Patriots' Top 2022 NFL Draft Targets

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistApril 27, 2022

Patriots' Top 2022 NFL Draft Targets

0 of 3

    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Bill Belichick needs to rework the New England Patriots defense.

    The 2022 NFL draft seems like the perfect time for Belichick to inject young players into an aging unit that lost a few key pieces in the offseason.

    A slew of defensive prospects should be available to the Patriots with the No. 21 overall pick, including some from Georgia's top-rated defense.

    Defense will likely be the direction taken at No. 21 because of the team's needs at linebacker and cornerback, but there is one curveball the Patriots could throw.

    New England needs help on the offensive interior after the departures of Ted Karras and Shaq Mason. It could go that route if it feels like the right prospect is there at No. 21.

Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia

1 of 3

    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Nakobe Dean has the feel of a perfect draft pick in the Belichick era.

    Belichick has a knack for selecting players from the most successful Power Five college football programs, with Alabama carrying the most notable connection the Patriots.

    It would come as no surprise to outsiders if the Patriots went after a linebacker from the national champion.

    Dean has become a bit of an underrated prospect in the first round because of the attention paid to his collegiate teammates in recent weeks. Travon Walker is in the mix for the No. 1 overall pick, and Jordan Davis could be a top-20 selection.

    ESPN's Todd McShay predicted Dean would land with the Patriots in his recent mock draft with Mel Kiper Jr.

    "If you've read my other mock drafts this spring, you know I love this fit. Dean has some unbelievable tape, and coach Bill Belichick would get him involved on defense in a number of ways," McShay wrote.

    Dean would be a perfect fit inside the Patriots defense and could command the middle of that unit for a decade or longer if he lives up to his potential.

    In some ways, Dean to the Patriots almost makes too much sense given the positional need and Belichick's penchant for selecting Power Five players.

Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson

2 of 3

    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    New England should be in the market for a J.C. Jackson replacement at some point in the draft.

    That point could be the 21st overall pick if Dean and Devin Lloyd are off the board. The team would be better off taking a linebacker Friday or Saturday in that case.

    The ideal scenario for a cornerback would feature a trade up from No. 21 to land Derek Stingley Jr. or Trent McDuffie. The Patriots have six picks on Day 3 that could help with a potential trade package.

    Andrew Booth Jr. would likely be the cornerback target Thursday if the Patriots decide to hold serve in the draft order.

    Booth's tackling and coverage skills have been praised by a handful of experts, including Pro Football Focus' Austin Gayle.

    "Booth, a former 5-star recruit, is an aggressive tackler and a smooth athlete who improved his PFF grade every year of his Clemson career," Gayle wrote. "The 6'0", 195-pounder closed the 2021 season with a 78.7 PFF coverage grade, having allowed just 29 receptions for 312 yards on 46 targets. He also allowed just two touchdowns while logging three pass breakups and three picks."

    The Clemson product could slide right into a starting position and help the Patriots deal with all of the upgraded wide receivers units in the AFC East.

    Booth is one of many defensive products the Patriots could use, but the franchise might wait until the second round to attack that part of the field if they rate one of the offensive guard prospects highly.

Zion Johnson, OG, Boston College

3 of 3

    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Zion Johnson to the Patriots would feel too obvious if that is the direction of the 21st overall pick.

    Johnson is a local prospect from Boston College, and he would be asked to replace one of Ted Karras and Shaq Mason on the offensive interior.

    There is no guarantee Johnson makes it that far because a few other teams in front of the Patriots could use offensive line help as well.

    The New Orleans Saints could trigger a run on offensive linemen at No. 16. The Los Angeles Chargers, Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers might go in that direction as well. New Orleans also owns the 19th overall pick, but it will likely only take one offensive lineman.

    New Orleans and Los Angeles will likely be in the market for offensive tackles, while Philadelphia and Pittsburgh could go for help on the interior.

    If Johnson falls to No. 21, the Patriots would have a tough decision to make. They could either fill one of their few defensive needs or shore up the protection for Mac Jones.

    Offensive line feels like the only position on that side of the ball the Patriots would attack in the first round. The DeVante Parker trade eased some concerns about wide receiver, which could be the focus of a pick on Day 2 or 3.