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NFL 2022 mock draft: Patriots address their need at cornerback in Round 1

Related: Mock draft: Patriots add another Michigan edge rusher in the first round

Florida v LSU Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The New England Patriots secondary faces some questions after the 2021 season. Not only is long-time starting safety Devin McCourty a candidate for retirement, Pro Bowl cornerback J.C. Jackson is headed for unrestricted free agency as well.

Regardless of whether or not Jackson is retained, however, New England might opt to go after a cornerback early in next year’s draft. In the latest mock draft published by USA Today’s Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz, they do just that.

21. Patriots – Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida

If New England is unable or unwilling to retain J.C. Jackson after his star turn, cornerback will be New England’s unquestioned most glaring offseason need. Regardless of how the team handles the impending free agent, Elam offers the dynamic playmaking skills and smothering approach in press coverage that Bill Belichick would relish utilizing.

Jackson’s status will obviously determine how big a need cornerback will be, but the current state of the secondary as a hole might force their hand nonetheless. Besides Jackson, after all, the team has Jalen Mills as its CB2 and Jonathan Jones — fresh off a season-ending shoulder injury — as the top slot option.

They are a solid starting three, but the depth behind them is dubious. Myles Bryant is a solid backup in the slot but offers little on the perimeter, while former second-round pick Joejuan Williams has disappointed. The jury is still out on rookie Shaun Wade, while practice squad members D’Angelo Ross, DeVante Bausby and Cre’Von LeBlanc should be seen as little more than emergency options at this point.

Elam would therefore be a solid addition in the late first round. The 6-foot-2, 193-pound defender offers good size plus a physical edge and good ball skills. He might be a bit limited as far as versatility is concerned — there are questions about his off-man coverage — but he has a good foundation to build on.