Mac Jones offers New England a bright future, but they have work to do to keep pace in a stacked AFC. Let’s look at the Patriots’ 2022 NFL Mock Draft.

The Patriots are coming off a relatively successful 2021 season that saw them reach the playoffs. Mac Jones shone as a rookie, outperforming the four quarterbacks taken before him in last year’s draft. But with elite signal callers across the AFC, the Patriots have some holes to fill before they can consider themselves Super Bowl contenders again. This mock draft was conducted using PFF’s Mock Draft Simulator.

R1/21st pick: LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia

Arguably the Patriots’ biggest need, they address the inside linebacker position with Dean. Many experts believe the first-team AP All-American is a top-10 player in this draft. His athleticism makes him a three-down guy off the bat, and should help make his transition to the pro game seamless. Dean earned a PFF grade of 91.7 last year, making him the highest-graded linebacker in the country. On a National Championship winning team with a star-studded defense, Dean may have been the best player on that entire unit.

Dean’s size is the only thing stopping him from being selected in the top 10. At 5’11”, 225 pounds, he doesn’t have that prototypical linebacker frame. He also lacks the elite instincts a lot of undersized guys tend to have. And who knows, maybe that star-laden Dawgs defense made each individual look even better than they actually are. Bottomline though, you have to nitpick to find things not to like about Dean outside of his size. Just watch his highlights. He’ll be an instant starter in New England.

R2/54th pick: EDGE Drake Jackson, USC

Drake Jackson was a potential first-round pick who’s dropped significantly since his season ended early due to injury. But this guy has tons of potential and seems to be developing quickly. Just look at the change in his PFF pass-rush grade between his sophomore and junior seasons. As a sophomore, his 66.7 grade was average. But that jumped more than 20 points in 2021 to 87.7. He’s got the size and the speed that makes him a high-upside Day 2 pick.

Entering the draft after his true junior season, Jackson is just 20 years old. He’s not ready to be a three-down edge guy right away, but the Steve Belichick/Jerod Mayo coaching combination could turn him into a star in a couple years. He should—at the very least—be able to slot in as a third-down pass rusher opposite Matthew Judon this year.

R3/85th pick: WR John Metchie III, Alabama

Even after the trade that brought DeVante Parker to New England, the Pats need help at wideout. Enter John Metchie III, former teammate of Mac Jones. A crisp route runner who’s seemingly always open, Metchie III fits the mold of a Patriot slot receiver. He doesn’t have breakaway speed, and he won’t overwhelm corners at the catch point. But he caught the 8th most balls in the country last year despite missing the College Football Playoff and sharing targets with Jameson Williams, which is a testament to his route running and knack for finding holes in zones.

Metchie III may not be ready for a big role in his rookie year as he recovers from an ACL tear. He could also be limited in where he can line up, as he lacks a threatening physical skill set. But with New England needing to get Mac Jones a favorite target, bringing in his old Alabama teammate surely wouldn’t hurt.

R4/127th pick: G Thayer Munford, Ohio State

By now, Patriots fans are likely screaming for a cornerback. But depth on the offensive line is critical. New England lost Ted Karras to free agency and traded Shaq Mason to Tampa Bay. Bringing in Munford will give them that depth behind projected starters Michael Onwenu and James Farentz. Munford is an absolute mauler at 6’6″, 328, and he can win one-on-one matchups with shier power. He enters the draft as a guard, but he has experience at left tackle, and some scouts believe a move back to tackle is best for him. But New England would likely try to coach him up on the interior to have a fall back plan in case of injury to a starter.

He’s not the best run blocker, which is surprising given his size. His height works against him at times, as his balance often fails him when moving laterally. He’s not starter material yet, but when he finds his position, he can contribute.

R5/158th pick: CB Alontae Taylor, Tennessee

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Here’s your cornerback, Pats fans. It’s not J.C. Jackson or Stephon Gilmore, but Alontae Taylor offers length and top-end speed that makes him a perfect candidate for what the Patriots like to do. He can bump receivers off the line with his long arms and stay step for step with them in man coverage with his 4.36 speed. He adds value as a solid gunner on special teams as well.

Taylor could easily see action early, as the Patriots cornerback group has a lot of question marks at the moment. But to win playing time in New England, you have to be a willing tackler, and Taylor occasionally seemed uninterested in mucking it up in the run game at Tennessee.

R5/170th pick: S Markquese Bell, Florida A&M

With his size and physicality, Bell figures to operate more as a box safety in the NFL. He has tremendous speed for the position, but his coverage skills leave something to be desired. He was a leader at Florida A&M, and teammates relied on him to align the defense pre-snap. His football knowledge is an attractive trait that Bill Belichick tends to value highly.

Bell is the perfect candidate to begin his career as a practice squad or bottom of the roster player with the opportunity to learn from the likes of Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, and Jabril Peppers. If he can bring his closing speed and phenomenal tackling angles to special teams, Bell can develop for a couple of years before being relied upon to play a bigger role on the defense.

R6/200th pick: S JT Woods, Baylor

Third consecutive defensive back for the Patriots here. But Woods offers a lot of versatility due to his outstanding athleticism and natural playmaking ability. And if he falls to the 200th pick like he did here, the Pats would be getting a potential Day 2 talent in the late stages of Day 3.

His 4.36 speed allows him to close to the sideline as a single-high safety or matchup in man against running backs. Woods’ 6’2″ frame also means he’s not a mismatch when asked to cover tight ends. He’s got good hands, as shown by his nine interceptions over the last two seasons. But his desire to make big plays means he’ll blow an assignment now and again.

R6/210th pick: WR Jaivon Heiligh, Coastal Carolina

Back-to-back value picks for the Patriots, as Heiligh falling to 210 is even more surprising than Woods falling to 200. Really speaks to the depth of this receiver class.

Heiligh has great tempo variation in his route running, and similarly to John Metchie III, is always open. He can beat press coverage easily, and is slippery on short and intermediate routes. While his speed is nothing special, he could give Mac Jones another good option in the slot.

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PFF Grade: A-

Potential is a common theme amongst a lot of these players. The Patriots likely won’t be serious contenders this year, but with a promising young quarterback, a quick reload is in order. Dean is an instant impact player, and while other picks could see the field early, Belichick needs to think a year or two down the road.