Next Pats Podcast

NFL Draft analyst shares encouraging insight on Pats' front office

Lance Zierlein believes Eliot Wolf and Alonzo Highsmith will work very well together.

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The fate of the New England Patriots rests in the hands of Eliot Wolf and the front office.

That may seem like hyperbole, but this offseason is critical for a rebuilding Patriots team that owns a wealth of cap space and the No. 3 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, the franchise's highest selection since 1993. After a relatively quiet free agent period, New England needs to hit on multiple draft picks -- especially No. 3, which could yield the team's franchise quarterback in Jayden Daniels or Drake Maye -- if it wants to return to contention in the near future.

That's a tall task for de facto general manager Eliot Wolf, but he has help in Alonzo Highsmith, who joined the Patriots as a personnel executive in February. The former NFL running back worked alongside Wolf in the Green Bay Packers' and Cleveland Browns' front offices and most recently was the general manager of football operations at the University of Miami, his alma mater.

On the latest episode of NBC Sports Boston's Next Pats Podcast, draft expert Lance Zierlein joined host Phil Perry to share his perspective on Highsmith, whom Zierlein has known since 1998 when Highsmith was just getting into scouting at the NFL level. 

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"He has a rare vision for running backs. He's a very good evaluator," Zierlein said of Highsmith. "I remember he had a really high grade on L'Jarius Sneed coming out of (Louisiana Tech) and I didn't see it. I remember he was just pounding the table for L.J. Sneed when he came out in the draft ... and he was right on him.

"He has a great feel for Day 3 players. Tremendous. He is somebody who sees things like Eliot Wolf does, but they're not afraid to have arguments."

Check out the video above for more from Zierlein on Highsmith and Wolf.

Sneed fell to the Chiefs in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft (138 overall) and immediately thrived in Kansas City, amassing 10 interceptions over his first four seasons and serving as the team's No. 1 cornerback for back-to-back Super Bowl runs.

The Patriots have five total "Day 3" picks in Rounds 4-7, and it sounds like Highsmith will be instrumental in identifying potential hidden gems like Sneed. Wolf and Highsmith won't be alone, however, as Zierlein noted Wolf is a very collaborative executive.

"Eliot Wolf is somebody who understands the process needs to be inclusive, the circle needs to be broader, so that you get conflicting opinions, because that conflict is how you ferret out the concerns," Zierlein said. "Everyone's heard in the building. I think it makes it a more positive building. But more importantly, you give your scouts and your personnel people and sometimes your coaches a chance to grow as evaluators. And sometimes they're right and you're wrong, and you need to hear that.

"Eliot Wolf is somebody who I think will broaden the circle out, and it will be a more inclusive, 'think tank' type of process. And it's going to be based and driven on a healthy dosage of good football intelligence and countering it with analytics and most importantly, historical football trends."

Also in this episode:

  • Phil Perry on why Drake Maye is a prototypical Pats quarterback.
  • Lance Zierlein’s concerns about Maye.
  • Trevor Sikkema on why he has Jayden Daniels No. 22 overall.
  • Why Drake Maye could be a steal at #3 for the Patriots.

You can watch the full episode on YouTube below:

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