The 2021 NFL Draft is three weeks away and it's a pivotal one for the New England Patriots as they attempt to inject much-needed youth and depth into a roster that's been overhauled in free agency this offseason.
The Patriots will have nine picks at their disposal, with the highest one coming in at No. 15 overall in the first round.
There's always debate and discussion in the buildup to every draft regarding which players the Patriots should target, but a lot of the conversation this year involves the actual process of how New England is evaluating players and making picks.
Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated wrote last week about how Patriots head coach Bill Belichick ignored the advice of his scouts when selecting Arizona State wide receiver N'Keal Harry with the 32nd pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
“It also, as some saw it, led to misses like N’Keal Harry in 2019," Breer wrote. "Harry killed his 30 visit that spring and had a college coach, Todd Graham, who was close to Belichick. In that end, without more input from scouts who preferred Deebo Samuel and A.J. Brown, the coach wound up leaning on his own experience with Harry, rather than the red flags his scouts planted, and lost a golden opportunity to fill a hole on his roster.”
NBC Sports analyst Chris Simms, who worked for the Patriots in the early 2010s, recalled two instances from his time in Foxboro when Belichick went against his scouts and took a player he wanted instead.
“I was there for two drafts and one of the drafts — I can still remember, as vivid as ever, it's my first draft in an NFL organization. I’m sitting right outside the draft room. Now, the pick is going to be Jamie Collins, from Southern Miss, in the second round," Simms explained.
"I remember (former Patriots director of player personnel) Nick Caserio walking out of the room and his head was shaking, and I was like, ‘Uh oh, somebody doesn’t like the pick that’s about to come up here and pop up on the board.’ And it was Jamie Collins. And I remember all the scouts and everything going, ‘Oh my gosh, why would we take him now?’. Well, he was awesome right from the get-go. So, Belichick was right.
“It also happened with Chandler Jones in another draft,” Simms added. “So, same thing, the scouts were like, ‘We didn’t have him rated this high.’ Well, he’s Bill Belichick. He had him ranked higher, obviously. Now, he’s missed and all that, I know that. But I don’t think this is that crazy.”
Several of the Patriots' recent draft classes have underwhelmed. Sure, there were some good picks from 2017 through last year, but on the whole, there have been more misses than hits.
Whether the Patriots succeed in addressing their roster weaknesses in this draft likely will have a huge impact on their ability to contend for a playoff spot next season. The AFC East is getting a lot more competitive, and with the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins both having high first-round picks this year, those teams are poised to make substantial improvements ahead of the 2021 campaign.