It's that time of year when the bulk of the NFL world converges on Mobile, Alabama for the annual Senior Bowl. One-time Patriots scout Jim Nagy has been at the forefront of this event for several years now, which gives teams a great opportunity to see a diverse array of NFL Draft talent before the annual combine. Much like the Shrine Bowl, the Patriots also have a coaching presence in Mobile. Current Defensive Line coach DeMarcus Covington is serving as defensive coordinator for the 'American Team' under head coach and current Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.
Given that this is a different crop of players than those currently out in Vegas, I felt like taking the liberty to find guys who either fill a need for the Patriots in some capacity or that I find interesting as it relates to the draft as a whole. Mild spoiler, we have several offensive linemen here and even a punter! Here's who Patriots fans should keep in mind as we move closer to draft weekend.
Dee Winters, LB (TCU)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: 178 Games Watched: vs. Michigan (2022 Fiesta Bowl, CFP Semi-Finals), vs. Kansas (2022) Best Trait: Coverage/Speed
With Raekwon McMillian and Mack Wilson headed to the open market, linebacker once again is a need for New England. For your consideration, what about TCU’s Dee Winters? A guy who just screams Patriot when you look at the tape/resume. Served as a captain in 2022, range in coverage and as a blitzer against the run and pass, and elite football IQ. Winter’s performance against Michigan to send TCU to the Natty was genuinely one of the best single-player defensive performances I have ever seen. Big play after big play after big play after big play. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that they don’t win that game without him.
Naturally, Winters can get moved around a good bit due to his size, which also led to some missed tackles with the ground he lost. He missed some tackles elsewhere to boot, but I wouldn’t call this a grave concern. His range and football IQ are elite and can get him on a bulk of NFL teams. Although he may fall in the draft because he’s undersized much like Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean last year, I think Winters makes a ton of sense for the Patriots if Jabril Peppers walks. He’d be a perfect fit for that role.
Adam Korsak, P (Rutgers)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: N/A Games Watched: vs. Syracuse (2021) Best Trait (In the eyes of Bill Belichick): Went to Rutgers
Bill Belichick cohort and Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano tabbed Korsak as “the best punter I have ever coached.” That’s easy to see why given his resume. This year, the Australian native won the Ray Guy award as the nation's top punter, putting up 14 kicks of 50-plus, 32 kicks inside the 20-yard line, and only two touchbacks all year. His net average punt of 44 yards would have also ranked top five in the NFL this season. Additionally, Korsak’s three best single-season kicks went for 74, 77, and 79 yards. And again, HE WENT TO RUTGERS. Upset of the century if he isn’t in a Patriots uniform this spring/summer.
Nathaniel ‘Tank’ Dell, WR (Houston)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: 100 Games Watched: vs. SMU (2021), vs. Cincinnati (2021) Best Trait: Explosiveness
I’m a simple person, I see someone nicknamed Tank and I become intrigued right off the bat. Dell isn’t the biggest guy at 5’8 and 163 lbs, but he’s naturally explosive and showed that off in full on Tuesday out in Mobile. And most of what he showed off at the Senior Bowl showed up as a member of the Cougars as well. Route running proficiency, speed, separation, and the ability to line up at all three receiver spots, and in the backfield as well.
Dell’s best fit in New England would be that of his former Houston teammate Marcus Jones believe it or not. Not guarantee the Patriots draft him unless he slips if you ask me, but he could do some serious damage as a gadget player, not to mention as a legit wideout as well. Also worth noting is that despite some smaller hands, Dell is a great natural catcher, but doesn’t have a freaky catch radius as you could probably imagine. Still, a lot to like here though. Outside of the Patriots, I think he would be a weapon for the Chiefs depending on how this offseason goes for them.
Darnell Wright, OT (Tennessee)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: 57 Games Watched: vs. Alabama (2022, RT), vs Missouri (2021, LT) Best Trait: Pass Protection
If I had not seen it myself, I wouldn’t believe what Wright did against Will Anderson, who is my No. 1 player in this draft by the way. He was on an island against him for roughly 85 percent of that game, and I kid you not, had Anderson fully sinched in the Steiner Recliner™ (shoutout Scott Steiner) for the entire time. Has to be seen to be believed. Wright is an absolute force in the pass protection department, and more importantly, that translated on both ends of the line. In both the Bama and Mizzou games, Wright was generally inconsistent as a run blocker, but I believe coaching can iron that out. This is a guy who should absolutely be on Bill Belichick and Matt Groh’s radar.
Dawand Jones, OT (Ohio State)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: 32 Games Watched: vs. Notre Dame (2022), Senior Bowl Drills (2023) Best Trait: Wingspan
If you want to talk about an absolute specimen of an offensive lineman, Jones is your man. Not only does he stand at 6’8 and weigh 375 lbs, but his wingspan is also an all-time senior bowl record of 89.5 inches, roughly 7.5 feet. To put that in perspective, that is on level with the wild Australian Pelican on the low end.
