2021 NFL Draft Preview: New England Patriots

Cameron Smith

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As we ready ourselves for the NFL Draft, we're breaking down each team's biggest needs and which direction they may go with their first selection. We'll be working in reverse order. Now it's time for the Patriots.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

So, was 2020 an outlier at the end of the dynasty, or was it the start of a massive franchise overhaul? The early free agency strike seems to indicate that the Patriots are willing to do anything to ensure they'll be competitive again in 2021, come hell or high water. Now comes the will they or won't they dance about how the team may acquire their next franchise quarterback. 

2020 Lookback: While embarrassing by Patriots standards, the team's opt-outs and general lack of talent was such that finishing 7-9 might be considered an accomplishment in some ways. Cam Newton started strong, contracted COVID-19, returned with injuries and was never truly the same. He threw to JV-level receivers, particularly after the October loss of Julian Edelman. And while the team's running attack was strong, it never featured the bulldozing, overpowering offensive line of 2018. In the end, there were too many self-destructive possessions and not enough offensive danger points to get New England back to the playoffs. With two of the NFL's most productive tight ends in tow, as well as a pair of dangerous wide receivers, that could be different in 2021. 

CHFF Draft Needs: Everyone knows what the Patriots need in the draft: A quarterback, a linebacker (or two) and a wide receiver. Where they add those three roles is a far more complicated question. By all accounts, the Patriots think highly about one or more of the quarterbacks in the 2021 class. If the apple of their quarterback eye (Justin Fields? Mac Jones? Trey Lance?) unexpectedly drops past pick 6, or pick 8, could the Patriots make an aggressive move up to land their man? Or, could Bill Belichick pull a fast one and go the other direction, trade down to accumulate future or later round picks while sending a later first round pick to the 49ers for Jimmy Garoppolo? It's all fascinating subterfuge. If the Patriots do keep their first pick, either Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons or Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins seem like potential fits at the linebacker position, though knowing Belichick even a later-rated wild card like North Carolina's Chazz Surratt could end up on the card (Surratt may be a stretch, but you just neer know). There has also been scuttlebutt that if Alabama's Heisman winner DeVonta Smith falls to No. 15 the Patriots could jump at the chance to add him. He would certainly make a fascinating (if undersized) bedrock of their new wide receiver core. 

2021 Early Round Picks: New England holds picks 15, 46, 96, 120 and 122