The NFL Scouting Combine is the official start to the offseason for the Patriots every year.
Although New England is always all eyes on Mobile for the Senior Bowl, the combine is where they begin speaking with pending free agents and set the table for their offseason plans.
The consensus inside and outside the building is that Bill Belichick is hunting for playmakers on defense and a top wide receiver to pair with second-year quarterback Mac Jones.
“We are going to look to get faster, more explosive, and put more playmakers on the field.” Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo said during Super Bowl week.
Mayo publicly acknowledged the issues everyone saw with the Patriots’ lacking speed on defense, making it a significant point of emphasis this offseason. Internally, there’s similarly an acknowledgment that finding Jones a true number one weapon is another priority.
We already previewed potential Patriots fits on offense, which you can read by clicking the link above. Here are potential targets for the Patriots on defense that we’ll have our eye on in Indy:
LINEBACKERS (ON-FIELD WORKOUTS: SATURDAY, 4-11 PM ET)
– Arguably the Patriots’ biggest need in the draft with Dont’a Hightower and Ja’Whaun Bentley set to hit free agency, while the Pats search for more speed and playmaking at the position.
– Devin Lloyd, Utah: Based on conversations with league personnel this week, stop dreaming about Lloyd in the Patriots defense. He’s an explosive playmaker against the run, covers ground in a hurry, and adds significant value as a pass rusher both on and off the ball. Although Lloyd needs to improve his take-on technique against lead blockers, his play speed and versatility greatly outweigh his flaws. It would be a surprise to see Lloyd make it to the Patriots’ first-round pick at No. 21.
– Nakobe Dean, UGA: My LB1 in a very deep and talented class. Dean looks like he’s playing in The Matrix in the way he contorts his body around blockers in the trenches. His play speed is electric, while it’s truly rare for a player of his size to work in the trash as effectively as he does. With that said, his size might cross him off Belichick’s list. At a projected 6-feet, 220 pounds, Dean is smaller than Kyle Dugger. Will he be bigger than expected, or will the Pats make an exception? Time will tell. Dean is tremendous.
– Christian Harris, Alabama: The issue with Harris has nothing to do with his NFL projection and more to do with where he’ll go in the draft. It’s likely too early to pick Harris at 21, while he’ll be gone by the time the Pats are on the clock in round two (no. 54). But if they’re set on going linebacker, if Dean and Lloyd are off the board, a trade down to accumulate more picks and select Harris makes sense. He’s an explosive sideline-to-sideline athlete who plays through blocks, blitz, and cover. I loved Harris’s tape.
– Quay Walker, Georgia: Although he doesn’t have the on-ball pass-rushing reps, Walker is like day two Devin Lloyd. At 6-3, 240-plus pounds, Walker is a terrific athlete who has received some Jamie Collins comparisons. He’s not as big as Collins, but he has similar movement skills and length. Walker was the Patriots’ second-round pick in my first mock draft.
– Chad Muma, Wyoming: Muma is one of those prospects who gets you excited when you watch his tape. His instincts and play recognition are so superb that you just find yourself jotting down “this dude gets it” all the time. He paces out ball barriers extremely well by staying square to the line while moving laterally, hardly ever missed a tackle, and can cover. Muma is going to be a tackling machine at the next level.
– Darrian Beavers, Cincinnati: Okay, now we are talking about a prototypical Patriots linebacker. Beavers checks every Belichick box from size (6-4, 255), leadership, high football IQ, performed against the high-level competition (vs. Alabama), and attended the Senior Bowl. There are some questions about his athletic profile and ability to hold up in coverage, but Beavers is a downhill player who can read, react, and stack blockers with the best of them. He fits their mold to a tee.
– Leo Chanel, Wisconsin: Another Belichick prototype, Chanel is a 250-pound thumper who plays like a mad man. He loves contact, is a high-end interior blitzer, fires downhill with reckless abandon, and impressively does it all while playing under control. We don’t have Chanel higher because of his change of direction in the open field. He closes quickly once he’s pointed in the right direction, but his movements are stiff when he needs to flip his hips and run. It takes him a beat to change directions.
DEFENSIVE LINE (ON-FIELD WORKOUTS: SATURDAY, 4-11 PM ET)
– Although it’s not an immediate need on paper, New England’s lack of playmakers on the defensive line showed itself down the stretch when they weren’t creating enough negative plays.
