Senior Bowl

Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Bill Belichick was there. Josh McDaniels was there. The Patriots had a large contingent down in Mobile, Ala. for this week's Senior Bowl practices (the game will air Saturday on NFL Network at 2:30 p.m.), which should come as no surprise.

Just look at how the Patriots have drafted of late. 

In 2019, they selected Jarrett Stidham, Byron Cowart and Jake Bailey -- all of whom participated in the Senior Bowl. They also signed undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers, who played in the game. 

In 2018, they grabbed Isaiah Wynn in the first round, Duke Dawson, Ja'Whaun Bentley and Braxton Berrios after they'd competed in the Senior Bowl.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Three of their four draft picks from 2017, plus two undrafted rookies, were in the Senior Bowl. 

From 2013-16, they brought aboard 20 Senior Bowl participants as rookies.

"The great thing about the Senior Bowl is that you're seeing some of the best players," Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said last spring. 

"There have actually been some underclassmen who have been incorporated into that mix. So you're seeing them against good competition and it's a different dynamic or different situation that they've been placed in. You're kind of taking them out of their environment that they've been in and kind of giving them something new and seeing how they handle it against good people."

The small-school players -- or the players who are asked to do something they didn't do much as collegians -- are the ones who have an opportunity to really land on radars during Senior Bowl work. For the Patriots, who constantly harp on the benefit of having seen players work against great competition on a regular basis when they hail from an SEC program, seeing some of the best in the country work against one another matters.

"It’s one thing if they do it against a lower-level team," Caserio said back in 2016, when asked about the Senior Bowl. "I mean, look, not all teams are created equal. Not all conferences are created equal. That’s just a fact. We can’t control that. So when you can see them actually play against really good players or good players that are at a comparable level of competition that they’re going to see every Sunday, that has to be a part of [the evaluation], no question."

The next year, the Patriots took two Senior Bowlers from smaller programs: Youngstown State's Derek Rivers and Troy's Antonio Garcia. 

"Where [the Senior Bowl] probably helps a little bit is players on a lower level that maybe haven’t competed against the same level of competition," Caserio said back in 2017. "Obviously, they’re making a big jump. . . Garcia was down there. That’s going to be a big jump in competition because this is what they’re going to be playing against. 

"With all due respect to whatever conference Youngstown State is in, there’s not a lot of NFL players in that conference. I mean, that’s just the way that it is. You’re going to have to see him against NFL competition, which the Senior Bowl is usually a pretty good indication of that because you’re talking about the top seniors in the country. It’s a part of the process. You’re not making a decision based off of that, but maybe a player who doesn’t have as much experience against that level, you’re going to see how he fares, and then you just kind of continue to move forward."

Some small-school prospects who may have caught Belichick's eye this week? 

Dayton tight end Adam Trautman was already considered one of the better tight ends in the draft class and seemed to only help his stock.

Safety Kyle Dugger -- who hails from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University -- impressed. Ditto for Division III offensive lineman Ben Bartch out of Saint John's, who saw rushers from Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Ole Miss and other high-end programs and reportedly held his own.

Perhaps the most recent success story out of Senior Bowl week for the Patriots wasn't with a small-school prospect, though. It might've been with Shaq Mason, a guard coming out of a run-heavy system at Georgia Tech. The Patriots simply hadn't seen him do much in the way of pass protection for the Yellow Jackets.

But Mason got to the Senior Bowl, took to the coaching he received, and the Patriots took notice. 

Click here to listen and subscribe to Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast: 

"The thing I’ll say about Shaq," Belichick said after drafting Mason in 2015, "is just watching him at the Senior Bowl, I mean it was only one week, but he made a huge improvement just in those, whatever it was, four or five practices, whatever it was down there. His stance is different. You could see each day progressively how he was taking to the coaching down there and his footwork and his hand placement and his body position. I know it was basic. It wasn’t like it was a big scheme thing at the Senior Bowl, but just doing things on a daily basis better than the day before, looking more comfortable doing them. And it was different than what they did at Georgia Tech."

Big school. Small school. Everyone had something to gain in Mobile this week. And that includes the Patriots. That's why -- with more time off this year than recent years -- they were well represented down there.


 

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. 

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

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.

Which Senior Bowl participants look like Patriots prototypes?

Which Senior Bowl participants look like Patriots prototypes?

The time has arrived for those obsessing over the upcoming NFL draft to obsess over heights, weights, hand sizes and arm lengths. It's not football. It's guys in their underwear, sometimes on stage, in front of a crowd, having their measurements taken. 

It's weird. It might be a little dehumanizing. But it matters. 

How much? That's up for debate. But every year, multiple times a year — at college all-star games, the combine and pro days — scouts, coaches and evaluators of all types spend time paying attention to the fractions of inches that could determine whether or not a player fits their system. 

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

As we've pointed out in the past, the Patriots have a backlog of draft history more significant than any team in the NFL since there's not another operation that's been run by one individual over the last 20 years. Bill Belichick has types at certain positions. We've labeled them as "prototypes" over the years.

And while it's too early to figure out who's a prototype and who isn't — acquiring athletic testing numbers at the combine and pro days is part of the process — we can look at measurements as they start to come in and key on certain individuals for certain roles in Patriots offensive and defensive schemes.

Senior Bowl measurements were taken on Tuesday in Mobile, Ala. ahead of the week's first practices, for which Belichick is in attendance, allowing us to tear through them and key in on potential Patriots prototypes. Here are some names who stood out based on their size...

