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2022 NFL Draft: Houston cornerback Marcus Jones among Patriots’ first reported top-30 visits

Patriots pre-draft tracker: Interviews, workouts, meetings, and more

NCAA Football: The American Athletic Conference Championship-Houston at Cincinnati Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The pre-draft process is entering crunch time, and the New England Patriots have therefore started taking a closer look at potential targets. According to a series of reports by Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network, the Patriots have held their first few private workouts.

Teams are allowed to conduct up to 30 of them ahead of the draft, which is why they are also referred to as top-30 visits. As of now, a minimum of three have taken place: the team privately worked out Houston cornerback Marcus Jones, Stephen F. Austin defensive lineman Rayshad Nichols and Miami quarterback D’Eriq King.

Jones is the most notable name of those three, and the only one who should expected to hear his name called during one of the draft’s seven rounds.

A potential mid-round selection, who transferred from Troy to Houston in 2019, Jones appeared in 20 games for the Cougars over the last two seasons and registered six interceptions as well as a forced fumble. His lack of length will likely limit his attractiveness to some teams — he is listed at 5-foot-8, 174 pounds and possible a slot-only prospect — but he has the potential to turn into a starting defensive back.

King, meanwhile, is a realistic candidate to change positions upon arriving in the NFL. While it remains to be seen whether or not he can become the Patriots’ next Julian Edelman in this regard, his production at the college level was encouraging and shows that he might indeed have a future at wide receiver.

Over his six-year career that took him from Houston to Miami, after all, he caught 61 passes for 520 yards and three touchdowns while also carrying the football 423 times for 2,055 yards and 32 scores. The 5-foot-9, 196-pound prospect worked out with Patriots offensive assistant Joe Judge, who coached New England’s wide receivers during the 2019 season.

Nichols, on the other hand, is coming off a productive redshirt senior campaign for the Lumberjacks. Despite registering 10 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in 2021, however, the 6-foot-3, 304-pound defensive tackle is likely to go undrafted later this month.

The Patriots are using top-30 visits not necessarily to show intent in drafting or signing a player, but rather to accomplish two goals: establishing a connection with possible undrafted free agents-to-be and/or updating medical files.

Jones, King and Nichols all fit the bill from that point of view. Jones and King are both coming off shoulder surgeries, while King and Nichols are projected to go undrafted.