This year will certainly present new challenges to scouts everywhere. The NFL will be shaping up and preparing for a draft season with COVID-19 cutting into a lot of standard protocol.
In an offseason in which almost everything has to go right for the New England Patriots, facing more adversity through the whole player evaluation process will certainly require even more attention to detail than before. It will also place more emphasis on events like the 2021 Reese's Senior Bowl.
With other events like the NFL Combine bring cancelled, and the logistics of pro days also likely being tricky to organize, the Senior Bowl will be one of the fewer opportunities this year for coaches and scouts to get their eyes on players and see them in-person.
This year, the Carolina Panthers' and Miami Dolphins' coaching staffs will be taking on the duties of coaching the two teams, which is a huge advantage for both staffs. They will be getting a much more in-depth look at this crop of senior prospects. Especially for a team like the division-rival Dolphins, who have two first-round picks among a pile of draft capital within the first four rounds of the draft. Miami, the owners of the third overall pick for the Houston Texans, almost made the playoffs this last season and will now have a tremendous edge heading into this one.
While the Patriots will not have an edge like the Dolphins or Panthers, they will be in Mobile, Alabama to see this senior showcase. With this game oozing with plenty of talent, let's see some guys who New England could be watching from a distance on Jan. 30.
- Mac Jones
- Kyle Trask
- Kellen Mond
- Ian Book
For all those who watched the College Football Playoffs, you likely know that Alabama's Mac Jones is far and away the best quarterback prospect playing in this game. He's right in the midst of the top five quarterbacks that will all likely be picked around or even before the Patriots hear their name called at No. 15 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft
Jones will be a very interesting watch, as he fits the offense extremely well (he was built for a New England-type offense). However, some questions remain. Jones has shown flashes of being a strong decision-maker, however, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and his slew of first-round receivers made things easy on him at every turn. He appears to have all the tools in the shed, but can he start at the next level and lead a high-level offense? Justin Herbert answered a whole lot of questions in his Senior Bowl last year, and Jones will likely look to do the same this year.
READ MORE: Is Mac Jones the Answer for the Patriots?
Among the rest of the quarterback group, the only guy to heavily evaluate will be Florida's Kyle Trask. He's a player who could be a solid mid-round developmental prospect, along with fit the basic concepts and principles of the traditional Patriot offense.
Other than Trask, Texas A&M's Kellen Mond and Notre Dame's Ian Book intrigue with their physical abilities. They both could have some potential as a late-round camp body. However, they may simply have too many limitations to build off of. I would still watch these two, however. Key on Trask.
- Demetric Felton
- Trey Sermon
After sifting through the running back group, UCLA's Demetric Felton and Ohio State's Trey Sermon are guys who have been on my preliminary watch list for New England. Both are guys who could be available on Day 3 and provide value to a running back group with a lot of uncertainty at that moment. With both James White and Rex Burkhead likely entering free agency, and Sony Michel entering the final year of his rookie contract, bringing another guy into the fold at a low cost makes sense.
Sermon could be a runner a team strikes gold on in the later rounds, as he put together some pretty impressive games down the stretch for Ohio State as their lead back. Felton could be a guy who gets used as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Felton can play both as a running back and shift over into the slot, doing both well.
- Kadarius Toney
- Frank Darby
- Cornell Powell
- Racey McMath
- Dez Fitzpatrick
- D'Wayne Eskridge
- Austin Watkins Jr.
Starting off with some of the bigger names at receiver, Florida's Kadarius Toney is a guy who likely falls into the late first round, probably not past the Green Bay Packers or New Orleans Saints pick. Everyone just has to hope that the Kansas City Chiefs do not grab a guy like Toney, as all bets might be off at that point. Reason being, Toney (along with a good chunk of the rest of this receiving group) is a track star, who's athleticism combined with all other Chief receivers might require playing three deep safeties every play.
