New England Patriots

New England Patriots

One of the biggest events of the pre-draft process takes place this week in Mobile, Alabama. Over 100 players will take part in the Senior Bowl, a college all-star game that showcases some of the top prospects in this year’s draft. The players are split into two teams – American and National – and players from the two rosters practice against each other for three days from Tuesday to Thursday then play a game on Saturday.

Seeing the top prospects in the draft compete against each other is a great chance for NFL scouts to get an idea about the top players in this year’s class, especially how they compare to one another. Current draft projects for some players will likely change, potentially drastically, depending on what happens over the course of this week.


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  • The Patriots in particular tend to keep a close eye on this game. Since 2008, 52 of their 132 draft picks (39.4 percent) took part in the Senior Bowl. That includes their last two first-round draft picks and three of their last five. In addition to Cole Strange, Bailey Zappe and Chasen Hines also took part in the game last  year. They’ll have a representative front and center this year, with defensive line coach DaMarcus Covington serving as the defensive coordinator for the National team.

    Who will the Patriots be focused on in Mobile this year? Here’s a look at the top prospects that project as Patriots fits, in the first round or otherwise…

  • Quarterbacks

    ATHENS, GEORGIA - NOVEMBER 05: Hendon Hooker #5 of the Tennessee Volunteers looks to pass against the Georgia Bulldogs during the first quarter at Sanford Stadium on November 05, 2022 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

    ATHENS, GEORGIA – NOVEMBER 05: Hendon Hooker #5 of the Tennessee Volunteers looks to pass against the Georgia Bulldogs during the first quarter at Sanford Stadium on November 05, 2022 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

    Quarterback still shouldn’t be a premium need for the Patriots this offseason. However, it’s never a bad idea to add at the position, and there are some intriguing names taking part in this year’s game.

    Hendon Hooker from Tennessee is the highest-ranked quarterback in this year’s came. Projected to go on Day 2, Hooker was a potential first-rounder and Hesiman candidate until he tore his ACL in his left knee late in the fall. He’s expected to miss most of if not the entire 2023 season, which makes him an interesting long-term project player that won’t immediately pressure a quarterback already in pace. Hooker has a big arm and can move around well, but played in a very specific scheme at Tennessee. He’s also one of the older players in this draft – he’ll be 26 years old by the time his NFL career truly begins if he misses 2022.

    Jaren Hall from BYU is also expected to be a top-100 pick. Hall’s play-style is similar to his predecessor in Provo, Zach Wilson. He’s mobile and is at his best throwing down the field – but it will be up to teams to figure out if he has the mental makeup to be an NFL quarterback (early reports suggest he does). He’s also a bit undersized for the position and will also be an older rookie (he turns 25 in March).

    On to Day 3 quarterbacks. TCU’s Max Duggan will also be in Mobile. Duggan quickly became one of the best stories in college football this season, leading the Horned Frogs to the National Championship game. He’s very effective as a runner and checks all the intangible boxes, but will need to prove he can be a passer and not just a thrower. Even if he’s not though, he could be a late-round pick and have value as a scout-team quarterback. The same goes for Malik Cunningham from Louisville. A four-year starter, Cunningham threw for almost 10,000 yards and ran for more than 3,000 with the Cardinals as the next man up after Lamar Jackson.

    As for more pure passers, the evaluations on Clayton Tune of Houston and Jake Haener of Fresno State are somewhat similar to Bailey Zappe’s coming into last year’s draft. Highly productive Group of Five quarterbacks, Tune and Haener have seen a lot of football, and use that experience to help them in the pocket. Both have proven to be gamers as well, but it remains to be seen how they fair against higher-level competition.

  • Running backs

    Oklahoma's Eric Gray (0) gets by Oklahoma State's Jason Taylor II (25) in the first half during the Bedlam college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Oklahoma State University Cowboys (OSU) at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov., 19, 2022.

    Oklahoma’s Eric Gray (0) gets by Oklahoma State’s Jason Taylor II (25) in the first half during the Bedlam college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Oklahoma State University Cowboys (OSU) at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov., 19, 2022. (Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman/USA Today Network)

    The Patriots need to limit Rhamondre Stevenson’s workload next year. He’ll still be a big part of the offense, but his 66.4 percent usage rate last year – the most for a Patriots running back since 2012 by over 10 percentage points – clearly started wearing on him by the end of the year and probably isn’t sustainable going forwards.

    If the Patriots want to use Stevenson more on early downs, and need another player to spell Pierre Strong in the pass-catching role, there are a couple of backs in this game they can watch. The highest-projected player fitting that description is Kenny McIntosh from Georgia. McIntosh was one of the focal points of the Bulldogs’ offense this year, leading the team with 192 touches. He was the leading rusher with 149 carries for 829 yards, and also ranked third in receptions with 43 for 505 yards. He’s projected to go on Day 2.

    Another back they could look to for that role is Eric Gray from Oklahoma. Gray is a great route runner for a running back and a reliable pass catcher. Last season, he had 33 catches in 12 games for the Sooners. The biggest question about his game is his pass-blocking ability, which will be something to watch this week. He’s projected to be a mid-Day 3 pick. McIntosh and Gray were two of only three backs in college football this season to finish with both rushing and receiving PFF grades over 80, along with projected top-50 pick Jahmyr Gibbs from Alabama.

    How about a new role in the backfield all together? If the Patriots want to try that, they could target Evan Hull from Northwestern. The Wildcats used Hull is a wide variety of roles. Although he’s mainly a running back, the 5-foot-11, 210 pound back also lined up at fullback, slot receiver, boundary receiver, and even took some snaps as a Wildcat quarterback late in the season. In 2022, he ran the ball 221 times for 913 yards, and caught 55 passes for 546 yards.

    Right now, Hull is projected to go late on Day 3. If the Patriots like what they see from him, they could bring him in and then figure out where they want to plug him into the offense, maybe even having him fill multiple roles.

  • Wide receivers

    Houston's wide receiver Nathaniel Dell (1) runs with the ball against Texas Tech, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, at Jones AT&T Stadium. (Annie Rice/Avalanche-Journal/USA Today Network)

    Houston’s wide receiver Nathaniel Dell (1) runs with the ball against Texas Tech, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, at Jones AT&T Stadium. (Annie Rice/Avalanche-Journal/USA Today Network)

    This is a great group of mid-round wide receivers, if the Patriots are looking to bolster depth at that position. We’ll look at three different kinds of pass catchers participating in this year’s game.

    Last season, the Patriots had a ton of success using Marcus Jones on the offensive side of the ball. But now they have a choice to make. Jones can’t realistically play both offense and defense full-time. If they want to leave him on the defensive side of the ball, they should draft a wide receiver that profiles similarly to fill that role.

    There will be a player on the field in Mobile who fits that description, and also happened to be Jones’ teammate in college. That’s Nathaniel ‘Tank’ Dell from Houston. Dell is one of the most explosive ball-carriers in this class, who filled a high-volume role for the Cougars with 291 targets over the last two seasons. Last year, he caught 108 passes for 1,399 yards and 17 touchdowns, working out of both the slot and out wide. The biggest concern in his evaluation is his size – he’s listed at 5-foot-10, 165 pounds. He’s projected to go late on Day 2 or early on Day 3.

    Shifting to a completely different kind of wide receiver now in Charlie Jones from Purdue, by way of Iowa and Buffalo. If the Patriots lose Jakobi Meyers in free agency, Jones is a player who would fit in that role as a replacement. He’s a crafty route-runner who is regularly getting open in the short and intermediate part of the field, and isn’t afraid to go over the middle. At 6-foot, 188 pounds he fits the ‘big slot’ mold that is becoming more popular in the NFL, even though he mostly lined up out wide in college. He also has very reliable hands, with just six career drops on 223 targets. Where his game drops off is his ability to extend plays after the catch. He’s projected to go on Day 3.

    Finally there’s Ronnie Bell, who many people probably remember from his six-catch, 135-yard, one (should have been two) touchdown performance in the College Football Playoffs against TCU this year. Bell is a well-rounded player – while he doesn’t have a standout trait he also doesn’t have many weaknesses either. He can line up outside or in the slot, and at Michigan proved to be a capable route-runner who could create after the catch. The question will be how often he can do all of that while regularly facing elite competition? He currently projects to go on Day 3.

