After months of mock drafts, big boards, quarterback speculation and rumor-mongering, it’s finally time for the 2021 NFL Draft.
The draft kicks off with the first round Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET, followed by Rounds 2 and 3 on Friday night and Rounds 4 through 7 on Saturday afternoon.
For the New England Patriots, who are set to pick in the top 15 for the first time since 2008, this draft could shape the future of the franchise, especially if they come away with one of the five premier QB prospects.
Here’s everything you need to know:
WHERE ARE THE PATRIOTS PICKING?
The Patriots currently own 10 picks in this draft: one first-rounder, one second, one third, three fourths, one fifth, two sixths and one seventh.
Round 1, No. 15
Round 2, No. 46
Round 3, No. 96 (compensatory)
Round 4, No. 120
Round 4, No. 122
Round 4, No. 139 (compensatory)
Round 5, No. 177 (compensatory)
Round 6, No. 188
Round 6, No. 197
Round 7, No. 242
With their roster well-stocked following their free agent spending spree, it seems unlikely the Patriots will draft 10 players. Look for them to package picks together to either trade up — maybe even in the first round? — or acquire future selections.
We’d also expect Bill Belichick to attempt to close the 50-spot gap between his team’s second and third picks, especially with the large amount of Day 2 talent in this year’s draft. New England forfeited its own third-round selection as punishment for the Cincinnati Bengals videotaping controversy.
Belichick traditionally has been more likely to trade back than trade up, and he traded out of the first round in 2020 (ultimately selecting safety Kyle Dugger at No. 37 overall). It’s worth noting, though, that four of the five trades New England made in last year’s draft were to move up the board.
New England has traded up in the first round four times in the Belichick era but not since 2012, when it moved up twice to grab Chandler Jones at No. 21 and Dont’a Hightower at No. 25.
And since these are the Patriots, trading down is always a possibility, too.
WHAT DO THEY NEED?
With Cam Newton back on a one-year contract and only Jarrett Stidham and Jake Dolegala behind him on the depth chart, quarterback is New England’s biggest positional need. We’d also put offensive tackle, cornerback, wide receiver and linebacker in the top five.
Beyond that, the Patriots should be looking for successors to free safety Devin McCourty (turns 34 this summer) and pass-catching back James White (re-signed to a one-year deal). They also could use some additional interior offensive line depth and perhaps another defensive lineman, even after adding three in free agency. And you can never have enough pass rushers.
Kicker could be a late-round target, too, with 2020 fifth-round pick Justin Rohrwasser already off the roster.
WHOM MIGHT THEY TARGET?
The Patriots’ potential pursuit of their QB of the future is one of the most fascinating storylines of this year’s draft.
They won’t have a shot at Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence or BYU’s Zach Wilson, and all signs are pointing to San Francisco taking Alabama’s Mac Jones at No. 3. Would New England trade up for Ohio State’s Justin Fields or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance? Or, if the 49ers choose Lance, would the Patriots make a move for Jones, who looks like the best fit for their system?
The Denver Broncos’ decision Wednesday to trade for Teddy Bridgewater doesn’t eliminate them from potentially drafting a quarterback ninth overall, but it decreases the likelihood. The previously QB-needy Carolina Panthers, set to pick at No. 8, are in a similar position after acquiring Sam Darnold earlier this month.
If Denver and Carolina both pass, Fields or Lance could fall to the early teens, lowering the potential trade-up price for New England.
The Patriots never have drafted a quarterback higher than 62nd overall under Belichick, but they also haven’t had this great a need at the position since before Drew Bledsoe arrived in 1993.
If the Patriots don’t land any five of the top signal-callers, they could pursue a second-tier option — Florida’s Kyle Trask, Stanford’s Davis Mills or Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond — on Day 2. Taking a late-round flier on someone like Wake Forest’s Jamie Newman, Arkansas’ Feleipe Franks or Notre Dame’s Ian Book also is a possibility.
