With the initial surge of Free Agency in the rearview mirror, the focus of the NFL offseason is quickly turning to the draft, which will take place in Las Vegas, April 28-30.
The Patriots reportedly made one of their biggest moves of the offseason over the weekend, one that could significantly affect their draft board, by making a trade for Miami Dolphins receiver DeVante Parker. Parker has some durability concerns but his talent is undeniable and he's an upgrade for a position group that had some of the team's most pressing needs.
The trade was the 15th addition since Free Agency began, as the 2022 Patriots have begun to take shape by filling in their veteran depth. With some obvious needs still lingering across the roster, it's little surprise that the pundits' mock drafts have been a little all over the place. Unlike in 2021, when an early consensus around Micah Parsons slowly shifted toward the eventual selection of Mac Jones, there are a few different 2022 prospects that have gathered attention.
After sifting through over 25 recent mock drafts, let's break it down!
Most Popular Pick Highlights Major Need
Kaiir Elam - CB - Florida
It's not a big surprise to see a long, athletic cornerback as the most popular pick among the mock drafts tallied. With the departure of J.C. Jackson, the need at the position is obvious, though the team did add two experienced veterans in Malcolm Butler and Terrance Mitchell.
Elam ran a 4.39 40 at the Scouting Combine and has ideal size, but some questions about his consistency have him roughly in the second tier of first-round cornerbacks. Andrew Booth, Jr., Trent McDuffie and Roger McCreary also popped up as mock draft selections and all are appetizing options to infuse the secondary with some young talent.
Dax Hill was a safety at Michigan but is so fast you could probably include him in this group of projections. He's one of those kinds of players that fit so well they transcend whatever the need is.
The biggest questions are how the board falls at the position and who the Patriots like best of the group.
Linebacker or Wide Receiver
While cornerback was easily the most popular position selected by the mock drafts, it was a fight between wide receiver and linebacker for second place, with Alabama wideout Jameson Williams and Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd tying with three selections apiece.
After the addition of Parker the need at receiver might appear a little lower, but with just Parker and Kendrick Bourne signed through next season, the long-term questions at the position are still significant. Williams is rehabbing a torn ACL and might be a limited contributor in his rookie season. Parker could buy them some time there until he's ready.
Chris Olave (Ohio State) and George Pickens (Georgia) were the other receivers taken in the expert mocks, they're two very different kinds of receivers. Olave is an ultra-smooth speedster while Pickens is a big-bodied downfield threat. Treylon Burks (Arkansas) is a personal favorite, but there are also plenty of desirable Day Two options such as Skyy Moore, John Metchie and Christian Watson.
The questions surrounding the Pats and their draft history at receiver make this a complicated projection, especially when it's a position once again with good overall depth.
Linebacker looks like a position in the midst of a transition, though Ja'Whaun Bentley is back as a tough leader in the middle. Mack Wilson is a hard-nosed player who could see a resurgence in New England, but otherwise, there's a lot of unproven youth at the second level of the defense.
Lloyd is a sideline-to-sideline playmaker with solid size. His fit in the Patriot defense is obvious, but Nakobe Dean might be the most intriguing of all potential Day One linebackers.
"The one player I would kill to see with the Patriots -- just because I love him and know where he would excel the most would be in New England with Bill -- would be [Georgia's] Nakobe Dean," ESPN Draft Analyst Todd McShay wrote in his latest mock draft. The only knock on Dean is his 5-11 height, otherwise, he's as smart and fast as they come, reminiscent of a throwback Zach Thomas-type player.
Beyond Dean and Lloyd there are other options, Leo Chenal, Troy Andersen and Christian Harris are some good fits, but the all-around abilities and instant impact potential do drop off further down.
Both receiver and linebacker could use an injection of young talent, preferably with some speed, but their options will be heavily affected by how the 20 selections before them unfold.
The Unsexy Major Need
With Ted Karras signing in Cincinnati and Shaq Mason traded to Tampa Bay, the Patriots will have two new starting guards when 2022 opens. Michael Onwenu is easy to slide into one of the spots but the other spot is as wide open as it can get, with veterans James Ferentz or Yasir Durant likely atop the depth chart at the moment.
If there's a first-round run on wide receivers and cornerbacks, the Patriots could see one of the best guards in the class fall to them, with Kenyon Green (Texas A&M) and Zion Johnson (Boston College), my pick, earning underrated nods.
Either Green or Johnson would likely be a Day One starter and instantly fill a significant need under a long-term rookie contract. Aiding Mac Jones' development should be a key component of the draft and while selecting a guard isn't a pick the fans might totally embrace, it would be a smart decision to ensure Mac has solid blocking up the middle.