By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
With no traditional combine this year, the biggest week of the pre-draft process wrapped up on Saturday at the Senior Bowl. It was the first and last time in this draft cycle teams had for large-scale, in-person evaluations.
The Patriots had scouts in attendance ahead of what will be one of the most important drafts in franchise history. Who did enough to get their attention? And which players might Bill Belichick be crossing off his draft board? Here’s a look at some notable performances from players at positions of need for New England.
QB Mac Jones, Alabama
Mac Jones was the star of the week, lighting it up through the two days of open practices. One of the biggest knocks against the Alabama product has been the talent around him hiding flaws in his game. However, he continued to play at a high level down in Mobile, even when not surrounded by first-round picks.
A minor ankle injury late on the second day of practice held Jones out of the actual Senior Bowl game on Saturday, but that shouldn’t be held against him. Just taking part in the game was a display of his commitment to the game of football – he was the only one of the six potential first-round quarterbacks to attend the event.
Participating in only the practices, Jones locked up his first-round status on Wednesday and Thursday. He proved his accuracy and decision making exist outside of the context of the Crimson Tide’s record-setting offense. The only question left is how high in the first round will he go – something that will likely be determined by how the QB trade and free agency market shakes out next month.
During Thursday’s media availability, Jones told reporters he met with Patriots representatives at the Senior Bowl.
Mac Jones with a SEED over the middle pic.twitter.com/FKOwYbQhyB— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) January 27, 2021
QB Jamie Newman, Wake Forest/Georgia
The Senior Bowl marked the first competitive football for Jamie Newman is over a year. After three years at Wake Forest, Newman transferred to Georgia but sat out the season due to COVID-19 concerns. Heading into last week, his last competitive snap came on December 27, 2019.
Newman showed some rust both in the practices and during the game. There were questionable decisions during team drills, and in the game itself he took five sacks in his limited time on the field. His big arm and athleticism were on display, but he looks as though he still has a way to go before he’s an NFL quarterback.
Like Jones, Newman said he met with the Patriots during the week. Currently projected as an early Day 3 pick, he’s been a popular name for those who believe the Patriots will take a quarterback, but not with a premium pick.
Jamie Newman can definitely rip it. Great catch by Amari Rodgers. LSU LB Jabril Cox almost had this one going the other way pic.twitter.com/vnwPLJGk1b— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) January 28, 2021
RB/WR Demetric Felton, UCLA
UCLA’s Demetric Felton is as unique a prospect as there was in this year’s Senior Bowl. His college career began with him playing wide receiver, but by his senior year he was lining up for over 90 percent of his snaps at running back.
Throughout the week in Mobile, he showed tremendous route running ability, especially for a back. He ended up worth with both the running back and receiver groups, highlighting his versatility.
Due to his size (5-foot-10, 200 pounds) Felton is expected to transition back to slot receiver in the NFL. However, in the right running back-focused passing system, he could be effective in a Ty Montgomery-type role where he lines up at both positions.
With the Patriots’ top two pass catching backs in James White and Rex Burkhead scheduled to be free agents, finding a new third down back is an under-the-radar key this offseason. Felton is currently projected as an early Day 3 pick, and certainly seems worth that investment for New England right now. His stock is likely to rise, the question will be by how much.
UCLA RB Demetric Felton running WR routes in Mobile is BIG for his stock — dude is a stud.— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) January 26, 2021
WR Dez Fitzpatrick, Louisville
If there was a breakout star from the Senior Bowl, it had to be Dez Fitzpatrick out of Louisville. He entered the week with virtually no fanfare – he wasn’t even projected to be draft. Yet he left Mobile one of the most intriguing wide receiver prospects in this year’s draft.
Fitzpatrick’s lateral quickness jumped out from his first rep in practice. He gets in and out of his cuts exceptionally well for a guy his size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds). When he wasn’t able to pick up initial separation with his routes, he showed a knack to use his size to create natural separation and bully his way around defenders to the football. While he’s not a true burner, Fitzpatrick has surprising speed for a guy his size.
His strong practice reps translated into the game. Fitzpatrick was the leading receiver with six catches for 90 yards – and got himself open for another big hitter play but was overthrown by Feleipe Franks.
Three strong days won’t do a ton to overwrite Fitzpatrick’s biggest knock from his college days, which was consistency. His 43-catch, 833-yard senior season mostly came in spurts. Still, he has plenty of raw talent to work with, and should be an intriguing option on Day 3. If the Patriots either want to double-dip at wide receiver, or just want to add upside at the position without investing a premium pick, he’s somebody they should take a long look at.
