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NFL Draft

New England Patriots 2021 NFL Draft Class Breakdown

  • The Draft Network
  • May 7, 2021
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New England Patriots Post-Draft Team Guide

Everyone, meet the new New England Patriots. They’re in many ways the same as the old New England Patriots. But it is the ways in which this year’s Patriots team is different from the past that makes them one of the most fascinating teams in all of football. 

The Patriots found their wallet this year in free agency, handing out an unprecedented amount of money relative to the team’s spending habits in free agency over the last decade. This is a team that is clearly ready to climb back into the thick of the playoff race and, given the Buffalo Bills’ evolution and the emergence of the Miami Dolphins in 2020, the upgrades were much needed. 

Is the revamped effort enough to push the Patriots back into prominence? Let’s take a look back at their 2021 NFL Draft class to see what gaps the team was able to fill via this year’s draft.

Round 1: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

How the Patriots choose to proceed with their offensive attack, specifically in 2021, is going to be fascinating to watch. The incumbent is Cam Newton and the Patriots’ offense featured plenty of QB power and option designs that simply weren’t in the cards when Tom Brady was behind center. Fast forward to the Mac Jones era, whenever that comes, and one can only assume that OC Josh McDaniels is going to tuck that section of the playbook away for a rainy day. But as the Patriots look to rebound and reemerge on the scene as a contender after their first losing season in two decades, are they willing to take packages out of the playbook and push Jones onto the field? Probably not. 

So for a team that’s in “win now” mode and a coach in hot pursuit of the all-time wins record, it is admittedly a bit surprising that Jones was the direction the team took. New England is clearly betting that they can recreate the dynamics of Brady’s offense with Jones based on the quote from former Alabama OC Steve Sarkisian that Jones was given more control of his offense than any quarterback Sarkisian had coached before. But, boy, is that a risky bet to make. 

Jones’ resume flies in the face of many of the most dynamic and successful quarterbacks in the game today and if you’re banking on someone to be the “next” Tom Brady and win in similar fashion despite the evolution of the game? More power to you. But there are more ways that this could go wrong than there are that it goes right. And if it doesn’t go well, McDaniels (and Belichick), may well not be here to see the aftermath. McDaniels has once again picked up steam as a head coach candidate in recent offseasons and Belichick is one of the oldest head coaches in football. 

Round 2: Christian Barmore, IDL, Alabama

New England moved up eight spots in the order and surrendered the rights to two fourth-round draft choices in order to draft Barmore with the No. 38 overall pick in this year’s draft. The decision to draft Barmore is a very “Bill Belichick” move—this was perceived by many to be the top available interior defensive lineman in this year’s draft and the preexisting pipeline to Alabama makes it an obvious fit. 

Barmore’s potential is super enticing and if there’s any coach out there that can get the best version of him, it’s Nick Saban’s good buddy. But at the same time, Saban wasn’t able to get a consistent version of Barmore himself, so Belichick’s work is cut out for him to harness the potential of Barmore as a player. 

The good news? Barmore’s got all the things you can’t coach. And while the Patriots have plenty of depth up front, it is fairly easy to see a third-down role in Barmore’s future early on. Just ask him to go win gaps and penetrate the pocket inside. 

Round 3: Ronnie Perkins, EDGE, Oklahoma

Death. Taxes. The Patriots drafting pass rushers on Day 2. These are the certainties in life. New England has Anfernee Jennings, Josh Uche, Chase Winovich, and now Perkins as recent additions on Day 2. The depth is terrific, but someone is going to have to develop and take a leap to separate themselves from the pack. It won’t likely be Perkins early on; as the Patriots also feature free agent additions like Matt Judon and Henry Anderson up front as well. But Perkins fits the model of a Patriots rusher up front and, in time, figures to at the very least command a rotational role. 

The Patriots’ defense relies on schemed pressures and stunt game to create heat on opposing quarterbacks. Perkins isn’t the most dynamic natural pass rusher, so placing him into this system should help him be a more productive pressure player as he gets weaned into the rotation. 

