Patriots

3 big takeaways from Mel Kiper’s latest Patriots NFL Draft speculation

The ESPN draft expert listed familiar names among his potential Patriots picks. He also suggested trading up for a star cornerback isn't off the table.

Patriots Jameson Williams
Could Alabama speedster Jameson Williams fall into the Patriots' laps with the No. 21 in the 2022 NFL Draft? Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images
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In nine days, the Patriots will finally make their fateful first pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, and the hand-wringing about who fans wish they would’ve selected will officially commence. (Probably.)

Until then, there’s plenty of time for speculation about that pick and what it will mean for the rest of New England’s draft. And no one does NFL draft speculation better than Mel Kiper.

The longtime ESPN draftnik joined NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry on the Next Pats Podcast Monday to talk about what Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ draft team will do with the No. 21 pick. (It’s worth noting Kiper called Mac Jones to the Patriots with his very first 2021 mock draft.)

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Though Kiper offered some of the names he’s already put forward in his mock drafts, like Jameson Williams and Devin Lloyd, he also offered a few surprise scenarios.

Here are a few takeaways from Kiper’s talk with Perry.

1. Trading up could be in play — for the right guy.

As it currently stands, the Patriots only have six picks in this year’s draft, which doesn’t put them in prime contention to trade up for a top talent. What’s more: The fact the team has only traded up in the first round four times since 2000 (with two instances coming in 2012) suggests it’s not a likely move here.

But Kiper thinks there are two players New England might consider doing it for in 2022: LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and Alabama’s Jameson Williams.

Kiper, who says he “can’t see” Stingley dropping all the way to No. 21 overall, nonetheless thinks injury concerns could drop the LSU product — who’s widely thought of as either the best or second-best corner in the draft — into striking distance for Belichick.

“I don’t know how you hold [an injury-plagued season and a COVID-shortened 2020] against him,” the draft pundit said. “If he starts slipping, somebody’s moving up to get him.”

Kiper put Williams, whom he’s tabbed twice to join the Patriots this offseason, in the same category.

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“Great player prior to the ACL. They say he’s ahead of schedule and could be back in October,” Kiper said. “If that’s the case, you gotta go up and get him.”

Trading up for either player doesn’t seem likely, especially in Williams’s case. Though the Alabama receiver is no doubt the most explosive receiver in the draft when healthy, waiting to select a receiver in Round 2 would most likely be a better value than moving up to get Williams.

But there’s no doubt both Stingley and Williams would upgrade the roster if they somehow ended up in Foxborough.

2. A fast-rising DB could be the pick at No. 21.

Aside from Washington’s Trent McDuffie, none of the other top outside cornerback prospects after Stingley and Ahmad Gardner — specifically Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr. and Florida’s Kaiir Elam — might be quite worth the No. 21 overall pick.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t still get a defensive back there.

In particular, the Daxton Hill-to-Patriots train has been picking up steam lately, with experts pointing to the Michigan product’s “position-less” skillset as a Foxborough fit that’s almost too good to be true.

The ESPN draft expert settled on the Michigan safety as arguably one of the top prospects the Patriots could take at No. 21 that could help them contain Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen.

“I almost gave the Patriots Daxton Hill [in my latest mock],” said Kiper, who ultimately settled on Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd as his most recent focus for the Patriots at No. 21. “Hill is a very good player. Outstanding player. He played slot corner. He can play center field. He tackles well. He gets after the quarterback … tremendously well-coached player.

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“Daxton Hill, if he’s there at No. 21 — I think he could be, would be the one player who’d have to be in their thought process.”

For those saying “why take a safety when you need a corner?,” Hill has the size, speed (.4.38 40-yard dash) and quickness (6.57 3-cone) to play solidly on the outside of that’s where he’s needed most.

Going with Hill at No. 21 (or later if the Patriots trade back) would arguably improve the defense more than the best-of-the-rest at outside cornerback.

3. Finding an elite receiver in the draft can be tougher than it sounds.

Kiper has been absolutely dogged in his insistence that Williams would be a perfect fit for the Patriots, mocking him twice to New England so far this spring. (Again, he did the same with Mac Jones last year, for what it’s worth.)

But he also noted the Patriots, like several other teams, haven’t always had the best luck with drafting wide receivers early.

“League-wide, teams have had trouble evaluating wide receivers and getting them to that second contract with the team,” he said. “Now last year, we saw [Jaylen] Waddle, [DeVonta] Smith, [Ja’Marr] Chase all do really well. But there are a lot of guys who have not.”

Kiper also noted teams like the Baltimore Ravens, who are known for their strong past drafts, have struggled in recent years to hit on receivers they’ve drafted in the first few rounds as those players struggle to adjust to the NFL game.

The Patriots know all about that: Their last first-round receiver, N’Keal Harry, the No. 32 overall pick in the 2019 draft, is probably on his last legs with the team.

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With New England having traded for DeVante Parker, wide receiver is far down the list of needs the team has heading into the draft. But with the receiver room potentially in flux next year and the price for top free agents ballooning, drafting young talent at the position this year should be a priority for the Patriots.

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