Patriots' Ones to Watch at the 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl
It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks for the New England Patriots. The large majority of the coaching staff is in Las Vegas in prep for the Shrine Bowl, as they are coaching the ‘West’ team. While defensive assistant DeMarcus Covington was selected to participate in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. This is a fantastic opportunity to get a leg up in the draft cycle, in two events that eventual Patriots participated in before being drafted. Just last year, Tyquan Thornton, Jack Jones, and Pierre Strong all took part in the Shrine Bowl before becoming Patriots that April.
This Shrine Bowl is also an excellent opportunity for assistant coaches, specifically from the Patriots and Falcons, to get the opportunity to have a brief promotion. Bill Belichick, Jerod Mayo, and Bill O’Brien will all be taking a step back, with firstly, Troy Brown stepping in as the head coach of the ‘West’ team. His co-wideouts coach Ross Douglass will get the opportunity to serve as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. While the defensive coordinator role will be split between Brian Belichick and Mike Peligrino.
More importantly, the Patriots are going to be working directly with, and against, players who could very well end up in Foxborough this spring. Between both squads, here is who I’d keep an eye out for, from both a 'Potential Patriot Target' standpoint, or just in general.
East Team (Coached by Atlanta Falcons Staff)
Carter Warren, OT (Pitt)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: 124 Games Watched: vs. Western Michigan (2021) and vs. Clemson (2021) Best Trait: Hand Power
Warren is a behemoth, listed as 6’5 and 323 lbs, but you’d never know based on how he moves. Guys of that size who are also that agile don’t come by often, and even fewer have the power in their hands that Warren does. Another positive is that he can play both tackle spots, and even did so in both of the watched games. Warren also saw a good deal of Myles Murphy, a near lock to be selected top 10 in this year's draft, in that Clemson game, and did a solid job in pass pro. The concerns with Warren are that he just recently turned 24, and missed all but four games this year with an undisclosed injury. A good week should do wonders for his stock moving forward.
Ochaun Mathis, IDL (Nebraska by way of TCU)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: 172 Games Watched: vs. Northwestern (2022) and vs. Kansas State (2021) Best Trait: Speed/Explosiveness
Although being listed as an interior defender on the east team roster, Mathis has earned his keep off the edge in his five years in college. After amassing 15.5 sacks in four years at TCU, Mathis transferred to Nebraska where he picked up 3.5 sacks and a career-high 48 tackles. Not exactly a pure power rusher by any means, but his speed and burst off the edge jumped out on tape. Although I’d echo the sentiment of Kyle Crabbs, in that TCU didn’t use him to his full potential, not letting him attack quarterbacks as much as he should have been. Additionally, his run defense capabilities were limited, as Mathis could get stonewalled or moved laterally. If the Falcons staff does use him on the interior, I will be intrigued to see how that goes.
AT Perry, WR, WR (Wake Forrest)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: 335 Games Watched: vs. Clemson (2021 and 2022) and vs. Vanderbilt (2022) Best Trait: Size
Perry is the first player here who falls into the category of 'Might not be a Patriots target but has something to prove at the Shrine Bowl. Despite measuring two inches shorter than expected (6'3), Perry has physical tools that the team can gravitate toward. However, his low Draft Network ranking isn’t unjustified. Perry’s release package didn’t get shown off much due to extreme amounts of off-coverage, but he didn’t find a consistent amount of success on moves to work his way inside his man. Working through contact was also an issue for Perry. One play in particular against Clemson in ’21 where he stumbled for five yards after contact jumped out, on a play that led to a sack.
Where Perry excels is in finding soft spots in coverage in the short/intermediate game, as well as downfield with his speed. He naturally can draw DPI flags, but Perry is a bit grabby himself, which led to an OPI call in the ’21 Clemson game, as well as a missed call in the Vanderbilt game. This also jumped out, but Perry didn’t wear gloves in that latter tilt, but picked up five catches for 144 yards and a score. Again, this is a guy with some elite physical tools, and a good week in Vegas can only help him.
Khalef Hailassie, CB (Western Kentucky by way of Oregon)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: N/A Games Watched: vs. UTSA (2021) and vs. Auburn (Partial watch, 2022) Best Trait: Size
A position the Patriots should be all over in the coming months is cornerback. More specifically cornerbacks with the size to match up with some bigger outside receivers, and Hailassie is someone who potentially fits that bill. After spending two years with not much fanfare at Oregon, he transferred to WKU, picking up four total picks and a whopping 25 pass breakups in two seasons. Hailassie has the twitch your looking for in a corner and has a good understanding of what’s happening in front of him. Worth noting that he gave up two touchdowns on an island in the UTSA game, but outside of that he looked the part. Hailassie also has a tendency to give up a bit too much room in off-man but has some good closing speed to make up for it.
