2022 NFL mock draft: Mel Kiper Jr. makes final Patriots first-round prediction

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Mel Kiper Jr. makes his final Patriots first-round prediction in new mock draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The New England Patriots will be one of the most interesting teams to watch when the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft begins Thursday night in Las Vegas.

Bill Belichick's team could target several different positions -- wide receiver, offensive line, linebacker, cornerback, etc. -- with the No. 21 overall pick in Round 1. New England also is a candidate to potentially trade down, which we've seen Belichick do a few times (most recently in 2020).

But if the Patriots stay where they are, taking a defensive player makes the most sense.

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The secondary is an important area for the Patriots to upgrade before next season. They need to get faster, younger and add more pass coverage ability. Let's not forget the Patriots lost No. 1 cornerback J.C. Jackson in free agency last month and haven't yet found a suitable replacement.

There should still be a couple first-round caliber cornerbacks/safeties available when New England is on the clock at No. 21.

One of them could be Michigan defensive back Daxton Hill, who ESPN expert Mel Kiper Jr. predicted will be taken by the Patriots in his final 2022 NFL Mock Draft published Thursday morning.

Here is Kiper's explanation for the Hill projection:

"What does Bill Belichick want from his defenders? Versatility. Hill played mostly as a slot corner last season and could help there for the Patriots. He ran a 4.38 40 at the combine and has long arms. This is a great fit. I also thought about cornerback Kaiir Elam, who would be more of a straight replacement for J.C. Jackson."

Hill played three seasons for Michigan and posted career highs with 42 total tackles, eight passes defensed and two interceptions in 14 games last season. He also allowed only one touchdown over the last two years, per Pro Football Focus.

The last time the Patriots selected a defensive back in Round 1 was Devin McCourty in 2010. You could argue that linebacker is a more pressing need for the Patriots defense, but it wouldn't be a shock if New England opted to bolster its secondary in the first round.