By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- After weeks and months of hearing about reports, rumors, top-30 visits, and mock drafts, it's finally time for the NFL Draft, which will kick off on Thursday evening.
It's an interesting year for the draft in that there's not tremendous buzz about the top 10 or even the top overall pick. While that situation may result in a bit less star power, it will make for a very entertaining, unpredictable opening round.
Of course, when it comes to the Patriots and Bill Belichick, they're always unpredictable. Whether it's trading back, or trading up, selecting a punter or a long snapper, or picking a player out of a college nobody has ever heard of, Belichick has always managed to keep the "experts" on their toes with regard to the Patriots' draft day decisions.
Still, they try.
With that in mind, here's the latest on some names you might be hearing on Thursday night when the Patriots make their pick at No. 21.
Offensive Tackle, Central Michigan
Occasionally, a draft prospect comes along who sounds like he came out of central casting or from a Belichick-run laboratory. (If you hear the words "former lacrosse player," your spidey senses ought to get a-tingling.) Raimann might fit that bill this year.
Peter King, in his mock draft on Monday, explained the reason that Raimann just sounds like an ideal Belichick selection:
Raimann is one of the best stories in this draft, by far. Austrian kid who first played football on a club team in Vienna at 14. As a high school exchange student, he played receiver on his Michigan high school team for a year. Back to Austria to finish high school. Bitten by the football bug. Committed to Central Michigan for the 2017 season—but had to fulfill a six-month Austrian military commitment, so he didn't start working with the team till 2018. Tight end for two years. Then the pandemic. When football practice began again, Raimann was moved to tackle as a 290-pound player, and he started 18 games at left tackle in the last 1.5 seasons.
Big, big upside—and the Patriots can likely use 2022 as a developmental year if they pick him. Great point by Daniel Jeremiah: "Reminds me of the Sebastian Vollmer pick."
European. Receiver in high school. Served in the military. Tight end. Converted to tackle. He checks a lot of boxes.
As King referenced with the Daniel Jeremiah quote, Belichick took a lot of grief in 2009 when he picked Sebastian Vollmer with the 58th overall pick in the draft. But Belichick liked what he saw in Vollmer as a player, regardless of what the experts and scouts might have seen. Vollmer ended up starting eight games as a rookie (due to a Matt Light injury) and starting 90 games overall in his Patriots career, including 10 postseason games. One of those was Super Bowl XLIX against the Seahawks.
Guard, Boston College
Albert Breer broke down each team in his MMQB column, and he named the local interior lineman as someone who would "make sense" for the Patriots.
The 6-foot-3, 312 pound Maryland native (there's something to connect with Belichick) was a captain for the Eagles, and he was named a first-team AP All-American in 2021. After trading Shaq Mason and losing Ted Karras to free agency, the Patriots have a need on the interior of the line.
Offensive Tackle, Northern Iowa
Breer also listed Penning as a fit, continuing with the offensive line theme. The Patriots do have Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown as the starting tackles, but Wynn is in the final year of his rookie deal, and Brown's been unreliable injury-wise for most of his career.
At 6-foot-7, 325 pounds, Penning obviously has NFL size at the position and will most likely be available late in the first round.
Devin Lloyd has been mentioned as a fit for the Patriots since the early days of draft season, and Breer said he's "heard [Lloyd] connected to the Patriots in recent weeks."
The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and first-team AP All-American was a captain of the Utes and had 110 tackles and eight sacks last season. The Patriots are thin at linebacker and could certainly use a year one impact player, with Lloyd perhaps capable of fitting that bill.
One more from Breer, who described Trent McDuffie as a "dream scenario" for the Patriots.
"[McDuffie is] an A-plus kid (one exec called his predraft interview 'A-plus, plus, plus') whose profile looks like Devin McCourty's did coming out of Rutgers 10 years ago," Breer wrote.
McDuffie didn't have eye-popping stats in college, but his versatility in playing outside and in the slot is considered a strength. (Outside of football, McDuffie is a talented musician who can play multiple instruments.)
A different Huskies cornerback was mentioned as a possible Patriots fit by Football Outsiders (via ESPN) in Kyler Gordon.
Gordon had two interceptions, seven pass defenses and a forced fumble along with 45 total tackles last season.
Andrew Booth Jr.
Another name from the Football Outsiders preview was Andrew Booth Jr.
Booth had three interceptions last season, after picking off two passes the year before. He's also recorded three tackles for a loss in each of the past two seasons, and he returned a fumble for a touchdown in 2020.
Like Devin Lloyd, Nakobe Dean is a name we've been hearing in New England since the onset of the mock drafts and prognostications in February. Dean is an undersized linebacker (5-foot-11, 229 pounds) who flies around the field with reckless abandon. Patriots personnel director Matt Groh said recently that the idea of a prototypical linebacker has to change, and a selection of Dean would be in line with a shifting philosophy.
(Dean was mentioned in the Football Outsiders preview, with linebacker being a "quiet need" for New England.)
Football Outsiders also listed Muma as a Patriots option. Muma has the more classic linebacker build, at 6-foot-3, 239 pounds, and he was a third-team AP All-American last year for the Cowboys.
Wide Receiver, Alabama
The Athletic's Matthew Fairburn listed the talented receiver atop the Patriots' big board, noting that Williams "might be too good to pass up" if he's still available at 21.
Williams tore his ACL in the national championship game, which will dampen expectations for his rookie season and will likely hurt his draft spot.
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