Many people are talking about the success the Patriots had in last year’s draft after getting contributions from Mac Jones, Christian Barmore and Rhamondre Stevenson, but there’s a possibility there could even be more to come.
Looking back at their selections, there’s still an opportunity for some of the other guys taken in 2021 to make an impact this season, and the list is actually pretty impressive. Better yet, some of those players address some immediate needs, which would be a huge win for a team looking to get back in position to compete in the AFC.
Here’s a quick look at each of those names, with some thoughts on what will hopefully be to come in 2022:
1) Ronnie Perkins, DE, Oklahoma (Round 3, #96) – Perkins saw his rookie season as more of red-shirt year, with the former Sooner spending much of the season learning from the coaching staff as well as his teammates.
He started off with a solid preseason, finishing the Week 1 match-up against Washington having played 43 snaps on defense as, according to ProFootballFocus, he accumulated five tackles and four quarterback pressures in the contest.
Perkins saw limited playing time in each of the final two games and from there got buried on the depth chart behind the current roster, but continued to work hard behind the scenes and some reports have indicated he’s poised to compete for time in 2022.
Looking back at his college film, one of the things that stands out about Perkins is he’s incredibly quick for a guy his size. Often times players go out to pick him up and can’t handle his acceleration, which is how he frequently ended up in opponents’ backfields in college.
Even more surprising is his strength, with Perkins also spotted on film in quite a few cases bringing guys down with just one hand. Obviously, that won’t work at the NFL level, but it certainly shows off the power he possesses from a physical standpoint.
One of the limitations for Perkins seems to be the fact New England has him transitioning from defensive end to linebacker, likely because of his speed and quickness. But he’s been putting in the work, to the point where he received quite a bit of praise late last season.
While the opportunity never came for Perkins, it seems like he definitely put in the work. The second-year linebacker wears #51, which is in honor of former Patriots linebacker and coach Jerod Mayo. Mayo told him in order to wear it, he needs to “carry the tradition”. We’ll see if he can live up to those expectations in the coming months.
2) Cameron McGrone, LB, Michigan (Round 5, #177) – McGrone is another player who is an outstanding athlete. For a player who is 6’4″, 215lbs, he’s unbelievably fast after running a 4.43 40-yard dash during his pro day.
The former Michigan standout spent much of last season coming back from an ACL tear that he tore against Rutgers the previous November leading up to the draft.
Bill Belichick said after his selection that they knew he would likely be unavailable last season, saying at the time, “There are no false expectations here. He should have a good recovery and be a good player. We’ll just have to see what the timing is on that.”
If the timing ends up working out that it’s this season and McGrone returns to form, it would be big. Looking at his film, one of the things that stands out is that he’s got an incredibly quick first step, and his acceleration moving upfield is impressive.
He moves really fast laterally and it’s amazing how fast he closes as soon as he drives on the football. Several highlights saw him come around the edge at the goal line where it looked like the running back had the angle and would take it in, yet McGrone swooped in and dropped him.
The same could be said in coverage where McGrone even beat the defensive back to the receiver on a couple of short throws while sitting back and diagnosing the play. Should he get back anywhere close to that level, fans should be excited because he could end up being one of the biggest surprises heading into the season.
3) Joshuah Bledsoe, S, Missouri (Round 6, #188) – Bledsoe is just a strong, tough player who looking at film just does a great job of putting himself in good position wherever the football is.
He’s got good speed and decent footwork, with the former Missouri standout being a player who doesn’t shy away from contact. When he does, he also makes an effort to get his head on the football or try and rip it out.
He almost looks like a small linebacker with the way he plays, coming in at 5’11”, 201-pounds. He also does a good job of playing the ball, including showing the ability to step in front of the receiver and run the route for them, allowing him to make a play for the football.
Bledsoe was a guy who many had high expectations for last season and his name continues to be talked about heading into OTAs and training camp. If he can emerge and be a factor in the defense, that would obviously make a big difference.
4) William Sherman, OT, Colorado (Round 6, #197) – Given their need for depth at guard and tackle, Sherman’s selection last season should hopefully give him an edge heading into 2022.
The former standout from the University of Colorado played tackle and was a dominant player, overpowering defensive opponents while also showing nifty feet moving down the line and blocking upfield.
He was a solid player for the Buffalos, with the 6’4″, 310-pound Sherman also considered to be a versatile player who was expected to potentially advance once he reached the pros.
Sherman struggled at times during training camp last season, including losing some battles to fellow rookie, Christian Barmore. But he was expected to be a developmental player and spent last season on the practice squad after being waived and later brought back during roster cutdowns.
Considering their lack of depth right now, if ever there was a time for Sherman to emerge, this would certainly be a good opportunity for him to step up and have a good preseason. Having had one full season in the system, it should be interesting to see how he responds.
5) Tre Nixon, WR, UCF (Round 7, #242)– Nixon remains another player who could find himself battling for one of the final receiver spots after spending last season on the practice squad.
Mike Reiss noted recently that Nixon was among players who worked out with Jones during a handful of sessions in Massachusetts, so it’s clear that the work continues for the former standout from the University of Central Florida.
Last year’s 7th round pick obviously impressed the club last season enough to earn a futures contract, which he signed back in January. He never made it to the active roster in 2021 after Kristian Wilkerson edged him out in that area last season, but it hasn’t affected his approach.
He and Jones were close during the early part of last offseason, with Nixon saying he and the then-rooke QB spent a lot of time studying the playbook together.
“Me and him, we help each other study,” Nixon told NESN last June. “We lean on each other when times get hard. It’s just kind of like with everyone else, the other quarterbacks too. (Brian) Hoyer, (Jarrett) Stidham, Cam (Newton), you look to the quarterbacks to help you with play calls and just getting integrated into the system.”
While some will argue that Nixon might be a long shot, especially when you take into account that the Patriots have a group that currently consists of Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers and DeVante Parker, keep in mind that injuries throughout the season are inevitable. We saw Kristian Wilkerson get elevated last season and play well, but it could come down to Nixon competing against him for a spot and he’s a different style of player. He’s someone who can play inside, outside, and also has shown pretty good quickness after putting up a 6.81 3-cone time speed in the draft.
Nixon also earned the honor of being Ernie Adam’s final selection by the club before he retired, with Adams feeling confident that Nixon could eventually develop into an asset for his football team.
If he can continue to develop, it would round out a pretty talented group that is already better than it was last season. However, Nixon’s work likely isn’t done, as it’s possible the Patriots could still address the position in the draft, which could set up another competitive camp heading into the 2022 campaign.
Posted Under: 2022 Patriots Offseason
Tags: 2021 Patriots Draft Cameron McGrone Joshuah Bledsoe Ronnie Perkins Tre Nixon William Sherman