New England Patriots

Jun 16, 2021; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick reacts during the New England Patriots mini camp at the New England Patriots practice complex. Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday, the NFL announced the spring practice dates for all 32 NFL teams. That includes OTA workouts and Mandatory Minicamp.

After reporting on April 18, the Patriots will hold 10 OTA practices. They will take place on…

–May 23-24
–May 26
–June 1-3
–June 13-14
–June 16-17

Those workouts are all optional for players to attend. Last year, the Patriots had the majority of the roster in attendance.

Players are required to be in Foxborough for Mandatory Minicamp. That will run from June 7-9.

All of these practices will be closed to the public. A select few will be open to the media, and will provide our first look at the 2022 Patriots.

After spring practices, the team will have about six weeks off before preparation for the season begins in full with training camp. Dates for those practices – which are expected to be open to the public – should be released at some point over the next few months.

Patriots Mock Draft 2.0: Post-free agency edition

  • As the dust settles from the first wave of NFL free agency, it feels like it’s time to update our Patriots seven-round mock draft. We published our first Patriots mock the day after the Super Bowl, and it’s safe to say a lot has changed since then.

    When talking about the Patriots’ approach to the draft, the phrase ‘best player available’ comes up often. When the roster is pretty much set, the team can sit back and see which talented players end up in an unexpected fall.

    That may not be the case this year, with numerous holes still in the starting lineup. In his weekly Sunday column, ESPN’s Mike Reiss highlighted the reality that “this year feels different” and that “Bill Belichick and his staff still have a lot of work to do” on the roster which could “potentially telegraph[s] their intentions in the draft.”

    Last season, the Patriots added a trio of immediate impact players in Mac Jones, Rhamondre Stevenson, and Christian Barmore. It seems reasonable to think that the mostly-unchanged front office – which held onto the top two executives on the draft side of things in Matt Groh and Eliot Wolf – believes they can repeat that feat at other positions in 2022.

    Keeping all of that in mind, here’s a stab at what the Patriots’ draft board could look like in a few weeks…

  • Round 1, Pick 21: Trade

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 26: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on from the sidelines during the second quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on December 26, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 26: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on from the sidelines during the second quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on December 26, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

    Patriots get:

    –31st overall pick (1st round)
    –63rd overall pick (2nd round)
    –226th overall pick (7th round)

    Bengals get:

    –21st overall pick (21st overall)

    That’s right, we’re starting with another trade down. The top tier of this class is about 17 or 18 players deep, with not much separation between the next 50. With none of the blue-chippers left on the board, the Patriots take advantage of the linemen-needy Bengals and move down to add an extra top-100 pick while still remaining in the first round.

    The Patriots win this trade on the Bill Belichick trade chart, which is typically the case for teams moving down. Belichick & Co. give up 261 points worth of picks, and take in 275.

  • Round 1, Pick 31: CB Kaiir Elam, Florida

    Florida Gators cornerback Kaiir Elam (5) in coverage against Florida Atlantic Owls wide receiver Je'Quan Burton (82) during a game against the Florida Atlantic Owls at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville Fla. Sept. 4, 2021.

    Florida Gators cornerback Kaiir Elam (5) in coverage against Florida Atlantic Owls wide receiver Je’Quan Burton (82) during a game against the Florida Atlantic Owls at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville Fla. Sept. 4, 2021. (Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun via Imagn Content Services)

    The Patriots came out of free agency thin at boundary corner, both in terms of starting-caliber talent and depth. By picking Elam, they add a player who should at least be able to take on a rotational role on the outside initially, with the upside of developing into a potential 90-percent usage rate player within a year or two.

    Part of what would make Elam a fit in New England is a relatively smaller learning curve. A starter since midway through his freshman year at Florida, Elam has experience playing press-man coverage and has the size (6-foot-1, 191 pounds) and length to carry that style of play to the NFL. He’d also bring some much needed speed to the Patriots’ defense – he ran a 4.39 40 at the combine, the eighth-fastest among cornerbacks.

  • Round 2, Pick 54: WR Christian Watson, North Dakota State

    Delaware linebacker Matt Palmer moves in as North Dakota State's Christian Watson pulls in a pass in the third quarter of Delaware's 47-22 loss at Delaware Stadium Saturday.

    Delaware linebacker Matt Palmer moves in as North Dakota State’s Christian Watson pulls in a pass in the third quarter of Delaware’s 47-22 loss at Delaware Stadium Saturday. ( William Bretzger, Delaware News Journal, Delaware News Journal via Imagn Content Services)

    Speaking of speed, the Patriots add some of the offensive side of the ball by taking Watson in the second round. This may be on the lower end of Watson’s range, but with so many good receiver in the draft someone has to fall, and it’s usually the more developmental players.

    That being said, there is a lot to like about Watson. He ran a 4.36 40 at 6-foot-4, 208 pounds. In terms of measurables, it’s harder to find a more ideal outside receiver in this draft. His route running will need to be refined at the next level, but he’ll be a deep ball and scheme touch threat from day one. The Patriots met with Watson at the Senior Bowl.

