With the 2022 NFL Draft later this month, it’s time to start thinking about what the New England Patriots should do with their selections. After doing almost zilch in free agency thus far, the Pats will need another A+ draft to keep pace with where they were last season.
Right now, the team has fallen to third behind the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins in the increasingly competitive AFC East, if we’re to properly analyze those rosters on paper. The Bills and Dolphins have improved in free agency while the Patriots have regressed. They have (to their credit) re-signed Trent Brown … but weakened the offensive line overall. Other than that, even with this week’s signing of Jabrill Peppers, there have been no impact moves.
It’s no fun to be pessimistic this early, but it is what it is. Playoff teams and championships are built in the offseason. Last offseason, the Patriots were uncharacteristically aggressive in free agency (it was terrific), and even after a late-season swoon managed to make the playoffs. This year’s heavy movement will have to be done via the draft, though, due to the team’s limited cap space.
What should the Patriots do with their 2022 NFL Draft picks?
Owner Robert Kraft has again called for a top draft. Yet, even with an ideal one, this team will have a difficult time keeping up with the improved competition around the league.
Nonetheless, the Patriots need to draft three rookies who will be constant contributors in 2022 in order to deem it a success and remain a threat for the AFC East crown. They might be able to do it, too, since last year they added a starting quarterback in Mac Jones in the first round; a starting defensive tackle in Christian Barmore in the second after a trade-up; and then hit another home run in the fourth round with running back Rhamondre Stevenson.
This time around, the Patriots should forget about cornerbacks and linebackers in the first two rounds. The team has failed miserably in drafting those positions in recent years. They have also flopped at drafting wide receivers. Yet, the need is so great and the talent level at the top of the draft is so good there, that even the Patriots should be able to hit pay dirt on a wideout. The absolute top priorities in whatever order presents itself are wide receiver and offensive tackle.
If wide receiver Jameson Williams of Alabama, wide receiver Chris Olave of Ohio State, or offensive tackle Trevor Penning of Northern Iowa is available at No. 21, the Patriots need to draft one of them (though it’s unlikely they’ll be on the board). If they take Penning, they can then shoot for wide receiver John Metchie, Jones’ former Alabama teammate, in the second round.
Conversely, if they take Williams or Olave, they can shoot for another top tackle like Tyler Smith of Tulsa, Nick Petit-Frere of Ohio State, or Daniel Faalele of Minnesota with their second-rounder. Faalele may be a bit of a reach, but he’s massive and would be a great bookend with Brown.
Assuming the Patriots get lucky and draft one of the players cited at pick No. 21, they will have added a starting wide receiver or offensive tackle.
If all three potential first-rounders are off the board, the decision is easy — trade down for more picks. Remaining in the first round is helpful since a first-rounder can be under contract for five years. That’s a huge advantage. In this scenario, it’s probably best to take the best player available at either position and use the next selection on the other. The Patriots have to shore up wide receiver and offensive tackle positions to provide Jones with the necessary weapons to improve.
The team can then switch gears and use its remaining mid-round picks (four and five) to bolster the defense. Players like linebackers Leo Chenal from Wisconsin or Chad Muma from Wyoming would add value at the second level. Though Belichick has largely struggled to draft cornerbacks, he’s much more successful finding talent in the later rounds and in the undrafted market, so we’d rather the Patriots roll the dice there to address the defense in that manner.
Does that plan sound realistic? Let us know what you think in the comments.