New England Patriots

L-R: Georgia LB Nakobe Dean, Alabama WR Jameson Williams (Getty Images)
  • With Pro Days mostly in the books and the NFL Draft less than a month away, the 2022 draft board is starting to take shape. While the public consensus on many players grows stronger and stronger, that only matters until April 28. Once the Jacksonville Jaguars are on the clock with the first overall pick, it’s all in the hands of the teams.

    Every year, there’s a couple of players who take a surprise fall in the first round. Last year, Mac Jones was expected by many to be a top 10 pick, and ended up falling to the Patriots at 15. Meanwhile Michigan edge rusher Kwity Paye, who was expected to go in the top 15, fell all the way to the 21st overall pick – where the Patriots are selecting this year.

    So, who in the consensus top 15 has the best chance to fall to the Patriots this year? At the same time, are there players some are expecting to fall that are less likely to? Of course, we’re projecting ‘surprises’ here so nothing in guaranteed, but here are some names to watch as extreme risers or fallers in Round 1.

  • Likely to fall: DE George Karlaftis, Purdue

    Purdue defensive end George Karlaftis (5) blows past Oregon State tight end Luke Musgrave (88) during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021 at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette. (Nikos Frazier/Journal & Courier via Imagn Content Services)

    Heading into the NFL Combine, Karlaftis seemed like a lock to be a top 10 pick. However, a number of players at the position performed better than expected in multiple Combine drills (Karlaftis didn’t run the 40). That, combined with teams Karlaftis may have been a fit for trading back or out of the first round, now has some experts projecting him to go in the late teens.

    That’s not quite down to the Patriots just yet, but he certainly could end up within range of a minor trade up. If the Patriots do have a shot to take Karlaftis, he’d add another strong edge rusher to their front seven. He’d need to show he can play as more of a container and less of a pure rusher to fit the Patriots’ defensive scheme, but he does appear to have the natural play strength to fill such a role.

  • Likely to fall: OLB David Ojabo, Michigan

    STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 13: David Ojabo #55 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates after recording a sack against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the first half at Beaver Stadium on November 13, 2021 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

    STATE COLLEGE, PA – NOVEMBER 13: David Ojabo #55 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates after recording a sack against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the first half at Beaver Stadium on November 13, 2021 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

    From one Big Ten edge rusher to another. Ojabo was surging his way towards being a possible top 10 pick until he tore his Achilles at his Pro Day. Now unlikely to play at all in 2022, that injury has impacted his draft stock.

    While the Patriots may be focused on adding immediate impact players in the draft as they did last year, could they pass on a potential top-10 talent on the board at 21? They took a player in a similar situation injury-wise last year in Cameron McGrone, albeit much later in the draft (5th round, projected 2nd before his torn ACL). Stylistically, Ojabo be a great fit in New England as an edge defender who can both set the edge in the running game and get after the quarterback. There’s also the Michigan connection.

  • Likely to fall: 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)

    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)

    As the Patriots appear to shift to a smaller, more athletic, more versatile defense, Dean suddenly looks like much more of a fit than he did at the start of the draft process in January. He’s traditionally undersized for the position at 5-foot-11, 229 pounds but is a true sideline-to-sideline player with tremendous football instincts and athleticism.

    If Dean is such a well-rounded player, how is there a chance he falls to 21? Given his frame, some teams may write him off as a first round pick as a non-fit for their defensive scheme. That could drop his stock somewhat significantly – the question is whether it gets him all the way to the Patriots.

  • Unlikely to fall: CB Derek Stingley, 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

    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

    In the weeks leading up to the draft, Stingley has started to fall out of the top 10 in some experts’ mock drafts. That slide has seemingly given Patriots fans hope that he could continue to fall right into Bill Belichick’s lap. Stingley’s fall seems largely tied to the fact that he didn’t work out at the Combine and a foot injury that cost him most of the 2021 season (he’s expected to be full go for training camp in 2022).

