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NFL 2022 mock draft: Patriots add some much-needed speed to their linebacker group

Related: Mel Kiper Jr. has the Patriots select an Alabama wide receiver in his Mock Draft 1.0

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University of Georgia vs University of Alabama, 2022 CFP National Championship Set Number: X163902 TK1

The New England Patriots’ defense is built around its linebackers and the group performed well for much of the 2021 season. However, it needs an influx of young talent and athleticism — something the playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills made quite clear.

The best way to add players fitting that description is through the draft, and Georgia’s Nakobe Dean is one of the best prospects available. Dane Brugler of The Athletic has him go to the Patriots in his latest mock:

21. New England Patriots — Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia

Generally, Bill Belichick prefers bigger-bodied linebackers, but what Dean lacks in size he more than makes up for with play speed and football smarts. And anyone who watched the Patriots’ playoff loss to the Bills knows they need more of both at linebacker.

The winner of the 2021 Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker, Dean combines an intriguing athletic skillset with a high football IQ and physical edge. Helping Georgia to a national championship earlier this year, he projects to come off the board in the middle of the first round — right where the Patriots are drafting.

Dean is a prototypical modern NFL linebacker. At 6-foot-0, 225 pounds, he is undersized by traditional standards. Herein lies the question from New England’s point of view: the team traditionally prefers bigger off-the-ball players who can attack downhill and plug gaps versus the run. Dean has shown he is able to do that, but his success against NFL-level competition in this area is a question mark.

If the Patriots want to break with tradition and feel comfortable with the experiment, though, Dean might be a good fit.