    Throughout the offseason, multiple reports have hinted at the fact the Patriots would like to upgrade their ‘X’ receiver spot. From Calvin Ridley to Robby Anderson to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, there seems to be a desire to get more production out of the role currently held by Nelson Agholor. Last time the Patriots used a premium pick on a potential ‘X’ receiver, they looked for a more bully-ball pass catcher in N’Keal Harry. This time around, they could take a more finesse approach.

    While Watson might not give the team that upgrade on Day 1, he’d still be able to contribute offensively while rounding out his game behind the scenes. If he didn’t assume the starting job by the end of the 2022 season, he should be ready for a high-volume role starting in 2023 (Agholor’s contract expires after the 2022 season).

  • Round 2, Pick 63: S Kerby Joseph, Illinois

    Oct 9, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini defensive back Kerby Joseph (25) intercepts the ball over teammate Illinois Fighting Illini defensive back Devon Witherspoon (31) and intended Wisconsin Badgers wide receiver Kendric Pryor (3) in the first half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 9, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini defensive back Kerby Joseph (25) intercepts the ball over teammate Illinois Fighting Illini defensive back Devon Witherspoon (31) and intended Wisconsin Badgers wide receiver Kendric Pryor (3) in the first half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

    Free safety isn’t as much of an immediate need as some of the others on the roster, but it will be soon. Devin McCourty is back for his 13th NFL season, but the Patriots don’t have another true free safety behind him on the roster. Adding depth in the short term and a potential replacement for a crucial role on the defense in the long-term would be a classic Belichick move.

    Enter Joseph, who stands out among an otherwise weak free safety class after a productive 2021. The Illini safety was second in the Big Ten with five interceptions in 12 games. His athleticism allows him to cover large amounts of ground quickly, a trait that will only become more useful as he sees more football and his instincts improve. Another key part of his game the Patriots will like? He’s a strong tackler, which is a must as the last line of defense in a single-high scheme.

    Unlike Watson, who the Patriots are getting after a bit of a fall, this is around the top of Joseph’s range. Historically though that hasn’t been a problem for the Patriots if they like a player, especially in the secondary.

  • Round 3, Pick 85: G Dylan Parham, Memphis

    Mar 4, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Memphis offensive lineman Dylan Parham (OL36) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Mar 4, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Memphis offensive lineman Dylan Parham (OL36) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    There’s one truly pressing need the Patriots have yet to address in this mock, and that’s guard. Both of last year’s starters – Shaq Mason and Ted Karras – are now playing elsewhere. Michael Onwenu projects to take one of those spots, but the other is wide open. With their last pick in the top 100, the Patriots look to land a potential replacement in Parham.

    Parham was a four-year starter for the Tigers, and should come in ready to at least compete for a starting job on Day 1. His strength is as a run blocker, but he can hold his own in pass pro as well. There are some concerns about his size (6-foot-3, 311 pounds) but he’s coming from such a technically-sound floor that with the right coaching it should end up being a non-issue.

  • Round 4, Pick 127: CB Zyon McCollum, Sam Houston State

    May 16, 2021; Frisco, Texas, USA; Sam Houston State Bearkats defensive back Zyon McCollum (22) and his teammates celebrate winning the game against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits at the Division I FCS Championship football game at Toyota Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    May 16, 2021; Frisco, Texas, USA; Sam Houston State Bearkats defensive back Zyon McCollum (22) and his teammates celebrate winning the game against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits at the Division I FCS Championship football game at Toyota Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    As mentioned above, the Patriots don’t just need outside cornerback help at the top of the depth chart. The overall depth at the position in thin, and doubling down in the draft could be a way to help with that.

    There’s a lot for the Patriots to line in McCollum’s game. He’s another big corner (6-foot-2, 199 pounds) who played primarily press man in coverage. An absolute ballhawk for the Bearkats, he had 13 interceptions 54 pass breakups in 56 career games. With a 4.33 second 40 at the Combine, he showed he can add some serious speed.

    Like any player coming from the FCS level, McCollum may need some time to adjust. But as a five-year contributor at Sam Houston State, he has a solid base to build on. He also has special teams experience, so he should be able to get on the field right away in the kicking game. His upside though is as a standing-caliber boundary corner.

  • Round 5, Pick 170: Trade

    Sep 11, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriot logos on the podium during the press conference before practice at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 11, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriot logos on the podium during the press conference before practice at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

    Patriots get:

    –2023 5th-round pick
    –2023 7th-round pick

    Panthers get:

    –170th overall pick (5th round)

    With five players drafted already, the Patriots decide to push some draft capital into next year. They pick up a future fifth and add a seventh in the process. This one is an even swap on the trade chart, eight points for eight points.

  • Round 6, Pick 200: OL Cade Mays, Tennessee

    Sep 2, 2021; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers offensive lineman Cade Mays (68) waits for the snap during the second half against the Bowling Green Falcons at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 2, 2021; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers offensive lineman Cade Mays (68) waits for the snap during the second half against the Bowling Green Falcons at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

    You’d be hard pressed to find a more textbook draft fit for the Patriots than Mays. He’s a four-year starter who’s played all five offensive line positions in a college career that included time with two SEC programs (he transferred from Georgia to Tennessee in 2020).

