A majority of this year’s Patriots draft conversation has centered around the quarterback postion, and rightfully so, the Patriots need a long-term answer at the position. However, for the purpose of this article, we’re going to assume the Patriots acquire a quarterback in the first round of the 2021 draft so that we can give you some non-QB prospects the Patriots could target on day two of the draft. Specifically, we are going to show you prospects at New England’s remaining positions of need.
While the Patriots don’t currently have any glaring immediate holes on their roster, there are several positions that are filled with uncertainty beyond the 2021 season. Without further ado, let’s hop right in.
Why is cornerback considered a position of need?
As it stands right now, the Patriots are set to boast another strong secondary in 2021. However, both Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson’s long-term futures with the team are very much unknown. Both players will be unrestricted free agents following the 2021 season. Fortunately for the Patriots, this year’s cornerback class is deep with good prospects expected to fall to day two.
Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse: 6’2″, 205 lbs. | Round 2 Target
Melifonwu is a lengthy corner with incredible athletic traits and excellent ball skills (26 pass deflections in three seasons). His blend of size and speed is extremely coveted. He’s also a very willing run defender, which is a must for any defensive back on a Bill Belichick-coached team. Melifonwu could use some more refining in his technique but his potential is sky-high. His skill-set and length are perfect for any team looking to play heavy doses of man coverage, but he’s shown the ability to succeed in zone coverages as well.
Benjamin St-Juste, Minnesota: 6’3″, 202 lbs. | Mid-Late Round 3 Target
St-Juste doesn’t offer much in terms of long speed, he ran a 4.52 40 yard dash, but he does offer traits you just can’t teach. He’s a lengthy corner, like Melifonwu, with a ridiculous wingspan. While he is an older player (he’ll be 24 when the season starts) with a concerning medical history, he offers good upside. Two things that will likely attract New England to St-Juste is his great tackling ability and his ability to play aggressive press-man coverage.
Why is wide receiver considered a position of need?
With last year’s top receiver Jakobi Meyers in the last year of his deal (will be an RFA in 2022), along with the retirement of Julian Edelman and the uncertain future of N’Keal Harry, the Patriots cupboard is pretty bare at wide receiver beyond the 2021 season. Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne will likely be back in 2022, but that shouldn’t stop the Patriots from drafting a wideout. Of course, the obvious and popular picks for the Patriots on day two are receivers, Amari Rodgers, out of Clemson, and Elijah Moore out of Ole Miss. Because those are two fairly well-discussed options, we’ll take a look at two other receivers that would be nice fits in New England.
Nico Collins, Michigan: 6’4″, 215 lbs. | Round 3 Target
The Patriots have successfully tapped into the Michigan pipeline a lot in recent years, and Collins could be the next Wolverine turned New England Patriot. Collins is your prototypical outside wide receiver, as he rarely lined up in the slot at Michigan. He’s shown great contested catch ability, along with good vertical speed (4.45 40 yard dash). The big concern with Collins is his ability to separate. However, Collins isn’t some big physical wide receiver with no speed, as previously stated he has nice vertical speed, but he also tested very well in his three-cone drill, which is important for receivers.
D’Wayne Eskridge, Western Michigan: 5’9″, 190 lbs. | Round 3 Target
Eskridge is likely a developmental prospect, but he offers immediate upside on special teams as both a return man and a gunner. Plus, he brings traits the Patriots offense has lacked in years past; explosiveness and speed. Eskridge lined up inside and outside at Western Michigan, but as an undersized wideout, he projects to predominantly work out of the slot in the NFL. If Eskridge can develop his route running and his release package, watch out because his speed and elusiveness make him a dangerous threat every time he touches the ball. You can bet that Eskridge’s special team’s prowess and upside as a playmaker have put him firmly on the Patriots’ radar.
Why is offensive tackle considered a position of need?
New England’s current starters at tackle, Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn are both on the last year of their respective deals. Wynn is eligible for the fifth-year option, but whether or not the Patriots pick that up is still up for debate. There’s no denying Wynn is a promising young tackle, but he just hasn’t been able to stay on the field. So, while the postion looks set for 2021, it has the potential to become a huge need in 2022. At such a critical position, it’s best to look ahead and fill the (potential) need a year early.
Alex Leatherwood, Alabama: 6’5″, 312 lbs. | Round 2 Target
By selecting Leatherwood, Belichick could once again tap into the Alabama pipeline as he’s done so many times in the past. Leatherwood is a versatile player who’s excelled in the past at both tackle and guard. There are some questions as to which position he will play at the next level, but with the Patriots’ superb history of developing offensive linemen, they shouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on Leatherwood if he’s available at pick 46. Despite the questions about his position, Leatherwood has been a constant producer on the Alabama offensive line for three straight seasons and he’s got excellent technique.
Spencer Brown, Northern Iowa: 6’8″, 311 lbs. | Round 3 Target
A former tight end turned right tackle, Brown is somewhat raw, but he’s extremely athletic for his size. In fact, he’s one of the most athletic tackles in this year’s draft. To go along with his insane athletic traits, Brown also has tremendous length. He needs to improve his technique, but as a prospect who (barring an injury) would sit in year one, New England feels like a perfect destination. Brown can develop in 2021 and then be unleashed in 2022 with better technique to go along with his freakish length and athleticism.
Why is linebacker considered a position of need?
Although longtime starter Dont’a Hightower is returning to the field after opting out of the 2020 season, he is not only in the final year of his contract but is also rumored to have considered retirement in the past. The depth behind him is thin. In a loaded class of linebackers, it’s more probable than not that the Patriots will look to bolster their depth chart at the position.
Jabril Cox, LSU: 6’3″, 232 lbs. | Round 2 Target
Cox needs to improve his run defense, but he’s one of, if not the best, coverage linebacker in the 2021 class. He has proven to be outstanding in both zone and man coverage. Cox is a bit undersized at 232 pounds, but the reality is most linebackers coming into the NFL today are around that size. The prototype of an NFL linebacker is no longer 250 pounds, as teams have begun to value smaller linebackers that can cover. Cox’s football IQ, athleticism, and rare coverage skills make him an appealing second-round target.
Pete Werner, Ohio State: 6’3″, 238 lbs. | Round 3 Target
Werner seems to be flying a bit under the radar due to Ohio State’s linebacker group being one of the most loaded groups in all of college football. He is a versatile linebacker with good instincts, reliable run defense, and above-average athleticism. Werner has also shown solid coverage skills, an area where the Patriots linebacker group has been subpar. With Werner, the Patriots would be getting a guy that can play in any and every situation (run defense, coverage, special teams).
Stay tuned for more draft coverage as the draft approaches.