Jim Nagy knows a thing or two about NFL Draft prospects, and about the New England Patriots. A former area scout, who won two Super Bowl rings with the team in the early 2000s, Nagy is now serving as the executive director of the Senior Bowl — one of the most prestigious pre-draft events on the calendar.
The Patriots, of course, have regularly tipped their toes into Senior Bowl prospects. Cornerstone players such as Mac Jones, Michael Onwenu and Kyle Dugger all participated in the college all-star showcase before ending up in New England.
This year, the team added five Senior Bowl players. Defensive lineman Keion White was selected in the second round, followed by linebacker/safety hybrid Marte Mapu in the third, center Jake Andrews and kicker Chad Ryland in the fourth, and punter Bryce Baringer in the sixth.
While it seems unlikely that all five will have the same level of impact in 2023 — Andrews projects as a backup, for example — the Patriots did get themselves some intriguing developmental prospects.
What exactly can they bring to the table, though? Let the man who invited them to the Senior Bowl explain. Appearing on NBC Sports’ Next Pats podcast, Nagy gave some intel on White, Mapu, Andrews, Ryland and Baringer.
The highest-drafted of the five, Georgia Tech’s Keion White, was described as by Nagy as “one of those chess pieces that Coach Belichick likes to take” and a player who he thought was going to get drafted in the first round.
“They got a really versatile player,” he said. “[H]e could be a jumbo outside linebacker; this guy has played on his feet a bunch; he’s 285 pounds. When I called up there in November he was 292, so he was playing at 292, 293 pounds. There’s a couple of clips ... he’s running 30, 40 yards down the field with running backs.”
As Nagy pointed out, however, athleticism was not the only selling point.
“It’s hard to win quick in the NFL like you can in college. You really have to be skilled as a pass rusher, you have to be really fast, you have to be powerful,” he said about White. “But you’re going to get stuck, you’re going to get that initial rush cut off. Some guys die in it, and some guys stay alive and transition to a second or third move and get some extra-effort pressure. That’s what Keion does really well. ...
“I do think his best football is still ahead of him because he’s relatively still a really young defensive player, having been a tight end just a handful of years ago. “
Where exactly he will line up in the Patriots’ hybrid front remains to be seen, but White projects to play a rotational role along the team’s defensive line in 2023.
As for Marte Mapu out of Sacramento State, his future is shrouded in even more mystery. Not only did the third-round pick suffer a torn pectoral muscle in February, he also is a hybrid off-ball linebacker and safety whose true position at the next level has yet to be determined — a player who is therefore drawing comparisons to former Patriots second-round draft pick and fellow Shrine Bowl alumnus Kyle Dugger.
As Nagy pointed out, however, those comparisons are not necessarily fully accurate.
“He’s a really unique player,” he said about Mapu. “Comparing him and Dugg. Dugg’s a better change-of-direction athlete, he’s a little bit more fluid of an athlete; to me, he’s a guy you can play in some sub-down linebacker stuff because of the size. Really, to me, he’s a versatile safety, whereas Mapu’s more like a strong safety to Will linebacker.
“You want this guy playing in the box because he plays bigger than his size. 220, 219, he hits like a ton of bricks. This guy’s snap on contact is different. During our 9-on-7 periods here inn Mobile ... this guy just plays downhill and buckles people. It’s hard to find. He’s a really unique player.”
After going defense with Mapu, White and first-round selection Christian Gonzalez, the Patriots finally addressed the offensive side of the ball in Round 4. They did so in rather surprising fashion, though, picking a center: Troy’s Jake Andrews.
“The interesting part, besides from the last name thing, is that, to me, it’s a really cool succession plan if that’s what it’s going to be,” Nagy said about the youngster possibly following in the footsteps of current Patriots center David Andrews one day.
“He and David Andrews are both kind of sawed-off-body-type guys. To me what’s cool when you marry up a vet with a young player, is they learn the tricks of the trade. If David Andrews were more of a taller, more angular built center and you’ve got Jake, whose a little more dense, you couldn’t apply the same things; you couldn’t use the same tricks.”
Whereas Andrews might have to sit and learn behind the team captain, there is a realistic chance that the Patriots’ two specialist picks — Maryland kicker Chad Ryland and Michigan State punter Bryce Baringer — play prominent roles right away despite getting drafted later. Both were on the same team in Mobile, and showed why they would be worthy of a draft-pick investment.
That investment came from the Patriots, who expressed confidence in both guys’ abilities to come in, contribute, and adjust to one of the most difficult places to kick in the NFL. For Nagy, however, that transition should be a relatively smooth one.
“I know, back in my time in New England, you’re always looking for specialists that are good in those elements,” he said. “It’s going to say Maryland on the card but you’re talking about a four-year guy from Ypsilanti, Michigan. You’re talking about Bryce Baringer from East Lansing. Those guys, they are not going to have issues up in the Foxborough elements.”