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NFL DRAFT

2021 NFL Draft: 41 top prospects at key positions of need for the Patriots

Jaylen Waddle's speed and versatility make him an intriguing prospect.
Jaylen Waddle's speed and versatility make him an intriguing prospect.Butch Dill/Associated Press

With the No. 15 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Patriots could make a big splash by adding a dynamic playmaker.

While fans may be eager to see Bill Belichick choose the quarterback of the future, he’s never drafted one in the first round.

So, it’s time to familiarize yourself with the top prospects at other positions of need for the Patriots. Meet 35 other prospects who could hear their names called in early rounds of this year’s draft.

Read more about the draft:

Your guide to the 2021 NFL Draft: How to watch, what to know, and more

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Here are players with local ties who could be selected in the NFL Draft

The 15 best Patriots draft picks of the Bill Belichick era

The 15 worst Patriots draft picks of the Bill Belichick era

WIDE RECEIVERS

DeVonta Smith
DeVonta SmithChris O'Meara/Associated Press

DeVonta Smith

School: Alabama, Height: 6-1, Weight: 170, 40 time: none, projected round: 1

Smith has the statistics to back up his potential, but his size has some concerned about his ability to compete at the next level. As the winner of the Heisman Trophy, Smith has acknowledged the lofty expectations set for him and sounds confident that he’s equipped to meet them.

Read more: Among receivers in NFL draft, there’s just one small question about Heisman winner DeVonta Smith

Jaylen Waddle

Alabama, 5-10, 182, none, 1

Waddle’s speed and versatility make him an intriguing prospect. He’s most definitely a deep threat, with an average of 18.9 yards per reception over his three-year college career, and can also have an impact as a return specialist.

Ja’Marr Chase

LSU, 6-0, 201, 4.38, 1

Chase, who opted out of the 2020 season, put together an impressive 2019 campaign with 84 receptions for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns en route to a national championship. He has the potential to reunite with quarterback Joe Burrow because the Bengals have the fifth overall pick.

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Kadarius Toney

Florida, 5-11, 193, 4.39, 1-2

After three underwhelming, unproductive seasons to start his college career, Toney emerged on the scene last year with 70 catches for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns. His shake-and-bake style and ability to change direction forced 20 missed tackles last season. He also rushed for 161 yards on 19 carries.

Elijah Moore

Ole Miss, 5-9, 178, 4.35, 2

Moore posted an impressive time in the three-cone drill — 6.66 seconds — the fastest among the top receivers. He’s undersized, even for the slot, but his testing demonstrates his explosiveness and speed. As a junior, he finished last season with 86 catches for 1,193 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Rashod Bateman

Minnesota, 6-0, 190, 4.39, 2

Bateman’s bout with COVID-19 plagued his 2020 season. The 21-year-old junior, who has asthma, experienced body aches as well as the lingering effects of the virus. He appeared in five games before opting out.

Rondale Moore

Purdue, 5-7, 180, 4.29, 2-3

Moore crushed his pro day with a speedy 40-yard dash time and a ridiculous vertical jump of 42.5 inches. As a freshman, he put together a monster year with an FBS-best 114 receptions for 1,258 yards. Hamstring injuries have sidelined him for much of the past two seasons.

Best of the rest: Terrace Marshall Jr., LSU; Amari Rodgers, Clemson; Dyami Brown, North Carolina; Amon-Ra St. Brown, Southern Cal; D’Wayne Eskridge, Western Michigan; Nico Collins, Michigan.

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TIGHT ENDS

Pat Freiermuth
Pat FreiermuthRoger Steinman/Associated Press

Kyle Pitts

Florida, 6-5, 245, 4.40, 1

Pitts has the potential to be the first non-quarterback selected this year, and if not, he certainly will be picked in the top 10. He boasts impressive speed for his size, often running routes like a wide receiver. Last season, he caught 43 passes for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns. He placed 10th in the Heisman Trophy voting, making him the first tight end to finish in the top 10 in 43 years.

Pat Freiermuth

Penn State, 6-5, 251, no time, 2

Some have dubbed Freiermuth “Baby Gronk,” but the Massachusetts native isn’t a fan of the nickname. Like former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, though, Freiermuth boasts great size and isn’t afraid to fight for a tough catch. A shoulder injury cut his junior season short, but he’s expected to be a versatile and reliable addition to any team.

