*Editor's Note: In the final hours leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, we asked Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran to share five bold predictions for how things will play out in Thursday's first round -- both for New England and for the rest of the league.
Here are Curran's predictions:
1. Patriots pass on free-falling Trey Lance
The San Francisco 49ers can’t possibly take Trey Lance at No. 3. Can’t. CANNOT take a 20-year-old, FCS quarterback at No. 3 who played one game last October against Central Arkansas and looked … eh … and was very good but not breathtaking in 2019.
It has to be Mac Jones. Here’s why. The Niners are moving on from Jimmy Garoppolo. Once they are assured that someone on their team is semi-capable and will not end up on IR after sneezing too hard, Jimmy's gone. And the ultimate goal is handing the offense to whoever is selected at No. 3. Lance won’t be ready in time for this year. Jones will. Done.
Then comes the Lance freefall. Detroit passes and takes a wideout at No. 7. Carolina thinks about it but has too many needs to jack around at quarterback with a project AND Sam Darnold. Denver does the right thing and takes Justin Fields at No. 9 to apprentice under Teddy Bridgewater. The Eagles already had their North Dakota State quarterback so they don’t go QB at 12. Which means the Patriots are there at 15 with Lance on the board. And they pass too.
Trading back with Washington -- which outduels the Bears to get the deal done for Lance -- means it's an absolute stickup for the Patriots as they collect No. 19 overall and the WFT’s 2022 first-round pick plus a WFT third-rounder this year. The Pats also send WFT a second-rounder in 2022.
2. Patriots take meat and potatoes
If that deal doesn’t happen (or even if it does), get ready to be basic. And by basic I mean cornerback, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker. Because that’s where the Patriots are going in Rounds 1 and 2. Wow. That’s a really bold prediction, Curran. I know. I’m sorry. False advertising.
There’s been a quarterback fixation in this draft but, aside from Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, the other three are dice rolls. And as Meatloaf told us, “There ain’t no Coupe de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.”
Bill Belichick kinda has a mandate to do better at the top of the draft than he has for the past half-decade. He just paid for his drafting sins with a quarter-billion in free agent contracts. And the idea of a three-year process with Trey Lance or a player like DeVonta Smith, who really doesn’t do a lot if he’s not catching passes? Ain’t gonna work.
You take somebody who’s going to step in for Isiah Wynn next year, succeed Stephon Gilmore, apprentice under Donta Hightower, be the beef in the middle. So Caleb Farley, Jaycee Horn, Micah Parsons, Zaven Collins, Christian Barmore or Christian Darrisaw are names you should get intimate with between now and Thursday night.
3. Seven quarterbacks will be taken in Round 1
Here’s your bold prediction. And when it doesn’t happen, I will happily pass the blame to Senator Phil Perry who passed this notion on to me. But I do love Phil’s logic.
Only four quarterbacks in the past six years have been taken in the second round. Why’s that? Because it’s an overvalued position. And teams say to themselves, “Better safe than sorry here with Jordan Love/Dwayne Haskins/Paxton Lynch …”
Think about it. Mac Jones is no better than the 20th best prospect in this draft. Respected Daniel Jeremiah has him at 32. And he’s going to go third? That’s why Kellen Mond is going to the Steelers at 24 or the Saints at 28 and Kyle Trask is headed to Tampa Bay at 32.
4. The first round is going to be a swap meet
What’s the record for trades made in the first round on draft night? I don’t know. I spent 20 minutes trying to research it and finally had to tap out. But the record for first-round trades will be set this year.
Why? The dearth of intel on prospects. Because of opt-outs and the altered pre-draft model this year, there will be plenty of occasions when teams will be on the clock and saying, “Do we really love someone here? Or would we rather add a pick, let somebody else select?”
And that means the price to move up – especially as the first round swings past 15 and the misgivings about prospects become more frequent – will drop. Which means everybody is OPEN FOR BUSINESS!!
5. Not a good night for defensive linemen and tight ends
Kyle Pitts goes fourth overall to Atlanta. He is classified as a tight end but he’s just as much a wideout. But after that, no tight ends come off the board until late Friday night when the New England TE contingent of Pat Freiermuth (Penn State via Merrimac, Mass.) and Hunter Long (Boston College via Exeter, N.H.) get nabbed in the third.
As for defensive line, nobody goes in Round 1 -- including Alabama’s Christian Barmore who slips into Round 2 where he’s promptly gobbled up. It’s a changing game and this first round is going to prove it.