– Jordan Davis, UGA: Everyone who follows my draft coverage knows how I feel about Davis. He’s a generational nose tackle prospect. His size, playing strength, and overall ability to control the line of scrimmage would do wonders for any defense. Although he didn’t showcase it much on a deep Georgia defensive line, Davis is an outstanding athlete. His movement skills for his size will shine this week. If you have concerns about Davis’s limited snap count and pass-rush value, my response to that would be to think about all the flexibility Vince Wilfork used to give the Pats defense.
– Devonte Wyatt, UGA: Davis’s teammate at Georgia brings a little more pass-rush punch to the table. Wyatt is an excellent athlete with a fiery first step and impressive fluidity and balance for quick direction changes. Some will prefer him over Davis because of his pass-rush upside. However, his skills might overlap too much with Christian Barmore’s as primarily a B-gap player.
– Travis Jones, UConn: Jones put himself in the top 50 conversation at the Senior Bowl. Although he isn’t as physically imposing as Davis, he has similar power-and-shed to absorb blockers and defeat single-blocks. Plus, his ability to collapse the pocket consistently flashes. I’m interested to see Jones’s ten-yard split, as his initial get-off was better than expected in Mobile.
– Logan Hall, Houston: As a potential 3-4 DE in New England’s system, Hall has great length and quickness to win at the snap. He wins on early downs as a five-technique, then bumps inside in pass-rush situations, showing typical Pats-like versatility. As a product of the AAC, Hall’s athletic profile will go a long way in determining where he goes in April.
– Phidarian Mathis, Alabama: With Barmore working out in New England, why not grab another IDL from Nick Saban’s defense? Mathis has similar traits to Barmore with first-step quickness and a nice arsenal of pass-rush moves while also possessing upper-body power to play the press-and-shed game. He’s not a true nose tackle but would give the Pats another 3-4 DE with every down potential.
EDGE DEFENDERS (ON-FIELD WORKOUTS: SATURDAY, 4-11 PM ET)
– The Pats have a deep group of on-ball linebackers on the roster, making EDGE a position of depth. However, it’s also arguably the position group with the most talent in this class.
– David Ojabo, Michigan: The Patriots love explosive edge rushers from Michigan, and Ojabo is a first-round talent who checks their boxes from a measurables standpoint (6-5/250 pounds). His pressure rate beyond the gaudy sack totals in 2021 (11) is only average, but Ojabo’s physical tools are worthy of a top 20 pick. He has excellent initial burst to turn the corner, length to dent the pocket or set the edge, and quickness for inside counters when tackles overset to his speed rush. He was late to football, so he’s just scratching the surface.
– Jermaine Johnson, Florida State: Johnson might be the best run defender in this class, including top prospects Aiden Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux. He uses all of his length to hold his ground and quickly processes blocking schemes. His speed-to-power and flexibility translate as a pocket pusher as well, where he’ll use long arms and stabs to soften the edge to collapse the pocket. There are a lot of Patriot-like traits with Johnson, who projects as an end of the first-round prospect.
– Travon Walker, UGA: Bill Belichick would love to plug a player with Walker’s versatility into his defensive front. The Georgia product’s long and thick frame allows him to do everything from rushing outside the tackle to kicking inside over the interior line in pass-rush packages. He can also drop into coverage and plays the run as a stout edge setter. He’s their type of EDGE. However, he’s going as high as the top 15 on some boards, and Walker’s stock could skyrocket if he tests well.
CORNERBACKS (ON-FIELD WORKOUTS: SUNDAY, 2-7 PM ET)
– Cornerback could become a significant need for the Patriots depending on J.C. Jackson’s free agency, and adding depth behind Jackson is also a priority this offseason.
– Trent McDuffie, Washington: The first of two Huskie CB prospects, McDuffie’s play speed jumps out at you immediately. He’s the perfect corner prospect to track a speedy wideout such as Jaylen Waddle or Tyreek Hill since he has a track background to go with excellent open-field tackling ability. He’s probably not a pure outside corner, but there are so many Hill look-alikes around the league now that McDuffie has huge value. I would imagine the Week 16 matchup against Buffalo would’ve been very different if McDuffie was on Isaiah McKenzie instead of Myles Bryant.
