New England Patriots Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Mac Jones, QB, Alabama – Round 1
After enjoying life with one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, the Patriots fell back to reality in 2020 when Tom Brady chose to continue his playing career in Tampa Bay. Cam Newton was up-and-down as a starter in 2020 while playing with a weak supporting cast, but with age and injury slowing Newton down, the Patriots clearly are in the market for a starter of the future. They made the decision on Jones to be that player when they took him in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, and before long he could be a quality starter for New England.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Jones has a quality arm, but does not elite arm strength and is not a running threat for the next level. He has ability in terms of moving his feet in the pocket, so he is not a statue, but he will not be a dual-threat quarterback in the pros.

While Jones does not exceptional arm strength or playmaking ability with his feet, he is an accurate passer. He places his ball well, putting it in position for his receiver to make catches while avoiding putting the pass in danger of being intercepted. Jones is a smart decision-maker who protects the ball well and doesn’t get careless or panic. He also showed anticipation to help throw receivers open in 2020.

Jones is a confident, calm, poised, and efficient pocket passer. He stands tall in the pocket and consistently distributes the ball. Jones shows good timing and precision to hit his receivers through windows in coverage while leading them to produce more yards after the catch. His calm and poised approach lends to him showing field vision in the pocket, where he will move his eyes and work off his primary read. Jones is a smart quarterback and plays the game with real intelligence. That skill set makes him a good scheme fit for New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

The Patriots will probably have Newton as the starter to begin the 2021 season, but Newton has had a hard time staying healthy in recent years and the all the hits he took as a running quarterback have talent a toll on his body. Before long, New England could make the switch to Jones. As a pro, I think Jones could top out as a Kirk Cousins- or Teddy Bridgewater-caliber quarterback who is a solid starter.

2020: Anfernee Jennings, LB
2019: N’Keal Harry, WR
2018: Isaiah Wynn, OL
2017: Derek Rivers, DE
2016: Jon Thuney, G
2015: Tre Jackson, G
2014: Jon Halapio, G
2013: Logan Ryan, CB

Most Likely To Bust

Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama – Round 2
For a lot of the leadup to the 2021 NFL Draft, Barmore was the consensus top defensive tackle prospect and many had projected him to be a first-round pick. Barmore, however, was always slated as a late first-rounder because he put forth an inconsistent effort, was a weak run defender at times, and worked out poorly before the draft. If Barmore matures and becomes a hard worker, he could be a steal for New England, but his work ethic and inconsistent effort on the field make him look like he has real bust potential for the NFL.

Barmore was dangerous pass rusher over the past two years at Alabama, and he has rare interior rush ability. If Barmore were a good run defender, he would have been a top-10 pick, similar to Quinnen Williams. Williams, though, was good against the run, while Barmore struggled in the ground game for a lot of his collegiate career.

As a pro, Barmore has to get physical and tougher in the ground game. Too often, he gets out of his gap by improvising rather than holding his ground. He can play too high and get “out-physicaled” by offense linemen. Barmore has the skill set to be a good run defender and showed improvement late in his redshirt sophomore season, but currently he will be a liability as a run defender in the NFL and needs a lot of development in this phase.

As one area scout said to me about Barmore, “He only plays when he wants to.” I’m skeptical he fits with the Patriot Way, and I could see Bill Belichick getting frustrated with Barmore’s inconsistent effort on the field and work ethic. Hence of the Patriots’ early-round picks, I think he has the largest likelihood of being a bust.

2020: Devin Asiasi, TE
2019: Yodney Cajuste, OT
2018: Ja’waun Bentley, LB
2017: Deatrich Wise, DE
2016: Cyrus Jones, CB
2015: Jordan Richards, S
2014: Bryan Stork, C
2013: Duron Harmon, S

Potential Boom Pick

Around the NFL, the common assumption is that the Patriots have drafted well because of all the Super Bowls they won with Bill Belichick and former quarterback Tom Brady. If you look at their drafts from recent years, however, you see that they wasted a lot of early-round picks and have not drafted well. Owner Bob Kraft stated as much earlier this offseason and that their drafting had to improve. I do not see boom-pick potential with Mac Jones, and Christian Barmore has boom-or-bust potential, but given his work ethic and makeup concerns, it would not surprise if the latter outcome occurs. Hence, none of New England’s selections from the 2021 NFL Draft looks like a real boom pick.