Jones puts his size and power to good use on both run and pass downs. He had some good reps in that Notre Dame game against Isaiah Foskey as well, although he did create some pressure in that battle. Earlier yesterday, Jones was an absolute monster in one-on-one pass-rush drills. Not a single guy got the better of him on Tuesday. Not Foskey, not Andre Carter, nobody. He’s simply a freak athlete who can stonewall people simply because of his physical traits. That’s a great starting point for NFL teams to work with.
Christopher Smith II, S (Georgia)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: 40 Games Watched: vs. Tennessee (2022), Best Trait: Versatility
As far as your prototypical ‘free’ safety goes, Smith gives you a good amount of options to slot him in at. Georgia lined him up at single-high, two-deep, as well as at nickelback. He had a man rep one on one with Jalin Hyatt in off coverage but allowed him by on a pass that was fortunately sailed deep. Earlier in that game in the same situation though, Smith planted him on a short curl route for a minimal gain.
Meanwhile, in that SEC Title game, three plays stood out, one of which was a negative. A badly whiffed tackle on receiver Kayshon Boutte led to a big game-tying TD near the end of the first quarter. That very next drive, however, Smith laid the lumber on a receiver over the middle, leading to a circus interception that bounced off said receiver. Then in the fourth quarter, he read a deep shot like a book playing a two-deep look and intercepted an overthrown ball around the one-yard line. Not to mention the fact Smith returned a blocked field goal for a TD that game as well, as the LSU special teams were unaware of what was happening.
I still believe the Patriots' target for a Devin McCourty replacement is and still should be Jessie Bates, but Smith is far from a bad backup option. He has a good feel for the game, and outside of some tackling woes, he doesn’t have many glaring issues.
Zacch Pickens, IDL (South Carolina)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: 102 Games Watched: vs. Kentucky (2022) vs. Georgia (2021) Best Trait: Space Eating
Interior Defensive Line is a sneaky area where I think the Patriots could look to address this draft. Lawrence Guy isn’t getting younger and key depth piece Carl Davis is slated to hit the open market as it stands. As things stand now, Pickens could be a guy that makes sense to bring in to plug in a depth spot. What’s easily the most notable statistic for Pickens is pass breakups, because he has four in the last two seasons and three in 2022 alone. One was against Kentucky, where he dropped into coverage on a ball that could have been intercepted. I think you can live with the 3rd&8 PBU for the big fella though.
Against Georgia specifically, Pickens didn’t exactly stuff the statistic sheet, but there’s a logical reason for that, being Georgia consistently dedicating two offensive linemen to get him. Just given his frame alone, Pickens is a natural space-eater, but has some pash rush acumen, with 7.5 career sacks. But if Pickens is left one on one, he has some legit NFL caliber to wreak some havoc up front. Several reps both in his time at SC and on Tuesday at the Senior Bowl show that clear as day.
Kyu Blu Kelly, CB (Stanford)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: 50 Games Watched: vs. Arizona State (2021), vs. USC (2021 and 2022) Best Trait: Man-to-Man Coverage
As far as sticky man-to-man corners go, Kelly may be the best in this class. Last year against current Atlanta Falcon Drake London, he legitimately won all but like a half dozen snaps in what was a blowout victory. Kelly also had some good reps going up against Jordan Addison the next year as well, but not the degree of the former, more on that in a minute. Kelly plays with a great blend of awareness and athleticism on the outside, despite a lack of true top-end speed. Also, this is a given since he’s a Stanford guy, but the football IQ shows up often.
Now here’s the catch with Kelly, and it’s a big one. He’s not exactly the greatest tackler on the planet and it showed up in all three games. The good news is that this isn’t an effort or motor issue, because he’s fine in that department and everywhere else. Ball production could be another concern, but given that Kelly has a whopping 23 career PBUs. Assuming the tackling can get situated, he could be a hot commodity for anyone that needs a man corner.
Cody Mauch, OL (North Dakota State)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: 63 Games Watched: vs. Arizona (2022), vs. South Dakota State (2022) Best Trait: Tenacity
Cody Mauch is an AMAZING specimen. Just look at this man, they don't make many like this gentleman anymore. Not exactly a household name, Mauch has recently become one of the hottest small-school prospects in this draft class and it’s easy to see why. He plays with a certain amount of nastiness you love to see out of an offensive lineman. Mauch also has some range to his arsenal, having experience playing both tackle spots as well as inside despite standing at 6’6. Additionally, despite playing six years at North Dakota State, Mauch only just turned 24 years old. Definitely has some mileage on him, but better than him being like Brandon Weeden coming into the league at 28. I could envision a scenario where the Patriots trade down from 14, and potentially get Mauch in the 20-30 range. On a side note to close things out since he's not in any of these pre combine events, Hunter Luepke no matter what.