Besides Toney, the other receivers on this list might end up being good value picks starting in the mid-rounds, all the way to some undrafted gems (like a Jakobi Meyers find). As for the mid-rounders, Arizona State's Frank Darby, along with Clemson's Cornell Powell are good names to keep in mind. Especially Powell, after displaying ability to win consistently against press man coverage and strong route-running ability. Powell put on a show against Shaun Wade and Ohio State just a few weeks ago, and he could put on another one in Mobile. However, as for Darby, he's a physical, down the field threat, who's also a nuanced route-runner. Some may say that Powell could be described in a similar fashion. However, with Darby only appearing in two games this crazy season, a strong performance from him will be required.
As for the later round prospects, LSU's Racey McMath, Louisville's Dez Fitzpatrick, Western Michigan's D'Wayne Eskridge, and UAB's Austin Watkins Jr. all have intriguing skill sets. McMath, a size/speed guy running a 4.3 at 6-foot-3 could intrigue Bill Belichick, as he was a killer special teams member in college and could develop at receiver with more opportunities. Both Fitzpatrick and Watkins are the most prototypical of the group, boasting much of the same physicality and nuanced route-running like Powell or Darby, yet these receivers still play the game much differently than each other. Fitzpatrick is another guy who has run 4.3 before, while Watkins appears to be more of a 4.45 guy. Those two guys could have some high ceilings. Well, them including Eskridge, a speedster, a burner, who by all means will have some highlight plays in the Senior Bowl. He's drawn comparisons to Mecole Hardman so far.
All of them have some extremely encouraging tape.
- Tre' McKitty
- Hunter Long
Both Georgia's Tre' McKitty and Boston College's Hunter Long will have my eyes as potential mid-round tight end selections. Long and McKitty can both provide value in the passing game, along with some promise blocking. Both could really help the New England red zone offense and fit the mold of who the Patriots need at tight end. Long is a guy who could certainly have TE1 upside in the NFL.
- Spencer Brown
One guy who would make a ton of sense for New England would be Northern Iowa's Spencer Brown. This is a guy who could climb up into consideration for being the guy in the second round for the Patriots. A 6-foot-9, 321-pound monster that might just be able to take on that right tackle role that looms in the balance this offseason.
- Wyatt Hubert
- Marvin Wilson
- Marlon Tuipulotu
- Daelin Hayes
- Baron Browning
- Charles Snowden
Kansas State's Wyatt Hubert is one of the first names circled among the front seven. He's a pure pass-rusher that can be found in the middle rounds. Hubert, who projects as a defensive end, could also play some 3-4 outside linebacker. He could be another versatile piece with Chase Winovich and Josh Uche that together could wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
With New England undoubtably needing a run-stuffing, bus-sized nose tackle, they will have a hard time finding one in a very weak draft for defensive tackles. Although, Florida State's Marvin Wilson and USC's Marlon Tuipulotu could offer some of what the Patriots are looking for. While they do not exactly fit, New England could still have their eyes on them to some extent, especially Wilson.
As we inch more into the second level of the defense, Notre Dame's Daelin Hayes could be a developmental edge prospect that could eventually turn into a very, very good pass-rusher in this league. He's someone who has been hampered a little bit by injuries, however, has everything he needs to put it all together.
For more traditional inside linebackers, look at Ohio State's Baron Browning and Virginia's Charles Snowden. Browning could likely slide play some MIKE linebacker at the next level, and can make really strong tackles in the run game. Snowden would be another sure tackler, as much is not getting through his grasp as a 6-foot-7 lanky beast of a linebacker. However, unlike Browning, Snowden likely wouldn't project to the MIKE role. However, whoever figures out how to use this tall linebacker properly could be unlocking a disruptive menace who can fight the run well and knock down every ball in his zip code.
- Keith Taylor
The final guy to key in on will be Washington's Keith Taylor, who can play a plethora of positions on defense. For a team like the Patriots, who have recently placed a great deal of emphasis on versatility among their defensive players, taking Taylor would make sense. While he is very much a jack of all traits, yet somewhat a master of none, he showed enough promise in man coverage to merit a look into. A 6-foot-3 corner who can play inside, outside, safety, linebacker, and even has upside on special teams is always worth looking into.