It’s easy to pore over the NFL draft prospects and think “maybe they get this guy in this round, that guy in the next round and this guy in the round after that.”
The issue with doing that is it ignores the certainty of the draft shaking out differently than we expect. What if the Patriots, who pick 15th, see that the No. 5 player on their board is there at 10? What if they pick at 15 and another player they considered with that pick is still there at No. 29?
Lord knows Bill Belichick likes to move around the draft board, so let’s take this draft’s prospects and the Patriots’ needs to come up with some sort of big board for the Patriots.
For each player, we’ll estimate the chances of that player being available with the 15th overall pick. We’ll italicize players with single-digit odds of being there.
As I put the list together, I’m prioritizing quarterbacks and pass catchers. Yes, there’s a better chance of a top defensive player falling than a top offensive player, but if the Patriots have their priorities straight, they’ll be higher on the QBs and receivers than players of similar talent at other positions.
1-10: The studs of the 2021 NFL Draft
1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson (0 percent)
2. Zach Wilson, QB, BYU (0 percent)
3. Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU (0 percent)
4. Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon (0 percent)
5. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State (10 percent)
We should get out of the habit of comparing everyone to Tom Brady because that isn’t fair, but think about their respective scouting reports. Brady was seen as a strong decision-maker with unremarkable skills. The only legitimate knock on Fields, meanwhile, is his awareness at this point in his career. They’re very different in that respect.
But again, you’re not getting another Tom Brady no matter who you take. Fields is worth pouncing on if he somehow falls to 15 and worth trading up for should he get to the 10ish range.
6. Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State (15 percent)
Nobody should be surprised if Lance is better than Fields; the lack of competition and tape just makes him more of an unknown at this point.
7. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama (40 percent)
I’d love to see the breakdown of how teams across the NFL rank the Alabama receivers in this draft. Waddle has a more appetizing frame than DeVonta Smith, but was hampered last season by an ankle injury.
If the Patriots want to get a No. 1 receiver after not signing one in free agency, Waddle might be their best bet in the teens.
8. Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State (50 percent)
We overstate the Patriots’ affinity for value; it honestly just might be an affinity for going against expectations. At any rate, Parsons could be a major value pick. He was universally considered one of the best five or 10 players in this draft, but character concerns make him a candidate to fall.
9. Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida (1 percent)
The Patriots obviously don’t need a tight end, but this kid is better than either of the guys the team signed. He might be the best pass-catcher in this draft, which would make for a hilarious dilemma if he were somehow there at No. 15.
If it weren’t for the Pats’ spending in free agency, Pitts would be second or third on this list.
10. Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama (20 percent)
Surtain would be the combination of potential need (Stephon Gilmore?) and best player available. There are just too many logical suitors ahead of the Patriots, though. If Atlanta moves down, they could target him. So too could Detroit, Carolina, Dallas, Philadelphia or San Diego.
11-20: A defense-heavy prospect group for the Patriots
11. Mac Jones, QB, Alabama (5 percent)
This is a major development for me because I’ve never been a Mac Jones guy. That said, if everyone promises he’s a starting-caliber NFL quarterback, the Patriots would be silly to pass on him in the rare event he falls.
12. Rashawn Slater, OL, Northwestern (5 percent)
13. Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina (35 percent)
Look at the list of pass-catchers Horn covered at his time in college. To come away from that still looking like a first-round pick is insane.
14. DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama (45 percent)
Part of me wonders if we’re overthinking it with Smith based on the size. If teams pass on him out of fear that he’s Ted Ginn or Tavon Austin and his performance ends up translating to the NFL, someone’s going to get a steal and a half.
15. Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech (75 percent)
The former receiver would be higher on this list if not for injury concerns. He’s had multiple back surgeries over the last year, which also saw him opt out of the 2020 season.
Still, he ran a 4.28 40 at 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds. If the Patriots clear him, he’d be an absolute steal.
16. Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota (90+ percent)
You won’t see Bateman going top 15 in a lot of mock drafts, but I’d be perfectly fine with the Patriots taking him if other top players are gone. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network compares his size/strength combination to that of Michael Thomas.
17. Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa (75 percent)
As would be the case with Bateman, selecting Collins at 15 might be viewed as a slight reach, but this is a versatile linebacker who would be a logical heir to Dont’a Hightower.
18. Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami (75 percent)
Rousseau opted out of last season, but he was second in the nation in sacks in his final year at Miami. At 6-foot-7, Rousseau would be the tallest defender on New England’s roster.
19. Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan (55 percent)
The Patriots have taken front-seven players from Michigan in each of the last two drafts. Maybe that’s just their thing now. If it is, Paye figures to be a lot better than Chase Winovich and Josh Uche.
20. Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech (50 percent)
The Patriots seem set on the offensive line for now, but between Trent Brown playing on a one-year deal and the unremarkable start to Isaiah Wynn’s career, Darrisaw would provide an option to settle any long-term questions at left tackle.
21-30: Other first-round prospects for the Patriots to consider
21. Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC (60 percent)
22.Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU (75 percent)
23. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, ILB, Notre Dame (80 percent)
24. Terrace Marshall, WR, LSU (90+ percent)
25. Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky (90+ percent)
26. Jealan Phillips, EDGE, Miami (85 percent)
27. Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss (80 percent)
28. Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida (85 percent)
29. Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern (70 percent)
30. Kelen Mond, QB, Texas A&M (90+ percent)
This is another column for another time, but let’s address Mond being on this list.
Here’s the way I see it: If the Patriots like Mond enough to draft him in the second or third round, they should take him late in the first.
A. The fifth-year option is valuable and
B. How can they be sure a team like the Saints or even Bucs won’t take him with their first pick? The Patriots can’t be too cute if there’s a quarterback they like in one of the opening rounds.