One prospect at every position to watch at the NFL Combine
By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Individual drills begin on Thursday at the 2020 NFL Combine in Indianapolis. The Patriots will have plenty of eyes on prospects taking part, and the same can be said for anyone who tunes in.
Workouts will take place position-by-position from Thursday through Sunday. They will air on the NFL Network and can also be seen via the NFL and NFL Network apps, plus a number of streaming devices.
Here’s the full schedule for positional workouts:
Thursday, Feb. 27: Quarterbacks, Wide Receivers, Tight Ends
Friday, Feb. 28: Running Backs, Offensive Line, Special Teams
Saturday, March 1: Defensive Linemen, Linebackers
Sunday, March 2: Defensive Backs
Drills will take place from 4-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, and 2-7 p.m. on Sunday.
All four groupings will be worth checking for fans of the Patriots, who may need to add to a number of spots on their roster with a group of key veterans on track for free agency. Some of the below names have already met with the Patriots, indicating clear interest in potentially drafting them.
NFL Combine Tracker: Who’s Met With The Patriots?
Most of these players are currently projected to be selected within the first two rounds, but not too high. So you would’ve gotten a nice little Patriots preview if you kept an eye on N’Keal Harry, Sony Michel, or Isaiah Wynn over the past two years.
The Patriots could conceivably take one of the below players with the 23rd overall pick, if not some time on day 2. They currently lack a second-round pick but hold pick No. 87 in the third round. And as always, expect the unexpected with Bill Belichick. Just because the Pats appear set at a position doesn’t mean they won’t still draft who they feel is the best player available.
Quarterback: Jordan Love, Utah
From NFL.com: “His size, mobility and arm talent combined with his 2018 flashes could be a winning hand that leads a team into the future or a siren’s song of erratic play and unfulfilled potential.”
Love confirmed at the combine that he met with the Patriots. He’s probably going to ascend after the combine after he impresses in drills due to his physical skills. The question is whether he will have the consistency and aptitude to become a good starter at the NFL level. But he’s probably going to end up a first-round pick. If the newest reports about Tom Brady are accurate and he doesn’t change his mind about playing somewhere other than New England in 2020, perhaps Belichick accelerates his quarterback reset and goes for Love if he’s available.
Wide Receiver: Tamaurice “Tee” Higgins, Clemson
From NFL.com: “His size and ‘above the rim’ talent make him a uniquely dangerous playmaker deep and in the red zone. The transition to NFL press corners will be an early challenge that could take some time to solve, but he’s an instinctive ball-winner whose traits should win out and make him a very good NFL starter.”
His NFL comparison from a physical and skill-set standpoint is A.J. Green, who has been linked to the Patriots in recent years. Belichick has clearly prioritized bulking up his receiver corps with Harry and other recent additions. Higgins certainly fits that bill at 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds. It’s a deep receiver class this year and Higgins appears to be one of the top prospects, but one that falls to the back half of the first round.
Tight End: Adam Trautman, Dayton
From NFL.com: “Right now, Trautman is a big, pass-catching tight end who needs to prove he can transition from his level of competition and handle bigger, more physical coverage dogging him around the field. He has a solid athletic profile, but his technique as a blocker will need to be upgraded as teams will likely expect him to play in-line due to his size. He’s a talented pass-catcher with Day 3 potential, and good upside to work with.”
Trautman currently looks like more of a day 2 pick, but that could change if he has a good combine. His stock is already rising after a strong Senior Bowl, which was important for him due to facing relatively light competition at Dayton. He has combo tight end potential and could be an immediate contributor in New England. He says he’s met with the Patriots already.
Running Back: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU
From NFL.com: “Compact, sudden back who runs low to the ground with power and balance to break tackles and the agility to bob, weave and shake them in tight quarters. Edwards-Helaire runs with instinctive eyes and quick-cut foot speed. He doesn’t really have tells or tendencies and can alter the rush track when needed, which makes him so unpredictable for defenses. While he can create for himself, he’s better off working inside-out as NFL linebackers might be able to outflank him on pure outside runs. He has pop behind his pads but lacks short-yardage size. He has the talent to become a good, three-down back in time, but needs to improve in pass protection.”
While it’s unlikely the running back-rich Patriots spend yet another high draft pick on one, Edwards-Helaire is intriguing. His quickness and footwork drew comparisons to Devonta Freeman. He’s described as a good route-runner who can make people miss after the catch and in the open field. He also returned kicks for the national champions. Belichick loves winners. It wouldn’t be surprising if he dipped specifically into the LSU roster.
Offensive Line: Lucas Niang, TCU
From NFL.com: “Dancing bear with good agility and a great football IQ. He doesn’t carry his weight proportionally and looked heavier/slower in 2019, but he clearly has NFL starting talent. Niang is a scheme-diverse run blocker with athleticism for move blocks and technique/leverage to open running lanes with power.”
