Picking some ideal prospects for New England Patriots early in the draft

Picking some ideal prospects for New England Patriots early in the draft

Picking some ideal prospects for New England Patriots early in the draft

6:00 AM ET

Mike ReissESPN Staff Writer Close

  • Covered Patriots since 1997
  • Joined ESPN in 2009

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Moment of truth: Patriots Hall of Famer and current ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi sometimes refers to the “moment of truth” when it comes to what will unfold Thursday night in Round 1 of the NFL draft (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). Every team, including his beloved Patriots with eight overall picks over the three-day event headlined by No. 21, will finally have to tip their hand after months of media-based speculation.

Best educated guess? Bill Belichick will work hard to trade down in the first round, as this is the type of draft where the strength and value is in the 30-90 range.

So if the Patriots' head coach can pull off something similar to 2020 -- when Belichick shipped No. 23 to the Los Angeles Chargers in exchange for a high second-rounder (37) and third-rounder (71) -- that might be viewed as ideal. The Patriots picked promising safety Kyle Dugger at 37 and used 71 in a different trade to move up for athletic linebacker Josh Uche.

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But one of the things Belichick often says is that the team has to be prepared to pick at its assigned slot, because there isn't always a trade partner. Many NFL general managers have stories of being in that type of situation.

“The jokes were always like, ‘Somebody call in on the trade line and make sure it’s working’ or ‘pick up the line and make sure it still has a dial tone because it would be nice to move off this pick,'” said Mark Dominick, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager and current Sirius XM analyst. “It doesn’t always work out the way you hope it would.”

That happened to Dominik in 2011 when he was at No. 20 and debating between defensive linemen Adrian Clayborn and Cameron Jordan. He wanted to move down, have more time to assess and capitalize on a deep D-line class while gaining another second- or third-rounder. But the phone was silent (he ultimately went with Clayborn).

Using Dominik’s story as a springboard, here are a handful of prospects who stand out to this reporter as top Patriots targets this year:

DB Daxton Hill (Michigan): A versatile safety/corner who could potentially be groomed to take over Devin McCourty's deep center-field role in the future, he might not fill the most immediate need but would provide long-term value.

DT Travis Jones (UConn): While Georgia's Jordan Davis would be the dream scenario, the 6-foot-4, 325-pound Jones wouldn't be a bad consolation prize. He came on strong at the Senior Bowl, and as Belichick has said in the past, players with that type of size, athleticism and power are rare.

LB Devin Lloyd (Utah): Similar to when the team selected off-the-ball linebacker Jerod Mayo 10th overall in 2008 and inserted him immediately into the lineup, the 6-foot-2, 237-pound Lloyd -- arguably the top-rated player at the position -- could do the same.

CB Trent McDuffie (Washington): He doesn’t have off-the-charts size and length (5-10, 193), but he seems to have everything else the Patriots covet (intelligence, willing tackler, versatility). He was reportedly among the team’s pre-draft visitors, but might not be there at 21. Florida corner Kaiir Elam also fits the bill.

LB Chad Muma (Wyoming): He could be this year’s Dugger in terms of a player the team might have selected in the first round if they didn’t find a trade partner, but was still able to select him early on Day 2.

WR Jameson Williams (Alabama): He likely wouldn’t be in the conversation if he wasn’t coming off a torn ACL, and it’s possible he’s still gone well before pick 21 (similar to another projected WR target, Ohio State's Chris Olave). But in making the point that the Patriots need more dynamic difference-makers, NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah highlighted him as a “home run pick” if he’s there.

2. Timing at 21: If the Patriots make a pick at No. 21, the estimated time that will happen Thursday is 10:50 p.m. ET. That is right around the time the Indianapolis Colts made pass-rusher Kwity Paye their pick at 21 last year. So make those plans accordingly.

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3. Parker’s change: Veteran receiver DeVante Parker has played every game in a season just once during his seven-year career and is coming off a year in which he appeared in just 10 games, and his lack of availability is one of the biggest knocks on him (somewhat similar to tight end Hunter Henry last year). Asked Thursday if he’s doing anything different this offseason to keep himself on the field, Parker said: “I’m doing a lot more running than I have been doing in the past. That’s something I’m trying to harp on.”

4. No N’Keal: Parker’s arrival seemed to signal the end of the road for 2019 first-round draft choice N’Keal Harry, and the first week of the team’s voluntary offseason program amplified that point, with Harry notably choosing not to be in town. Harry had shared his whereabouts on Instagram, and those around the Patriots’ program this week confirmed he wasn’t in Foxborough.

5. Hometown ties: Boston College guard Alec Lindstrom, who projects as a Day 3 draft pick (Rounds 4-7), got a chance to envision what it would be like to play for the Patriots when he was among a small group of local prospects to visit the team’s facility earlier this month. Lindstrom is from Dudley, Massachusetts, went to high school at Shepherd Hill (playing in a Super Bowl as a freshman at the Patriots’ home stadium, and has spent time working out with former Patriots O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia since December.

“Obviously growing up, I was a huge Patriots fan, a huge Tom Brady fan,” said Lindstrom, the brother of Atlanta Falcons guard Chris Lindstrom, a 2019 first-round pick. “Just being able to go there, knowing there is a possibility I could play for the hometown team, is special. Coach Belichick, this is someone I’ve been watching since I was a little kid, winning Super Bowls. Being able to showcase my skills in front of him, for a chance to be drafted, is an unreal feeling and experience.”

6. Mining for talent: A reminder of how the Patriots truly kick over every rock for talent came when they hosted Joshua Onujiogu of Division III Framingham State (Mass.) University on a pre-draft visit. Onujiogu, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound defensive end/outside linebacker, is from Wareham, Massachusetts, and was the 2019 and 2021 Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year (13.5 sacks last season). Connecticut-based agent Joe Linta, who has a history of championing lower-division players who might otherwise go unnoticed, helped Onujiogu land on the NFL radar.

7. Taylor made: One week into the Patriots’ voluntary offseason program, word is third-year running back J.J. Taylor looks noticeably bigger. Taylor is listed at 5-foot-6 and 185 pounds on the official roster, and while his willingness to step up and take on blitzing linebackers has never been in question, he might now be more physically able to handle those assignments. That could be critical as he competes for a roster spot behind Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson, while also possibly vying to take over James White’s role as the passing back.

8. Parcells follow-up: Bill Parcells has been a four-time finalist for the Patriots Hall of Fame, but nonetheless, he missed the cut this year. And even when he’s been a finalist as selected by the nomination committee, he’s fallen well short in the fan vote to gain induction. Parcells’ candidacy is annually among the most polarizing with the nomination committee and fan base (this piece from 2014 sums it up), and with increased competition in the years to come, I view Parcells’ candidacy as decisively stuck in neutral … barring a Hail Mary.

9. Kidd’s game: As the Patriots personnel department hired a younger group of scouts in recent years, the group benefitted from the veteran expertise of Keith Kidd, the team’s former director of pro scouting (2002-2005) who returned in an under-the-radar professor-type role. In essence, Kidd helped teach the Patriots’ system and some of the finer points of scouting, giving them a valuable resource in the early parts of their careers. Now Kidd has moved on to the Raiders, with his official title director of scout development.

10. Did You know? Since Belichick joined the Patriots in 2000, he’s made 83 draft-day trades, which easily leads the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles are second with 64.