The old adage is that the draft starts in Mobile. But, that did not ring true for the New England Patriots this offseason as their draft prep started these past few days at the East-West Shrine Bowl.
Despite the majority of New England’s coaching staff being out in Las Vegas for the Shrine Bowl, that did not mean the Patriots were not represented as the Senior Bowl kicked off Tuesday. Patriots defensive line coach DeMarcus Covington was on scene as he was elected as the American team’s defensive coordinator.
Much of New England’s other staff will likely join Covington down in Mobile after their Shrine Bowl duties conclude Thursday night, where they will get a look at even more draft eligible prospects.
The Senior Bowl has been of heavy interest for New England as of late. Last year they selected first-round pick Cole Strange, quarterback Bailey Zappe and offensive tackle Andrew Stueber, all who participated in the event. The year before that, Mac Jones, Rhamondre Stevenson and Joshuah Bledsoe were drafted after playing in the Senior Bowl.
As they now turn their attention to this year’s class, here are some prospects New England may have their eye on.
RB Eric Gray (Oklahoma): One interesting note from the Shrine Bowl is that the New England coaching staff reportedly preferred to work with the scat back types throughout the week. This really is no surprise as the team has desperately missed James White’s presence. So, enter Eric Gray, who provides much value as a pass catcher. Throughout his collegiate career (two years at Tennessee, two years at Georgia), Gray hauled in 99 receptions. He has work to do in pass protection, but New England will likely be watching him closely in Mobile.
RB Kenny McIntosh (Georgia): McIntosh started for the National Champion Georgia Bulldogs this past season and is a talented dual-threat back. He has an intriguing combination of size and speed and is one of the best pass catching backs in college football. He was used out of the backfield, from the slot, and split out wide in Georgia. He could be a Day 2 selection with plenty of upside.
WR Nathaniel “Tank” Dell (Houston): Picking an extremely explosive, but undersized, player out of Houston worked last year for the Patriots, so why not run it back? Dell is one of the most explosive players in the draft who has rapid foot speed and runs extremely quick routes. He also took over return duties for Marcus Jones in Houston last season. His one knock will be his size (5-foot-10, 165 lbs.) — which could limit him to a slot role — but his athleticism is no joke.
Again... these bigger CBs can't cover Tank Dell. pic.twitter.com/kGpLdc0T49— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) January 31, 2023
WR Rashee Rice (SMU): The 6-foot-3 Rice is one of the top receivers in this class with his impressive size and athleticism. He has strong ball skills and has lined up out wide and in the slot for the Mustangs. New England will likely be watching his route running throughout the Senior Bowl as SMU’s spread offense did not feature a versatile route tree. Either way, Rice should be off the board within the first two rounds come April.
WR Charlie Jones (Purdue): Jakobi Meyers anyone? Jones has a veteran feel to his game and knows how to attack defensive backs. He racked up 110 receptions last year for Purdue as he was most effective in the quick passing attack. He’s a smart, tough player with special teams value, but his limited athletic traits (hello, Jakobi Meyers) could push him back to Day 3.
TE Brayden Willis (Oklahoma): Watching how New England handles their tight end room this offseason will be interesting to watch. With that being said, Willis is a Day 3 player that could peak their interest. He is a strong athlete and extremely versatile having being used as a pass-catcher, runner, blocker, special teamer, and even throwing a touchdown pass. The best part of his game is his work as a lead blocker, an area New England’s tight ends struggled in last year. He could be an extremely interesting piece to any offense that adds him.
OT Dawand Jones (Ohio State): Throughout Bill Belichick’s tenure, New England has rarely selected players from Ohio State. If that was to change, it might be this year as the Buckeyes have two highly rated tackles eligible for the draft. One is Dawand Jones, who stole the show at the first Senior Bowl practice. Jones played right tackle for the Buckeyes and is an absolute mauler. He is extremely powerful in the run game and uses his size (6-foot-8, 360 lbs.) well in pass protection. He’s currently projected to be an early Day 2 selection, but that will likely change by draft time — especially with a strong Senior Bowl showing.
OT Darnell Wright (Tennessee): Another mauler on the right side of the line of scrimmage, Wright has size (6-foot-6, 335 lbs.) and power that he uses well in both the run and pass game. Wright became a starter his freshman year at Tennessee since the 2019 season and even played one year (2021) on the left side before moving back to the right. His growth every year within the SEC is noteworthy and he should be hear his name called in a similar range of Jones.
OT Warren McClendon (Georgia): Another tackle who majority played on the right side with some experience at left, McClendon was a three-year starter for the Bulldogs which included their two straight National Championship teams. McClendon is powerful in the upper body and moves well to get to the second-level. He performed well no matter what type of offense Georgia ran on the ground and could be a day-one starter in the league.
OT Tyler Steen (Alabama): If you haven't realized by now, the Senior Bowl is littered with some quality SEC tackles. After piling up 30-plus starts at Vanderbilt, Steen transferred to Alabama this past season and quickly won the starting left tackle job. He’s an extremely strong athlete which is most noticeable in pass protection. Steen has some work to do technique-wise, but his improvements at Alabama in one season leave plenty of optimism.
OG Steven Avila (TCU): New England likely will focus on the tackle position, but don't rule them out adding to their interior in the later rounds. Avila’s profile matches that of other New England guards as he has a big frame (6-foot-4, 334 lbs.) and plus play strength. He’d be a strong fit for New England if they plan to rely back on their traditional gap running scheme.
DL Keeanu Benton (Wisconsin): Benton was another player who flashed early in the first Senior Bowl practice. He’s a larger, people-eater up the middle with incredible power who was one of college football’s best run stuffers. Benton doesn't provide much in terms of getting after the quarterback but did improve in that area last season. He could be a strong nose tackle in New England’s defense.
