The 2020 season was the first in this century in which Tom Brady did not take a single snap under center for the New England Patriots, but he wasn’t the only notable missing piece last season. With many opt-outs and injuries, the Patriots missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008 when Matt Cassel took the place of an injured Brady. Cam Newton took over at QB in 2020, and the Patriots compiled their first sub-.500 record since 2000, as they went 7-9. With the 15th pick in the draft and a ton of cap space, the Patriots have an important offseason in front of them. Bill Belichick has been an enigma for the majority of his head coaching career, so it will be interesting to see what he does this offseason.
Some quick history. Here are the Patriots’ last five first-round draft picks:
2020: None (traded to the Chargers)
- 2019: N’Keal Harry (WR)
- 2018: Isaiah Wynn (OT) & Sony Michel (RB)
- 2017: None (traded to the Saints for Brandin Cooks)
- 2016: None (forfeited due to Deflategate)
The Patriots have not selected in the top 15 since 2008, when they took linebacker Jerod Mayo with the 10th pick in that year’s draft.
Currently, the Patriots have the third-most amount of cap space entering this offseason with about $62.22 million. Here is a list of players who the Patriots could move this offseason in order to create even more cap space (age in parentheses):
- Dont’a Hightower (30)
- Marcus Cannon (32)
- Julian Edelman (34)
- Adrian Phillips (28)
- Stephon Gilmore (30)
Here are some players the Patriots could target with the 15th pick in this year’s draft:
Possibility #1: Alabama QB Mac Jones
2020 stats: 13 games, 77.4 completion rate, 4,500 yards, 41 TDs, 4 INTs, 11.2 Y/A
Why: One of the biggest question marks surrounding the Patriots is who will be their signal caller moving forward. The jury does not appear to be out about bringing Cam Newton back, but is he a long-term solution? Furthermore, what is the deal with Jarrett Stidham? Either way, with the 2022 NFL Draft potentially very thin at quarterback, this could force some teams to draft a quarterback this year even if it isn’t the most pressing need this season. But it was abundantly clear that this position needs some sort of upgrade for the future.
Jones is a very fluent passer who showed incredible touch on the ball and made some incredible deep throws to DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. Even without Waddle for most of the season, Jones was able to put on a show against some of the best defenses in college football. He has been on the rise, especially with his performance at the Senior Bowl practices.
Possibility #2: Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle
2020 stats: 6 games, 28 receptions, 591 yards, 21.1 Y/C, 4 TDs
Why: Jaylen Waddle is one of the most explosive players in this draft. There aren’t many corners who can keep up with him in press coverage, which is why he was considered for a long time to be better than even the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner, teammate DeVonta Smith. He is an elite vertical threat who is able to stretch the field against any opponent, as evidenced by how good he was in just six games for Alabama in 2020.
Despite drafting N’Keal Harry in the first round in 2019, the Patriots have not gotten a ton of production out of their young receivers. The Patriots haven’t had a true vertical threat at receiver since Brandin Cooks in 2017. Waddle would give them this and then some. He is an extremely tough player who the Patriots would love instantly. This was a guy who played in the national championship game even though he clearly wasn’t healthy and didn’t really need to.
Possibility #3: Virginia Tech OT Christian Darrisaw
Career: 34 games played, 34 games started
Why: The Patriots’ offensive line wasn’t one of their weak groups last season, but it certainly had some troubles staying healthy as Marcus Cannon and Isaiah Wynn both missed a plethora of games in 2020. With Cannon’s decline due to age and injuries along with his cap hit, the Patriots could potentially move on from him. Furthermore, with Joe Thuney and David Andrews both being free agents this offseason, there could be a lot of change coming for the Patriots.
Christian Darrisaw primarily played left tackle at Virginia Tech, and this could help the Patriots out if they end up losing Thuney and moving on from Cannon. New England could move Isaiah Wynn back to guard, his position in college, and keep do-it-all offensive lineman Michael Onwenu at right tackle. Darrisaw is a powerful tackle who has tremendous instincts and grip strength. It would not be surprising if the Patriots think he is the player they need to enhance their run game even more for the 2021 season.
Possibility #4: Tulsa LB Zaven Collins
2020 stats: 8 games, 54 total tackles, 4 sacks, 2 FFs, 4 INTs, 2 PDs, 2 TDs
Zaven Collins isn’t a conventional linebacker, as he is a tweener between a linebacker and an edge rusher. However, this makes him a good fit for the Patriots, especially since they need a replacement for Kyle Van Noy. Even though Van Noy has been gone for only a year, the Patriots missed his pass rush ability and his leadership on defense in 2020. Furthermore, the Patriots’ rush defense declined a lot from 2019 to 2020.
Collins is a very athletic linebacker who has tremendous size for the position. He would give the Patriots a lot of flexibility with how they set up their defense, especially against some of the more mobile QBs in the league. Even though Collins still needs a lot of development, Bill Belichick has proven that he is able to get the best out of these types of players, especially in the case of Van Noy. This would be a very intriguing player for the Patriots to draft at 15.
SEE ALSO: On the Clock archive
Sources: Pro-Football-Reference, Over the Cap