A decision will have to come soon regarding J.C. Jackson. His contract status holds great power in the New England Patriots‘ offseason. If they decide to let Jackson walk, here is how they may approach the 2022 draft.
Round 1, Pick No. 21: CB Trent McDuffie, Washington
The Washington Huskies continue to produce strong NFL talent in the secondary. Players like Budda Baker, Byron Murphy, Kevin King, Desmond Trufant, and Elijah Molden have all come out of Washington in recent years. Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon are the next high end talents entering this year’s draft.
While McDuffie may be gone by the 21st pick, he is arguably the most New England ready corner in the draft. McDuffie excels in man and zone coverage, allowing only 111 yards in 2021. He ranked first in PFF coverage grade (89.5), yards allowed per snap (.39), and completion percentage allowed (44.4%) in 2021.
For what McDuffie lacks in size, he makes up for in physicality, speed, instincts, and versatility. If the Patriots can’t afford to retain Jackson long-term, McDuffie is the right replacement — he also is in general a great option if the Pats are able to keep Jackson as well.
Round 2, Pick No. 54: LB Chad Muma, Wyoming
The modern NFL linebacker is less about the size and much more about speed. There is a lot of that inside this year’s first three rounds. If Bill Belichick is reluctant to draft the modern style, Chad Muma is a terrific compromise.
Muma stood out during the Senior Bowl, displaying high-level processing, tackling, and sideline-to-sideline speed, combined with a thunderous play strength. Muma led all G5 linebackers in PFF grade (90.3), while also ranking second in run defense grade (91.1), recording 68 stops in 2021. For a defense that lacked speed and an ability to stop the run, Muma could be a big piece in changing that.
Round 3, Pick No. 85: WR Skyy Moore, Western Michigan
Skyy Moore plays as a smaller, faster version of Jakobi Meyers. Moore’s game is crafted with suddenness, shiftiness from the slot, and an ability to find soft zones. Moore’s hands are certified, dropping only four passes on 125 targets. His footwork makes him difficult to tackle, forcing 26 missed tackles this season. Moore’s 91.6 PFF grade ranks first among all MAC wide receivers. He’s not a flashy pick, but he sure is valuable one with high upside in the Patriots offense.
Round 4: DE Josh Paschal, Kentucky
The Patriots are in an awkward spot on the defensive line. Playmaking ability at wide receiver and linebacker are of a higher priority as well as depth in the secondary. However, the Patriots could use more versatility on the edge. Matt Judon thrived in his role until his dropoff during the last month of the season. Josh Paschal could be the best value New England can get in hopes to improve their line.
Versatility is a must for Bill Belichick and Paschal checks a lot of Bill Belichick boxes. He was a do it all defender at Kentucky, lining up all over the field, inside and on the edge. Paschal’s 90 PFF grade was the highest among SEC edge defenders. The Patriots defense struggled to stop the run, hardly creating tackles for no gain against the Buffalo Bills, Paschal changes that. Paschal has the most tackles for loss/no gain among power five edge defenders since 2019 (37).
Late Rounds: WR Christian Watson, LB Darrian Beavers
Here are two players that may have caught the Patriots’ eye at the Senior Bowl. Watson is one of the receivers the team spoke to during the week of practice. Watson’s 6’4″ size combined with his speed creates a crazy high ceiling for his potential.
If Watson runs a sub 4.5 40 at next week’s combine, he will be in elite categories for wide receivers taller than 6-foot-3. He’s more than just a 50/50 catch guy, he makes plays on end-arounds, jet sweeps, separates vertically, and on kick-off returns. While his route tree needs polishing, Watson brings a rare ability that New England currently lacks.
Beaver’s stock rose when he showed how he can bring his physicality to the coverage game. His size checks the mold of a classic Bill Belichick thumper (6-foot-4, 252). While New England needs to get faster, it’s hard to ignore the fit here in the later rounds.