Perry's Mailbag: Which five CBs could be fits for Pats in draft? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The New England Patriots are set to face the New York Jets in Sunday's Week 7 matchup at Gillette Stadium. But before that, we've got some questions to answer. Let's get to the mailbag...
Would cornerback be the most pressing position of need for the draft, if the roster remains as it is today?
— Trygve Johannes Lereim Sævareid (@LereimTrygve) October 22, 2021
They love the Bag in Norway! Thanks for checking in, Trygve. Yes, to me, corner looks like the No. 1 need for the Patriots in the 2022 draft. You'd have an argument for tackle because Isaiah Wynn hasn't performed to a satisfactory level this season. But, that said, he has shown he can be a starting-caliber tackle in the past. (Though not for long stretches because he's dealt with injury.) And he's under contract for a guaranteed $10.4 million next year. At right tackle, Trent Brown isn't signed up for 2022, but Mike Onwenu is. So they could be OK there.
At corner, the only players they have under contract for next season at the moment are Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills, Justin Bethel, Joejuan Williams and Shaun Wade. They're going to need some help there.
Assuming the Patriots have a top 15 draft pick. What position do you think they’d target? I understand they’d likely go for the best player, but with so many holes on this team, I’m curious to what position people feel they need to address first.
— Matt John (@mjbryan00) October 22, 2021
Top cornerback or top OT - if you had this option, who would you choose for Pats in the 1st round?
— Jakub Kazula (@KubaKazula) October 22, 2021
This could always change, guys, based on injury and/or performance. If Wynn improves this season and Onwenu establishes himself as a full-time tackle, maybe tackle isn't in the conversation in the first round. If J.C. Jackson gets the franchise tag and Jalen Mills looks like a true No. 2 by season's end -- big "ifs" -- then maybe they're willing to look somewhere other than corner.
Maybe a game-changing pass-rusher falls in their lap. Or maybe there's a big-bodied defensive tackle that Bill Belichick loves there. If things continue to trend this way, the Patriots may be picking so high that drafting for need wouldn't make sense. Maybe there's a blue-chip player available to them in the top-10 they can't pass up. But for now, I think it should be corner. Can never have too many. And that spot could look pretty bleak pretty quickly if it's not addressed with a real draft-day investment.
With the lack of cb depth, do you think the Pats could trade for cj henderson from the panthers? Do you have insight info, if the Pats talked do the jags, before he got dealed to the panthers? Quick slant for you, top 5 cb in the 2022 draft? Thx and best regards from Austria
— BradyForcesJetsFansToCry (@Pats_1988) October 22, 2021
They love the Bag in Austria! When CJ Henderson was traded, my understanding is the decision to trade Stephon Gilmore was not yet made. That came about a week later. In addition, the Patriots already had J.C. Jackson (who they like), Jalen Mills (who they'd just paid in free agency), Joejuan Williams (in whom they'd invested a second-round pick in 2019) and Shaun Wade (for whom they'd traded at the end of camp as a developmental player) as boundary guys.
They couldn't have loved their depth there because of the uncertainty with Gilmore. But Henderson cost the Panthers a starting-level player (tight end Dan Arnold) and a third-round pick. I don't know for sure if the Patriots were going to make a run at Henderson or not, but I think the price there would've made it hard for them to stomach. Though touted as a talented man-to-man corner coming out of Florida, Henderson has been anything but in the NFL. This season, he's allowing a perfect quarterback rating (158.3) when in man coverage, per Pro Football Focus. Last season, that number sat at 124.5. For a man-heavy team like New England, I wouldn't blame them if the price and the performance didn't match up.
As for the top-five corners in the draft, it's a fun group. And it looks like it's not a bad year to need a corner. Let's refer to the work of a friend of the Next Pats Podcast, Mike Renner, who is the draft czar at Pro Football Focus. He's watched these players much more closely than I have this season and says, "we could be looking at an all-time cornerback group" this year. OK, then!
