After three days of practices during the week, the Senior Bowl has finally arrived. The whole week is a great chance for NFL teams to get a close-up look at some of the top prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft.
The Patriots particularly tend to focus strongly on what is happening in Mobile. Dating back to 2008, nearly 40 percent of all of the Patriots’ draft picks played in the Senior Bowl. It’s clear the team values this scouting opportunity.
In fact, some of the Patriots’ cornerstone players from both parts of the 20-year dynasty began their draft process at the Senior Bowl. Here’s a look at the top players Bill Belichick & Co. have selected after watching them compete in the game…
For the purpose of this list, we're discounting players who are still on their rookie contracts and haven't spent enough time in the NFL for a true evaluation. Some of the Patriots' most recent Senior Bowl alumni include Mac Jones (2021), Rhamondre Stevenson (2021), Kyle Dugger (2020), Jake Bailey (2019), Ja'Whaun Bentley (2018), and Isaiah Wynn (2018).
There's been more than 10 impact players to go from the Senior Bowl to New England. Those who didn't make the cut include Trey Flowers (2015), Joe Cardona (2015), Jimmy Garoppolo (2014), Jamie Collins (2013), Ben Watson (2004), Ty Warren (2003), and Daniel Graham (2002).
A fourth-round pick in 2016, Mitchell's NFL career only lasted one year before he was forced to retire due to a knee injury. Still, his lone year was impactful as he played a key role during a Super Bowl run. As one of the best wide receivers drafted by Bill Belichick in New England, he makes the list.
Mason was actually the second of two guards drafted by the Patriots in the fourth round in 2015, after Tre' Jackson. He's the one who emerged as the true find, and has played 103 games with 98 starts over the last seven seasons.
Another fourth-round pick, White's 381 catches since being drafted are the second-most by any Patriots player in that span, and the most by any NFL running back. He scored the winning touchdown in the 28-3 comeback in Super Bowl LI
The Senior Bowl is a great chance for teams to get a closer look at players who are still refining their skills. That included Solder, who switched from tight end to tackle while in college. The Patriots clearly saw enough to take him in the first round, and he went on to be a starter all seven seasons in New England.
There are a lot of good players on this list, but Devin McCourty may set the standard. Originally drafted in the first round as a cornerback, McCourty had an All-Pro rookie season. He then moved to safety, where he continued to play at an elite level. He's a multi-time captain and one of the premier veteran leaders in Foxborough.
Like McCourty, Chung helped secure the back end of a trio of Super Bowl-winning defenses. Although he left for a year in 2013, he still considered a cornerstone of the later half of the Patriots' dynasty. Chung was a second round pick in 2009, although he was the Patriots' top selection after the team twice traded out of the first round.
When the Patriots took Mankins 32nd overall in 2005, some considered him over-drafted. However, he went on to become one of the best guards in football over the next decade, and was named to the NFL's All-2000's team. He was a Pro Bowler six of his nine seasons in New England, but just missed out on a ring - he was drafted after the team's title in 2004, and traded to Tampa before the 2014 season.
The Patriots used a fifth-round pick on Koppen in 2003 looking to add depth to their offensive line. They ended up with a center who served as the primary starter for eight seasons. Koppen was a Pro Bowler and All-Pro in 2007.
Outside of Julian Edelman - who is a unique case - no Patriots' wide receiver draft pick has been more successful than Branch. He was a Super Bowl MVP in just his third season, and the next year caught 78 passes for 998 yards and five touchdowns. Branch left for Seattle after that season, but returned in 2010 and was a constant contributor for the 2011 team.
Outside of injury replacements, the Patriots have been able to get by with just three left tackles since 2001 in Light (2001-2011), Solder (2011-2017), and Wynn (2018-present). All three are Senior Bowl alumni. With Wynn's contract up next year, the Patriots may be looking for another blindside protector this spring.
Will the Patriots find another franchise cornerstone player at this year’s Senior Bowl? Here’s a rundown of the names to know during the game on Saturday.
A Patriots-centric Senior Bowl preview
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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 abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.