    Even with the injury concerns factored in, Stingley is still a top-10 talent and to- two cornerback in this draft along with Sauce Gardner from Cincinnati. He has all the making of a lockdown, ballhawking, man cornerback – the kind of player that is among the highest valued in the NFL. If he somehow gets all the way to 21, the Patriots should sprint to turn in the draft card, while at least a dozen teams should reevaluate their decision making.

  • Unlikely to fall: DT Jordan Davis, Georgia

    MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 31: Jordan Davis #99 of the Georgia Bulldogs prepares for the snap in the second quarter of the game against the Michigan Wolverines in the Capital One Orange Bowl for the College Football Playoff semifinal game at Hard Rock Stadium on December 31, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – DECEMBER 31: Jordan Davis #99 of the Georgia Bulldogs prepares for the snap in the second quarter of the game against the Michigan Wolverines in the Capital One Orange Bowl for the College Football Playoff semifinal game at Hard Rock Stadium on December 31, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    At the beginning of the draft process, there was some speculation that Davis could fall into the 20’s. There were questions about the versatility of a 6-foot-6, 341 pound nose tackle.

    Then Davis has a monster Combine highlighted by a 4.78 40 yard dash, making clear what those who watched Davis at Georgia this past fall already knew – he much more than a typical early-down space eating nose tackle. He’s a three down player who can contribute as an interior pass rusher as much as he can against the run.

    There’s nobody in this draft quite like Davis, and there may not be another player like him in the league. Once again, if he somehow tumbles all the way to 21, the Patriots shouldn’t think twice about it.

  • Unlikely to fall: 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

    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

    If he was healthy, Jameson Williams would be the top receiver in this class (and it might not be close) and a near lock to be a top 10 pick. However, he tore his ACL in the National Championship. That may give teams pause, as it’s not guaranteed he’ll be healthy to start the 2022 season.

    Even if he can’t go right away, Williams’ natural ability makes him seem like a longshot to fall all the way to 21. As he continues to seemingly fly through his rehab, he’s giving teams more and more reason to take a chance on him.

    On top of that, there are a handful of teams ahead of the Patriots in position to take the risk on Williams without losing a chance at getting production from their first round pick. Four team (Texans, Jets, Giants, Eagles) are set to make multiple picks before the Patriots make their first. They could take Williams, with another chance to land an immediate impact player in the top 20.

    Still, if Williams is there at 21, he’s an obvious selection for the Patriots. In fact, this weekend’s acquisition of DeVante Parker makes his selection even easier, as they shouldn’t need to rush him into action.

  • What do the 2022 combine results tell us about the Patriots at the draft?

    • The NFL Combine returned in 2022 and remains the most prominent source for pre-draft measurements, and it came with plenty of potential intrigue for the Patriots to take interest in a number of prospects. Here’s who tested well in key drills at the combine or their Pro Day that seem like draft fits for New England…

      Defensive Back: Dax Hill, Michigan

      Dax Hill #DB53 of Michigan runs a drill during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 06, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

      Dax Hill #DB53 of Michigan runs a drill during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 06, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

      Three-Cone: 6.48 seconds, 2nd overall at Combine

      Hill mainly played safety at Michigan, and the Patriots obviously have a more urgent need at cornerback. But the Pats also lack a clear long-term replacement for Devin McCourty when he eventually retires, and Hill has been described as a guy who can step in and play nickel corner as well. The Michigan connection is obvious, and the Patriots seem like a good fit for his versatility and football smarts.

