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New England Patriots' 21st pick doesn't look like a top spot for a cornerback

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Nink interrupts Orlovsky's second-year QB pick (1:25)

Rob Ninkovich puts on an old Patriots helmet to make his homer pick for second-year QB to make the Super Bowl. (1:25)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Backed into a corner? If the Patriots were preparing to play a game this week, their starting cornerbacks would be Jalen Mills and ...

It's a major question, arguably the team's most significant.

Malcolm Butler, Terrance Mitchell and Shaun Wade are top in-house candidates (Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant are slots), which is why an ideal scenario would be for the 2022 NFL draft to provide them more decisive answers.

However, unlike last year in the first round, when the Patriots badly needed a quarterback and were fortunate Mac Jones was available at No. 15, multiple analysts don't see a similar scenario unfolding for the Patriots this year with a cornerback at 21.

Cincinnati's Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner is a projected top-10 pick, and LSU's Derek Stingley Jr. and Washington's Trent McDuffie are expected to be off the board by the 20s as well.

"Then there is a drop-off," ESPN senior analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay has Clemson's Andrew Booth Jr. as the next option, but in more of the 25-32 range, which wouldn't represent the "value" coach Bill Belichick often seeks. Also, the Patriots would have to be comfortable with Booth's limited starting experience (15 games).

Kiper had considered slotting Booth to the Patriots in his latest mock draft before giving them Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd, with Booth ultimately landing at 29 to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Overall, Kiper said: "The depth at cornerback this year is not that great [after the top group]. It's there in numbers, but there's a lot of hit or miss guys."

Thus, Kiper wonders if Belichick might consider a trade into the teens if Stingley slips into that range, considering Stingley was tracking as a possible No. 1 player in the draft if not for the 2020 COVID-19 season and then suffering a torn Lisfranc ligament in his left foot that sidelined him for nine games in 2021.

If the Patriots were looking for a safer choice, similar to what they did in 2010 with Devin McCourty, Michigan safety Daxton Hill (6-foot, 191 pounds) would be a consideration at 21.

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"He did everything -- he can be a slot corner, play center field, tackles so well, get after the quarterback, can intercept passes. He's perfect for the way the game is played today," Kiper said.

"You could make the argument, if you just say 'defensive backs overall,' No. 1 is Sauce Gardner, No. 2 is either [safety] Kyle Hamilton or Derek Stingley Jr., and you could put Daxton Hill next along with Trent McDuffie. [Hill is] one of the best overall defensive backs in this draft."

2. BB at 70: Belichick turned 70 on Saturday, a milestone that provides him a chance to do something rare. The only head coach to win at least 10 games or make the playoffs at 70 years old is Marv Levy, who did it twice with the Bills in 1995 and 1996.

3. Groh's intro: First-year Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh held his first videoconference with reporters Friday, sharing insight and engaging on a variety of topics -- from the influence of youngsters playing 7-on-7 flag football producing more quality wide receivers, to assistant coach Matt Patricia playing a leading role in the acquisition of receiver DeVante Parker, to a lack of bigger linebackers in college because of the proliferation of spread-it-out passing offenses. At various points, Groh also referenced a handful of others in the organization -- Eliot Wolf, Steve Cargile, Marshall Oium, Nancy Meier, Richard Miller, Brian Smith, Berj Najarian and Richie Armand, among them -- in a nice touch that reflected a selfless approach in his new leadership position.

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4. Defending Dolphins: Groh acknowledged that the Patriots have kept a close eye on how the Dolphins have added significant speed this offseason, including the acquisition of receiver Tyreek Hill to pair with Jaylen Waddle, among others. "We're very cognizant of what they've got down there. ... We've got to play them twice. Those are two very, very meaningful games," Groh said. "We've got to have a way to be able to combat those two players, along with a lot of the other great players that they have and have been able to add." As for how the Patriots plan to do that, Groh highlighted some of the behind-the-scenes work that has been taking place over the past month. "There's multiple ways to doing that, not just through personnel, [but] scheme," he said.

5. Draft predictor: ESPN's analytics department has created the "Draft Day Predictor", an interactive tool that assesses odds on what players might be available at each spot in the draft. Punching up the numbers for the Patriots' pick at 21, it highlights, among other things, the aforementioned projected gap after the top three cornerbacks. Overall, the first player I searched was Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis -- whose elite physical traits would make him an obvious Patriots pick -- and it's about a 20% chance he'd be available.

6. Mac context: Kiper said Thursday that Jones would have been the top quarterback in this year's class based on his scouting report coming out of Alabama, which was a reminder of how fortunate New England was last year. Not all quarterback classes are created equal, and the '21 class was deep enough that the Patriots could wait at pick No. 15 for who they believe is their franchise guy. This year's QB class falls well short of it.

7. Wise remarks: Veteran defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. was a guest at the Patriots' annual season-ticket member draft preview event last weekend, and he shared stories of his draft-day experience in 2017 (fourth round, Arkansas), among other things. One topic was how formidable of an opponent the Bills are, and how the Patriots might close the gap in 2022, and he said: "The Bills have definitely had our number a few times last season, but I don't treat any team different. They can bring in the Incredible Hulk for all I care. We're [still] going to still buckle our helmets up and [compete]." That sparked an applause from the crowd.

8. Land of Moses: The Patriots are scheduled to begin their voluntary offseason program Monday, and the first two weeks are dedicated solely to strength and conditioning work, led by coaches Moses Cabrera and Deron Mayo (brother of former linebacker/current assistant Jerod Mayo). Players are limited to 90 minutes on the field, and clubs can specify only two hours for players to be at the facility. Along those lines, free-agent safety Jabrill Peppers said one of the things that stood out to him last year during joint practices with the Patriots was how well-conditioned the team was. The team runs ... a lot.

9. Tip off the old block: When the Patriots hosted a handful of local prospects on Wednesday at Gillette Stadium, University of Rhode Island defensive back Coby Tippett was among them. Coby is the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer and Patriots all-time sack leader Andre Tippett, so he's no stranger to Foxborough. The 5-8, 195-pound Tippett has been working in Florida since January with longtime athletic trainer Tom Shaw, tested well at Bryant University's pro day, and his likely path into the NFL would be as an undrafted free agent. Andre Tippett, the team's longtime executive director of community affairs, had to be bursting with pride Wednesday.

10. Did you know: In Belichick's tenure (2000-present), the Patriots have used a first-round pick on a wide receiver just once (N'Keal Harry, 2019). That is tied for the fewest in the NFL over that span, with the New York Jets, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams.