Perry: Here's what Patriots will do with 15th pick in NFL Draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
We know what the New England Patriots have done traditionally under Bill Belichick on NFL Draft day. Amass picks. Acquire value. Build depth. Win. Win. Win.
But it would come as little surprise if the 2021 NFL Draft was not a traditional draft for Belichick and his club.
The Patriots are drafting higher than they have in over a decade. They have a need at the game's most important position... and it's an unusually-deep class of talented quarterbacks, per coaches and scouts. They have a need at what some smart football minds consider the game's second-most important position... and it's an unusually-deep class of talented wide receivers as well.
That's why this draft could be more reminiscent of 2012 or 2018 for Patriots fans than, say, 2011.
You remember what happened in 2012. The Patriots traded up not once but twice in the first round to fill immediate needs with impact defensive players Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower.
You definitely remember what happened in 2018. The Patriots didn't trade up, but with two first-round picks and obvious openings at both tackle and running back they selected Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel.
Meanwhile, Belichick has at times taken building blocks for the future even if there's no obvious spot for said building blocks to contribute immediately. That's what happened when he drafted Nate Solder in 2011, even though Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer were on the roster as established starters at offensive tackle.
But Belichick isn't above drafting for needs early when those needs can be filled by players he views as building blocks. Whether he trades up for them, or whether he sticks and picks, it's not always about taking the best player on the board regardless of position. It's about taking the best player -- both for the short-term and long-term benefit -- for his team.
That's why we can't rule out Belichick trading up for a quarterback. He hasn't done it before, but it's never been as obvious a need as it is this year. Same goes for trading up a tad for a receiver.
Improvements at those two spots would improve the overall outlook for his team in 2021, it could be argued, more than a promising developmental left tackle who'd play behind Wynn and Trent Brown. A quarterback or receiver could help his 2021 roster more than a young cornerback could, if that corner is playing behind Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson.
What the Patriots do here is anyone's guess, of course. Still, we'll take a couple of educated guesses and at the end settle on one prediction. Here goes nothin'...
Option 1: Trade up for Justin Fields
The Detroit Lions should be motivated to trade down. The Carolina Panthers should be motivated to trade down. Both could be partners for New England in a deal to land Belichick his quarterback of the future.
Both would provide Belichick the opportunity to leapfrog the Denver Broncos, who I believe are still in the market for a young quarterback despite acquiring Teddy Bridgewater this week. But are they motivated enough to out-bid the Patriots?
My understanding is of the Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Mac Jones trio, Denver likes Mac Jones best. If he's off the board at No. 3 overall to San Francisco, perhaps the Broncos settle in at No. 9 and take a talented defender for coach Vic Fangio.
That could leave the door open for the Patriots to make their move and take Fields. Sources say there are well-founded concerns about Fields' vision as a passer. But his physical gifts are off the charts, and he's arguably the most accurate quarterback in the draft.
Some evaluators believe he's the second-most talented passer in the class. He has plenty of intangibles as well. One AFC scout told me this week he's "tough as hell," as evidenced by what he did in the College Football Playoff, and he seems to be well-liked by everyone he's come into contact with during his three years as a collegian. Even the folks at Georgia -- the team from which Fields transferred after one year -- speak highly of him, I'm told.
Lance could be a dark-horse candidate for New England. He doesn't fit their prototypical mold perfectly, but he's incredibly bright, and it's worth wondering why the Patriots -- who so often go above and beyond when it comes to due diligence -- chose not to send either Belichick or Josh McDaniels to either of Lance's pro days. Misdirection?
Maybe a trade up is off the table if the Patriots don't feel they could land Fields. But nabbing a quarterback talented enough to be drafted No. 1 overall in another year would be worth an aggressive move up (a future first-rounder?) via trade. Pairing him with a veteran who's ready to go -- Jimmy Garoppolo, perhaps -- would represent a significant upgrade for the team's quarterback room.
Option 2: Draft Jaylen Waddle
This is the route we chose in our latest mock draft, since it seemed unlikely the Patriots would be unable to land the quarterback of their choice -- even with a trade up.
Though Waddle is one of the most talented players in the class and could go off the board inside the top 10, there are personnel folks who believe he'll fall beyond that. Typically the wideouts taken in that range are physical prototypes. Calvin Johnson. Julio Jones. AJ Green. That's not Waddle.
Waddle (5-foot-10, 180) is a burner. He's tough. He can play inside and out. Nick Saban compared him to Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan when describing him as Alabama's go-to guy. He plays in the kicking game. The Patriots would love him. But enough to take him at No. 15? Or to trade up to No. 13 or thereabouts to make sure they get him?
Option 3: Stick and pick Zaven Collins
Collins is one of the best fits for the Patriots in our entire Prototypical Patriots series. He's a behemoth. He's athletic. He can play on the line and off. He made winning plays for Tulsa at the ends of games. I've heard him compared to Jamie Collins, since he's so big and so good in space though maybe not a true "Mike" linebacker. Zaven Collins is bigger than Jamie Collins and not the same kind of freaky athlete. Still, at his size, Zaven Collins (6-foot-5, 270 at the combine) is a freak himself.
I think Micah Parsons could go early enough that the Patriots don't have a crack at him. I also think the Patriots might take Collins over Parsons since Parsons has some character concerns, per teams interested in this year's linebacker class, that Collins does not.
Collins is considered a late-first rounder by some, but the Patriots probably shouldn't trade down from No. 15 if they really want him. The Dolphins have No. 18. Since they're running a Patriots-style scheme on South Beach, Collins would be a tremendous fit for Brian Flores and Co. as well. No guarantee he gets beyond Miami.
The choice: Option 2 (Draft Jaylen Waddle)
Of these three hypotheticals, going after Waddle feels most likely.
Quarterbacks tend to go earlier than we think. The one Belichick wants just might not be there for him.
Receivers tend to go later than we think. They have lately, at least. Jerry Jeudy went in the middle of the first round last year. CeeDee Lamb went later than that. Both were considered uber-talents. If Waddle falls to within range for the Patriots, Belichick may see him as one of the best players in the draft who has sunk unexpectedly.
That would be one need addressed. At quarterback, the need would remain. But the possibility of landing Garoppolo remains realistic. The Patriots could also go after a passer in the second round -- Kyle Trask? Davis Mills? Kellen Mond? -- and feel like they have a promising developmental option.
Getting a top-tier wideout wouldn't be as sexy as landing a high-end passer. Sure. But it would address a need. And history tells us Belichick isn't opposed to chasing needs in the first round.