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NFL Draft results 2021: How the Patriots filled their needs on draft weekend

Related: Meet the Patriots’ 2022 draft class

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 02 Arizona State at UCLA Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New England Patriots entered the 2022 NFL Draft with some clear needs to be addressed on both sides of the ball, so one of the biggest questions heading into the weekend was this: How would they proceed? Turns out that investing high-round selections was the central part of that plan.

A look at their 10 draft selections plus seven reported free agency signings thus far shows how New England opted to bolster overall depth across its roster and at those needs in particular. With that said, let’s take a look at how that happened and what it might mean moving forward.

Just for clarity, the needs are categorized on a five-point scale from very high to very low. Obviously, though, those categories are subjective assessments and not necessarily a reflection of how the team views them — which very much comes into play at one of the positions listed below.

Quarterback

Pre-draft depth chart (3): Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham

Need: Low

Pre-draft analysis: 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.

Draft picks/UDFAs: Bailey Zappe (4-137), D’Eriq King (UDFA)

Post-draft analysis: The Patriots indeed opted to invest a late-round pick in a quarterback in the draft, bringing in Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe in the fourth round. While the move itself was questioned by some, it does make sense based on the circumstances named above. The other QB who was added, Miami’s D’Eriq King, is a candidate to change positions at the next level and maybe move to wide receiver or running back.

Offensive backfield

Pre-draft depth chart (6): Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, James White, Ty Montgomery, J.J. Taylor, Devine Ozigbo

Need: Low

Pre-draft analysis: 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.

Draft picks/UDFAs: Pierre Strong Jr. (4-127), Kevin Harris (6-183)

Post-draft analysis: As was predicted before the draft, the Patriots waited until Day 3 to address their running back position. They did do that by investing not one but two selections: South Dakota State’s Pierre Strong is a lock to make the team based on his fourth-round status, while Kevin Harris offers a bruiser in Round 6 that will compete for a depth role or practice squad spot.

Wide receiver

Pre-draft depth chart (9): Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, N’Keal Harry, Kristian Wilkerson, Tre Nixon, Malcolm Perry, Matthew Slater

Need: High

Pre-draft analysis: 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.

Draft picks/UDFAs: Tyquan Thornton (2-50)

Post-draft analysis: The Patriots were linked to several wide receivers ahead of the draft, and they ended up taking one after a trade-up in Round 2. Tyquan Thornton will serve as a perimeter option and adds some serious speed and big-play ability to an offense lacking just that in 2021. If he can build a quick rapport with Mac Jones and effectively take the top off of opposing defenses, New England’s offense will be a much more difficult on to defend.

Tight end

Pre-draft depth chart (4): Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene

Need: Very low

Pre-draft analysis: 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.

Draft picks/UDFAs: --

Post-draft analysis: As expected, no tight ends were added through the draft and free agency. The Patriots, after all, have one of the deepest position groups in the league — one that still has plenty of room for improvement behind Hunter Henry.

Offensive tackle

Pre-draft depth chart (5): Isaiah Wynn, Trent Brown, Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste, Yasir Durant

Need: High

Pre-draft analysis: 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.

Draft picks/UDFAs: Andrew Stueber (7-245)

Post-draft analysis: The Patriots were in the market for an offensive tackle but waited until the seventh round to take one; and that player might be better suited to move to the interior. While this is no clear indication about New England’s longer-term plans at the position, especially on the left side, it was a noteworthy development.

Interior offensive line

Pre-draft depth chart (6): David Andrews, Michael Onwenu, James Ferentz, William Sherman, Arlington Hambright, Drew Desjarlais

Need: Very high

Pre-draft analysis: 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.

Draft picks/UDFAs: Cole Strange (1-29), Chasen Harris (6-210), Kody Russey (UDFA), Liam Shanahan (UDFA)

Post-draft analysis: One of the top-two needs on the roster heading into the draft was addressed emphatically. The Patriots drafted Chattanooga’s Cole Strange in Round 1, and he is expected to become a Day 1 starter at the vacant left guard spot. Sixth-rounder Chasen Harris and undrafted free agents Kody Russey and Liam Shanahan will be competing for what will be no more than two backup roster spots behind the projected Cole Strange-David Andrews-Michael Onwenu starting trio.

