The New England Patriots are in an interesting spot as they prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft with the majority of their biggest needs filled and 80 players on the roster.
Don’t be surprised if New England comes away with a smaller draft class despite having 10 picks as they enter next month’s event. Quite simply, they don’t even currently have space on their roster to sign undrafted free agents.
That’s what happens when you go all-in on free agency with over $60 million in salary cap space to spend.
It’s a decent year not to invest so heavily in the draft, too. The 2020 college football season was muddled by COVID-19, and there was no NFL Scouting Combine. There is less information on this year’s crop of prospects than ever before.
With that in mind, here’s how we handled the Patriots’ 2021 draft in our first mock of the spring.
Round 1, No. 5 Overall: QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
Trade: 15th, 46th, 96th overall picks for fifth overall pick
The Patriots have multiple reasons to want to trade up:
1. They really need a quarterback of the future.
2. They splurged in free agency and filled most of their needs.
3. Their roster is already nearly full, and they have 10 draft picks.
So, that leads us here, trading the Patriots’ top three picks in the 2021 NFL Draft to move up and take Fields who was widely considered the second-best quarterback in the class until BYU’s Zach Wilson emerged in 2020. Fields is ultra-athletic, super accurate, has no problem throwing deep and protects the ball well. And if he needs time, the Patriots have Cam Newton to start the 2021 season. But Newton is signed to another one-year contract, and New England needs a QB in 2022 and beyond.
Using the Rich Hill Trade Value Chart, this lines up perfectly.
Round 3, No. 88 Overall: OL Ben Cleveland, Georgia
Trade: 120th and 122nd overall picks for 88th overall pick
Let’s deal two fourth-round picks to move back up into the third round.
The Patriots did well picking a massive human being on the offensive line in 2020 when they selected Michael Onwenu out of Michigan. Now, they’ll grab 6-foot-6, 343-pound Cleveland out of Georgia. He ran a 5.05-second 40-yard dash at his pro day last week and is freakishly strong. The Patriots need future depth on their offensive line, and Cleveland comes from a familiar program.
Round 4, 139th Overall: RB/WR Demetric Felton, UCLA
Felton played running back and wide receiver at UCLA. He’s an intriguing developmental third-down back option if he has the size to hold up in the backfield.
Round 5, 177th Overall: WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Iowa
Smith-Marsette is great athlete who returned 53 kicks for 1,520 yards with two touchdowns, caught 110 passes for 1,615 yards with 14 touchdowns and carried the ball 34 times for 274 yards with four touchdowns at Iowa. He’d be a Day 1 contributor on special teams.
Round 6, 188th Overall: DT Quinton Bohanna, Kentucky
Bohanna is another enormous individual who was listed at 6-foot-4, 357 pounds at Kentucky. The Patriots need space-eaters upfront.
Round 6, 197th Overall: OT Cole Van Lanen, Wisconsin
Van Lanen is slightly undersized at 6-foot-4, 305 pounds, but he ran a 5.11-second 40-yard dash with a 7.34-second short shuttle at his pro day earlier this month. He let up just three total pressures in 2020, per PFF.
Round 7, 242nd Overall: CB Nate Hobbs, Illinois
The Patriots take a swing on athletes late in the draft. Hobbs ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash with a 6.85-second three-cone drill, 4.17-second short shuttle, 40.5-inch vertical leap and 11-feet, 3-inch broad jump at 5-foot-11, 196 pounds at his pro day last week.