New England Patriots

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

Mar 2, 2018; Indianapolis, IN, USA; A view of the NFL Scouting Combine logo on the backdrop as players speak with media during the NFL Combine at the Indianapolis Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

  • A major step in the pre-draft process, the NFL Scouting Combine takes place this week in Indianapolis. This will be the first time the event has been held in two years, after last year’s combine was canceled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

    The significance of the Combine is two-fold. Of course, the on-field workouts paint a clearer picture of where prospects are physically heading into the draft. At the same time, it’s the first opportunity that NFL teams have to meet with many of these prospects in-person. Evaluating players on a personal level can be a big part of how teams set up their draft boards. Plus, what players are meeting with what teams is usually made public, giving us a chance to see what kind of players certain teams may be interested in or the market for certain players. So when we talk about ‘what to watch for’ at the Combine, it’s as much who is talking to who as it is 40 times and bench press results.

    The workouts are staggered by position, running from Thursday to Sunday, with different position groups working out on different days. 324 prospects are set to attend this year’s Combine, which is almost 100 more than will be taken in the Draft in April. That makes it harder to narrow down ‘players to watch’ than for an event like the Senior Bowl, but here’s a position-by-position look at when each workout is, one player in each range of the draft (for the most part) that stands out from the Patriots point of view.

  • Quarterbacks

    Wednesday media availability, Thursday workouts

    Kent State quarterback Dustin Crum gets past Akron’s Julian Richardson for a second quarter touchdown on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021 in Akron, Ohio, at InfoCision Stadium.

    We’re going to break the format right away, because the Patriots likely won’t be paying much attention to the top quarterbacks in this draft. Instead, let’s look at two players who might catch their eye for other reasons.

    During a press conference leading up to the Patriots’ Thursday night game against the Falcons in November, Bill Belichick spoke highly of Feleipe Franks. Franks is the Falcons’ third-string quarterback, but also plays a Taysom Hill-type role for the team.

    “If you look at a guy like [Felipe] Franks who is similar to [Taysom] Hill from New Orleans, plays quarterback, but he also plays tight end, and he also plays in the kicking game. He’s out there banging heads with linebackers, running backs and everyone else on special teams,” Belichick noted at the time. “Is he a tight end? Is he a quarterback? Again, he’s on the field, it goes kind of back to the Hill conversation. He’s on the field, but you really don’t know where he’s going to line [up]. That makes it hard to call defenses if you know he’s in the backfield or behind a center or where he is. Those kinds of things cause problems.”

    Is Belichick intrigued enough to look for a Franks/Hill type of his own? If so, Kent State’s Dustin Crum is as close as there is in this draft. His size (6-foot-3, 207 pounds) and production as a runner (4.4 yards per carry with 12 touchdowns on the ground in 2021) both stand out among quarterbacks expected to go on Day 3. Seeing how well he runs at the combine will add to his evaluation as a ball carrier.

  • Wide receivers

    Wednesday media availability, Thursday workouts

    COLUMBUS, OHIO – NOVEMBER 20: Chris Olave #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes catches a pass for a touchdown during the first half of a game against the Michigan State Spartans at Ohio Stadium on November 20, 2021 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

    From one of the least consequential positions for the Patriots in this draft, to one of the most. There are so many directions the team can go at the position – early round, late round, outside receiver, slot receiver, etc. Add to that uncertainty about how the board will line up between the different players at the position, and just about every receiver in this draft could realistically be on the Patriots’ radar. Let’s break this down by sections of the draft, as well as positions…

    –First-round ‘X’: Jahan Dotson, Penn State

    Dotson isn’t a true ‘X’ in the sense that he’s a big body who’s going to win physically on the outside, but his route running and speed make him a legitimate deep threat. He also offers positional versatility having lined up across the formation for the Nittany Lions.

    First-round slot: Chris Olave, Ohio State

    It’s been years since there was a wide receiver prospect as tailor-made a fit for the Patriots in the draft as Olave. He’s an excellent route runner, and his route responsibilities at Ohio State are similar to what he’d likely be asked to do in New England. Like Dotson, he has formational versatility. It feels like a coin-flip whether or not he makes it to the Patriots at 21, but this week should paint a clearer picture of his market.

