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5 NFL draft prospects who could follow the path from Tuscaloosa to Foxboro

Related: 7 winners and 2 losers from the 2022 Senior Bowl

Alabama v Auburn Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

From Dont’a Hightower to Damien Harris to Mac Jones, Bill Belichick has been no stranger to drafting college players who were groomed under his friend and former colleague Nick Saban. And for good reason as, like New England, Alabama has been the most dominant college football program in the 21st century.

In total, Bill Belichick has selected 13 players who played for Saban at the college level, eight coming from Alabama. Most recently, the Patriots added both quarterback Mac Jones and defensive lineman Christian Barmore with their first two selections of the 2021 NFL Draft, whose early dividends have paid off.

“Certainly Alabama always has a very high level of football. Those players are well-coached. They’re well-conditioned. They’re well-trained,” Bill Belichick said last year after selecting Barmore in the second round. “And so are most of the other teams in the SEC that they play against or in other conferences they play against them in the playoffs. So that’s great competition to evaluate.”

As Alabama again has a plethora of highly-sought after players entering the 2022 NFL Draft, it would be no surprise for Belichick and the Patriots to again select a former Crimson Tide or two come April. So, let’s take a look at five players who could be the next to make the transition from Tuscaloosa to Foxboro.

WR Jameson Williams

Size: 6-2, 189 lbs.

Class: Junior

Draft projection: Day 1/Early Day 2

The Patriots made improvements to their assortment of offensive skill players last offseason, but there is still more work to be done, specifically at wide receiver. Acquiring a go-to guy who can win one-on-one for Mac Jones should be their biggest priority this offseason (just see how things have worked for Joe Burrow with Ja’Marr Chase). With Alabama wide receivers continuing to dominate the college landscape, perhaps it’s time for New England to finally get their hands on one of their own.

Jameson Williams transferred to Alabama from Ohio State this past season and immediately inserted himself into the Crimson Tide lineup. The second he arrived, Williams showcased his big-play ability, leading all D1 wideouts with four touchdowns of 70-plus yards (Alabama record) and leading the nation with 11 touchdowns of 30-plus yards. Emerging as the No. 1 receiver at Alabama, Williams may also have elevated his status to the No. 1 wide receiver in this draft class.

Williams’ big-play ability stems from the combination of his elite speed and vertical route-running sharpness. He has the ability to smoothly change directions without losing speed and often just straight up runs pasts defenders.

At Alabama, Williams mainly lined up out of the slot, where he could use his speed to get open against free releases. The Tide would find ways to quickly get him the ball (slants, screens), where he would be a big play waiting to happen.

The reason Williams is even a possibility for the Patriots at No. 21 overall however, is the torn ACL he suffered in the National Championship Game. Time will tell how the injury will affect his draft stock, but he is likely looking at a medical redshirt year his rookie season.

As for a fit with the Patriots, it would be interesting to see if New England instead leans towards a receiver with a more diverse route tree, as Williams mainly relied on a vertical tree at Alabama. But, New England certainly needs a home run threat on offense, perhaps making a guy like Williams worth being patient for.

WR John Metchie III

Size: 6-0, 195 lbs.

Class: Junior

Draft projection: Day 1/Early Day 2

Like Williams, Metchie may also not be able to be counted on his rookie season, as he suffered a torn ACL in the SEC Championship Game. But, if the Patriots truly want to take a page out of the Bengals playbook, pairing Metchie with Mac Jones may be ideal execution.

Metchie has everything the Patriots would want in a wide receiver. He’s an elite separator, explosive route runner, and uses his speed and quickness to his advantage after the catch. Like Williams, he’s a true home run threat every time he touches the ball.

For nostalgic purposes, here he is running the Edelman route for a game-winning conversion against Auburn.

Going forward, Metchie can be an elite playmaker from both the Z and in the slot due to his size and athleticism. He’s versatile enough to make plays in the short game, as well as down the field. Unlike Williams, he showcased a more diverse route tree in college that could appeal to New England, and already has chemistry with quarterback Mac Jones.

Again, a torn ACL is likely the only reason Metchie may be available when New England selects at No. 21 overall, but he certainly may be worth the wait.

IDL Phidarian Mathis

Size: 6-4, 312 lbs.

Class: Redshirt senior

Draft projection: Day 2

The Patriots did not get the seasons they were hoping for from Devon Godchaux and Lawerence Guy in 2021. Both interior lineman are known for their ability to eat up blocks and allow the Patriots “heavy” linebackers to come downhill and support the run game, but as linebackers were forced to help in zone coverages, the Patriots two-gapping lineman were left on islands to become playmakers, which they were not.

The solution going forward would be to acquire more lineman who have the ability to shoot gaps as well, like Christian Barmore. Look no further than his old counterpart, Phidarian Mathis, to help their defensive line needs.

Mathis is a former four star recruit who played his best football this year as a redshirt senior and permanent team captain. This season alone, Mathis racked up over 50 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and nine total sacks. He’s versatile across the defensive line, a terror against the run, and also provides pass rush value.

In the clips below, Mathis’ run defense immediately stands out. He is able to shoot a gap and blow past offensive lineman with his excellent hand usage — perhaps the best part of his game.