QUARTERBACK: JORDAN LOVE, UTAH STATE

Jordan Love's interception numbers in his senior season might've been a little high for Belichick's liking, and he's not out of a Power Five conference, but physically he checks every box. He's a shade over 6-foot-3, 223 pounds and he has massive hands measuring larger than 10.5 inches. In theory, that should help him get a good grip in the elements of New England.

Under Belichick, the Patriots have typically drafted quarterbacks who stand 6-foot-3 or taller and their hands usually measure larger than nine inches. Love, who was reportedly scattershot with his passes on Tuesday, is athletic and possesses plenty of arm talent, but Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert is the top passer in Mobile this week.

Herbert measures in at 6-foot-6, 227 pounds with 10-inch hands. The only quarterback the Patriots have drafted under Belichick who was that tall was Ryan Mallett.

TIGHT END: JARED PINKNEY, VANDERBILT

The Patriots have drafted 14 tight ends under Bill Belichick. The "prototype" there is a bit easier to peg than those at receiver and running back, who've come in all different shapes and sizes in New England. The tight end mold falls in the 6-foot-4 range and just over 250 pounds. Big hands (about 10 inches) are preferred.

While we don't have any of those athletic testing numbers yet for Vanderbilt's Jared Pinkney, he looks like the Senior Bowl's closest thing to a prototype at this position. The SEC product — Belichick has a good relationship with the Vandy staff, inviting them to attend Patriots spring practices back in 2017 — stands 6-foot-4 and weighs in at 254 pounds, plus he has those massive mitts the Patriots like (10.6 inches).

Dayton's Adam Trautman is the next-closest prototype at this spot in Mobile. The 6-foot-5, 251-pounder has hands that measure just over 9.5 inches, and he dominated lower-level competition with 70 catches, 916 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.

DEFENSIVE END: JAVON KINLAW, SOUTH CAROLINA

One of the most explosive big-bodied defenders at the Senior Bowl, the Patriots may never even get the opportunity to draft Kinlaw at No. 23. He's thought by some experts to be a top-20 talent. But he certainly looks like he'd be a long-term answer at 3-4 defensive end in New England's scheme.

At 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, with 10-inch hands and almost 35-inch arms, he looks like he was built in a lab. And while he's quick enough to beat blockers in a one-gapping scheme, his length and power would make him a dominant two-gapping player in a defense that could use another capable 3-4 end to pair with Lawrence Guy.

Ole Miss' Josiah Coatney (6-foot-4, 309 pounds, 9.5-inch hands, 33-inch arms) is another SEC product who could interest the Patriots as a 3-4 later in the draft.

NOSE TACKLE: LEKI FOTU, UTAH

One of the most physically imposing players at the Senior Bowl, Fotu measures in at 6-5, 337 pounds and would be a perfect middle-of-the-line anchor to eat up double-teams. Danny Shelton played that role for the Patriots in 2019, but he's set to hit free agency this offseason. Fotu's 10.25-inch hands and 34-inch arms helped him fight off blockers and earn first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2019.

Nebraska's Darrion Daniels (6-3, 322), Ole Miss' Jones Benito (6-1, 321) and Ohio State's DaVon Hamilton (6-4, 327) all hail from programs the Patriots respect and could be seen as potential answers to their nose tackle uncertainty.

LINEBACKER: MALIK HARRISON, OHIO STATE

Never was there a better example of what it is the Patriots are looking for from their linebackers than what happened in the 2018 draft. Looking for depth behind Dont'a Hightower, the Patriots were clearly in the linebacker market. But they waited, and waited, and waited... until pouncing on Purdue's Ja'Whaun Bentley in the fifth round.

Bentley was off draft boards of other linebacker-needy clubs that year because he was viewed as not athletic enough to fit their schemes. But in New England, the player who had a high football IQ and played heavier than 250 pounds in college was ideal. Belichick has long liked his off-the-ball 'backers big (which may narrow his options in the draft as players at that position get smaller every year in order to try to keep up with the speed deployed by opposing offenses). That's why Harrison — who checked in at 6-foot-3, 246 pounds in Mobile — lands here. He's a true middle-of-the-field type with the bulk to hold up as a "Mike" or "Will" backer in a 3-4 defense.

Curran: 

Wyoming's Logan Wilson doesn't quite have the same size (6-foot-2, 241 pounds), but he's close in that regard. Plus, he has other bullet points on his résumé (three-time captain, second-team All-American, Butkus Award finalist, high-school defensive back) that might pique Belichick's interest.

EDGE: ANFERNEE JENNINGS, ALABAMA

We couldn't get through a list of potential prototypes for the Patriots without mentioning someone from Alabama, could we? We could not.

An "edge" defender in the Patriots defense in 2019 was an outside linebacker, called a "Sam" or "Jack" in the Patriots scheme. Those players — primarily Kyle Van Noy, John Simon and Chase WInovich — slotted in between 250 and 260 pounds. They were stand-up players who could rush or drop into coverage. While most of the edge players who fit the Patriots size profile at this position are up-the-field players, there are a few who look like they might fit.

Jennings, in part because of where he played his college ball, is right at the top of the list at 6-foot-2, 252 pounds with 33-inch arms. His teammate Terrell Lewis is someone the Patriots might like better as a player, but he's bigger (6-foot-5, 258 pounds, 34-inch arms) and looks more like a 4-3 end. Two more SEC edge players who fit the mold size-wise: South Carolina's D.J. Wonnum (6-foot-5, 254 pounds, 34-inch arms) and Florida's Jabari Zuniga (6-foot-3, 253 pounds, 33-inch arms).

Click here to listen and subscribe to Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast: