The New England Patriots have had as crazy of an offseason as any team in the NFL, as they have overhauled their roster by going on a free-agent shopping spree. They brought in a major amount of talent, including wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry and pass rushers in Kyle Van Noy and Matt Judon.
Heading into the 2021 NFL Draft, the Patriots needed to address their long-term prospects at the quarterback position and find more playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. Here is my breakdown of the 2021 Patriots’ draft class.
Round 1, pick 15: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
The Patriots came into this draft in desperate need of a long-term solution to their quarterback situation. While they brought last year’s starting QB, Cam Newton, back for another season, he clearly is not meant to be the franchise QB replacement for Tom Brady, especially after throwing only eight touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in 15 starts.
Luckily for the Patriots, the possible answer lies in Alabama QB Mac Jones, one of the top-five QB prospects coming into the draft. The Patriots were able to sit with their 15th pick and draft Jones without having to trade up like the Chicago Bears did for Justin Fields. Jones has a great pocket presence and has a knack for going through his progressions quickly. The one concern is that Jones was surrounded by immense talent at Alabama and had receivers that often were wide open due to their incredible speed and skill. Jones will be a project, but if he can learn to thread the needle and make even quicker (and smarter) decisions at the NFL level, he can provide stability for the QB position for the next decade or so.
Round 2, pick 38: Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
The Patriots decided to go the Alabama route once again and bolster their defensive line by drafting defensive tackle Christian Barmore. They gave up their second-round pick and two fourth-round picks to do so, trading up eight spots. This was a huge must-pick for the Patriots as they needed to improve their defensive line after defensive tackle Adam Butler left the team in free agency for the division rival Miami Dolphins. Barmore is a physical presence that can disrupt plays on a dime. Considering the Patriots’ rush defense ranked 26th in the NFL last season and were also 26th in team sacks, this pick was essential to bolstering a Patriots defense that lacked impact players in 2020.
Round 3, pick 96: Ronnie Perkins, DE, Oklahoma
Speaking of the lack of sack production last season, the Patriots addressed this even more directly by drafting star Oklahoma pass-rusher Ronnie Perkins in the third round. This pick has the potential to be a special one when looking back at this draft class for the Patriots in a few years. Perkins was a force for Oklahoma in his final two seasons, racking up 24 tackles for loss. His ability to analyze situations and blocking schemes while blending speed and power in his game made him a tough player for offensive linemen to block on a consistent basis. While lacking in athleticism and size, he has the potential to become a force on the Patriots’ defensive line in a few years as he’ll sit behind Judon and Van Noy in his rookie season.
Round 4, pick 120: Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, Oklahoma
Once again, the Patriots go back-to-back and take another player from Oklahoma like they did with Alabama in the first-two rounds. When looking at the Patriots’ backfield, one may notice that while the Patriots certainly do not lack depth with Damien Harris, Sony Michel and James White, they lack a power back. Enter Rhamondre Stevenson, a 5-foot-11, 227 pound back from Oklahoma who can provide that bruising style of running the team has lacked since LeGarrette Blount left the team after the 2016 season. He can provide an impact immediately in short-yardage situations and give the team more options if any of the top-three starters suffers an injury.
Round 5, pick 177: Cameron McGrone, LB, Michigan
The Patriots’ linebacking corp was heavily impacted by the absence of Dont’a Hightower, who opted out last season. To help provide more long-term options for the position, the Patriots bring in Cameron McGrone, a raw prospect who only played 19 games in college. It will take a lot of time for McGrone to develop into a player that can make an impact at the NFL level, especially considering he tore his ACL this past November and may not be able to play this season. The potency of this pick will depend on McGrone’s development over the next couple years but for now, this is a questionable pick at best.
Round 6, pick 188: Joshuah Bledsoe, S, Missouri
The Patriots suffered some losses in the secondary this offseason with cornerback Jason McCourty leaving the Patriots for the Dolphins and safety Patrick Chung retired after opting out last season. With last year’s top pick in Kyle Duggar expected to get more of a role in the secondary, more depth was needed. They drafted Joshuah Bledsoe from Missouri, an aggressive and jack-of-all-trades safety that head coach Bill Belichick can use in his scheme. Along with his experience in special teams, Bledsoe can be a player that can get playing time early and possibly develop into a contributor a few years down the road on defense. Great value for a late-round pick.
Round 6, pick 197: William Sherman, OL, Colorado
Last year in the sixth-round, the Patriots took Michael Onwenu, a tackle-guard hybrid that became a productive and consistent contributor on the offensive line and is expected to start Week 1. They are hoping that lightning can strike twice and took William Sherman from Colorado, a prospect similar to what Onwenu was last season for the team. He can provide depth on the offensive line that is looking more and more formidable, especially with them bringing back Trent Brown this offseason. If Sherman can be anywhere near as productive as Onwenu, the Patriots got another sixth-round steal (too bad this pick wasn’t 199th overall like a certain other sixth-round steal).
Round 7, pick 242: Tre Nixon, WR, UCF
The Patriots used their final pick of the 2021 NFL Draft on a wide receiver in the seventh round, which is the same round the Patriots drafted Super Bowl 53 MVP Julian Edelman in. Tre Nixon is smaller in size (6-foot, 187 pounds) but has a lot of speed at the receiver position. The Patriots are hoping to develop his intangibles so that can he use his speed to become a dynamic playmaker at the wide-receiver position. This is a classic low-risk, high reward pick that could pay off in the long run if Nixon can tap into his potential that made him a top recruit out of high school.
The Patriots have addressed many of their needs in what has been an eventful offseason for the franchise as they try to rebuild in the post-Tom Brady era. They used their early-round picks to get a possible successor to Tom Brady while upgrading their defensive line in a major way. Their late-round picks have potential to boom within the next few years, giving the team more options going forward. Their draft class looks promising and unlike last year’s draft class, they made some splashy moves that can made a huge impact in Week 1. The future is much brighter in Foxborough than it was a few months ago when the team was stuck in complete mediocrity and this draft shows the push to get back to their winning ways.
Overall Grade: A-