Though things can still change in the coming weeks, JC Jackson’s departure from the Patriots feels all but imminent.
The All-Pro cornerback reportedly wants top cornerback money in the realm of Los Angeles Rams star Jalen Ramsey, which New England seems unwilling to pay. The team also reportedly is unlikely to keep Jackson under the franchise tag, perhaps only doing so if they can find a trade partner for the star cornerback.
The Patriots already probably needed to draft a cornerback even if Jackson were retained. If he leaves, cornerback becomes by far the most important position New England must upgrade in the 2022 NFL Draft.
With that in mind, here are four cornerbacks Bill Belichick and company could target with the No. 21 overall pick in the first round of the draft.
Trent McDuffie (Washington)
If there’s one top cornerback who simply sounds like he should be a New England Patriot, it’s McDuffie.
“I keep telling all these teams: I want to play football. I’m a football player, ”he said during his Saturday media appearance. “You can put me at corner. You can put me at nickel. You can put me at free safety. I want to play special teams. If you need help on offense, put me over there. “
He’s a self-described film addict, saying he tries to get through four games of film study every day and takes pride in “situational football,” one of Belichick’s favorite focuses.
The former long-jumper also talked about how being a track-and-field athlete has improved his technique and body control at the cornerback position.
“I am a technician. I really hone in on the details of my position, details of playing DB… as a DB, you have to be really smart. “
Those things will probably sound like music to the Patriots’ ears. Though McDuffie lacks elite size at the cornerback spot, he overcomes those issues by being “an elite competitor” who has “lockdown talent,” according to NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein. The tenacious defensive back’s comp is even compared to shutdown Packers’ cornerback Jaire Alexander in his NFL Draft profile.
The Patriots have already spoken with him at the combine.
“Bill Belichick is a DB dude,” he said of New England. “You can see all their DBs, their defense, that’s a defense that’s a lot of fun. One of my old teammates, Myles Bryant, players for them. He says it’s an amazing experience being there. There’s so much football knowledge. “
Kyler Gordon (Washington)
Though a meeting between Gordon and the Patriots wasn’t confirmed, it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t catch up with McDuffie’s athletic counterpart on the Huskies’ defense.
Gordon is billed as a smooth but explosive mover on the football field, something he says comes from his background dancing competitively and practicing kung-fu when he was younger. Like McDuffie, he also prides himself on playing multiple positions and said he embraces the challenges of playing in the slot.
“There are some corners who can chill and be on the side, but I feel like I’m the type of corner that wants to put my head down and come in,” he said. “Being in that nickel position, having the opportunity to come down and be part of the run fit is something I love to do.”
Gordon’s not as technically sound at this stage as McDuffie, but there’s a chance his elite physical traits and combine testing could intrigue a Patriots secondary that badly needs dynamic athletes.
Kaiir Elam (Florida)
While the Patriots proved they could succeed while playing a lot of one defense, they still heavily relied on man coverage last season.
Though some scouting reports are down on Elam’s play in 2021, he’s arguably the archetypical corner the Patriots could target if they want to stick with press-man schemes.
The Florida cornerback has ideal size at 6-foot-2 with long arms and good athletic ability to mirror routes when he’s in 1-on-1 coverage. In a way, he’s what Joejuan Williams should well.
He did have some issues with getting beat deep against speedsters, but he also put together some very good reps against Alabama’s Jameson Williams and John Metchie when Florida played Alabama last year. Belichick will surely notice that tape.
“I embrace competition,” he said of his matchup against the Crimson Tide stars. “They really targeted me, and I felt really disrespected … I feel like it brought the dog out of me, and I tried to go out and dominate whoever was in front of me.”
Elam also touted his “unmatched” preparation for games as well as his “elite man-to-man and ball skills,” saying he sees himself having the potential of a bigger Darrelle Revis: “I want to be a lot better than him, though. “
Andrew Booth Jr. (Clemson)
The hard-nosed Clemson corner has the size, length, and speed to play man coverage, but he also has the versatility and aggressive mentality to play the ball and make tackles in zone coverage.
Production-wise, he posted five interceptions and nine pass breakups in his last two seasons at Clemson.
“I feel like when the ball’s in the air, it’s mine,” Booth Jr said. “I’m the only one that can come down with it.”
Taking Booth in the first round would be an interesting proposition: for all his elite physical traits and potential to become a plus starter at cornerback, he comes to the NFL with less than a year of starting experience after forgoing his senior season.
He acknowledged some of that inexperience when asked about giving up two touchdowns against North Carolina State, noting that the game was a “learning experience” he’ll remember going into the pros.
The Patriots have met with Booth, but they won’t get a chance to watch him work out at the NFL Combine on Sunday. The former Tiger strained his quad while preparing for the 40-yard dash and said he won’t participate in any events until his March 17 pro day.
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