The New England Patriots embarked on an unprecedented spending spree prior to the 2021 season and rode the contributions of their free agents and rookies Mac Jones and Christian Barmore to a playoff berth. This offseason has been much more quiet, and Patriots fans will need to hang their hopes on internal improvements—and the 2022 draft class. With that in mind, John Limberakis evaluated prospects top-to-bottom and thoroughly studied New England’s draft history to find the best fits. In this first part of a two-part series, John looks at the offensive players likely to be on Bill Belichick’s draft board.
Former Patriots offensive-line coach Dante Scarnecchia has described the ideal Patriots lineman as “smart, tough, and athletic enough.” For 22 years Bill Belichick has not drafted a single offensive lineman in the first three rounds who hasn’t started at left tackle sometime in college. Belichick stresses the athletic in “athletic enough” as their offensive line averages an 8.58 Relative Athletic Score (RAS) in rounds 1-3. Given this draft criteria, there are only six tackles that they are likely to consider days 1 and 2 and two of them, Ikem Ekwonu (NC State), and Evan Neal (Alabama), will be taken in the top 10 picks. Charles Cross (Mississippi State) checks every box for them but will never be better than an above average run blocker. He is also not likely to be available at 21.
Trevor Penning (Northern Iowa) is tough, athletic, and plays with excellent motor and nastiness, but his technique needs to be completely rebuilt in both pass protection and as a run blocker. He also might not be there at 21. Bernhard Raimann (Central Michigan) only began playing football in college as a tight end after he completed his compulsory military service in Austria. His footwork, athleticism, and intelligence to play at such a high level technically so early will endear him to the Patriots, but he needs to add core strength. Raimann also lacks even average length with only 32.875” arms. However, the Patriots have taken short-armed tackles before, so that might not be an issue. Raimann is best on an outside zone team but is still a good fit with the Patriots.
Tyler Smith (Tulsa) is a redshirt sophomore and has only played offensive line since his junior year in high school. He is similar to Ekwonu: they are both mauling run blockers who dominate the line of scrimmage, they both have good size and excellent athleticism, and they both have issues with oversetting and technique work to be done in pass pro. Smith has another glaring problem, as he gets called too often for holding penalties and has to improve his use of hands in the run game.
Abraham Lucas (Washington State) won’t ever be a good run blocker but he has great intelligence, size, and athleticism in pass protection. He also has not played left tackle. If Belichick changes his standards on LT play in college, Lucas would be an above average fit. All seven of these tackles will likely be gone by the mid 40s.
After the group at the top there are no good fits until late day 2 or day 3. On day three they have no consistent body types or athletic standards for tackles but they all have to be smart, tough, and have at least functional athleticism. This year Spencer Burford (UTSA), Braxton Jones (Southern Utah), Vederian Lowe (Illinois), and Matt Waletzko (North Dakota University) fit that profile.
Just like at offensive tackle, in the first three rounds the Patriots look for smart, tough, and highly athletic in their guards. All the interior linemen they’ve drafted in the first three rounds played at least some left tackle. Zion Johnson (Boston College) is one of the top Patriots prototypes in the entire draft. Like Raimann, he is new to football, having just started playing offensive line in college. While he played left tackle in 2020, he switched to left guard in 2021 and was dominant. He is the most technically advanced offensive lineman in the draft, with good power and exceptional athleticism (9.75 RAS as an OG and 9.47 as an OT). Johnson is also one of the most intelligent OL in the class. Johnson is short for offensive tackle but has good arm length (34”), athleticism, and weight to play the position.
Kenyon Green (Texas A&M) is on the fringe of good fits for them. He only has three career starts at tackle and just one at left tackle. His agility testing was sub-par and his overall athleticism is right on the cusp of what they take early, 5.99. But he is a scheme fit for gap/power and he has tremendous size and power. He might have some offensive tackle versatility but it’s not clear he has the athleticism and foot quickness to play there.
