NFL Draft News & Analysis

Doug Kyed's Pre-NFL Draft Mailbag: New England Patriots' free agency, Jahan Dotson's draft stock and Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback options

University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver Jahan Dotson (5) runs with the ball during the third quarter against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Rutgers 28-0. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 NFL Draft is just three weeks away, and QB-needy fanbases want to know if their team will take a quarterback in the first round. We answer QB-related questions, discuss some top wide receiver prospects and more in this week’s mailbag.

@DaBeardedGooner: Are the #Patriots done in free agency/trade market? What position do they go for in the first round? #MailDoug #PFFMailbag #NFLDraft

The New England Patriots would have to create significant salary cap space to make more moves in free agency or through trades after adding cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Terrance Mitchell, wide receiver/running back Ty Montgomery and safety Jabrill Peppers in free agency and trading for wide receiver DeVante Parker and linebacker Mack Wilson. The Patriots also re-signed quarterback Brian Hoyer, running back James White, wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, offensive tackle Trent Brown, center James Ferentz, linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, kicker Nick Folk and special-teamer Matthew Slater in free agency. They’ve so far lost running back Brandon Bolden, fullback Jakob Johnson, wide receiver Gunner Olszewski, center Ted Karras and cornerback JC Jackson in free agency while trading away guard Shaq Mason and edge defender Chase Winovich. They’re listed with $999,180 in salary cap space by NFLPA records. If they can clear more space, a free agent such as edge defender Trey Flowers would definitely help on defense.

The Patriots’ current biggest need is at guard assuming Isaiah Wynn and Brown stay at tackle while Michael Onwenu mans one of the guard roles. New England’s current options there are Ferentz, Yasir Durant, Arlington Hambright, tackles Justin Herron and Yodny Cajuste, CFL-export Drew Desjarlais and 2021 draft pick Will Sherman. The Patriots brought restricted free agent Ryan Bates in for a visit before he signed an offer sheet with the Chicago Bears and eventually returned to the Buffalo Bills. That means New England was looking for more assurance at guard.

One possibility at No. 21 overall, then, is Boston College guard Zion Johnson (84.4 overall grade in 2021). Texas A&M guard Kenyon Green (79.8 overall grade while playing left and right tackle and left and right guard in 2021) also could sneak into the first round.

If the Patriots don’t go with a guard, then they can essentially draft the best player available outside of a quarterback. Some players listed around that range on PFF’s big board include Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave, Northern Iowa offensive tackle Trevor Penning and Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth.

@ashley1992__: Hi Doug, Hope you made it back home safe!! Who are your top free agents that are still available?

Thank you, Ashley! My family and I finally made it home from a long trip to Florida after some flight complications, and it's back to your regularly scheduled mailbags. The top players listed on PFF’s best available free agents list are edge defender Jadeveon Clowney, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, safety Tyrann Mathieu, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., center J.C. Tretter and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks.

The player I’m most surprised is still available is Gilmore. Since 2017, Gilmore and Jalen Ramsey are tied as the top-graded cornerbacks with matching 91.7 marks. Gilmore’s 92.3 coverage grade leads all cornerbacks. He’ll be 32 in September, but Gilmore was PFF’s 12th-highest graded cornerback last season. He’s dealt with some injuries recently, but Gilmore is still a really good player who should still garner a pretty decent contract.

Dec 19, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Carolina Panthers cornerback Stephon Gilmore (9) jogs on the field prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

@Privileged_Pete: Why isn’t Jahan Dotson getting more love. Was better and will be better than most WR in draft.

I’d say the two biggest knocks on Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson are his size (5-foot-11, 178 pounds) and relative lack of elite athleticism. He has a 6.31 RAS (relative athletic score) out of 10.

That being said, Dotson ranked ninth among qualified Division 1 wide receivers in the 2022 NFL Draft with an 87.5 overall PFF grade last season, 13th with an 87.2 receiving grade and fourth with a 91.2 drop grade. He’s ranked seventh among wide receivers in our 2022 big board behind Drake London, Garrett Wilson, Jameson Williams, Olave, Treylon Burks and Skyy Moore.

Dotson could sneak into the first round, but he lacks the size or pure athleticism of some of the higher-ranked wideouts in the class.

@DylanJTripodi: Give me a realistic draft pick and FA pairing at wide receiver you'd like to see the Packers pursue #PFFMailbag #MailDoug

The Green Bay Packers were in the mix for Odell Beckham Jr. when he was released by the Cleveland Browns and became a free agent last season. They didn’t want to pay up for him at the time, but maybe quarterback Aaron Rodgers can convince general manager Brian Gutekunst to raise his offer after the Packers traded away Davante Adams, failed to re-sign Marquez Valdes-Scantling and are left with Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb and Amari Rodgers as their top wide receivers.

Beyond Beckham, Julio Jones, Jarvis Landry and Will Fuller are the top free-agent wide receivers out there.

A combination of Beckham and Burks seems to make a lot of sense for the Packers and would dramatically improve their offense.

@LivinAtTheTop: Do you think Pittsburgh will draft a QB in the first round

They don’t need to, which is a good place to be in. The Pittsburgh Steelers signed Mitchell Trubisky this offseason and still have Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins on their roster. Still, they’re doing a ton of work on quarterbacks this offseason. They had a strong contingent at the Senior Bowl to watch Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett, Desmond Ridder, Sam Howell, Carson Strong and Bailey Zappe. They’ve been out at quarterback pro days, and they’re hosting QBs on top-30 visits.

It’s not the strongest quarterback class, so this isn’t a great year to trade way up to grab someone such as Willis. They’ll have some competition from teams such as the Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks, all of whom are picking in the Top 10, for quarterbacks. Nevertheless, if a player they like — such as Pickett or Ridder — falls, and if general manager Kevin Colbert wants to put the team in a good position with a quarterback of the future, then it’s possible they wait it out at No. 20 overall and take a QB there. It’s probably more likely at this point that they wait until the second round to take their QB of the future.

Sep 24, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Liberty Flames quarterback Malik Willis (7) escapes a tackle by Syracuse Orange linebacker Mikel Jones (3) in the first quarter at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

@UofLrudy: Do you think Indy snags a QB on Day 2?

I think it depends on whether or not there’s a run of quarterbacks in the first round. I could see the Indianapolis Colts drafting someone like Ridder to sit behind Matt Ryan for a year or two, but that probably makes more sense in the second round rather than the first.

The Colts are actually in better shape with their quarterback situation than the Steelers. Ryan is 37 years old, but he’s under contract for the next two years. They could see what they have in Ryan in 2022 and then draft a quarterback as Ryan enters the final year of his contract.

@TheDerrn: Would it be a good move for Detroit to draft a QB at 32 or 34 if one they like falls?

I think the Detroit Lions need to come out of the first 34 picks with a quarterback. Whether that means taking Willis No. 2 overall or waiting on someone like Pickett, Ridder or Howell at Nos. 32 or 34, the Lions need to start grooming someone behind Jared Goff, who can be cut without a major dead cap penalty after this season.

@ffootballbum: Thoughts on Jared Bernhardt? Feel like Bill would love him. Per Rapoport, had a visit with the Broncos today #maildoug

I mean, yes, I think Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is acutely aware of the Maryland lacrosse player-turned-Ferris State quarterback who projects as a wide receiver in the NFL.

Jared Bernhardt ran a 4.71-second 40-yard dash at 6-foot-1, 189 pounds with a 4.21-second short shuttle, 6.90-second three-cone, 32-inch vertical leap, 9-foot-10 broad jump and six bench press reps at his pro day. Those aren’t amazing pro day numbers, but it’s certainly enough to work with.

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