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Perry's seven-round NFL Mock Draft: Projecting each Patriots pick

/ by Phil Perry
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If the Patriots had to play a game tomorrow, they could.

Luckily for them, they don't have to. But they are in a spot where typically they like to be this time of year, which is to be mostly devoid of eye-poppingly glaring needs headed into the draft.

When that's the case, they don't have to over-extend in order to fill a gaping void on the roster. Instead, they can get into late April and simply take the best player available whenever it is they're picking.

Does that mean that the Patriots are without "needs" headed into this year's draft? Of course not. They need a starting-caliber guard. They could use more receiving talent and another capable body in the secondary. It's imperative that they add depth at premium spots like offensive tackle and outside linebacker.

Suffice it to say, there's work to be done. 

We'll keep that in mind as we attack this Patriots-specific mock, which we compiled using Pro Football Focus' draft simulator.

First Round, No. 21: Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan

Raimann, from Steinbrunn, Austria, began his career with the Chippewas as a 240-pound tight end. It wasn't until the 2020 season that he began to make the transition to tackle. In just a couple of years, he's added more than 60 pounds and turned himself into one of the best tackles in the draft -- all while maintaining exceptional athleticism.

His explosiveness is almost off the charts with a 9-foot-9 broad jump (98th percentile), a 4.49 short shuttle (92nd) and a 5.05-second 40 (81st). He also posted 30 reps of 225 pounds on the bench (89th percentile).

 
2022 NFL Draft Highlights: Bernhard Raimann

Though Raimann had his ups and downs at this year's Senior Bowl, the Patriots won't have to worry about his work ethic. He graduated from Central Michigan with a 3.8 GPA, with an actuarial science and statistics double major and a mathematics minor. He entered into an accelerated program for a master's degree in applied statistics and analytics, according to the Associated Press.

He's already a mauling run-blocker, and he's only scratching the surface of his potential as a pass-protector. With a little more seasoning at what is still a relatively new position for him, Raimann could be special.

Perry's Prototypical Patriots series: Offensive tackle | Interior lineman | Wide receiver

In this scenario, the Patriots pass on some real talent at No. 21. Ohio State's Chris Olave, Arkansas' Treylon Burks and Western Michigan's Skyy Moore were receivers left on the board. Florida State edge defender Jermaine Johnson -- whom we sent to New England in a previous mock -- was there to be had as well. Ditto for Florida corner Kaiir Elam and Clemson cover man Andrew Booth.

But with Isaiah Wynn headed into a contract year -- and with both Wynn and Trent Brown carrying significant injury histories with them into 2022 -- tackle made sense. Hard to find good ones outside of the first round. The depth at that position in this year's class pushed a good one all the way to the Patriots. 

Second round, No. 54: Christian Watson, WR, North Dakota State

The Patriots continue to draft high-caliber athletes to surround Mac Jones in this scenario by picking Watson. At 6-foot-4, 204 pounds, he clocked a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at this year's combine (95th percentile) and recorded a broad jump of 11-feet-4 (99th percentile). Factor in his frame and catch radius, and it's clear he's a rare athlete. That's what the Patriots are usually looking for at that position.

Add to that the fact that he put together a strong performance at this year's Senior Bowl, and the competition level he faced as a collegian should be less of a concern. Bill Belichick has shown very recently that if you have rare traits and you show out in Mobile, Ala., you could come from a Division II program and he'd still be willing to take you in the second round. 

The Patriots already have a true "X" on their roster in DeVante Parker, but Watson can contribute as a returner in the kicking game, and he showed he had formational versatility with the Bison -- running routes out of the backfield at times to mess with opposing defenses. 

2022 NFL Draft Highlights: Christian Watson

The Patriots could've gone with Alabama receiver John Metchie III in this scenario. Cincinnati's Alec Pierce -- another strong Patriots fit -- would've been a logical selection as well. Two athletic guards also were there for the taking in UT-Chattanooga's Cole Strange and Memphis' Dylan Parham.

 

But Watson simply represented too much value as a potential game-breaker at the next level for the Patriots to pass on him. 

Third round, No. 85: Marcus Jones, CB, Houston

At 5-foot-8, 174 pounds, Jones certainly doesn't have the size to align with No. 1 receivers on a regular basis. But that's not why the Patriots would take him here. He didn't test at this year's combine as he recovered from shoulder surgeries, but he has what looks like elite speed and acceleration on tape.

It shows up in his work as a defensive back, where he showed the athleticism to track deep targets down the field and the aggressiveness to hold his own against bigger players -- like Pierce, against whom he gave up seven inches and still held his own. He also showed a willingness to throw around his undersized frame to make big hits when attacking the line of scrimmage. And his burst popped as a return man, making him one of the best in the nation in that role.

2022 NFL Draft Highlights: Marcus Jones

Jones may be the future slot corner in New England, with Jonathan Jones headed into a contract year. Even if the veteran Jones sticks around for the foreseeable future, the rookie could help Belichick match up against the two undersized speed demons who now reside in Miami.

Coming up with game plans twice a year to stop Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill will be a headache for the Patriots, but having Jones (and Jones) in the fold would make that game-plan formulation process a little easier. Jones -- who also played some receiver for Houston, giving him rare versatility -- reportedly had a visit scheduled to New England during the pre-draft process.

The talent pool wasn't necessarily overwhelming in terms of what was left when this pick came up. But there were some intriguing options, like uber-athletic corners Tariq Woolen from UTSA and Zyon McCollum from Sam Houston. Interior offensive linemen Luke Fortner from Kentucky and Zach Tom from Wake Forest were also considered here.