After those two names at the top, there isn’t anyone they would be interested in until the third round or day 3. Dylan Parham (Memphis) didn’t play LT but is highly athletic (8.8 RAS), and played RT in 2020 for Memphis. He played RT in 2020 at 285 pounds but has filled out his frame and is now 311 pounds. He has the length (33.5” arms) and the athleticism to be a swing tackle or a starting interior offensive lineman. He might fit best on a zone blocking team, but his pass protection is exactly what they want from an interior offensive lineman and he looks good pulling and moving in space.
Sean Rhyan (UCLA) is my favorite late day 2 or early day 3 pick for New England at IOL. Rhyan started at left tackle and is a mauler who plays with a hot motor from start to finish. Rhyan doesn’t have the length to play tackle in the NFL. His footwork can get sloppy but he has fantastic athleticism (9.33 RAS) and his anchor improved so much in 2021 that it is now above average. Rhyan has to clean up his footwork and aggressiveness in pass protection, but he has the athleticism, raw power, and tenacity to be a starting guard for a long time.
Cole Strange (Chattanooga) plays with intensity and while he only started three games at offensive tackle during his career, he worked out all over the line at the Senior Bowl. He is another lineman who might be best in a zone scheme, but he has the tenacity and athleticism to play in any scheme. Luke Goedeke (Central Michigan) isn’t getting as much hype as his teammate Raimann, but Goedeke shined in his own right. Goedeke started two years at right tackle, but projects best as a guard in the NFL due to his inadequate length. He needs to do a better job with rushers who can convert speed to power and be better with twists and stunts and gap exchanges. Goedeke is ruthless at the point of attack and good with his hands in pass pro.
Later on in day 3 they should be interested in Zach Tom (Wake Forest), who has the smarts and athleticism (9.59 RAS) they like but he needs to add functional and core strength. He is another type who is a little undersized and would fit best on a zone scheme. He started two years at center and two years at left tackle, so he has versatility. He has fast hands and can mirror rushers well. Is he tough enough for them, will be the question.
Cade Mays (Tennessee) started at every position on the offensive line during his four years at Tennessee and Georgia. He is the physical opposite of Tom as he is tall, long, and strong. He is a mauler as an interior blocker. He struggled with speed and speed to power at right tackle in college and he needs to improve his ability to anchor quickly. He has a strong grip and good use of hands in pass protection and projects best as a guard in a gap/power or downhill rushing scheme. He is a good athlete, 7.56 RAS, and has the agility testing they like on the inside. Marquis Hayes (Oklahoma) is limited with his short area change of direction and ability to block in space, but he has good length and hands in pass protection and perhaps the best gap control in the class. He is as smart as they come but has athletic limitations. There are a plethora of interior offensive linemen that fit their profiles day 1, day 2, and especially day 3. That’s good, because the Patriots need to add both a starting left guard and depth.
The Patriots draft athletic tight ends in the first three rounds who are competent blockers and profile as good receivers. This year there are no round 1-3 slam dunk fits. There are some average fits but no one stands out as a true prototype. There are some names on day 3 who they might be interested in, however. Jelani Woods (Virginia) is a historically good athlete with a perfect 10 RAS score and with 34.5” arms, he has the length to grow into a good blocker. As a QB conversion, Woods is a massive project. He has an aggressive attacking mentality but needs to pack weight onto his frame and improve both his functional and core strength. Woods also needs to refine his route running and blocking angles.
James Mitchell (Virginia Tech) has a lot in common with Patriots 2020 3rd round pick Dalton Keene. He plays with intensity and is best as an H-Back mobile blocking unit. He has plus run after catch ability and can make tough catches while getting hit. He needs to add functional and core strength as a blocker and as a pass catcher. His routes are also severely underdeveloped. He is a captain and team leader known for his work ethic. Chasen Allen (Iowa State) is a backup in-line blocking prospect who plays with his hair on fire and has power in his punch but, like Woods and Mitchell, he needs to add weight to fill in his frame as a blocker. He has great length with 34.125” arms and plus athleticism (7.31 RAS). John Fitzpatrick (Georgia) is a 7th round or UDFA level prospect but could be a rotational in-line blocking specialist.
