LONG SHOT: Bentley looks like best bet for Patriots Day 3 choices

LONG SHOT: Bentley looks like best bet for Patriots Day 3 choices

Each day, following Patriots training camp practice, we'll highlight one intriguing "long shot" to make the roster. What might that player bring to the table for Bill Belichick's club? Who's he competing with for a spot? And what does he have to do to make the club? 

FOXBORO -- Am I really allowed to call a player a "long shot" if I included him on my initial 53-man roster projection? 

Sure. We know there were draft rooms where Ja'Whuan Bentley's odds of getting selected were worse than long. He was off at least one board of a linebacker-needy club because -- listed at 260 pounds by Purdue -- he wasn't considered athletic enough for that team's scheme. 

We also know the Patriots have been a little reluctant to draft in the fifth round, where Bentley was taken, so the recent history of fifth-rounders making the Patriots isn't all that extensive. Joe Cardona (2015) was the team's first fifth-round pick since 2011, when Marcus Cannon was selected. 

Still, eight of the 14 players Bill Belichick has taken in the fifth round since joining the Patriots have played in more than 10 games. That's a solid hit rate for that round. Maybe Bentley will be No. 9. 

He was one of the team's top defenders in the preseason opener last week, finishing with six tackles -- including two for a loss. On Sunday, the team's first practice since the preseason opener, Bentley saw some time in a base defense with regulars Dont'a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy. 

A three-time captain at Purdue, Bentley also flashed some leadership instincts against Washington, relaying signals from the sidelines and helping teammates get aligned pre-snap. 

Bentley is a self-described "thumper" and not necessarily known for his athleticism coming out of college. If that means he may not get much of a crack in the kicking game, then he'll have to show up with his physicality and football IQ. 

Bentley joined Hightower, Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Marquis Flowers, Nicholas Grigsby and Brandon King as the linebackers in our first roster projection, but he could end up competing for one spot with Roberts, another hard-hitter in the middle of the Patriots defense. 


2020 NFL Pro Bowl live stream: Watch Skills Showdown online

2020 NFL Pro Bowl live stream: Watch Skills Showdown online

New England Patriots fans haven't had much reason to watch the NFL Pro Bowl in recent seasons, but 2020 is different.

Patriots players haven't participated in the Pro Bowl in each of the last three years because they were playing in the Super Bowl and thus not allowed to take part in the league's version of an All-Star Game.

The Patriots were eliminated from the AFC playoffs on Wild Card Weekend, giving the team's three Pro Bowl selections (cornerback Stephon Gilmore, linebacker Dont'a Hightower and special teams ace Matthew Slater) the opportunity to participate in this season's game. Hightower was ruled out due to injury, but Gilmore and Slater are expected to play.

Gilmore also will feature in Thursday night's 2020 Pro Bowl Skills Showdown. The event is basically football's version of NBA Saturday night, which includes the Skills Challenge, the Slam Dunk Contest and 3-Point Shootout.

Here's the information you need to watch Gilmore compete in the Pro Bowl Skills Showdown.

When: Thursday, Jan. 23 at 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live stream: WatchESPN

Gilmore reveals his Chiefs-49ers Super Bowl prediction

Could this former Patriots receiver's son be the next Patriots receiver?

Could this former Patriots receiver's son be the next Patriots receiver?

One way to get a feel for just how long Bill Belichick has been head coach in New England? Players who were kicking around the league in the early portion of Belichick's Patriots tenure have children Belichick has the opportunity to draft in April. 

Last week we touched on the fact that Randy Moss has a son entering the NFL Draft as a tight end out of LSU. Thaddeus Moss could end up being a mid-to-late round option for a team in need of a tight end. 

This week? Another former Patriots receiver has a son who's putting on a show in Mobile, Ala. for this week's Senior Bowl. 

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Belichick never had a chance to coach Shawn Jefferson. The longtime NFL wideout with over 7,000 career receiving yards left the Patriots via free agency for the Falcons after four years in New England.

His first year with Atlanta, 2000, was Belichick's first as head coach of the Patriots. (The two did overlap in Foxboro in 1996, when Belichick coached defensive backs under Bill Parcells.)

But might Jefferson's son end up a Patriots draft target?

Van Jefferson, from the University of Florida, has been one of the most impressive performers at his position at this year's Senior Bowl. The week's practices — thoroughly covered and broadcast by NFL Media these days — has allowed Jefferson to put his nuanced skills on display against some of the best defensive backs in the country. 

After a strong showing on Tuesday in the week's first practice, Jefferson was one of the best pass-catchers on the field again Wednesday.

Despite lacking the athleticism of some of the others at his position who will be considered first-rounders this year — it's thought to be an incredibly deep class at receiver — Jefferson has made plays this week both down the field and at the intermediate level by understanding leverage and making contested catches.

"He is a route technician on a level that has the corners tripping over themselves," The Athletic's Dane Brugler wrote this week. "And it is tough to blame them because they haven’t faced many players at the college level with Jefferson’s detailed patterns. Instead of pure speed, he relies on pace, tempo and purpose, making every step matter and tying defenders in knots."

Jefferson spent three years at Ole Miss before transferring to Florida. The 6-foot-1, 197-pounder finished his collegiate career with 2,159 yards and 16 touchdowns. He caught 49 passes for 657 yards and six scores in his final season.

Belichick and his coaching staff are in Mobile for college football's premier postseason all-star game. Perhaps what they see from the Florida wideout with some Patriots connections will push them to consider him on draft weekend to bolster a receiving corps that needed all the help it could get this season.

Or not. Jefferson's father is currently assistant head coach and receivers coach for the Jets.