Read more: Newburyport native and Penn State star Pat Freiermuth could be the second tight end picked

Hunter Long

Boston College, 6-5, 254, 4.71, 3-4

Long is a complete tight end, able to block and contribute in the passing game. He led the nation with 57 receptions last season, good for 685 yards and five touchdowns. BC coach Jeff Hafley has lauded Long for his well-rounded game and impressive football IQ. In his spare time, Long likes to build computers.

Brevin Jordan

Miami, 6-2, 247, 4.66, 3-4

Jordan posted consistent numbers in each of his three college seasons. Last year, he caught 38 passes for 576 yards and 7 touchdowns. He’s known for his ability to break tackles and gain yards after the catch.

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Tommy Tremble

Notre Dame, 6-3, 241, 4.65, 3-4

Tremble developed as a physical, blocking tight end who also got some reps in a fullback role. He has more potential as a receiver than his stats may indicate. In 10 games as a junior last season, he recorded just 19 catches for 218 yards and no touchdowns.

LINEBACKERS

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah tackles Alabama receiver Slade Bolden in the CFP semifinal.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah tackles Alabama receiver Slade Bolden in the CFP semifinal.Ronald Martinez/Getty

Micah Parsons

Penn State, 6-3, 240, 4.39, 1

A fast, fluid, and furious tackling machine, he can play multiple roles in the front seven. Excelled as a stack-and-shed run defender as well as an explosive blitzer and pass rusher. As a bonus, he can drop into coverage and take on tight ends over the middle.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

Notre Dame, 6-1, 221, NA, 1

If this positionless dynamo falls into the right defensive coordinator’s lap, he will be an All-Pro in short order. An explosive player with solid muscle and long arms, he can slot into any number of spots, including slot corner, where his top-notch closing speed can be utilized.

Read more: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will be an NFL draft prize who can do it all on defense

Zaven Collins

Tulsa, 6-4, 260, 4.67, 1

A gap-shooting, heat-seeking missile, he collected 29 tackles for losses in three college seasons. Has the strength and size to beat interior offensive linemen and find the ball, and also the quickness to get around tackles, pressure the pocket, and disrupt a quarterback’s timing.

Dylan Moses

Alabama, 6-3, 240, 4.46, 1-2

Stunning to find an Alabama guy on this list, huh? An explosive and violent hitter, Moses was a key cog on Tide defenses that won a pair of national titles. Missed 2019 with an ACL injury, but bounced back nicely in 2020. A very smart player, he’s at his best when attacking downhill.

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Nick Bolton

Missouri, 6-0, 232, 4.59, 1-2

A physical, old-school run stuffer with excellent vision and lateral movement, Bolton is always around the ball. His quick-twitch athleticism and jolting hits more than make up for his comparative lack of length. Could develop into a coverage player with the right coaching.

Azeez Ojulari

Georgia, 6-3, 240, 4.60, 1-2

Possessing one of the most explosive first steps in this class (think Dwight Freeney), Ojulari was a Freddy Krueger-like nightmare for offensive tackles and quarterbacks. He totaled 14 sacks and 34 QB hits during his time in Athens. Will start as a third-down, pass-rushing specialist but may blossom into a three-down player.

Best of the rest: Joseph Ossai, Texas (6-3, 255); Joe Tryon, Washington (6-4, 265); Chazz Surratt, North Carolina (6-2, 225); Baron Browning, Ohio State (6-3, 240); Jabril Cox, LSU (6-4, 231).

DEFENSIVE LINE

Tyler Shelvin lays out to tackle Ole Miss receiver Elijah Moore during a November 2019 game.
Tyler Shelvin lays out to tackle Ole Miss receiver Elijah Moore during a November 2019 game.Thomas Graning/Associated Press

Tyler Shelvin

LSU, 6-2, 350, 5.41, 1-2

A potential steal, partially due to questions over if he can maintain a playing weight of 350. (He ballooned to 380 when he missed games in Baton Rouge in 2018.) Opted out of 2020 season due to COVID. Read more here.

Christian Barmore

Alabama, 6-5, 310, 4.93, 1

Massive tackle shook off a preseason knee injury and put together a terrific campaign. He’s way more explosive than a man his size has a right to be, shooting gaps and consistently pressuring the pocket and/or getting his hands up to disrupt passing lanes.

Daviyon Nixon

Iowa, 6-2, 305, 4.90, 1-2

JUCO transfer tackle enjoyed a breakout season, earning Big Ten defensive player of the year honors. Has a nonstop motor and plays through the whistle. Can disrupt the pocket but also will chase down backs with relentless pursuit.

