New England Patriots

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 04: Alabama Crimson Tide Offensive Coordinator Bill O'Brien looks on before the SEC Championship game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 04, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Even before Josh McDaniels was officially out the door to Las Vegas, Bill O’Brien was floated as a logical replacement as the Patriots’ next offensive coordinator. That speculation only intensified once McDaniels was officially introduced by the Raiders.

Of course, O’Brien would have to leave his current job as the offensive coordinator at Alabama to come to New England. Asked about that possibility Wednesday night, Alabama head coach Nick Saban downplayed the rumors. However, Ian Rapoport reported Thursday morning that there is “mutual interest” between O’Brien and the Patriots, although the process may be a slow one.

Why is O’Brien getting so much focus? Well first, he’s been here before. He’s already been a play-caller and offensive coordinator in New England, taking over when McDaniels left the first time in 2009.

To that point, O’Brien has NFL play-calling experience as well. While an internal candidate would obviously be more familiar with the organization (O’Brien left New England in 2011 to become the head coach at Penn State), O’Brien has been in a quarterback’s headset for over a decade, both at the NFL and college level.

O’Brien’s college experience is another attractive trait. This past year at Alabama, the playbook included plenty of modern spread and RPO concepts similar to those that helped maximize Mac Jones’ skillset with the Tide in 2020. It stands to reason O’Brien would bring those elements with him to New England.

  • Chris Godwin

    TAMPA, FLORIDA – SEPTEMBER 09: Chris Godwin #14 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers carries the ball during the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at Raymond James Stadium on September 09, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

    Although O’Brien never coached Godwin, he did recruit him to Penn State in the fall on 2013. O’Brien left for the Houston Texans job before Godwin’s freshman season.

    Godwin is one of the top free agent wide receivers this offseason, along with Davante Adams. The 25 year old caught 98 passes for 1,103 yards in just 14 games for the Buccaneers in 2021 before a knee injury ended his season early. He’s expected to make a full recovery and be available for most if not all of the 2022 season.

  • Allen Robinson

    Sep 19, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson (12) makes a touchdown catch against the Cincinnati Bengals during the first quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

    Unlike Godwin, O’Brien actually did coach Robinson at Penn State for two years. Robinson caught combined 174 passes for 2,450 yards and 17 touchdowns as a sophomore and junior in O’Brien’s offense, eventually becoming a second-round pick in 2014.

    Robinson has been a popular name as a trade target for the Patriots in recent years as the Bears have more often than not been in a position to sell. He struggled to produce in a particularly slow year for Chicago’s offense in 2021 (they ranked 24th in yards and 27th in scoring), recording 38 catches for 410 yards and a touchdown in 12 games.

    Still, he’s just two years removed from a 102-catch, 1,250 yard season and at 28 years old age shouldn’t be a factor just yet. Perhaps getting back in O’Brien’s system could unlock the potential that made him a Pro Bowler in 2015.

  • Will Fuller

    DETROIT, MICHIGAN – NOVEMBER 26: Will Fuller #15 of the Houston Texans takes the field for warmups prior to a game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on November 26, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

    O’Brien spent four-plus seasons with Fuller with the Houston Texans. Granted, the end of O’Brien’s tenure in Houston was reportedly rocky, so who knows how solid this relationship is? But at the very least, there is one.

    Fuller is one of the more intriguing wide receivers on the market in 2022. A first-round pick by Houston in 2016, he looked to be hitting his stride with a career year in 2020. However, he was hit with a PED suspension late in the season. As a free agent last year, he signed a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins but only played two games due to a thumb injury.

    While Fuller offers upside, he’s also a relative unknown right now. Still, the Patriots have brought in similar players before on short money, one year ‘prove it’ deals such as Demaryius Thomas, Kenny Britt, and Eric Decker.

  • John Metchie

    TUSCALOOSA, ALABAMA – NOVEMBER 06: John Metchie III #8 of the Alabama Crimson Tide pulls in this touchdown reception against the LSU Tigers during the first half at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 06, 2021 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

    Onto the draft prospects. Metchie led O’Brien’s Alabama offense that averaged 40 points per game with 96 receptions in 2021, lining up both outside and in the slot. On top of that, he has experience working with Mac Jones, catching 55 passes for 916 yards and six touchdowns in 2020.

    Originally in contention to be the first wide receiver off the board in the 2022 NFL Draft, Metchie tore his ACL in the SEC Championship Game and is expected to miss at least training camp this summer. He’s now projected to be a late first-round or early second-round pick.

    While some teams may stay away from Metchie because they won’t see him during the spring scouting process and won’t be able to get him exposed to their offense right away, those concerns may be lessened for the Patriots if O’Brien is in the building. He’s obviously familiar with Metchie’s game having spent the last year with him, and if the Patriots are running Alabama concepts the learning curve wouldn’t be nearly as steep. Plus, he’d be working with a quarterback he already has chemistry with.

    There’s a lot of wide receiver talent in the draft this year, and it will be a tough choice for any team looking to use a premium pick at the position. Perhaps O’Brien could help clear things up by signing off on Metchie and given the Patriots they would have gotten during the spring scouting process.

  • Jameson Williams

    Oct 23, 2021; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Jameson Williams (1) uses a stiff arm to try to break away from Tennessee Volunteers defensive back Jaylen McCollough (22) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama won 52-24. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

    Like Metchie, Williams starred for Alabama in 2021. He led the team in receiving yards (1,572) and touchdowns (15). Having transferred in from Ohio State last season he doesn’t have the experience working with Jones, but is undeniably familiar with O’Brien and visa versa.

    Also like Metchie, Williams was a projected early-to-mid first round pick but tore his ACL late in the year during the National Championship Game. So naturally, a lot of the same concerns surrounding Metchie also apply to him. Still, O’Brien’s presence again likely lessens those concerns.