New England Patriots

Normally, we begin our draft coverage each year with a preview of the Senior Bowl. This year though, we’re getting started a little earlier by taking a look at the Shrine Bowl.

The Shrine Bowl is a showcase game similar in format to the Senior Bowl, with top draft prospects being split into two teams (in this case East and West) practicing against each other for about a week, then playing in a game. Like the Senior Bowl, the Shrine Bowl provides a valuable opportunity for NFL scouts to see the players they’ll spend the next three months evaluating competing only against elite competition, and in a controlled environment.


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

  • In recent years the Shrine Bowl has become a bigger event. Underclassmen are not eligible for the Senior Bowl, so top prospects who declare early make their was to Las Vegas rather than Mobile.

    This year, the game is adding a new wrinkle. In the past, the teams would be coached by a collection of NFL assistant coaches pulled from multiple teams. For the first time in 2023, the game is bringing in two entire NFL coaching staffs, like the Senior Bowl has traditionally done. It was announced last week that the Patriots will be one of the two staffs taking part this year, along with the Atlanta Falcons.

    The Patriots being interested and invested in the Shrine Bowl isn’t a new development. Last year four of their eight draft picks – WR Tyquan Thornton, CB Jack Jones, RB Pierre Strong, and DL Sam Roberts – all played in the game. They also signed two participants as UDFAs – QB/WR D’Eriq King and DL LaBryan Ray.

    By taking part in the game this year, the coaching staff and scouting department will be able to get an extra close look at the players involved. Which players stand out as the best potential fits for the team? We’re going to break it down position by position. We’ll focus mainly on players assigned to the West team, with that being the team the Patriots will be overseeing. However, there are opportunities for cross-evaluation, so we’ll highlight some of the top East players as well.

  • Quarterbacks

    PASADENA, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 19: Dorian Thompson-Robinson #1 of the UCLA Bruins throws a pass against the USC Trojans during the fourth quarter in the game at Rose Bowl on November 19, 2022 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

    PASADENA, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 19: Dorian Thompson-Robinson #1 of the UCLA Bruins throws a pass against the USC Trojans during the fourth quarter in the game at Rose Bowl on November 19, 2022 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

    The Patriots’ coaching staff will have two quarterbacks on their West roster for this game – UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Illinois’ Tommy DeVito. Both are currently projected to go undrafted.

    Let’s focus on Thompson-Robinson here. A five-year starter at UCLA, he was a dual threat in Chip Kelly’s offense. Last season, he threw for over 3,000 yards and ran for over 600 yards leading a Bruins team that at one point was ranked in the top 10 in the fall. Given his experience, athleticism, and football IQ, he stands out as an intriguing practice squad candidate as a scout team QB and project player.

  • Running backs

    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 19: Mohamed Ibrahim #24 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers runs with the ball against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the second quarter of the game at Huntington Bank Stadium on November 19, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

    MINNEAPOLIS, MN – NOVEMBER 19: Mohamed Ibrahim #24 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers runs with the ball against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the second quarter of the game at Huntington Bank Stadium on November 19, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

    When it comes to drafting running backs – especially early-down running backs – the Patriots tend to target players with impressive statistical production on their resumes. Kevin Harris was the SEC’s leading rusher as a sophomore, and Rhamondre Stevenson was third in the Big 12 in rushing as a senior despite only playing six games.

    As far as production goes, the Patriots will be working with one of the most productive backs from the 2022 season. Mohamed Ibrahim of Minnesota ran for 1,665 yards last season, the third-most in college football and the most of any Power 5 back. It was the third 1,000-yard season of his college career. He also was tied for the Division-I lead with 20 rushing touchdowns.

    Ibrahim is a down-hill power runner who would be a fit to replace pending free agent Damien Harris as the goal line back and spelling Rhamondre Stevenson. He’s currently projected to be a middle or late Day 3 pick.

    Travis Dye from USC profiles as the other kind of Patriots’ back. He was a key player on passing downs for both Oregon and then USC after transferring – particularly standing out as a pass blocker. His level of participation remains to be seen after he suffered an undisclosed season-ending knee injury in November. Still, he’ll be in Vegas and the Patriots’ staff will get a chance to get to know him. Over the past few years, the Patriots’ draft classes have been among the oldest in terms of average age, and Dye will be a 24 year old rookie.

    One of the few players we’re going to highlight from the East team is another Pac-12 back, Utah’s Tavion Thomas. Thomas is another downhill runner who has great size for the position at 6-foot-2, 238 pounds. He was first-team All-Pac-12 in 2021, when he ran for 1,108 yards and 21 touchdowns. He took a step back statistically this year as Utah passed the ball more in 2022, but still was impactful when called on. He’s currently projected to be a late pick or priority UDFA.

