New England Patriots

A video board displays the text "THE PICK IS IN" for the New England Patriots during the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium on April 26, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

  • A common point in Patriots draft discourse this offseason has been “[Player X] won’t make it to the Patriots at the 21st overall pick,” with the response of “only 20 players can go before 21.” Given the uncertainly of this year’s board, it’s a good discussion to have.

    With the NFL Combine now in the books though, the first-round picture is starting to become clearer. Which players truly don’t have a shot to fall out of the top 20, and who are the candidates to slide down the board on April 28? Let’s take a look with a 32-team, first-round mock draft.

    Note: Trades referenced were made for this mock specifically. Previously-completed trades are not detailed.

  • 1. Jaguars: OT Evan Neal, Alabama

    Sep 18, 2021; Gainesville, Florida, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Evan Neal (73) against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    There are a pair of very talented pass rushers also in the conversation for the first overall pick, but neither is generational. So instead, the Jaguars invest in protecting Trevor Lawrence’s blindside and make Neal the first Alabama player to be selected with the top pick in the NFL Draft since running back Harry Gilmer in 1948.

  • 2. Lions: EDGE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan

    Nov 20, 2021; College Park, Maryland, USA; Michigan Wolverines defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (97) rushes during the first half against the Maryland Terrapins at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

    Detroit goes with the higher-floor option of the two elite edge rushers in this class, keeping Hutchinson in the state of Michigan. This pick could have a trickle-down impact on the Patriots too. There’s been rumors that the Lions could be looking to move on from former Patriots edge defender Trey Flowers, and landing one of the edge rushers at the top of the board would only make such a move more realistic. Could it set up a reunion for Flowers in New England?

  • 3. Texans: CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU

    Sep 18, 2021; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (7) reacts after making a tackle against the Central Michigan Chippewas at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Clause/The Advertiser via USA TODAY NETWORK

    There’s a number of ways the Texans could go with this pick, but it’s the two top decision makers in Houston that make Stingley the most logical choice. General manager Nick Caserio comes from a Patriots program that traditionally builds defenses from back-to-front, while new head coach Lovie Smith’s background is working with defensive backs. There’s a lot of talk about Stingley falling coming out of the Combine, but that’s likely just recency bias after he sat out the workouts. Don’t be fooled, he’s a top-five caliber player.

  • 4. Jets: S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame

    Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton (14) intercepts a pass intended for Purdue tight end Payne Durham (87) in the end zone during the fourth quarter of an NCAA football game, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

    The Jets heavily focused on the offensive side of the ball in last year’s draft, so this year they start on defense. Hamilton can play a wide range of safety roles, and his selection could end up being a make-good for the Jets’ whole Jamal Adams saga.

  • 5. Giants: OT Ikem Ekwonu, North Carolina State

    Oct 30, 2021; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack tackle Ikem Ekwonu (79) warms up prior to a game against the Louisville Cardinals at Carter-Finley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

    The New York Giants may have had the worst offensive line in the NFL last year. Luckily for them, a potential franchise left tackle falls to them in Ekwonu.

  • 6. Panthers: OT Charles Cross, Mississippi State

    INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – MARCH 04: Charles Cross #OL06 of Mississippi State runs a drill during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 04, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

    Some projections have the Panthers taking a quarterback here, but there’s too much talent on the board to reach for a QB in a historically bad year at the position. Instead, Carolina prepares its offensive line for the signal caller it’ll trade for or draft in 2023, and adds Cross to bolster things up front.

  • 7. Giants: EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon

    EUGENE, OR – NOVEMBER 27: Kayvon Thibodeaux #5 of the Oregon Ducks rushes against Joshua Gray #67 of the Oregon State Beavers at Autzen Stadium on November 27, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

    Given the fact the Giants could likely be in the market for a quarterback next year, it would make sense for them to move back and add draft capital in 2023. However, Thibodeaux’s fall is too good to pass up. At one point, the Oregon edge rusher was the projected top pick in this draft. Getting him at seven is a steal.

  • 8. Vikings (from Falcons): CB Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner, Cincinnati

    Nov 20, 2021; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats cornerback Ahmad Gardner (1) and cornerback Coby Bryant (7) react after cornerback Arquon Bush (not pictured) blocked a field goal by the Southern Methodist Mustangs in the second half at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

    Atlanta needs a receiver, but none have come off the board yet. That means the Falcons are comfortable moving down, and adding future draft assets that could help them land Matt Ryan’s eventual replacement.

    Falcons get:

    –12th overall pick

    –77th overall pick

    –2023 3rd-round pick

    Vikings get:

    –8th overall pick

    –113th overall pick

    The Vikings get aggressive here to move up and land some much-needed help in their secondary. With a strong showing at the combine, Gardner separated himself as the clear CB2 in this class and Minnesota makes sure he doesn’t fall out of the single digits.

  • 9. Broncos: EDGE George Karlaftis, Purdue

    Nov 27, 2021; West Lafayette, Indiana, USA; Purdue Boilermakers defensive end George Karlaftis (5) celebrates a sack against Indiana Hoosiers quarterback Grant Gremel (16) during the second quarter at Ross-Ade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

    The Broncos are another team that realistically could go with a quarterback, but instead here they take advantage of a strong top-tier edge class. With Von Miller gone and Bradley Chubb struggling to stay on the field, Denver looks to add another cornerstone pass rusher by drafting Karlaftis.

  • 10. Jets (from Seahawks): WR Drake London, USC

    Sep 18, 2021; Pullman, Washington, USA; USC Trojans wide receiver Drake London (15) makes a catch in front of Washington State Cougars defensive back Jaylen Watson (0) in the second half at Gesa Field at Martin Stadium. The Trojans won 45-14. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

    Having already added on defense with the fourth overall pick, the Jets now turn their attention towards getting help for Zach Wilson. With Elijah Moore established in the slot, they look for a big body outside receiver and make London the first pass catcher off the board. Worst-case scenario, he replaces Corey Davis who has an out in his contract after next season. Best case scenario, that duo becomes a matchup nightmare on the perimeter with Moore working on the inside.

  • 11. Commanders: QB Malik Willis, Liberty

    Dec 18, 2021; Mobile, Alabama, USA; Liberty Flames quarterback Malik Willis (7) rolls out to pass against the Eastern Michigan Eagles in the third quarter during the 2021 LendingTree Bowl at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert McDuffie-USA TODAY Sports

    Teams like the Lions, Giants, and Panthers likely will be back picking towards the top of the draft next year, where they can grab a quarterback in a stronger class. The Commanders however have a good enough roster in a wild enough division that that’s not a guarantee for them. Knowing that, they take advantage of this draft spot and make Willis the first quarterback selection of the 2022 Draft. There’s not a lot of consensus on what the QB board will look like come draft day, but Willis’ strong Combine performance and fit in Washington’s existing offensive system make him the pick here.

  • 12. Falcons (from Vikings): WR Chris Olave, Ohio State

    Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Chris Olave (2) makes a catch against Michigan State Spartans in the second quarter during their NCAA College football game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on November 20, 2021.

    See Pick 8 for trade details

    Patience pays off for Terry Fontenot and the Falcons. With Calvin Ridley out for the 2022 season, the Falcons need to get Matt Ryan a top target if they hope to capitalize on his closing window. Olave is actually a very similar receiver to Ridley in terms of skill set, so he’s a logical fit who should be able to hit the ground running in Atlanta.

  • 13. Browns: WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas

    Oct 23, 2021; Little Rock, Arkansas, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks wide receiver Treylon Burks (16) rushes for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Arkansas Pine Bluff Golden Lions at War Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

    The run on wide receivers continues. Looking to replace Odell Beckham at the outside receiver position, the Browns snag maybe the most polarizing pass catcher in this class in Burks. His ability with the ball in his hands would make him a great fit in Cleveland’s offensive system.

  • 14. Ravens: C Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa

    Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras (7) takes a snap from center Tyler Linderbaum (65) during a NCAA college football game in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl against Kentucky, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla.

    After losing Lamar Jackson to injuries for multiple games last year, Baltimore should make it a point this offseason to upgrade their protection. With starting center Bradley Bozeman set to hit free agency, Linderbaum is a logical replacement. Centers don’t usually go this high in the draft, but Linderbaum isn’t most centers.

  • 15. Eagles (from Dolphins): LB Devin Lloyd, Utah

    Oct 16, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Utes linebacker Devin Lloyd (0) instructs the defense during the first quarter against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

    With the first of their three first-round picks, the Eagles add some much-needed linebacker help. This one is pretty straight forward – the Eagles need linebackers and Lloyd is clearly the top linebacker in this class.

  • 16. Eagles (from Colts): DT Jordan Davis, Georgia

    Nov 27, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Georgia Bulldogs defensive lineman Jordan Davis (99) in action against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the second quarter at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

    Because the Eagles have such a bounty of draft capital both this year and next year, they can afford to get creative with some of their picks. That’s the case here, as they take a player with monumental upside in Davis. The star from the Combine would create a fearsome pairing with Fletcher Cox in the middle of the Philly defense, and could be the eventual replacement for the 31-year-old nose tackle whose name has come up in trade rumors in recent years.

