Patriots

Reassessing the Patriots’ 3 biggest draft needs after the DeVante Parker trade

Here's why the Patriots might be better served bumping wide receiver down their list of priorities on Day 1 of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Nakobe Dean Georgia
Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean would be a surprise pick for the Patriots, but he would give them a speed element they've been searching for at linebacker. AP Photo/John Amis
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There’s that wide receiver help you ordered, Patriots fans.

Over the weekend, New England made a trade to acquire receiver DeVante Parker from the Miami Dolphins to give Mac Jones a big-bodied “X” receiver and potential security blanket when things get tough.

In addition to all but ending N’Keal Harry’s time in Foxborough, Parker’s addition adds another threat to keep the focus off of speedy Nelson Agholor, who now might play more in the slot, and Jones favorites Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Henry in key situations.

It also means the Patriots have set themselves up to take wide receiver off the list of top needs heading into the 2022 NFL Draft.

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As longtime NFL insider Peter King suggests, the Parker trade doesn’t mean the Patriots won’t draft a wide receiver. With such a deep and talented class, it’d be a shame not to grab one of those tantalizing young pass-catchers and stash them behind the top group of Parker, Kendrick Bourne, and Jakobi Meyers.

In fact, one could suggest it’s now even more likely the Patriots could gamble on the ridiculously explosive Jameson Williams, who is currently recovering from an ACL injury, and essentially redshirt him for a season. After all, that’s what they did with fifth-round pick Cameron McGrone last season.

However, bringing in Parker has now made wide receiver more of a luxury item than a need at the top of this year’s draft. Though one should always be prepared to make exceptions for the “best player available,” there’s a strong argument that the Patriots’ No. 21 pick would better be used elsewhere.

And even though the Patriots should still draft a wide receiver at some point in the draft, several other positions now require more concerted attention from Bill Belichick and his scouting team. Here are three of them.

Interior offensive line

With Michael Onwenu waiting in the wings, the prospect of losing either Ted Karras or Shaq Mason wasn’t necessarily the end of the world going into this offseason.

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But the Patriots lost both, with Karras heading to Cincinnati and Mason going to Tampa Bay in a trade. That means there’s a big hole at whichever guard spot Onwenu isn’t occupying, and it’s hard to believe New England would willingly go into the offseason program with James Ferentz running unopposed at start at guard.

Fortunately, there are a couple of NFL-ready players to be had in the first few rounds.

The fast-rising fan favorite here is Boston College guard Zion Johnson, whose combination of brute strength (NFL Combine-leading 32 bench press reps), elite measurables, and impressive technique give off Pro Bowl-caliber vibes. After being thought of as a second-round prospect before the Combine, he may well be the first interior offensive lineman off the board now. If he’s available at No. 21, that’s a worthy pick.

A few other names to watch: Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green and UCLA’s Sean Rhyan. Green could be a backup interior option at the back end of the first round, and Rhyan might be an option for the Patriots’ second round pick at No. 54.

Cornerback

Reuniting with Malcolm Butler and signing Terrance Mitchell do take some of the edge off of the glaring need at the cornerback position created by J.C. Jackson’s predictable departure. But simply having three dependable veterans on the outside doesn’t mean the Patriots can afford not to draft a starting-caliber corner this year.

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As of now, the team has several players, like Jalen Mills, Myles Bryant and (maybe) Shaun Wade, who can competently play multiple defensive back spots. But all of those defenders are likely best-suited for playing inside, and baseline competence isn’t going to be enough against the likes of the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins anymore.

If the Patriots want to stick with their man coverage schemes from the past few years, Florida’s Kaiir Elam could be the man most likely to become a lockdown outside cornerback based on his excellent size and length. Auburn’s Roger McCreary also has some upside as a physical press-man corner that could be available in Round 2.

But players like Washington’s Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon and Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr. might especially make sense if the Patriots think transitioning into zone defense is the best way to handle the explosive passing attacks they’ll face this season.

Linebacker

Another position where the Patriots currently have a bunch of bodies but few clear answers outside of what thumping run-stopper Ja’Whaun Bentley brings to the table.

The Patriots swung the kind of versatile, athletic linebacker they might be trying to transition toward by swapping Chase Winovich out for former Alabama backer Mack Wilson. But Wilson’s production has fallen off since his solid rookie season.

Both veteran Raekwon McMillan and McGrone are returning after recovering from ACL injuries, making it difficult to predict what they’ll look like in their returns to the field. Third-year linebacker Anferee Jennings feels like an afterthought at this point.

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Should Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd fall to No. 21, the Patriots might sprint to the podium with the pick. His combination of strength, long-striding speed from sideline to sideline, solid ball skills in coverage, and ability to play on the line of scrimmage a la Dont’a Hightower are matched by few, if any, players in this draft.

On the other hand, New England could also lean fully into its transformation to a “small” linebacker type by going with Nakobe Dean in the first round as well. Dean in no way fits the Patriots’ prototypical linebacker build and could conceivably struggle to escape blocks early in his career. But he does fit the defense’s need for speed and coverage ability, and he’s also immensely intelligent.

Dean’s Georgia teammate Quay Walker could end up as a good alternative on Day 2 of the draft, as would athletic Wyoming linebacker Chad Muma.

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