      The Draft Network says: “Hill is an extremely versatile player at the back end of this defense. He can play single-high free safety, nickel, outside corner, and even has aligned as a dime backer. His blend of athleticism and toughness are exactly what NFL defensive coordinators are looking for out of a defensive back as it allows them to be creative on where he is utilized.” (source)

    • Guard: Zion Johnson, Boston College

      Sep 4, 2021; Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA; Boston College Eagles offensive lineman Zion Johnson (77) looks to block against the Colgate Raiders during the first half at Alumni Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

      Sep 4, 2021; Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA; Boston College Eagles offensive lineman Zion Johnson (77) looks to block against the Colgate Raiders during the first half at Alumni Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

      Bench Press: 32 reps, 1st overall at Combine

      On the offensive line, the Patriots have shown a propensity for prospects who ranked highly at the bench press, as opposed to the three-cone. You can point to Justin Herron (10th among all OL at the 2020 Combine) and Yodny Cajuste (1st among all tackles at the 2019 Combine) as evidence of that. There’s not a ton to analyze with Johnson, though. He’ll be a plug-and-play starting guard for whoever drafts him, and the Patriots would likely need to take him at 21. Johnson played center at the Senior Bowl, too. He wouldn’t be just a good replacement for Ted Karras, he’d be an upgrade.

      The Draft Network says: “How quickly Johnson made the transition from Davidson to Boston College and forced his way into the lineup speaks to his football intelligence and ability to acclimate. There is a natural sense of timing in how Johnson executes his assignments. Johnson understands his technique, trusts it, and is rarely guilty of penalties.” (source)

    • Cornerback: 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

      Three-Cone Drill: 6.48, 1st overall at Combine

      McCollum is rising up draft boards after a dominant Combine. He didn’t just “win” the three-cone, he also led the 20-yard shuttle at 3.94 seconds, ran a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash (seventh overall), and ranked top-10 in the vertical jump and broad jump drills. He still seems to have a ceiling in terms of draft stock due to being a little tall for a cornerback (6-foot-4) and having limitations in man coverage and in tackling. But the Patriots could view him as a good raw athlete they can teach how to tackle and develop as a football player.

      The Draft Network says: “McCollum has an ideal skill set for zone coverage duties where his size, length, and ball skills can be fully maximized. He does a great job of reading the backfield and working into throwing lanes. He is comfortable working from the half-turn and staying leveraged.” (source)

    • Edge Rusher: Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma

      Mar 5, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Oklahoma defensive lineman Nik Bonitto (DL01) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

      Mar 5, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Oklahoma defensive lineman Nik Bonitto (DL01) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

      Three-Cone Drill: 7.07, 3rd among all DE/EDGE at Combine

      The Patriots took two Sooners in 2021, outside linebacker Ronnie Perkins and running back Rhamondre Stevenson. Bonitto seems like he may be redundant with Perkins, who still has yet to get a real shot at playing, and he may be a little light for Belichick’s liking (248 pounds). But the Pats have historically drafted edge players who rated highly in the three-cone drill, so that and other connections make him a prospect worth knowing.

      The Draft Network says: “Bonitto is a very instinctual football player who understands his assignments. He can process quickly and can read blocking schemes. He is asked to play a variety of roles for the Sooner defense, whether it’s rushing the passer, dropping in zone coverage, or being a spy.” (source)

    • Wide Receiver: Bo Melton, Rutgers

      Bo Melton #18 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights hauls in a reception against JoJo Domann #13 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the first quarter at SHI Stadium on December 18, 2020 in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

      Bo Melton #18 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights hauls in a reception against JoJo Domann #13 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the first quarter at SHI Stadium on December 18, 2020 in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

      Three-Cone Drill: 6.98, 3rd at WR at Combine

      Rutgers. Of course. But it has been almost a decade since Belichick has drafted someone from what used to seem like his favorite college program. Beyond that connection, Melton has the versatility to play slot receiver and returner. He’d be a developmental guy who wouldn’t transform the Patriots offense overnight, but Melton seems like a Patriots type of pick.

      The Draft Network says: “I like Melton best with his stature and athletic profile as a developmental slot receiver and in the return game. For that reason alone, you can probably justify an active roster spot and hope that he becomes more developed as a receiver in order to truly fulfill two active roster spots as a viable receiver and special teams player.” (source)