2020: Kyle Dugger, S
2019: Joejuan Williams, CB
2018: Sony Michel, RB
2017: Antonio Garcia, OT
2016: Malcolm Mitchell, WR
2015: Malcom Brown, DT
2014: Dominique Easley, DE
2013: Jamie Collins, LB

Future Depth Player

Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, Oklahoma – Round 4
I really liked the selection of Stevenson in the fourth round. While he has some speed limitations, he is a big, physical, downhill runner who can road grade over defenses. Stevenson may not have the receiving ability or top speed to become a three-down starter in the NFL, but he could be a very good backup running back who helps close out games in the fourth quarter and handles some of the workload on first and second downs. Stevenson could be a LeGarrette Blount-type back for New England. While he may not be a bell-cow starter, I think Stevenson could be a very good rotational backup and was an astute pick in the fourth round.

2020: Dalton Keene, TE
2019: Damien Harris, RB
2018: Braxton Berrios, WR
2017: Conor McDermott, OT
2016: Jacoby Brissett, QB
2015: Trey Flowers, DE
2014: Cameron Fleming, OT
2013: Aaron Dobson, WR

Walt’s 2021 NFL Draft Grades:

15. Mac Jones, QB, Alabama – D Grade
Yuck. I can’t fail the Patriots because they’re getting “value” with a quarterback some thought would go third overall. That said, several teams we spoke to had Jones in the second round. One had him pegged as a third-day prospect! Jones is an Andy Dalton with DUIs. There’s no upside with him. He’ll need to be surrounded with an all-star cast to reach the playoffs consistently, which was the exact case with Dalton.

38. Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama – A Grade
The Patriots traded two fourth-round picks in this deal with the Bengals. They simply couldn’t believe that Christian Barmore was on the board. Barmore was a mainstay of my first round for most of the process, so I love the value New England is getting with a player who can help them pressure Josh Allen.

96. Ronnie Perkins, DE/OLB, Oklahoma – B Grade
Ronnie Perkins figures to be a productive edge rusher in the NFL, but he’ll have to be a situational player because he’ll get killed in run support. Still, the pick makes sense because the Patriots are now chasing the Bills, so they need to pressure Josh Allen as much as possible. I’m a bit concerned with Perkins’ off-the-field issues, but this is still a solid pick.

120. Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, Oklahoma – B Grade
The Patriots have addressed the backfield again, which isn’t a big surprise because neither Damien Harris nor Sony Michel has been overly impressive. I’ve had Rhamondre Stevenson in this range, so this pick makes sense to me.

177. Cameron McGrone, LB, Michigan – B Grade
The Patriots had severe issues at linebacker last year, so it’s surprising that they waited this long to address the position. Cameron McGrone may have been slotted at the end of the fifth round of one of my updates, so the value is OK.

188. Joshuah Bledsoe, S, Missouri – A- Grade
Joshuah Bledsoe was a solid tackler over his years in Missouri. I thought he would go in the third or fourth round, but he slipped to the Patriots in the sixth frame, so I consider this to be a great value pick. The Patriors needed young blood in the defensive backfield.

197. William Sherman, OT, Colorado – C- Grade
Here’s another player I never considered mocking. I had 500-plus players ranked, but William Sherman didn’t make the cut. He likely could have been acquired as a UDFA.

242. Tre Nixon, WR, Central Florida – B+ Grade
The Patriots’ receiving corps is an abomination, so it’s shocking that they waited this long to address the need. I had Tre Nixon in the final couple of rounds in some of my mock updates. He’s a good athlete with some upside, so he could compete for some snaps.

2021 NFL Draft Team Grade: B-. Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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