Louisville's Dez Fitzpatrick leads all receivers at the Senior Bowl with six catches and 90 yards, including this snag. It was polite of him to inform this defensive back he'd be taking the ball and casually letting him through on the way to more yards. pic.twitter.com/j2saVklzJ9— Tyler Greever (@Tyler_Greever) January 30, 2021
G Deonte Brown, Alabama
Deonte Brown’s measurements were the first big story of Senior Bowl week. The Alabama guard checked in at 6-foot-3, 364 pounds. Naturally, people were excited to see what he could do on the field with that frame.
Against a defensive line group that was mostly made up of speedy edge rushers, Brown struggled. His footwork didn’t appear to be solid enough to say with guys coming around the edge, and he looked disengaged when asked to pull and get ahead of ball carriers in space. Those struggles continued to the game, where he played both left and right guard.
With Joe Thuney scheduled to be a free agent, the Patriots could be in the market for a guard this offseason – especially if they want to keep Michael Onwenu at right tackle. While Brown has Onwenu’s size, he showed last week that he doesn’t have the same agility, at least not at his current weight.
Heading into the week, Brown was expected to go as high as the end of the first round. However, his lack of mobility could give teams pause. If he falls and the Patriots think they can turn him into the next Michael Onwenu, it could be a fit.
300 lb Marvin Wilson vs 360 lb Deonte Brown pic.twitter.com/3T4wfGl9eD— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 27, 2021
EDGE Elerson Smith, Northern Iowa
With the FCS level canceling its 2020 season, it had been a while since Elerson Smith saw a competitive snap. Yet you wouldn’t know it by watching him on the field at the Senior Bowl.
Smith’s week got off to an immediate positive start. The 6-foot-7 edge rusher played at 220 pounds in college, far to small to compete at the position at the pro level. However, he proved he’d been in the gym during his year off, and weighed in at 262 pounds in Mobile. That frame combined with his long arms give him a much more typical NFL pass rusher look.
Once he got on the field, Smith showed he knows how to use his size and leverage to his advantage. Players coming from lower levels of college football always have to answer questions about the kind of competition they faced. He answered some of those questions this week, by being competitive in one-on-one drills and showing the IQ and discipline to hold the edge against more complicated concepts during the game.
The Patriots are always looking to add pass rushers, and Elerson’s physical makeup is in line with the kind of sub-rushers they usually go after. He’s an interesting Day 3 target if they’re willing to use a roster spot on a pure pass rusher who likely won’t be able to contribute much against the run.
Outstanding TFL by Elerson Smith on the reverse pic.twitter.com/cUSCaSVyPh— Billy M (@BillyM_91) January 30, 2021
CB Benjamin St-Juste, Minnesota
The Patriots like big, physical corners, and that’s exactly what Benjamin St-Juste proved to be at the Senior Bowl.
At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, and with long arms, he can dominate the physical end of just about any matchup. What stood out as a surprise though was how well he’s paired his technique to his frame. He displayed surprisingly strong footwork for a guy his size, and was able to change direction with smaller, faster receivers as well.
How he tests at his Pro Day will have a big impact on his draft stock. St-Juste didn’t exactly look slow in Mobile, but straight line speed is always a concern with bigger cornerbacks.
As it stands right now, the Patriots aren’t exactly in need of a cornerback. However, that status is pretty precarious with Stephon Gilmore on the last year of his deal and J.C. Jackson a restricted free agent. If they want another guy from that mold – a big cornerback who’s not afraid to play nasty – they could do worth than taking a flyer on St-Juste, who is currently projected as a mid-Day 3 pick.
CB Keith Taylor, Washington
Keith Taylor had an interesting week. He got beat a few times in one-on-one drills early, which led to him taking out his frustration on a receiver in non-contact drills. That resulted in a talking to from the coaching staff.
After he got that out of his system, Taylor was one of the best players on the field. His second day of practice looked much better than his first, and he was lockdown during the game.
Taylor is another big corner the Patriots could have an eye on. At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, he has experience playing outside and in the slot, and is a willing contributor in the run game. After the success they had with Myles Bryant last year, it wouldn’t be uncharacteristic for the Patriots to double dip in the Huskies’ defensive backfield.
Oklahoma State WR Tylan Wallace beat Washington CB Keith Taylor and Taylor popped Wallace ???????????? pic.twitter.com/pCvSwuLt4X— ???????? (@RespectDaBeard1) January 27, 2021
Other potential Patriots targets who had a strong week: QB Kellen Mond (Texas A&M), FB Ben Mason (Michigan), C Quinn Meinerz (Wisconsin-Whitewater), DT Marvin Wilson (Florida State), S Damar Hamlin (Pittsburgh)
Alex Barth is a writer and 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. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.