  • 17. Chargers: WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State

    Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Garrett Wilson (5) jukes Michigan Wolverines defensive back Rod Moore (19) during the second quarter of the NCAA football game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

    The way things are trending, it appears as though the Chargers are going to lose star receiver Mike Williams to free agency. Not wanting to make things harder on their star young quarterback Justin Herbert, they grab a replacement in Wilson.

  • 18. Saints: LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia

    ATHENS, GA – OCTOBER 02: Nakobe Dean #17 of the Georgia Bulldogs reacts in the second half against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Sanford Stadium on October 2, 2021 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

    The Saints seem prime to go through at least a semi-rebuild over the next year or two, so right now it’s all about adding talent. New head coach Dennis Allen’s background is on the defensive side of the football, so he has the team add the best defensive player available at this point, Dean.

  • 19. Chiefs (from Eagles): EDGE David Ojabo, Michigan

    Dec 4, 2021; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Michigan Wolverines linebacker David Ojabo (55) against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Conference championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    The Eagles look to move down here and spread the value of their third first-round pick. They manage find a trading partner at the back end of the round in the Chiefs.

    Eagles get:

    –30th overall pick

    –132nd overall pick

    –2023 2nd-round pick

    –2023 4th-round pick

    Chiefs get:

    –19th overall pick

    –164th overall pick

    Brett Veach has shown he isn’t afraid to be aggressive in the first round. With Frank Clark a logical salary cap-related cut, Kansas City moves up to grab his replacement. At this point in the draft Ojabo, who had 11 sacks last year for Michigan, can likely be categorized as a steal.

  • 20. Raiders (from Steelers): WR Jameson Williams, Alabama

    Oct 23, 2021; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Jameson Williams (1) uses a stiff arm to try to break away from Tennessee Volunteers defensive back Jaylen McCollough (22) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama won 52-24. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

    Could the Patriots get jumped on the board by a couple of familiar faces? Dave Ziegler and Josh McDaniels pull ahead of Bill Belichick with this trade, and use it to snag a player the Patriots very well may have their eyes on.

    Steelers get:

    –22nd overall pick

    –125th overall pick

    –2023 6th-round pick

    Raiders get:

    –20th overall pick

    McDaniels and Ziegler know they need a speedy wide receiver to replace Henry Ruggs. At the same time, they know the Patriots are likely looking for such a player as well. Vegas moves up two spots (mirroring a deal pulled off by the Eagles in 2019), jumping the Patriots to take Williams.

  • 21. Patriots: CB Andrew Booth, Clemson

    Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. (23) reacts after an interception during the second quarter at Williams Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina Saturday, November 27, 2021. (Ken Ruinard /Staff/ USA TODAY NETWORK)

    With J.C. Jackson seemingly on his way out of New England, cornerback unquestionably becomes the biggest need for the Patriots. They’re able to grab Booth after a slight slide to 21. Booth is the kind of long, athletic press corner that Bill Belichick generally targets, and seems ready for a significant role in his first year in the NFL.

  • 22. Steelers (from Raiders): QB Kenny Pickett, Pitt

    Oct 23, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) passes against the Clemson Tigers during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    See Pick 8 for trade details

    Hand size concerns will hurt Pickett’s draft stock, but it’s a good thing the Steelers have already seen him play in Pittsburgh. The 2021 ACC Player of the Year remains at Heinz Field as the potential heir apparent to Ben Roethlisberger.

  • 23. Cardinals: EDGE Travon Walker, Georgia

    ATHENS, GA – NOVEMBER 06: Travon Walker #44 of the Georgia Bulldogs sacks Tyler Macon #10 of the Missouri Tigers in the second half at Sanford Stadium on November 6, 2021 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

    Last season, Arizona had one of the best edge-rushing duos in football in Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt. Now Jones in a pending free agent and Watt has just one year left on his deal and is coming off an injury that cost him most of the 2021 season. Looking to add some youth to the group, they take Walker off the record-breaking Georgia defense.

  • 24. Cowboys: IOL Kenyon Green, Texas A&M

    Sep 25, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Texas A&M Aggies offensive lineman Kenyon Green (55) in action during the game between the Arkansas Razorbacks and the Texas A&M Aggies at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    The Cowboys offensive line isn’t what it once was. Regression has hit the group hard, especially on the interior. Jerry Jones sees a chance with Green to address a need and pick a player from an in-state school, and he can’t pass it up.

