Patriots

3 takeaways from NFL Combine Day 2, including Patriots’ run on receivers

Are the Patriots preparing to make a run at a big-name wide receiver in the draft? Or do their NFL Combine exploits suggesting a later look at the position?

Chris Olave Patriots NFL Combine
Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave, a possible Patriots draft target, speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine, Wednesday, March 2, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
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After coaches and executives got the floor to themselves on Tuesday, the real stars of the show got their first chance to put their best feet forward at the NFL Combine on Wednesday morning.

Quarterbacks, tight ends, and wide receivers took to the microphone for their combine media availabilities before their scheduled on-field workouts Thursday. Running backs and offensive linemen are slated to speak to the press Thursday morning.

With the Patriots not strongly in the market for neither quarterback nor tight end, the focus seemed squarely on the receiver position. It certainly looks like New England has the same thing in mind.

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Plus, an old friend had some positive things to say about the team’s future at quarterback with Mac Jones at the helm.

Airing it out?

At this point, it feels easier to find wide receivers who haven’t spoken with the New England Patriots at the NFL Combine. As of Wednesday afternoon, Jahan Dotson, Tre Turner and Dontario Drummond might have been the only receivers who said they hadn’t met with the Patriots, among players who were asked about it during media availability on Wednesday morning.

Though that information doesn’t tell us much about when the Patriots might actually take a receiver and who it would be, it does clearly illustrate New England’s interest in this year’s deep receiver class.

Naturally, everyone will pay attention to the biggest names that might be available at the No. 21 pick. such as Alabama’s Jameson Williams and John Metchie as well as Ohio State’s Chris Olave.

The Patriots, of course, love Alabama players, and the Bengals, Dolphins and Eagles all had success last season pairing their young quarterbacks (Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts) with receivers they thrived with in college (Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith). Still, “outsiders” like Olave or Georgia’s George Pickens could also come into play early in the draft, with Olave praising Mac Jones during his media time.

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But if the Patriots don’t take a receiver with their first pick, don’t fret: there’s still plenty of talent at the position on Days 2 and 3 of the draft. A couple of names to watch: Kentucky’s Wan’Dale Robinson and Nevada’s Romeo Doubs, who has met with the team both at the Senior Bowl and combine.

Josh McDaniels talks up Mac Jones

First thing’s first: there are no hard feelings between McDaniels and Bill Belichick over the former’s poaching of offensive assistants Mick Lombardi (receivers) and Carmen Bricillo (offensive line).

McDaniels made it clear during his Thursday afternoon presser that he spoke directly with Belichick on multiple occasions about his interest in hiring Lombardi and Bricillo, saying he “wanted to do the right thing” during that process.

Now that McDaniels, the Patriots’ former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, is gone along with those key assistants, New England’s offensive coaching situation is in flux. Several figures around the league are reportedly stunned at Belichick’s apparent trust in Joe Judge as a key cog in developing Mac Jones in particular.

But no matter who coaches the young quarterback, McDaniels thinks Jones will be able to excel.

“I’m not sure I’ve been around a more mature young football player in terms of understanding the game and being able to process at such a speed and such a level that Mac was,” he told reporters. “I don’t have any doubt that he’s going to meet the challenge head on. I wish him nothing but the best.”

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Well, except for when McDaniels and the Raiders host Jones and the Patriots next season, of course.

Is J.C. Jackson on his way out?

The feeling around the NFL Combine is slowly shifting toward the Patriots possibly letting their All-Pro cornerback leave town in free agency if the two sides can’t come to a long-term agreement. At this point, the radio silence on the Patriots’ side of things seems likely to continue.

The reason: Belichick has consistently found ways to field strong defenses without elite cornerbacks in the past.

Look no further than Jalen Mills, who signed a four-year, $24 million ($6 million a year) deal last season as a do-it-all depth option only to end up starting 16 games for the New England as an outside cornerback after star cornerback Stephon Gilmore first didn’t return and then got traded to Carolina.

With that in mind, perhaps Belichick might prefer to go cheaper at the position rather than shell out money for Jackson, a former undrafted free agent. That could look like another affordable veteran signing or taking a starting-caliber corner early in the draft. Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr. is among the best fits for that description if he’s available at No. 21 overall.

Still, that’s a big risk for a team that likes to play a lot of man coverage even after pivoting to more zone in 2022. Not having a press-coverage corner of Jackson’s caliber could force another adjustment to how the Patriots build and play defense next year. Then again, if Belichick hypothetically were able to make that work for a second straight season, it would leave more resources to be spent improving the roster in other areas (like wide receiver).

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