– Kyler Gordon, Washington: Although his play speed isn’t on McDuffie’s level, Gordon projects as an outside corner who still moves very well. His foot speed and hip fluidity allow him to stay attached to his man, and he also has a playmakers’ closing burst to the ball. Gordon gets a little too eager at times to make plays, but he’s really physical and strappy in man.
– Roger McCreary, Auburn: Those who follow the draft closely know already that McCreary measured in on the smaller side with 29-inch arms. As archaic as it sounds, his size profile likely removes him from the first-round conversation for most teams. He has first-round cover talent, though, especially as a press-man corner. His mirroring skills and route recognition are stellar in man. Plus, he held his own against top-flight competition in the SEC. A potential round two steal.
– Kaiir Elam, Florida: I want to put Elam in my second tier at cornerback, but he had some issues on tape with staying glued to receivers through the break point. He’s long, physical, and plays like an alpha with excellent ball skills. There’s a lot to like about his game and on-field demeanor. But long speed and change of direction to stick with all types of receivers is a question mark.
– Josh Jobe, Alabama: Jobe had his ups and downs at Alabama, drawing some difficult matchups. But he’s a physical, long press-man corner who beats receivers up at the line of scrimmage. The concern you have is how consistently he can stick with receivers downfield and stay in phase to make plays on the ball. His athletic testing will be interesting.
– Coby Bryant, Cincinnati: I have similar feelings about Bryant’s athletic profile as I do with Jobe. Bryant has good man coverage skills within the first 12 yards, plays with excellent ball skills in zone, and made several impressive plays on the ball. However, his long speed on vertical routes wasn’t up to par with the top prospects in this class. You can sometimes see the panic in Bryant’s technique against receivers with good burst off the line, as he’ll speed turn to get his hips upfield so he can get on his horse, leaving himself vulnerable underneath. I’m interested to see what he runs in the 40.
– Mario Goodrich, Clemson: The Patriots love defensive backs who can tackle, and Goodrich is arguably the best tackler in this class. The dude just loves contact. He’ll aggressively come downhill to play the run or a screen and come off his assignment to make the tackle on someone else’s man. In coverage, Goodrich crowds receivers at the line of scrimmage in press-man and cuts off angles downfield. He also has good length and route awareness, making it difficult for QBs to fit passes into zone windows. The knock on his game is long speed. He’s prone to get stacked on verticals, and once he’s beat, Goodrich struggles to get back in phase. If his timed speed reflects the speed concerns, he might make it in the NFL as a safety. If he times well, he projects as a starting outside corner.
SAFETY (ON-FIELD WORKOUTS: SUNDAY, 2-7 PM ET)
– The Patriots have a great safety tandem in Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips under contract, but Devin McCourty is a free agent. Drafting a successor to McCourty who can play deep safety could be a need.
– Daxton Hill, Michigan: Hill will go earlier than Pats fans want them to take a safety, but his coverage skills remind me a ton of a young DMac. Due to his tremendous coverage skills, some teams will project Hill as a corner or nickel. He has incredible mirror-and-match potential and closing burst to make insane plays on the ball. Although he can play corner, he can also play centerfield, translating his explosiveness to range over the top. If Hill can improve his recognition and feel at deep safety, he would be an elite center fielder who can also come down to play man coverage when needed. Hence the McCourty comparison.
– Lewis Cine, UGA: Cine is an aggressive downhill missile from his deep safety perch. I wish there were more reps of him playing as a true center fielder because he may be more of a split-safety zone player than a post safety with sideline-to-sideline range. But Cine made big-time plays in big moments.
– Kerby Joseph, Illinois: Joseph was an awesome study due to his range and leaping ability to make plays on the football. He has the best on-ball production out of this free safety class, projects as a core special teamer, and will likely put up a ridiculous 40 time.
– Bryan Cook, Cincinnati: Cook had some intriguing flashes as a post-safety for the Bearcats last season. He has a great feel for knowing where the deep threats are and keeping the top on the defense. The Cincinnati product also has the size and willingness to come downhill in the run game. Cook’s athletic testing is worth monitoring to see if his range on tape translates.