Patriots

Patriots insiders speculate who team could draft with first-round pick

The Patriots hold the No. 21 overall pick and could go in several directions with their first selection.

Zion Johnson Boston College Patriots
Boston College's Zion Johnson could end up staying in the Commonwealth as the Patriots search for a guard. AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

The NFL Draft is now less than three weeks away and teams are hosting prospects for “Top 30” visits as they make final preparations on who they want on their squad for the long-term future.

The Patriots hold the No. 21 overall pick and could go in several directions with their first selection. They still have needs at cornerback, linebacker, and on the offensive line to fill. Wide receiver and the defensive line might not be as pressing, but the Patriots can certainly improve at those spots, too.

NFL Network’s Mike Giardi, who covers the Patriots for the league’s flagship channel, believes New England could select someone in the trenches with its first-round pick.

“Don’t be surprised if the Patriots go w/ a big body if they stay at [No.] 21,” Giardi wrote on Twitter. “They’ve spent a lot of time with some of the top prospects, from tackles Trevor Penning & Bernhard Raimann to interior players Zion Johnson & Kenyon Green. They have a hole at LG and future tackle issues.”

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Penning is viewed as one of the top offensive tackle prospects in the 2022 draft. ESPN draft expert Todd McShay ranked Penning as the fourth-best offensive tackle in the draft class and has him going to the Saints at No. 16 overall in his latest mock draft. New England actually hosted Penning as one of its “Top 30” visits this past week, which would certainly seem to signify some interest.

Raimann isn’t as highly ranked as Penning. McShay ranks Raimann as the fifth-best tackle but has him several spots lower (43rd to Penning’s 25th overall ranking) on his big board. He’s got Raimann going to the Cowboys late in the second round of his mock draft.

Johnson, a Boston College product, has been climbing up draft boards since his stellar performance at the Senior Bowl. Several scouts view Johnson as the top guard in the draft and those that don’t view Texas A&M’s Green as the top guard prospect. The Patriots actually hosted Green as part of their “Top 30” visits, too.

The offensive line became an area the Patriots needed to address after they traded right guard Shaq Mason to the Buccaneers and let Ted Karras walk in free agency. Even though Michael Onwenu is still around, the Patriots still have a guard spot to fill. Tackle isn’t as pressing. They re-signed starting right tackle Trent Brown to a two-year deal in March but starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn is set to become a free agent following the 2022 season.

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Giardi also mentioned some potential wide receiver prospects the Patriots could have their eyes on after the first round.

“There are intriguing 2nd & 3rd day WR prospects, another future area of concern for Pats,” Giardi wrote. “Skyy Moore is the best slot prospect, though his 3-cone isn’t exactly what the Pats look for (7.13). [Julian] Edelman was 6.62, [Danny] Amendola 6.81, [Wes] Welker 7.09. But like Wes, Moore has quicker in him.

“Others to keep in mind at slot: Jahan Dotson (played more outside than inside at PSU), Jon Metchie (ACL), David Ball of Purdue (tested poorly), Kentucky’s Wan’Dale Robinson (pint-sized 5-foot-8, 178), Kyle Phillips of UCLA (Chip Kelly connection) & Boise State’s Khalil Shakir.

“Then there’s Rutgers product Bo Melton. Played special teams. Led that program in receiving despite less than ideal QB play. Good stop and starter. Fearless. Played outside in college but has a 6.98 3-cone, competitive 4.13 20 shuttle. That could give him a chance inside.”

Out of the aforementioned prospects, Moore and Shakir have been the two most linked to New England. Moore, who played at Western Michigan, is ranked as the seventh-best receiver prospect on NFL Network draft expert Daniel Jeremiah’s board. He compared Moore to Antonio Brown when the latter was a prospect, raving over his quickness and crip route-running ability.

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ESPN analyst Matt Bowen views Shakir as a Day 3 (Rounds 4-7) prospect that could be a perfect fit for the Patriots.

“Shakir is an easy fit here because he would add a versatile element to the offense,” Bowen wrote. “He is an ultra-competitive receiver and ball carrier who can win in space and play through contact, and he can impact the game plan from a variety of alignments/roles. Think of slot targets and getting the ball on reverses, screens and backfield releases.

“He would also add special teams value for the Patriots. This is a tough football player who can be schemed as another outlet in the pass game for quarterback Mac Jones or as a hybrid receiver/back with playmaking talent.”

ESPN’s Patriots reporter Mike Reiss wrote in his Sunday notes column that during Bill Belichick’s tenure, only four teams have drafted fewer receivers than the Patriots, who have selected 18 since 2000.

But Reiss speculated that Belichick could have a change of tune in how he handles the 2022 draft. Citing former general manager Scot McCloughan and ESPN draft analyst Jordan Reid, Reiss wrote that the increasing price tag for veteran receivers could lead to teams prioritizing drafting a receiver in the early rounds.

“This is one reason Belichick and the less-than-average investment at receiver could be costly (financially and otherwise) for the Patriots if it continues,” Reiss wrote.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be at pick No. 21, although it’s always good to be aware of receiver-needy teams like Green Bay (No. 22) and Kansas City (Nos. 29 and 30) lurking behind them. Prospects such as Ohio State’s Chris Olave, Alabama’s Jameson Williams, Penn State’s Jahan Dotson, and Arkansas’ Treylon Burks would be among those to consider in the first round.

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“In a draft considered deep at receiver, there should be plenty of options through the middle rounds to consider as well.”

From a depth standpoint, the Patriots aren’t thin at receiver. They still have Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, and Nelson Agholor on the roster plus they gave up a future third-round pick for DeVante Parker earlier in April. But like with tackle, two of those players (Meyers and Agholor) will become free agents in a year’s time and they still don’t have great upside at the position.

Interestingly enough, neither Giardi nor Reiss mentioned cornerback or linebacker as positions the Patriots could target in the early portions of the draft. New England is relatively thin at those positions as it stands. It re-signed Ja’Whaun Bentley and added Isaiah Mack via trade while at corner it saw J.C. Jackson walk while bringing back Malcolm Butler and signing Terrance Mitchell.

Of course, they didn’t rule out the Patriots drafting a player at those positions, either. Most of the Patriots’ “Top 30” visits so far have actually consisted of cornerbacks. They’ve hosted Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr., Washington’s Trent McDuffie, Houston’s Marcus Jones, and Arizona State’s Jack Jones.

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