2022 NFL Mock Draft roundup: First-round pick expectations for Patriots

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2022 NFL Mock Draft roundup: First-round pick expectations for Patriots originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The New England Patriots have the No. 21 pick in the first round, and most experts are predicting head coach Bill Belichick will choose to bolster a defense that was destroyed by Josh Allen's high-powered Buffalo Bills offense in the AFC Wild Card round of the playoffs.

The Patriots defense was pretty good most of the 2021 season, but when the competition was fierce -- in games against the Buccaneers, Cowboys and Bills, for example -- this unit lacked athleticism and couldn't get key stops when needed.

Linebacker is perhaps the most obvious position that needs upgrading.

This group was pretty old last season, with Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower all playing a bunch of snaps. It's possible none of these three veterans will be on the roster in Week 1. Van Noy was released earlier in the offseason, while Collins and Hightower remain on the free agent market.

A major infusion of youth, speed and playmaking ability is needed at linebacker, and two of the best players expected to be available for the Patriots at No. 21 overall are Utah's Devin Lloyd and Georgia's Nakobe Dean.

Dean’s length, versatility and high football IQ would make him a good fit with the Patriots. Dean excelled against SEC competition and played a pivotal role on a Bulldogs defense that propelled Georgia to a national championship over Alabama.

Which players might New England target next Thursday? Here's a roundup of recent expert predictions from 2022 NFL Mock Drafts.

Phil Perry, NBC Sports Boston: Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan

Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, ESPN: Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia

Chad Reuter, NFL.com: Zion Johnson, OL, Boston College (trade at No. 24)

Maurice Jones-Drew, NFL.com: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah

Peter Schrager, NFL Network: Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington

Luke Easterling, USA TODAY's Draftwire: Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson

Jonathan Jones, CBS Sports: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah

Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama

Conor Orr, Sports Illustrated: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah

Rob Rang, FOX Sports NFL: Quay Walker, LB, Georgia

Walter Cherepinsky, WalterFootball.com: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah