There’s been a preponderance of punditry tying the Patriots to the quarterback position when it comes to the upcoming NFL Draft.
But what happens if the quarterback Bill Belichick wants doesn’t fall to number 15? Or what happens if he gets beat to the punch on a trade-up or just can’t get a deal done with Atlanta, Carolina or any other team that’s not seeking a quarterback in the top 10?
Well, luckily the Pats still have plenty of holes to fill and could still get a game-changing player from their position in Thursday’s first round.
Here’s a look at the top three positions the Pats should look to fill with pick number 15 other than quarterback:
1. Wide receiver
Nelson Agholor had a big season in 2020 for Las Vegas (48 catches, 896 yards), but he’s not a No. 1 receiver. Neither is fellow free agent signee Kendrick Bourne. Jakobi Meyers had a bit of a breakout season in 2020 with 729 receiving yards, but he’s not a sure thing.
By most accounts, this draft offers a deep receiver group, and the best news for the Pats might be the slide of Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith. Albert Breer’s mock draft for SI actually has the Alabama product landing at number 16 to Arizona. Smith’s slide seems to be more about the needs of the teams in the top half of the first round and the number of high-end receivers available.
Here’s part of what the NFL Draft Bible had to say about Smith:
“A big play threat who brings length, burst and hands, Smith can create separation as well as any receiver in college football. He really thrives versus man coverage, as he shows the burst and acceleration to blow right past defenders; extremely quick release off the line of scrimmage. His run after catch ability, aggressiveness to finish runs and willingness to block, complement his solid route running, making Smith a complete package.”
Smith might not be a No. 1 receiver right off the hop, but it’s worth it for Belichick to deepen his receiver group in the present because whoever plays quarterback is going to need more weapons. And if Smith lives up to expectations, he’ll be someone to build around for years to come.
Florida’s Kadarius Toney and Ole Miss’ Elijah Moore are first-night talents worthy of a trade-down by the Pats. It’s unlikely they’d trade up for Smith’s former teammate Jaylen Waddle because if Belichick is trading up, he's getting a quarterback.
For now the Pats are set with Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson. But they’re both free agents after this season and the drop-off to free agent signee Jalen Mills and Joejuan Williams could leave the Pats hurting at this position in 2022. So it the Pats are going for it this season, and they’re keeping Gilmore and Jackson around, it might be a great time to bring in a stud rookie corner to gain a little experience and be mentored by the best in the business (Gilmore).
There have been some murmurs that the Pats like South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn and he might make it to 15.
“The best way to contextualize Horn as a prospect for New England Patriots fans is simple: Horn is Stephon Gilmore 2.0,” SI Patriot Maven’s Arnav Sharma wrote. “Past the surface-level South Carolina Gamecocks connection, both corners are menacing in press-man coverage with a knack for physical yet intellectual play at the line and on route stems.”
Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II probably won't make it to 15. Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley and Northwestern’s Greg Newsome are first-round talents that Belichick might consider trading down to obtain.
With Dont’a Hightower’s return from his 2020 opt-out, the return of Kyle Van Noy from Miami and the signing of Matt Judon, the Pats have revamped this group. But Hightower and Van Noy are in their 30s and if a potential starting linebacker falls in the Pats’ lap, it wouldn’t hurt for the rich to get a little richer.
Breer’s mock draft had them taking Penn State’s Micah Parsons. NFL Draft Bible writes:
“The Pennsylvania native shows great change of direction, fluid agility and flies to fill the gap while swarming to the football. He likes to play chess with opposing quarterbacks by giving them different looks and lots of pre-snap gyrations. Parsons possesses excellent speed and quickness when dropping back in coverage.”
Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Tulsa’s Zaven Collins could also be worth a pick at No. 15 or a trade down.