New England Patriots

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

L-R: Oregon State's Jack Colletto, Oregon's D.J. Johnson (USA Today)

At the end of the 2022 season, the story of the Patriots’ 2022 draft class was easily third-round pick Marcus Jones. Jones grabbed attention by playing well not just at his listed position of cornerback, but also making plays on offense and special teams.

Jones’ rookie season highlighted his versatility – a trait that has been synonymous with Bill Belichick’s Patriots for more than two decades now. His multi-phase role is expected to continue into 2023.

  • Players like Jones who can truly contribute on both sides of the ball are rare. They are out there though, including a few in this year’s draft.

    Unlike Jones, the two-way players in this year’s class all play closer to (or on) the line of scrimmage. Will the Patriots try to add a front-seven version of one of their most dynamic players in this year’s draft. If they do, here’s who they would be targeting.

  • Jack Colletto, Oregon State

    SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 04: Jack Colletto #12 of the Oregon State Beavers carries the ball against the Washington Huskies during the second quarter of the game at Husky Stadium on November 04, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – NOVEMBER 04: Jack Colletto #12 of the Oregon State Beavers carries the ball against the Washington Huskies during the second quarter of the game at Husky Stadium on November 04, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    Last season, Colletto won the Paul Hornung Award, given each year to the most versatile player in college football. Prior to Colletto, the previous winner was Marcus Jones. Other former Hornung Award winners on the Patriots include Lynn Bowden (2019) and Jabrill Peppers (2016).

    Colletto is officially listed as a linebacker, and mainly played in the Beavers’ defense when on that side of the ball. In 95 defensive snaps over seven games, Colletto had 27 tackles with a forced fumble.

    While listed as a linebacker, Colletto actually spent more of his time on offense. On that side of the ball he mainly played fullback, but also saw time at tight end. At 6-foot-3, 239 pounds Colletto had 27 carries for 103 yards and a touchdown, as well as three catches for 46 yards. Over the course of his career at Oregon State he carried the ball 111 times for 425 yards and scored 22 touchdowns.

    Even though he was a six-year contributor in college (five at Oregon State after spending his freshman year at Arizona Western), Colletto is still learning and growing at both positions. He was originally recruited to Oregon State as a quarterback, and in his sophomore year was used as a goal-line specialist at the position, completing 23-of-47 passes for 201 yards and scoring five touchdowns.

    Throughout his career, Colletto also played a significant special teams role for the Beavers. He had a career-high five special teams tackles in 2022, and his 84.0 PFF special teams grade ranks fourth among qualified players in this draft class.

    The Patriots got to work closely with Colletto as the Shrine Bowl, where he was on their team. Prior to the week, Colletto spoke about wanting to get work as a traditional tight end to show teams he could fill a role in a modern NFL passing attack. The Patriots gave them that chance and he looked very natural as both as a route runner and catching the ball, especially given his limited experience in doing so in game environments. Colletto is projected to late on Day 3 or go undrafted.

  • Derek Parish, Houston

    Oct 7, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Houston Cougars defensive lineman Derek Parish (0) sacks Tulane Green Wave quarterback Michael Pratt (7) during the second half at Yulman Stadium. Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 7, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Houston Cougars defensive lineman Derek Parish (0) sacks Tulane Green Wave quarterback Michael Pratt (7) during the second half at Yulman Stadium. Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

    Parish spend most of his time at Houston playing defensive end, and was an accomplished pass rusher. He had his best career year in 2021, with 12 tackles for loss and five sacks in 13 games. This past season he had 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in four games, after a torn bicep ended his season in late September.

    In addition to his All-AAC performance as an edge rusher, Parish also served as the team’s fullback early in his career. He was never used a ballcarrier, but opened up rushing lanes as a lead blocker on power run plays at 6-goot-2, 245 pounds.

    Like Colletto, Parish was also at the Shrine Bowl where he played for the Falcons-coached East team. He split his time more between offense and defense than Colletto did. He looked more natural as a pass rusher than pass catcher, but did show up with impact plays both as a blocker and on special teams.

    Entering the Bill O’Brien era, one question is whether or not the Patriots will bring back the traditional fullback role in their offense. If the Patriots were to bring in Parish – who is expected to be a UDFA – they could have a package where he lines up in that role without dedicated a full roster spot to a fullback, with Parish also able to contribute on defense and in the kicking game.

  • DJ Johnson, Oregon

    Oregon edge DJ Johnson sacks Stanford quarterbacks Tanner McKee in the second half as the No. 13 Oregon Ducks take on the Stanford Cardinal Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. (Ben Lonergan/The Register-Guard/USA Today Network)

    Oregon edge DJ Johnson sacks Stanford quarterbacks Tanner McKee in the second half as the No. 13 Oregon Ducks take on the Stanford Cardinal Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. (Ben Lonergan/The Register-Guard/USA Today Network)

    Johnson was a four-star recruit as a defensive end coming out of high school. After spending his freshman season at Miami (FL), the Sacramento, Calif. native made his way back to the West Coast, transferring to Oregon.

    As a redshirt sophomore in 2019 Johnson started flashing his potential with five tackles for a loss and two sacks in just five games. Instead of building on that performance though, the Ducks moved him to tight end in 2020 due to a shortage of players at the position. Johnson, who is built well for the position at 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, handled the transition well catching 10 passes for 113 yards and three touchdowns in four games.

    The next year, he saw some time back on defense but played snaped at tight end too, but was limited in both roles. Last season he returned to defense full-time and really started to make an impact, with 39 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks in 11 games.

    Johnson’s upside in the NFL is as a situational edge defender. But he does have the functional athleticism to play on the offensive side of the ball if needed, which he showed with his 4.49-second 40 at the Combine.

    For a Patriots team that could use depth on the edge – especially younger players with upside – Johnson looks like a fit. They could take him late on Day 3 to fill that role, then if/when he clicks on defense start working him in on offense. With Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki as their two rostered tight ends, they could use a more powerful blocker in the mix like Johnson, especially in the red zone. If he really maxes out his skillset, he could have a Mike Vrabel-like role in New England over the course of his career.

  • 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 [email protected].

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