The New England Patriots are preparing for their most important offseason in several years on the heels of their first losing season in two decades that saw them miss out on the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
While free agency and the trade market will present them with opportunities to upgrade their middling roster, the NFL Draft conversation has taken centerstage with the annual Senior Bowl happening this week. The Pats are slated with the No. 15 overall pick, so it’s reasonable to assume that the player taken with that selection will be putting his skills on display in Mobile, Alabama.
Fans will remember that safety Kyle Dugger, the Patriots’ first pick in the 2020 draft at No. 37 overall, really upgraded his draft stock with a strong performance in that game. That pick was viewed as a surprise given that he came from a Division II program, but his talent ultimately upstaged his so-called inexperience, as he earned a respectable 64.1 grade from Pro Football Focus as a rookie.
Which players should the Patriots be eyeing at the Senior Bowl?
Seeing as though the Patriots hold the Senior Bowl in extremely high regard when it comes to evaluating draft prospects, let’s attempt to highlight a few players that de facto GM Bill Belichick should be keeping a close eye on.
Alabama QB Mac Jones
Was there really anybody else to discuss first? In his latest mock draft, ESPN expert Mel Kiper Jr. had the Patriots drafting Alabama quarterback Mac Jones with the No. 15 overall pick, and you know what? It’s virtually impossible to disagree with the selection.
For starters, Belichick has a well-documented history of drafting Crimson Tide talent and you better believe he’ll have a lengthy conversation (or five) with longtime friend Nick Saban about Jones in the months leading up to the draft.
If you take a look at Tom Brady’s body type and football intangibles, they perfectly align with what Jones brings to the table. At 6-foot-3, he’s the perfect height, but also has more agility than Brady from a scrambling perspective. Perhaps more important is the fact that Jones is accurate, has strong pocket poise, and takes care of the football. The Patriots will definitely be studying the Alabama star closely this weekend based on those factors.
Wake Forest DL Carlos Basham
If we learned anything about the Patriots’ front seven this past season, it’s that they could prove to benefit from adding some bulk on the edge. After all, that’s where most opposing offenses targeted them in the running game.
Somebody like Wake Forest defensive end Carlos Basham could go a long way in fixing that problem. He measured in at 6-foot-3 and 281 pounds, which is much thicker than what most Patriots defensive linemen go for (245-260 pounds) these days.
We know Belichick is stuck in his ways in terms of championing speed and versatility off the edge, but it’s about time he adapts to what his team needs and starts adding rushers who won’t get physically dominated if they’re unable to blow past their blockers at the point of attack. To put it simply, Basham, who logged 28 tackles and five sacks in six games this past season, would be able to hold his own in both regards.
Alabama OL Alex Leatherwood/Deonte Brown
With versatile guard Joe Thuney likely set to leave in free agency and left tackle Isaiah Wynn once again proving that he can’t be relied on from an availability standpoint, the Patriots should absolutely be looking to add an offensive lineman or two in the upcoming draft.
Referring back to the Alabama connection, we couldn’t think of better potential replacements than behemoth guard Deonte Brown and stalwart tackle Alex Leatherwood. At 6-foot-3 and 364 pounds (!), the former will have to prove he has the requisite athleticism to block speedy interior linemen, which are a growing commodity in today’s game. As long as the Patriots are confident they can coach him up in the mobility department, he should be near the top of the list of players they intend on studying on Saturday.
After a sensational career in Tuscaloosa, Leatherwood, who shocked scouts last year when he withdrew his name from the draft and decided to return for his senior season, also falls under that category. Widely regarded as a cant-miss offensive line prospect, he surrendered just two sacks and three pressures this season and was penalized only twice over 12 games, which was an encouraging sign given how severely penalties plagued him early on in his collegiate career.
We could obviously rattle off 15-20 players that should pique the Patriots’ interest, but these four — Jones, Basham, Brown and Leatherwood — should undoubtedly be viewed as a priority from a viewing perspective this weekend. Who knows, maybe one or two of them will end up calling Gillette Stadium their NFL home when all is said and done.