by John Limberakis and Dave Archibald
RAS (Relative Athletic Scores) info courtesy of Kent Lee Platte.
The New England Patriots don’t draft like everybody else. “[T]here are some players that fit; there’s some players that don’t. In the end, we end up with 50-75 players that we would draft from top to bottom,” former Director of Personnel Nick Caserio said a few years back. That’s half as many as most of the league, and only about a quarter of the players that will be drafted next week. With fit such an important consideration, it’s worth digging into which draft prospects will most appeal to head coach / de facto general manager Bill Belichick.
Justin Fields (Ohio State) or Trey Lance (North Dakota State). They both have big arms, can run, and are tough as nails. Both played in college systems that should translate reasonably well to New England’s offense. They have areas to improve upon (Fields’ processing speed, Lance’s accuracy), but if one slips out of the top 10, he could be an option for the Pats.
Other Options: Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) would fit anywhere, but obviously won’t be around at 15. Sam Ehlinger (Texas) probably tops out as a backup, but he has some of the same qualities Fields and Lance do and fits the prototype New England has drafted late day three in the past.
Javonte Williams (North Carolina) and Rhamondre Stevenson (Oklahoma) run with the power and vision to excel in New England’s gap-heavy scheme, and they pass protect effectively, a must for the Patriots. The only downside is they may be redundant with incumbent Damien Harris. Williams’ North Carolina teammate Michael Carter might fit better as a shiftier pass-catching back and heir to James White’s role.
Other Options: Alabama’s Najee Harris fits everywhere as the most versatile back in the class. Ohio State’s Trey Sermon shows similar versatility, and he might be available later than some of the other backs listed.
Fullback / Tight End
Hardly anyone uses a fullback these days, but Ben Mason (Michigan) figures to contribute as a lead blocker and on special teams. He’s like a faster version of longtime Patriots James Develin. Incumbent Jakob Johnson is on a one-year deal, but will New England have enough snaps for a true fullback after paying money to tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith in free agency?
Other Options: It’s unlikely the Patriots will draft Pat Freiermuth (Penn State) after investing heavily in tight ends in free agency, but he’s got the physical profile and all-around game they like. Hunter Long (Boston College) could be a day 3 depth option as someone who can play inline or in the slot. He fits their athletic profile desired with a 8.6 RAS and a 4.71 40 at 250 lbs with 33.75” arms. Tommy Tremble (Notre Dame) is 2021’s version of 2020 draftee Dalton Keene. Senior Bowl riser Tre McKitty (Georgia) could be a steady if not spectacular inline option as a depth piece on day 3.
D’Wayne Eskridge (Western Michigan) can replace some of recently-retired Julian Edelman’s shiftiness with the ball in his hands, and he also contributed on special teams and even defense, making him a true Bill Belichick prototype. Josh Palmer (Tennessee) ticks their size and athleticism boxes, can play all 3 positions, can beat press, and put the SECs best cornerbacks in a blender. He would be considered much higher by others had he had a competent QB. He is also an exceptional route runner and adjusts to the ball and tracks it well. A bully as a blocker and at the catch point, Josh Palmer is a prototypical Patriot. Cade Johnson (South Dakota State) is a shifty slot receiver with a big catch radius for a small guy at 184. He can do gadget things as well as and has excellent open field vision and start/stop ability.
Other Options: The Pats ain’t getting Ja’Marr Chase (LSU), but they undoubtedly appreciate his physicality and explosiveness. Rashod Bateman (Minnesota) offers some of those skills in a versatile package, though the Patriots may not opt for a receiver that high after bingeing on Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne in free agency. Simi Fehoko (Stanford) is an option on day 3 as a lottery ticket for his size, (6’04”, 223 pounds), athleticism (9.17 RAS), speed (4.44 40) and shiftiness (6.78 3-cone). He is still learning the position from top to bottom so he would need to play teams until he earned reps. Dax Milne (BYU) is the slightly bigger Mormon Hunter Renfrow and is a shifty Patriots prototype slot. Connor Wedington (Stanford) is already an excellent kick returner and “core four” special teamer who has the agility, 6.66 3-cone, speed, 4.47 40, size, 6’0.5” and 196 pounds that the Patriots desire in their slot players. Wedington is still learning the position and route running but he is dangerous with the ball in his hands and would contribute on special teams immediately.
Spencer Brown (Northern Iowa) needs technical refinement, but he’s got huge size and potential. His physical profile resembles Sebastian Vollmer, a high-upside project from the past who paid big dividends for New England.
Other Options: Penei Sewell (Oregon)’s athleticism and run blocking would be great, but he won’t be around at 15. Rashawn Slater’s (Northwestern) athleticism and footwork could lock down either a tackle or a guard position for years to come, but he will be gone by 15 like Sewell. Christian Darrisaw (Virginia Tech) or Teven Jenkins (Oklahoma State) are worthy picks at 15. Darrisaw excels at pass blocking and Jenkins is a road-grading run blocker, but either fits. Alex Leatherwood (Alabama) and Brady Christensen (BYU) played tackle in college but might kick inside in the pros. Leatherwood is long and strong, while Christensen’s athleticism makes him effective in space. Walker Little (Stanford) has strong freshman starting left tackle tape but he has not played more than 72 snaps in two years and has battled injuries. Is he still the guy he was growing into? Stone Forsythe (Florida) is long, tall, athletic, and strong. He’s best in pass pro where lives up to his first name. Forsythe has tall-tackle trouble as a run blocker, failing to get leverage, and he might always be limited in that regard.
Bonus: While I have not had time to watch Massachusetts’ own Larnel Coleman, I have read reports on him and with his size, length (36.25” arms), and athleticism (8.6 RAS) would be a great day 3 or PFA offensive tackle developmental ball of clay.
Interior Offensive Line
The two top center prospects in this draft, Landon Dickerson (Alabama) and Creed Humphrey (Oklahoma), both would fit New England. Both are huge, athletic, and powerful. Interior OL isn’t a top need, but Dickerson’s medical history might slip him into a range that will entice the Patriots.
Other Options: Senior Bowl darling Quinn Meinerz (Wisconsin-Whitewater) shows the versatility, power, and movement skills to fit. Tennessee’s Trey Smith (Tennessee) is another big, mean, athletic option; he could also potentially move back to offensive tackle, which he played in 2018. Jackson Carman (Clemson) is a nasty road grader with good athleticism, but he plays out of control and there are rumors of coachability questions. If Carman is a cultural fit, he would excel in New England’s gap/power and multifaceted running attack. Robert Jones (Middle Tennessee) is a late name to consider. He is explosive and oozes power but he also plays out of control and lunges for the home run, too often getting out over his feet. His ability to play laterally or adjust to changes of direction is limited.
By reputation, this defensive line class is thin, and that applies to Patriots fits too. There are not many quality interior defenders but the Patriots might be interested in Osa Odighizuwa, who plays all along UCLA’s line. Osa is long (34” arms), powerful, and explosive trench player who can take on tackles on running downs and boot inside against guards, where he is still refining his pass rush technique. Marlon Tuipulotu (USC) is a 3-4 base end who is one of the best run stuffers in the class and can hold up to 2-gap. He might not give them a lot of juice as a pass rusher.
In one season at Miami, Jaelen Phillips showed the athleticism and pass rush ability that made him a top recruit. He’s got prototypical size and might even be able to kick inside on some downs. That’s a set of traits that the Patriots usually don’t draft high enough to acquire, but Phillips’ checkered medical history—he retired partway through the 2018 season after repeated concussions—might make him too risky.
Other options: Azeez Ojulari (Georgia) has pass-rushing production, but it is all from one move. He has a 99 mile-an-hour heater as a pass rusher but needs to develop multiple counters, including an inside one given his burst and speed to the edge. For a lighter (249 lbs) edge he is competitive against the run—he stonewalled a pulling Deonte Brown twice in the hole when Georgia played Alabama. Jayson Oweh (Penn State) sets a firm edge and has the ideal body and athleticism at the position (9.96 RAS!) but is new to pass-rushing and will need time to develop. Payton Turner (Houston) could fill the John Simon role and is a freak in his own right with a 9.74 RAS and 35.375” vines for arms. He is explosive and has excellent bend (7.01 3-cone) for a high-hipped player, which is rare.
Jamin Davis (Kentucky) has the best athleticism and tackling in the class. He would need to add 6-10 pounds for Belichick but he has the frame to do that and more. He might be the pick at 46. Pete Werner (Ohio State) fits as a Mike linebacker who can run, cover, and tackle. At nearly 6’3” and 240 pounds, he’s close to their ideal size.
Other Options: The Patriots like big linebackers, and they don’t come any bigger than Tulsa’s Zaven Collins, a 6’5” 270-pound behemoth. Contrary to what that size suggests, Collins excels in coverage but could be nastier against the run. Cameron McGrone (Michigan) brings the same traits as Elandon Roberts to the table as a heat-seeking missile against the run who needs to develop in coverage and as a pass rusher. Derrick Barnes (Purdue) is a Patriots-style long-armed hybrid linebacker who plays both Mike and on the line of scrimmage. He would be a day 3 consideration. K.J. Britt (Auburn) is another throwback Patriots style run-stuffing thumper who will be around late day 3. Patrick Johnson (Tulane) has pass-rushing upside but needs to learn how to play off-ball.
Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech) checks all the boxes: big, fast, and physical. His injury history might scare off the Patriots and other teams, however. Robert Rochell (Central Arkansas) played against a lower level of competition, but he’s got a lot of the same skills in a skinnier package. Jaycee Horn (South Carolina) is everything you want in a press-man corner but has to improve his tackling. Greg Newsome (Northwestern) has great route anticipation, closing burst, press-man and zone traits, and might be the most scheme-versatile corner in the class.
Other Options: Patrick Surtain II (Alabama and his polished press-man ability would be welcome, but he won’t be on the board at 15. Zech McPhearson (Texas Tech) flashed press-man skills and plays the run better than most of the class. Avery Williams (Boise State) might move to running back or slot receiver as a pro, but he’s a special teams ace who returned 9 kicks/punts for touchdowns in his college career. Tre Brown (Oklahoma) is as scrappy as they come; he’s an undersized press-man corner who is a fearless tackler and plays like he is 20 pounds bigger. Benjamin St-Juste (Minnesota) can play press-man and is a good tackler and one of the best corners against the run. He is 6’3.25”, weighs 202 pounds, has 32.625” arms, and ran a 6.63 3-cone, which is the kind of profile the Patriots have coveted before on day 2 and 3.
Few safeties have the diverse skill set of Richie Grant (Central Florida). He can line up in a variety of spots, play the run, play zone, cover man-to-man, and tackle. Elijah Molden (Washington) is a shutdown slot safety who excels tackling and in run defense. He might also be able to play some free safety roles, like deep zone or split zones.
Other Options: At 6’3”, 226 pounds, Divine Deablo (Virginia) is built almost like a linebacker, and he could fit well into the LB/S role Adrian Phillips played in 2020.