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NFL Draft 2021: Finding the biggest steals and reaches in the Patriots’ draft class

Related: Patriots earn an ‘A’ for their haul in the 2021 draft

Patriots Draft Pick Mac Jones Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

When all was said and done, the New England Patriots had selected eight players in the 2021 NFL Draft. The initial response to the haul was a positive one, with major needs such as quarterback and defensive tackle getting addressed early and valuable rotational depth added later.

But are those feelings about the Patriots’ haul justified, at least when looking at the pre-draft evaluation of the players in question?

To find that out, we looked at 20 big boards and compared their rankings to how the Patriots actually drafted. Of course, not every player was present on every one of the boards — only the Patiots’ first three selections were, in fact. Nevertheless, the comparison should give you a bit of a feel as to why the Patriots’ draft is often viewed as a successful one and which players are seen as the biggest steals and reaches.

1-15 QB Mac Jones, Alabama

The Patriots addressed the biggest need on their roster right in the first round. There was some speculation they might trade up to grab a quarterback, but they instead stayed put at No. 15 and saw Alabama’s Mac Jones fall into their lap. While it remains to be seen when Jones will be handed over the keys to the offense, the expectation is clear: he will be the face of the franchise.

  • Michael Renner, Pro Football Focus (300 players): 14
  • Drafttek (500 players): 15
  • Mel Kiper Jr, ESPN (350 players): 19
  • CBS Sports (750 players): 22
  • Damond Talbot, Draft Diamonds (500 players): 24
  • Dane Brugler, The Athletic (300 players): 25
  • Thor Nystrom, NBC Sports (500 players): 25
  • Tony Pauline, Pro Football Network (873 players): 25
  • Arif Hasan, The Athletic (300 players): 27
  • Kevin Hanson, EDS Football (150 players): 32
  • Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network (150 players): 32
  • Bleacher Report (300 players): 34
  • Chris Trapasso, CBS Sports (200 players): 38
  • John Ledyard, Pewter Report (150 players): 42
  • Justin Melo, Broadway Sports (150 players): 48
  • Luke Easterling, Draft Wire (300 players): 51
  • The Draft Network (425 players): 65
  • Zach Hicks, Stampede Blue (200 players): 66
  • Joe Marino, The Draft Network (270 players): 78
  • Kyle Crabbs, The Draft Network (150 players): 80

Average: 38.1 (+23.1 from the Patriots’ actual selection)
Median: 32.0 (+17.0 from the Patriots’ actual selection)

Compared to the big boards, the Patriots did overdraft Mac Jones a bit. That is not necessarily a worrying development, though, given just how important the quarterback position is in today’s NFL. Had the Patriots waited until the early second round to pick Jones, he would not have been around.

2-38 DT Christian Barmore, Alabama

New England dove into the Crimson Tide pool for a second time in Round 2. Trading up from the 46th overall selection, the team selected Christian Barmore. The first defensive tackle off the board, Barmore will help further bolster a front that struggled to control the line of scrimmage last season.

  • Michael Renner, Pro Football Focus (300 players): 12
  • Dane Brugler, The Athletic (300 players): 20
  • Thor Nystrom, NBC Sports (500 players): 20
  • Drafttek (500 players): 20
  • Damond Talbot, Draft Diamonds (500 players): 20
  • Kevin Hanson, EDS Football (150 players): 24
  • Arif Hasan, The Athletic (300 players): 26
  • CBS Sports (750 players): 26
  • Mel Kiper Jr, ESPN (350 players): 32
  • Bleacher Report (300 players): 32
  • Chris Trapasso, CBS Sports (200 players): 33
  • John Ledyard, Pewter Report (150 players): 36
  • Tony Pauline, Pro Football Network (873 players): 37
  • Zach Hicks, Stampede Blue (200 players): 38
  • Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network (150 players): 43
  • Luke Easterling, Draft Wire (300 players): 44
  • Justin Melo, Broadway Sports (150 players): 46
  • The Draft Network (425 players): 49
  • Joe Marino, The Draft Network (270 players): 55
  • Kyle Crabbs, The Draft Network (150 players): 66

