Phil Perry

Prototypical Patriots: CB still a need after drafting Christian Gonzalez

Despite hitting on Christian Gonzalez in 2023, CB is still a position the Pats should prioritize in the draft.

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Whereas the offensive portion of our Prototypical Patriots series has been altered drastically in terms of how we've tried to determine the best fits for New England with Eliot Wolf functioning as the new personnel chief in town, we may not have the same issues on the defensive side of things.

Why? Head coach Jerod Mayo and defensive coordinator DeMarcus Covington are former pupils of Bill Belichick. They may make alterations to the scheme as it existed under their old boss, but in all likelihood they'll be looking for the same kinds of things the Patriots were looking for in the draft when the greatest coach in the history of the sport was still employed at One Patriot Place.

That means big-bodied linebackers. Two-gapping defensive tackles. Versatile, aggressive safeties. And those we'll be highlighting here: corners with next-level change-of-direction skills and a healthy appetite for contact.

For years, the Patriots have wanted players who can change course with the best of 'em. Three-cone times well under 7.00 seconds have been the standard, as have been short-shuttle times in the 4.10-second range.

Size hasn't been the biggest issue for the Patriots at this position, but if you're checking in under 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, you better have the movement skills to make up for it. We're talking 40 times in the 4.40s or faster, vertical jumps approaching 37 inches and broad jumps over 10 feet. (Think 5-foot-8, 174-pound Marcus Jones, who didn't test prior to the draft last year. He very obviously can fly.)

Explosive. Quick. Good tacklers. The kind of players who can thrive in New England's traditionally man-heavy scheme.

That is, generally speaking, what they've liked. And even under new leadership on the defensive side of the ball, we'll compile this list assuming they'll continue to favor those same traits.

Without further ado... 

Terrion Arnold, Alabama (6-foot, 199 pounds)

Highlights of Alabama corner back Terrion Arnold

Arnold is not the fastest player at his position, with a modest 4.50 40-yard dash time. And while his shuttle time doesn't meet the typical Patriots standards here (4.24 seconds), his three-cone time was outrageous at 6.69 seconds. Pair that with a 10-foot-9 broad jump and it's clear he has good enough lower-body explosiveness and change-of-direction skills to land here.

He also has the kind of man-to-man experience under Nick Saban that Mayo would appreciate. The Patriots may not have the chance to draft him, since he'll likely be a first-round pick, but placing him on the boundary opposite Christian Gonzalez would give New England one of the best young corner duos in the league.

Quinyon Mitchell, Toledo (6-foot, 195 pounds)

Highlights of Toledo corner back Quinyon Mitchell

Mitchell could by competing with Arnold to be the first corner taken this year. A quick peek at his physical traits alone would make it pretty clear he could be worthy of that kind of investment. His 4.33-second 40 time and 38-inch vertical are elite. He hasn't done any of the agility testing during the pre-draft process, which isn't a great sign since prospects would typically take part in those if they thought they would perform well in them.

However! Have a look at this rep from Mitchell at the Senior Bowl, where he throttles down and then back up to top speed in a blink. That's next-level body control, balance and explosiveness in action. He belongs on this list, no doubt -- even if he's going to be long gone before the Patriots may consider chasing after a corner on draft weekend.

Cooper DeJean, Iowa (6-foot-1, 203 pounds)

Highlights of Cooper DeJean, a defensive back from Iowa

DeJean is another defensive back for whom we don't have enough in the way of pre-draft test numbers yet (he's been recovering from a broken leg but is planning to work out for teams on April 8) for this kind of list. And yet we're putting him here anyway. He's an ideal Patriots defensive back in many ways based on his college experience alone.

His size and clear on-tape athleticism make it easy to envision him playing anywhere from on the boundary to in the slot to in the box as a safety. Where he lands as a pro is anyone's guess, but for Mayo, who has deployed his defensive backs in a variety of different roles to play with the heads of opposing quarterbacks, DeJean is a good match.

Javon Bullard, Georgia (5-foot-10, 198 pounds)

Highlights of Javon Bullard, a safety/corner back from the University of Georgia

Is he a safety? Is he a slot corner? He started at both spots over the last two years for Kirby Smart's Bulldogs. But he ends up on this list because he looked to be at his best closer to the line of scrimmage as a confident tackler and physical man-to-man defender.

His long speed might not be as special as Jonathan Jones' or Marcus Jones', but his ability to stop on a dime and head in a different direction at the drop of a hat is special. He recorded an eye-opening 3.97-second shuttle time that might have the Patriots licking their chops come draft weekend.

T.J. Tampa, Iowa State (6-foot-1, 189 pounds)

Highlights of T.J. Tampa, a defensive back from Iowa State

The Patriots would have to be pretty comfortable with some pretty underwhelming straight-line speed if they opt to invest in Tampa. He clocked a 4.58-second 40, but his agility work was much better, hitting a 4.07-second shuttle and a 6.97-second three-cone. Both of those are much more within the standard Patriots range. Remember, Jack Jones -- a fourth-round pick of the Patriots, who loved his ability to transition from one direction to another out of his backpedal -- ran just a 4.52-second 40 back in 2022.