Interior defensive line

Pre-draft depth chart (9): Christian Barmore, Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr., Henry Anderson, Carl Davis, Byron Cowart, Daniel Ekuale, Bill Murray

Need: Moderate

Pre-draft analysis: 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.

Draft picks/UDFAs: Sam Roberts (6-200), LaBryan Ray (UDFA)

Post-draft analysis: New England had a moderate need along its interior defensive line, but waited until Saturday to address it. Given their lack of size, neither Sam Roberts (6-5, 293) nor LaBryan Ray (6-4, 283) will fill the nose tackle position but they will compete for a spot in the rotation alongside roster locks Christian Barmore, Davon Godchaux and Deatrich Wise Jr.

Outside/edge linebacker

Pre-draft depth chart (3): Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Ronnie Perkins

Need: Moderate

Pre-draft analysis: 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.

Draft picks/UDFAs: DaMarcus Mitchell (UDFA)

Post-draft analysis: As noted above, the Patriots were seen as candidates to add to their defensive edge in the draft. However, the only investment made was edge linebacker DaMarcus Mitchell out of Purdue as a rookie free agent. Despite only three primary edge players ahead of him, he faces an uphill climb to make the team.

Off-the-ball linebacker

Pre-draft depth chart (8): Ja’Whaun Bentley, Mack Wilson, Raekwon McMillan, Cameron McGrone, Anfernee Jennings, Jahlani Tavai, Harvey Langi, Terez Hall

Need: High

Pre-draft analysis: 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.

Draft picks/UDFAs: --

Post-draft analysis: The Patriots’ draft was one of many surprises, and one of the biggest was the lack of a linebacker being added at any point. The way the board fell might have played a role in this — the Jacksonville Jaguars, for example, traded up at one point just so they could draft Devin Lloyd before he could reach the Patriots at No. 29 overall — but it appears the current options at the position are also a reason why. After all, it appears New England is quite happy with its off-the-ball linebacker personnel despite its many question marks.

Cornerback

Pre-draft depth chart (8): Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Malcolm Butler, Terrance Mitchell, Joejuan Williams, Myles Bryant, Shaun Wade, Justin Bethel

Need: Very high

Pre-draft analysis: 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.

Draft picks/UDFAs: Marcus Jones (3-85), Jack Jones (4-121)

Post-draft analysis: The Patriots were in a position to draft all three of cornerbacks mentioned above, but decided against it: they traded out of the 21s overall spot, which then was used by the Kansas City Chiefs to draft McDuffie; Elam went to Buffalo two picks later; Booth Jr. was available at No. 29 but New England picked Cole Strange and he eventually went to Minnesota in the early second round. That said, Marcus Jones and Jack Jones were later added and do have starter-level potential: Marcus projects as a speedy slot cornerback, while Jack is one of the better press-man cornerbacks in this year’s class.

Safety

Pre-draft depth chart (6): Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jabrill Peppers, Joshuah Bledsoe, Cody Davis

Need: Low

Pre-draft analysis: 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.

Draft picks/UDFAs: Brenden Schooler (UDFA)

Post-draft analysis: The Patriots did not end up drafting any safety help. Their only pickup came in free agency, with Texas’ Brenden Schooler — who spent a significant portion of his college career playing wide receiver — being added to the mix. However, Schooler projects primarily as a special teams coverage player in the NFL.

Special teams

Pre-draft depth chart (4): Nick Folk, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Quinn Nordin

Need: Very low

Pre-draft analysis: 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.

Draft picks/UDFAs: Jake Julien (UDFA)

Post-draft analysis: The Patriots were rumored to go after a punter late in the draft, but they decided to forgo the position in favor of others. They did, however, end up bringing in Jake Julien to compete with All-Pro Jake Bailey; Bailey is the favorite but might not have as firm a grasp of the job as his NFL success so far might suggest: his $4.1 million salary cap hit is significant.

Poll

How would you grade the Patriots’ 2022 draft class?

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    A
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  • 26%
    B
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  • 35%
    C
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  • 19%
    D
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