Today, the final group of draft hopefuls will leave Indianapolis to close the book on the 2020 NFL scouting combine. The event, which had a new format this year — stretching out over a week, on-field workouts in primetime — to make it more attractive for television audiences, is just one piece of the vast puzzle that is the pre-draft process. That being said, it still taught us a few things about this year’s prospects and the draft class as a whole.
With that being said, let’s dive into five takeaways from the combine while wearing some New England Patriots-colored glasses.
The first-round dominoes could very well fall in the Patriots’ favor
The Patriots will pick 23rd overall in late April after getting pushed from the playoff tournament in the wild card round, and there is a chance that the board falls like they want it to. Not only are three quarterbacks projected to be drafted early in round one — LSU’s Joe Burrow, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert — we might also see a run at the offensive tackle position if the consensus top three get selected early on.
Alabama’s Jedrick Wills did not stand out per se during the combine, but he will likely still become a top-10 selection next month. Meanwhile, Iowa tackle Tristan Whirfs and Louisville’s Mekhi Becton both boosted their stocks by delivering workouts for the ages. Because of those, there is now a chance that a run at the position will follow once Wills, Whirfs and Becton come off the board — and that might help a New England team relatively settled at the position.
Add that at least three passers will already be gone at that time as well, and the Patriots might be in a comfortable position at No. 23: either some top-tier talents might fall down the board to them, or they will have willing partners to facilitate a trade with. Either way, a run at the quarterback and tackle positions only helps New England.
No tight end should be expected to come off the board on day one
Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet reaffirmed at the combine that he is the best tight end available in this year’s draft, with Dayton’s Adam Trautman coming in as a close number two behind him. However, neither Kmet nor Trautman should expect to hear their names called on day one of the draft — they certainly have upside to develop into valuable and versatile contributors, but the talent at other positions makes it hard for them to crack the top-32.
If the Patriots therefore want to invest in the position and have a shot at the two best players it has to offer, they likely will need to find a way to get back into the second round. At the moment, the team does not possess a selection between the 23rd overall in round one and the 87th in the third round. A trade-down on the first night of the draft certainly seems like a realistic scenario, as noted above, and one that might put New England in a position to bolster its tight end depth.
The wide receiver position is really deep
The three best wide receivers in this year’s draft — Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III — will be long gone before the Patriots are on the clock, but there is considerable depth to be found in the second tier at the position. If New England wants to invest another high draft pick in a wideout after already picking N’Keal Harry 32nd overall in 2019, they will have numerous options on days one and two.
Three of the most intriguing names after the last week are the following:
- Justin Jefferson, LSU: Jefferson had one of the best combine performances this year, and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds. He also posted a 37.5-inch vertical and a 126-inch broad jump and appears to be manifesting himself as a late-round selection on day one due to his strong athletic profile in combination with some proven production at LSU.
- Denzel Mims, Baylor: It is no secret that the Patriots love the 3-cone drill as a tool to measure a player’s agility and short-area quickness, which means that Mims certainly will be on the team’s radar after crushing his competition with a 6.66 time despite being measured at 6-foot-3 and 207 pounds.
- Donovan Peoples-Jones, Michigan: Only eight players posted a 44.5-inch vertical or better at the combine since 1987, and Peoples-Jones is one of them. Even though he did not have elite production in college — he had just 103 receptions for 1,327 yards and 14 touchdowns in three seasons at Michigan — he is an intriguing prospect.
Some outstanding athletes will be available beyond the first round
Jefferson, Mims and Peoples-Jones will likely not all be drafted in the first round, which serves as a reminder how deep this draft is when it comes to athletically outstanding talents. Just take a look at Sunday’s defensive backs workouts as further proof of that: under-the-radar prospects such as Kyle Dugger out of Division-II’s Lenoir-Rhine or Utah’s Javelin K. Guidry delivered impressive performances, as did potential top-100 pick Jeremy Chinn of Southern Illinois.
The draft’s depth extends beyond the defensive backfield of course, with some more polished players also being candidates to be available on day two. Needless to say that this bodes well for a Patriots team that is scheduled to pick fairly late in every round.
New England will have plenty of options to address its needs
Before the draft, we analyzed the Patriots’ major needs. Free agency is certainly capable of changing the picture quite a bit, but from the current perspective the team needs to add talent to its tight end and linebacker positions and possibly also to an interior offensive line that enters 2020 with some major questions due to free agency (see: Joe Thuney and Ted Karras) and injury (see: David Andrews and Hjalte Froholdt).
As pointed out above, the tight end spot essentially comes down to Kmet and Trautman as the top two with others such as Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins and Washington’s Hunter Bryant also potential options in rounds two or three. At linebacker, meanwhile, the Patriots might have some intriguing potential in rounds one or two: LSU’s Patrick Queen and Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray will be available in the team’s range, while Ohio State linebacker Malik Harrison appears to be trending in the right direction as well after a strong combine.
Along the interior offensive line, Temple center Matt Hennessy and Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz appear to be strong options in the late first/early second rounds. Needless to say that New England will have a lot of scenarios to choose from when it is on the clock in the first round of the draft — and plenty of chances to address the roster needs as they currently present themselves.