Which Senior Bowl Week Standouts Could Interest Patriots In NFL Draft?

Senior Bowl week is an important milestone in the NFL draft process. Turn heads in Mobile, and there’s a strong chance you’ll see your stock rise in the eyes of NFL evaluators.

In each of the last two years, the New England Patriots have drafted a player who earned Senior Bowl Practice Player of the Week honors at his position (tackle Isaiah Wynn in 2018, quarterback Jarrett Stidham in 2019).

Here’s a rundown of this year’s Players of the Week, as announced by Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy:

Thanks to their unusually early exit from the NFL playoffs, the Patriots were able to send many of their coaches to Mobile this week, including head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Here are a few of the aforementioned honorees who could pique New England’s interest:

TE Jared Pinkney, Vanderbilt
Pinkney’s production plummeted this season on a bad Vanderbilt team (20 catches, 233 yards, two touchdowns after posting a 50-774-7 line as a junior), but he has good size at 6-foot-4, 254 pounds and is viewed as a solid pass-catcher and run blocker. ESPN’s Mel Kiper currently has him ranked as the second-best tight end in this year’s class behind Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet. The Patriots desperately need help at the tight end position (only Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo are under contract for 2020) and have taken a liking to Vandy products in recent years, drafting cornerback Joejuan Williams in the second round in 2019 and signing defensive tackle Adam Butler as an undrafted free agent in 2017.

WR Van Jefferson, Florida
The son of former Patriots wideout Shawn Jefferson, Van wowed observers with his route-running abilities this week.

“I know this much: His routes are impeccable,” NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein wrote after the second Senior Bowl practice. “His ability to get open underneath and disguise his breaks is really fun to watch. He made tight-window catches against some pretty good corners on Wednesday. If he’s able to break a 4.5-second 40-yard dash at the combine, he’s going to get pushed up the draft board. Wherever he goes, he has a chance to outperform his draft position.”

Jefferson began his college career at Ole Miss before transferring to Florida in 2018. The 6-foot-1, 197-pounder caught 49 passes for a team-high 657 yards and six touchdowns as a senior.

WR K.J. Hill, Ohio State
Words like “smooth” and “fluid” pop up in almost every scouting report for Hill, who caught 201 passes for 2,332 yards and 20 scores in his four seasons with the Buckeyes. He showed why during Senior Bowl practices, putting on a route-running clinic in 1-on-1 drills.

Given the surplus of receiver talent in this year’s draft, the Patriots should be able to land a wideout like Hill or Jefferson in the middle rounds. Both sat outside the top 10 in Kiper’s latest positional rankings.

OL Lloyd Cushenberry, LSU
Cushenberry started 27 straight games at center for the national champion Tigers and is considered one of the top prospects at that position. The Patriots should be set at center assuming David Andrews can return from the illness that derailed his 2019 season, but they have a big hole to fill at left guard with Joe Thuney likely to leave in free agency. Cushenberry, who’s been lauded for his athleticism, played guard earlier in his collegiate career, so he should have some positional versatility.

“Through two practices, the Mr. Consistency Award goes to Cushenberry, who has done a nice job dropping his hips and staying in front of rushers,” The Athletic draft analyst Dane Brugler wrote. “… The LSU coaches rave about his football mind and ability to quickly pick things up, so it is no surprise that he has digested the pro coaching and adapted well in this environment.”

QB Jordan Love, Utah State
Patrick Mahomes’ arm talent with Jameis Winston’s decision-making. That’s how some draft evaluators have described Love, who boasts enviable physical tools but tossed an eye-popping 17 interceptions this season. That lack of ball security might turn the Patriots off, but reports out of Mobile suggested Love solidified his status as a likely first-round pick. If Belichick and his staff believe Love’s 2019 season was an aberration — he threw 32 touchdown passes with just six picks as a sophomore in 2018 — he could be an option for New England at No. 23.

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