New England Patriots

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MARCH 06: 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)
  • Speed was the theme of this year’s NFL Combine. That was especially true on defense, where linemen were posting linebacker-like results, linebackers were posting defensive back results, and defensive backs were setting records.

    For a Patriots team that wants to get “faster and more explosive” on the defensive side of the ball this offseason, that’s a welcomed development. Which players that are realistically Patriots targets did the most to help their draft stock in Indianapolis? Here’s a look at the top performers from the weekend.

    Note: Players did not participate in drills not listed.

  • DT Travis Jones, UConn

    Mar 5, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Connecticut defensive lineman Travis Jones (DL14) runs the 40-yard dash during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Measurables:

    40-yard dash: 4.92 seconds

    Vertical jump: 28.5″

    Broad jump: 9’2″

    3-cone drill: 7.33 seconds

    20-yard shuttle: 4.58 seconds

    Running a sub-5.00 40 at over 320 pounds is simply unheard of. Before this weekend, only four players had done so since 2010 (more on the other player to accomplish the feat this year in a little bit). Not only did Jones show he’s surprisingly fast, but he also put on a show in the agility drills posting the second-best 3-cone and third-best 20-yard shuttle among all defensive tackles.

    Jones’ stock was already rising after a strong Senior Bowl and if anything he may have played himself out of the Patriots’ range this weekend. However, last year Bill Belichick showed a willingness to move up in the second round for the right defensive tackle (Christian Barmore). Could he do it again two years in a row, especially after Jones made it seems like he’s more than just a two-down player?

  • DE Boye Mafe, Minnesota

    Mar 5, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Minnesota linebacker Boye Mafe (LB23) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Measurables:

    40-yard dash: 4.53 seconds

    Vertical jump: 38″

    Broad jump: 10’5″

    Mafe is supposed to one of the most explosive defensive players in this draft class, and his Combine testing backed up that projection. At 6-foot-4, 261 pounds, he finished top five among defensive ends in all three drills he participated in. Given the Patriots’ affinity for drafting edge rushers on Day 2 (where Mafe is currently projected to go), Mafe belongs on their projected board. The Patriots met with Mafe at the Senior Bowl.

  • DE Sam Williams, Ole Miss

    Mar 5, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Mississippi defensive lineman Sam Williams (DL49) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Measurables:

    40-yard dash: 4.46 seconds

    Vertical jump: 32.5″

    Broad jump: 10’3″

    In college, Williams’ speed-rushing style helped him set the Ole Miss single-season record with 13 sacks in 2021. Running a 4.46 40 – the second-fastest among defensive ends – at 6-foot-4, 260 pounds is going to catch the attention of scouts. Not only can be beat blockers on the edge, but he should be able to run step-for-step when chasing even the quickest quarterbacks in the league.

    As impressive has his production was last fall, Williams is still somewhat of a project player. That fact combined with his projection as a situational rusher has him currently projected as a late third or early fourth round pick, although that should rise after this performance.

  • DE 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

    Measurables:

    40-yard dash: 4.54 seconds

    Vertical jump: 35.5″

    Broad jump: 10’0″

    3-cone drill: 7.07 seconds

    20-yard shuttle: 4.23 seconds

    Continuing the theme of edge rushers projected to go on Day 2 with Bonitto, who is slightly on the smaller side (6-foot-3, 248 pounds) and projects as more of an outside linebacker in the Patriots’ scheme. Not only did Bonitto post a top-five 40, he also crushed the agility drills the Patriots seem to love so much. He had the third-best 3-cone behind only projected first-round picks Aidan Hutchinson and Travon Walker, and finished second only to Hutchinson in the 20-yard shuttle.

    Not only does Bonitto fit the physical and athletic prototype of a Patriots edge rusher, he also comes from an Oklahoma program they’ve been high on in recent years. Add him to the list of potential Day 2 edge rushers.

  • LB Leo Chenal, Wisconsin

    Mar 5, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Wisconsin linebacker Leo Chenal (LB09) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Measurables:

    40-yard dash: 4.53 seconds

    Vertical jump: 40.5″

    Broad jump: 10’8″

    There may already be an adjustment to the Big Three group of linebackers highlighted this weekend as logical Day 2 targets for the Patriots. Christian Harris measured in (6-foot, 226 pounds) significantly smaller than he played at Alabama, which could be a red flag for a Patriots team that values size at the middle linebacker position. Meanwhile, Chenal checked in just as big as expected (6-foot-3, 250 pounds) but surprised with his athleticism. Expected to run in the 4.6’s at best, he turned in a 4.53. Meanwhile, his 40.5-inch vertical ranked second among all linebackers and showed how explosive he can be out of his stance.

    For the Patriots, the goal at linebacker should be finding a happy medium of size and athleticism – looking for more explosive players while not sacrificing the build necessary to play within the existing scheme. Chenal didn’t seem to fit that bill athletically, but his testing this weekend suggests otherwise.

  • LB Quay Walker, Georgia

    Mar 5, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Georgia linebacker Quay Walker (LB36) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Measurables:

    40-yard dash: 4.52 seconds

    Vertical jump: 32″

    Broad jump: 10’2″

    Factoring in overall ability, skill set, scheme fit, and draft projection, Walker may very well be the best linebacker prospect for the Patriots in this draft. Unlike some players throughout the weekend, he didn’t lose any size to the official measurements and hit all the athletic bench marks he was expected to. Get ready to hear his name plenty over the next two months (and maybe longer).