The Patriots are set at running back in 2022, but Damien Harris is a free agent after the season, James White is coming back from a significant injury and is on the wrong side of 30, and Ty Montgomery is a special teamer and backup 3rd down back. The Patriots have historically favored bigger backs (215-plus pounds) for early downs, and even their receiving backs weigh 204 or more. All backs have to be good in pass protection. This year there is one early-down running back that might interest them in round 3, Brian Robinson (Alabama). Robinson is a powerful between-the-tackles runner with above average burst and good long speed. He is a lot like Rhamondre Stevenson and has excellent contact balance and tackle breaking ability. Robinson is excellent in pass protection and while he had limited production as a receiver, he showed a natural ability to catch the ball and get up-field quickly. He is scheme-versatile but would be a wrecking-ball in space in gap/power.
They have a handful of good options for early down contributors on day 3. Dameon Pierce (Florida) is another power runner with adequate burst but a between-the-tackles only runner. He should be an excellent gunner with his physicality. He is also good in short yardage situations and flashes as a route runner and pass catcher. Ty Davis-Price (LSU) has the best pass protection in the class, good contact balance, and top end speed, but he lacks sudden change of direct ability and has inadequate burst. Kevin Harris (South Carolina) is another power runner who projects as a good pass protector, but he also struggles with change of direction and has issues catching the ball. He would be a good backup as an early down back but probably doesn’t have starter upside. Hassan Haskins (Michigan) is a well-rounded early down backup running back without any elite traits. He needs to improve his pass pro technique. D’Vonte Price (FIU) is a speedy outside the tackles or gap/power runner who excels on STs and exhibits plus pass protection. He however offers nothing as a receiver and has battled with maturity issues in the past.
There are also multiple day 3 receiving back options. Zonovan Knight (NC State) is a good route runner and catches the ball well. He has some technique and awareness issues in pass pro but has the size and fire to eventually be acceptable there. Ty Chandler (Tennessee) is a speedy back who can return kicks and is also a plus route runner and receiver. His pass pro is above average and he would fit in well as a natural gap runner as well as a 3rd down back. Isaih Pacheco (Rutgers) is an under-the-radar all purpose back who flashed excellent catch-and-run ability. He needs work in pass protection but has the size and strength to eventually be an adequate blocker. He also flashed high end traits as a runner, but playing behind the horrendous Rutgers offensive line makes him hard to evaluate. James Cook (Georgia) and Trestan Ebner (Baylor) have similar profiles. Both are outside-the-tackle runners and excellent route runners, but have significant issues both with technique and functional strength in pass protection. Ebner is a good kick returner and has the speed to play gunner on special teams. Cook is a better runner, is more productive with the ball in the open field, and is the best route runner of this group. But Cook’s pass protection is the worst of these potential pass-catching running backs and may not be fixable.
The Patriots day 1 and 2 draft history is short but repetitive. Aside from Brandon Tate (183-pound third round slot receiver who was an elite punt and kick returner in college), they go for size, speed, athleticism, and the ability to play X receiver. Deion Branch is the second-lightest receiver they’ve taken high and he was large (191 pounds) for his short stature. There is the possibility that they change their draft philosophy and go for smaller receivers and/or slot receivers earlier in the draft, but until it happens I will stick with their previous history to mine for fits.
Drake London (USC) will probably not be available at 21 but he has the size and hip fluidity to be an all-around receiver who can potentially dominate at X. My only question about his fit is if he is fast enough for them. He’s also an excellent and angry blocker who looks to pancake corners. George Pickens (Georgia) has the size and speed they like and was excellent when healthy as an X. He needs to work on polishing his route running and setting up separation better, but his catch radius, body control, and run after catch are all excellent traits. He’s another strong blocker who attacks corners. He reminds me stylistically of a cross between AJ Green and newly acquired Patriot DeVante Parker. He might not ever get to that level, but he has the potential to.
