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2021 New England Patriots Mock Draft 1.0

What a difference a few weeks make. After the Pats decided to re-up Cam Newton to a $14M deal (though vast majority of it are based on incentives) New England was on fire. Belichick had to go, Cam had to go, and the Krafts needed to step in.

Then Free Agency happened. The Patriots kicked it off with a trade for a 6’8, 380-pound former-flame in Trent Brown, then they FINALLY addressed the Tight End position TWICE, and proceeded to gobble up every notable free agent out there including bringing back some key veterans in David Andrews, Lawrence Guy, and James White. In the span of a week, the Patriots went from having one of the least-talented rosters in the NFL to being able to field arguably the most complete team in the AFC East. Holes at receiver, defensive line, linebacker, and tight end were filled in an instantly and changed every Patriots mock draft substantially.

Now the Patriots have the luxury of entering the draft with the unique ability to take the top players on the board, not reaching to fill a hole. Does Belichick buck tradition and try to grab his next franchise QB? Does he trade back and try to accumulate more picks to fill the pipeline in future? It’s typically hard to pinpoint what New England might do in a given draft, but even harder when they hold the highest selection they’ve had in 10 years and have a roster that already has 53 players good enough to make the opening day roster.

Looking at most mock drafts, you essentially see two positions being talked about: Quarterback and Linebacker. Why? Because Cam is still the biggest unknown on the team going into 2021 and if Bill doesn’t go with the signal caller on the offense, he’s going to go for one on the defense. There’s certainly reason to believe that Belichick would be inclined to take a linebacker at 15, especially if a guy like Micah Parsons slides due to a run on QBs and WRs (though his 4.39 40 might have just changed that). 

In all honesty, I see defense as the main priority for Bill going into the draft. Their main core of Hightower, McCourty, Gilmore, and Guy are closer to the end of their run in the league or with the team. It would only make sense for New England to address those spots for future seasons. New England took Josh Uche (LB) and Kyle Duggar (S) in last year’s draft to help re-stock those positions. They also signed Davon Godchaux to a 2yr-$15M deal this offseason in the event that Guy was to go elsewhere.

So, the place where New England has the most uncertainty heading into 2022 is at the corner position where only Jonathan Jones and Joejuan Williams are under contract (Williams will be on the last year of his rookie deal at that point).

The New England Patriots own the 15th and 46th picks overall:

Pick #15: CB Jaycee Horn, South Carolina

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If Micah Parsons or Patrick Surtain II fall to this spot then you can slide their names in over this one. However, with Micah going a few picks ahead and Surtain II going right before him, the first pick in our Patriots mock draft projects the team will fill a future need with another Gamecock that has similar measurables to Gilmore.

Taking a corner this high would suggest that New England would have an eye on him to take over the #1 corner role, which in the Patriots defense means that you’ll be on an island and following that receiver all over the field. Therefore, the Patriots tend to look for guys who are big and strong enough to jam receivers at the line, but fluid enough to mirror them across the field on crossers and comebacks. Horn checks off those boxes as he stands at roughly the same height (72.5 inches), same 40 time (4.39), higher vertical (41.5” compared to Gilmore’s 36”), and slightly longer arms (33” to 31”).

He’ll also have the unique ability for a selection so high to not have to come in immediately and make an impact (unless, you know, the Pats trade Gilmore), which will allow him to fine-tune some of the less defined aspects of his game.

Though he’s a terrific athlete and is very sticky in man coverage, his zone skills are far less robust. He often sees the player in his zone too late and rather than making a play to break it up, he’s coming in to make a tackle. The Patriots mainly run man schemes, but they will mix in zones in order to preserve stamina against the better offenses in the league. Therefore, they need someone who excels at man, but is serviceable in a zone scheme.

Horn will take one of the NFL’s deepest secondary and make it nearly bullet-proof. With uncertainty surrounding Gilmore’s immediate future and Jackson only being tendered at a 2nd round level, there is reason to believe that Belichick takes an impact starter in 2022 with his top selection in 2021. 

Let’s look back to the Patriots approach to the 2011 draft, one in which they were in a similar situation. They knew that longtime tackle Matt Light was going to retire after the year and a few of their RBs would need to be replaced (Green-Ellis, Faulk, and Woodhead) due to expiring contracts. That year, with 3 out of their first 4 picks, they drafted players who did not factor into a starting role (though Solder was thrust into one after an injury to RT Sebastian Vollmer). 2021 will be no different, with most of the starting spots already solidified, it seems to me the Patriots are set to stockpile talent to replenish the pipeline in the coming years and our mock draft has them doing just this with corner Jaycee Horn.

Pick #46: LB Dylan Moses, Alabama

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If there is anything that Belichick loves, it’s a high-risk, high-upside player in the second round. Over the years he has succeeded with these gambles: Chung/Vollmer in 2009, Gronk in 2010, Collins in 2013, and Garoppolo in 2014. However, he has had some terrible, rotting, absolutely dreadful stinkers as well: Ron Brace in 2009, Jermaine Cunningham in 2010, Ras-I Dowling Jr in 2011, Jordan Richards in 2015, and Cyrus Jones in 2016. He’s either sending a pitch over the Green Monster and onto Lansdowne St. or he’s spinning himself into the dirt on a swing and a miss. 

I could easily see a guy like Rondale Moore out of Purdue here as well as he’s another high-value pick in the middle of the 2nd round. One that could have an immediate impact on the team with his elite speed (4.29 40) and incredible leaping ability (42.5” vertical). He looks like a Tyreek Hill clone on the football field and would give Cam an elite playmaker with the ball in his hands. However, the Patriots seem set at WR in the immediate to near future with the additions of Agholor/Bourne and the emergence of Jakobi Meyers. Therefore, much like cornerback, linebacker seems like a position the Patriots may look to target early in this draft.

So with the 2nd round pick in our Patriots mock draft, we see them selecting Dylan Moses. Moses is a guy that up until the 2020 season was a highly touted linebacker out of the Factory of Alabama, a pool that Belichick will dive in head-first into. He was undoubtedly slated to be the top linebacker, if not defensive player, coming out in this year’s draft before a torn ACL in 2019 derailed him. He’s even said himself that most of the 2020 was him trying to feel comfortable again, which may help explain his dip in play.

Before that, he was a sideline to sideline play-maker that was equally as effective rushing the passer as he was defending the run as he was dropping into coverage. At 6’3, 240 pounds he has the size that Belichick looks for at the second level. Though he’s not nearly the athletic freak, he would be a comparable linebacker to Jamie Collins, especially as he fills out in the Patriots’ strength program. 

Could his play in 2020 be a precursor of things to come as a NFL player? Sure, in fact it might even be a likely scenario. But, the potential of snatching a 3-down, game-wrecking linebacker is too good to pass up here. Especially, with Hightower turning 31 this year and Ja’Whaun Bentley seeming to regress since a promising rookie campaign. 

With the top two picks in our Patriots mock draft, they start building their future defensive core while adding depth for the present. New England is looking to recapture their 2019 defensive form when they were able to match scheme and talent to create a defense that was suffocating for opposing offenses. And though Belichick has had some rough selections in recent years, he started to turn the page in 2020 with Kyle Duggar and Josh Uche, look for him to build on that with Horn and Moses.

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