    Mays is a big mauler at 6-foot-5, 325 pounds who projects to be a swing guard in the NFL, but he may be able to play right tackle for the Patriots as well. Having a player with his versatility and experience could be a huge help as the Patriots re-work their offensive line in the coming years.

  • Round 6, Pick 210: DL LaBryan Ray, Alabama

    TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 21: LaBryan Ray #89 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after sacking Jarrett Guarantano #2 of the Tennessee Volunteers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 21, 2017 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

    TUSCALOOSA, AL – OCTOBER 21: LaBryan Ray #89 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after sacking Jarrett Guarantano #2 of the Tennessee Volunteers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 21, 2017 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

    Ray is a slightly undersized yet very strong and athletic defensive lineman from Alabama – cut from a similar mold as 2021 Patriots’ draft pick Christian Barmore. Injuries kept him from being as productive as Barmore in college, but outside of the top 200 it makes sense to take a chance on a player with Ray’s terrific athletic upside.

    The Patriots are always looking to add stout, versatile players up front defensively. At 6-foot-5, 295 pounds, Ray fits the mold and can play tackle and end. The question is, can he stay on the field consistently enough to develop his game?

  • Round 7, Pick 226: LB Nate Landman, Colorado

    TUCSON, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 05: Linebacker Nate Landman #53 of the Colorado Buffaloes during the first half of the PAC-12 football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on December 05, 2020 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

    TUCSON, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 05: Linebacker Nate Landman #53 of the Colorado Buffaloes during the first half of the PAC-12 football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on December 05, 2020 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

    While the Patriots had some new needs open up during free agency, they did somewhat mitigate their needs at linebacker. Bringing back Ja’Whaun Bentley gives them an established run stopper. Mack Wilson, who turned 24 last month, is comparable as an off-ball linebacker to many of the Day 2 linebackers in this draft. Cameron McGrone, Raewkon McMillan, and Terez Hall – who all missed last season due to injuries – figure to factor in as well.

    Still, that doesn’t mean they’re done adding at the position. Landman would give them another athletic sideline-to-sideline linebacker – the kind of player they missed last season. He’s a little undersized at 6-foot-2, 238 pounds, but makes up for his lack of size with good instincts and a willingness to throw his body around. At the very least, he projects to be a core special teams kind of player from day one, and then could work himself into a rotational defensive role.

  • Remaining needs

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 13: A view of New England Patriots helmets before the game between the Patriots and the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 13, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – SEPTEMBER 13: A view of New England Patriots helmets before the game between the Patriots and the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 13, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

    This post begins by explaining this mock is a more needs-focused draft. So, it seems fair to explain the needs that weren’t addressed.

    The biggest is failing to add a true tackle. With Isaiah Wynn entering a contract year and Trent Brown’s injury history, the team could need a starting-caliber tackle soon. Mays could potentially be a right tackle, but he’s likely more of a guard. Given the Patriots’ history developing offensive linemen, they may feel just as comfortable working with a UDFA tackle than using a top-100 pick at the position. Potential UDFA tackles that could fit in New England include UConn’s Ryan Van Demark and Myron Cunningham of Arkansas.

    Another longer-term offensive need that isn’t addressed here is running back – specifically pass-catching running back. James White is returning from a severe hip injury, and his replacement from last year Brandon Bolden is now in Las Vegas. Pass-catching back is an important role in the Patriots’ offense, and one they’ve pretty much always had an established player at – from Kevin Faulk to Danny Woodhead to Shane Vereen to White.

    Oct 30, 2021; Waco, Texas, USA; Baylor Bears running back Trestan Ebner (1) looks for more yards against the Texas Longhorns in the second half of an NCAA football game at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Spillman-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 30, 2021; Waco, Texas, USA; Baylor Bears running back Trestan Ebner (1) looks for more yards against the Texas Longhorns in the second half of an NCAA football game at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Spillman-USA TODAY Sports

    In terms of UDFA’s at running back, Trestan Ebner of Baylor would make a lot of sense for the Patriots. Not only does he come from a pass-heavy system, but he’s a two-time Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year as a kick returner. With the departure of Gunner Olszewski, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Patriots target a returner or two between the draft and UDFA process this year.

    Speaking of Olszewski, slot receiver is somewhat of a short-term need and may be a big long-term need with Jakobi Meyers now on a de facto one-year deal. Alabama’s Slade Bolden has been mentioned in relation to the Patriots often – not surprising given he’s a slot receiver who plays special teams and was roommates with Mac Jones in college. Samori Toure from Nebraska could also be a fit as a ‘big slot’ at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds.

    On the defensive side of the ball, the one position that could be considered a need that isn’t addressed here is nose tackle. After finishing 25th in the NFL in rushing yards per attempt allowed last season, it would make sense they may try to bulk up up front. Arizona State’s D.J. Davidson, Idaho’s Noah Ellis, and North Texas’ Dion Novil could all be fits here.

NEXT: Patriots pre-draft meeting tracker

Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.