Predicting who any team is going to select in the NFL Draft is a challenging task. While the first few picks oftentimes appear set in stone — take the 2021 edition as an example — the rest of the league’s college player selection meeting is, from such a perspective, a crapshoot.
The further down you go, the harder it gets. There are some exceptions in the mid- to late-first round, like the New England Patriots indeed selecting quarterback Mac Jones last year, but most of the time nobody has any clue what will really transpire.
The 2022 draft is no exception, and in a way still an outlier: there is no clear consensus candidate to go first overall such as quarterback Trevor Lawrence last year; the Jacksonville Jaguars, who own the No. 1 pick for a second straight year, could go in multiple directions ranging from edge defenders Aidan Hutchinson or Travon Walker to offensive tackles Ikem Ekwonu or Evan Neal.
As far as the aforementioned Patriots are concerned, they are near-impossible to predict (something that was not necessarily the case last year). They have multiple holes to address — most prominently cornerback, linebacker, the interior offensive line or wide receiver — and are also in a spot where virtually no outcome would qualify as a major surprise.
Of course, a trade up or, more likely, down the board is always an option. If the team stays put and goes after a player, though, the question becomes who will be available? That is impossible to say, but we can try.
Using ESPN Analytics’ Draft Day Predictor Tool, we can take a look at the premier candidates projected to be available once New England is on the clock 21st overall:
While quarterbacks Sam Howell, Matt Corral, Desmond Ridder, Kenny Pickett and Malik Willis can be eliminated from the graphic above — New England will not draft a quarterback in the first round — some other players are worth taking a look at as potential targets at No. 21. Some are, obviously, more realistic candidates to be on the board at that point.
Let’s start at cornerback, where the Patriots have a major need since losing Pro Bowler J.C. Jackson in free agency. With the exception of CB1, Cincinnati’s Ahmad Gardner, all of the top players at the position are projected as candidates to be available for the team in Round 1. However, there are some clear differences between the cream of the crop and the other top options at cornerback.
The odds of LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. or Washington’s Trent McDuffie being available, for example, are calculated at only roughly 5 and 20 percent, respectively. They might still be on the board, but that would be a surprise.
Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr., on the other hand, is almost certain to be available based on ESPN’s projections. The same is true for some other potential Patriots targets as well: linebacker Nakobe Dean and defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt, both out of Georgia, and safeties Dax Hill (Michigan) and Jalen Pitre (Baylor).
At the end of the day, projections are just that: projections. However, do give teams a clearer picture of who may or may not be on the board heading into the draft.
In the Patriots’ case, plenty of high-quality players should still be available with the 21st overall selection.