Mathis’s strength allows him to play the run at such a high level. He is able to hold his ground against offensive lineman and even make plays against double teams, like against Ole Miss below.

While his work against the run is as advertised, he recorded nine sacks this season after just being credited with 1.5 in his first three seasons with Alabama. Mathis can overwhelm offensive lineman with power (watch him bully the Tennessee center below), while showcasing an array of pass rush moves — again, thanks to his plus-hands — to provide pressure from the interior. Mathis’ motor also stands out, as he never gives up on a play and will chase quarterbacks around the pocket or ball carriers down the field.

Mathis should be able to step in and immediately start along a NFL defensive line, largely thanks to his dominance in the run game. He has the ability to play all three downs and could be the perfect physical presence New England needs next to Barmore along their defensive line.

LB Christian Harris

Size: 6-2, 232 lbs.

Class: Junior

Draft projection: Early Day 2

Like defensive line, New England has some work to do with their linebacking unit this offseason. While the linebacker position surely wasn't the main problem for the defense’s end of season demise, they appeared old and slow throughout the year, specifically when asked to drop back in coverage.

It may be a stretch to assume Bill Belichick will go away from his typical “thumper” linebacker mold — think: Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley, etc. — for a new style linebacker like Georgia’s Nakobe Dean (6-foot-0, 220 pounds). But, the good news is that a shift in his philosophy may have already started. New England has athletic linebackers on their roster in Chase Winovich and Josh Uche, and drafted Ronnie Perkins, plus speedster Cameron McGrone in last year’s draft.

If New England wants to continue this trend, Alabama’s Christian Harris may be the next piece to the puzzle. Harris has started at linebacker for the Crimson defense all three years he’s been on campus, while also showcasing his athleticism in high school by appearing at tight end, cornerback, and punt returner as well.

His size falls in line with what Belichick has drafted at the position in recent years, while his athletic ability is the real deal. Pass coverage is Harris’ best trait, where he is able to showcase his sideline-to-sideline speed and strong change of direction ability. He has had zero issues covering tight ends and has excelled against opposing running backs in coverage.

Here he is (highlighted by the broadcast) lined up one-on-one against last year’s No. 4 overall pick Kyle Pitts.

Despite Harris’ athletic ability, he has no issues in the run game. He provides a physical presence in the middle of the field and again uses his athleticism to his advantage, chasing down opposing ball carriers from sideline-to-sideline. The one piece of Harris’ game that he must improve at the next level is his tackling however, which was an inconsistent part of his game last season.

Harris’ versatility in both the run- and pass-game will allow him to be a true three-down linebacker in the NFL. He currently is projected to be off the board early on day two, but a strong performance at the combine could elevate his stock even higher.

CB Josh Jobe

Size: 6-1, 194 lbs.

Class: Senior

Draft projection: Late Day 2/Early Day 3

Entering the season, cornerback was perhaps the position on New England’s roster under the largest microscope. With the uncertainty surrounding All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson playing on a restricted free agent tender, the Patriots had both short- and long-term question marks at the position.

These potential issues were made worse during the year as the team dealt Gilmore while he was still on the PUP list, and starting slot cornerback Jonathan Jones was sidelined for the season with a shoulder injury. While J.C. Jackson continued his play at an elite level and free agent addition Jalen Mills got better each and every week, New England was able to get by throughout most of the year. But, as Mills was placed on the Covid-19 list leading up to a Wild Card showdown with the Bills, New England’s offseason question marks at the position came back to bite them at the worst time, as they were forced to heavily rely on backups such as Joejuan Williams and Myles Bryant.

Entering this offseason, cornerback continues to be a position that will need to be addressed for New England, especially as J.C. Jackson is set to hit unrestricted free agency. If Jackson is brought back, pairing him with Mills and a healthy Jones will give the Patriots a quality trio. However, adding more depth — to avoid situations like last year — and talent at the position for the future most be done.

Enter Josh Jobe, the senior cornerback out of Alabama who was once the No. 1 overall recruit out of Connecticut. Jobe could be an ideal fit in Bill Belichick’s defensive system, as he is big, physical cornerback who thrives in man-to-man press coverage. Jobe succeeds at the line of scrimmage, using his length and size to jam receivers.

Jobe’s frame allows him to match up well against bigger receiver threats. He has plus-length at 6-foot-1 which he uses to his advantage in press man. ESPN’s Jordan Reid even gave him the nickname “Boundary Bouncer” due to his physicality.

Jobe, who will be a 24-year-old rookie, is a strong athlete for a cornerback with his size, but he does not have the top-end speed to recover when beat. He did not provide much versatility at Alabama beyond being a boundary-corner, but the Crimson Tide did experiment with him at safety over the offseason before keeping him at corner. And while press man is his specialty, he can hold up in zone as well.

Despite missing the College Football Playoff due to a foot injury he suffered in the SEC Championship Game, Jobe is projected to be nabbed in the third- for fourth-round come April — assuming his medicals check out. Knowing his fit within a Bill Belichick-style defense, Jobe could be an ideal addition to the Patriots’ backend.