  • Tight ends

    Sep 3, 2022; Corvallis, Oregon, USA; Oregon State Beavers tight end Luke Musgrave (88) makes a catch in the end zone for a touchdown while being defended by Boise State Broncos corner back Tyreque Jones (21) during the first half at Reser Stadium. Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 3, 2022; Corvallis, Oregon, USA; Oregon State Beavers tight end Luke Musgrave (88) makes a catch in the end zone for a touchdown while being defended by Boise State Broncos corner back Tyreque Jones (21) during the first half at Reser Stadium. Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

    With Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith’s contracts both up over the next two years, the Patriots can get ahead of a future need by taking a tight end this year. They don’t need to use a premium pick at the position, but rather could draft a project player in the middle of the draft, given that player should have a year to develop behind the scenes in 2023.

    The first such player that stands out participating in the Senior Bowl is Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave. 2022 was supposed to be a breakout year for the 6-foot-6, 250 pound Musgrave, and he was named to the Mackey Award Watch List before the season. Over the first two games he caught 11 passes for 169 yards, but then a knee injury ended his season. Currently projected to go late on Day 2 or early on Day 3, he’s a real all-upside pick, especially if he knee doesn’t appear to be bothering him on the field in Mobile.

    Alabama tight end Cameron Latu should also be in the conversation. At 6-foot-5, 244 pounds, Latu contributed as a secondary receiving option in the Tide’s offense this year with 30 catches for 376 yards, but also stood out as a blocker for a team that ended up being run-heavy by the end of the year. He’s a projected Day 3 pick.

    If the Patriots really want a project player and don’t want to invest as high a pick, they could look to Purdue’s Payne Durham. Durham didn’t start playing football until his senior year of high school, transitioning over from lacrosse. His game is still growing, but he has the size for the position at 6-foot-5, 255 pounds. He put up career-bests across the board in 2022, catching 56 passes for 560 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s projected to be a late Day 3 pick or priority UDFA.

  • Offensive line

    Jan 1, 2022; Pasadena, California, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes offensive lineman Dawand Jones (79) blocks against the Utah Utes during the 2022 Rose Bowl game at the Rose Bowl. Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

    Jan 1, 2022; Pasadena, California, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes offensive lineman Dawand Jones (79) blocks against the Utah Utes during the 2022 Rose Bowl game at the Rose Bowl. Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

    Tackle is one of, if not the biggest need for the Patriots this offseason. By now, fans have probably familiarized themselves with the top tackles in this year’s draft class. The thing is, the four consensus first-round tackles in this class aren’t participating in any showcase games as they don’t have much to gain by doing so.

    There is one tackle who could move himself into first round position during the pre-draft process, who will be on the field in Mobile. That’s Dawand Jones from Ohio State. At 6-foot-8, 360 pounds, Jones spent his first two years in college as the Buckeyes backup left tackle before moving to starting right tackle the last two seasons. Despite his size, he’s got an impressive range of movement (his footwork shows why he had basketball scholarship offers coming out of high school) which allows him to be involved in both power and zone running schemes, and hold up against faster pass rushers.

    Given his size, mobility, and experience at both tackle spots, his makeup as a prospect is somewhat similar to Trent Brown’s when he was coming out of Florida. He currently projects as a high second-round pick, but has room to move up starting with a good week in Mobile.

    The other Day 2 tackles participating in this game are all project players, but offer plenty of versatility to grow in the NFL. North Dakota State’s Cody Mauch, Tennessee Darnell Wright, BYU’s Blake Freeland, and Alabama’s Tyler Steen all have starting experience at both left and right tackle. All four are expected to go between the second and third rounds.

    As for Day 3 tackles to watch in this game (the Patriots do like to double-up on offensive linemen in the draft), Ryan Hayes from Michigan is the name to know. Hayes was Michigan’s starting left tackle each of the last two years, and allowed just three sacks (all in 2021) while taking no accepted penalties over 784 pass-blocking snaps in that span.

