The 2021 NFL Draft begins on April 29, which means that The Game Haus will be writing draft profiles for every team. Each NFL team will be evaluated heading into this year’s draft, as our staff recaps their last season, highlights their needs, and pinpoints their potential 2021 NFL Draft targets.
The New England Patriots are the subject of today’s 2021 NFL Draft profile.
Last year went as well as many thought it would go for New England’s first season without Tom Brady. The Patriots were able to win seven games off of solid defensive play and great coaching. It was the first time since 2008 that New England missed the playoffs and the third time in the past two decades they haven’t made the playoffs.
The Patriots were on the wrong side of one of the largest free-agent signings in NFL history last offseason. Their starting quarterback for two decades Tom Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Due to some salary cap issues and where they were selected in the draft that year, New England decided to take a chance on Cam Newton who many around the league believed was finished. Newton showed that he not only isn’t finished but that he could be a serviceable starting quarterback.
He averaged only 177.1 passing yards per game during the 15 games he played and only threw 8 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. But Newton’s 592 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns made up for his lack of passing production.
A major headline out of New England this past season was the lack of weapons that Newton had to work with. Usually reliable slot receiver Julian Edleman only played in six games last season. Jakobi Meyers was a solid replacement first receiver in New England, but the rest of their weapons in the passing game were way below average. This is one of the reasons why Cam Newton did not have a fantastic season and also contributed to why Tom Brady left in the first place.
Damien Harris broke out for the Patriots this year leading them in rushing with 691 yards. Former first-round pick Sony Michel’s role in the offense was the smallest it had ever been this past season only receiving 79 carries. Also, James White did not have the same role in the Patriots’ offense with Tom Brady no longer throwing him passes from the backfield.
New England’s defense played well considering all the losses they had from the previous year. The Patriots defense lost starters Kyle Van Noy, Danny Shelton, Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts, and on top of that both Donta Hightower and Patrick Chung opted out for the season. New England still managed to have one of the better defenses in the league last season. An interesting storyline surrounding the Patriots’ defense during the regular season was their willingness to move on from 2019-20 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore. New England’s asking price for Gilmore was a first-round pick around the trade deadline. He will be a free agent at the end of next season.
No team was more active in free agency this offseason than New England. On top of adding all the pass catchers previously mention the Patriots added edge rushers Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy, defensive lineman Henry Anderson and Davon Godchaux, and defensive back Jalen Mills. They also retained major free agents like Lawerence Guy, David Andrews, Deatrich Wise, and J.C. Jackson.
2021 NFL Picks
New England will have ten picks to use in the 2021 NFL Draft
First Round (one pick): No. 15
Second Round (one pick): No. 46
Third Round (one pick): No. 97
Fourth Round (three picks): No. 121, No. 123, No. 140
Fifth Round (one pick): No. 178
Sixth Round (two picks): No. 189, No. 198
Seventh Round (one pick): No. 244
Inside Linebacker- The Patriots defense desperately missed Donta Hightower this past season who opted out. Hightower is 31 years old so it might not be long until the Patriots will have to be without him again. They need a better option in place than Ja’Waun Bentley, Raekwon McMillian, and Anfernee Jennings to be their answer at the position going forward.
Quarterback- Even though New England resigned Cam Newton this offseason they still need a long-term answer at quarterback. With Newton in place for at least another season, New England should take a player who can develop for a year before becoming the team’s starter.
Cornerback- New England has one of the best secondaries in the league. But next offseason both Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson are going to be free agents. More times than not New England likes to take fliers on defensive backs they like in Day 2. But in order to prep for next offseason, they should prioritize that position
Running Back- There are a lot of notable running backs in New England backfield. Damien Harris, James White, Sony Michel to name a few. Even though Harris was solid last season New England likes to use to a committee approach. Both James White and Sony Michel disappointed last season and will hit the market next offseason. New England could try to replace them and bring in another back to split carries with Harris
Offensive Line- This offseason New England has done a solid job rearranging their offensive line making some upgrades. But they lost Joe Thuney in free agency and traded Marcus Cannon. This means newly acquired tackle Trent Brown should start on the right side and second-year player Michael Onwenu should see a full-time role on the interior. Left tackle is still a question mark since it is unclear if Isaiah Wynn is the long-term future at the position. Just to be safe New England should add another offensive lineman or two to provide some depth in case one of their starters disappoints.
Wide Receiver- After adding Nelson Agholor, Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, and Kendrick Bourne it seems unlikely that New England will add a pass catcher in the early rounds. But if there is a receiver New England likes on Day 3 they shouldn’t hesitate to add him to their receiving core that is deeper than last year but also is lacking young talent.
2021 Draft Targets
Pick No. 15: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Based on how the media thinks the quarterbacks will go in the upcoming draft Justin Fields could be the last of the top-5 to be selected. It is unlikely that New England could land Fields by staying at pick #15. But after Carolina has traded for Sam Darnold it is likely that once Fields clears Denver, New England will be next in line to land a first-round quarterback. Fields would be too good of a player for New England to pass up on. His athleticism, arm, and running ability at one point got him into the conversation for the first overall pick. On top of that, there have been reports that Bill Belichick and the Patriots love Justin Fields. Sitting behind Cam Newton for a year would be the best thing for Fields because he projects similarly to Newton and his ceiling could even be as high as Newton’s MVP season.
Pick No. 46: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
Zaven Collins is the type of linebacker that just fits so well in a Patriots-style defense. Collins can cover line an inside linebacker but could be lined up outside and rush the passer as well. This skill set has been coveted by the Patriots in the past through players like Donta Hightower, returning Patriot Kyle Van Noy, and last year’s third-round pick Anfernee Jennings. Van Noy feels like a good comp for Collins, but another player who he has been compared to is Anthony Barr. Like Collins and the players previously mentioned Barr is a linebacker who has the ability to rush the passer like an edge rusher. Adding a premier player with that kind of skill set would be an outstanding add by New England.
Pick No. 97: Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Memphis
Running back might not be high on the list of priorities for New England. But Kenneth Gainwell could very well be the best player available at pick 97. Expectations for him won’t be too high during his rookie season with many backs in front of him. But his receiving ability out of the backfield and versatility to line up at receiver could get him a lot of action in New England’s offense. He has the potential to take James White’s role in the offense and become the change of pace back in New England splitting time with Damien Harris almost 50/50.