Predicting the New England Patriots 2021 NFL Draft picks

By Brendan Beauregard, Assistant Sports Editor

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There’s no clear idea of what the New England Patriots will do during the 2021 NFL Draft, which starts with the first of seven rounds on Thursday. 

On one hand, New England could trade its way into the top 10 to better its odds of drafting a top quarterback prospect and fill a need under center. On the other hand, the Patriots could stand pat and utilize the 15th pick to infuse talent in other areas or, in true Bill Belichick fashion, trade down for more picks.

Thanks to Pro Football Focus’ NFL mock draft simulator, I can pretend to be in Belichick’s sleeveless hoodie and call the shots. But I do wonder how best to go about this draft. Should I follow the aggressive mindset New England wielded during free agency—when the team doled out more than $200 million—and trade up, or do I stay the true Belichickian course and look to acquire later picks while trading down? 

Ultimately, I decided we’ll have the Patriots stay in attack mode. So, to quote Michael Keaton from the 1989 film Batman, “Let’s get nuts.”

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STEP ONE: TRADE UP FOR A QB OF THE FUTURE

Trade the Patriots’ 2022 first-round pick, 2021 second-round pick (No. 46 overall), and one of their 2021 fourth-round picks (No. 122 overall) to the Detroit Lions for the seventh-overall pick.

THE PICK AT NO. 7: Trey Lance, Quarterback, North Dakota State University

I couldn’t believe this trade actually went through when I sent it, but here we are. A quarterback should be considered a must-have for New England, especially after how hot and cold Cam Newton was as the starting quarterback in 2020.

Given the high unlikelihood of drafting this year’s quarterback prospects—Clemson University’s Trevor Lawrence, Brigham Young University’s Zack Wilson, and Ohio State University’s Justin Fields—I set New England’s sights on Lance.

The sophomore quarterback from North Dakota State has the potential to be a solid dual-threat starter in the NFL. While Lance didn’t play an actual 2020 season due to the impact of COVID-19, his 2019 stat line is eye-catching. 

Lance recorded 28 passing touchdowns, zero interceptions, 1,100 rushing yards, and 14 rushing touchdowns, according to Sports-Reference. Talk about earning some orange slices with those numbers.

Sure, there are the counterpoints that Lance hasn’t played live football in over a year and he also played in the Football Championship Subdivision. However, drafting Lance helps begin the next era of Patriots football. Let him sit and learn from Belichick and possibly Newton for a season. Then, it’s all aboard the Lance train heading to Foxborough come 2022.

STEP TWO: TRADE DOWN TO REFILL DRAFT TREASURE CHEST, ADD MORE FUTURE PIECES

Trade Patriots’ No. 15 overall pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for Pittsburgh’s No. 24 overall pick, second-round pick (No. 55 overall), and third-round pick (No. 87 overall).

THE PICKS: 

No. 24: University of Tulsa Linebacker Zaven Collins 

No. 55: Ole Miss Wide Receiver Elijah Moore 

No. 87: University of Oregon Cornerback Thomas Graham Jr.

The Steelers wanted to move up from pick No. 24 to No. 15. I set a high price and Pittsburgh obliged, giving me three picks. Enter the next hopeful contributors of Patriots football.

Collins has the look and playstyle of a Patriots linebacker. The 6’4”, 260 lbs Tulsa prospect recorded 54 tackles, four sacks, and four interceptions in 2020, per Sports-Reference. As top Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower becomes a free agent after the 2021 season, Collins could plug into Hightower’s role on defense if he leaves New England.

Selecting Moore would continue the trend of new Patriots wide receivers for 2021. Moore snagged 86 catches for 1,193 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in 2020, according to Sports-Reference. Additionally, the Ole Miss wide receiver ran a blazing 4.35-second 40-yard dash at his pro day according to CBS Sports. A jolt of speed is something the New England receiving corps needs. 

Graham is a good contingency plan to have in place, given the unknown future of New England’s secondary. Star cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and J.C Jackson will both be free agents after the 2021 season, so drafting Graham Jr. could provide secondary depth if either one or both of those guys depart.

Though Graham Jr. opted out of playing in 2020, his three-year stint at Oregon showed steady production. The former Oregon Duck averaged 47 tackles and over two interceptions per season, according to Sports-Reference.

Collins, Moore, and Graham Jr could bring good upside to New England alongside Lance from this draft. However, we need to keep in mind 2022 too.

STEP THREE: PLAN FOR 2022

Trade Patriots’ third-round pick (No. 96 overall) to the Indianapolis Colts for its fourth-round pick (No. 127 overall) and 2022 third-round pick. 

Trade Patriots’ fourth-round pick (No. 120 overall) to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for its 2022 second-round pick. 

Trade Patriots’ sixth-round pick (No. 197 overall) to the Baltimore Ravens for its 2022 third-round pick.

Right after I traded the Patriots’ 2022 first-round pick to Detroit, I knew I had to think long-term and acquire quality future picks for the 2022 draft. Thankfully, the Buccaneers, Ravens, and Colts were willing trade partners. 

All three teams wanted to make a jump to draft someone.  It was unlikely I would get a return first-round pick, so I set the price at a second- or third-round pick given the large leap these teams wanted to pull.

In a way, it’s a page out of Belichick’s book in creating stability for the future. Trading away a first-round pick can really sting a team, so having multiple picks in the coming rounds serves as a good backup.

Could Belichick and the Patriots make all these moves come draft time? Possibly. Could they do the exact opposite of all this and pick some random guy that no one had on their radar? That could be more likely.

Either way, New England has the potential to light some draft fireworks—regardless if the brain trust in Foxboro follows my A+ mock draft grade or not. *Look below*