In two of the last three NFL drafts, the New England Patriots used an early-round pick on a small-school prospect who competed at the Senior Bowl.
They have another such player on their radar as the 2023 draft approaches.
North Dakota State offensive lineman Cody Mauch has a pre-draft visit scheduled with New England, according to a report from The Draft Network’s Ryan Fowler.
A converted tight end, Mauch started 30 games at left tackle for NDSU — the most consistently successful program at Division I’s lower level — over the last two seasons. He gained 80 pounds over the course of his college career but still is on the lighter side for a tackle, measuring in at 6-foot-5, 302 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Mauch also has very short arms (32 3/8 inches), prompting speculation that he could shift inside at the NFL level. He played tackle, guard and center at the Senior Bowl and was voted as the top offensive lineman on the National Team by the front-seven defenders he faced in Mobile.
Analysts said the same about previous Patriots draftees Isaiah Wynn and Justin Herron, however, and New England kept both at tackle. It’s unclear how they view Mauch, who’s easily identifiable for his long red hair and missing front teeth.
Scouting reports rave about Mauch’s athleticism and abilities as a run blocker, with NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein calling him a “rugged player with an attacking demeanor who does his most consistent work as a drive blocker in the run game.” His pass protection isn’t as polished, which could prevent him from becoming an immediate starter as he makes the leap to the NFL from the Football Championship Subdivision.
If the Patriots can’t or choose not to select one of this year’s top-tier tackles with their first-round pick, Mauch could be an option for them on Day 2. New England used a Round 1 pick last year on FCS guard Cole Strange (29th overall) and an early second-rounder in 2020 on Division-II safety Kyle Dugger (37th).
Tackle is arguably the Patriots’ biggest draft need, as projected starters Trent Brown and Riley Reiff both are entering contract years and have battled injuries.