Despite the NFL’s annual meeting in Palm Beach, FL, being over, the New England Patriots’ brain trust decided to stay in the Southeast. Led by head coach/general manager Bill Belichick, the team’s top-level executives traveled to Tuscaloosa to scout draft prospects at the University of Alabama pro day.
Belichick was joined on the trip by director of player personnel Matt Groh and senior football advisor Matt Patricia, among others.
The Patriots’ top executives making the trip to get an up-close look at Alabama’s pro day is no surprise.
Not only are Belichick and Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban long-time associates, the school is also one of the top talent factories in all of football. Just last year, New England ended up investing its first two selections in players from Saban’s program: quarterback Mac Jones and defensive tackle Christian Barmore were picked in the first and second round of the 2022 draft, respectively.
Compared to last year, this draft class lacks the same star power up top. Alabama currently has “only” five players listed among the top 100 entering the draft, according to a consensus of 37 big boards.
Two of those also did not participate in Wednesday’s session: wide receivers Jameson Williams and John Metchie are both recovering from torn ACLs suffered late during the 2021 season. Both are expected to be ready for training camp, but they are still in the process of recovery and therefore did not take the field in front of the NFL’s college scouting community.
Despite Williams and Metchie being absent, and with cornerback Josh Jobe and edge linebacker Christopher Allen also not participating, Belichick and Co. were able to get a close look at some other intriguing players.
CB Jalyn Armour-Davis: Projecting as an outside cornerback at the next level, Armour-Davis possesses considerable speed: a two-time state champion on the track, the 6-foot-1 defender ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds at the Scouting Combine.
WR Slade Bolden: Catching 42 passes for 408 yards and three touchdowns, Bolden served as Alabama’s third wide receiver last season behind Williams and Metchie. Unlike his two teammates, however, he is no lock to get drafted.
LB Christian Harris: At 6-foot-0, 226 pounds, Harris does not meet the Patriots’ usual size requirements at the off-the-ball linebacker spot. That said, his impressive athleticism and ability to drop back into coverage are enticing.
DL Phidarian Mathis: A former four-star recruit, Mathis played his best football as a redshirt senior — and team captain — in 2021. A versatile defender capable of playing multiple techniques all over the line, he has proven himself a stout run defender who also possesses value in the pass rush.
OT Evan Neal: Neal is one of the best players available in this year’s draft regardless of position, and he will come off the board long before the Patriots are on the clock. Whichever team ends up picking him will have found a long-time starter at either tackle spot.
OL Chris Owens: Owens has lined up all over the offensive line during his time in Tuscaloosa, which might put him on the Patriots’ late-round radar. Not only does the team value versatility, it also has a need along the interior of its line.
DT LaBryan Ray: Ray has the size and power to become a serviceable interior lineman at the next level, but he comes with some red flags. His pass rush is little more than adequate while his injury history is concerning. He might be worth a late-round flier, though.
RB Brian Robinson Jr.: If the Patriots want to add to their running back room, Robinson Jr. is actually one of the better options available. He projects as an early-down runner in the mold of former Crimson Tide RB Damien Harris.
DB Daniel Wright: While only seeing rotational duty as a defensive back, Wright does have plenty of experience on special teams. He projects as a free agent after the draft.
Belichick, Groh and Patricia did not watch the entire event, though. The Patriots’ contingent left early, and among others missed wide receiver Slade Bolden’s workout. As AL.com’s Mike Rodak suggested, an unfavorable weather forecast — severe storms are set to hit parts of the state later on Wednesday — might have led to the trio leaving early.