Nobody knows anything.
Teams certainly have an idea of who they like in the 2022 NFL Draft. They've had their pre-combine scouting meetings. They've been to the collegiate all-star games. And they may have an idea of where their roster's greatest needs will be in the spring.
But at this point in the offseason, they can't be sure.
Free agency begins March 16, with a two-day legal tampering window leading up to the start of the new league year. Needs will be addressed with cash. There will be an opening wave when the big bucks fly and subsequent splashes here and there as the Patriots and their competitors fill out their rosters. But it's not until that league-wide spending spree is finished that we can hypothesize on which players will go where in the draft.
That means trying to peg a seven-round mock draft for any team right now is a fool's errand. But we stack them up anyway because a.) we're fools and b.) it's a good exercise in trying to figure out what kind of talent might be available at different points in the draft.
Where does the corner depth dry up? At what point do the deep threats vanish? Where is the sweet spot for big bodies along the offensive and defensive lines?
We hopped on the Pro Football Focus mock draft simulator ahead of this week's NFL Scouting Combine to try to find Patriots fits at what look like positions of need (at the moment, at least).
First Round, No. 21: Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
In this scenario, let's assume the Patriots are able to retain J.C. Jackson on either the franchise tag -- which he told NBC Sports Boston he'd play on -- or a long-term contract. That means cornerback isn't quite as desperate a need in the draft as it would have been had he hit the open market.
Receiver, though? Time for an upgrade.The Patriots were one of the most inefficient passing attacks when throwing deep down the field (21st in yards per attempt on deep passes, including playoffs, and 28th in quarterback rating). One way to solve that issue? Lock up one of the fastest wideouts in the class. Not only does Olave have real track speed -- he's expected to run his 40 yard dash in the 4.3-second range at the combine -- but he's also considered one of the smoothest route-runners available.
He might not be a big-play threat after the catch. His frame (6-foot-1, 188 pounds) could limit him against press corners. But he knows how to separate at all three levels of the field.
He'll make the Patriots offense more explosive and he'll give Mac Jones a go-to option with a top-end gear to threaten the deep portion of the field.
Second Round, No. 53: Travis Jones, DT, UConn
I wouldn’t anticipate that the Patriots part ways with Davon Godchaux after one year, even if cutting him would save the team over $4 million in cap space. But even if they keep Godchaux, they need help on the interior of their defensive line when it comes to stopping the run.
That’s where Jones comes in. At 6-foot-4, 330 pounds, he is a block-eating nose tackle who has the requisite power to come in and play an early-down role immediately in Bill Belichick’s defense.
He may not be Jordan Davis, the Georgia behemoth, but Jones was one of the most dominant players at this year’s Senior Bowl. His addition would allow Lawrence Guy and Godchaux to play as ends in New England’s 3-4 style attack with Christian Barmore focusing his efforts on passing downs.
For a defense that had difficulty holding its ground against the run at times last season, Jones is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Third Round, No. 85: Quay Walker, LB, Georgia
This may be the last mock of ours where we’re able to project Walker as a third-rounder. The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder is expected to be one of the "winners" of combine week, potentially running his 40 in the low 4.6-second range. With his length and athleticism, at his size, it’s likely he’ll be shooting up boards quickly.
Nakobe Dean is the star of the Georgia linebacker group, but Walker is bigger and faster and he’d be a high-upside selection for Belichick at this stage of the draft.
With both Dont’a Hightower and Ja’Whaun Bentley set to hit unrestricted free agency this offseason, Walker has the frame to fit what Belichick likes at the second level as well as the speed to give the Patriots defense some gas in the middle of the field.
Fourth Round, No. 123: Darrian Beavers, LB, Cincinnati
Even after a solid Senior Bowl, there’s not as much buzz on Beavers as I’d anticipated.
Maybe it’s because he’s a throwback in terms of his frame. At 6-foot-4, 252 pounds, he’s far from the 230-pound speed demon defenses like these days. But he’s clearly athletic enough to hang with tight ends in coverage, he’s big enough to square up guards, and he has the kind of versatility Belichick loves.
To land an off-the-ball ‘backer who can align on the edge and rush effec]tively on Day 3? That’d be a coup for Belichick and director of player personnel Matt Groh.
Pair Beavers with Walker -- and don’t forget about returning linebackers Raekwon McMillan and Cameron McGrone -- and the Patriots have options for the future of their linebacking corps.
Sixth Round, No. 198: Tariq Woolen, CB, UTSA
Since the Patriots brought back Jackson in this mock scenario, they can afford to wait at the corner position and take a big swing at a big-time athlete on Day 3. They’ve done this several times in the past at this position, like when they rolled the dice on guys with freaky movement skills like Ken Webster (2019), Keion Crossen (2018) and Darryl Roberts (2015) in the seventh round.
At 6-foot-3 with almost 34-inch arms, Woolen has rare length and legit track speed. Not only did he clock the fastest practice play speed at the Senior Bowl (22.5 mph), that was the fastest time clocked at the Senior Bowl since Zebra Technology has been providing player practice speeds.
What’s that tell you? He has the length to press at the line of scrimmage, but if he misses -- which press corners inevitably do -- he has the makeup speed to eliminate cushion he may occasionally cede.
If the Patriots want to remain a defense that plays primarily press man in the secondary, Woolen would be more than worthy of a developmental Day 3 choice.
Seventh Round, No. 209: Kyle Philips, WR, UCLA
Philips carved up defensive backs so consistently during the week of East-West Shrine Bowl practices that it didn’t matter that he didn’t play in the game itself. He was still the easy choice for our pal Rhett Lewis of NFL Network as the top player to participate in the festivities in Las Vegas.
If Belichick wants a shifty slot to complement what he already has in his receiver room, Philips is more of a low-cut option (5-foot-11, 186 pounds) who looks like he’ll be able to free himself from short-area coverage in a blink.
Playing for Belichick’s pal Chip Kelly, Philips led the Bruins in receiving for three years, was a first-team All-Pac-12 honoree last season and finished his career averaging over 20 yards per punt return. Sound like a Patriot to you?