Christian Watson (NDSU) has excellent height, run after catch, speed, and offers special teams versatility as a good kick returner. He needs to fill out his frame and add strength to beat physical coverage and as a blocker. Skyy Moore (Western Michigan) wins with his releases vs press and projects as a versatile receiver who can play outside, but might be best in the slot. He meets but doesn’t exceed their thresholds for size (195 pounds) and athleticism (7.59 RAS). While he is fast enough for them with a 4.41 40, his agilities are well below what they prefer at slot. Unfortunately he is not a returner and as of now is not a strong run blocker.
Alec Pierce (Cincinnati) has their prototypical size (6’3”, 211 pounds with 33” arms), speed (4.41 40), and athleticism (9.82 RAS). He is also an outstanding gunner and run blocker. Pierce is an X-only prospect and vertical threat with some of the best ball tracking and catching in the class. He has an enormous catch radius and world-class body control. However, he is stiff in the hips, has below average RAC, needs to improve his route running, and needs to expand his repertoire of releases vs press.
John Metchie (Alabama) fits what they want from a slot receiver who might be able to rotate as an X. He is a shifty route runner who is good with the ball in his hands, he gives it his all as a blocker, and he is always on the same page with the quarterback. Metchie doesn’t have great speed, but that isn’t important to them at slot. Metchie has issues with more physical coverage, struggles with contested catches, and needs to improve his hands as he is a body catcher. When the coverage is more physical and the windows are smaller is he going to be able to produce like he did in college? Metchie is also a slot prospect so he might not be on their board until day 3 and he projects to go sometime in the 2nd or 3rd round.
Kyle Philips (UCLA) is my favorite slot receiver fit for them on day 3. Philips needs to tone down the dancing in his routes, but when he does he has a plethora of ways to generate separation during his route and is fantastic with the ball in his hands. He is also one of the best punt returners in the entire class. He’s a fiery player and a good blocker. He reminds me stylistically of a cross between Wes Welker and Julian Edelman.
Kevin Austin Jr. (Notre Dame) has tremendous size, 6’2”, 200 pounds with 32.875 inch arms, speed, 4.41 40 with a 1.48 10-yard split, agility, 6.71 3-cone, and overall athleticism, 9.94 RAS. He was late to produce at Notre Dame and only came alive during his last 5 games. He shows good ball tracking, catch ability, boxing defenders out, and is an above average blocker with room to be a good one, but he is raw and needs route running and release refinement. He profiles to be a good special teamer but unfortunately has not contributed there yet.
Bo Melton (Rutgers) was a team captain and gunner and is very good with the ball in his hands. He has slot and gadget versatility but he needs to improve significantly as a route runner and has some hip tightness in his breaks. Jalen Nailor (Michigan State) is a strong athlete (8.04 RAS) and punt and kick returner, but he also needs significant route refinement. He can also play a gadget role and is a tough blocker. Slade Bolden (Alabama) is an end of the draft or, more likely, a UDFA shifty slot receiver. Unfortunately, he offers you nothing else as a receiver and has athletic and physical limitations. He profiles as a backup slot receiver and a practice squad candidate.
The Patriots could use a backup QB in the pipeline with Stidham in the last year of his contract. They’ve gone for many different types at backup QB and don’t have any consistent criteria day on 3. This is also not a good year for quarterbacks from top to bottom. Carson Strong (Nevada) is a throwback. Mark Schofield compared him to Drew Bledsoe. Unfortunately, Strong has a history of severe knee injuries and has extremely limited pocket mobility. Jack Coan (Notre Dame) is a classic fast and accurate pocket passer with good size, 6’3”, 218 pounds. He is a team leader and is known for his intelligence. Dustin Crum (Kent State) is athletic and tough, and a good short and intermediate passer. He is a plus scrambler but has a backup level arm. Crum is also undersized for the position at 6’1”, 210 pounds. Brock Purdy (Iowa State) is a UDFA-level prospect who is a four-year starter and tough competitor. He is a timing-and-rhythm-style quarterback but has arm and decision-making limitations.