Will Patriots end drought and select a CB in first round of 2023 NFL Draft

New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty (32) runs back an interception against the New York Jets. Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty (32) runs back an interception against the New York Jets. Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

In Bill Belichick’s 23 years as New England Patriots head coach, Devin McCourty in 2010 was the only cornerback Belichick drafted in the first round.

That selection turned out well. McCourty had nine interceptions as a rookie, was selected for the all-rookie team and the Pro Bowl.

But McCourty transitioned to free safety in year three, a position McCourty spent a majority of his career at and had better success.

Since then, Belichick passed on selecting a corner in the first. There were some second rounders (all disastrous), but never first, even if doing so seemed logical.

The 2022 draft was one of those times. But the Patriots traded the 21st selection to the Kansas City Chiefs for the 29th and 94th selections. New England selected guard Cole Strange while the Chiefs took CB Trent McDuffie.

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The Patriots eventually turned the 94th pick into a fourth round selection that they used on Jack Jones. And in the previous round New England selected Marcus Jones.

Between the McDuffie and Marcus Jones selections, New England passed on nine corners, including McDuffie. Eight started at least six games. The two Joneses combined for six starts.

While Marcus and Jack Jones showed potential as rookies, neither might not be boundary starters. Marcus should be ruled out because bigger receivers will victimize him. Jack has a chance, but being suspended at the end of the season is concerning because of character concerns as a draft prospect.

Circumstances might dictate Patriots drafting a cornerback in the first round

Belichick’s record for drafting cornerbacks early is almost just as bad as his record for drafting wide receivers early. In both cases, drafting either position early should make New England Patriots fans shudder.

To make up for those mistakes, Belichick spent currency (money on free agents or traded assets) on established veterans. Those moves paid off as Darrell Revis, Aqib Talib and Stephon Gilmore all worked out great for the Patriots. The latest is Jalen Mills, who was solid in 2021, but injuries cost him seven games in 2022.

But imagine the money Belichick could had saved if instead of selecting second rounders Cyrus Jones (2016) and Duke Dawson (2018), Belichick spent a first on Xavien Howard (2016) or Donte Jackson (2018)?

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For a franchise that just passed on paying J.C. Jackson, saving big money on a rookie contract for at least four years would be very appealing (Or maybe the Patriots get Jackson back, if the Jackson scrubbing the Chargers from his Instagram account rumor is true).

Mills will be back in 2023, but the other starter, Jonathan Jones, is a free agent. After getting torn a new one by Vikings’ Justin Jefferson and Bills’ Stefon Diggs, Jones might had played his way from getting re-signed (As if drafting two corners wasn’t enough).

Obviously offensive tackle should be the New England Patriots’ priority in the first round, but it’s possible New England’s best choice could be a cornerback. Certainly a lot can happen between now and April 27, but it will depend on what the Patriots do in free agency to fill needs and which prospects are still available by the 14th selection.

Out of NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah’s top 50 NFL Draft prospects list, only one cornerback is in his top 15. Compare that to three offensive tackles in the top 15.

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There are a lot of mock drafts that have the top three O-tackles gone by the No. 14 selection. If that’s the case, it would be wiser to take a higher rated cornerback instead of reaching to fill the biggest need. It’s possible the top-rated corner could still be on the board.

Predicting what the Patriots will do is near impossible, especially with so much time between now and the draft. Nor do the Patriots go by what experts think. Few had the Patriots selecting a guard in the first round last year, despite corner, linebacker and receiver considered higher priorities by most.

The Patriots zig when everyone else expects them to zag. That could happen again this year. Based on Belichick’s history, selecting a cornerback in the first round would be a zig. It could be the right zig to end a positional drought.