Kwity Paye

Michigan, 6-3, 275, 4.54, 1

The best defensive end of a nice class, the pride of Bishop Hendricken possesses an ideal combination of length, power, and athleticism. A twitchy fella, he gets on quarterbacks in a hurry, but also has the strength the set the edge in the run game.

Gregory Rousseau

Miami, 6-7, 266, 4.68, 1-2

Fresh off a dominant 2019 season (15½ sacks), Rousseau opted out of the 2020 campaign. The end has outstanding size (with that 83-inch wingspan, he’d block a lot of shots in the NBA) and athleticism (he was a wide receiver and safety in high school), and with some seasoning could be a Pro Bowler in short order.

Jaelan Phillips

Miami, 6-5, 260, 4.56, 1-2

Another storm force off the edge for the Hurricanes, Phillips blossomed in 2020, collecting 45 tackles and eight sacks. The UCLA transfer has been soaring up big boards after running a blazing 40 at his pro day. Had a litany of injuries (wrist, lower body, concussions) in college but appears to be healthy.

Jayson Oweh

Penn State, 6-5, 260, 4.36, 1-2

Another explosive edge player, he posted an absurd (boarding on illegal!) 40 time at his pro day. He can overwhelm offensive tackles with his speed and became a more well-rounded defender in 2020 after struggling vs. the run early in his career. Could be a Jevon Kearse-like freaky pass rusher.

Best of the rest: Jaylen Twyman (DT), Pitt, (6-2, 295); Levi Onwuzurike (DT), Washington (6-3, 295); Marlon Tuipulotu (DT), Southern Cal (6-2, 305); Tyler Shelvin (DT), LSU (6-2, 350); Carlos Basham (DE), Wake Forest (6-5, 270); Rashad Weaver (DE), Pittsburgh (6-4, 265); Ronnie Perkins (DE), Oklahoma (6-3, 250); Dayo Odeyingbo (DE), Vanderbilt (6-6, 275); Adetokunbo Ogundeji (DE), Notre Dame (6-4, 260).

OFFENSIVE LINE

Rashawn Slater's dad played in the NBA.
Rashawn Slater's dad played in the NBA.Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

Penei Sewel

Oregon, 6-5, 331, 5.09, 1

Perhaps the most pro-ready player in the entire class, he has all the traits (size, athleticism, smarts, and hand punch) to make him a franchise left tackle for the next dozen years. Has the strength to pancake pass rushers and the speed to scramble second-level defenders.

Rashawn Slater

Northwestern, 6-4, 304, 4.88, 1

Comes from athletic bloodlines (father, Reggie, was an NBAer) and despite opting out of 2020, should step in and immediately contribute. Played right and left tackle but could seamlessly kick inside to guard and/or center. Manhandled Ohio State’s Chase Young in 2019 matchup.

Read more: Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater has made a powerful impression

Trey Smith

Tennessee, 6-5, 321, 5.14, 2

A converted tackle, Smith was moved to guard and absolutely dominated with his size and strength. He’s a good old-fashioned smashmouth brawler who never fails to finish off a defender. Missed part of his sophomore season with blood clots in his lungs.

Alijah Vera-Tucker

Southern Cal, 6-4, 301, 5.10, 2

Another player with versatility at both tackle and guard, though he projects to play inside as a pro. He’s a technically sound dude who won’t be fooled by stunts and delayed blitzers. Does a nice job stacking, shedding, and getting his hands on linebackers.

Quinn Meinerz

Wis.-Whitewater, 6-3, 320, 4.99, 2

The absolute star of Senior Bowl week, where his quickness, strength, and toughness (he broke his hand in the first practice and still participated the rest of the week) elevated him to the top center in the class. He wears his hair long and his shirts short; yes, his mullet and belly were on full display in Mobile. Will become an immediate fan favorite in any market.

Best of the rest: Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech (T), 6-5, 315 pounds; Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame (T), 6-6, 300; Alex Leatherwood, Alabama (T), 6-7, 305; Wyatt Davis, Ohio State (G), 6-4, 315; Deonte Brown, Alabama (G), 6-4, 350; Aaron Banks, Notre Dame (G), 6-5, 330; Kayode Awosika, Buffalo (G), 6-5, 310; Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma (C), 6-4, 325; Josh Myers, Ohio State (C), 6-5, 310; Trey Hill, Georgia (C), 6-4, 330.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Caleb Farley
Caleb FarleyJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

Jaycee Horn

South Carolina, 6-0, 205, 4.39, 1

The son of former NFL receiver Joe Horn is a physically imposing cornerback who will jolt receivers at the line and bully them throughout their routes. He’s an extremely smooth player with excellent ball skills (23 passes defensed in 30 games) and closing speed. Played in the always-tough SEC.