For him, among the best of the best are LSU's Derek Stingley (out indefinitely with an injured foot but one of the best players in the draft), Cincinnati's Ahmad Gardner (who is so talented that his nickname "Sauce" makes sense), Florida's Kaiir Elam (who at 6-foot-2 has more than enough size to play press in New England), Washington's Trent McDuffie (who recorded a 41.5 vertical in the spring, per Renner), and Clemson's Andrew Booth (who looks like he could have high-end NFL-caliber man-to-man chops). We'll dive deeper into this crew and others as we get closer to the draft. At the moment, the Patriots would have a top-10 draft pick
Is it possible that the Patriots have the most unrealistic fan base in the league? After 20 years of unprecedented success, this team was overdue for a rebuild, and this is what that looks like.
— Scott DeFelice (@P8triot37) October 22, 2021
I'm not sure, Scott. The success was unparalleled. You're right about that. And that certainly has altered perceptions about what's acceptable and what's not from the local professional football team. But after spending the way they did this offseason, this was not a traditional rebuild. The team itself was expecting to get back to winning. Quickly. That hasn't happened yet. But there's time.
Could you break down the 3-step vs 1-step slant mix-up that K Bourne admitted to on the pick-6 this past week?
Aside: isn't it a good thing that these players regularly bite the bullet for mistakes even when the mistakes are not theirs to own (Mac always owns it)?
— Joseph Schmol (@JosephSchmol) October 22, 2021
Our pal Mike Giardi of NFL Network posted a clip that shows exactly what Bourne was talking about. He really only gets vertical with one step off the line of scrimmage. Then he starts to get horizontal. He should have sold the vertical portion for another couple strides. His explanation this week was that he spied an open window over the middle and wanted to get there more quickly, hence the one step instead of the three. The Cowboys showed a Cover 1 look with five rushers at the line, and they were late to get out to Rhamondre Stevenson aligned wide. The result was a massive opening over the middle. But with Mac Jones expecting a deeper slant and Bourne cutting it off, you get what you got.
And, of course. Always a good thing for players to show accountability. But the goal for them is to eliminate (or drastically reduce) the number of mistakes made so that that kind of accountability isn't necessary after the fact.
Draft related stuff? Why bother? Last time we drafted anyone useful was when we took Gronk about 100 years ago. As a practice, drafting for us is like a person who goes to the gym and just chit-chats for 50 minutes while holding up the wall. Abject waste of time & energy.
— Doyenne de Disport (@disportif) October 22, 2021
I understand the disappointment. But the quarterback they grabbed a few months ago looks like a pretty good investment, no?
Coming off listening to the outstanding NextPats podcast, who do you see filling in the role of the third down back moving forward? Hard to see Mac being able to have successful check downs (if that is the right play) without a talented outlet receiver.
— Matt (@Wxisbad) October 22, 2021
What about Rhamondre Stevenson, Matt? He's not built like James White or Kevin Faulk, but he has quick feet and soft hands. And if he's able to pick up everything the Patriots ask of him from a route-running and pass-protection standpoint, I could see him being used more consistently on third down as he gains more experience.
I like the nickname given to Stevenson by Derek Brown from FTN Network: LeGarrette Burkhead. Stevenson is almost LeGarrette Blount's size. And between his versatile running back skill set and his special-teams ability, the Rex Burkhead comp makes some sense. Josh McDaniels called Stevenson a "skilled player" and a "natural catcher of the football" earlier this week. They may put those skills to use more often on third down soon with James White out.
With the team sticking to the old guard (Van Noy, Collins, Hightower...) instead of playing younger guys (Uche etc), does it feel to you that 2021, like 2020, is more of a "bidding our time" season as we replenish through the draft, and allow youth to take over in 2022?
— This charming Marc (@CharmingMarc) October 22, 2021
Uche is playing. You just haven't noticed him all that much for a couple of reasons. No. 1? The Patriots haven't been leading much in these games. Uche is a niche pass-rusher at the moment, and so with opponents not finding themselves in a ton of obvious passing situations, that's meant Uche hasn't had a ton of playing time.