    –Mid-round ‘X’: Christian Watson, North Dakota State

    The Patriots met with Watson as the Senior Bowl. He’s big (6-foot-4, 211 pounds) and fast, but still raw technically. His 40-time could be the difference between being a late Day 2 or early Day 3 pick.

    –Mid-round slot: Wan’Dale Robinson, Kentucky

    A converted running back, Robinson is electric with the ball in his hands. Having just moved to the position, he’s still a bit raw as a true wide receiver but offers tremendous upside as a hybrid in the Deebo Samuel/Cordarelle Patterson mold.

    –Late-round ‘X’: Tyquan Thornton, Baylor

    Thornton slipped onto draft boards with a breakout season for the Bears in 2021. He knows how to use his size (6-foot-2, 177) and body control to win against smaller corners on the outside, but also isn’t afraid to go over the middle.

    –Late-round slot: Bo Melton, Rutgers

    A Senior Bowl standout, Melton offers upside as both a slot receiver and kick returner. He’s supposed to be one of the fastest players in this class – a speculation that will be put to the test this week.

  • Tight ends/Fullbacks

    Wednesday media availability, Thursday workouts

    Oct 2, 2021; East Lansing, Michigan, USA; Michigan State Spartans running back Connor Heyward (11) stiff arms Western Kentucky Hilltoppers linebacker Malik Staples (24) during the fourth quarter at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

    Another position that’s towards the bottom of the Patriots’ needs, this fun tight end class likely won’t get much attention in New England. If the team is going to look to add here, Charlie Kolar of Iowa State is a textbook red zone threat who is a strong blocker that would fit as a third tight end in the Patriots’ offense the way it is currently constructed. However, he could move himself into Day 2 range with a strong performance this week.

    The lone ‘fullback’ from the Senior Bowl, Connor Heyward of Michigan State also is worth putting on the watch list. Heyward is actually a running back who converted to tight end in 2021, meaning he can line up all over the formation and offers four-down potential. He fits the mold of a Patriots Day 3 developmental pick.

  • Running backs

    Thursday media availability, Friday workouts

    Sep 25, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Texas A&M Aggies running back Isaiah Spiller (28) in action during the game between the Arkansas Razorbacks and the Texas A&M Aggies at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    It wasn’t talked about enough last year how much the Patriots missed James White. Brandon Bolden did what he could filling in, but White’s shoes are big ones to fill.

    Both White and Bolden are pending free agents and in their early 30’s, which makes pass -catching back both a short-and-long-term need in New England. Lucky for the Patriots, this draft is full of backs that can contribute in the passing game. We’re going to split Day 3 into two segments for this one, since there are no consensus first-round backs.

    –Day 2: Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M

    A candidate to be the first back off the board this year, Spiller is a true three-down player. He’s a physical downhill runner, and in the passing game is mainly used on screens and outs but also lined up outside on occasion for the Aggies. His size (6-foot, 215) will help him in pass protection.

    –Early Day 3: Tyler Badie, Missouri

    As the primary back for the Tigers in 2021, Badie totaled nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards. He’s a quick-twitch runner that can turn a short pass into a big gain. Last season, he lined up as a receiver 61 times, and has kick return experience as well. A true third-down back, the biggest question about Badie right now is how his size (5-foot-7, 199 pounds) will play in pass pro.

    –Late Day 3: CJ Verdell, Oregon

    Verdell is a very technically-sound back who can contribute on all three downs. However, his production dipped throughout his career at Oregon and he played just 10 games over the last two years.

  • Offensive linemen

    Thursday media availability, Friday workouts

    LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY – SEPTEMBER 18: Darian Kinnard #70 of the Kentucky Wildcats against Chattanooga Mocs at Kroger Field on September 18, 2021 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

    The Patriots have taken at least one offensive lineman in each of the last eight drafts, and multiple linemen in six of those eight. It’s a position that is always on their radar.

    This year, tackle is an exceptionally notable need with Trent Brown a pending free agent and Isaiah Wynn entering a contract year. At the same time, depth at guard is also important, with Ted Karras a pending free agent. Michael Onwenu’s future also adds to the question – will he be a tackle a guard long-term?