Violent & explosive hands from Keeanu Benton. Kid can move @ 312. pic.twitter.com/Su5dKwyACP— Ryan Fowler (@_RyanFowler_) January 31, 2023
DL Jerrod Clark (Coastal Carolina): Another big body up the middle, Clark is another nose tackle who makes his presence felt in the run game. The former Chanticleer has some burst off the line of scrimmage for his size (6-foot-4, 345 lbs.) and use to even play tight end and basketball in high school. He also has some upside in getting after QBs, but will also be best as a two-gapping nose tackle.
DL Jalen Redmond (Oklahoma): Unlike Benton and Clark, Redmond had to add weight throughout his collegiate career and has played multiple techniques across the defensive line. He’s an explosive and powerful player with untaped potential, but never transitioned it into consistent production at Oklahoma. If a team can tap into that skillset, Redmond could be a quality starter along the interior.
EDGE: Isaiah Foskey (Notre Dame): New England’s roster is currently solid along the edge, but that has never stopped them from adding before. Foskey is a dynamic pass rusher who complied back-to-back 11 sack seasons for the Fighting Irish. He has some work to do in the run game, but brings tremendous leadership and special teams ability to a team as well.
EDGE Andre Carter II (Army): Speaking of players that seem like Patriots, how about a 6-foot-7 Black Knight? Carter has tremendous length and some clear physical tools that could make him a quality player in the NFL. But, he is raw and could need time to develop.
Andre Carter wins quick off the edge pic.twitter.com/D2MufVF81O— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) January 31, 2023
LB: Henry To’oTo’o (Alabama): New England will obviously have their eyes on an Alabama linebacker. To’oTo’o is a smart linebacker that has strong range, but is a bit undersized (6-foot-2, 228 pounds) for a typical Patriots linebacker. He also had some issues in the run game, but New England may feel those can be corrected. He’ll likely be a Day 2 selection.
LB: Owen Pappoe (Clemson): Speaking of undersized at the position, Pappoe checks in at just 6-foot-1, 225 pounds. A two-year team captain, Pappoe is a tremendous athlete that can cover at the position, some even wondering if a transition to safety is in his future. He’s the opposite of what New England usually targets at the position, but it’s no secret they've been looking to add speed there the past few offseason. Pappoe certainly checks that box.
LB: Dee Winters (TCU): Winters has a bit more beef on him (230 lbs.) but is another plus-athlete at the position. He’s a versatile second-level defender that originally started his career as a safety. He uses his speed to his advantage in the run game, but his ability to diagnose plays on the ground will need to improve.
CB: Kyu Blu Kelly (Louisville): Say it with me: outside boundary cornerback with length. We’ll talk about it all offseason as it is a true need for New England. Kelly (6-foot-1) is that as a press-man corner who is strong at the line of scrimmage and sticky in man coverage. He could be exactly what New England needs along the boundary and will likely hear his name called on Day 2.
Stanford’s Kyu Blu Kelly with some really nice coverage at the #SeniorBowl. Throws timing off with the jam and does a good job staying balanced and in phase to force a tough throw. pic.twitter.com/jZ92n1MBdq— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) February 1, 2023
CB: Tyrique Stevenson (Miami): You want to talk about a press-man cornerback, you talk about Tyrique Stevenson. Stevenson is extremely physical along the outside and has tremendous length to disrupt receivers at the line of scrimmage. His size may lead to issues keeping up athletically, but he’s as physical as they come along the boundary.
S: Jordan Battle (Alabama): Another Alabama player the Patriots will have their eyes on. Battle was a leader on Nick Saban’s defense that racked up over 50 starts for the Tide. He’s extremely versatile having played single-high, two-high, in the box, and as a nickel. If New England likes what they see from him at free safety, perhaps he’s part of the puzzle to potentially replacing Devin McCourty.
S: Sydney Brown (Illinois): Brown is another versatile safety that played under one of Belichick’s collegiate friends (Bret Bielema). He’s a strong athlete with strong instincts which allowed him to play different positions of the field. Again, seeing how he fits at the free safety position may be the key.
S: Kaevon Merriweather (Iowa): One more versatile safety who played for a FOB (friend of Belichick). Merriweather is a physical safety who has good speed — both showing up when he plays the run. It will be interesting to see how his skillset translates to the next level as he has just solid range and didn't rack up major production in terms of ball skills at Iowa. But, he has played one-high schemes as well as in the slot, underneath zones, and split-field.
P Adam Korsak (Rutgers): You think we’d leave a Rutgers punter off this list? New England may be in the market for a punter after a disastrous season at the position and with Jake Bailey’s future uncertain. Korsak won the the 2022 Ray Guy Award as the best punter in the nation and again, went to Rutgers. Belichick will obviously have his eye on him in Mobile.
P Bryce Baringer (Michigan State): While Korsak is an obvious fit, Baringer is no slouch either. Baringer earned first-team consensus All-America honors this season and leaves Michigan State with his name all over the record books. His 46.0 career punting average is not just a school record, but also the best in Big Ten history. He got off to a strong start in Mobile on Tuesday.
Michigan State punter Bryce Baringer is a top 5 player at the Senior Bowl. Dude is absolutely smoking punts rn.— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) January 31, 2023
K Jake Podlesny (Georgia): Podlesny earned Associated Press and Coaches’ All-SEC First Team in 2022 after hitting 23 of his 26 field goal attempts (and all 61 extra points). His career long was 53 yards last year. What also may intrigue the Patriots was that he handled kickoff duty for the Bulldogs, recording an 80 percent touchback rate.