That’s a quick snapshot of the quarterback picture. Here are some potential Patriots targets at other positions — one on Day 1, two on Day 2 and three on Day 3 for each spot:
Day 1: DeVonta Smith, Alabama
Day 2: Elijah Moore, Ole Miss; Rondale Moore, Purdue
Day 3: D’Wayne Eskridge, Western Michigan; Shi Smith, South Carolina; Simi Fehoko, Stanford
Day 1: Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
Day 2: Brady Christensen, BYU; Dillon Radunz, North Dakota State
Day 3: Spencer Brown, Northern Iowa; Stone Forsythe, Florida; Tommy Doyle, Miami (Ohio)
Day 1: Jaycee Horn, South Carolina
Day 2: Eric Stokes, Georgia; Paulson Adebo, Stanford
Day 3: Benjamin St-Juste, Minnesota; Robert Rochell, Central Arkansas; Zech McPhearson, Texas Tech
Day 1: Zaven Collins, Tulsa
Day 2: Baron Browning, Ohio State; Nick Bolton, Missouri
Day 3: Pete Werner, Ohio State; Derrick Barnes, Purdue; Grant Stuard, Houston
Day 1: Trevon Moehrig, TCU
Day 2: Richie Grant, UCF; Jevon Holland, Oregon
Day 3: Caden Sterns, Texas; James Wiggins, Cincinnati; Darrick Forrest, Cincinnati
Day 1: Najee Harris, Alabama
Day 2: Michael Carter, North Carolina; Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis
Day 3: Elijah Mitchell, Louisiana; Chris Evans, Michigan; Demetric Felton, UCLA
Interior offensive line
Day 1: Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
Day 2: Quinn Meinerz, Wisconsin-Whitewater; Kendrick Green, Illinois
Day 3: Robert Hainsey, Notre Dame; Sadarius Hutcherson, South Carolina; Jimmy Morrissey, Pittsburgh
Day 1: Christian Barmore, Alabama
Day 2: Alim McNeil, North Carolina State; Milton Williams, Louisiana Tech
Day 3: Daviyon Nixon, Iowa; Bobby Brown, Texas A&M; Tyler Shelvin, LSU
Day 1: Jaelan Phillips, Miami
Day 2: Joseph Ossai, Texas; Payton Turner, Houston
Day 3: Dayo Odeyingbo, Vanderbilt; Elerson Smith, Northern Iowa; William Bradley-King, Baylor
PLAYER TRADE CANDIDATES
The Patriots have not traded away a player during the draft since 2013, when they sent running back Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for LeGarrette Blount. Will that change this year?
Star cornerback Stephon Gilmore and wide receiver N’Keal Harry have been mentioned in trade rumors for months now, as Gilmore’s contract situation remains unresolved and Harry has underperformed since being drafted in the first round in 2018.
No. 2 corner J.C. Jackson is another possibility. He’s locked in at a salary of $3.384 million this season after signing his second-round tender earlier this month — an affordable rate for a player who ranks second in the NFL in interceptions since 2018.
A JIMMY G REUNION?
Earlier this week, a league source told NESN’s Doug Kyed that Garoppolo, not any draft prospect, is the quarterback most likely to land in New England this weekend.
It’s unclear what the Patriots would need to give up to reacquire Tom Brady’s former backup, but San Francisco’s asking price — previously a first-round pick, per report — seems to be dropping. And if Jones, not the less experienced Lance, indeed is the Niners’ target at No. 3, it would make sense for San Fran to deal Garoppolo rather than carrying his $26.4 million salary cap hit this season.
Some financial maneuvering would be required — the Patriots would need to either restructure or extend Garoppolo’s contract to fit him under their cap — but a Garoppolo return now seems like a realistic possibility.
The post Patriots 2021 NFL Draft Primer: Everything To Know Ahead Of Round 1 appeared first on NESN.com.