The Patriots made the most of their trip to Columbus for Ohio State’s pro day.
New England representatives spoke at length two weeks ago with the Buckeyes’ top two draft prospects, offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, according to a report from Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer.
“I know when they were at Ohio State, they sent both Adrian Klemm and Ross Douglas, their line coach and their receivers coach, and they had extensive private meetings with Paris Johnson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba,” Breer said during a recent appearance on the “Greg Bedard Podcast.”
Johnson and Smith-Njigba are potential targets for the Patriots at pick No. 14 overall, as their positions both are among New England’s most visible draft needs. The former is considered one of this year’s top tackle prospects along with Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski and Georgia’s Broderick Jones. The latter is in the top tier of wideouts along with USC’s Jordan Addison, TCU’s Quentin Johnston and Boston College’s Zay Flowers.
The Patriots have two starting-caliber offensive tackles in Trent Brown and free agent pickup Riley Reiff, but both have lengthy injury histories and are entering contract years. At wideout, New England has a collection of solid veterans in newcomer JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne, plus 2022 second-round pick Tyquan Thornton. But it lacks the true No. 1 that many of the NFL’s top teams possess.
Bill Belichick famously has drafted only one receiver in Round 1 (N’Keal Harry, 2019) since taking over the Patriots in 2000. But he’s also rarely targeted offensive tackles early. The Patriots have taken just two in the first round during his tenure: Isaiah Wynn in 2018 and Nate Solder in 2011.
Smith-Njibga missed most of the 2022 season with a hamstring injury, but he was sensational in 2021 (95 catches, 1,606 yards, nine touchdowns) and aced his workout at the NFL Scouting Combine. Johnson was Ohio State’s starting right guard in 2021 before moving to left tackle for his final collegiate season.
The 2023 NFL Draft begins Thursday, April 27.