    Like with receivers, let’s break this down round-by-round and position-by-position…

    –First-round tackle: Trevor Penning, Iowa State

    In terms of linemen, Penning stole the show at the Senior Bowl and catapulted his draft stock to the back end of the first round. He’s a big guy (6-foot-6, 330 pounds) and plays with a mean streak. The Patriots have had just three primary starting left tackles under Bill Belichick (Matt Light, Nate Solder, Isaiah Wynn), and all three were Senior Bowl participants and first-round picks. Penning fits the bill could continue that trend.

    –First-round IOL: Zion Johnson, Boston College

    It’s unlikely the Patriots take an interior offensive lineman in the first round, but if they see Onwenu’s future at tackle and Karras is set to leave, it’s not unrealistic. Like Penning, Johnson has seen his stock soar since the Senior Bowl. A mauler in the middle, Johnson would fit in well in the Patriots’ ‘punch you in the mouth’ offense.

    –Mid-round tackle: Darian Kinnard, Kentucky

    Kinnard is another massive (6-foot-5, 345 pounds) tackle, who projects to play primarily on the right side in the NFL. Kentucky ran a run-heavy offense, so logically his best tape is in the ground game. In terms of finding a right tackle to follow Onwenu and Brown, Kinnard is a logical fit.

    –Mid-round IOL: Jamaree Salyer, Georgia

    In recent years, the Patriots have targeted offensive linemen with four-position versatility (can play tackle and guard), selecting such a player in each of the last two years (Onwenu, William Sherman). Salyer, who played tackle at Georgia but projects primarily as a guard at the next level, fits that description. He caught a lot of attention in Georgia’s College Football Playoff Semifinal win over Michigan, playing a key role in neutralizing the Wolverines’ first round pass-rushers Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo.

    –Late-round T: Andrew Stueber, Michigan

    Stueber is another hybrid guard/tackle. He primarily started at right tackle for the Wolverines, but occasionally filled in at right guard as well. Fitting the prototype of ‘big mauler’, he measured in at 6-foot-6, 327 pounds at the Senior Bowl.

    Late-round IOL: Cade Mays, Tennessee

    Talk about positional versatility, Mays has experience starting at all five spots along the offensive line in college. He also played in two different offenses, transferring from Georgia to Tennessee in 2020. Even though he’ll likely be limited to the interior in the NFL, that experience is unique and valuable, and the kind of thing the Patriots look for in the pre-draft process.

  • Defensive tackles

    Friday media availability, Saturday workouts

    MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – DECEMBER 31: Jordan Davis #99 of the Georgia Bulldogs prepares for the snap in the second quarter of the game against the Michigan Wolverines in the Capital One Orange Bowl for the College Football Playoff semifinal game at Hard Rock Stadium on December 31, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    This is a really good defensive tackle – and more specifically nose tackle – draft, which is good news for a Patriots team that ranked 25th in the NFL is yards per carry allowed last season (4.5). Will they strike early, or try to find a gem? Here are some of their top options across the board…

    –First-round DT: Jordan Davis, Georgia

    As was the case with Olave, Davis falling to 21 is a ‘best case scenario’ kind of situation. As teams devalue the defensive tackle position it feels possible, but Davis isn’t any defensive tackle. There really is no comp for a 6-foot-6, 340 nose tackle that moves as well as Davis does. If he puts on a show with that athleticism at the Combine, it may take a trade-up for the Patriot to get him, if that.

    –Mid-round DT: Travis Jones, UConn

    Jones doesn’t quite have the athleticism that Davis does, but he showed at the Senior Bowl he can be a problem in the middle. At 6-foot-4, 326 pounds he’s unquestionably a definitive run stopper. What does he offer athletically against the pass? How he tests this week will help offer that question.

    –Late-round DT: Marquan McCall, Kentucky

    Looking for a true, old-school, space-eating nose tackle? Marquan McCall measured in at the Shrine Bowl at 6-foot-2, 346 pounds. He has little trouble closing gaps in the running game, and could become an effective situational player on early downs.