  • Wide receivers

    Nov 12, 2022; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Boston College Eagles receiver Zay Flowers (4) runs for a touchdown during the second half against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Carter-Finley Stadium. The Eagles won 21-20. Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 12, 2022; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Boston College Eagles receiver Zay Flowers (4) runs for a touchdown during the second half against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Carter-Finley Stadium. The Eagles won 21-20. Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

    The Patriots got a great draw when it comes to the wide receivers they’ll be working with. Three of the eight in particular have stood out as likely Patriots fits since prior to the pre-draft process.

    Of that group, Zay Flowers is probably the best known to Patriots fans – and not just because he played down the road at Boston College. Flowers brings tremendous speed, shiftiness (both as a route runner and after the catch), and athleticism to the position, things the Patriots should be targeting. He’s also accustomed to playing in a volume role, with 78 catches for 1,077 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.

    With Flowers, the big question is where he’ll line up in the NFL. He played 64 percent of his snaps out wide in 2022, but at 5-foot-10, 172 pounds with his skillset he projects as more of a slot receiver. We’ll see how the Patriots use him in Vegas. He’s currently projected to be a late-1st or early-2nd round pick.

    If the Patriots don’t want to spend that high of a pick on a wide receiver, they can still get guys who may be able to contribute. UCLA’s Jake Bobo – a local talent from Concord, MA – is a walking mismatch at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds who mainly split his time between the slot and boundary but also lined up inline and in the backfield at times. He’s a crafty route-runner who knows how to use his size, and when running out of the slot at times looks like pending free agent Jakobi Meyers. He currently projects as a Day 3 pick.

    Then there’s Bryce Ford-Wheaton from West Virginia. At 6-foot-3, 224 pounds, Ford-Wheaton is a pure boundary receiver who excels at jump balls and in the red zone. He also flashed on special teams, especially as a gunner on the punt unit where he caused multiple fumbles and muffed punts this season. He’s a projected Day 3 pick.

  • Tight ends/fullbacks

    GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 31: Luke Schoonmaker #86 of the Michigan Wolverines runs after catching a pass during the first quarter against the TCU Horned Frogs in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on December 31, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

    GLENDALE, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 31: Luke Schoonmaker #86 of the Michigan Wolverines runs after catching a pass during the first quarter against the TCU Horned Frogs in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on December 31, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

    Luke Schoonmaker is the exact kind of tight end the Patriots should be targeting in this draft. He’s 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, is coming off a productive season at Michigan, and shows up in the run game as well as the pass game. They could take him early on Day 3, then have him spend the year developing behind Hunter Henry.

    There’s also a chance, depending on what offensive coordinator the team hires, that they could return to using a fullback. If they do and want to draft one, they’ll be working with one of the best in the nation in Oregon State’s Jack Colletto. Plus, not only does Colletto play fullback but linebacker as well. In 2022 Colletto won the Paul Hornung Award which goes to college football’s most versatile player. Past winners include Marcus Jones (2021), Lynn Bowden (2019), and Jabrill Peppers (2016), who were all on the Patriots this year.

    Another versatile player here is Tennessee’s Princeton Fant. The cousin of Seahawks tight end Noah Fant, Princeton was a two-year starter and four-year contributor at Tennessee, and split his time almost evenly the last two years between being an inline tight end, slot tight end, and fullback.

    The Patriots will be working with all three of these players.

  • Offensive line

    SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 19: Jaxson Kirkland #51 of the Washington Huskies prepares for a snap against the Colorado Buffaloes during the first quarter at Husky Stadium on November 19, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – NOVEMBER 19: Jaxson Kirkland #51 of the Washington Huskies prepares for a snap against the Colorado Buffaloes during the first quarter at Husky Stadium on November 19, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    Tackle is the Patriots’ biggest need, but that scouting will likely have to occur beyond the Shrine Bowl. Most of the top tackles in this class aren’t participating in any showcase games, given how high their stock is beginning the process.

    Still, that doesn’t mean there are no players to watch. If the Patriots don’t end up taking a tackle in the top 60, one of the top names to know will be Jaxson Kirkland from Washington. After being name First Team All-Pac-12 left tackle in 2021, Kirkland was projected to be a fringe first-round pick last year, but elected to go back to school because of an ankle injury that would have impacted him during the pre-draft process.

    Despite spending two years as the team’s starting left tackle, Kirkland accepted a move inside to guard early last season to accommodate other needs on Washington’s offensive line. He had another strong season, allowing just nine pressures and no sacks in 491 pass-blocking snaps. Still, the question is now whether teams see him as a tackle, or a guard. At 6-foot-7, 340 pounds, his frame doesn’t dictate much. It will be interesting to see where the Patriots work with him during the Shrine Bowl. He’s currently projected to be an mid-Day 3 pick.