No. 2? When Uche has been out there, he hasn't been getting to the quarterback. He has one pressure in his last four games. This isn't a wait-and-see year. They're trying to win now. Just hasn't played out that way.
Thoughts on Tyler Linderbaum from Iowa? Taking a center in the top ten is rare but this guy looks like another Quenton Nelson. Could be the anchor for the Pats for years
— Steve Toland (@SteveToland555) October 22, 2021
I like where your head is at, Steve. The Patriots love Kirk Ferentz pupils. And Linderbaum seems special. But the Patriots have had so much success with low-level investments at that position, I'm having a hard time picturing it. David Andrews was undrafted. Bryan Stork was a fourth-round pick. Dan Koppen was a fifth-round pick. Ted Karras was a sixth-round pick. Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell were undrafted. Damien Woody went in the first and obviously had real success in New England, but he arrived in 1999 before Belichick took over. Never say never with this group, but I imagine they'll go elsewhere.
How has the offence evolved from the opening game to now?
— Dwayne Pogue (@Prostarr27) October 22, 2021
More 22 and 12-personnel sets, Dwayne. Interested to see if they keep that going against the Jets. In my opinion, they should. If they can show heavy looks and throw out of those consistently, they'll be hard to stop. I asked Belichick why we didn't see more of those "big people" groupings against Dallas, and he indicated they didn't have an extensive "22" package. That's reasonable. But I wonder if we don't see them get more creative with "12" moving forward. They're invested in those tight ends. If they can get more exotic by the week in terms of how Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith are used, the better off they'll be.
One other thing: We saw just two screens against the Cowboys. The Patriots have been one of the worst teams in football using the screen game this year. They used it extensively against the Jets and their aggressive front in Week 2, though. Will they go back to that well facing defensive linemen that love to get up the field? It would make sense to hit them with a screen every so often to slow down Robert Saleh's front and get them thinking. But the screens have been so unproductive for Josh McDaniels, it might not be worth it. Something to watch Sunday.
Will Nkeal Harry ever get it here? Year 3 and he still seems a non factor.
— George (@artistic2) October 22, 2021
I wouldn't hold my breath, George. What happened last week against the Cowboys, when Harry didn't know what to do pre-snap and Jones almost took a delay-of-game penalty trying to direct him, was a pretty clear indication of where things stand with him at the moment. He has six catches in his last six games. He wasn't targeted in 21 snaps last week.
Who are a couple of potential trade deadline targets? If the Pats don't beat NYJ and LAC are they still potential buyers?
— brett (@brett8055) October 22, 2021
Buy or sell?
— BirchBlaze (@BirchBlaze) October 22, 2021
I thought they might be sellers last year. Unless they're totally out of it by the deadline, I have a hard time envisioning them giving up on this season in any way shape or form. Last year was the reset year, not this one. The other thing to consider is this: How many pieces do the Patriots have on the roster that would be realistic trade chips that would net a significant return?
Wynn, possibly, if a team likes his tape from over the last few years and would be OK with paying him as a middle-tier starting left tackle for 2022? Maybe Shaq Mason since he's a top-level player at his position when healthy and isn't on an overly-expensive contract? I don't believe trading Harry, Chase Winovich or another non-starter would yield much of a haul.
I’m always curious about the personnel on the sidelines. Are practice squad guys there?
— Fred C Harris™️ (@FredCHarris) October 22, 2021
Typically, Fred, if practice-squad guys are there they would be up on the press-box level with the healthy-scratch and/or injured players in attendance.
Phil do you know if Malcolm Perry is practicing as a slot WR or 3rd back?
— Laurence D (@Pullosfan) October 22, 2021
Malcolm Perry is on IR at the moment so he's not practicing. When he was out there, he was working at receiver.
What’s a draft
— Into The Stocks (@intothestocks) October 22, 2021
I know. Feels wrong, to a degree, to be looking ahead this early. But here we are. Thanks to everyone for the questions this week. You guys are the drivers of this thing every week, and I appreciate you for that. We'll talk to you again next week ahead of Patriots-Chargers.