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From Jaycee Horn to D’Wayne Eskridge: The 10 best fits for the Patriots in the 2021 NFL draft

Related: Top 50 Big Board: Round 1 draft targets for the Patriots

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 NFL Draft just mere hours away and the New England Patriots will start owning the 15th, 46th, and 96th picks. Where they end up going is anyone’s guess, though.

It’s possible the Patriots either trade up or trade down, it very much depends on how the draft unfolds. If there is a run on quarterbacks in the top-10, then I could see them either snatching up a wide receiver, cornerback, or offensive tackle that drops as a result. Conversely, if the talent pool starts to wane before the 15th pick, they may opt for a trade down and pick up second- and third- round picks or even trade into next year.

If the QB they love is available at a reasonable price, then they will make the move to get him. The fun will begin once we get to the Atlanta Falcons’ pick at No. 4.

In order to get you ready for that fun, I decided to put a list of 10 draft prospects together who would be excellent fits for the Patriots on either offense or defense. Many of those names have already been discussed in scouting reports written by the Pats Pulpit staff.

1. Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

I’d put the odds that Horn is available to the Patriots at 50/50, depending on if there is a run at quarterbacks and receivers before the 15th selection. If that is the case, Horn presents the best value to the team in the first round as Stephon Gilmore’s successor, and would give New England some leeway to execute a trade for the former Defensive Player of the Year.

Horn is the most physically gifted CB in the draft, but he has a lot to learn about playing more complex route combinations in the NFL — something I’m confident the Patriots coaching staff will be able to do.

2. Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

Mac Jones has the least impressive physical talent of the projected first-round quarterbacks, but he has a lot of the intangibles needed to succeed at the position. He processes the game quickly for a QB prospect, navigates the pocket well, and can read defenses both pre- and post-snap.

If the San Francisco 49ers pass on him, I think the Patriots have very good chances of snatching him up. Drafting Jones would probably signal that the team is shifting back towards the early 2000s Patriot offenses to start this decade and eventually opening things up when Jones has a few years of experience under his belt.

3. Zaven Collins, EDGE/LB, Tulsa

Collins is the perfect player for the Patriots multiple scheme that will allow him to shine. The Tulsa product can play both on and off the ball against the run, rush the passer from anywhere in the front seven, and drop into coverage. His skillset is eerily similar to another Patriot linebacker with the same last name, even though he is neither as rangy nor as explosive as Jamie Collins was.

Still, Collins is the type of player who could end up succeeding Dont’a Hightower as the team’s top option at the position and be asked to attack the weaknesses of the opposing offense.

4. Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue

Moore is a poor man’s Jaylen Waddle and could present extremely good value for the Patriots on the second day of the draft. He is more of a Z/slot receiver and not an X but he could bring the element to the offense that has been missing for two years with Julian Edelman being plagued with injuries. Moore immediately fits as a returner and the team can design plays to get him the ball rather easily. Eventually, I see him developing into an Edelman type, someone who is a threat to score with the ball in his hands and can make the tough grabs.

5. Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

Based on his résumé, I would have Trey Lance as a Day 3 guy. But while his one season starting at North Dakota State isn’t that impressive relative to the competition, he has the best physical tools of any QB in the draft and is reportedly a student of the game. Those intangibles could make him a great quarterback down the road, but he will need at least one year, if not two, to learn the nuances to the position before getting the starting job.

6. Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT, USC

The most pro-ready offensive lineman that is a realistic draft target for the Patriots, Vera-Tucker does come with some guard risk on certain teams. In New England, which has turned out linemen better than most teams in the league, I like his chances of developing into a starter at left tackle. With the organization still thinking about whether or not to exercise the fifth-year option in Isaiah Wynn’s rookie contract drafting Vera-Tucker would bring clarity to that decision and create some flexibility.

7. Kyle Trask, QB, Florida

If the Patriots cannot land Trey Lance or Mac Jones earlier the draft, Kyle Trask makes for a good Plan C at quarterback. He will need to refine his mechanics a bit, but his style of play fits what the Patriots like to do offensively almost as good as Jones’. His 2020 season ended on a sour note as Florida lost by 10 to Alabama in the SEC Championship game and was pummeled in the team’s bowl game where he was throwing to receivers that were previously buried on the depth chart.

What separates Jones from Trask is the former is much more polished in the subtle nuances at the position. If in the right system that emphasizes his quick release and protects the pocket well, Trask can be coached up into a future starter.

8. Carlos Basham Jr, EDGE, Wake Forest

Basham’s overall game screams Patriots edge rusher as he relies more on technique than athleticism to win. He has enough athletic skill, size, and length to be a disruptive edge rusher, though, and is sturdy against the run to play on all three downs. His expected draft range is somewhere around the end of the second round, so the Patriots would have to either compile more picks or take a chance on him with their second round pick.

Ironically enough, Basham reminds me of a previous Patriot defensive lineman who was a key contributor to 2 Super Bowl wins: Trey Flowers.

9. Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&M

My ceiling for Kellen Mond is Alex Smith, the mid-level starter version in Kansas City from 2013-2017 — someone who can make good reads and not put his team in a bad position. He does come with almost four years of starting experience in the SEC West, consistently dealing with Alabama and LSU. He could be a solid second-round get for the team and provides a bit more than Jarrett Stidham as both a pocket passer and as Cam Newton’s backup and potential replacement. Mond throws the ball well, but at times will trust his arm too much and make bad decisions with the ball.

10. D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Central Michigan

Eskridge would be a solid Plan B at the slot/gadget role behind Rondale Moore. While Moore is likely to go in the top 40, Eskridge could be a target for the Patriots early in the third round or at No. 46 if they want to move up and love him as a prospect. He can immediately contribute as both a kickoff and punt returner, although he probably only sees punt returns since kickoff returns aren’t as valuable unless you break a big one. The return skills will keep him on the field enough as he learns how to run routes from the slot.

If you counted correctly, yes, I listed four quarterback prospects who I project to go in the top 50. I also got hung up on the wide receivers, especially ones with return abilities, because the real weakness on the current Patriots team is its pass offense.

I’m very much aware of New England’s previous whiffs on receivers in the draft, but I think the issue is a scouting problem rather than a developmental issue. We’ve seen Julian Edelman go from a positionless talent to one of the most celebrated players in franchise history. I do think Bill Belichick will have to allow his scouts and his consultants to have input in order for him to make better decisions in the draft — especially at wideout.

Offensive tackle, cornerback, and edge are three other positions the team should consider addressing as well because those are spots where it can really get good value in the draft. While the draft isn’t deep at the two defensive positions, the team should still be able to get a mid-round gem at either.

With the Patriots having only a few, but very glaring needs for their outlook for next year, it may be a very small draft class with potentially only six to eight players being brought aboard.