    Dalton Wagner of Arkansas is another player who was expected to declare last year, but didn’t. He’s been the Razorbacks’ starting right tackle for the last four seasons, so he brings tremendous experience. If the Patriots want to double-dip at tackle late on Day 3, he should be an option. He’s on the West team.

  • Defensive line

    Sep 1, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Panthers defensive lineman Habakkuk Baldonado (87) pass rushes at the line of scrimmage against the West Virginia Mountaineers during the third quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Pittsburgh won 38-31. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 1, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers defensive lineman Habakkuk Baldonado (87) pass rushes at the line of scrimmage against the West Virginia Mountaineers during the third quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Pittsburgh won 38-31. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    On the West team, the Patriots will be coaching Habakkuk Baldonado out of Pittsburgh. Currently projected to be a late Day 2 or early Day 3 pick, Baldonado fits the mold of a Patriots defensive end in that he’s a well-rounded player who projects as a guy who can compete against both the run and the pass. At 6-foot-5, 260 pounds he has experience playing from both a two and three point stance.

    Growing up in Italy he didn’t start playing football until he was older, and played just one year of high school football in the US. With that, his game is still developing. Baldonado made big strides as a pass rusher in 2021, when he led the team with nine sacks and 12 tackles for a loss. He wasn’t as productive last season, but he did receive much more attention from opposing blocking schemes. He still posted a 75.3 run defense grade, the highest of his career in three years as a starter.

    The East roster includes Dante Stills out of West Virginia, who fits the mold of the smaller (6-foot-4, 285) more athletic, high-motor interior defensive lineman the Patriots have shown interest in in recent years. In his four years as a starter, he recorded at least nine tackles for a loss each season, and had at least 4.5 sacks in three of the four. A projected late-round pick, he’d be a good depth option to develop behind Christian Barmore, and may have some flexibility to play on the edge at the next level.

    Now lets get back to that conversation about positional versatility. Derek Parish, who will play on the East team, has started games at defensive end, linebacker, and fullback for Houston. He was a team captain in 2022, but limited to just four games become of injury. Given his ability to play on both sides of the ball as well as on special teams coverage units, he’s a player the Patriots will likely be interested in even though they’re not working with him in Las Vegas.

  • Linebackers

    Sep 3, 2022; Gainesville, Florida, USA; Utah Utes linebacker Mohamoud Diabate (3) against the Florida Gators during the second half at Steve Spurrier-Florida Field. Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 3, 2022; Gainesville, Florida, USA; Utah Utes linebacker Mohamoud Diabate (3) against the Florida Gators during the second half at Steve Spurrier-Florida Field. Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Between drafting Cameron McGrone, signing Raekwon McMillan, and trading for Mack Wilson, the Patriots have tried a number of different ways the last few years to get a player in the mold of that athletic, coverage linebacker that has become so popular in the NFL. There’s no reason to think that search won’t continue this year.

    The Patriots have a player fitting that description on their roster at the Shrine Bowl in Mohamoud Diabate, who spent last season at Utah after beginning his college career with Florida. At 6-foot-4, 222 pounds Diabate definitely has the range to compete sideline-to-sideline in the passing game. Right now, the biggest question is can he improve in coverage and become a true three-down player, or just prove he’s enough of a pass-rusher that he can move to the edge. He’s a projected Day 3 pick.

    On the East roster there are two outside linebackers who both profile as Patriots draft picks, for different reasons. Robert Beal was rated a five-star recruit by ESPN, ranked 2nd at his position, and 15th overall in his class when he signed with Georgia in 2017. However, he struggled to get on the field his first three seasons in Athens. He did work into more of a rotational role the last two years as a pass rush specialist, and had nine sacks between 2021 and 2022.

    In the past, the Patriots have targeted high-ranked high school recruits who didn’t reach their potential in college, to try to maximize their raw skillsets. Recent examples include J.C. Jackson and Michael Onwenu. Could Beal, a projected Day 3 pick, be added to that list?

    Then there’s Caleb Murphy at Ferris State. Murphy won the Cliff Harris Award this year as the best non-Division-I player in the nation, as he recorded 25.5 sacks in 15 games. The Patriots have drafted the previous two Cliff Harris Award winners in Kyle Dugger and Sam Roberts, so winning this award seems to be something they at least look at.