Mehki Garner, CB (LSU by way of Louisiana-Lafayette)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: N/A (Was 247 but that placement is outdated I believe) Games Watched: vs. Georgia (2022 SEC Championship), Alabama (2022), Texas (2021) Best Trait: Physicality
LSU has been a defensive back factory forever it feels like. Patrick Peterson, Ty Mathieu, Jalen Mills, Tre’Davious White, and most recently Derek Stingley. Not on the level of these guys, but Garner, like Hailassie, fits a need for the Patriots with his blend of size, versatility, and physicality. Joining Billy Naiper at Lafayette after a year in JUCO, Garner was a big-time corner in the group of five. So much so, that the only higher-graded Go5 corner from 2020-2021, was Sauce Gardner, you may have heard of him by now.
Before Garner left the SEC Championship game, his talent was on full display. He gave up just one catch in man coverage to Ladd McConkey and was jamming receivers at the line/going with receivers step for step with consistency. The other LSU game I saw, against Alabama, was equally as good, apart from one play. Peaking into the backfield on a scramble drill with two other defensive backs, Garner and co allowed Isaiah Bond and Ja’Corey Brooks, to slip away, with the latter scoring a go-ahead score with under five minutes to go. On the whole, though, there’s a lot to like about the LSU product. His physicality, especially inside the 20, is palpable, and with a good showing in Vegas, Garner could pole-vault him into being a potential day-two pick, maybe even higher.
West Team (Coached by New England Patriots Staff)
Zay Flowers, WR (Boston College)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: 49 Games Watched: vs. Syracuse (2022), vs. Rutgers (2022), vs. Duke (2020) Best Trait: Playmaking
Although I have family ties to Boston University (their hockey program ended the Cold War in 1980, many forget this), BC’s Zay Flowers is as good as any prospect going into this year’s draft. His call to stick at Chestnut Hill for one more year was a shocker at the time, but that may lead to him being a top-30 pick this April. I will also say this, there are rather reputable NFL/Draft people, Brett Koleman most notably among them, who have comped Flowers to Antonio Brown (from an on-field perspective). While I wouldn’t completely go that far, you can definitely see some similarities between the two. Deep ball tracking, electricity with the ball in his hands, route running, and size/build are areas where the two overlap.
A few of the plays Flowers made in the 2020 Duke game were just flat-out absurd as well. Specifically his 61-yard touchdown where put his corner on skates running a post route to gain no less than 20 yards of separation at the top of the break. Just downright silly stuff. Flowers also can play both out and inside, not to mention out of the backfield on jet sweeps or wheel routes. If you like a receiver that can simply get the job done and move the sticks in a variety of ways, Flowers is your guy. Been a fan of his for a long while now, and I wouldn't be upset in the slightest if the Patriots give him a call in April, should they not succeed in some form of trade.
Mohamed Ibrahim, RB (Minnesota)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: N/A Games Watched: vs. Ohio State (2021), vs. Michigan State (2022), vs. Illinois (2022) Best Trait: Vision/Short Yardage Burst
There isn’t a more intriguing running back prospect in 2023 than Ibrahim. 30 carries, 162 yards, and two scores into the 2021 season, a torn Achilles tendon in Minnesota’s season opener against Ohio State put him on the sideline. The good news for Ibrahim is that he put up his most productive season as a fifth-year senior, amassing over 1600 yards on 320 carries. But how much will teams hold his injury and age (25) against him?
Ibrahim is a back who does a good job finding the open lane, and if not, does a good job of just getting some yards. Ibrahim won't win you any footraces for a house call, but he has some big play ability on occasion. And although he isn’t the most proficient receiving threat, he’s shown that he is good in pass protection, which should earn him some fans in the pro ranks. As will the fact that he has never fumbled in his five years at Minnesota.
Trey Dean, S (Florida)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: 276 (Unclear if ranking is recent or not) Games Watched: vs. Georgia (2022), vs. Tennessee (2022), vs. Utah (2022) Best Trait: Versatility
The Patriots' relationship with Florida prospects over the last 15 years has been…..a relationship. Regardless, they’ll get the chance at the Shrine Bowl with an intriguing safety prospect in Dean, a highly versatile defensive back. Recruited to Florida as a cornerback, he since converted to safety. In that Georgia game, he saw snaps against both Darnell Washington and Brock Bowers and gave up just one catch in coverage against the two all game. A 28-yard gain on a free play (offsides) to Bowers. Very impressive showing against arguably the two best tight ends in the nation.
Now, a common critique I saw before diving into some tape is that Dean has some issues peaking into the backfield and that he can bite on double moves in coverage. That showed up a few of times in the Tennessee game specifically. Two of those ended up leading to some badly busted coverages, which felt attributed to Dean. Both of those issues feel fixable, but those were glaring. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Patriots’ staff tries to use him as a tight-end eraser next week mostly, but he has some legit range as a defender. You can’t teach Dean’s size (6’3) and natural instincts for the game.
