By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Bill Belichick unsurprisingly visited Tuscaloosa on Tuesday to scout a slew of NFL Draft prospects at Alabama's annual Pro Day. Here's a look at who the Patriots head coach could be targeting in the 2019 class.
The Hoodie has a head start in the scouting process. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reports that Belichick watched practice on Monday along with Raiders GM Mike Mayock. Rapoport's colleague Andrew Groover confirmed Belichick's presence at Tuesday's Pro Day. Former Patriots like Titans GM Jon Robinson and Lions GM Bob Quinn, among other high-ranking team execs, also made the trek.
They all have plenty to look at. Alabama perennially prepares a wealth of prospects for NFL success, including in 2012 when Belichick drafted linebacker Dont'a Hightower. That one worked out.
Twenty more prospects are expected to participate in Tuesday's Pro Day. It could be tricky for Belichick to target one of them with the 32nd pick at the end of the first round. He'd almost certainly have to trade way up if he covets defensive lineman Quinnen Williams, who's projected to go closer to first overall than 32nd (and he's not working out anyway). Same goes for left tackle Jonah Williams. It's unlikely he'd burn No. 32 on a running back like Josh Jacobs or Damien Harris a year after investing the 31st pick in Sony Michel, but he's always full of surprises.
So take those four off the board, and what's Belichick left with? It's Alabama, so plenty. The Pats have long-term needs at tight end, defensive end, and safety. But as Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said after the 2018 draft, the Patriots just want good football players regardless of position. So don't expect Belichick to draft strictly according to need.
— Alabama Football (@AlabamaFTBL) March 19, 2019
That doesn't mean he'd avoid drafting a legit prospect who happens to play a position of need, if he likes them enough. So here's who Belichick could possibly target in the 2019 NFL draft.
TE Irv Smith Jr. Smith's in-line blocking should be NFL-ready and he has enough ability as a receiver to potentially start right away. As a Patriot, he'd likely be pegged as Rob Gronkowski's successor. Smith may ultimately lack Gronk's pass-catching upside, but he's smart and versatile enough to be a legit weapon at the NFL level. Mock drafts have him going anywhere from mid-first to mid-second round. If the Pats call his name, he'd be an exciting pick.
FS Deionte Thompson. The junior has experience as a deep safety in Nick Saban's defense. His athleticism could make him an asset against both the pass and the run. Thompson may have the talent to start early on, but the Patriots' depth and experience at safety would allow them to take their time developing him. Belichick's recent track record drafting safeties (or Alabama defensive backs) hasn't been great, but Thompson seems like a prospect he could turn into a long-term solution.
LB Lyndell "Mack" Wilson. His speed and ball skills make him the kind of linebacker teams value in today's NFL. The knock on Wilson seems to be his instincts and ability to make plays outside of scheme - but Belichick may actually like that in his own way. It's well known by now that he doesn't want freelancers. The Pats look good at linebacker with Hightower and Kyle Van Noy still in the fold, with promising former Purdue linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley coming up behind them. But Wilson would be an interesting prospect for Belichick to develop and utilize in a number of roles.
DE Christian Miller. He sounds like a Derek Rivers type - a fast but lean pass rusher with athleticism and long arms, but enough drawbacks to make him more of a mid-round selection. Belichick didn't shy away from drafting Rivers out of Youngstown State two years ago, so there's a chance that Miller is on his radar.
DT Isaiah Buggs. It may only take a mid-to-late-round pick to make Buggs a Patriot. He projects as a backup/special teamer with the chance to develop into a starter. But Belichick may like his versatility. He played both inside and on the edge at Alabama and got snaps as both a run-stopper and pass-rusher. He may not be a special prospect, but could he become the next Lawrence Guy?
OL Ross Pierschbacher. The second-team All-American and All-SEC lineman played both center and left guard for the Crimson Tide and has potential as a run-blocker. So you'd imagine Belichick would study him hard. Pierschbacher may only cost a late-round pick due to his relative lack of athleticism, but he could provide depth and a potential long-term solution on the interior of the offensive line.
All of these names are worth keeping on your draft board for the Patriots. Their draft stocks and long-term upsides vary, but their skill sets suggest that any of them could don a Flying Elvis hat on draft day.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].