Average: 34.0 (-4.0 from the Patriots’ actual selection)
Median: 32.5 (-5.5 from the Patriots’ actual selection)

Based on the big boards, Barmore was expected to go in the same range as Mac Jones. But while Jones was drafted significantly earlier than his rankings, Barmore came off the board lower: the Patriots moved up to No. 38 to grab him, but he can still be classified as a steal when measured against the projections.

3-96 DE Ronnie Perkins, Oklahoma

While edge rush was not an obvious need for New England after the offseason additions of Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy, the team still went after Oklahoma’s Ronnie Perkins in the third round. A player in the mold of ex-Patriot Trey Flowers, the 96th overall selection will be added to an edge rotation that also features former Day 2 draft choices Josh Uche and Chase Winovich.

  • Mel Kiper Jr, ESPN (350 players): 35
  • Tony Pauline, Pro Football Network (873 players): 38
  • Zach Hicks, Stampede Blue (200 players): 40
  • Michael Renner, Pro Football Focus (300 players): 43
  • Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network (150 players): 44
  • Kevin Hanson, EDS Football (150 players): 54
  • Luke Easterling, Draft Wire (300 players): 63
  • Arif Hasan, The Athletic (300 players): 64
  • CBS Sports (750 players): 67
  • Justin Melo, Broadway Sports (150 players): 70
  • Dane Brugler, The Athletic (300 players): 73
  • Bleacher Report (300 players): 75
  • Drafttek (500 players): 75
  • Kyle Crabbs, The Draft Network (150 players): 76
  • Joe Marino, The Draft Network (270 players): 80
  • The Draft Network (425 players): 81
  • Thor Nystrom, NBC Sports (500 players): 87
  • Chris Trapasso, CBS Sports (200 players): 90
  • Damond Talbot, Draft Diamonds (500 players): 90

Average: 67.4 (-28.6 from the Patriots’ actual selection)
Median: 71.5 (-24.5 from the Patriots’ actual selection)

Christian Barmore was a slight steal compared to the big boards, Ronnie Perkins was a big one. While only one analyst had him ranked lower than the Patriots’ eventual selection, he was listed as high as the 30s: Mel Kiper Jr. had him at 35, while Tony Pauline had the Oklahoma product at 38.

4-120 RB Rhamondre Stevenson, Oklahoma

With New England not picking up Sony Michel’s fifth-year contract option, he appears to be on his way out — either at one point before the trade deadline or in free agency next year. More of a bruiser than Michel, the Patriots selected Rhamondre Stevenson in the fourth round to serve as the early-down back of the future.

  • CBS Sports (750 players): 101
  • Kyle Crabbs, The Draft Network (150 players): 104
  • Thor Nystrom, NBC Sports (500 players): 111
  • Luke Easterling, Draft Wire (300 players): 111
  • Mel Kiper Jr, ESPN (350 players): 111
  • Arif Hasan, The Athletic (300 players): 130
  • Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network (150 players): 137
  • The Draft Network (425 players): 138
  • Kevin Hanson, EDS Football (150 players): 138
  • Dane Brugler, The Athletic (300 players): 139
  • Damond Talbot, Draft Diamonds (500 players): 150
  • Drafttek (500 players): 154
  • Tony Pauline, Pro Football Network (873 players): 161
  • Michael Renner, Pro Football Focus (300 players): 171
  • Bleacher Report (300 players): 176
  • Joe Marino, The Draft Network (270 players): 192
  • John Ledyard, Pewter Report (150 players): --
  • Justin Melo, Broadway Sports (150 players): --
  • Chris Trapasso, CBS Sports (200 players): --
  • Zach Hicks, Stampede Blue (200 players): --

Average: 139.0 (+19.0 from the Patriots’ actual selection)
Median: 138.0 (+18.0 from the Patriots’ actual selection)

Stevenson is expected to play a prominent role in the Patriots’ offense no later than 2022, but compared to the big boards they did overdraft him a little bit. Still, picking a player 18ish spots before he was projected to be selected is a negligible difference on Day 3 of the draft.

5-177 LB Cameron McGrone, Michigan

Cameron McGrone is a long-term project for the Patriots: coming off a torn ACL, he is not guaranteed to see the field this year. His youth and abilities as an off-the-ball linebacker make him an intriguing prospect, though.

  • Kyle Crabbs, The Draft Network (150 players): 39
  • The Draft Network (425 players): 42
  • Justin Melo, Broadway Sports (150 players): 52
  • Joe Marino, The Draft Network (270 players): 53
  • Tony Pauline, Pro Football Network (873 players): 79
  • Drafttek (500 players): 88
  • Zach Hicks, Stampede Blue (200 players): 89
  • Damond Talbot, Draft Diamonds (500 players): 99
  • Luke Easterling, Draft Wire (300 players): 102
  • Arif Hasan, The Athletic (300 players): 113
  • Kevin Hanson, EDS Football (150 players): 122
  • Michael Renner, Pro Football Focus (300 players): 133
  • Thor Nystrom, NBC Sports (500 players): 133
  • Dane Brugler, The Athletic (300 players): 147
  • CBS Sports (750 players): 154
  • Mel Kiper Jr, ESPN (350 players): 160
  • Chris Trapasso, CBS Sports (200 players): 186
  • Bleacher Report (300 players): 203
  • Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network (150 players): --
  • John Ledyard, Pewter Report (150 players): --

Average: 110.8 (-66.2 from the Patriots’ actual selection)
Median: 107.5 (-69.5 from the Patriots’ actual selection)

Ronnie Perkins was not the Patriots’ biggest steal in this year’s draft: Cameron McGrone was. New England nabbed him at No. 177, while most experts had him rated higher than that. In fact, eight big boards had him listed as a top-100 player.

6-188 S Joshuah Bledsoe, Missouri

With the Patriots’ safety group in a phase of transition, the team decided to add Joshuah Bledsoe to the mix in the sixth round. A versatile player who fits in well with the team’s recent move towards a positionless defense, Bledsoe will compete for the fourth safety spot behind Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips.

  • Kyle Crabbs, The Draft Network (150 players): 81
  • The Draft Network (425 players): 87
  • Justin Melo, Broadway Sports (150 players): 91
  • Joe Marino, The Draft Network (270 players): 99
  • Luke Easterling, Draft Wire (300 players): 141
  • CBS Sports (750 players): 174
  • Mel Kiper Jr, ESPN (350 players): 175
  • Zach Hicks, Stampede Blue (200 players): 193
  • Arif Hasan, The Athletic (300 players): 207
  • Thor Nystrom, NBC Sports (500 players): 222
  • Tony Pauline, Pro Football Network (873 players): 224
  • Dane Brugler, The Athletic (300 players): 232
  • Bleacher Report (300 players): 276
  • Michael Renner, Pro Football Focus (300 players): 292
  • Drafttek (500 players): 301
  • Damond Talbot, Draft Diamonds (500 players): 329
  • Kevin Hanson, EDS Football (150 players): --
  • Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network (150 players): --
  • John Ledyard, Pewter Report (150 players): --
  • Chris Trapasso, CBS Sports (200 players): --

Average: 195.3 (+7.3 from the Patriots’ actual selection)
Median: 200.0 (+12.0 from the Patriots’ actual selection)

No player in the Patriots’ draft class had as high a variance as Joshuah Bledsoe. While the Draft Network was pretty high on him, others had him ranked below the draft range. On average, New England selected him where he was expected to come off the board.

