Four Patriots-related takeaways from NFL Combine Week

After spending the week in Indianapolis at the NFL Scouting Combine, here’s a collection of takeaways related to the New England Patriots:

1. Unlike his typical pre-draft routine, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick did not attend this year’s combine, nor did many of his top aides.

Belichick’s absence from such a high-profile event has raised eyebrows, but it’s coincided with a recent decline in the combine’s league-wide relevance. Several NFL teams chose to keep their entire coaching staff at home rather than sending them to Indy, believing their time was better spent on other matters as they prepared for the free agency and the draft.

The Patriots had a small group of coaches in attendance. Special teams coordinator Cam Achord, special teams assistant Joe Houston, cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino and former quarterbacks coach Joe Judge all made the trip, and wide receivers/returners coach Troy Brown would also have made the trip.

New England was also represented on the scouting side by director of player personnel Matt Groh, director of college scouting Camren Williams and others.

It remains unclear what the judge’s role will be for the upcoming season after the Patriots hired Bill O’Brien as the new offensive coordinator and QB coach. His area of ​​expertise is special teams. We also don’t know if Matt Patricia will stay. Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton said this week he was considering adding Patricia to his staff.

Neither O’Brien nor new offensive line coach Adrian Klemm were at the combine, but both received positive reviews from former colleagues and players they coached in previous stops.

2. The Patriots had a strong presence at another pre-draft showcase: the 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl, which took place last month in Las Vegas. Their staff spent a week coaching a full team of draft prospects and found it to be an extremely valuable assessment opportunity.

New England still has coaches and scouts at those college all-star games, but actually coaching at one had added benefits. One that was mentioned this week: Since the Patriots planned out every practice, they were able to see how each player fared in the exact drills and schedule they use during the season.

Players who were part of the West team coached by the Patriots were struck by the directness and focus of Belichick and his assistants. Two recalled a story that Belichick halted practice and restarted a special teams drill after the punt team failed to execute it properly.

It wasn’t a mid-winter vacation in Vegas for the Patriots. It was serious business. And since they already drafted four Shrine Bowl alumni last year (including Tyquan Thornton and Jack Jones) even without coaching this game, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see several participants from this year’s edition land in New York. -England.

North Carolina State linebacker Isaiah Moore, who the Patriots coaches reportedly “couldn’t help but rave about” stands out as a likely Day 3 target. who have been invited to the combine include Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers, Florida safety Trey Dean, Louisiana Tech cornerback Myles Brooks, Ball State corner Nic Jones, edge rusher from Florida Brenton Cox, Penn State defensive tackle PJ Mustipher and Michigan. kicker Jake Moody.

Flowers was the only Shrine Bowl player to be projected as a possible first-round pick.

3. The Patriots could use upgrades at wide receiver and cornerback, so it was no surprise to learn that they’ve encountered several top prospects at both positions this week. Wideouts Jordan Addison and Jaxon Smith-Njigba and corners Joey Porter Jr. and Christian Gonzalez – scheduled first four rounds – were all among the players New England interviewed.

Gonzalez and especially Porter would add size and length to a Patriots cornerback group that lacked both this season. Porter’s writing would also create some fun storylines given his father’s longstanding hatred of the Patriots. Both players tested well on Friday, however, and could be gone by the time New England picks at No. 14.

Early-round cornerback Cam Smith, a talented player who was mentored by Stephon Gilmore, also met the Patriots, although it’s unclear how they view him after an interview he described as ” very intense” and “uncomfortable”.

Traditionally, the Patriots haven’t targeted cornerbacks or wides in the first round. The only Round 1 corner they drafted under Belichick was Devin McCourty (2010), who then got to safety. N’Keal Harry (2019) is their only first-round receiver selection.

Offensive tackle is another obvious need for the Patriots. The O linemen are not due to speak to the media until Saturday, so we don’t yet know who has had contact with New England. Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski, Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr. and Gerogia’s Broderick Jones are considered the top tackle prospects in this year’s draft.

The Patriots have no shortage of cutting edge, but that hasn’t stopped them from interviewing several of the best options in this class. Projected first rounds Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson, Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness and Clemson’s Myles Murphy all said they met New England at the combine.

In terms of success rate, picking the top seven defenders on Day 1 was a successful strategy. There were eight during the Belichick era, and all but one (Dominique Easley) became either superstars (Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower) or solid contributors (Ty Warren , Malcolm Brown).

A first-round quarterback would be a major surprise, but it was interesting for the Patriots to meet Florida’s Anthony Richardson, who has shades of Cam Newton in his game and could enter the top 10.

4. Almost every New England coach sent to Indy has a special teams connection, which underscored the potential for significant change in this phase next season.

The Patriots have employed the same three primary specialists since the middle of the 2019 season, but all three have uncertain futures. Longtime snapper Joe Cardona is set to enter free agency for the first time in his career; punter Jake Bailey was hit with a team-imposed suspension ahead of the season finale, which could void the money guaranteed in his contract; and kicker Nick Folk turns 39 in November.

New England would like to re-sign Cardona but recognize the possibility that he will receive a more lucrative offer on the open market. It remains to be seen how the team will proceed with Bailey, whose steep regression and subsequent move to injured reserve were major factors in the Patriots’ poor kicking game performance.

The 2020 All-Pro ranked last in the NFL in punting average and net average before landing on IR in November. His replacement, Michael Palardy, who had been out of the league since the previous season, ranked second-to-last in both punting categories and did not provide Bailey with the ability to consistently force touchdowns on hits. sending. Folk couldn’t replicate that either, and the Patriots allowed three touchdowns after losing Bailey’s big leg.

The Patriots have also played the last three games with a long snapper off the street (Tucker Addington) after Cardona suffered a foot injury. The change disrupted the timing of New England’s field goal and Folk missed three of his final nine kicks.

All-too-frequent penalties and discipline fouls also contributed to the Patriots’ last spot on the DVOA Special Teams, but losing those key elements didn’t help.

Folk has remained an above-average kicker, but the Patriots have brought in young players to challenge him in each of the past three offseasons. Eventually, one of these newcomers will defeat him. Moody, who was co-MVP of the Shrine Bowl, would be a reasonable Day 3 target for a Patriots team that likes to draft Michigan products.

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