Patrick Surtain II

Alabama, 6-1, 202, 4.42, 1

The son of former NFL cornerback Patrick, he has an excellent blend of instincts and athleticism. His anticipation is elite and he specializes in getting his hands on the ball and will fight through the whistle to prevent completions (think Malcolm Butler). Consistently shined against top competition.

Caleb Farley

Virginia Tech, 6-2, 207, N/A, 1

If not for his medicals (torn ACL, two back surgeries), he would not only be the No. 1 cornerback in the class but the No. 1 defender overall. He appears on track to be ready for camp in July. His size and speed are outstanding, and future opponents will not enjoy visiting Farley Island.

Read more: Teams would be wise to remember Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley

Richie Grant

Central Florida, 6-0, 200, 4.53, 2

A nonstop-motoring ballhawk safety, Grant has excellent instincts and anticipation. This guy is always around the ball and created 15 turnovers (10 picks, 5 forced fumbles) in his four seasons. Will fit better as a free safety but is a willing tackler who could slide toward the box for run support.

Jevon Holland

Oregon, 6-0, 207, 4.46, 2

A nickel corner/safety hybrid, Holland has terrific ball skills: 9 interceptions, 10 passes defensed in 27 games. A smart player who quarterbacked the Ducks’ secondary, he was rarely out of position, and his tackling chops (108 in 27 games) are unquestioned.

Best of the rest: Tyson Campbell, Georgia (CB), 6-2, 185 pounds; Asante Samuel Jr., Florida State (CB), 5-10, 185; Aaron Robinson, Central Florida (CB), 6-1, 190; Eric Stokes, Georgia (CB), 6-1, 190; Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse (CB), 6-3, 215; Trevon Moehrig, Texas Christian (S), 6-1, 210; Talanoa Hufanga, Southern Cal (S), 6-1, 210; Hamsah Nasirildeen, Florida State (S), 6-3, 215; Tyree Gillespie, Missouri (S), 6-0, 200; Jamien Sherwood, Auburn (S), 6-1, 204.

RUNNING BACKS

Travis Etienne.
Travis Etienne.Brian Blanco/Associated Press

Travis Etienne

Clemson, 5-10, 215, 4.41, 1

The two-time ACC Player of the Year set the conference record with 4,952 career rushing yards, and also improved in the passing game, as his reception totals went up in each of his four seasons. Could use some improvement in pass-blocking as the last line of protection for his quarterback.

Najee Harris

Alabama, 6-1, 232, 4.50, 1-2

After splitting time as a sophomore in 2018 with Patriots running back Damien Harris, Najee rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons, winning the Doak Walker Award as best running back in the nation in 2020. Projected as a three-down back after he improved as a receiver in his senior year and blocked well in pass protection.

Javonte Williams

North Carolina, 5-10, 212, 4.55, 2

He showed power and quickness this past season, rushing for 1,1140 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also has drawn praise in the passing game with his ability to run routes and find the soft spots in defenses, catching 23 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns. Turned 21 on April 25.

Michael Carter

North Carolina, 5-8, 201, 4.50, 3

Playing in the same backfield as Williams, Carter posted consecutive 1,000-yard seasons for the Tar Heels. He’s not as big as some of the other top running backs, and is considered to be a complementary piece. His ability to catch passes and willingness to protect the quarterback make him an asset in the passing game.

Trey Sermon

Ohio State, 6-0, 215, 4.57, 3-4

Sermon played this past season for the Buckeyes after spending the previous three years at Oklahoma. He came on strong at the end of the season, rushing for 331 yards in the Big Ten title game against Northwestern, then ran for 193 yards against Clemson. A shoulder injury in the national championship game kept him out of the Senior Bowl.

Best of the rest: Rhamondre Stevenson, Oklahoma, (6-0, 231); Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis, (5-8, 201); Demetric Felton, UCLA (5-9, 189); Jermar Jefferson, Oregon State, (5-10, 206); Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State (6-0, 210); Larry Rountree III, Missouri (5-11, 211); Chris Evans, Michigan, (5-11, 211); Khalil Herbert, Virginia Tech (5-9, 210); Elijah Mitchell, Louisiana, (5-10, 201); Jaret Patterson, Buffalo, (5-7, 195).


Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com. Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride. Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.