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NFL 2022 mock draft: Patriots try to find their next Dont’a Hightower

Related: Should the Patriots be buyers or sellers at the NFL trade deadline?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 30 Georgia v Florida Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Dont’a Hightower has been a core member of the New England Patriots’ defense ever since his arrival via the first round of the draft in 2012. At 31 and in the final year of his contract, however, his long-term future with the team is in question even if he does return for the 2022 season or beyond.

Accordingly, the Patriots might start looking for their next Dont’a Hightower sooner rather than later. One option to find them? The NFL Draft, and according to a recent mock by Pro Football Focus’ Michael Renner that is exactly what New England will do:

16. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: EDGE ADAM ANDERSON, GEORGIA

New England head coach Bill Belichick loves him some versatile front-seven players. Anderson is a long, 6-foot-5 athlete who can rush the passer and cover at a high level. He can be the heir to Dont’a Hightower in the middle.

While he offers experience to play more than one spot in a defense, Anderson is used primarily as an outside linebacker at Georgia. In this role, he has amassed a team-leading five sacks so far this season to go along with 15 additional quarterback hits and 32 tackles.

Anderson certainly is an interesting target, but the would need to add some bulk in order to succeed in the team’s scheme — one that places a high value on being able to stop the run on the edge. Whether Anderson can successfully do that at the next level remains to be seen, but he offers some intriguing traits.

The question is whether or not he can truly be the heir to Dont’a Hightower as the leader of the Patriots’ front seven. Given his skillset and usage so far, that can be questioned. Sure, Anderson has impressive upside and can turn into a versatile player upon arriving in New England, but it seems more likely that he might replace another member of the team’s linebacker group: Kyle Van Noy.