Patriots

Potential Patriots NFL Draft targets playing in Monday’s National Championship Game

Alabama and Ohio State have several prospects that could find a home in New England next season.

Mac Jones Patriots
Mac Jones could go from playing the National Championship Game for Alabama to starting at quarterback for the Patriots. Roger Steinman/AP

Monday night’s heavyweight battle between Alabama and Ohio State for the National Championship features several NFL Draft prospects.

And the Patriots could find themselves picking one (or even multiple) of them in the 2021 NFL Draft. New England currently holds the No. 15 overall pick in the upcoming draft, around where some players playing in Monday night’s game are projected to be picked.

In addition to holding a pick in the top half of the first round, the Patriots haven’t been shy picking players from Alabama in the past. They’ve drafted six players from the school since Nick Saban took over as its head coach in 2007. As a matter of fact, the Patriots have picked an Alabama player in each of the last two drafts. They picked running back Damien Harris in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft and picked linebacker Anferenee Jennings in the same round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

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Here’s a look at players from both schools who could become Patriots come springtime.

Alabama

Quarterback Mac Jones

After having their worst quarterback play in two decades this past season, it’s likely that the Patriots will bring in a new face at the position. Whether they do that through free agency, a trade, or the draft remains to be seen. If they chose to pick a QB in the draft, there’s a solid chance that player could be playing Monday night.

That leads us to Alabama starting quarterback Mac Jones. The redshirt junior has been nothing but impressive in his first full season as the Crimson Tide’s starter. He’s thrown for 4,036 yards and 36 touchdowns over 12 games this season. What might be even more impressive is that Jones has thrown just four interceptions this season.

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Jones’s impressive season led to him being named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy (more on who won later) and is a big reason why Alabama is 12-0. If you are looking for the Patriots to draft a more mobile QB, Jones likely isn’t your guy. He’s rushed for just 31 yards over his three seasons at Alabama.

Jones is currently projected by draft analysts to be selected in one of the top two rounds.

Wide receiver DeVonta Smith

For as impressive as Mac Jones was in 2020, his top target was even more impressive. Senior wide receiver DeVonta Smith caught 105 passes for 1,641 yards and 20 touchdowns, leading all receivers in the FBS in all three categories.

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Smith’s dominant season led to him becoming the first receiver to win the Heisman Trophy in 29 years as well as winning several other of college football’s top awards.

The Patriots’ need for a receiver couldn’t be any more obvious. With Julian Edelman’s future in doubt and Jakobi Meyers leading Patriots receivers with just 59 catches for 729 yards this season, New England will have to address the receiver spot in some form this offseason.

Smith is currently projected to be a first-round pick by several analysts and could be selected in the top 10.

Wide receiver Jaylen Waddle

DeVonta Smith isn’t the only Alabama receiver that’s poised to be a top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Jaylen Waddle is expected to join Smith and Mac Jones as another player on the Crimson Tide’s offense to be picked in the first round of the draft.

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Waddle, a junior, has 103 catches for 1,965 yards and 17 touchdowns over his three-year collegiate career. His 2020 season appeared to be cut short when he broke his ankle on the opening kickoff of Alabama’s game against Tennesse in October. However, Waddle was cleared to practice after Alabama’s victory over Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl and is a game-time decision for Monday night’s title game.

Like Smith, Waddle could also be a top 10 pick and be the first receiver selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. There are some mock drafts though that are predicting Waddle to end up in New England with the No. 15 pick.

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Offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood

Another player on Alabama’s offense who projects to be picked in one of the top two rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft is offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood.

The Crimson Tide senior was one of the top lineman in college football this season, winning Outland Trophy, an award annually given to the best offensive or defensive lineman in college football. Leatherwood also won the SEC’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the conference’s top blocker and was a unanimous All-American.

The offensive line isn’t the Patriots’ most pressing need entering the offseason, but they may end up addressing it for multiple reasons. Guard Joe Thuney and center David Andrews are both free agents and if either leave, it could force Michael Onwenu, who started at right tackle for much of last season, to play guard again. Marcus Cannon, who was the Patriots’ starting right tackle in 2019, opted out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and could end up retiring.

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Defensive tackle Christian Barmore

Looking at Alabama’s defense, a few players on that side of the ball could end up in New England. Defensive tackle Christian Barmore is one of them.