  • EDGE rushers

    Friday media availability, Saturday workouts

    Oct 9, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners defensive lineman Perrion Winfrey (8) pressures Texas Longhorns quarterback Casey Thompson (11) during the game at the Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    For the last three years, and four of the last five, the Patriots have used a third round pick on an edge rusher. The trend started with Derek Rivers in 2017, followed by Chase Winovich in 2019, Anfernee Jennings in 2020, then Ronnie Perkins last season (Josh Uche was taken at the very tail end of the second round – 60th overall – in 2020 as well). If that pattern continues into 2022, here are third-round edge rushers to watch this week…

    –DE Perrion Winfrey, Oklahoma

    The Senior Bowl MVP, Winfrey has the size (6-foot-3, 303 pounds) and athleticism to line up anywhere from defensive tackle to outside linebacker. This will be a big week for him, with a chance to validate his tremendous Senior Bowl performance.

    –DE Josh Paschal, Kentucky

    Multi-positional defender. High football IQ. Three-time team captain Senior Bowl participant. Josh Paschal is a textbook Patriots draft target. In fact, the second sentence in his scouting report reads “he’d be best weaponized in a Belichick-style defense.” How about dropping ‘-style’ from that take?

    –OLB Jesse Luketa, Penn State

    Luketa played both linebacker and defensive end at Penn State, but at 6-foot-2, 261 pounds he projects as more of a stand-up edge player in the NFL. He has no quit in his game, his motor never stops. Primarily a run stopper, he can also contribute a bit in coverage, and seeing how well he moves this week could help decides just how much that element of his game factors into his overall evaluation. He’s another Senior Bowl guy.

  • Linebackers

    Friday media availability, Saturday workouts

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 27: Linebacker Chad Muma #48 of the Wyoming Cowboys sacks quarterback Max Gilliam #6 of the UNLV Rebels in the first half of their game at Allegiant Stadium on November 27, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

    It’s a good year to need a linebacker. This class is as crowded as any in recent memory, especially in the middle rounds. There are multiple player prototypes available too, from moneybackers to traditional downhill thumpers.

    Will the Patriots make a big investment at the position and take one of the first linebackers off the board? Or wait and try to grab value in a deep class? Once again, let’s stack the position by round..

    First-round LBs

    –Devin Lloyd, Utah

    –Nakobe Dean, Georgia

    Lloyd is more mobile than most of the Patriots’ current middle linebackers, but at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds doesn’t give up too much size where he can’t be a factor against the run in the box. He’s not a lock to be on the board at 21, so this week will do a lot to determine if he’s realistically in the Patriots’ range or not.

    Dean is another player some Patriots fans have gotten very excited about given his athleticism. However, at 6-foot, 225 pounds he’s actually more comparable to a safety in their defense (for instance, Kyle Dugger is listed at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds). Going from 260 pound linebackers to 220 would require a near-overhaul of the defensive scheme, and instead of viewing Dean as a linebacker they don’t have, they may instead view him as a box safety with a comparable player already on the roster. However, if he shows up to the combine having put weight on, it could put in on the Patriots’ draft board – but also likely out of their range at 21.

    Mid-round LBs:

    –Christian Harris, Alabama

    –Quay Walker, Georgia

    –Chad Muma, Wyoming

    –Leo Chenal, Wisconsin

    This group seems like the sweet spot for the Patriots. Harris, Walker, and Muma all play in the 240-pound range without sacrificing too much athleticism. They’re the exact kind of linebackers that can add speed and quickness to the Patriots’ defense without requiring a schematic overhaul. Harris is currently tabbed as a second round pick, while Walker and Muma are currently projected as late-second to early-third round picks. How they test this week will likely create some separation.

    Then, there’s Chenal. He checks in at 6-foot-2, 261 pounds. If the Patriots are looking for the next Ja’Whaun Bentley or Elandon Roberts, Chenal is the guy in this class to keep things status quo.

    Late-round LBs:

    –Troy Andersen, Montana State

    –Nate Landman, Colorado

    Physically, Andersen has a similar profile to Harris, Walker, and Muma, with the ability to play east-to-west as well as north-to-south. However, he’s a bit more raw having changed positions multiple times in college, starting as a running back/linebacker two-way player before moving to quarterback then back to linebacker. He was an All-Conference quarterback for Montana State in 2018, and then won the FCS Defensive Player of the Year in 2021.

    Landman is slightly on the smaller side at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds but makes up for that lack of size with a tremendous motor and instincts. He was a three-year captain for the Buffaloes.