Round 4: Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, Oklahoma

My comparison here is LeGarrette Blount. Blount played nine years in the league and finished his career with 6,306 rushing yards and 56 rushing scores. Of those nine years, three and a half came in New England and accounted for nearly half his yards (2,917) and 60% of his rushing touchdowns (34). Needless to say, the Patriots found a way to make the most out of Blount’s physical running style and ruthless power. 

Stevenson needs some fine-tuning in order to get him to play to his physical potential, but he’s got all the tools to be a very good power back. He was blessed with a lot of gaping holes at Oklahoma and he didn’t run to his size at times, but if the Patriots can recalibrate his aggressiveness to match his size, this could be a steal. Competing with Damien Harris for snaps (assuming Sony Michel is out of the picture, as he should be) should be the goal for 2021. 

Round 5: Cameron McGrone, LB, Michigan

How do good teams stay good? They find a way to draft good talent on Day 3 that falls for one reason or another. McGrone’s tumble is likely tied to a November ACL injury, but he also didn’t play to his 2019 level in the five games he suited up for in 2020. But as a redshirt sophomore, McGrone has plenty of maturation ahead of him and his natural instinct for the game was on display when he was popping off the screen in 2019. 

Consider him a developmental project, but this was a player TDN’s scouting staff thought was being slept on considerably with his long-term forecast. Unsurprisingly, the Patriots plucked him up and will now look to develop him… because of course they did. That’s how good teams stay good. 

Round 6: Joshuah Bledsoe, S, Missouri

Remember that whole spiel about good teams staying good by finding good talent on Day 3? Yep. Here we are again. Bledsoe at this juncture in the draft is a terrific fit for New England. The Patriots are getting a safety with man-to-man cover skills in the slot and plenty of chatter skills after the whistle—he’s a “pest” in the best way possible. And Bledsoe has notable versatility as a tackler and run defender as well. 

For teams like New England that implement subpackage sets and look to match personnel on a weekly basis, the potential of Bledsoe is significant. Look for him to make his impact as a rookie on special teams, but New England’s secondary appears due for a major makeover in the next 12 months. 

Round 6: William Sherman, OT, Colorado

A redshirt junior out of Colorado, Sherman is a long-tenured starter with the Buffaloes program and plays with the kind of physical style you’d expect from a Patriots’ offensive lineman. He’s a developmental pick who offered ample knockdowns throughout the course of his career—he was credited with 67 in the 2019 season alone. Whether or not he finds a home in New England likely won’t be determined for a few years, and he should be expected to serve as a practice squad player early on unless he blows the team away in camp. 

Round 7: Tre Nixon, WR, UCF

Drafting a wide receiver late is a good idea for a team like the Patriots, who need more depth with their pass-catchers. But it is even a better idea for a team like the Patriots when you consider the team’s hit rate when drafting wide receivers early. 

Nixon is a plus athlete but doesn’t offer a lot of size or strength—perhaps he’ll be given a long-term look to try to help replace Julian Edelman, who rode off into the sunset of retirement this offseason? But if that is the case, he’ll need to play around contact much better than what he illustrated at UCF, where he was predominantly a speed receiver asked to stretch the field. 

How did the Patriots do? 

Everything the Patriots did from the second round on was very “on brand” for Belichick and should offer plenty of excitement. Drafting a quarterback is always an exciting proposition, but the Patriots must navigate the waters of best implementing Jones’ skill set and balance that against trying to win football games with how the team has currently been assembled. One would assume the easy answer is to simply remove Newton’s QB run package from the playbook and fall back onto a 12-personnel, run-heavy attack that asks the quarterback to hit big chunks in play action. That’s how the team is assembled best. 

But ultimately, at the end of the day, the “win now” message does get a little lost on the decision to draft Jones with the No. 15 overall pick. Perhaps Jones picks up the playbook with no problem and the Patriots decide to forego the second year of Newton altogether. And if he does, the excitement around their top pick should be ramped up, no matter what you feel of Jones’ ceiling as a player.

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