Everyone in the NFL thinks that offenses decide who will the Super Bowl — and the days of defenses winning championships are over. So in ESPN analyst Todd McShay’s latest mock draft, Bill Belichick could zig while the rest of the NFL zags. Belichick could reconstruct his defense with his top two picks of the 2022 draft, adding elite defenders — both of whom are first-round talents.
Consider this: McShay has the Patriots landing a linebacker that compares to Buccaneers linebacker Devin Bush, per NFL.com, and a cornerback that compares to Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson, again per NFL.com. So let’s examine these potential picks, which would likely crack the starting lineup on Day 1.
21. New England Patriots — Nakobe Dean, ILB, Georgia
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From McShay: “New England could use a spark in the middle of the defense. Dean might not have the measurables that NFL teams seek — he is 5-foot-11 with shorter arms — but his tape might be my favorite in the entire class because of his incredible effort on every play and the way he can impact the run defense, pass defense and pass rush on any given set of downs. I think he’d be a star in coach Bill Belichick’s system.”
Our take: The Patriots have recently deployed smaller linebackers like Dean in their defense. Both Elandon Roberts and Terez Hall weigh in at 235 pounds. Neither of those players have a tenth of the playmaking ability that Dean has. And then there’s the acquisition of former Browns linebacker Mack Wilson, also 235 pounds. New England seems willing to go lighter at the position — particularly as prospects, on the whole, get lighter. (There aren’t many 6-foot-4, 260-pound linebackers coming out of the draft anymore.)
Size and prototypes seem to matter less to Belichick. The bottom line is that Dean absolutely flies. He is a playmaker who can rush up the middle, defend the run from sideline to sideline and, when necessary, get the job done in coverage. It’s surprising to see him falling this far down in just about every mock draft.
54. New England Patriots — Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
From McShay: “J.C. Jackson signed with the Chargers, and the Pats have Jalen Mills and Malcolm Butler penciled in as their starters at cornerback. Adding another playmaker there in the draft — especially one with Elam’s speed, instincts and physicality — gives New England options.”
Our take: Here’s another pleasant surprise, with Elam often going to the Patriots in the first round of mock drafts. If he fell to New England in Round 2, that would be a coup. He has good measurements to be a shutdown corner: 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, 4.39-second 40-yard dash. Per NFL.com’s Lance Zuerlein, “Elam has early CB3 and eventual CB2 value as a press and zone corner.” New England is likely to run a lot of zone in 2022. Elam would instantly jump into the cornerback rotation with Malcolm Butler, Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones. Elam has the range (both with length and speed) to help keep the lid on the Patriots defense, which will face Tyreek Hill twice a year.