Patriots Players Who Will Be Most Impacted by 2021 NFL Draft Picks

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IApril 19, 2021

Patriots Players Who Will Be Most Impacted by 2021 NFL Draft Picks

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    It's been an eventful offseason for the New England Patriots. The team was aggressive during the early days of free agency and has greatly improved its roster since the end of the 2020 campaign. But the Pats aren't done adding players quite yet.

    The 2021 NFL draft is set to take place from April 29-May 1, and New England has 10 picks to try to add some of the top prospects in this year's class. The Patriots will also be on the clock a bit earlier than they have been in recent years, as they own the No. 15 overall selection.

    After missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008, New England appears positioned to have a bounce-back year in 2021. And depending on which players the Patriots draft, they could again be set up for long-term success.

    As New England brings in rookies, some of its players will have their roles affected for next season and beyond. Here's a look at several who will likely be affected by the Patriots' draft decisions.

QB Cam Newton

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    After a disappointing first season in New England, Cam Newton will be looking to prove that he can produce better results in 2021. But if he doesn't get as much of an opportunity to do so, that would be hard to do.

    While the Patriots brought back the 31-year-old Newton on another one-year deal, that doesn't mean they won't be taking a quarterback in the draft. In fact, it's likely they will select one, potentially even in the first round, because Newton is unlikely to be their long-term solution at the position.

    With 10 draft picks, New England could even move up to draft one of the top quarterbacks in the class. It's unlikely it could get Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, BYU's Zach Wilson or Alabama's Mac Jones (who are likely to go with the first three picks to teams that need quarterbacks), but the Pats could trade into the top 10 and land either North Dakota State's Trey Lance or Ohio State's Justin Fields.

    If New England doesn't draft a quarterback (or at least not in the first round), then Newton could be the Week 1 starter and retain the job with improved play. But if Lance or Fields enters the picture, maybe Newton won't even get an opportunity to lead the Pats offense in 2021.

WR N'Keal Harry

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    N'Keal Harry has disappointed since the Patriots used a first-round pick to take him in the 2019 NFL draft. Over his first two seasons, Harry has 45 receptions for 414 yards and four touchdowns in 21 games.

    New England has already brought in Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne via free agency. And with Jakobi Meyers posting some solid numbers in 2020, it's possible that Harry is further down the Patriots depth chart than he was last year. If the team takes a wide receiver in the draft (which could be more of a possibility after Julian Edelman's recent retirement), then Harry could get even less playing time.

    There's also a chance Harry won't even be with the Patriots when the 2021 season arrives. This offseason, there's been some speculation that New England could trade the 23-year-old receiver. NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported in March that teams were calling the Pats about Harry.

    It could be easier for the Patriots to trade Harry if they use their mid-first-round pick on a receiver. And if no deals work out and Harry remains in New England, then the addition of a rookie to the group would likely have a negative effect on his playing time.

LB Ja'Whaun Bentley

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    Stew Milne/Associated Press

    If the Patriots can't land a top quarterback prospect and stay at No. 15 in the first round, perhaps they would consider drafting a linebacker. Some strong linebackers should be available in that range (such as Penn State's Micah Parsons), so that could be something New England decides to do.

    While the Pats signed Raekwon McMillan during free agency, the 25-year-old hasn't lived up to expectations in his first three NFL seasons (with the Miami Dolphins and Las Vegas Raiders), so it's not a sure thing that he will provide a boost to the linebacker corps. And Dont'a Hightower hasn't played since 2019 (having opted out of the 2020 season, played amid the coronavirus pandemic). That's why New England could want more depth in the middle of that group.

    It's possible that the Patriots draft a top middle linebacker and Hightower quickly returns to form, giving them a strong core to anchor the defense. If that happens, it could lead to Ja'Whaun Bentley getting less playing time, as he would likely have a much larger role based on the current composition of New England's roster.

    Bentley had a strong 2020 season, making 13 starts and recording 91 tackles. But it can't hurt to have too much linebacker depth, and even if he slides into a reserve role, it should just make the Pats defense even better in 2021.