One of the New England Patriots’ favorite prospect factories will take the field Monday night in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
Alabama has produced six Patriots draft picks during Bill Belichick’s head-coaching tenure, including one in each of the last two drafts (running back Damien Harris and linebacker Anfernee Jennings) and four in the last six.
That’s no surprise. Belichick and Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban have a friendship that dates back decades.
The Patriots have shown much less interest in prospects from Alabama’s national title game opponent, Ohio State. Though the Buckeyes rank second behind Alabama in total players drafted over the last five years (45 and 48, respectively), the Patriots have selected just one since Belichick arrived in 2000: special teamer Nate Ebner (sixth round, 2012).
This year’s championship game features a bevy of intriguing prospects on both sides. Here are some players to watch Monday night as the Patriots prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft (heights/weights via The Athletic’s Dane Brugler):
Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
We’re expecting Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields to be long gone by the time the Patriots pick. Jones, though, is an intriguing early-round option. Whether the Heisman Trophy finalist is worthy of the 15th overall pick can — and will — be debated, but Jones was undeniably excellent this season, leading the nation in completion percentage (77.0 percent) and yards per attempt (11.3) as the pilot of Alabama’s star-studded offense.
DeVonta Smith/Jaylen Waddle, WRs, Alabama
Speaking of those offensive stars, Alabama boasts two of the top three receiver prospects in this year’s draft (along with LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase). Smith, the first Heisman-winning wideout since Desmond Howard in 1991, is unusually slender but extremely explosive, topping 130 receiving yards in eight of his last 10 games. Waddle has been out since October with a broken ankle but could return Monday night. He averaged nearly 140 receiving yards per game before his injury. Both could come off the board in the top half of the first round. The Patriots’ track record, though, suggests it’s unlikely they’ll use that high of a pick on a wideout, even one as talented as Smith or Waddle.
Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
While not the Smith/Waddle/Chase tier, Olave is considered a fringe first-round prospect by most draft analysts. He runs great routes, was highly productive this season (42-660-7 in six games) and is a proven weapon on special teams — a seemingly minor trait that’s sure to endear him to Bill Belichick. The Patriots badly need an influx of talent at wide receiver this offseason, and Olave looks like a good fit.
Alex Leatherwood, OL, Alabama
Leatherwood has started 40 consecutive games for the Crimson Tide, including the last two seasons at left tackle. Some project the 6-foot-5, 313-pounder will shift to guard at the NFL level, but the Patriots have kept a few similarly light-bodied prospects at tackle in recent years (Isaiah Wynn, Justin Herron). New England has question marks at several O-line spots with guard Joe Thuney and center David Andrews headed for free agency and Marcus Cannon’s future unclear after his opt-out.
Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State
Thuney, who’s started every game at left guard since 2016, could be out of the Patriots’ price range this offseason. If the Patriots want to address this need early (and keep Mike Onwenu at tackle), Davis is arguably the best guard prospect in this year’s class. Alabama’s Deonte Brown — an Onwenu-sized specimen at 6-3, 360 — could be a later-round option.
Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
After watching the Patriots shuffle practice squad players in and out of their patchwork defensive line this season, it would not be surprising to see them bolster that group with a high draft pick — perhaps even a first-rounder. The 6-5, 310-pound Barmore has been a difference-maker for the Tide, tallying seven sacks this season and leading all Power Five D-tackles in total pressures (34), per Pro Football Focus.
Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
One of the nation’s top linebackers in 2018, Moses missed all of 2019 with a torn ACL and didn’t look like the same dominant player once he returned to the field. Moses said last week he played through knee pain in nearly every game this season, which is both an illustration of his toughness and a potential red flag for the Patriots, who have dealt with more than a few draft pick injuries in recent years. But there’s still a lot to like about Moses, who would add athleticism to an undermanned New England linebacking corps. Moses serves as the Tide’s primary defensive communicator and has garnered rave reviews from Saban, who last week said, âI donât think thereâs any question about the fact that when Dylan Moses plays for us, he makes everybody around him play better.”
Pete Werner/Baron Browning, LBs, Ohio State
Linebacker is one of New England’s most glaring offseason needs, and Ohio State’s defense features two athletic, versatile prospects in Werner and Browning.
Josh Jobe, CB, Alabama
The Patriots likely won’t be in a position to draft No. 1 Bama corner Patrick Surtain II, a projected top-10 pick. But Jobe in an intriguing player in his own right. He has good size at 6 feet, 190 pounds and a nose for the ball, breaking up 11 passes this season and forcing two fumbles. New England likes this kind of disruptive capability in its defensive backs.