  • 25. Bills: CB Trent McDuffie, Washington

    SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – NOVEMBER 28: Trent McDuffie #22 of the Washington Huskies intercepts a pass during the final seconds of play to secure a 24-21 win against the Utah Utes at Husky Stadium on November 28, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

    Buffalo’s lack of depth in the secondary got exposed last year when Tre White was lost for the season due to a knee injury. Knowing there’s likely shootouts against teams with deep receiving groups (Chiefs, Bengals) in their future, the Bills use McDuffie’s slight slide as a chance to sure up their secondary.

  • 26. Titans: IOL Zion Johnson, Boston College

    Nov 20, 2021; Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA; Boston College Eagles offensive lineman Zion Johnson (77) against the Florida State Seminoles during the second half at Alumni Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 20, 2021; Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA; Boston College Eagles offensive lineman Zion Johnson (77) against the Florida State Seminoles during the second half at Alumni Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    Last year’s playoff loss to the Bengals made it clear – if the Titans are going to make any real noise it’s going to be on the back of the running game, not throwing the ball. Looking to make things easier up the middle, the Titans grab Johnson, who played with Mike Vrabel’s son Tyler at BC.

  • 27. Buccaneers: DL Devonte Wyatt, Georgia

    NASHVILLE, TN – SEPTEMBER 25: Devonte Wyatt #95 of the Georgia Bulldogs celebrates against the Vanderbilt Commodores during the first quarter at Vanderbilt Stadium on September 25, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

    With Tom Brady’s retirement making an already bad salary cap situation worse, the Buccaneers simply need to add talent. Wyatt is clearly the best player on the board at this point, and will be a welcomed addition to a defensive line set to lose multiple contributors to free agency this spring.

  • 28. Packers: WR Jahan Dotson, Penn State

    Nov 27, 2021; East Lansing, Michigan, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver Jahan Dotson (5) gives a thumbs up before a play during the second quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

    As of now, it sounds like Aaron Rodgers is going to end up staying in Green Bay. While that’s hardly guaranteed, if it is the case he’ll likely ask the team to get him another weapon. Dotson’s shiftiness and formational versatility would play well in the Packers’ system, especially if he’s seeing mostly single coverage while teams key in on Davante Adams.

  • 29. Dolphins (from 49ers): OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa

    Mar 4, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Northern Iowa offensive lineman Trevor Penning (OL38) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Whoever is under center for the Dolphins moving forward, whether it’s Tua Tagovailoa or another quarterback, Miami needs to protect the quarterback position better than they did in 2021. They take the best offensive lineman left on the board in Penning, whose athleticism will play well in Mike McDaniel’s ‘Shanahan’ offense.

  • 30. 49ers (from Chiefs via Eagles): Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State

    Mar 5, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Florida State linebacker Jermaine Johnson II (LB20) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Looking to get back into the first round after moving their first round pick last year to acquire Trey Lance, the 49ers pull of a trade structured similarly to the one the Ravens used in 2018 to land Lamar Jackson. Having already made two first-round picks, Philly is fine spreading out its draft capital a little further, turning one top-60 pick into two.

    49ers get:

    –30th overall pick

    –121st overall pick

    Eagles get:

    –61st overall pick

    –131st overall pick

    –2023 2nd-round pick

    With this trade, the 49ers add Johnson to their already impressive edge rotation. They have a number of capable defenders playing opposite Nick Bosa, but none are the kind of established threat that will draw attention away from the two-time Pro Bowler. At the very least, Johnson adds depth to the rotation, but if he hits his ceiling he gives San Francisco what could be a devastating one-two punch on the edge.

  • 31. Bengals: OT Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan

    Feb 1, 2022; Mobile, AL, USA; National offensive lineman Bernhard Raimann of Central Michigan (76) works with a coach during National practice for the 2022 Senior Bowl at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

    Let’s not make this any more complicated than it needs to be. We all saw how the Bengals failed to protect Joe Burrow during the playoffs. Raimann is the best offensive lineman available, so he’s the pick.

  • 32. Lions (from Rams:) QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

    Cincinnati Bearcats quarterback Desmond Ridder makes a call to his team against Tulane Green Wave at Yulman Stadium in New Orleans Saturday, October 30, 2021.

    Rounding out the first round, the Lions grab a high-upside quarterback in Ridder. This is a low-risk, high-reward play for Detroit – if Ridder plays well, they get their quarterback of the future 32nd overall. If he’s not the guy, they have two more first-round picks next year thanks to the Matthew Stafford trade, and can take another shot at finding ‘the guy.’

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