New England can turn to the 2022 NFL draft to replace key losses in free agency

NFL Draft News

At 1-3, should the New England Patriots push the panic button?

Absolutely not.

Consider the following:

  • The three losses have been by a combined 18 points, with the biggest coming in Week 3, a 28-13 loss to New Orleans in which their rookie QB Mac Jones threw 3 interceptions, including two that led to touchdowns by the Saints. This type of game isn’t entirely unexpected from a rookie QB going through growing pains.
  • Once healthy, the offensive line should improve and has solid, relatively young pieces everywhere, including at OT.
  • The defense should prove to be one of the better units in the AFC this season.
  • Several young players are starting to play well after receiving more playing time, with more on the way, like 2021 second-rounder Christian Barmore.

Still, Patriots fans may be looking at a 9-8 season with no playoff berth.

And that’s OK, because here’s what we also know about this New England team: Jones appears to be improving and could turn out to be exactly what New England is hoping for, the long-term replacement for Tom Brady.

But even if New England experiences steady growth throughout the season, a few trouble spots are brewing, thanks to the pending free agency of some of its starters, including free safety Devin McCourty, right tackle Trent Brown, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, cornerback J.C. Jackson, and wide receiver Jakobi Myers (who will be a restricted free agent).

The main challenge? Most of those positions do not have a potential long-term young replacement waiting in the wings, with the lone exception being linebacker.

You never want to draft for need, but it’s not reasonable to strictly go by best player available in every round. Rather, you want your team to combine the two – take the best player available at a position of need.

New England can do just that in the 2022 NFL draft, even though the team only has picks in the first through fourth rounds and one in the sixth. Here’s an early look at how the team could replace those players through the draft:

Round 1: Offensive Tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere, Ohio State

When the season started, Ohio State’s Thayer Munford was the offensive lineman who was getting the most press. Since then, Munford has moved to guard, and now Petit-Frere is the lineman everyone is talking about. The 6-foot-5, 315-pound junior allowed a pressure on just 0.5 percent of the team’s pass attempts, ranking him No. 1 among all OTs on Power 5 teams by Pro Football Focus. And Petit-Frere still hasn’t allowed a sack. He’s ranked No. 17 in ESPN’s Mel Kiper’s latest big board, No. 27 by The Athletic’s Dane Brugler, No. 31 by Pro Football Focus and No. 23 by Pro Football News. From PFN: “Athletic, strong, and equally adept in pass protection and run blocking, Nicholas Petit-Frere is quickly becoming one of the best offensive tackles in the nation. … (H)e offers valuable versatility, which puts another tick in his NFL Draft stock box. Yet, it’s the seamless nature of that switch that has impressed us.” Petit-Frere would immediately step in for Trent Brown should he sign elsewhere.

Round 2: Wide receiver Jahan Dotson, Penn State

Few receivers in this draft boast the experience and the big-play ability of the speedy Dotson, who has 127 receptions for 2,021 yards and 19 touchdowns (and counting) for his career in 35 games. The only problem? Dotson’s size, as he’s listed at 5-foot-11, 184 pounds. But New England has never shied from taking smaller receivers, as long as they can produce on the field. And these first two picks would make Jones’ life a little easier in his second year. However, it’s possible Dotson won’t be available when New England is on the clock in the second round, as his stock is rising. Kiper listed him as his top receiver and No. 8 overall player in his latest mock. From Kiper: “Dotson is an explosive wideout having a great season. … He isn’t catching many screens and short routes — his average air yards per target is 12.2 yards, which is consistent with his four-year career at Penn State. He can break tackles after the catch. While Dotson had a few drops in 2019 and 2020, he hasn’t dropped any of his 35 targets this season. He’s on pace for a spectacular season.”

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