Are you excited for the 2022 NFL Draft?
The 2021 NFL season is over and the New England Patriots–after a one year outside the playoffs–returned behind rookie quarterback Mac Jones and a stifling defense. In the playoffs…well, the less said the better. But it was a positive step to return to the postseason after a one year detour in the short Cam Newton era.
Before we go any further, let’s address the 800-lb gorilla in the room–yes, I know that it is way too early for a meaningful mock draft. The combine is still in the near future. Free agency has to take place so teams may have holes via signings versus the draft.
I recognize that a mock draft at this time of the offseason is more than a little early; however, there are plenty of mock drafts being created already around various media. Also, it kicks off the draft coverage and is entertaining. At worst, it introduces some prospect names for the upcoming draft combine and other campus and individual workouts.
New England has a number of potential free agents and could re-sign some key contributors and not have some many offseason needs. That said, even if they re-sign some key free agents, there are numerous positions that need additional depth, an upgrade, and an infusion of speed and athleticism.
For inexpensive speed and athleticism upgrades, there is no better mechanism than the NFL Draft. For offseason optimism, the NFL Draft gives so much hope for so many teams and particularly their fanbases.
Last year, New England hit a grand slam bringing in their franchise quarterback (Mac Jones – first round), a future impact defensive lineman (Christian Barmore – second round) and a starting caliber running back (Rhamondre Stephenson – fourth round). Add in a trio of “redshirt” defensive players (edge Ronnie Perkins, linebacker Cameron McGrone and safety Joshua Bledsoe) and there is still potential for future impact from last season’s draft picks.
As positive as the results were from the draft last season, each year they need to replenish the depth chart with inexpensive impact players. This year is another important season as there is only limited cap room for free agency spending after last season’s bonanza.
The Pro Football Network mock draft simulator was used to create this mock draft.
HIGHEST-PRIORITY TEAM NEEDS (pre-free agency):
Cornerback: J.C. Jackson proved he is a number one cornerback in 2021. Now he is an unrestricted free agent. The cupboard is thin already with Jackson potentially a free agent loss.
Defensive End/EDGE: Matt Judon was probably the best free agent signing this offseason, but the pass rush desperately needs another impact pass rusher. Josh Uche has struggled to stay on the field and Chase Winovich regressed after an impressive start to his career.
Wide Receiver: The Patriots lack a true number one wide receiver. Both Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne are solid in their roles on offense, but neither is an impact player who can pressure a defense. New England desperately needs to supply Mac Jones with a receiver who can make big plays and take the offense to the next level.
MOCK DRAFT 1.0:
1st Round – Pick 21:
Traded to Atlanta for two second-round picks (41st and 58th overall) and a third round pick (74th overall)
Everyone, please channel your inner Bill Belichick. It is time to trade down out of the first round.
The value to move back and accumulate picks was too much to pass up. There were other offers as well–Kansas City offered a first, second and third but the Atlanta picks were more appealing. Green Bay wanted to move up but did not offer enough.
This was a tough spot to land in this draft. The ten to fifteen top-tier players were already off the board. If interested, the top twenty picks went like this in the draft simulation:
- Jacksonville – Evan Neal, OT – Alabama
- Detroit – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE – Oregon
- Houston – George Karlaftis, EDGE – Purdue
- NY Jets – Kyle Hamilton, S – Notre Dame
- Denver – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE – Michigan
- Carolina – Matt Corral, QB – Mississippi
- NY Giants – Charles Cross, OT – Mississippi State
- Atlanta – Andrew Booth Jr., CB – Clemson
- Cleveland – Garrett Wilson, WR – Ohio State
- NY Jets – Derek Stingley Jr., CB – LSU
- Washington – Kenyon Green, OG – Texas A&M
- Minnesota – DeMarvin Leal, DT – Texas A&M
- NY Giants – David Ojabo, EDGE – Michigan
- Baltimore – Ahmad Gardner, CB – Cincinnati
- Philadelphia – Tyler Linderbaum, OC – Iowa
- Philadelphia – Nakobe Dean, LB – Georgia
- LA Chargers – Jordan Davis, DT – Georgia
- New Orleans – Chris Olave, WR – Ohio State
- Philadelphia – Kaiir Elam, CB – Florida
- Pittsburgh – Drake London, WR – USC
The Patriots just missed out on linebacker Nakobe Dean but Devin Lloyd was still on the board. Wide receivers Drake London and Chris Olave were recently picked but Jameson Williams and Treylon Burks were still available. In the secondary, Kaiir Elam–another top target–was off the board but safety Daxton Hill was still available.