In his redshirt sophomore season, Barmore’s recorded 32 tackles, seven sacks, and three forced fumbles en route to being named to the All-SEC first-team. CBS Sports’ NFL Draft expert Chris Trapasso projects Barmore to be selected in the back end of the first round and labels him “the best interior defensive lineman” in the draft.

The Patriots will likely have to address the defensive line in someway this offseason. Defensive linemen Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Deatrich Wise Jr., and John Simon will all be free agents come March.

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Linebacker Dylan Moses

After having the seventh-worst rush defense in 2020, the Patriots will have to improve at linebacker in 2021. They could get back Dont’a Hightower, who opted out of the 2020 season, but there are reports of him possibly retiring. If Hightower indeed calls it quits, they could look at his alma mater to find someone to replace.

That’s where Dylan Moses comes into the equation. The senior linebacker recorded 74 tackles, 1.5 sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble this season, earning him third-team All-American honors.

Unlike a lot of his aforementioned Alabama teammates, Moses doesn’t appear to be a good bet to be selected in the first round of the draft. He tore his ACL prior to the 2019 season, forcing him to miss the entire year which has now led to concerns about his potential in the NFL.

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Cornerbacks Patrick Surtain II and Josh Jobe

Alabama has a pair of corners who project to be selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. Partick Surtain II is considered to be the top corner in the draft class and could be selected in the top 10 of the draft. He received some of the top honors in college football in 2020, being unanimously named to the All-American team and winning SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

A potential cornerback the Patriots could pick after the first round is Josh Jobe. The junior is projected to be selected somewhere between the second and fourth rounds by WalterFootball.com.

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The Patriots could their cornerback situation in the draft. Stephon Gilmore will enter the final year of his contract in 2021 and has already been the subject of trade rumors while J.C. Jackson will be a restricted free agent.

Ohio State

Quarterback Justin Fields

Like Alabama, Ohio State has an enticing quarterback prospect of its own. Justin Fields is poised to be one of the first quarterbacks picked in the 2021 NFL Draft.

After struggling in the Big 10 Championship Game, Fields bounced back in a major way in the Sugar Bowl. He threw for 385 yards and six touchdowns en route to Ohio State’s dominating 49-28 win over Clemson. He’s thrown for 1,906 yards, 21 touchdowns, and six interceptions over seven games in 2020.

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While ESPN’s Todd McShay has Fields falling to the Patriots’ pick in his most recent mock draft, several other draft analysts see Fields getting selected as high as the No. 2 pick. If that’s the case, that would put him well out of reach for the Patriots barring a major trade.

Wide receiver Chris Olave

Fields’s favorite target at Ohio State also projects to be selected in one of the top rounds of the draft. Junior Chris Olave has 42 catches for 660 yards and seven touchdowns this season, earning him first-team All-Big 10 honors.

Like Fields, Olave put on a show in Ohio State’s win over Clemson. He caught six passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns in that game. McShay calls Olave the receiver with the best separation ability in the upcoming draft, something the Patriots desperately need.

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Guard Wyatt Davis

Ohio State’s Wyatt Davis presents an interesting option for the Patriots if they lose one of Joe Thuney or David Andrews this offseason. Davis, who stands at 6-foot-4 and weighs 313 pounds, is seen as the top guard in the upcoming draft by draft analysts. He’s projected to be selected late in the first round in McShay’s latest mock draft and was a unanimous All-American this season.

Linebacker Baron Browning

The Buckeyes’ defense has a couple of prospects that are projected to be selected in the first few rounds of the draft. One of them is linebacker Baron Browning. In his senior season, Browning recorded 24 tackles and a forced fumble, earning him a spot on the third team All-Big 10. In his junior year, he had 43 tackles and five sacks. Like Moses, Browning could be an option for the Patriots if Hightower indeed retires and is projected to be picked outside of the first round.

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Cornerback Shaun Wade 

Ohio State’s other notable defensive draft prospect is cornerback Shaun Wade. The redshirt junior was a consensus All-American in 2020, recording 29 tackles and two interceptions in Ohio State’s shortened season.

Wade is seen as one of the top corners in the 2021 NFL Draft after Surtain II. If the offseason results in the Patriots losing Gilmore and Jackson, Wade could be selected by the Patriots in the first round. The Buckeyes’ cornerback was projected to by the Chargers with the 13th pick in McShay’s latest mock draft.

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