Perry: These five draft prospects have the best chance to be Patriots originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Patriots have the No. 21 pick in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night.
As we’ve explained, that’s not an ideal spot. There’s a good chance Bill Belichick trades down to find more value in the later rounds. But there’s a chance the Patriots don’t find a willing trade partner and stand pat at No. 21.
If that’s the case, which prospects are most likely to find their way to Foxboro?
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After assessing New England’s most pressing needs, the best fits at each of those positions and who might still be on the board at No. 21, we’ve identified five players who have the best chance to be Patriots by the end of the weekend.
In no particular order:
Quay Walker, LB, Georgia
One of the best (and realistically available) combinations of old-school Patriots frame with new-age athleticism in this draft class, Walker could end up being drafted ahead of fellow Bulldogs linebacker Nakobe Dean, according to one AFC defensive coach.
His traits aren’t coachable. He clocked a 4.52 40-yard dash (91st percentile) and has an 80-inch wingspan (96th). Evaluators believe he could end up as a back-end-of-the-first-round kind of selection because of his physical gifts and his upside as a matchup weapon on backs and tight ends.
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He only has one season as a starter under his belt, but that may mean his best football is ahead of him. If the Patriots are looking for a big player with a ceiling that is yet to be defined, Walker could be their guy, especially since there are similarities between the system in Athens and the one run in Foxboro.
Dax Hill, S, Michigan
Across positions, Hill looks like one of the best fits for the Patriots in this draft class. He’d be a classic “the more you can do” pick. He’s played safety, slot corner and boundary corner for Michigan, where he played for a Belichick favorite in former Wolverines defensive coordinator Don Brown.
He also served as a gunner on the punt team, and he proved he could be a terror as a blitzer when called upon. He’s considered a highly instinctive player by evaluators and easily coachable.
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Hill would fit right into what it appears Belichick is building at the moment, which is a faster defense that has a plethora of versatile options to mix and match depending on the opponent’s collection of passing-game threats.
He’s a tad light for what the Patriots usually draft highly at safety. But he’s plenty athletic. And he has the measurables to fit at corner for the Patriots if they wanted to try him there. He ran a 4.38 40-yard dash, a 6.57 three-cone and a 4.06 shuttle at the combine.
Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
Elam makes sense with the No. 21 overall selection if the Patriots are hungry for more talent at the corner spot. He may miss a tackle here and there, and he may get a little grabby in coverage (seven penalties last season). But he’s physical and can be disruptive to true No. 1 targets at the line of scrimmage. And if he makes a misstep in terms of his technique, he has rare speed (4.39-second 40) to make up for it.
Elam also seems to fit from a character standpoint as he was decided by coaches to represent Florida at the SEC leadership council last year as a junior. He was a little slow on his short shuttle work at his pro day (4.21 seconds) and his three-cone was only a shade below seven seconds (6.98), but at his size those are numbers that even the change-of-direction conscious Patriots would be OK with.
Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M
Green is athletic and versatile, and Pro Football Focus’ Mike Renner believes his best professional comp is Patriots left tackle Isaiah Wynn. Unlike Wynn, Green figures to be a guard at the next level. But, when healthy, Wynn has shown himself to be a solid athlete in New England.
Green would be just as talented a mover should he happen to align next to Wynn at the pro level. His shuttle (5.12 seconds) and 40 time (5.24 seconds) were excellent at this year’s combine. But against some of the best defensive linemen in the country, Green showed good explosiveness. He’d also be a versatile chess piece for Belichick, having played every position along the line in 2021 other than center.
Zion Johnson, OL, Boston College
Johnson checks just about every single box the Patriots have sought in interior offensive linemen. He has plenty of size. His athleticism (5.18-second 40, 4.46 short shuttle, 7.38-second three-cone) makes him a tremendous mover at this position. And he was named the top player — regardless of position — at Senior Bowl practices this year.
Combine that with sound fundamentals and a professional approach to his craft and you have perhaps the best interior offensive line fit for the Patriots in this class. He could start from Day 1. If Bill Belichick wants him, he may have to snag Johnson at No. 21 overall.