In the end, there was just too much value in a trade down. If London, Olave, Elam, Dean or Ahmad Gardner were available, it would be an easy decision to stay at 21st overall and make the pick. In this draft simulation, there was no reach for a quarterback between picks 11 and 20, which will likely change on draft night–plan on at least two more quarterbacks will go before New England is on the board.
Accumulating mid-round picks in this draft where there is a lack of premier players but a big middle-class of good and very good players makes too much sense. There are potentially big needs at linebacker, cornerback, free safety, wide receiver and on the offensive line. With just five draft picks, accumulating a couple more rolls of the dice is the correct move here.
FYI, Atlanta traded up to grab injured Alabama wide receiver, Jameson Williams. Hopefully that means that they have already traded Calvin Ridley to the Patriots before the draft.
2nd Round – 43rd overall
Daxton Hill, S – Michigan
New England is finally back on the board on day two, but there is more trade intrigue. Dallas offered an intriguing trade down offering their second and third round picks to move up. No dice.
There was one huge reason to stay at 43rd overall: Daxton Hill. Hill was a serious consideration to stay at 21st overall and make the pick and somehow, inexplicably, he is available at 43rd overall in this mock draft. I would not count on that kind of good fortune when the draft goes forward for real.
Hill is an athletic and fast free safety/slot cornerback who can eventually replace Devin McCourty for the next decade. He is six-foot and 192 lbs and able to play all over the secondary and play man and zone. This type of defender has to have Bill Belichick excited thinking about possible ways to utilize him on defense.
2nd Round – 54th overall
Jalen Tolbert, WR – South Alabama
Another round of trade offers quickly dismissed. Tampa Bay and the Rams both offered 2023 picks to move up in the second round. The Patriots finally address the elephant in the room–the wide receiver position.
Tolbert is not going to be a day one starter. He is a developmental prospect coming from a smaller school. However, he has NFL size (six-foot-three and 195 lbs) and deep speed and leaping ability.
He had some issues with drops and needs to be coached up to be more precise in his route-running, but Tolbert has all the ability to be the number one, big play receiver the Patriots desperately need in the future.
2nd Round – 58th overall
Roger McCreary, CB – Auburn
Whether the Patriots bring back cornerback J.C. Jackson or not is unknown right now. Could Bill Belichick work out a long-term deal? Is the franchise tag an option? All of that is currently unknown.
Either way, the depth at cornerback was exposed last season with the trade of Stephon Gilmore and injury to Jonathan Jones and Jalen Mills banged-up at the end of the season. Myles Bryant is a solid contributor but may not be the answer as a starting cornerback in 2022.
McCreary is a perfect fit in the New England cornerback mold. He has adequate size (five-foot-eleven and 190 lbs) and adequate speed. He is aggressive and a willing tackler. His calling card is his ball skills as he is excellent at making a play on the ball while it is in the air.
He needs some refinement and coaching-up in his game, but coming out of the SEC against top-end talent he already has a solid base. Again, not an instant starter but someone who could carve out a starting role in the secondary by the end of his rookie season.
NFL DRAFT: NFL Draft Profile: Linebacker Nakobe Dean
NFL DRAFT: 2022 NFL Draft Profile: DE Aidan Hutchinson
3rd round – 74th overall
Quay Walker, LB – Georgia
Safety, wide receiver, cornerback: check, check, check. Next up is linebacker.
Whether Bentley, Hightower, or Collins return, there is a need for more athleticism and impact from the linebackers. Georgia has a ton of talented players from both sides of the ball coming into the NFL and Walker may be the best fit for the Bill Belichick defense.
Walker is no Nakobe Dean, but he is no slouch either. Walker was an elder statesman on defense, highly intelligent and NFL size (six-foot-four and 240 lbs) and athleticism. He fits as a 3-4 inside linebacker and is solid against the run and in coverage. He is the kind of player that Bill Belichick will know how to utilize from day one.
