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Perry: Prototypical Patriots to watch in Alabama-Notre Dame semifinal originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Patriots aren't used to being in this position, playing in a regular-season finale that will have no bearing on the postseason.
Their fans aren't used to this, either -- at least the younger generation of fans who know nothing more than annual postseason runs deep into January.
There will be meaningful football played this weekend, though. Friday will feature the four best teams in college football going at it in the College Football Playoff semifinal. Notre Dame and Alabama square off at 4 p.m. ET, while Ohio State and Clemson will play at 8 p.m. ET.
It's early yet when it comes to the 2021 NFL Draft process. And there's sure to be more information released -- actual heights and weights, athletic testing numbers, scouting reports -- on the pro prospects involved in these games.
But for Patriots fans looking ahead to 2021 and beyond, here are some of the Alabama and Notre Dame players who look destined to land on our Prototypical Patriots list come the spring.
Mac Jones, QB: One of the most accurate quarterbacks in the country this season, Jones is the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy thanks to some ridiculous numbers. But will his explosive play rate, his accuracy, and his pristine decision-making continue in the College Football Playoff? We'll see. Jones doesn't have the same type of on-the-field experience that many other Patriots draft picks at the position have had. But for a coach like Bill Belichick, who values decision-making and anticipation in his passers, Jones fits the bill.
Devonta Smith, WR: Believe it or not, there was some consideration in leaving him off this list. If we're shooting for "prototypes" for the Patriots, Smith doesn't exactly match up. At 6-foot-1, 174 pounds, his frame will be one of the most commonly-criticized aspects of any top prospect's game. The Patriots have employed 180-pound receiver Damiere Byrd this year, though, so as long as they view Smith as someone who can get open and catch the football -- something he's done well enough to be among the favorites for Heisman -- he'll be on their radar.
Jaylen Waddle, WR: Waddle suffered a broken ankle earlier this year, but here were his numbers in the four games he played prior to his injury: 25 catches on 29 targets at a 22.3 yards-per-catch clip, four touchdowns and a 158.3 passer rating when targeted, per Pro Football Focus. He's not huge (5-foot-10, 180 pounds), but as a vertical threat from the slot and a punt-return option, he'd make all kinds of sense in New England.
Patrick Surtain II, CB: Surtain's father competed against the Patriots in the AFC East as a member of the Dolphins from 1998-2004. Any chance the next Surtain ends up on the other side of that rivalry? At 6-foot-2, 203 pounds, he's a perfect fit for the Patriots and what has been a man-to-man-heavy scheme over the last several years.
Alex Leatherwood, OT: Is he the most physically-gifted tackle in the draft? No. Will he be a Day 1 pick? Maybe not. But at 6-foot-6, 315 pounds and with experience at both guard and tackle, coming from the program he's coming from, with three years of starting experience -- he's a pretty easy choice for our "Prototypes" list.
Christian Barmore, DL: At 6-foot-5, 310 pounds, Barmore is a pretty ideal fit for New England's 3-4-style defense. Is that what they'll stick with in 2021 after they were so permissive against opposing running games this season? (They're 32nd in run defense DVOA.) And even though he's a height-weight fit, is he a stylistic fit? He's shown flashes of being a great pass-rusher the last couple of years . . . but can he two-gap? Nick Saban will be able to answer any and all questions Belichick has on the redshirt sophomore, but Barmore certainly looks the part.
Najee Harris, RB: I know what you're thinking. Wait ... another running back? Yup. Whether or not the Patriots need him is another discussion. This is just about Patriots fits. And he fits as a big back. At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, he's a wrecking ball who can create yards on his own with his strength. He's also an adept receiver. Will he be a fit this year? With James White and Rex Burkhead set to hit free agency and Sony Michel and Damien Harris already under contract? Probably not. But he's a Prototypical Patriot.
Dylan Moses, LB: This could end up being a tough evaluation for NFL clubs looking for help at the second level of their defenses. Off-the-ball players working under Saban at Alabama typically know what they're doing at the next level. And Moses has had a real role in Saban's scheme since 2017 when he was a true freshman. But the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder tore his ACL prior to last season, which stunted his progress in prepping for the next level. He also changed roles this season to play more in the middle, and he's seen his draft stock fall off precipitously. Might that make him a value for Belichick and the Patriots somewhere on Day 2? As is the case with all these Alabama prospects, the reference Belichick gets from Moses' college coach will carry a lot of weight.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Liam Eichenberg, OT: The biggest Notre Dame name offensively in this year's draft class is quarterback Ian Book. But he doesn't land on this list because at six feet he's not tall enough to be considered a Prototypical Patriot. His big left tackle, though? Eichenberg is a fit. At 6-foot-6 and just over 300 pounds, he could stand to add some weight to be able to hold up against bull-rushing defensive linemen at the next level. And he's not going to come close to being the best athlete in the class at this position. But late on Day 2? He could work out if those at One Patriot Place are looking for some depth on the line.
Adetokunbo Ogundeji, EDGE: The best draft-eligible Notre Dame defender this year is linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. But he isn't a prototype in New England at 215 pounds. The Patriots like their 'backers with a little more meat on their bones. Ogundeji is probably next up in terms of pro potential from this year's draft class, and he checks a lot of boxes for the Patriots. If they're interested in playing more 4-3 looks moving forward, he'd fit as a base end at 6-foot-4, 268 pounds with long arms. Ogundeji might be a little heavy to play as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 -- though he's a good athlete and plays with consistent effort -- but if the Patriots see him as being able to be able to add some weight, maybe he could have a role inside. He was a captain this season for Brian Kelly's club, which the Patriots will also appreciate.