The Patriots may look to take an unconventional route while supplementing their infusion of talent this offseason. Some may say this idea started after Bill Belichick signed Cam Newton, a player opposite of the norm in Foxboro. For now, we need to start with the basics. With that said, who are some of the names in this year’s draft that scream New England Patriot?
Linebacker Zaven Collins, Tulsa
Collins checks all the boxes when it comes to New England linebackers. He’s got the size (6’4″ 260) and sideline-to-sideline speed that the Patriots lack. He has great explosiveness for his size, processes the game very quickly, and provides a versatility that the linebacker core greatly needs. Hopefully, Dont’a Hightower comes back this year, but even if he does, the linebacker group needs to be better. I have high hopes on Josh Uche and Chase Winovich, but those are two explosive pass rushers who thrive on the outside and may not become every down NFL players. Collins on the other hand, projects to be a MIKE linebacker at the NFL level while some have even compared him to New England’s own Dont’a Hightower.
An important thing to note when it comes to Bill Belichick and linebacker’s in the 1st round: He does it in the Jedi-Padawan way. In 2008, the Patriots drafted Jerod Mayo in the 1st round to play under Tedy Bruschi and in 2012, the team drafted Dont’a Hightower to play under Jerod Mayo to become the next leader of the defense. This is the perfect time to draft Collins. Collins might be considered a “stretch” at 15 as he is projected to go at the end of the first round. But this pick would serve as an important piece to the future of New England.
Michael Carter RB, North Carolina
Michael Carter is going to add great value to any backfield that has #1 back. He can thrive in a role where he is the Part B to the running game. There always seems to be an NFL running back gem who falls to the third round. Look at some of these names of recent years: Antonio Gibson, David Montgomery, Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, James Conner, Kenyan Drake, all NFL Studs in the 3rd Round.
While New England is in a great spot at the running back position, potential gaps could emerge. James White and Rex Burkhead are free agents, Sony Michel could be on the way out, and Damien Harris serves as the bell cow back with an injury history. Michael Carter can become a great insurance piece to replace James White when he eventually decides to hang it up. In fact, they are really similar backs. Carter excels in pass protection, catches the ball well, and he lit it up at this year’s Senior Bowl. One of my favorite backs in the draft, Carter is NFL ready and could instantly become a viable duo with Damien Harris.
Mac Jones QB, Alabama
We do need to talk about Mac Jones. Unless New England moves up the draft board, Jones will be the best quarterback option for the Patriots in this year’s draft. A lot of people say it’s a reach, but if he’s your guy, you take him. I personally am a big fan of Mac Jones because of the fit. He’s accurate in the intermediate routes, gets the ball out quick, understands pressure in the pocket, and thrives in rhythm. He spreads the ball around and includes the backs in the passing game, allowing receivers to make plays after the catch.
The biggest question mark with Jones? Well, he played in one of the greatest offenses in all of college football. Jones played under a great offensive line with one of the best running backs in the country. As well as two wide receivers who are projected to go top-10 in the 2021 draft. Some fans have gone as far as Trey Lance or Zach Wilson as potential options. But Jones is clearly the best option.
Jaycee Horn CB, South Carolina
Jaycee Horn has what you look for in a man-to-man corner in the NFL. Good size (6’1″, 205lbs) physical, handsy, and plays with the swagger of a gritty defensive back. Patriots fans would most likely be upset over the idea of taking a corner in the first round, but Horn reminds me of Gilmore when I watch him play and whether Gilly Lock is still in Foxboro next season, the Patriots will need size and physicality in the secondary moving forward.
Shi Smith WR, South Carolina
Shi Smith would offer great value for what New England needs in the 4th-5th round. He’s a late round guy that’s tough and gritty. Assuming the Patriots acquire outside threats in Free Agency, the slot position needs a revamp. History tells us that Bill Belichick is much better at Wide Receivers beyond the third round than inside the first three. He’s quick, runs crisp routes, dominated CBs in the Senior Bowl, and he proved this season that he can go up and get the football.
Alim McNeil DT, NC State
There’s good value here at the defensive tackle position and the Patriots need to significantly improve defending against the run. The front seven continually got gashed by running backs for the past two years and with Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler entering free agency, there may be a real hole in a already weakened front seven. Alim McNeil was one of the best run stoppers in the country earning a PFF run grade of 92.1. McNeil has elite penetration and quickness for his 320lb frame and could end up being a day 2 steal in a draft that will be less focused on interior lineman.
Honorable Mentions: Daviyon Nixon DT (Iowa) Patrick Surtain CB, (Alabama) Rashad Weaver DE, (Pittsburgh) Baron Browning LB (Ohio State) Monty Rice LB (Georgia) Amari Rodgers WR (Clemson) Liam Eichenburg T (Clemson) Tommy Tremble TE (Notre Dame), Dazz Newsome WR (UNC)