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.