  • LB Troy Andersen, Montana State

    Mar 5, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Montana State linebacker Troy Andersen (LB02) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Measurables:

    40-yard dash: 4.42 seconds

    Vertical jump: 36″

    Broad jump: 10’8″

    There may not have been a bigger winner among linebackers at the combine than Andersen. The FCS Defensive Player of the Year measured in bigger than expected (6-foot-3, 243 pounds), then tested better than expected. He paced all linebackers in the 40 and finished fifth in the broad jump.

    In addition to his impressive physical makeup, Andersen’s football background adds to his intrigue. He’s a former two-way player and was an all-conference quarterback for the Bobcats in 2018, something that would likely be attractive to the Patriots. When the pre-draft process began he was projected as a middle-to-late Day 3 pick, but now some are speculating he could go as high as the end of the second round.

  • CB Kaiir Elam, Florida

    Mar 5, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Florida defensive back Kaiir Elam (DB09) talks to the media during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

    Measurables:

    40-yard dash: 4.39 seconds

    Given the latest news regarding J.C. Jackson, early-round boundary cornerbacks are now right at the forefront of the Patriots’ draft discourse. Elam is one of two projected late-first-round picks at the position along with Andrew Booth Jr. of Clemson, who didn’t participate in the tests after injuring his hamstring on Monday.

    That opened a door for Elam, who had one of the best 40 times among boundary corners at 4.39 seconds. Playing that fast at 6-foot-1, 191 pounds and coming from a press-man system, he’d certainly be a fit in New England.

  • CB Tariq Woolen, UTSA

    INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – MARCH 06: Tariq Woolen #DB38 of UTSA 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)

    Measurables:

    40-yard dash: 4.26 seconds

    Vertical jump: 42″

    Running perhaps the most anticipated 40 of this year’s Combine, Woolen didn’t disappoint. His time isn’t just the fourth-fastest in the history of the event, but the fastest ever by a player taller than six feet or over 200 pounds (Woolen is 6-foot-4, 205 pounds). He also had the best vertical jump of any player in Indy this weekend.

    A converted wide receiver who has only played cornerback for two years, Woolen’s potential is tremendous. Of course, a lot of that potential is tied to his raw athletic ability, but this weekend he proved that element of his game is up to the hype. He’s currently projected to be a late Day 2 pick.

  • CB Zyon McCollum, Sam Houston State

    Mar 5, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Sam Houston State defensive back Zyon McCollum (DB24) talks to the media during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

    Measurables:

    40-yard dash: 4.33 seconds

    Vertical jump: 39.5″

    Broad jump: 11’0″

    3-cone drill: 6.48 seconds

    20-yard shuttle: 3.94 seconds

    If McCollum wasn’t on the Patriots’ radar before the Combine, he certainly should be now. At 6-foot-2, 199 pounds, he ran the third-fastest 40 among all cornerbacks (with the two players above him setting records for the event), and then led the entire draft class in both agility drills. He also had the best broad jump among cornerbacks, and second-best vertical.

    McCollum’s physical makeup isn’t the only thing that would make him a fit in New England. He has the size they look for at the position, and comes from a press-man system at Sam Houston State. Entering this weekend he was projected to go outside the top 200. While that will likely change somewhat now, he may be the go-to guy if they’re looking for a value cornerback on Day 3, or want to double-dip at the position.

  • S Dax Hill, Michigan

    INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – MARCH 06: 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)

    Measurables:

    40-yard dash: 4.38 seconds

    Vertical jump: 33.5″

    Broad jump: 10’1″

    3-cone drill: 6.57 seconds

    20-yard shuttle: 4.06 seconds

    Free safety is an understated need for the Patriots in this draft, with 34-year-old Devin McCourty a pending free agent. If the Patriots want to address that need in the first round, Hill would likely be the guy.

    Hill played a number of different safety roles for the Wolverines, but to play deep safety in New England straight-line speed is crucial. He checked that box with a 4.38 40, the sixth-fastest among safeties in this class. Perhaps more notably though was his domination of the agility drills, with his 3-cone and 20-yard shuttle times both the best among all safeties and the second-best among all players in the draft.

  • S JT Woods, Baylor

    INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – MARCH 06: JT Woods #DB63 of Baylor runs a drill during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 06, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

    Measurables:

    40-yard dash: 4.36 seconds

    Vertical jump: 39.5″

    Broad jump: 10’8″

    Woods also fits into the conversation of the most explosive deep safeties in this draft. He had the second-best 40 at the position, and the best vertical. That’s not unexpected after seeing how well he’s able to cover large amounts of space and can close ground on receivers.

    With a good showing at the Senior Bowl and now this performance at the Combine, Woods’ late-Day 3 stock should rise. If McCourty does return to New England, he’d be a logical fit as a player who could get on the field immediately on special teams, while tightening up the more technical parts of his game for a bigger defensive role two or three years in.

  • DT Jordan Davis, Georgia

    Mar 5, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Georgia defensive lineman Jordan Davis (DL05) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Measurables:

    40-yard dash: 4.78 seconds

    Vertical jump: 32″

    Broad jump: 10’3″

    Why is Davis at the bottom of this list? That’s because this is supposed to be a recap of likely Patriots targets from the Combine. After Davis’ performance, any hopes of him reaching the 21st pick should be out the window. Yet at the same time, he was so eye-popping it felt just as wrong leaving him off. His numbers weren’t just big, some were record-setting – and that’s not factoring in how good he looked in the open field drills.

    Even at 6-foot-6, 341 pounds, don’t expect teams to view Davis as “just a nose tackle” or a “two down player” anymore the way he was moving. Trying to square Davis into a role that already exists in an NFL defensive scheme may be impossible, he seems more like a ‘one of one’ kind of player at this point – and guys with those unique skillsets have tremendous value in the draft.