6-197 OT William Sherman, Colorado

Even though the offensive tackle position was an under-the-radar need for New England heading into the draft, the team waited until the sixth round to address it. The player brought aboard to offer depth was Colorado’s William Sherman — a versatile lineman who might be moved to the interior upon entering the NFL level.

  • Bleacher Report (300 players): 189
  • Thor Nystrom, NBC Sports (500 players): 200
  • Dane Brugler, The Athletic (300 players): 209
  • Michael Renner, Pro Football Focus (300 players): 236
  • Arif Hasan, The Athletic (300 players): 287
  • Tony Pauline, Pro Football Network (873 players): 287
  • Mel Kiper Jr, ESPN (350 players): 297
  • Damond Talbot, Draft Diamonds (500 players): 306
  • Drafttek (500 players): 381
  • CBS Sports (750 players): 396
  • Kyle Crabbs, The Draft Network (150 players): --
  • Kevin Hanson, EDS Football (150 players): --
  • Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network (150 players): --
  • Justin Melo, Broadway Sports (150 players): --
  • John Ledyard, Pewter Report (150 players): --
  • Zach Hicks, Stampede Blue (200 players): --
  • Chris Trapasso, CBS Sports (200 players): --
  • Joe Marino, The Draft Network (270 players): --
  • Luke Easterling, Draft Wire (300 players): --
  • The Draft Network (425 players): --

Average: 278.8 (+81.8 from the Patriots’ actual selection)
Median: 287.0 (+90.0 from the Patriots’ actual selection)

Only Bleacher Report thought that Sherman would be selected before pick No. 197. The Patriots did eventually pick him at No. 197, which is a significant reach when measured against the big boards. Of course, reaching for players late on Day 3 is much more tolerable than doing it in the first rounds (looking your way, Las Vegas Raiders).

7-242 WR Tre Nixon, UCF

The Patriots’ final selection of the draft went to a wide receiver position that saw considerable investments in free agency. As opposed to fellow offseason acquisitions Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, however, Tre Nixon is no lock to make the roster this year.

  • Tony Pauline, Pro Football Network (873 players): 198
  • Thor Nystrom, NBC Sports (500 players): 255
  • Joe Marino, The Draft Network (270 players): 256
  • Mel Kiper Jr, ESPN (350 players): 318
  • The Draft Network (425 players): 349
  • Damond Talbot, Draft Diamonds (500 players): 349
  • CBS Sports (750 players): 404
  • Kevin Hanson, EDS Football (150 players): --
  • John Ledyard, Pewter Report (150 players): --
  • Kyle Crabbs, The Draft Network (150 players): --
  • Justin Melo, Broadway Sports (150 players): --
  • Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network (150 players): --
  • Chris Trapasso, CBS Sports (200 players): --
  • Zach Hicks, Stampede Blue (200 players): --
  • Bleacher Report (300 players): --
  • Arif Hasan, The Athletic (300 players): --
  • Dane Brugler, The Athletic (300 players): --
  • Michael Renner, Pro Football Focus (300 players): --
  • Luke Easterling, Draft Wire (300 players): --
  • Drafttek (500 players): --

Average: 304.1 (+62.1 from the Patriots’ actual selection)
Median: 318.0 (+76.0 from the Patriots’ actual selection)

Patriots research director Ernie Adams hand-picked Nixon in the seventh round, and reached quite a bit for him: only Tony Pauline had him ranked higher than No. 242, with the average seeing him as a free agent-type prospect. As is the case with Sherman, however, reaching at this point of the draft is usually not an issue.

While first-round pick Mac Jones will determine just how favorably the class will be seen further down the line, 2021 presented a significant change of course compared to last year: the 2020 draft — the final one with Nick Caserio serving as director of player personnel — saw New England “reach” for every player but one (Josh Uche). With Christian Barmore, Ronnie Perkins and Cameron McGrone being drafted later than the average big board had them ranked, however, it is therefore no surprise that the Patriots’ 2021 draft has been graded as one of the best in the league.