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Ever since the New England Patriots selected a quarterback out of Michigan at pick No. 199 in the 2000 NFL Draft, things just seem to have a way of working out for the Pats on draft day. If NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund’s mock draft is right, 2022 will be no exception. She predicts the Patriots can sit at No. 21, not trade up, and still fill one of the squad’s biggest needs with one of the best football players in this year’s draft.

The New England Patriots’ 2022 NFL Draft needs

Nakobe Dean of the Georgia Bulldogs could be an NFL draft target of the New England Patriots.
Nakobe Dean | Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The New England Patriots took their one-year post-Tom Brady hit in 2020, going 7-9. It was the worst finish for the franchise since 2000, the year before Brady became the starter. Then, in the 2021 offseason, Bill Belichick drafted QB Mac Jones, spent a then-record amount of money in free agency, and got ready to get back to the top of the NFL in 2021.

While Belichick and the Patriots didn’t look quite like the 2007 team in 2021, New England finished 10-7. The franchise missed winning the AFC East by one game, and made the playoffs.

Now, attention turns to the 2022 draft to build on last year’s success. And yes, despite what Robert Kraft and spoiled Boston fans might say, 2021 was a resounding success. The organization will now look to fill holes to make the squad even better.

The team needed a wide receiver to help Jones in 2022, but a trade for DeVante Parker probably saves Belichick from having to draft one early, which is great news with his history at the position. On the offensive side of the ball, they also need a guard.

On defense, despite finishing as the No. 2 scoring unit in the league last year, the Pats have some serious holes to fill. They can use upgrades at cornerback, edge rusher, and linebacker.

Slow-footed LB D’onta Hightower, who’s anchored the middle of the New England D for nine years, is a free agent. So, he may leave or even retire. If the Patriots can get faster and more dynamic at that position, the defense could be one of the best in the league in 2022.

Cynthia Frelund’s mock draft has the Patriots picking Georgia LB Nakobe Dean at No. 21

Wide receiver is likely off the table in Round 1 following the DeVante Parker trade, and No. 21 is a bit of a dead zone for cornerbacks. That leaves guard or linebacker as the best pick at the New England Patriots’ spot.

In NFL Network analytics analyst Cynthia Frelund’s latest mock draft, the team would have a few options at these positions. Both of the top guards in the 2022 NFL Draft — Boston College’s Zion Johnson and Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green — are available in this scenario. And while Frelund has Utah LB Devin Lloyd going No. 19 to the Philadelphia Eagles, Georgia LB Nakobe Dean is still around at the Patriots’ spot.

This is where Bill Belichick and the Patriots get their steal.

Nakobe Dean is a 5-foot-11, 229-pound linebacker from Georgia. The team captain helped lead one of the most fearsome defensive units in recent college football history, which led to the Bulldogs winning the school’s first national championship since 1980.

Dean is a leader, a tremendous linebacker, and one of the most Week 1-ready prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft. However, because of his size and the way the NFL undervalues his position in the draft, he’ll slide to New England, and they’ll reap the rewards.

Why Nakobe Dean could be the Micah Parsons of 2022

You don’t have to comb through the annals of NFL draft history to find the last team to benefit from a talented linebacker sliding down the board on draft day. That’s because it happened just last year when the Dallas Cowboys got Penn State LB Micah Parsons at No. 12.

Parsons had some character concerns due to his involvement in a hazing scandal in college, but that was several years before he was draft eligible. He also plays LB, which isn’t as in vogue on the defense anymore. Pass-rusher and cornerback are now the glamor positions.  

Parsons’ dominance made the 11 teams that passed on him sorry in 2021. He made the Pro Bowl, was first-team All-Pro, was named Rookie of the Year, and came in second to T.J. Watt for Defensive Player of the Year.

While Dean might not be quite the dominant force that Parsons is, he should be a stalwart LB for years to come in the NFL. And any team that needs linebacker that doesn’t take Dean will be sorry.

In 39 games with the Bulldogs, Dean notched 168 tackles, 13.5 for a loss, 7.5 sacks, 10 passes defended, two interceptions, and three forced fumbles. He doesn’t have elite NFL size, but his production in the SEC shows that size isn’t everything for Dean’s game.

The player Dean gets compared to the most is another slightly undersized Georgia LB who’s doing big things in the NFL these days: Roquan Smith of the Chicago Bears.

If Dean can be another Roquan Smith, whatever team gets him in the mid-first round will get an absolute steal. And if that team is the New England Patriots, NFL fans will be slapping their foreheads about Bill Belichick’s draft yet again.

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