Habakkuk Baldonado, EDGE (Pitt)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: 247 Games Watched: vs. Tennessee (2021), vs. Wake Forrest (2021) Best Trait: Raw Upside
Baldonado is a lock for the First-Team All-Name squad for this year’s draft, but he is a genuinely fascinating edge rush prospect. Originally hailing from ROME, ITALY, Baldonado spent three years playing high school football there, before coming to America for his final year before college. In Baldonado’s four seasons and 36 games at Pitt, he picked up 15 career sacks (nine in 2021), and 98 tackles, despite playing only two games in 2020 via injury.
On tape, you see flashes with Baldonado as a four-man front pass rusher but given that he has just five years of experience with the game in the states, he still has a ton of work to do. But you can see the upside with a kid who is just shy of 6'4 and 260 lbs. He’s an elite athlete with prior backgrounds in MMA and soccer when he was younger. I could absolutely see a team like the Jets, who almost exclusively run four-man fronts, bring him on board and develop him behind some elite linemen. But the Patriots are getting an up-close look at him next week first.
Ricky Stromberg, C (Arkansas)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: N/A Games Watched: vs. Texas A&M (2022), vs. Alabama (2022) Best Trait: Tenacity, Run Game Prowess
As it relates to New England, center isn’t a pressing need right now, but it’s never a bad idea to do your due diligence on the offensive line. Stromberg is entering the draft after receiving First-Team All-SEC honors, on top of getting Second-Team honors the year before. He’s an elite run-blocking center, who can create holes by sheer force. This isn’t to say he’s a bad run blocker by any stretch, far from it, but the run blocking jumped out. My only concern is that I don’t know how his lateral movement on pull blocks is going to translate to the NFL. Stromberg allowed a sack on ‘Bama edge rusher Dallas Turner because he couldn’t get to him in time as an example. Outside of that play, I had Stromberg down for only a few pressures in those two games.
Luke Schoonmaker, TE (Michigan)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: N/A Games Watched: vs. Ohio State (2022), vs. Indiana (2022) Best Trait: Hands (Blocking and Receiving)
Tight End falls largely under the same umbrella as center for New England, but a position shuffle this offseason is possible. Schoonmaker reminds me a bit of another Big 10 tight end that I scouted last year, Ohio State alumn and current New York Jet Jeremy Ruckert. Both have a similar build and are used similarly, although I feel Schoonmaker is a definitively better pass catcher at this stage than the former Buckeye. In Michigan’s run-heavy 2022 offensive attack, the Connecticut native hauled in 35 completions for 419 yards and three scores, all career highs with the 35 catches leading the team excluding Ronnie Bell. Came away impressed with his route running all things as well considered.
Schoonmaker is also a solid blocker and has little issue working over defensive backs, and occasionally linebackers and edge guys. There is one note here, although Schoonmaker is in Las Vegas for the Shrine Bowl, he will not be suiting up due to an AC Joint injury suffered in the College Football Playoffs. This is still an opportunity for him to get in front of at least one NFL team as he tries to heal up in time for the combine. If a tight end shuffle is coming at 1 Patriot Place, Schoonmaker could make sense down the road this year.
Dallas Daniels, WR (Jackson State by way of Western Illinois)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: N/A Games Watched: vs. Florida A&M (2022), vs. Alabama State (2022), vs. E. Washington (2021) Best Trait: Route Running/YAC Ability
When Deion Sanders says someone is an NFL-caliber receiver, I’m inclined to believe him. The tape shows that Daniels is a route-running technician who simply finds ways to get open. The 5'10 176 lb wideout in his lone season at Jackson State put up career-high numbers in every category. He was a sure target for Shedeur Sanders (very excited to see him in Colorado this fall by the way, has an excellent deep ball), hauling in 61 receptions for 657 yards and six touchdowns.
A couple of other things that jump with Daniels, he has a pretty good understanding of coverages and finding soft spots to create some plays. Additionally, he is very shifty and hard to bring down in short-yardage situations. And while he isn’t the fastest receiver ever, his ability to separate as it gives him enough opportunity to make plays. Daniels also is a solid blocker as a receiver, which I know the Patriots will like in the coming days.
Jaxson Kirkland, OT/OG (Washington)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: 247 Games Watched: vs. Michigan (2022, LT), vs. Oregon (2022, LG) Best Trait: Versatility (Played LT, LG, and RG. More impressed with interior tape. Received First-Team All-Pac 12 honors in 2022)
Myles Brooks, CB (Louisiana Tech by way of Steven F. Austin)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: N/A Games Watched: vs. Clemson (2022), vs. Missouri (2022) Best Trait: Man-to-Man Coverage (6’0 and 201 lbs. Received Second-Team All-Conference-USA honors in 2022)
Connor Galvin, OT (Baylor)
Draft Network Big Board Ranking: #347 Games Watched: vs. Oklahoma (2021), vs. BYU (2022) Best Trait: Size (6’6 and 293 pounds. Started at LT his final three seasons and received First-Team All-Big XII honors in 2022)
Main Image via Getty Images