If Tampa can get his hands on receivers in New England's scheme, which he should due to arms that measured over 32 inches, he may be able to negate some perceived long-speed issues and be an effective No. 2 on the outside.

Kamari Lassiter, Georgia (6-foot, 186 pounds)

Highlights of Alabama corner back Kamari Lassiter

An SEC defensive back with the versatility to play inside and out? An aggressive tackler? Off-the-charts change-of-direction ability? Lassiter -- who ran a 6.62-second cone and 4.12-second shuttle -- checks all of those boxes. He ran in the 4.5s at his pro day in the 40.

And he's a bit slight to be able to handle force duties on the outside on a regular basis. But he's a gritty defender that would be a pest for No. 2 wideout options opposite whoever happens to draw Gonzalez's attention in New England. As a Day 2 option, he may be among the best fits in the class for Mayo.

Mike Sainristil, Michigan (5-foot-9, 182 pounds)

If you can get over Sainristil's diminutive frame, you'll be wowed by his outsized competitiveness. As a team that drafted the obviously-undersized Marcus Jones in the third round a few years ago, the Patriots could be willing to pounce on Sainristil earlier than others in this year's draft.

He's a local kid, out of Everett, Mass., with NFL-ready twitchiness and ball skills. He flashed his transition skills with a 4.01-second shuttle time to go along with hair-raising jumps of 40 inches in the vertical and 10-foot-11 in the broad.

He was a fearless run defender for the Wolverines and picked off six passes -- returning two for touchdowns -- as a collegian. With just two years of cornerback play under his belt after beginning his career at Michigan as a receiver, Sainristil has a ton of room to grow. Based on where he already is, that could make him worthy of a Day 2 choice as a future starting nickel.

Myles Harden, South Dakota (5-foot-11, 195 pounds)

This muscled-up Coyote happens to move like a jackrabbit on the football field. He doesn't have the longest of strides to be able to go step-for-step with burners on the outside. But if it's change-of-direction merchants that Mayo wants, Harden would be his type. He posted a lightning-quick 3.98-second shuttle time and a 6.88-second three-cone.

He may end up playing safety thanks to his willingness to throw his body around as a tackler. But if he can hang in coverage at the next level, he has plenty of traits the Patriots would seem to covet.

Ryan Watts, Texas (6-foot-3, 208 pounds)

Ryan Watts
Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK
Ryan Watts played a key role for a Texas team that reached the College Football Playoff in 2023.

With his length, and based on what he's put on tape, there may be teams that would rather have Watts at safety rather than corner. But his frame -- he possesses absurdly-long 34.5-inch arms -- and athletic profile are too tantalizing not to at least try him at corner at the next level.

For him to post a 6.82-second three-cone time and a 4.13-second shuttle at his size is single-eyebrow-raised levels of intriguing. He could end up a hard-hitting versatile chess piece on the back end with special-teams ability that would certainly make him worthy of a Day 3 choice.

AJ Woods, Pittsburgh (5-foot-10, 187 pounds)

Woods is one of those non-combine-invite finds that make our Prototypical Patriots series an interesting one the deeper we get into draft weekend. After recording four picks and 29 pass breakups for the Panthers, he went to the East-West Shrine Game and showed well, then put up some ridiculous numbers at his pro day.

He recorded a 4.00-second shuttle and a 6.70-second cone time, proving what's already there to be seen on tape: He has NFL-caliber quickness. On Day 3? Flier-worthy.

Miles Battle, Utah (6-foot-3, 196 pounds)

This Ole Miss transfer might be a traits-based undrafted signee, but he has physical gifts that should get him a crack at an NFL roster. He posted four pass breakups, including one pick last season for the Utes. A former receiver, he switched to the defensive side in 2020 and two years later posted nine tackles against Alabama.

There are skills there to build upon, particularly when you glance at his pre-draft testing figures and see that he ran a 4.37-second 40 with a 4.03-second shuttle and a 6.84-second three-cone. 

Kaleb Ford-Dement, Texas State (5-foot-11, 178 pounds)

He's your rare seven-years-in-college pro prospect. He redshirted at Kilgore College back in 2017. After a stop at Old Dominion, he had offers to transfer to Georgia, Mississippi State and UCLA but ended up at Washington State.

He then settled at Texas State as a redshirt senior and made three picks, including one in the First-Responder Bowl against Rice. He lands on this list thanks to a 6.80-second cone time and a 4.12 shuttle. 

Jayden Price, North Dakota State (6-foot, 189 pounds)

Pro-caliber athletes coming from a program that is regularly in the mix for FCS national titles don't get overlooked all that often. Price shouldn't be, either. He clocked a 4.47 40, a 4.07 shuttle and a 6.93 cone time. His 37.5-inch vertical and 10-foot broad were also impressive.

Though he started all 15 games as a corner last season, it's his work as a punt-returner that may get him looks from the NFL. The Bison captain averaged 14.2 yards per return last season, including 66-yard and 82-yard returns for touchdowns.

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