PFF predicts Patriots will beef up at WR and CB before NFL Draft

The Patriots will almost certainly look hard at receivers and cornerbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft. But the free-agent and trade markets could offer interesting options as well.

Calvin Ridley Patriots
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) makes a diving touchdown reception in front of Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive back Ross Cockrell (43) in 2021. Ridley is viewed as a possible trade candidate for the Patriots this off-season. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio, File)
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Last March, the Patriots completed much of their roster overhaul before the 2021 NFL Draft began, throwing down a record amount of money on free agents to revamp several positions.

With New England still in need of playmakers at the receiver and cornerback positions, might the team be about to do it again in 2022?

Pro Football Focus highlighted three new players the Patriots could lock in for the upcoming season as they seek to improve on last season’s wild-card berth, including a couple of big-name wide receivers that could help Mac Jones’s development in his second year.

But first, let’s start with the familiar face PFF has Bill Belichick and the Patriots bringing back for 2022: star cornerback J.C. Jackson.


PFF analyst Arjun Menon, like many pundits, expects New England to retain Jackson, who just earned Second-Team All-Pro honors, on the franchise tag for the upcoming season.

“Jackson finished with an 87.9 coverage grade that ranked fourth among all cornerbacks that played at least 150 coverage snaps this past year,” Menon writes. “Jackson is especially elite in man coverage, as he ended 2021 with a 90.1 coverage grade in man coverage — the best mark among all cornerbacks.

“Belichick has a tendency to let players like Jackson test the open market (Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins in previous years), but given the need for a lockdown corner in his scheme, I think Belichick pays up for Jackson.”

In the short term, the tag would work as a compromise for the two sides, with Jackson getting a much-deserved pay raise while Belichick wouldn’t have to commit to a multi-year deal that would put the former undrafted free agent in the realm of some of those paid corners in the league long-term.

One more good season, though, and Jackson almost certainly prices himself out of New England at that point.

That’s why Menon also suggests the Patriots should target Chiefs cornerback Charvarious Ward in the next few weeks as well.


“Ward has been the Chiefs’ primary boundary corner for the last three years, and he’s played at an average level, taking a small step forward this year…On top of re-signing JC Jackson, the Patriots need additional corners to run Belichick’s man coverage system. Ward has done his best work playing man coverage rather than zone, making this a good fit for both parties.”

Though 2021 free-agent signee Jalen Mills played reliably last season when healthy, injuries to the cornerback room forced backups like Mills, Myles Bryant, and Joejuan Williams into extended roles. Signing Ward could provide insurance against a similar occurrence in 2022 and increase the flexibility of the secondary overall.

On the offensive side of the ball, Menon hones in on veteran receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has reached the end of his rookie deal with the Steelers. Though Smith-Schuster put up a 1,400-yard season as a second-year player in Pittsburgh, injuries and Ben Roethlisberger’s decline have hampered his production since then.

“Smith-Schuster turned down a multi-year deal with the Chiefs last offseason then proceeded to get injured early in the 2021 season. Thus, it’ll probably be tough for him to get a multi-year deal on the market for the value he wants. He’s still only 25 years old and has logged five years in the league, so he will still be an attractive option for WR needy teams.”

With the Patriots in particular, Menon adds, Smith-Schuster could serve as another strong option out of the slot alongside Jakobi Meyers, who happens to be a restricted free agent himself this spring.


PFF cap analyst Brad Spielberger has an even bigger move in mind for upgrading New England’s receiver room: trading a 2022 second-round pick for Falcons star Calvin Ridley, who abruptly stepped away from football last season for personal reasons and might be done playing for Atlanta.

Unlike with the last time the Patriots forked over a high draft pick for a receiver from Atlanta (the Mohamed Sanu Disaster), though, New England would be getting a bona fide lead dog at the receiver position in Ridley–who has already played with Mac Jones at Alabama, by the way–if they could land him.

“From 2018 to 2020, Ridley’s 82 explosive receptions ranked tied for sixth among wide receivers,” Spielberger notes. “He proved he can still put up big numbers as a No. 1 outside wide receiver even with Julio Jones not commanding a lot of defensive attention opposite him…the addition of Ridley opens things up for everyone.”

Of course, in the case of the receivers, there’s likely an “either-or” scenario here: New England likely won’t have financial room to acquire both Ridley and Smith-Schuster (nor do they need to). Also, getting either of those players likely wouldn’t preclude the Patriots from drafting a receiver with one of its early draft picks to bolster the position for the future. (The same goes for cornerbacks, too.)

One way or another, the Patriots have to get more dynamic at both receiver and cornerback in 2022. Though they’ll likely address the positions in the draft, don’t be surprised if they take a big swing or two before that.


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