Sitting at No. 21 in the first round of the NFL Draft, the New England Patriots are one of the teams that is hardest to predict. They have no one clear need that has to be addressed before all others — they have several, with interior offensive line and cornerback standing out — and have never shied away from being flexible if the situation calls for it.
Everything therefore seems possible on Thursday night, but not every outcome is equally favorable. In fact, there are some scenarios that would qualify as “best-case” and put the team in the best possible position to maximize its value either through a pick or a trade.
Scenario No. 1: There is a run at quarterbacks
This is pretty straight forward. After selecting Mac Jones 15th overall last spring and him producing an impressive rookie season, the Patriots do not have a need to add another quarterback early. Others are not as fortunate, though.
Looking at the list of teams picking higher than New England, there are multiple candidates to go after a QB. While not all of them will given that this year’s class is not nearly as top-heavy as 2021’s, the more come off the better for the Patriots.
Three or maybe even four quarterbacks getting drafted within the first 20 picks would be ideal: not only would good players at other positions start dropping as a result, pick No. 21 might also have some increased trade value. The Patriots are therefore now in the same situation they found themselves in during the Tom Brady era, rooting for other teams scrambling to pick quarterbacks before they are on the clock.
Scenario No. 2: Jordan Davis drops into New England’s range
We have been looking at realistic Patriots draft targets at all positions over the last few days, splitting them up in four categories: trade-up candidates, candidates at No. 21, and candidates for the second and third days of the draft. The first of those groups — trade-up candidates — had only a handful of names in it.
The most prominent among them, and the one literally and metaphorically towering above the rest is Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis.
The consensus top defensive tackle available in this year’s draft, Davis offers a unique blend of size and athleticism. Standing at 6-foot-6, 341 pounds with impressive power and short-area agility, he seems tailor-made for a gap-control scheme like the Patriots’. While he likely will not be around at No. 21, he is a realistic target for a trade up the board if he falls into New England’s range.
How far that range extends remains to be seen, but the team could theoretically climb as high as No. 13 — a pick owned by the Houston Texans — by investing its first- and second-round picks. That kind of investment might be a bit rich, and moving up four or five spots might be more realistic.
The gist remains, however. If Davis starts dropping into their comfort zone, the Patriots just might jump onto him.
Scenario No. 3: No more than three cornerbacks are off the board
The consensus top two at the cornerback position will be long gone before the Patriots’ trade-up range: Cincinnati’s Ahmad Gardner and LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. are top-10-caliber players and as such will not drop into New England’s lap. However, the dynamics of the first round are a mystery which might work in the Patriots’ favor.
They are obviously in need of some major upgrades after losing J.C. Jackson in free agency, and first-round prospects such as Washington’s Trent McDuffie, Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr. or Florida’s Kaiir Elam project as fits in New England’s system. However, none of the three are guaranteed to be drafted ahead of No. 21.
If teams start jumping onto other marquee positions such as wide receiver, offensive tackle or, ideally, quarterback, the Patriots might therefore be in a comfortable position when it is their turn to pick: if all three or even just two are available, New England would have increase flexibility in the late first round either to grab one of them or move down the board and get a similarly-rated player at the position later.
Scenario No. 4: They take advantage of a deep wide receiver class
While the Patriots going against the grain and trading up can never be ruled out, the belief is that they would rather move the other way and add some additional draft capital on Day 2. Finding a willing trade partner is not guaranteed, but one position in particular might make teams more willing to be aggressive: wide receiver.
Several teams slated to pick behind the Patriots are in need of help at the position, and they might get antsy if the consensus top three — Alabama’s Jameson Williams, USC’s Drake London and Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson — are already gone by the time New England is coming up. The Patriots have a need at the position as well, but they would likely not be afraid of moving pick No. 21 to another team that is after a wideout.