Patriots fans could pay attention to one event a year and know an average of 3.5 selections by Bill Belichick in each draft class.
Since 2008, the Pats have drafted at least one participant in the Senior Bowl every year for a total of 49 draftees in that span, including top picks Mac Jones and Kyle Dugger in their last two draft classes.
Along with New England’s draft history, it’s also worth noting that the Senior Bowl’s executive director, Jim Nagy, is a former Patriots scout who won two Super Bowls with the club.
The showcase event will take place in Mobile, Alabama this week, with practices starting on Tuesday and the 2022 Senior Bowl taking place on Saturday, February 5, at 2:30 pm ET.
With the Patriots undoubtedly having eyes on Mobile this week, here’s a prospect watch list:
(Note: unfortunately, three of our favorite Pats targets weren’t present for the Senior Bowl weigh ins on Monday, signaling they may not participate this week. Those prospects are Devin Lloyd, Jahan Dotson, and Quay Walker)
LB Devin Lloyd, Utah (round projection: top 20 pick)
Starting with the consensus LB1, there are plenty of linebacker prospects to watch out for in Mobile this week. Although we aren’t as high on Lloyd as others, he’s a first-round talent with freakish flashes of explosiveness, coverage skills, and pass-rush ability. When Lloyd is pointed in the right direction, he’s a heat-seeking missile. In coverage, he has good reactive athleticism and range in his zone drops. As a converted safety, he looks very comfortable in coverage and adds more value on passing downs with his pass-rush traits as an off-ball blitzer or on-ball edge rusher. However, as a run defender, his off-ball processing is a work in progress, and he wasn’t the most willing to take on blockers. When defenses pulled blockers in his direction, Lloyd was content with letting himself get engulfed by the block or trying to slip around the blocker rather than taking him head-on. The Utah product has a bright future but might be a better fit in a zone-heavy scheme that allows him to fly around.
CB Roger McCreary, Auburn (round projection: 1-2nd round)
The Patriots love strappy man coverage corners with experience against top competition, and McCreary fits the bill. However, as crazy as it may sound, his 29-inch arms will probably take him off many teams’ boards as a first-round prospect. Still, McCreary went up against the heavy-weight receivers in the SEC and fared well. In particular, his tape against John Metchie in the Iron Bowl was impressive for most of the game, where McCreary showed off his mirroring skills in press-man and competed with Metchie for four-plus quarters. Due to his smaller stature, McCreary might be a slot corner, or, at the very least, will cover the smaller Z receivers. Regardless, his elite man coverage traits will have him on the Pats’ radar as a potential first-round target.
OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa (round projection: first round)
First-round left tackle prospect Trevor Penning is a name to know at the Senior Bowl this week for the #Patriots. Great size/length (6-7, 320) and check out the balance/feet/posture on the first clip. Second clip is upper-body/grip strength. Lot to like. pic.twitter.com/opExKv3XV1
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) January 31, 2022
Penning the type of prospect you go to Mobile to scout as an FCS product. After Northern Iowa teammate Spencer Brown was a top 100 selection a year ago, the Panthers have another one at left tackle. Penning is smooth, long, has excellent posture in his pass sets, and has the upper-body strength to latch on and maul defenders. But what impresses me the most is his balance and foot speed in his lateral slides to mirror rushers in pass protection (see above). Although he comes from the FCS level, Penning moves like a first-round left tackle. He’ll need to answer some questions about the level of competition this week, but if he passes the test, he’ll be on our radar as a first-round Pats target.
OT Darian Kinnard, Kentucky (round projection: first round)
With their excellent track record developing big tackles, Kinnard should want to land with the Patriots. The 6-5, 345-pound Kentucky right tackle is an absolute mauler with incredible playing strength and power at the point of attack. He’s a perfect fit in New England’s power run scheme and moves well laterally for a player of his size. But offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo will be on Kinnard’s case to coach some bad habits out of his game. Mainly, Kinnard’s hand technique needs work. He is often late to throw his punch, exposes his chest with wide hands, and stops his feet when he throws his punch, all leading to losses in his pass sets. I’d also bet that the Pats coaches will want him to finish reps in pass protection more regularly. Although his pass sets need to be reworked, the physical traits are all there.
WR Jahan Dotson, Penn State (round projection: first round)
If the #Patriots draft Jahan Dotson, I'd sell you on it with this one rep (bottom of the screen). His press releases were a bit inconsistent in the games I saw. But the tools are definitely there. My goodness. His QB play was also…not great. pic.twitter.com/hEcjmEVwva
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) January 24, 2022
There are certain prospects that you can tell are explosive movers, and Dotson is one of them. He has a sprinter’s lower half, which translates to reps where he’ll blow by defenders with his explosiveness off the line. Although he can win outside as a deep threat, we like Dotson for the Pats in more of a Z role, where he can play off the line and get free releases out of the slot or bunch/stack alignments. Dotson had some issues against press-man and needs to develop his upper-body strength into a more effective release package, so a true X role might not be the best thing. However, he can create matchup problems by using deep crossers as a foundational route. Although he’s more downfield receiver than a shifty slot, Dotson in a Tyreek Hill-type role would do wonders for the Pats offense.
OT Daniel Faalele, Minnesota (round projection: second round)
Faalele might be the most popular player at the Senior Bowl this year due to his huge frame. We are talking Trent Brown big here at 6-8, 381 pounds. As one might expect at that size, Faalele is an elite run blocker. His pad level, ability to stay attached to defenders once he makes contact, and foot speed are impressive for his size. He sometimes gets caught with stagnant feet when he’s trying to mirror inside rush moves and struggles at times with sudden changes of direction. But if he can play more under control when rushers run the arc on him, he will be a starting tackle in the NFL. The Pats had so much success with Brown, and it feels like Faalele would be the same kind of player.
LB Darrian Beavers, Cincinnati (round projection: second round)
Cincinnati LB Darrien Beavers is a need to know name for #Patriots fans:
– Senior Bowl ✅
– Size+play strength (6-4/252) ✅
– Good instincts+tackling vs. run
– Pass rush+zone coverage ✅
Hard to find a prospect that checks more boxes for a Belichick-style linebacker. pic.twitter.com/xi4MKQCURq
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) January 31, 2022
If you could build a linebacker prospect in a lab for Bill Belichick’s defense, he would look like the Butkus Award finalist in the middle of Cincinnati’s defense. Beavers is 6-4, 255 pounds, and plays a physical brand of football. He can sift through the trash off the line or take on lead blockers with a physical pop. In passing situations, the Bearcats would either insert him into the rush as an off-ball blitzer or edge rusher, then occasionally drop him into low-stress zones. Although he’s not the new age linebacker Pats fans might want, Beavers has good short-area explosiveness and moves well for his size. He’s not going to be Fred Warner in coverage or make rangy sideline-to-sideline plays. But he’ll destroy blocks and has impressive recognition skills in the box. Plus, he had no issues tackling Alabama quarterback Bryce Young in space and hanging with the speed of Alabama’s offense in general. Beavers is what a Belichick-style linebacker should look like in 2022.
LB Chad Muma, Wyoming (round projection: second round)
Wyoming LB Chad Muma (#48) is one of my early draft crushes for the #Patriots. Good size (6-3/245), play speed, awareness+recognition vs. run and pass.
Click, close, and move laterally vs run, plays the flat in zone, runs with the RB on the wheel, robots underneath the crosser. pic.twitter.com/tQGFkJSs7s
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) January 31, 2022
Muma is one of my early-draft crushes, as I thoroughly enjoyed watching him play linebacker in the Wyoming defense. At 6-3, 245 pounds, Muma has plenty of size and an excellent feel to play off the line. He clicks into blocking schemes instantly, can come downhill or move laterally to meet ball carriers, is rarely fooled by misdirection or false keys, and has above-average play speed and recognition in coverage. Muma can work through a puller to the ball just as efficiently as he can drop in coverage with a running back on a wheel route. If the Pats are looking for a blend of their old-school thumpers and new-school athleticism, Muma is the guy.
WR Jalen Tolbert, South Alabama (round projection: third round)
With only one year remaining on Nelson Agholor’s deal, the Patriots might be in the market for an outside/X receiver with good size and vertical speed. Tolbert is a nuanced vertical route-runner who has flashy double-moves on tape where he’s easily taking the top of the defense. Plus, at 6-3, he has good size to get off the line of scrimmage and an excellent catch radius. As a former outfielder in baseball, Tolbert’s ability to track the deep ball also stands out. Tolbert should operate on the vertical route tree in the NFL, meaning his non-deep ball targets will come on comeback/stop routes or deep intermediate routes off his vertical stems, which could make him a fit in New England’s X receiver role.
CB Coby Bryant, Cincinnati (round projection: third round)
While his teammate gets most of the hype, Bryant was the corner on the other side of potential top-ten pick Ahman Gardner, and he can play too. Bryant has excellent press-man technique and a great feel for route combinations in zone coverage. He has loose hips to mirror and match routes while also being willing to take on ball carriers against the run. Obviously, the Patriots are searching for man coverage corners, and Bryant checks that box. But it’s his versatility to play in cover-three or cover-two that intrigues us the most. Bryant can play all three of the Pats’ go-to coverage at a high level, and, again, he’s a day two value while Gardner is going top ten. Bryant is an intriguing prospect.
LB Quay Walker, Georgia (round projection: third round)
Patriots fans will love what I’m about to write about Walker, an athletic linebacker with endless range at 6-3, 240-plus pounds. He has great length and enough power in his hands to press blockers, but his play speed and coverage ability are where he flashes the most. Since the Georgia defense was loaded during his time in Athens, Walker wasn’t a regular contributor until this season. But, my goodness, can this player run and hit. Walker gives off some Jamie Collins vibes.
LB Channing Tindall, Georgia (round projection: third round)
Sticking with the Georgia defense, Tindall is smaller than Walker but plays with the same ferocious speed. His short-area burst allows him to navigate inside, and his closing speed can only be described as elite. Although Walker is more freakish, Tindall might have better instincts and feel for blocking schemes against the run. However, his read and react skills aren’t as polished in coverage, where he’s slow to read play-action and get to his landmarks in his zone drops at times. Tindall’s coverage instincts need grooming, but he’ll add immediate value on passing downs as a blitzer. Ultimately, grabbing anyone from the Bulldogs defense is a good idea, and the arrow is pointing upward on Tindall’s development.
CB Tariq Woolen, UTSA (round projection: 4-5th round)
Getting into day three, at least currently, because Woolen might skyrocket up the draft board with a strong week in Mobile. A converted wide receiver, Woolen has insane length (33-plus inch arms) and excellent movement skills to stay sticky in coverage. His large frame allows him to play a physical brand of man coverage, but his length and ball skills also give him immense potential in zone schemes. With only two years at cornerback, Woolen has already shown improvements in his footwork, uses his length to feel out routes, and has excellent speed to stick with wideouts downfield. Woolen is an athletic freak, and with more grooming at the position, he has one of the highest ceilings in this year’s cornerback class.
LB Troy Andersen, Montana State (round projection: 5-6th round)
Andersen is another small-school prospect who could use the Senior Bowl to climb up the board. He’s got great length (6-4) and size (242 pounds) for a stack-and-shed linebacker prospect. There’s enough straight-line speed for some rangy plays on tape, and Andersen isn’t a liability in coverage, where he’ll use his length to get into passing lanes and deter quarterbacks from throwing near his zones. The concerns with Andersen are with hip tightness in space and the occasional poor pursuit angle against the run. He may be more physically limited than he let on at Montana State, but we’ll see how well he moves in Mobile.