  • Cornerbacks

    Sep 1, 2022; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Louisiana Tech Bulldogs defensive back Myles Brooks (13) defends against Missouri Tigers wide receiver Tauskie Dove (1) during the second half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 1, 2022; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Louisiana Tech Bulldogs defensive back Myles Brooks (13) defends against Missouri Tigers wide receiver Tauskie Dove (1) during the second half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

    Cornerback is definitely a need for the Patriots this offseason – specifically a big cornerback to play on the boundary. Each roster at the Shrine Bowl has an intriguing big cornerback prospect.

    For the West team, that’s Myles Brooks from Louisiana Tech. Listed at 6-foot-2, 198 pounds Brooks transferred from FCS Stephen F. Austin to La Tech in 2022 and handled the jump in competition easily. He was targeted 53 times in 12 games, and allowed just 37.7 percent of those passes to be completed.

    However, he did struggle in the Bulldogs’ early-season game against Clemson. He was targeted 10 times in that game, allowing five catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns. The Shrine Bowl will be a great chance for him to prove he can hold up against elite talent, and make that game an anomaly. He’s currently a projected mid-Day 3 pick.

    The player to watch on the East team is Lance Boykin. A four-year starter between Old Dominion and Coastal Carolina, Boykin is listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds and would give the Patriots a player who has the frame and motor to compete with some of the bigger receivers they’ll have to face in the AFC. Currently projected to go undrafted, this is a big week for him as well to show he has what it takes against Power 5 opponents.

    Then there’s Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson from TCU, who is one of the most intriguing players in the draft this year. Tomlinson was a First-Team All-American in 2022, and won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. Playing almost exclusively on the boundary in a pass-heavy Big 12 conference, he was shutdown. Teams only completed 34.6 percent of the targets thrown his way, and he had 10 pass breakups and three interceptions to just two touchdowns allowed. He’s a projected late Day 2 or early Day 3 pick.

    Wait, what? A guy with that resume isn’t a lock to go in the top 10? How does that happen?

    As the draft process begins, teams will be focused on Tomlinson’s size. Listed at 5-foot-9, 177 pounds, he projects as a player who would need to play in the slot at the NFL level. Teams generally will not expend the assets on a slot corner, even an elite one, that they will for a player who plays on the boundary.

    That’s where the Patriots come in though. Given the success they had playing Jonathan Jones (5-foot-10) and Marcus Jones (5-foot-8) on the boundary in 2022, would they give another shorter player a shot? If they want to, they won’t find one more talented than Tomlinson. They won’t be coaching him at the Shrine Bowl, so we won’t get to see their hands-on approach, but he’s a player they’ll likely be watching.

  • Safeties

    Tennessee wide receiver Jalin Hyatt (11) misses a long pass while defended by Florida safety Trey Dean III (0) during an NCAA football game against Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. (Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services)

    Tennessee wide receiver Jalin Hyatt (11) misses a long pass while defended by Florida safety Trey Dean III (0) during an NCAA football game against Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. (Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services)

    Safety could become a very big need for the Patriots if Devin McCourty decides to retire. True free safeties are becoming a rarity in the modern game, especially in college. But there are some who have experience in the role, who will be taking part in the Shrine Bowl.

    The Patriots will get to work with Trey Dean III from Florida. Dean is a five-year starter to began his career as a corner before moving to box safety, but began playing deep more over the last two seasons. That includes significant single-high snaps this year. At 6-foot-3, 207 pounds he’d also give the Patriots another big body to match up with some of the bigger wide receiver rooms in the AFC. He’s currently projected to go early on Day 3.

    On the East team, the Patriots may look at Gervarrius Owens, who was a starter for three years at a Houston program the Patriots brought in two players from last year. Owens is a true free safety, and is a player who projects into a McCourty-type of role at the NFL level. He’s projected to go late on Day 3.

  • Specialists

    Nov 19, 2022; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; Michigan Wolverines place kicker Jake Moody (13) kicks a field goal in the second half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Michigan Stadium. Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 19, 2022; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; Michigan Wolverines place kicker Jake Moody (13) kicks a field goal in the second half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Michigan Stadium. Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    Both specialists spots could be targets for the Patriots this offseason. Nick Folk started showing his age at the end of last season, and Jake Bailey’s guaranteed money could be gone after he was suspended late in the year.

    The Patriots will be working with one of the top kickers in the nation in Michigan’s Jake Moody. Moody is a two-time All-American and was named the Lou Groza Award winner in 2021 as the best kicker in college football. He hit 86 percent of his field goals the last two year’s as Michigan’s starter, and perhaps more importantly has the experience kicking in inclement weather the Patriots end to look for.

    Michael Turk will be the punter for the West team. He’s been first-team All-conference in each of the last four years, twice at Arizona State then the last two years at Oklahoma after transferring. His 47.2 yards per punt during his college career are the second-most by a college punter since 2000. For his career, he had 98 punts downed inside the 20, compared to 28 touchbacks.

     

  • 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.