Fourth round, No. 127: Jelani Woods, TE, Virginia

Bit of a surprise here. But this is a case of the Patriots going with a high-upside athlete while building up their depth at a position that will be critical to their offense. 

If the Patriots are going to be an attack that utilizes multiple tight ends extensively, they need more bodies there since they may not be able to rely on things suddenly clicking for Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. And in the fourth round, it just so happens that the best athlete at the position is there for the taking.

Woods has an argument as the best height-weight-speed athlete at tight end in the last two decades, if you look at his Relative Athletic Score from Kent Lee Platte. At 6-foot-7, 253 pounds, Woods ran a 4.61-second 40 time, recorded a 6.95-second three-cone drill, and posted whopping jumps of 37.5 inches in the vertical and 129 inches in the broad.

 
2022 NFL Draft Highlights: Jelani Woods

Woods may be raw -- he's a converted high school quarterback, which gives him a background the Patriots have shown they appreciate -- but he was a first-team All-ACC honoree with 44 catches for 598 yards and eight scores, and he had a strong week at the Shrine Bowl.

To provide some context on his movement skills, Woods is taller and heavier than Falcons freak tight end Kyle Pitts (drafted fourth overall last year) and yet had a better three-cone time and short shuttle and a more explosive vertical than Pitts. 

Still on the board when Woods was picked? Pass-catching running back Rachaad White from Arizona State and UCLA slot receiver Kyle Philips.

Fifth round, No. 158: Matt Araiza, P, San Diego State

Here are the facts: The Patriots love left-footed punters. The Patriots love to draft special-teamers in the fifth round (Matthew Slater, 2008; Zoltan Mesko, 2010; Joe Cardona, 2015; Jake Bailey, 2019).

The Patriots love a good deal, and they are scheduled to pay Bailey more in base salary than any other punter this year. And, finally, the left-footed Araiza just posted one of the best punting seasons in the history of college football.

Those are just the facts.

The Aztecs punter set an NCAA record with an average of 51.19 yards per punt in 2021. He also now holds single-season records for punts over 50 yards (45) and punts over 60 yards (24). He's the only unanimous All-American in school history aside from Pro Football Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk.

Araiza can handle kickoffs and kicked field goals in college, too. But punting will be his focus, in all likelihood. If his kicks look at all familiar to Patriots fans, it may be because he modeled his style after ... Jake Bailey. Seriously.

Araiza may get dinged in the evaluation process for liking to hit the driver a little too much and needing more touch on his attempts when in opponent territory. But he looks like a field-flipper extraordinaire. And if the Patriots don't want to be paying their punter at the top of the market, Araiza would make plenty of sense. 

To grab him in this scenario, the Patriots pass on the likes of UCLA defensive tackle Otito Ogbonnia and Rutgers receiver Bo Melton. 

Fifth round, No. 170: Alec Lindstrom, OL, Boston College

Lindstrom is a little undersized at 6-foot-3 and about 300 pounds. But he moves well (5.18-second 40, 7.5-second three-cone at the combine), and he's believed to be a highly intelligent blocker. 

His brother, Chris, was a first-round pick of the Falcons in 2019. Alec won't be selected that early, but the Patriots will have access to excellent intel on him as they have a good relationship with Eagles head coach Jeff Hafley. At his pro day, Lindstrom worked out in front of Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh and personnel coordinator Brian Smith.

 
2022 NFL Draft Highlights: Alec Lindstrom

This may feel late for the Patriots to address the interior of their line, and it is, especially when they still need a starter up front protecting Jones. But could Lindstrom be that guy? He seems to be flying under the radar, except in the eyes of Sports Info Solutions, which has him ranked as their No. 60 overall player.

He played exclusively at center at the Heights but it'd be worth trying him at guard, potentially giving the Patriots the kind of versatility they lack now that Ted Karras has signed with the Bengals as a free agent.

Sixth round, No. 200: Dawson Deaton, OL, Texas Tech

The best way to try to find a missing piece along the interior of the offensive line without spending a premium pick there? Throw multiple bodies at the problem and see what sticks.

On the off chance Lindstrom can't start, why use another dart at the position? Deaton is a quality athlete who has some physical traits that resemble Joe Thuney, and he has started at tackle, guard and center at different points during his college career. He's a long-and-lean prospect, but he packs a punch.

A two-year captain, Deaton performed well at the Shrine Bowl and could be a possibility for the Patriots late on draft weekend thanks to his versatility and toughness. 

Sixth round, No. 210: Isaih Pacheco, RB, Rutgers

You didn't really think we'd get through this entire draft class without a Nick Saban, Chip Kelly, Kirby Smart, Don Brown, Jedd Fish, Bret Bielema or Greg Schiano prospect... Did you?

Schiano, one of Belichick's best friends in coaching, once called Pacheco "the toughest running back I've ever coached." That should go a long way with Belichick, but perhaps just as importantly, Pacheco is a next-level athlete. He tested that way, at least, running a 4.37-second 40-yard dash at this year's combine.

The Scarlet Knights captain was an honorable mention All-Big 10 player after running for 647 yards and five touchdowns on 167 carries.

2022 NFL Draft Highlights: Isaih Pacheco

Pacheco is almost the exact same height and weight as Damien Harris. If the Patriots end up drafting a running back, it'll be interesting to see what happens with the 2019 third-round pick out of Alabama.

Will Belichick want to keep Harris on the team during his second contract? Harris will hit unrestricted free agency next offseason, and if the Patriots feel that they're deep enough at running back, they could look to deal him the way they dealt Sony Michel going into the last year of his rookie contract.