At the annual league meetings earlier this offseason, Patriots owner Robert Kraft was candid when speaking about his team's success -- or lack thereof -- at the NFL Draft in recent years. Of course, the tides did turn a bit in that regard thanks to a bountiful draft a year ago that produced potential foundational pieces like quarterback Mac Jones, defensive tackle Christian Barmore and running back Rhamondre Stevenson.
"I'm happy that we had, I think, a great draft last year," Kraft said at the time. "Made up for what happened the previous four years or so. I look forward to hopefully having a great draft this year. This is the only way you can build your team long-term and consistency and having a chance of winning is having a good draft."
The question now is whether or not Bill Belichick and new director of player personnel Matt Groh can ride that momentum from 2021 into the 2022 draft and continue to bring in young pieces to complement what they already have on the roster.
As things stand in the weeks leading up to the draft, the Patriots are slated to first pick at No. 21 overall. If history is any indication that is a successful spot to be in for New England as it selected pass rusher Chandler Jones the last time it was in this exact position in the draft. The Patriots will look to again bring in what proved to be a key piece to a Super Bowl roster in Jones this time around.
While Belichick and Groh can go in a bunch of different directions in this draft, we come up with three pillars to how an ideal draft for New England could shake out.
Round 1: Best player available at position of need
After what has been a relatively quiet free agency period for the Patriots (especially following their spending spree last year), there are several needs at key areas of the roster that could be addressed in the first round. For my money, cornerback is atop that list with Jalen Mills and Malcolm Butler currently slated to start in the secondary. That said, there are other positions that New England could decide to fill in the opening round.
Here's how I'd rank those needs:
- Offensive tackle
- Interior offensive line
- Wide receiver
Both of the Patriots' starting offensive tackles -- Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown -- are not signed for the long term and both of them have struggled to stay on the field throughout their tenures in New England. Meanwhile, the linebacker unit is pretty thin with Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins still sitting out on the free-agent market.
Given all these needs at key positions, a smart approach for the Patriots at No. 21 would be to sit back and see what falls to them, almost in a similar fashion to how Mac Jones fell into their lap at No. 15 a year ago. Ideally, a cornerback like Washington's Trent McDuffie would still be on the board at No. 21, but Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean, Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd or Boston College interior lineman Zion Johnson would also be good pickups at this spot.
So, bringing in the player that they determine to have the highest ceiling at one of these positions of need should be the approach.
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Identify a wide receiver on Day 2
While taking a wide receiver should still be on the table for the Patriots if the right one falls to them in the first round, the DeVante Parker trade with the Dolphins does change the calculus a bit. If New England opts for one of those other positions at 21, a wideout should be a primary target on Day 2.
The team has reportedly shown interest in Alabama's John Metchie III and he not only is projected to be a Day 2 selection but does seem to fit the description of receivers that have had success in Foxborough in the past. He could be a slot option for Mac Jones, which is a position that has been extremely vital to top-tier Patriots offenses and the two do have a rapport due to their shared time playing for the Crimson Tide.
Find speed on defense, offensive tackle depth in later rounds
During his pre-draft press conference, Matt Groh did acknowledge that the Patriots are "looking to get faster everywhere" on the roster. That came off of a question regarding Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, who noted that the defense's overall speed needed to improve from 2021 into 2022. Specifically, the linebacker unit for the Patriots does need to have some nitrous injected into it. If the team does address the secondary in the first and a receiver at the beginning of Day 2, that leaves the rest of the draft to try and find pieces that can give the defense a little more burst.
In that same spirit, depth along the offensive line would not only benefit the Patriots for 2022, but it could also give them some flexibility at the starting positions in 2023 if they strike gold. In CBS Sports Senior NFL Draft Analyst Ryan Wilson's latest seven-round mock, the likes of Wake Forest offensive lineman Zach Tom or LSU's Ed Ingram come off the board in the fourth round, roughly in the same area where the Patriots pick at No. 127 overall.