. 15 pick and pick No. 46 plus future picks to Detroit in order to draft Mac Jones.
“I have Jones slightly ahead of Trey Lance, and I think he’s more ready to play as a rookie, particularly for a team that made several win-now moves this offseason,” Kiper wrote of the pick. “Plus, Josh McDaniels has already proved that he can game-plan for a pocket passer with tremendous accuracy.”
Kiper does have a point with Jones’s accuracy. This past season, Jones completed 77.4 percent of his passes, breaking the NCAA record for the best completion percentage in a season. Completion percentage wasn’t the only stat Jones led in, he had an FBS-best 4,500 passing yards. He also threw 41 touchdowns to four interceptions, leading Alabama to an undefeated season and a national title.
Mac Jones to John Metchie III for a 40 yd TD, Metchie’s third of the year. pic.twitter.com/YFxfGrB7lu
— Alabama Crimson Tide | AL.com (@aldotcomTide) October 18, 2020
While Jones put up tremendous passing stats, he doesn’t add much in the ground game. Jones had just 14 rushing yards this season, leaving some concern for scouts in how good of a quarterback Jones can be in a league that’s trended towards mobile quarterbacks in recent years.
ESPN’s mock draft is a bit of an outlier as many other mock drafts have the 49ers selecting Jones with the third pick. If it means anything, Bill Belichick and McDaniels attended Jones’s pro day in March.
As for their other Patriots pick, Kiper and McShay have them adding UCF cornerback Tay Gowan with their third-round compensatory pick.
“Gowan has upside as a press corner on the outside, but he might need some time to develop, considering he has just one season of FBS play on his résumé,” McShay wrote. “But Stephon Gilmore is potentially a free agent in 2022, so cornerback depth is welcomed in New England.”
While cornerback isn’t a pressing need for the Patriots in 2021, it could be by this time next year. Not only is Gilmore not under contract for 2022, but so is J.C. Jackson. Allowing Gowan (or another potential rookie cornerback) to grow under Gilmore and Jackson could make for a smooth transition for the Patriots in 2022.
NFL.com’s Chad Reuter: Jaylen Waddle in the first round, Kelvin Joseph in the second round, Dylan Moses in the third round. In a seven-round mock draft, Reuter predicts the Patriots won’t trade up for a quarterback and instead will go for Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle in the first round.
“Last month, I projected this pairing, anticipating the departure of Julian Edelman,” Reuter wrote. “Now that Edelman has announced his retirement, Waddle’s placement in the slot — and as a returner — makes even more sense.”
Entering the offseason, wide receiver was arguably the Patriots’ biggest need. They did some things to address that, signing Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne in addition to top receiving tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.
Even though they did upgrade the receiving room, they still lack a receiver who has upside to be a consistent No. 1 season.
That’s where someone like Waddle comes in. In his three years at Alabama, Waddle was a star, catching 106 passes for 1,999 yards, and 17 touchdowns. Waddle missed seven games this past season due to a broken ankle but did return for Alabama’s win over Ohio State to win the national title.
90 YARDS! Touchdown Alabama!
Jaylen Waddle with the play of the game for the Crimson Tide. The TD puts Alabama ahead of Georgia, 27-24. pic.twitter.com/G7eYntVANP
— Alabama Crimson Tide | AL.com (@aldotcomTide) October 18, 2020
Waddle’s speed is considered his top trait. While he didn’t run the 40-yard dash at his pro day, Waddle reportedly ran a 4.37 40-yard dash in high school, with his speed earning him comparisons to Chiefs star receiver Tyreek Hill. Waddle was also a dynamic returner at Alabama, returining two punts and a kickoff for a touchdown during his college career.
In the second round, Reuter has the Patriots grabbing Kentucky cornerback Kelvin Joseph to pre-emptively take care of the cornerback situation. Joseph recorded four interceptions this past season, his first and only year at Kentucky after transferring from LSU. NFL.com draft expert Lance Zierlein compares Joseph to Cowboys cornerback Maurice Canaday, citing his size, length, and hands as strengths.
Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses is who Reuter has the Patriots selecting in Round 3. The Patriots could use some youth at linebacker with Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Matthew Judon all hovering around the age of 30. Moses was a star at Alabama, getting named to an All-American team twice.
NFL Network’s Peter Schrager: DeVonta Smith in the first round. Schrager does have the Patriots trading up in his most recent mock draft, flipping the No. 15 pick and their second-round pick to the Eagles for the No. 12 pick. But instead of having them pick a quarterback, Schrager has the Patriots drafting Waddle’s teammate and fellow Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith.
Smith exploded his senior season, hauling in 117 receptions for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns, earning the Heisman Trophy and helping Alabama win a title.
DEVONTA SMITH IS UNSTOPPABLE TONIGHTpic.twitter.com/N8ZwUH8Nur
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) January 12, 2021
Zierlein praises Smith’s hands and his route running ability, comparing him to Falcons star receiver Calvin Ridley. The only big weakness most scouts have of Smith is his size. Smith was reportedly measured standing at 6-feet tall and weighed 166 pounds at the Indianapolis medical combine earlier in April.
Sports Illustrated’s Jenny Vrentas: Trey Lance in the first round. Vrentas also has the Patriots trading up and picking a quarterback, but she has them selecting North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance. In order to get Lance, she has them trading the No. 15 pick (plus other picks) to the Panthers for the No. 8 pick.
“It’s never wise to read too much into something Belichick says to the media,” Vrentas wrote, “but in his predraft press conference he brought up the idea of moving up for a player, saying, ‘Maybe at 12, 13, he’s still on the board and you really thought that he’d be gone in the top six, seven picks. Then the question comes, do you move up and try to get that player that’s fallen a little bit?’ In this scenario we have New England moving up a bit further than that, leapfrogging the QB-needy Broncos to snag Lance, an intriguing prospect who would have time to develop behind Cam Newton.”
— NFL (@NFL) March 12, 2021
Even though he played in just one game due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Lance is still thought to be one of the top quarterback prospects in this draft class. In 2019, Lance impressively threw 28 touchdowns to zero interceptions.
Other strengths of Lance’s are his mobility (he rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2019) and his football IQ. Zierlein does knock Lance for being too indecisive at times and that his lack of experience might be concerning, but he compares him to Bills quarterback Josh Allen.
Pro Football Focus’s Steve Palazzolo: Trey Lance in the first round. Another Lance-to-the-Patriots prediction. However, Palazzolo has Lance falling to No. 15, which would certainly be more ideal for the Patriots than having to sacrifice major draft capital to move up.
“New England is primed to move up for a quarterback on draft night, but the more I let this draft play out, the more comfortable I am with Lance in the middle of the first,” Palazzolo wrote. “He’s a dynamic runner who’s flashed the arm to hit every throw, but his accuracy is a notch below the other four first-round prospects. It’s a good play for New England, who have Cam Newton for one year, and they can take their time with Lance or throw him right into the mix when he’s ready.”
The Patriots have at least shown some interest in Lance as they were one of four teams to attend his second pro day this past Monday. However, neither Belichick or McDaniels attended it. Instead, they sent assistant director of player personnel Dave Ziegler and front office executive Eliot Wolf to watch Lance.
As mentioned earlier, Belichick and McDaniels both attended Jones’s pro day while McDaniels went to pro days for Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Florida quarterback Kyle Trask.
On Friday, NFL Network draft expert Daniel Jeremiah stated how well of a fit Lance would be in New England.
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