3rd round – 85th overall:
Daniel Faalele, OT – Minnesota
Whether or not right tackle Trent Brown re-signs in New England is another question that should be answered by the draft. However, with questions whether Michael Onwenu ends up at tackle or guard long-term and whether oft-injured Isaiah Wynn ends up as the answer at left tackle indicates that offensive tackle is still a need.
Australian native Faalele is mammoth and is a potential immovable object in the Nate Solder/Trent Brown mold. At six-foot-eight and 387 lbs, he has all the size necessary to play on the right side replacing or behind Brown. Having only played football for a few years, he is a lump of clay who can be molded into a starter in 2023 or 2024.
4th Round – 126th overall:
Traded to Chicago for two fifth-round picks (148th and 150th overall).
The allure of trading down struck again. The Bears wanted to move up, and the value of having three picks in the fifth round to add more depth was impossible to pass up. Chicago ended up drafting Ohio State defensive tackle Haskell Garrett at 126th overall.
5th Round – 148th overall:
Smoke Monday, S – Auburn
5th Round – 150th overall:
Troy Andersen, LB – Montana State
5th Round – 175th overall:
Cam Taylor-Britt, CB – Nebraska
The defense continues to get much-needed attention in the fifth round. Staying in the Auburn secondary, Monday is a run-stuffer at safety who will be able to provide depth behind Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips. He should also be a solid special-teams contributor.
Linebacker Troy Andersen is a small-school linebacker with solid pass defending skills and has explosiveness in the open field to close and make plays. His game needs refinement to be sure, but a developmental linebacker with the potential to contribute on passing downs in the nickel defense initially and a three-down defender in the future is worth the pick.
Back to the secondary again as Taylor-Britt adds another layer of size and big hitting ability to the cornerback room. He has good size and ball-skills but is not the fastest pure speed cornerback. He needs to improve his route anticipation and tackling fundamentals. He has all the tools but needs the coaching to put it all together.
6th Round – 209th overall:
Neil Farrell Jr., DT – LSU
Athleticism is needed on offense and defense for sure, but like with Faalele on the offensive line, sometimes size is necessary in the trenches. Farrell should fill that role as his NFL size is perfect for the nose tackle role in the New England 3-4 defense.
Farrell is six-foot-four and 325 lbs with the combination of length and strength needed to play the two-gap role in the middle of the defensive line. Farrell lacks great pass rushing moves and needs to clean-up his fundamentals. However, with the right coaching he should grow into an early down contributor in the near future.
7th round – No picks
The trade bug struck again. I was not content to sit out the seventh round once one of my favorite small school prospects was still sitting there. Rather than risk the unlikely chance of him going undrafted and getting in a bidding war, the decision was made to aggressively trade back into the draft.
Traded own 2023 6th round pick (also have Carolina’s sixth round pick in 2023) to Minnesota for the 236th overall pick in the 7th round.
7th Round – 236th overall:
Jaivon Heiligh, WR – Coastal Carolina
I could not help myself. I simply had to trade up into the draft and sacrifice a pick in 2023 to get another shot at drafting small school wide receiver Jaivon Heiligh. I somehow passed on Heiligh in the 6th round to add another big body to the defense. However, as he remained available pick-after-pick, the move had to be made.
Heiligh is from small school Coastal Carolina in the Sun Belt Conference. He is six-foot and 200 lbs and athletic. He has the size and speed to be a consistent contributor in the future. He could be stronger and more refined in his route running. However, in the future, he could slot in to replace Kendrick Bourne in 2024.
A trio of trades turned five picks into ten picks:
1 offensive lineman
1 defensive lineman
No edge rushers, specialists, tight ends, running backs, or quarterbacks.
- Daxton Hill
S – Michigan
- Jalen Tolbert
WR – South Alabama
- Roger McCreary
CB – Auburn
- Quay Walker
LB – Georgia
- Daniel Faalele
OT – Minnesota
- Smoke Monday
S – Auburn
- Troy Andersen
LB – Montana State
- Cam Taylor-Britt
CB – Nebraska
- Neil Farrell Jr.
DT – LSU
- Jaivon Heiligh
WR – Coastal Carolina
–Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots & the NFL. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01
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