Through two days of practices at the Senior Bowl, a number of future NFL rookies are flashing major potential that could help the Patriots in 2023.Mike Dussault
With two days of Senior Bowl practices in the books, coming on the heels of a productive week of Shrine Bowl practices, the 2023 NFL Draft and its array of incoming rookies are quickly coming into focus. Practices will continue on Thursday in Mobile, with the Senior Bowl game arriving on Saturday, but through two sessions for both teams, the scouting information is arriving in force. Once again there are dozens of promising prospects making big plays and showcasing their stuff for NFL teams and the Patriots are sure to be among those intrigued by the fresh talent that is on display.
Here are seven takeaways from the first two competitive sessions for both the American and National teams.
1. Tight End Talent - During ESPN's coverage of the Senior Bowl practices, Daniel Jeremiah highlighted how deep and talented the tight end class is this year, with Luke Musgrave (Oregon State), Cameron Latu (Alabama) and Will Mallory (Miami) among those in Mobile with plus size and athleticism. Jeremiah has five tight end prospects in his initial top-50, highlighting what a quality position group this is with some of the top prospects like Notre Dame's Michael Mayer and Utah's Dalton Kincaid not even participating. The Patriots have both Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith under contract for 2023, but this tight end class might be too good for the Pats to pass up. Henry is entering the last year of his deal so securing a potential every-down "Y" prospect to groom behind him this fall could make sense. Musgrave looks like a particularly athletic player who could be available on Day 2 and still make an impact as a move tight end right out of the gate.
2. Covington Coverage - We've been keeping an eye out for Patriots defensive line coach Demarcus Covington who is serving as the American team's defensive coordinator, yet Covington was one of just two coordinators not to be mic'd up for Wednesday's sessions. The National team's defensive coordinator Grady Brown, a Steelers defensive back coach during the season, and the American team's offensive coordinator, Falcons QB coach Charles London, were both miked on Wednesday and provided a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the play calling and coaching points. Covington's defense had a rough go of it against the American team's offense on Wednesday, as their massive line controlled the line of scrimmage and consistently opened up some big rushing lanes. We'll be on the lookout once again on Thursday for the Pats coach.
3. Big Tackles - Massive right tackle Dawand Jones was one of the highlights from Tuesday's practice as he dominated his one-on-ones with some nasty finishes. Jones was a player we highlighted going into the practices, as the Patriots significant need at tackle is something that should have them salivating at a big, physical lineman who is very much in the mold of what they've liked in the past. North Dakota State's Cody Mauch has turned heads with some solid play of his own after playing at the FCS level, while Florida guard O'Cyrus Torrence looks like a first-round pick with his performances in practice. He's an interesting contrast to Cole Strange who also played at the Senior Bowl last year and was a first-round pick but had some notable struggles during practice, particularly with the power rushers like Travis Jones, something that also reared its head at times during Strange's rookie season. The Patriots will probably keep their primary focus on the tackles this year, with Alabama's Tyler Steen and Syracuse's Matthew Bergeron seeing left tackle snaps that should be considered, though both could end up moving inside at the next level.
4. QB Report - Quarterback likely isn't high on the Patriots' lists of needs with Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe both on the roster, along with vet Brian Hoyer, but there are certainly some intriguing faces that are showing up in Mobile. Tyson Bagent is a Division II player out of Shepherd with obscene numbers at the lower level. Despite the jump, Bagent has done well for himself in drills, though he's been up and down from under center as many quarterbacks trying to make the NFL jump are. Max Duggan is fresh off the FBS Championship game and despite some holes in his game and measurables, he was excellent in the two-minute drill that ended Wednesday's practice, showing that high-level experience can help some players adjust to the increased speed of the game. Meanwhile, Tennessee's Hendon Hooker, coming off a November ACL tear, has been present as an observer and could be a player that teams take a flier on. Jake Haener from Fresno State also had a strong day on Tuesday, looking decisive and comfortable within the framework of the makeshift pro offense.
5. Explosive Green Wave RB - One player gets his own writeup because Tyjae Spears from Tulane was absolutely electric on Wednesday, making dynamic cuts and flashing breakaway speed that tortured Covington's American team defense for much of the afternoon practice. Spears is more of a potential gadget back than a true third-down receiving back that the Patriots could use, but for a team that continues to build up their explosive game-changing elements, it's hard not to fantasize about what Spears could do as a rotational piece in New England's backfield.
6. Waiting on Weapons - Another area of need for the Patriots is at wide receiver and while there are quite a few intriguing ones at the Senior Bowl none have truly dominated through the opening two practices. Rashee Rice of Ole Miss is one who has flashed and has some Deebo Samuel-esque hard running to his game, while Xavier Hutchinson is another potential pick for the first two days but one who hasn't consistently flashed yet. Princeton's Andre Iosivas has outstanding size and speed as a track guy, but has had inconsistent hands during team periods. Michigan State's Jaylen Reed has arguably had the strongest start in the group, his route running has turned heads and he had a number of impressive catches on Wednesday, including a 35-yarder for a would-be touchdown. With another practice and the game still to come, the receiver group can still shine but it's been somewhat of a slow start.
7. Cover Corners - Completing the big three of need positions for the Patriots, the cornerback group in Mobile is an interesting one, with a nice collection of potential cover men. Maryland's Julius Brents had a fantastic first day, showing excellent ability to match receivers in phase and breaking up multiple passes during drills. Illinois' Devon Witherspoon is already considered a riser here in the early days of the offseason and could land as the draft's number-one cornerback this season. He's certainly a player the Patriots should continue to keep an eye on. Lastly, Tyrique Stevenson's leadership has also flashed over the last two days, and he's also demonstrated how comfortable he is playing press man, a nice trait for the Pats to add this off-season.