New England Patriots

Dax Hill #DB53 of Michigan runs the 40 yard dash during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 06, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick may have skipped the 2022 NFL Combine, but that doesn’t mean the results won’t matter to the Patriots.

New England has shown an affinity for draft prospects who tested well in certain combine drills, both recently and historically. The three-cone drill has long been known as a position of interest to the Patriots, and not just at obvious spots like wide receiver or cornerback, but at defensive end and even quarterback.

Other combine drills have proven to indicate potential Patriots draft picks. Several other factors go into whom they ultimately select, and whether they pan out as NFL players in the first place. But the connections are worth knowing.

Some 2022 draft prospects ran certain combine drills at their schools’ Pro Days. Belichick has been busy on that circuit since the combine, and the Patriots have otherwise had a presence at other pre-draft events around the country. The 2022 draft also marks the return of top-30 visits, which weren’t available the past two years, so Belichick can meet any particular prospects that pique his interest from what the team has gathered.

(Click here to subscribe to 98.5 The Sports Hub Patriots Audio.)

Despite the disruption of traditional combine and Pro Day events over the past two years, the pattern with combine drills still holds for the Patriots. In 2020, they signed undrafted cornerback Myles Bryant, who was first among all cornerbacks in the three-cone drill (6.81 seconds) and fifth overall at the NFL Combine. Tight end Dalton Keene (7.07) was third among all tight ends. There was no combine in 2021, but based on data gathered at Pro Football Reference, Patriots seventh round pick Tre Nixon finished 11th out of 53 receivers who recorded a three-cone time (Nixon, like Bryant, clocked in at 6.81).

  • The NFL Combine returned in 2022 and remains the most prominent source for pre-draft measurements, and it came with plenty of potential intrigue for the Patriots to take interest in a number of prospects. Here’s who tested well in key drills at the combine or their Pro Day that seem like draft fits for New England…

    Defensive Back: Dax Hill, Michigan

    Dax Hill #DB53 of Michigan runs a drill during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 06, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

    Dax Hill #DB53 of Michigan runs a drill during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 06, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

    Three-Cone: 6.48 seconds, 2nd overall at Combine

    Hill mainly played safety at Michigan, and the Patriots obviously have a more urgent need at cornerback. But the Pats also lack a clear long-term replacement for Devin McCourty when he eventually retires, and Hill has been described as a guy who can step in and play nickel corner as well. The Michigan connection is obvious, and the Patriots seem like a good fit for his versatility and football smarts.

    The Draft Network says: “Hill is an extremely versatile player at the back end of this defense. He can play single-high free safety, nickel, outside corner, and even has aligned as a dime backer. His blend of athleticism and toughness are exactly what NFL defensive coordinators are looking for out of a defensive back as it allows them to be creative on where he is utilized.” (source)

  • Guard: Zion Johnson, Boston College

    Sep 4, 2021; Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA; Boston College Eagles offensive lineman Zion Johnson (77) looks to block against the Colgate Raiders during the first half at Alumni Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 4, 2021; Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA; Boston College Eagles offensive lineman Zion Johnson (77) looks to block against the Colgate Raiders during the first half at Alumni Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    Bench Press: 32 reps, 1st overall at Combine

    On the offensive line, the Patriots have shown a propensity for prospects who ranked highly at the bench press, as opposed to the three-cone. You can point to Justin Herron (10th among all OL at the 2020 Combine) and Yodny Cajuste (1st among all tackles at the 2019 Combine) as evidence of that. There’s not a ton to analyze with Johnson, though. He’ll be a plug-and-play starting guard for whoever drafts him, and the Patriots would likely need to take him at 21. Johnson played center at the Senior Bowl, too. He wouldn’t be just a good replacement for Ted Karras, he’d be an upgrade.

    The Draft Network says: “How quickly Johnson made the transition from Davidson to Boston College and forced his way into the lineup speaks to his football intelligence and ability to acclimate. There is a natural sense of timing in how Johnson executes his assignments. Johnson understands his technique, trusts it, and is rarely guilty of penalties.” (source)

  • Cornerback: Zyon McCollum, Sam Houston State

    May 16, 2021; Frisco, Texas, USA; Sam Houston State Bearkats defensive back Zyon McCollum (22) and his teammates celebrate winning the game against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits at the Division I FCS Championship football game at Toyota Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    May 16, 2021; Frisco, Texas, USA; Sam Houston State Bearkats defensive back Zyon McCollum (22) and his teammates celebrate winning the game against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits at the Division I FCS Championship football game at Toyota Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    Three-Cone Drill: 6.48, 1st overall at Combine

    McCollum is rising up draft boards after a dominant Combine. He didn’t just “win” the three-cone, he also led the 20-yard shuttle at 3.94 seconds, ran a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash (seventh overall), and ranked top-10 in the vertical jump and broad jump drills. He still seems to have a ceiling in terms of draft stock due to being a little tall for a cornerback (6-foot-4) and having limitations in man coverage and in tackling. But the Patriots could view him as a good raw athlete they can teach how to tackle and develop as a football player.

    The Draft Network says: “McCollum has an ideal skill set for zone coverage duties where his size, length, and ball skills can be fully maximized. He does a great job of reading the backfield and working into throwing lanes. He is comfortable working from the half-turn and staying leveraged.” (source)

  • Edge Rusher: Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma

    Mar 5, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Oklahoma defensive lineman Nik Bonitto (DL01) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Mar 5, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Oklahoma defensive lineman Nik Bonitto (DL01) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Three-Cone Drill: 7.07, 3rd among all DE/EDGE at Combine

    The Patriots took two Sooners in 2021, outside linebacker Ronnie Perkins and running back Rhamondre Stevenson. Bonitto seems like he may be redundant with Perkins, who still has yet to get a real shot at playing, and he may be a little light for Belichick’s liking (248 pounds). But the Pats have historically drafted edge players who rated highly in the three-cone drill, so that and other connections make him a prospect worth knowing.

    The Draft Network says: “Bonitto is a very instinctual football player who understands his assignments. He can process quickly and can read blocking schemes. He is asked to play a variety of roles for the Sooner defense, whether it’s rushing the passer, dropping in zone coverage, or being a spy.” (source)

  • Wide Receiver: Bo Melton, Rutgers

    Bo Melton #18 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights hauls in a reception against JoJo Domann #13 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the first quarter at SHI Stadium on December 18, 2020 in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

    Bo Melton #18 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights hauls in a reception against JoJo Domann #13 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the first quarter at SHI Stadium on December 18, 2020 in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

    Three-Cone Drill: 6.98, 3rd at WR at Combine

    Rutgers. Of course. But it has been almost a decade since Belichick has drafted someone from what used to seem like his favorite college program. Beyond that connection, Melton has the versatility to play slot receiver and returner. He’d be a developmental guy who wouldn’t transform the Patriots offense overnight, but Melton seems like a Patriots type of pick.

    The Draft Network says: “I like Melton best with his stature and athletic profile as a developmental slot receiver and in the return game. For that reason alone, you can probably justify an active roster spot and hope that he becomes more developed as a receiver in order to truly fulfill two active roster spots as a viable receiver and special teams player.” (source)