The championship game between Georgia and Alabama was essentially a minor league NFL game, as there was an estimated 50-plus players on the two rosters who will be playing professionally someday.
New England will likely select at least one of those players during the upcoming draft.
The Patriots have drafted 15 players from either Alabama or Georgia since Bill Belichick took over in 2000. Of the eight Crimson Tide players drafted by the Patriots during that stretch, six have been selected since 2016, including two this past draft. And of the seven Bulldog players drafted by the Belichick-led Patriots, two were taken in the first round in the same year, offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn and running back Sony Michel, in 2018.
Only one other school can match the number of picks during the Belichick era, Michigan, which has had eight players drafted by the Patriots during that stretch.
Overall, 40 percent of the Alabama and Georgia players drafted by the Patriots since 2000 were taken in the first round. Aside from Georgia’s Wynn and Michel, the Patriots also drafted tight end Ben Watson (2004) and Edge Richard Seymour (2001) in the first round. Rookie quarterback Mac Jones and linebacker Dont’a Hightower (2012) of Alabama were also drafted in the first round.
Of the Alabama players, Jones appears to be the heir-apparent to Tom Brady, while second-round DL Christian Barmore is having a solid rookie season. LB Anfernee Jennings, a third-round pick in 2020, barely played last season and missed all of this season with an injury. Damien Harris, a 2019 third-round pick, led the team in rushing this season. And Hightower is still a solid player for the Patriots after being selected in the first round of the 2012 draft. The other Alabama players are out of the league and/or didn’t have much impact.
New England has had more luck drafting Georgia players, although Michel – who was traded to the Los Angeles Rams this season – has been a disappointment. Malcolm Mitchell, a fourth-round wide receiver in 2016, saw his career end early due to injuries. Otherwise, the rest of the Bulldog players drafted under Belichick have had solid to Hall of Fame-worthy careers (Seymour).
So which players from those two schools could be headed to New England in the first round?
Some candidates include Georgia DL Jordan Davis, Edge Travon Walker and LB Nakobe Dean, all of whom could go anywhere from the top half of the first round to the early part of the second round. CB Darion Kendrick is a dark horse candidate to go in Round 1, especially after his performances in the championship series.
Alabama doesn’t have as many candidates, as OT Evan Neal is expected to be taken well before New England is on the clock, while receiver Jameson Williams’ draft stock may hinge on the severity of the injury he suffered in the championship game. DL Phidarian Mathis is the next-highest-rated Alabama player, according to the latest Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board, checking in at No. 38.
But Davis, Walker and Dean could all be New England targets.
Walker would presumably start over Lawrence Guy and 2019 third-rounder Chase Winovich. Guy had 1.5 sacks this season and has 15 in his 10-year career. Winovich, meanwhile, is coming off a disappointing season after failing to record a sack for the first time in his three-year career.
Davis would be an immediate upgrade over Davon Godchaux and would give the Patriots one of the best, youngest DL duos in the league when paired with Barmore.
And Dean would be the obvious replacement for Hightower, should he leave in free agency – although the 6-foot, 225-pound Dean is smaller than the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Hightower.
Nakobe Dean is built different. Need this energy
— Philly Nation (@Philly__Nation) January 11, 2022
Tremendous effort by DL Travon Walker #44. If he doesn’t make this play, it might be a TD and Alabama has the lead going into halftime.
275-pounders shouldn’t be able to move like #44. 1st round talent, 1st round effort. pic.twitter.com/R8mRX7xJNs
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) January 11, 2022
Jordan Davis washing down a defender on the goal line pic.twitter.com/bH19a931tP
— SyedSchemes (@syedschemes) January 11, 2022