The New England Patriots defense was regularly among the league’s best the last few years, but it is in a transformation process. Gone are star cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson, with linebacker Dont’a Hightower still remaining unsigned as a n unrestricted free agent.
There are holes to fill at all three levels, and the draft appears to present the best opportunity to do that — especially after addressing the wide receiver position by acquiring DeVante Parker via trade. It is therefore no surprise to see ESPN analyst Todd McShay go all-defense in his new two-round mock draft.
21. New England Patriots
Nakobe Dean, ILB, Georgia
New England could use a spark in the middle of the defense. Dean might not have the measurables that NFL teams seek — he is 5-foot-11 with shorter arms — but his tape might be my favorite in the entire class because of his incredible effort on every play and the way he can impact the run defense, pass defense and pass rush on any given set of downs. I think he’d be a star in coach Bill Belichick’s system.
Despite the addition of Mack Wilson and Ja’Whaun Bentley getting re-signed, New England would benefit from adding more young talent to their linebacker group. Whether or not Nakobe Dean is the guy the team targets can be questioned, though: his size does not fit what it has traditionally been looking for at the off-the-ball spot.
Obviously, the Bill Belichick-led Patriots have never shied away from zigging when others expect them to zag, but seeing them pass and go for some of the other players available in McShay’s scenario — Boston College OL Zion Johnson, Georgia DT Devonte Wyatt, Clemson CB Andrew Booth Jr., to name a few — or trade back and go for fellow Georgia teammate Quay Walker seems like a more realistic scenario.
54. New England Patriots
Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
J.C. Jackson signed with the Chargers, and the Pats have Jalen Mills and Malcolm Butler penciled in as their starters at cornerback. Adding another playmaker there in the draft — especially one with Elam’s speed, instincts and physicality — gives New England options.
Elam has everything the Patriots want from their cornerbacks: he combines size, speed and a physical edge, and has shown an ability to play press-man coverage on the outside. His injury history is a concern, but if the team feels confident getting Elam in the second round would be a potential slam-dunk investment.
Of course, the Patriots have to hope that second-round cornerback history will not be repeating itself (see: Duke Dawson, Joejuan Williams).