While the Patriots may need to restock the interior of the offensive line with Joe Thuney and Ted Karras possibly out the door, they may also need to add an eventual replacement for Marcus Cannon at right tackle. Niang is huge (6-foot-6, 315 pounds) and Belichick loves smart, athletic run-blockers. Hip labrum surgery is a concern for him and might drop him out of the first round, anyway. But he’s met with the Patriots, so there’s at least some level of interest there.
Defensive Line: Raekwon Davis, Alabama
From NFL.com: “Rugged and powerful with elite physical traits, Davis has the ability to impose his will on opponents and dominate at the point of attack. He plays long and strong with rare leverage for a taller player and holds positioning against double teams for linebackers to flow freely. He was all over the backfield in 2017, but hasn’t made nearly as many plays — against the run or pass — since then.”
Davis had a formal meeting with the Patriots, which is a small notch above an in-formal meeting. Davis’ ceiling is elite, but his lack of raw production and questions about his maturity should put him in the Patriots’ range at the end of the first round. However his size (6-foot-6, 311 pounds) and skill set should make him an effective two-gapping, edge-setting defensive end in a 3-4 system. But he’s also described as a guy who could fit any defense. Davis is a great fit for what the Patriots could use up front, if they plan to run a similar defense to 2019.
Linebacker: Patrick Queen, LSU
From NFL.com: “He plays fast, physical and with impressive field confidence for a one-year starter. His ability to diagnose and flow are both very rapid, and he operates with excellent body control and balance to gobble up runners as an open-field tackler. His inexperience will show itself in taking on blocks and finding optimal pursuit angles, but that will get cleaned up in time. Queen is next up from LSU’s linebacker factory, possessing the same three-down ability to hunt, cover and tackle as those before him.”
Queen doesn’t have the size (6 feet, 229 pounds) of what the Patriots typically deploy at linebacker, but he’s the kind of player at the position that the team has noticeably lacked in recent years. He’s fast and agile and has the ability to cover tight ends and running backs in the passing game. He may need time to develop due to starting for just one season in LSU. But that one season was certainly a successful and eventful one.
Safety: Xavier McKinney, Alabama
From NFL.com: “Ascending safety prospect offering a combination of plus athleticism, field awareness and versatility. McKinney split time equally at slot, free safety and in the box and is accomplished in each. His coverage instincts, athleticism and quick-twitch burst are more cornerback than safety, which is why he’s likely to be a coveted toy for teams looking to upgrade and diversify their sub-packages. He can sit in center field all day if needed, and he’s an adequate open-field tackler but has room for improvement in that area. McKinney represents the new breed of versatile, matchup safety with high upside as an early starter.”
McKinney would become especially intriguing if Devin McCourty ends up departing. While he wouldn’t immediately replace McCourty’s leadership, McKinney would certainly have the pedigree and ability to play a number of roles in the defensive backfield, including free safety. The Patriots have been all set at safety for years, but they’ll look to get younger eventually. McKinney would be an excellent building block.
Cornerback: Trevon Diggs, Alabama
From NFL.com: “As a former receiver, Diggs has an instinctive feel for his opponent’s plans and uses his size and athleticism to disrupt the blueprint when possible. The foot agility and short-area burst are good for his size and helped keep completion totals low. He’s inconsistent staying in phase with downfield routes and long speed is his kryptonite, causing grabbing and holding when panic sets in. He’s a future starting press-man corner with the hands and ball tracking to take it away and should benefit from more help over the top as a pro.”
The name sounds familiar. Maybe Stefon Diggs would push for a trade to the Patriots if they drafted his brother? Trevon is, in fact, a former wide receiver so he has great ball skills at the cornerback position. This is another spot where the Pats have leaned toward size and length in recent years. Diggs would be yet another press-man corner in a depth chart filled with them. And he’s returned kicks and punts, too. His NFL comparison is former Patriot Aqib Talib.
Kicker: Tyler Bass, Georgia Southern
From NFL.com: “Bass does a nice job of creating a repeatable process and has a history of accuracy on intermediate kicks when conditions aren’t extreme. He doesn’t have much experience beyond 50 yards, but showed off plenty of leg at the Senior Bowl and pretty good deep accuracy to go with it. His ability to blast kickoffs for touchbacks is a plus in his favor.”
Bass confirmed that he met with the Patriots at the combine. Kicker is absolutely a position to pay attention to this offseason in New England. Stephen Gostkowski is signed, but it’s fair to wonder what the future holds for the 36-year-old after he underwent season-ending hip surgery in 2019. The Pats also recently hired former Alabama assistant Joe Houston, who is known as the “kicker whisperer” – perhaps to help Gostkowski, but it could also mean the team is preparing for a transition.
We’ll have more on the Patriots and the combine in the coming days.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.