The fifth installment in NESN.com’s 2022 Patriots mock draft series features a first-round selection that’s sure to be polarizing, a late-round quarterback and a trifecta of trades, including one involving a current New England player.
First round, No. 21 overall: OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
No, offensive tackle isn’t the Patriots’ most pressing draft need. They could easily use this selection to make necessary improvements at cornerback or linebacker, or trade back and acquire additional assets. But with a pair of injury-prone starters and a left tackle who’s entering the final year of his contract, they jump on a brief first-round slide by Penning, whose ruthless on-field demeanor inspires comparisons to Patriots great Logan Mankins.
Widely considered this year’s fourth-best tackle prospect behind Evan Neal, Ikem Ekwonu and Charles Cross, Penning was a monster at Northern Iowa, dominating FCS opposition so thoroughly that Pro Football Focus’s 2022 draft guide said he “looks like someone’s dad subbed into a Pop Warner game.” NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein had similar praise, writing that the 6-foot-7, 325-pounder “plays with a level of disgust for anyone lining up against him and seeks out violent block finishes when possible.”
Penning, who reportedly visited the Patriots last week, also is fast, quick and explosive, testing in the 89th percentile in the broad jump, the 97th percentile in the 40-yard dash and the 98th percentile in the three-cone drill at the NFL Scouting Combine.
He’ll need to adjust to the massive step up in NFL competition and clean up some flaws in his technique, but he can back up Wynn and Trent Brown — who have missed a combined 55 regular-season games since 2018 — while being groomed as New England’s long-term left tackle.
Second round, No. 54 overall: CB Kyler Gordon, Washington
Gordon likely won’t be drafted as early as teammate Trent McDuffie (whom we previously mocked to the Patriots at No. 21) and might need some additional seasoning before he’s ready for an NFL starting role. But he’s explosive, versatile and extremely quick, posting excellent change-of-direction times (6.67-second three-cone, 3.96-second short shuttle) at his pro day.
Gordon also is a decorated special teamer — he was Washington’s Special Teams MVP in 2019 and 2020 — and played in a Huskies defense that featured several Patriots-inspired concepts, which should help ease his transition to New England.
TRADE: Nos. 85 and 200 to Texans for No. 80
Third round, No. 80 overall: LB Troy Andersen, Montana State
Smart, versatile, athletic, productive — there’s a reason why Andersen, a former All-Big Sky quarterback and finalist for the Academic Heisman, has appeared on multiple NESN.com mock drafts this spring. He had 147 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, two interceptions and nine passes defended last season to earn FCS Defensive Player of the Year honors. Pick No. 80 might not be high enough for this fascinating small-school prospect, who has impressed at every stage of the pre-draft process.
Fourth round, No. 127 overall: OL Joshua Ezeudu, North Carolina
The Patriots like experienced and versatile offensive linemen, and Ezeudu was a three-year starter at UNC, mostly playing left guard (20 starts) but also starting games at both tackle spots (six at left, two at right). New England currently has a glaring hole at left guard and has been more than willing to hand starting jobs to O-line rookies.
TRADE: Nos. 158 and 170 to Bengals for Nos. 141 and 196
Fourth round, No. 141 overall: WR Khalil Shakir, Boise State
Shakir’s 7.28-second three-cone time falls well short of the Patriots’ usual standard, so that could be a dealbreaker for them. But he boasts enticing versatility, playing all three receiver spots for Boise State as well as taking snaps out of the backfield. He carried the ball 71 times in his college career, attempted five passes (including one touchdown) and returned kicks and punts to go along with his strong receiving production (6.9 catches and 96.6 yards per game over his final two seasons).
Speaking with NESN.com this week, the 6-foot, 196-pound wideout called himself “the most versatile player in this draft.” He projects as a primary slot option who could be used in multiple ways. Shakir, who met with New England assistant Ross Douglas at his pro day, also checks several Patriots intangible boxes as a high-IQ player who participated in the Senior Bowl and was a college captain. Zierlein called him “a coach’s dream.”
Sixth round, No. 196 overall: DT Marquan McCall, Kentucky
A super-sized nose tackle who weighed in at 6-foot-2, 354 pounds at the combine, McCall would add some extra beef to the Patriots’ defensive line. New England has yet to re-sign backup nose Carl Davis, so there’s room for additional bodies in a position group that struggled to hold up against the run at times last season.
McCall has a rather extensive injury history, was suspended once in college and offers no pass-rushing upside, so he’s far from a perfect prospect. But if the Patriots are looking for a space-eater in the middle, the man nicknamed “Bully” could fit the bill.
Sixth round, No. 210 overall: QB EJ Perry, Brown
Think the Patriots wouldn’t draft a quarterback with Mac Jones coming off an impressive rookie season? Two months after Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl, they used a fourth-round pick on Rohan Davey. Then they drafted Kliff Kingsbury one year later, and Matt Cassel two years after that.
It’s always smart to keep young QB talent in the pipeline, and Brown, an Andover, Mass., native who starred in the Ivy League and at the East-West Shrine Bowl, is athletic enough that he could contribute to the team in other ways. With 1,132 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns over his two seasons at Brown, some draft analysts believe the 6-foot-2, 211-pound passer has Taysom Hill potential as a versatile weapon on offense and special teams. Perry reportedly visited the Patriots on Wednesday.
TRADE: WR N’Keal Harry to Cardinals for No. 244
Seventh round, No. 244 overall: LB Damone Clark, LSU
This is more of a salary dump than anything, with the Patriots offloading the final year of Harry’s contract to his hometown team one month after trading for DeVante Parker. They use the return on a late-round lottery ticket.
Clark recently underwent spinal fusion surgery and isn’t expected to play this season, but he was viewed as a likely second-round pick before his injury was discovered. Drafting a linebacker with back/neck issues is a definite risk, but that’s what the seventh round is for. If Clark can recapture his pre-injury form in 2023, this pick would be a steal for New England.