The NFL Draft is finally here, and with it comes an exciting opportunity for the Patriots to improve their roster and find building blocks of the future.
After several down years in the draft, the Patriots rebounded the last two years with a handful of hits, including Mac Jones, Christian Barmore, Rhamondre Stevenson, Kyle Dugger, Mike Onwenu, and Josh Uche.
Bill Belichick’s power circle has changed drastically in recent years. Matt Patricia, Matt Groh, and Joe Judge now sit in for Nick Caserio, Dave Ziegler, and Josh McDaniels, and Ernie Adams no longer crunches the data in the background.
Despite the changes, the Patriots need to keep the momentum going in 2022.
“I’m happy that we had a great draft last year and it made up for what happened the previous four years or so, and I look forward to hopefully having a great draft this year,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said a few weeks ago. “It’s the only way you can build your team for long-term and consistently, is having a good draft.”
The Patriots enter the event — to be held Thursday through Saturday night on the Las Vegas Strip — with nine selections; they have one in each round except the sixth, in which they have three. Predicting what they will do is a fool’s errand, because Belichick often goes against conventional wisdom, and also because this draft could break 100 different ways before the Patriots pick at No. 21.
Instead, the Globe’s NFL writers will provide their blueprints for the draft — five moves they want to see the Patriots make throughout the seven rounds.
1. Focus on the perimeter
Some people want the Patriots to take an offensive tackle with the 21st pick. Or a new starting linebacker. Those people are wrong. Today’s NFL is played on the perimeter, and the Patriots have glaring needs at wide receiver and cornerback.
Of the two positions, cornerback is a bigger need after the Patriots lost Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson within the last year. Trading for DeVante Parker can allow them to wait until Pick 54 or 82 to draft a receiver, especially with so many of the NFL’s top receivers coming from the second and third rounds in recent seasons. A slot receiver would be terrific; it’s a position the Patriots are lacking. But any receiver will do.
The Patriots’ history with cornerback and wide receiver at the top of the draft is ugly. It doesn’t matter. They have to keep swinging.
2. Find new linebackers … later in the draft
The Patriots have a spot for at least one new starting-caliber linebacker after not re-signing Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, or Jamie Collins. But lots of terrific linebackers have been found in the Round 3-5 range in recent years. Using a first-round pick on a player who doesn’t score touchdowns, sack the quarterback, or intercept passes feels like a waste.
3. Draft a quarterback
Would love to see them draft a quarterback in the middle or late rounds. Brian Hoyer is entrenched for two more seasons, but Jarrett Stidham should be at the end of the line as he enters the final year of his deal. The Patriots need to find another developmental quarterback to groom, and if his presence makes Jones a little uncomfortable, then all the better.
4. Draft a starting offensive lineman in the middle rounds
They need to find a starting guard after losing Shaq Mason and Ted Karras and adding only Onwenu to the mix. Maybe it’s a player in the draft. Maybe it’s Isaiah Wynn, which would create a void at left tackle. Either way, the Patriots should try to come away with a starting offensive lineman somewhere in Rounds 3-5.
5. Draft another defensive tackle
They spent money on Davon Godchaux and Matt Judon and drafted Barmore last year, but the run defense was still 22nd overall and 25th in yards per carry (4.5). The Patriots need another defensive tackle up front, but please, Bill, don’t take one with the 21st pick.
1. Go defense in Round 1
With dual-threat quarterbacks all over the 2022 schedule, this team needs to get faster on defense, particularly at linebacker. Guys that can read and react rapidly to combat the run-pass options are at a premium. Utah’s Devin Lloyd or Georgia’s Nakobe Dean or Quay Walker are dudes that could fit the bill here.
2. But don’t reach for a corner
There aren’t a ton of NFL-ready cornerbacks in this class, so don’t expand your big board if the guy you like isn’t there at Nos. 21 or 54. This franchise has a track record of finding diamonds in the rough, so take a couple of corners on Day 3 and coach ‘em up.
3. Double dip on receivers
This draft is loaded with talented pass catchers, so load up. Alabama’s John Metchie is a perfect second-round target. He’s a great route runner with soft hands and, more importantly, an excellent rapport with Jones. He also appears to be right on track after his ACL tear. How about Boise State’s Khalil Shakir in the fourth?
4. Run, Patriots, run
No position group takes more of a pounding than running back, so depth here is critical. If Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams or South Dakota State’s Pierre Strong lasts until Day 3, either would be a nifty pickup. Both have underrated quickness to get outside and surprising toughness to pound between the tackles. They’re also very comfortable as pass catchers, which will always be important in New England’s offense.
5. Local boy makes good
With Karras off to Cincinnati, adding Boston College’s Alec Lindstrom as a depth interior lineman seems like good business. Lindstrom has excellent bloodlines (his father was an OL at Boston University and his brother Chris was the Falcons’ first-round pick out of BC in 2017). Alec, who played center at BC, is smart, takes good angles, and plays with a nonstop motor. He could easily make the switch to guard if need be.
1. Draft an “instant impact” cornerback
Cornerback was already considered a thin position for the Patriots when they traded Gilmore last October. Now that Jackson is gone, too, they definitely need to bolster the top of the cornerback depth chart, particularly on the outside. If Washington’s Trent McDuffie is available at No. 21, he’d be an extremely enticing possibility.
2. Take an Alabama receiver
There are two options here: Jameson Williams and Metchie. If the Patriots go with Williams, they’ll have to spend their first-round pick on him. But Metchie likely will be available by the time they make their second choice at No. 54. While New England has already started to upgrade its receiver room by trading for Parker, getting Williams or Metchie would lock in a presumably productive player on a favorable rookie contract.
3. Secure Wynn’s replacement
Wynn is still under contract for 2022 because the Patriots exercised the fifth-year option of his rookie deal last May — a decision they may regret. With Wynn most likely walking via free agency next year, the Patriots may want to think about drafting his replacement at left tackle now. The player also could serve as insurance, given that Wynn has missed time with injuries.
4. Draft a guard
Loading up on offensive linemen is not splashy, but protecting Jones is critical. The Patriots will be without both starting guards from last season, having lost Karras via free agency and Mason via trade. The versatile Onwenu likely will slot in at left guard, but there’s an opening on the right alongside tackle Trent Brown.
5. Make a trade to acquire another Day 2 pick
No team has executed more draft-day trades than the Patriots since Belichick joined the organization in 2000. He got off to an early start this year, exchanging a fifth-round pick for a sixth- and a seventh-rounder from the Texans. Several draft experts have noted the depth among this year’s prospects, which makes finding value on Day 2 an even higher priority.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com. Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @globejimmcbride. Nicole Yang can be reached at email@example.com.Follow her @nicolecyang.