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Sunday Patriots Notes: How DeVante Parker will help bring the best out of Mac Jones

NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

With the calendar turning from March to April, the NFL is officially in draft mode. For the New England Patriots, who currently own eight selections, it will be another big one: adding more youth and talent to the defense will be key, as will continuing to build the offense around quarterback Mac Jones.

With that said, let’s dive straight into this week’s Sunday Notes.

1.DeVante Parker gives the Patriots an upgrade at the X. There has been rumors for quite some time now that the Patriots had been interested in adding a veteran receiver to their room and, on Saturday, they pulled the trigger on a trade for DeVante Parker.

Parker gives the Patriots a combination of size and speed on the outside at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds that can go up and make contested catches on the outside. After the Miami Dolphins drafted Jaylen Waddle in the first round last year, signed Cedrick Wilson Jr. and then traded for Tyreek Hill, Parker saw himself likely looking from the outside in and needed a fresh start elsewhere while the Dolphins could use some cap relief.

All in all, Parker is expected to come in and start alongside Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers with an opportunity to elevate his game and provide that No. 1 threat for Mac Jones who who can stretch the field and open things up underneath for other receiving targets — something last year’s X, Nelson Agholor, was unable to do consistently.

And if Parker can turn into another wide receiver that was traded to New England in 2007...

2. A glimpse at how the Patriots have built their secondary for 2022. With the rest of the AFC loading up on elite playmakers and speed, the Patriots are in a difficult situation having to counter. It appears that they have made it a precedent to load up with athletic box and slot defenders to try and slow down these high-powered offenses they are going to face within their division and the conference as a whole.

With cornerback J.C. Jackson leaving, and the Patriots making limited moves to replace their recent All-Pro talent on the outside, it begs the question if the team still values that long, sticky, press-man presence on the perimeter. The current personnel suggests so. Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger and now Jabrill Peppers might be evidence that the Patriots’ perspective of value has shifted towards a more undersized, but athletic and speedy secondary going forward — all while having competent outside corners rather than the elite ones they have had ever since the days of Aqib Talib in the early 2010s.

The draft will give us additional clues about what their plans look like. Will they invest an early selection in a press-man cornerback such as Andrew Booth Jr. or Kaiir Elam, or continue building inside-out by loading up with even more of those versatile safeties that can play anywhere in the secondary?

3. Patriots heavily staffed at Alabama’s pro day. It’s arguably an annual holiday for NFL executives when the University of Alabama hosts its pro day. Every general manager, director of player personnel and head coach has this day circled on their calendar.

With the Patriots drafting Alabama players on a regular rate — just last year they added quarterback Mac Jones and defensive tackle Christian Barmore — it gives us a good look at who could become potential future additions to the team. Everyone knows the friendship and respect that Bill Belichick and Nick Saban have for each other, and with New England needing an incision of pro-ready and elite young talent on both sides of the ball, it would be a surprise if the Patriots didn’t tap into Alabama’s pipeline again this year.

So, who are names to keep an eye on? Wide receivers Jameson Williams, John Metchie and Slade Bolden, linebacker Christian Harris, and defensive linemen Phidarian Mathis and LaBryan Ray could very well follow Jones and Barmore and make the jump from Tuscaloosa to Foxborough.

4. Mac Jones’ second year “will be very telling.” This past week, Jeff Howe of The Athletic sat down with Patriots owner Robert Kraft to discuss the team’s offseason and plan moving forward with quarterback Mac Jones.

Kraft essentially told Howe a similar message h told reporters at the league meeting last week, that the Patriots have the talent on the roster from last year’s spending spree that hasn’t been tapped into yet. Jonnu Smith and Nelson Agholor are likely the two candidates that are being looked at to be utilized more and help carry the load offensively with Jones continuing to develop inside the Patriots’ system.

As for Jones, Kraft said that this year will be very telling for the Patriots’ sophomore quarterback.

“To come into something as new as this, as established, I think he got beat up pretty bad,” Kraft said. “He kept coming back and getting up and really doing some great stuff. Just the way he handles himself, he took some real beatings and hopped up. He has developed a good relationship with the whole cadre of receivers. I’m very happy with what I’ve seen. But this is a big year, the second year.”

Kraft also told reporters at the league meeting that he is a “huge fan” of Mac Jones not only because of his ability but how he handles himself on the field, in the locker room and in the community. Although the Patriots haven’t spent much on more weapons for Jones this offseason outside of the trade that brought DeVante Parker on board, they may address one of these spots early on in the draft or feel as if the money invested last offseason on key pieces offensively are set to have a much bigger impact in year two with Jones.

5. Mac Jones donates $100,000 to the Metro South Boys and Girls club of Brockton. Everybody knows how good of a quarterback Mac Jones is, but what shouldn’t get overlooked is his giving back to a community that he’ll likely be calling home for the rest of his career.

This past week, Jones donated $100,000 dollars to the Metro South Boys and Girls club of Brockton and spent hours hanging out with some of the kids. With his rookie season having to abide by Covid-19 protocols, it made it tough for Jones to interact in-person with most of the community. However, he made it a priority to make up for those missed opportunities this offseason.

“I’ve been super busy focused on football,” Jones told Patriots.com. “But I want to be able to step out in the community like I did in college and high school. Helping younger kids is kind of what my passion is, young people, whether they like sports or not, to help them reach their dreams.”


Sunday Patriots Mailbag

The offensive line in general is certainly a spot that the Patriots may invest in earlier than people think. Even with Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown both back for 2022, there still isn’t much depth and a future plan at both spots beyond this year. However, with an immediate need at guard with Shaq Mason and Ted Karras playing elsewhere, it’s to be expected the Patriots prioritize that moreso than finding some tackle help for the future.

With the Patriots’ recent success of finding interior offensive lineman late in the draft, here are a few guards to keep an eye on Days 2 and 3: Dylan Parham (Memphis), Cole Strange (Chattanooga), Andrew Steuber (Michigan) and Chris Paul (Tulsa).

Pat, Keagan and I talked about this with Alex Barth this week on our podcast. During the Belichick era, there’s really only been a handful of tackles that they have spent a high-pick on (Matt Light, Nate Solder, and Isaiah Wynn). This speaks wonders of their ability to evaluate the position to have a staple at that position for many years.

Even with Isaiah Wynn up after the 2022 season, I’d say it’s pretty low that the Patriots would use a top pick in the draft at a spot where they have some stability at both spots. They drafted Solder and Wynn in the first round to come in and play right away — Wynn got hurt in his first preseason game and threw a wrench in those plans.

But, the point is, when the Patriots invest in this position in the first round, recent history shows they’re drafting them to be an impact player on Day 1 and with Wynn and Brown in the mix for 2022, this is a position they’ll likely re-evaluate after 2022 and kick the can down the road in a sense. A swing tackle is certainly a need, but likely something they’ll look to add in the later rounds.

I wrote about this in last week’s column, but my gut feeling is that unless an elite player that they had a top 15 grade on falls they’ll likely trade out to pick up as much capital inside the top 100 as possible. This draft class is unique in a sense that there’s very little difference between the 15th ranked player and the 60th ranked player.

With several needs still on both sides of the ball, trading out of No. 21 and picking up a few extra picks in that 30-100 range may be the best plan for the Patriots in the future. Looking at the move the Patriots made to acquire Kyle Dugger and Josh Uche where they acquired picks 37 and 71 from the Chargers in exchange for pick 23 and then used pick 71 to move up and get Uche at 2-60 is sort of a blueprint of what to look for at the end of this month.