I know, I know – everyone wants a quarterback.
While I agree with that sentiment to a certain extent, Patriots fans need to accept the reality that it simply may not happen.
Do the Patriots know they have a need at quarterback? Absolutely. However, they may not value one of the top guys enough to mortgage their future to move up and get him.
Despite a bevy of offseason moves to patch up a lot of the holes in their 2020 roster, they still have other needs to address in the draft (which I alluded to here) besides just upgrading their signal-caller.
While it won’t be as exciting if the Patriots opt to sit at pick 15 and take the best player available, it is a hyper-realistic scenario that we should all be prepared for.
There is a plethora of talent available in the first round, especially ones that should still be on the board at their pick.
I outlined five prospects that based on mock drafts and league rumblings I believe could potentially be available for New England, and ones that I would be more than happy with. Let’s get into it.
Jaycee Horn | CB, South Carolina
While corner is not a glaring need for the Patriots heading into 2021 it could very easily become one after that. Both J.C. Jackson and Stephon Gilmore are only under contract for this year and the odds that New England retains both are highly unlikely. In a Patriots defensive system that relies heavily on an abundance of cover corners that can play man-to-man, losing one or both of those guys in 2022 will be devastating without a proper succession plan.
Jaycee Horn, the son of former star-NFL receiver Joe Horn, checks all the right boxes for a Belichick-ian corner. He has a rare combination of size, speed, ball skills and production that will have the Patriots licking their chops if he is on the board at 15.
Horn is a prototype press-man corner that plays physical at the line of scrimmage and through the rest of the route. He is a fearless competitor that creates his own energy on the field and has played against top competition in a loaded SEC conference. His coverage gauntlet consists of Kyle Pitts, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, Elijah Moore, Jerry Jeudy, Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, Henry Ruggs and more. All of those aforementioned guys are either getting drafted in the first round this year or were already drafted in the first round.
Regardless of how he fared in some of his 2019 matchups, Horn has gone through an NFL season full of coverage assignments and will adjust to the next level just fine based on his history.
Horn has some technique issues to work on, but in a New England system that is constantly pumping out high-level corners that shouldn’t be an issue. He has shades of both Stephon Gilmore and Jalen Ramsey in his game and in the right system can grow to be just as good as both of those guys.
Outside of Trey Lance or Justin Fields, Horn is easily the pick I would be most ecstatic with if the Patriots were to take him.
Alijah Vera-Tucker | OT, USC
Much like corner, tackle isn’t a hole in the Patriots 2021 roster. However, both Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown could be elsewhere in 2022. Wynn’s rookie contract expires (unless they pick up his club option) after the season as well as Trent Brown’s restructured deal. They have 2020 sixth-round pick Justin Herron as their swing tackle right now, but for as good as he was last year I wouldn’t be completely sold that the line would be as good with him in the starting lineup.
Vera-Tucker is my third ranked tackle in this class behind Rashawn Slater and Penei Sewell. His technique is extremely polished for a college player and he has shades of Isaiah Wynn in his build and play style. His balance, power, agility and hand usage jumped out to me on tape and he can truly play well in any type of scheme. That is something Belichick takes highly into account, as the New England offense isn’t married to one specific running-style over the course of a season.
Vera-Tucker projects for most as a guard at the next level due to his arm length (32 ⅛ inches), but I think he can still be a solid tackle with his hand usage, balance and power. At the very worst, Vera-Tucker can be the swing guard behind Shaq Mason and Mike Onwenu in 2021 and can slide in to left guard in 2022 with Onwenu taking the right tackle spot, where he proved to be serviceable in 2020.
While it wouldn’t be the most exciting pick for the casual fan, it would surely eliminate any future concerns for the offensive line. The Patriots can afford to have middling quarterback play if their line can be as dominant as they project to be. If they opt to chase a quarterback in next year’s draft, having an elite offensive line gives him the best chance to succeed.
DeVonta Smith | WR, Alabama
There isn’t much to say about Smith that hasn’t already been said, he is a stud. The Patriots put a lot of band-aids on the horrible wide receiver situation they put forth last season, but none of those guys project to be a true dominant #1 guy. Smith can do just that for the Patriots from day one.
His size doesn’t really meet the thresholds for someone Belichick (or really any NFL team) would want to draft, especially in the first round, but I would put my money on Smith bucking the normal trend for 170-pound receivers.
The Heisman Trophy winner spent his Alabama career leaving future NFL corners in the dust in every way possible. He has the route-running, IQ and hands to succeed against all types of competition in the NFL. The size (6’1 170 pounds) raises durability concerns, but against a rugged slate of SEC defenses Smith managed to stay on the field.
Belichick has a strong camaraderie with Alabama head coach Nick Saban and the two have undoubtedly had discussions about his former receiver. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Smith in a Patriot uniform come draft day, if he even makes it that far.
Landon Dickerson | IOL, Alabama
Dickerson isn’t being dubbed as a first-round guy based off of his injury history (two torn ACL’s) and his position, but is a guy I would be more than happy with at 15. The Patriots don’t need a center, or even a backup center for that matter, but Dickerson is much more than that.
He is one of two prospects ever to have started games in college at every single position along the offensive line, and done well at it at that. Dickerson plays with a nasty edge to him, wanting to punish any defender that stands in his way. He has the build and athletic profile to be scheme versatile across multiple positions on the offensive line. There is really nothing as a prospect that he doesn’t do well. The combination of strength, agility, hand usage and IQ is undeniable in Dickerson.
The Patriots need to add depth to their tackle and guard spots at some point in the draft and Dickerson would easily be a starter for them in 2022 and beyond.
Much like if Vera-Tucker were to move to guard, Dickerson could play at the left guard position while Mike Onwenu slides to right tackle once Trent Brown leaves. To be honest, that offensive line combination of Isaiah Wynn, Landon Dickerson, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Mike Onwenu could legitimately be even better than the line they trot out in 2021, and their current line is easily a top-five group on paper this year.
In a dire situation, Dickerson has the physical stature and background to play tackle if need be as well. He could legitimately be the first backup to every spot on the offensive line in 2021, and as we saw in 2020, having a good backup is important for the injury-ridden Patriots line. Would be a more than solid long-term pickup, albeit not a flashy one, for the Patriots.
Kwity Paye | EDGE, Michigan
I think it would be some sort of record if the Patriots were to take a Michigan edge defender for the third straight year, but it wouldn’t really surprise me.
Paye is an athletic monster who ran a 4.57 40-yard-dash and benched 36 reps of 225 at 6’2 and 261 pounds. He brings great power to hold his gaps against the run vs. all types of blockers. With his athleticism, he can quickly develop into an elite pass-rusher at the next level while that area currently leaves a little to be desired.
Belichick has long-loved players that set the edge well, a problem that plagued the Patriots in 2020. He has the juice out of his stance to play anywhere from a 5-technique to a wide-9 technique. That versatility marries perfectly with what the Patriots value at the edge position and I would find it hard to believe that Paye isn’t very high on New England’s board right now.
While the pick would be a bit redundant given the money they shelled out to edge defenders in free agency, it is certainly one I can see happening and would be happy with at the end of the day.