  • Cornerbacks

    Saturday media availability, Sunday workouts

    COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA – NOVEMBER 27: Cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. #23 of the Clemson Tigers makes an interception on a pass intended for wide receiver Josh Vann #6 of the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second quarter during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 27, 2021 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

    Outside cornerback is a key need for the Patriots even if J.C. Jackson remains in New England. If the team doesn’t bring him back, which is sounding increasingly likely, the position becomes the Patriots’ top focus for the offseason.

    Unlike linebackers, this draft is a little thinner at cornerback. Whether they take a corner early or late, the Patriots will need to pick their spot. Here’s the names to monitor…

    –First-round CB: Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson

    Booth is as 50/50 to be on the board at 21 as any player discussed so far. If here’s there, he’s a logical fit for the Patriots. He knows how to use his size (6-foot, 200 pounds) to his advantage and isn’t afraid to play physically from the line of scrimmage to the catch point. The question is, will he solidify a spot in the top 20 picks if he tests well enough this week?

    –Mid-round CB: Josh Jobe, Alabama

    A lot of the things keeping Jobe out of the first round likely wouldn’t deter the Patriots from drafting him. He’s not exactly scheme-versatile, but as a press-man corner that shouldn’t be a problem in New England. He’s also a willing tackler and big hitter who contributes in the running game, something the Patriots value more than most teams. A down year in 2021 doesn’t help his stock either, making this a big week for him.

    –Late-round CB: Tariq Woolen, UTSA

    There may not be a more intriguing prospect in this class than Woolen. He’s only played cornerback for two years, converting from wide receiver. His athletic profile is off the charts, and he is expected to run in the low 4.2’s in the 40. That athleticism paired with his size (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) offer tremendous potential. Because his stock is mostly built on athleticism, how he tests this week will have a major impact on his draft stock.

  • Safeties

    Saturday media availability, Sunday workouts

    Oct 23, 2021; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions safety Jaquan Brisker (1) reacts to a defensive play against the Illinois Fighting Illini during overtime at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

    Lack of cornerback depth in this draft was mentioned above, but it’s really a tough year for defensive backs overall. For safeties, that’s especially true in the middle rounds, with one consensus big board only projecting three safeties in a near 100-pick range between the second and fourth rounds.

    On top of all of that, most of the safeties in the draft this year are box safeties. It’s an especially tough year for a team looking for a free safety, which the Patriots may be in the market for with 34-year-old Devin McCourty a pending free agent. Given the way this draft is staggered, for this position we’ll go with one first-round name and two later-round targets.

    –First-round safety, Jaquan Brisker, Penn State

    Brisker can and has played both safety spots, but his tremendous athleticism is likely utilized best in a free safety role in the NFL. A highly-instinctual player who can cover a lot of ground, he’d make sense if the Patriots are looking for a long-term answer to fill in if/when McCourty leaves.

    –Late-round safety: Verone McKinley, Oregon

    McKinley is coming off a career season with six interceptions and six pass breakups in 2021. While he’s not the athlete Brisker is, he has a knack for getting himself to the right spot at the right time.

    –Late-round safety: J.T. Woods, Baylor

    Another instinctual free safety who knows how to get himself to the ball, Woods popped during the Senior Bowl. He’ll look to keep that momentum going with a big week this week.

  • Special teams

    Saturday media availability, Sunday workouts

    Oct 15, 2021; San Jose, California, USA; San Diego State Aztecs kicker Matt Araiza (2) punts during the fourth quarter against the San Jose State Spartans at CEFCU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

    Nick Folk in a pending free agent, and Jake Baily is entering a contract year. Will the Patriots look for replacements in the draft?

    As far as kickers go, none of the kickers at the Combine this year fit the bill for the Patriots. They’ve exclusively brought in kickers with extensive experience in cold weather in recent years, between Justin Rohrwasser (Rhode Island/Marshall) and Quinn Nordin (Michigan). The three kickers in attendance this week – Gabe Brkic (Oklahoma), Camerson Dicker (Texas) and Cade York (LSU) all come from southern schools.

    Four punters will be in attendance. All eyes will be on San Diego State’s Matt Araiza as he continues to climb up draft boards. Penn State’s Jordan Stout is another player to watch at the position.

    Only one long snapper was invited to the Combine this year. That honor goes to Cal Adomitis of Pitt.

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