The New England Patriots have a unique opportunity as they will be picking in the top-20 for the first time since 2011 and only the fifth time overall under head coach Bill Belichick.
The team will have a chance to select either its quarterback of the future or add an impact player to their offense or defense. Given the team’s history in the Top 20, I’d place the odds of a trade down to be very low as they’d be missing out on a potential blue-chip prospect at a premium position like edge rusher, offensive tackle, or even cornerback.
When the Patriots do come up on the clock, they need to consider players who will improve their weaknesses. New England’s biggest needs come at the premium positions: quarterback, cornerback, offensive tackle, and pass rusher. If they don’t like those options, they could always take the one guy who slides on the draft board.
Five players to watch at No. 15
1. Jaelen Phillips, EDGE, Miami: Phillips would be a top-10 pick if not due to a history of concussions that nearly ended his career at UCLA before it started. After transferring to Miami, he had a great 2020 season and has shot up draft boards to where he could be going in the Top 15 now. He checks off all the boxes in terms of size, length, athleticism, and pro-readiness at the position, as he could be a high impact player as a rookie and with the Patriots unlikely to land a player of that talent next year could gamble on him.
2. Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT, USC: The Patriots have pretty decent depth at the tackle position for 2021, but a lot of uncertainty at both spots after the season. I’d handicap the odds the Patriots pick up Isaiah Wynn’s fifth-year option at 50 percent, maybe less if they land Vera-Tucker with the 15th overall pick. His long-term fit depends on which team takes him although I think he ends up as a left tackle if taken by the Patriots.
3. Mac Jones, QB, Alabama: If Jones isn’t one of the first four QBs taken in the draft, I could see a scenario where the Patriots trade up and get him before Washington or Chicago have a chance. How high they have to go is the question mark, although I think Detroit at No. 7 or Carolina at No. 8 are the best spots to guarantee Jones ends up in New England. While not the best athlete or the strongest arm, he has the best set of intangibles of any quarterback in the draft. When the difference between a starter on a good or bad team is very minimal from a physical talent standpoint, competitiveness and the ability to read defenses matter a lot.
4. Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina: Outside of quarterback, the greatest 2022 need for the team is cornerback. Like Stephon Gilmore in 2012, Horn brought the ideal size, length, speed, and athleticism to the field although isn’t as polished a prospect. He’s very good covering one side of the field, although he does struggle to identify his man in stacked or bunched releases. Due to his physical traits, he’s the type of player who needs the right coaching staff to get the most out of him otherwise he could end up causing problems in the form of penalties and bad technique.
5. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama: Even with the team investing in two receivers in free agency, the team certainly could be looking for a receiver if a top prospect falls to them. Given that the position itself is not that high since Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor could very well still be in a Patriots uniform next year, this is not a position to trade up for. Ja’Marr Chase will go in the top-10, although I handicap him at going sixth overall to Miami at the latest. DeVonta Smith could see himself going to a multitude of teams in the 7-12 range. Depending on where the QBs go, Waddle could end up falling to New England as a result of missing half the year with an ankle injury. The only way I see Waddle ending up in New England is if he falls to No. 15, since they can stay put and take Rashod Bateman or Terrace Marshall Jr. to be their next X-receiver.
I’m pretty confident that at least two of these five players will be on the board when the Patriots pick 15th overall tonight. All of these guys have high ceilings and could provide meaningful contributions to the team their rookie year.