Following the careers of these NFL draftees will be a fun experiment

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DJ Bean
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Bean: These could-have-been Patriots will be fun to track over time originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

One of the reasons draft talk really never ends is because you can always look up where a player was drafted and feel horrible about who your team took instead.

Or -- and this is way more fun -- you can look at your team’s star players and laugh at the teams that passed on them for some bozo who only lasted a couple years in the league.

Which players will be part of that conversation based on the 2021 draft for the Patriots? Here are the NFL careers Patriots fans should monitor against New England’s picks:

Patriots QB Mac Jones vs. Bears QB Justin Fields

Pats took Jones 15th; Fields went 11th

I couldn’t disagree more with the bouquet-throwing over the Patriots not trading up for a quarterback. Not only does them staying at No. 15 suggest they could live without the player they selected; it’s smarter to take the better option, even if it costs more.

This NFC team tried to trade up for Mac Jones

It will be tough to guess what Fields would be in New England, as we’ve come to expect Bears quarterbacks to fizzle out in Chicago. If he’s good, though? Better than Jones? This will have been a miss by the Patriots. We can’t spend 20 years (correctly) declaring how important it is to have the best quarterback, then celebrate spending less to get an inferior one.

Also watch for: Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins, who went with the very next pick. If Jones is a bust, Collins ends up being a stud linebacker and one of the quarterbacks taken after Jones (Kyle Trask, Kellen Mond, etc.) can play, hoo boy.

Patriots DT Christian Barmore vs. Cardinals WR Rondale Moore

Pats traded up to take Barmore 38th; Moore went 49th

I absolutely love the Barmore pick, and I don’t mind them spending two fourths to move up eight spots to get him. He’s the best defensive tackle in the draft and the Patriots’ run defense was a mess at points last year.

If Rondale Moore ends up being special, though, the conversation changes. The Patriots badly needed help at receiver and Purdue’s Moore was a logical fit. A slot receiver compared to Tyler Lockett by NFL.com, Moore was available with the Patriots’ original second-round pick at No. 46, meaning they could have saved the capital they used to trade up.

Also watch for: Western Michigan receiver D’Wayne Eskridge (Seahawks, 56th overall), Florida State cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. (Chargers, 47th overall).

Filming the Bengals vs. the third-round receivers 

Five receivers went between Patriots’ forfeited pick and compensatory third-rounder

Whatever happened in that Cleveland press box, a third-round pick is a valuable commodity and the Patriots got theirs -- which would have been 77th overall -- taken away as punishment. Josh Palmer (Chargers), Dyami Brown (Football Team), Amari Rodgers (Packers), Nico Collins (Texans) and Anthony Schwartz (Browns) all went between that spot and where the Patriots were next on the clock at No. 96. I guess we can really include all ...

Also watch for: the 14 other players that went in that span.

Patriots DE Ronnie Perkins vs. so many cornerbacks 

Two picks after the Pats took Perkins, a run of five corners in six picks occurred 

The Patriots definitely addressed their biggest need by getting a quarterback, but two other presumed were ignored. We’ve talked about them not taking a receiver in this draft, but they also avoided the cornerback position. Maybe that means Stephon Gilmore has more of a future in New England than we thought. Either way, keep an eye on Nahshon Wright (Cowboys), Elijah Molden (Titans), Ifeatu Melifonwu (Lions), Ambry Thomas (49ers) and Brandon Stephens (Ravens).

Patriots RB Rhamondre Stevenson vs. Bucs WR Jaelon Darden

Tampa took the North Texas speedster nine picks after New England’s fourth-round selection

As was also the case with Barmore over Moore, I really like the player the Patriots took. If I had to choose between Stevenson and Darden, though, I’d have gone with Darden given the need. Tom Brady showed with Tyler Johnson that he can indeed help along a rookie receiver; if Darden turns out to be a really good receiver, New England’s decision to avoid the position in the draft will look that much worse.