  • Defensive line

    MADISON, WISCONSIN - OCTOBER 30: Keeanu Benton #95 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates after a fumble recovery during the first half against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Camp Randall Stadium on October 30, 2021 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

    MADISON, WISCONSIN – OCTOBER 30: Keeanu Benton #95 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates after a fumble recovery during the first half against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Camp Randall Stadium on October 30, 2021 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

    With Covington working with the National team defense, these are the players the Patriots will get the most exposure to on the National roster. The defensive line in particular stands out, given its the position Covington coaches in New England. It’s also a position the Patriots typically address in the draft, selecting at least one defensive lineman in three of their last four drafts and nine of their last 11.

    On the National roster specifically, Keeanu Benton of Wisconsin stands out as a nose tackle who could help the team against the run, especially with Carl Davis and Daniel Ekuale pending free agents. At 6-foot-4, 315 pounds he started 12 games at nose tackle for the Badgers, recording 27 run stuffs. He’s projected to go on Day 3.

    Covington will also be working with Oregon defensive end DJ Johnson. Johnson began his career at Oregon as a defensive end, but in 2020 also started playing tight end due to needs on the roster. He played both ways in 2021, then moved back to defensive end this season. He’s a terrific athlete at 6-foot-4, 270 pounds but as is usually the case with players who changes positions his game is more raw technically. He’s projected to go on Day 3.

    DJ Dale from Alabama will be on the other side, but is also definitely a Patriots target. Dale plays the utility interior defensive lineman role, the same one both Christian Barmore (drafted by the Patriots in 2021) and LaBryan Ray (signed as a UDFA by the Patriots in 2022) played when they were in Tuscaloosa. Dale, who measures in at 6-foot-3, 300 pounds, had 14 pressures and 13 run stuffs in 2022.

  • Linebackers

    Oct 9, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Texas Longhorns linebacker DeMarvion Overshown (0) reacts after sacking Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Spencer Rattler (not pictured) during the first quarter at the Cotton Bowl. Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 9, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Texas Longhorns linebacker DeMarvion Overshown (0) reacts after sacking Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Spencer Rattler (not pictured) during the first quarter at the Cotton Bowl. Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    For the past few seasons, the Patriots have tried to find a more athletic coverage linebacker, a role that has become more and more prevalent in the modern NFL. With Mack Wilson and Raekwon McMillan free agents and Cameron McGrone now in Indianapolis, they may need to turn to the draft to find the next player up.

    There are two such players on Covington’s National team, DeMarvion Overshown from Texas and Ivan Pace Jr. from Cincinnati. Overshown in particular is an exciting prospect, given his versatility. He mainly played middle linebacker for the Longhorns this year, but lined up everywhere from defensive line to slot corner. At 6-foot-4, 224 pounds he can play the run, rush the passer, and has the ability to run with running backs and tight ends in coverage. The only question with him will be consistency. He’s currently projected to be a Day 2 pick.

    Pace is a bit more of a traditional linebacker as Overshown, and not quite the athlete. Still he plays a well-rounded game at 6-foot, 235 pounds. He had 92 tackles in 13 games this year, while being targeted just 14 times in 267 coverage snaps. Pace is a projected early Day 3 pick.

    The American roster has a couple of player who profile similarly as well. Henry To’oTo’o from Alabama is another rangy, thre-down linebacker at 6-foot-2, 224 pounds who’s football IQ is among the highest in the draft. When he transferred from Tennessee to Alabama in 2021, Nick Saban named him the defensive signal caller (the college football equivalent of the ‘green dot’) in his first year in Tuscaloosa.

    Later in the draft is maybe the most versatile of the group in SirVocea Dennis from Pittsburgh. Dennis, at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, lined as a defensive lineman, linebacker, slot cornerback, and free safety in 2022 while also being a key contributor on special teams. Dennis is a smart, tough, aggressive player, although that aggressiveness does get the best of him at times. He has a ton of potential though, and could be a steal late on Day 3 if he ends up in the right situation.

    As for outside linebackers/edge rushers? Covington will be working with Andre Carter II from Army. After finishing second in the nation in sacks last year behind only potential No. 1 overall pick Will Anderson, Carter is currently projected to be a top-50 pick which would make him far and away the highest-drafted player from a service academy in the modern era. His size and length – 6-foot-7, 260 pounds – make him a tough matchup on the edge. He improved as a run defender in 2022.

    TCU’s Dee Winters is on the American team, coming off of a bigtime performance in the College Football Playoff semifinal. Winters is another hybrid linebacker/safety, and showed against Michigan how well he can fly around the field at 6-foot-1, 300 pounds. He had nine sacks in 107 pass rush snaps last year, while being mainly used in a coverage role.

  • Cornerbacks

    Stanford cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly (17) breaks up a pass intended for Notre Dame wide receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr. (4) during the Notre Dame vs. Stanford NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. (Michael Caterina/USA Today Network)

    Stanford cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly (17) breaks up a pass intended for Notre Dame wide receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr. (4) during the Notre Dame vs. Stanford NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. (Michael Caterina/USA Today Network)

    Much like at offensive tackle, most of the top cornerbacks in this draft are not taking part in any showcase games this year. Devon Witherspoon from Illinois was the highest projected player from this game, but now won’t be taking part.

    That doesn’t mean there’s no talent here, especially among the kind of big, outside cornerbacks the Patriots need. Covington will get to work with Kyu Blu Kelly from Stanford. If the Patriots want to get back to their press-man style, Kelly is that kind of player at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds with most of his experience coming in man. He’s a tremendous athlete and has four years of starting experience. Kelly is currently projected to go in the third round.

    On the other roster is Julius Brents of Kansas State. There aren’t many cornerbacks built like Brents at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds. His coverage skills are still developing having just two years as a regular contributor in college, but he has tremendous upside as a chess piece for a defense, especially with bigger and bigger receivers coming into the league. This week will be a great chance for him to showcase how ready he is for NFL action. He’s currently projected to go late on Day 2 or early on Day 3.

    Miami’s Tyrique Stevenson is also projected to go in that range. The 6-foot, 214 pound Georgia transfer plays the position very physically, and regularly wins at the line of scrimmage. He has significant special teams experience as well.

  • Safeties

    CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS - AUGUST 27: Sydney Brown #30 of the Illinois Fighting Illini in action against the Wyoming Cowboys during the first half at Memorial Stadium on August 27, 2022 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS – AUGUST 27: Sydney Brown #30 of the Illinois Fighting Illini in action against the Wyoming Cowboys during the first half at Memorial Stadium on August 27, 2022 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    The Patriots’ need at safety in the draft are two-fold. On one hand, if Devin McCourty retires an immediate need is created at free/deep safety. At the same time, with Kyle Dugger entering a contract year, it would make sense for the team to add another strong/box safety if they don’t believe he’ll be back in 2024.

    Covington will be working with two of the top strong safeties in this draft in Sydney Brown of Illinois and JL Skinner of Boise State. Brown is a true box safety who plays with a similar explosiveness to Dugger, especially against the run. Skinner is a true jack of all trades, playing mostly in the box in 2022 but also logging over 100 snaps at both slot corner and free safety. He’s built like and plays with the physicality of a linebacker at 6-foot-4, 218 pounds, but has made advanced plays in zone coverage assignments. Both are projected to go on Day 2.

    The American roster features a pair of free safeties. Christopher Smith patrolled the deep part of the field for Georgia during both championship runs. He’s a smart player who has a knack for getting himself into the right place at the right time, something that stood out about McCourty early on in his NFL career. A projected second-round pick, the question with him will be whether or not he has the range to play single-high.

    DeMarcco Hellams played a similar role for Alabama the last three years – although does have plenty of experience playing in the box as well. That versatility combined with his football IQ could make him a versatile depth addition on Day 3.

  • Specialists

    Oct 22, 2022; College Park, Maryland, USA; Maryland Terrapins place kicker Chad Ryland (38) makes a field goal against the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half at SECU Stadium. Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 22, 2022; College Park, Maryland, USA; Maryland Terrapins place kicker Chad Ryland (38) makes a field goal against the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half at SECU Stadium. Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    When it comes to looking at specialists in the draft for the Patriots, it’s all about location, location, location. Historically, they’ve seemed to have a preference for kickers who have experience kicking in inclement weather.

    In the Senior bowl, that’s Chad Ryland from Maryland. Ryland, who is from eastern Pennsylvania and transferred from Eastern Michigan, his 19 of his 23 field goal attempts this year.

    Both punters in this game are projected to be drafted. They are Adam Korsak from Rutgers and Bryce Baringer from Michigan State.

  • 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.

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