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Do Top-30 visits tell us anything about the Patriots’ draft intentions?

New England has brought in several players so far this offseason.

NFL: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL’s pre-draft evaluation period has entered its final phase. With college all-star games, the Scouting Combine, and the Pro Day cycle all in the books now, the focus has shifted to addressing any blind spots a team might have.

There are different ways to do that, with arguably the most prominent among them being the so-called Top-30 visits. The New England Patriots have had several of those already, with 12 prospects confirmed to either have already visited their facilities or planning to do so in the near future — a list that includes projected first-rounders such as offensive tackle Broderick Jones, wide receiver Jordan Addison, and edge Nolan Smith.

What exactly does all of that mean, though? And do these meetings tell us anything about the Patriots’ draft intentions?

First of, a quick breakdown of what Top-30 visits actually are, and what teams are and are not allowed to do in them.

Every NFL is allowed to bring in up to 30 prospects on visits. The “top” part of the name might be a bit misleading, because it actually does not refer to anything: teams are allowed to take a look at every level of prospects they want, and visits do not tell whether a club has an early- or late-round grade on a player.

The motivations behind those visits can therefore be manifold. Teams might want to get a more intimate look at how a player handles himself, something they are not fully able to do at the Combine, for example. Whereas clubs are allowed only 18 minutes per interview in Indianapolis, a Top-30 visit is essentially a full-day affair that can include several components — from watching film, to medical checkups.

These medical checkups are a crucial part of Top-30 visits, especially when it comes to players who have recently had some issues in that area. Take Stanford wide receiver Michael Wilson, who visited Gillette Stadium recently: he missed significant time due to injury the last three seasons, and his medicals are a question mark.

The Patriots, just like any other team, want to make sure that there are no medical red flags. They will invest considerable capital in draft picks and rookie free agents, and getting the green light from their own medical staff plays a big role in the decision-making process.

Of course, Top-30 visits also might serve other purposes.

Teams could, for example, use them to gather information about other prospects in this year’s class. They could also simply be a ruse, creating the illusion of a club being interested in a certain player or position group.

What teams are not allowed to do, meanwhile, is work a player out Pro Day-style. Any on-field activity is prohibited.

With all that in mind, let’s tackle the question posted above: Do they tell us anything about what the Patriots will or will not do on draft weekend?

Well, sorta.

Pats Pulpit has been tracking the Patriots’ pre-draft activity since 2013. While not every Top-30 visit will go public, we do have some history to look back on. What this history tells us is that visits might not necessarily lead to players ending up in New England.

In fact, over the eight years charted — not including 2020 and 2021, when visits were prohibited through Covid-19 protocols — only 22 out of 240 possible players who had official visits joined the team either through the draft or free agency. Even accounting for some margin of error, that is not a lot:

Patriots Top-30 Visits: 2013-22

Year Position Player Draft Pick
Year Position Player Draft Pick
2013 WR Josh Boyce 4-102
2014 DT Dominique Easley 1-29
2014 QB Jimmy Garoppoplo 2-62
2015 DE Geneo Grissom 3-97
2015 LB Matthew Wells 6-178
2015 TE A.J. Derby 6-202
2015 LB Xzavier Dickson 7-253
2016 WR Malcolm Mitchell 4-112
2016 WR Devin Lucien 7-225
2017 OT Antonio Garcia 3-85
2017 DT Josh Augusta UDFA
2018 CB Duke Dawson Jr. 2-56
2018 LB Christian Sam 6-178
2018 WR Braxton Berrios 6-210
2019 WR N'Keal Harry 1-32
2019 CB Joejuan Williams 2-45
2019 QB Jarrett Stidham 4-133
2019 LB Terez Hall UDFA
2022 WR Tyquan Thornton 2-50
2022 CB Marcus Jones 3-85
2022 CB Jack Jones 4-121
2022 QB D'Eriq King UDFA
Excluding 2020 and 2021 (Covid-19)

What a look at this table shows us more than anything, it’s that the Patriots do not follow a clear pattern when it comes to their Top-30 visits and subsequent draft interest. Anything can happen, and the last few years are a clear indication of it.

Last year, for example, only four out of 14 players who reportedly visited the team were later added: wide receiver Tyquan Thornton, cornerbacks Marcus Jones and Jack Jones, and free agent quarterback D’Eriq King.

The reasons behind those visits are not known, but looking at each player individually gives us a clue at what the Patriots were trying to get out of those visits: Tyquan Thornton faced questions about his weight (181 lbs at the Combine, 183 at his Pro Day); Marcus Jones underwent surgery on both his shoulders following his 2021 season at Houston; Jack Jones had off-field issues that led to him leaving USC; D’Eriq King might have been a candidate to change positions.

As noted above, the goal was to gather as much information as possible on those four as well as the other 10 prospects brought in for visits last year. That much will not look any differently in 2023: the Patriots are still trying to answer pre-draft questions through all means available to them — Top-30 visits included.

What can be said with some confidence based on the last few years, though, is this: at least one of the reported Top-30 visits will likely join the Patriots either through the draft or free agency. So, in a way, they do tell us a bit about the team’s plans.