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NFL Draft 2022: Ranking the Patriots’ team needs heading into the first round of the draft

Patriots big board: The 50 best fits for New England in the 2022 NFL Draft

NFL: New England Patriots at Los Angeles Chargers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In last year’s draft, the New England Patriots were able to address the biggest question on their roster by picking quarterback Mac Jones 15th overall. While they found themselves a franchise player at the most important position on the field, they still have some holes that need to be plugged one year later.

Whether they will do so in the first round will be seen, but the Patriots addressing most if not all of their needs over the next few days seems like a foregone conclusion. Before getting ahead of ourselves, however, let’s go through the team’s position-by-position needs to find where the current shortcomings lie and how they can be addressed heading into the first round.

(Needs are assessed on a four-tier scale from no need to major need, while draft targets exclude those that are out of the team’s range such as edge defender Aidan Hutchinson)

Tier 4: Virtually no need

12. Tight end

  • Players under contract (4): Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene
  • First-round targets: N/A

One year after making some major investments in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, the Patriots have virtually no need to make any investments at tight end this draft. If a player is added either late or in rookie free agency, they will play only a marginal role to challenge third-year men Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene.

11. Special teams

  • Players under contract (4): Nick Folk, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Quinn Nordin
  • First-round targets: N/A

Nick Folk was re-signed in free agency, while Joe Cardona is not going anywhere anytime soon. The Patriots might go after a punter on Day 3 out of fiscal reasons — Jake Bailey has a $4.1 million cap hit, 16th highest on the team — but they have no real need to make any moves.

10. Quarterback

The Patriots will obviously make no splashes at the quarterback position this draft considering. Not only do they have Mac Jones under contract for at least three more seasons, they also re-signed veteran Brian Hoyer in free agency. Hoyer’s age and Jarrett Stidham’s contract status — he is entering the final year of his rookie deal — might lead to the team investing a late-round pick in a QB, though.

Tier 3: Some questions about the future

9. Offensive backfield

  • Players under contract (6): Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, James White, Ty Montgomery, J.J. Taylor, Devine Ozigbo
  • First-round targets: N/A

The Patriots might decide to bolster their running back group in the draft, but they will not do so on Day 1. Not only do they not have a major need at the position, there also is no player worthy that kind of investment this year. Realistically, New England will wait until Day 3 or even rookie free agency to add another runner.

8. Safety

  • Players under contract (6): Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jabrill Peppers, Joshuah Bledsoe, Cody Davis
  • First-round targets: Daxton Hill (Michigan)

With Devin McCourty re-signing for one more season ahead of free agency, and with Jabrill Peppers joining the club on a one-year deal as well, the Patriots do not have to make any moves at safety. That being said, McCourty’s age and contract situation might lead to the team making an investment as early as Round 1. If so, Michigan’s Daxton Hill is a player to watch.

7. Interior defensive line

  • Players under contract (9): Christian Barmore, Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr., Henry Anderson, Carl Davis, Byron Cowart, Daniel Ekuale, Bill Murray
  • First-round targets: Jordan Davis (Georgia), Devonte Wyatt (Georgia)

The Patriots invested considerable resources along their D-line last year, but that does not disqualify them from making additional moves. In fact, adding a big-bodied nose tackle to the equation should be one of the team’s goals in the draft. Obviously, Georgia’s impressive interior duo — Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt — would be tremendous additions to the present group.

Tier 2: Some reinforcements necessary

6. Outside/edge linebacker

  • Players under contract (3): Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Ronnie Perkins
  • First-round targets: Jermaine Johnson II (Florida State), George Karlaftis (Purdue), David Ojabo (Michigan)

With the Patriots cutting Kyle Van Noy and trading Chase Winovich to Cleveland, the depth behind primary edge linebacker Matthew Judon has become suspect. Josh Uche has been a role player the first two years of his career, while Ronnie Perkins is coming off a redshirt rookie season. In turn, New England adding more players to the equation — maybe even as early as Thursday night — would not come as a surprise.

5. Wide receiver

  • Players under contract (9): Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, N’Keal Harry, Kristian Wilkerson, Tre Nixon, Malcolm Perry, Matthew Slater
  • First-round targets: Jameson Williams (Alabama), Garrett Wilson (Georgia), Drake London (USC), Chris Olave (Ohio State), Treylon Burks (Arkansas)

The Patriots signed Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor last offseason, and traded for DeVante Parker this year. And yet, the wide receiver spot remains a question mark: Jakobi Meyers and Agholor are free agents after this season, Parker has struggled with injuries in the past, and no high-upside developmental option is on the roster at the moment. Luckily for the Patriots there are several of those available in this year’s draft. If the board falls favorably, maybe they even add one of them in Round 1.

4. Offensive tackle

  • Players under contract (5): Isaiah Wynn, Trent Brown, Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste, Yasir Durant
  • First-round targets: Trevor Penning (Northern Iowa), Bernhard Raimann (Central Michigan)

With Trent Brown re-signed on a two-year deal and Isaiah Wynn playing on his fifth-year contract option, the starting offensive tackle duo for the 2022 season is set in stone. However, the long-term outlook is murky: depending on what happens with Wynn, New England might not have a left tackle under contract for next year. Adding one this season is a realistic scenario, especially considering that the team likes to give its rookie tackles a year to get ready before taking over a starting role. Just ask Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, or Wynn himself.

3. Off-the-ball linebacker

  • Players under contract (8): Ja’Whaun Bentley, Mack Wilson, Raekwon McMillan, Cameron McGrone, Anfernee Jennings, Jahlani Tavai, Harvey Langi, Terez Hall
  • First-round targets: Devin Lloyd (Utah), Nakobe Dean (Georgia), Quay Walker (Georgia)

With Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins still unsigned in free agency, the Patriots appear to be in a process of rebuilding their off-the-ball linebacker position. If they want to continue this process and add further talent to the group, there is no better place than a deep draft — one that is led by projected first-round picks Devin Lloyd, Nakobe Dean and Quay Walker. Lloyd and Walker in particular are intriguing prospects from a New England perspective.

Tier 1: Priority positions to be addressed

2. Interior offensive line

  • Players under contract (6): David Andrews, Michael Onwenu, James Ferentz, William Sherman, Arlington Hambright, Drew Desjarlais
  • First-round targets: Zion Johnson (Boston College), Kenyon Green (Texas A&M)

Ted Karras signed a free agent deal in Cincinnati and Shaq Mason was traded to Tampa Bay; the Patriots now need to find a new starting guard duo. While Michael Onwenu seems primed to take over one of the vacant spots (likely Mason’s on the right side), the other is virtually unoccupied right now. New England might decide to wait until the middle rounds to fill it, but there are some suitable first-round prospects available as well: Zion Johnson and Kenyon Green would project as Day 1 starters in the Patriots’ scheme.

1. Cornerback

  • Players under contract (8): Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Malcolm Butler, Terrance Mitchell, Joejuan Williams, Myles Bryant, Shaun Wade, Justin Bethel
  • First-round targets: Trent McDuffie (Washington), Andrew Booth Jr. (Clemson), Kaiir Elam (Florida)

Even though Malcolm Butler and Terrance Mitchell were signed in free agency, cornerback remains arguably the Patriots’ biggest need at the moment. The loss of Pro Bowler J.C. Jackson, after all, left the group without a clear number one player capable of lining up on an island against opposing top-tier wide receivers. Finding a one-for-one replacement in the draft should not be expected, but there are some intriguing players with considerable CB1 upside. Trent McDuffie, Andrew Booth Jr. and Kaiir Elam project as the best fits among the players available in New England’s range late in the first round.