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Analysis: Patriots Release CB J.C. Jackson, Top Takeaways from Tight End and Cornerback Workouts at the Combine

With the Patriots releasing J.C. Jackson on Friday, who are some cornerbacks that stood out during Friday's workout? Plus, a look at this year's tight end class. 

Notre Dame cornerback Cam Hart and Texas tight end Ja'Tavion Sanders
Notre Dame cornerback Cam Hart and Texas tight end Ja'Tavion Sanders

Indianapolis, Ind. – The Patriots roster tinkering continued ahead of the new league year as New England officially released cornerback J.C. Jackson on Friday.

Jackson's release was expected due to his $14.4 million cap hit for the upcoming season, with the Patriots saving over $13 million in cap space by releasing Jackson. According to cap wizard Miguel Benzan (@PatsCap), the Patriots now have a projected $103 million in cap space with legal tampering beginning on March 11.

New England moving on from Jackson leaves them with the following corners under contract for 2024: Christian Gonzalez, Jonathan Jones, Marcus Jones, Shaun Wade, Isaiah Bolden, and Marco Wilson. Do-it-all DB Myles Bryant is an unrestricted free agent, while second-year corner Alex Austin, who finished strong in 2023, is an exclusive rights free agent.

New England's defense is at its best when it has a third rotational corner who can cover in passing situations. Over the years, we've referred to this as the Jason McCourty role. Marcus Jones could play on the outside in certain matchups or come on as a primary nickel when the Patriots face lighter personnel, but you'd like to see them have some size as an option.

After finishing the 2023 season strong, retaining Austin, who is listed at 6-1, 191 pounds with good length, could be the answer. Bolden also had a solid rookie camp last summer before his scary head injury in Green Bay, and there are veteran options such as a reunion with Stephon Gilmore.

Ultimately, Jackson, who was unreliable last season, wasn't returning to the Patriots at his old cap number. Turning our attention back to the scouting combine, the Pats announced Jackson's release while cornerbacks worked out on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium.

As we reflect on Friday night's workouts, we'll discuss options at cornerback in the draft. First, a more pressing need entering the new league year is at tight end, where the Patriots don't have any experienced tight ends under contract for the 2024 season. New England's contributors a year ago, Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki, and Pharaoh Brown, are all unrestricted free agents.

The Patriots could fill the immediate hole at tight end through free agency by retaining Henry or dipping into a free-agent class that includes Dalton Schultz, Noah Fant, and Gerald Everett. Still, at some point, the Pats need to add youthful talent in the developmental pipeline, so that's where this year's draft could come into play.

Here are our top takeaways from defensive back and tight end workouts on Friday night.

Tight Ends:

Before we get into the top performers at tight end, the chatter around this year's rookie class is that it's not a particularly strong group at the position. Although it's still not on par with the 2023 rookie class, the 2024 draftees made a strong impression on Friday night.

Georgia's Brock Bowers also opted out of athletic testing and on-field work at the combine as a projected top-half of the first-round prospect.

Texas tight end Ja'Tavion Sanders
Texas tight end Ja'Tavion Sanders

Ja'Tavion Sanders, Texas

Sanders would be a great fit in Alex Van Pelt's offense as a vertical receiving threat and YAC merchant like David Njoku. He didn't test as well as Njoku, but a 4.69-second 40-yard dash and solid field work will do just fine for Sanders. The Texas product plays faster than he timed and shows plenty of separation on film. He'd be a good day-two target.

Penn State tight end Theo Johnson.
Penn State tight end Theo Johnson.

Theo Johnson, Penn State

Johnson has been on my radar since the Senior Bowl as an effective seam runner with the frame to develop into a serviceable in-line blocker (6-6, 259 pounds). Johnson posted an outstanding 10 out of 10 relative athletic score and looked smooth during field work. He has stacked an impressive week in Mobile with a tremendous workout in Indy. He is a big target who builds speed, has a huge catch radius, and has the size to be a more effective blocker. Johnson is squarely on my mid-round radar.

Ohio State tight end Cade Stover
Ohio State tight end Cade Stover

Cade Stover, Ohio State

Stover was an intense human at the podium earlier this week with a fiery, competitive demeanor. On Friday night, he recorded an 8.8 relative athletic score with a 4.65-second 40-yard dash. Stover is a well-rounded tight end with strong hands and a willingness to block. He needs to harness his aggression in the run game, but Stover has all the tools. He should be drafted in the third round.

Kansas State tight end Ben Sinnott
Kansas State tight end Ben Sinnott

Ben Sinnott, Kansas State

Sinnott was another Senior Bowl standout that got on my watch list in Mobile, and he backed that up with a 9.49 relative athletic score in Indy. Sinnott is an explosive mover with a 40-inch vertical who can play multiple spots in the offense and is a natural hands catcher. I'm a big fan of Sinnott's game, and now he's also a great athletic tester. He'll be a useful chess piece who should come off the board late on day two or early on day three.

Illinois tight end Tip Reiman
Illinois tight end Tip Reiman

Tip Reiman, Iillinois

Reiman might've helped his stock more than any tight end prospect in this year's draft on Friday night. At 6-5, 271 pounds, the Illinois product is built like an extra tackle. However, he can also run, posting a 4.64-second 40-yard dash with better-than-expected speed and ball skills. Reiman is known for being a dominant run blocker, and that was on full display when he hit the blocking sled, but that was an all-around workout from him on Friday night – a day-three target.

TCU tight end Jared Wiley
TCU tight end Jared Wiley

Jared Wiley, TCU

Wiley was one of the few players I saw live during the fall season against West Virginia. He immediately caught my eye as a vertical or horizontal stretch receiver with 4.62-second speed at 6-6, 249 pounds. Wiley won't break ankles at the top of the route, but he has potential as an in-line blocker, catches the ball well, and has the speed to threaten linebackers and safety. Wiley posted a 9.79 RAS out of 10 in his combine workout.

Cornerbacks:

As mentioned in the opening section, the Patriots shouldn't view cornerback as a major need this offseason, even following Jackson's release. Still, you can never have too many corners who can cover, especially in a man-heavy scheme.

With the Pats unlikely to take a corner early, here are a few standouts that could be day two or three picks that are Patriots fits at cornerback:

Notre Dame cornerback Cam Hart
Notre Dame cornerback Cam Hart

Cam Hart, Notre Dame

Hart's strong showing at the combine and the Senior Bowl might've solidified his stock as a day-two prospect, but most viewed him in the 3-4 round range entering the process. Hart is a long corner with excellent athleticism, posting a 9.82u relative athletic score (RAS). In coverage, Hart is a physical bump-and-run corner who uses his length to reroute at the line of scrimmage and ride receivers into the boundary. In terms of press-man prototypes with great size and enough long speed, Hart checks every box.

Oregon cornerback Khyree Jackson
Oregon cornerback Khyree Jackson

Khyree Jackson, Oregon

Jackson is another long prospect standing at 6-3, 194 pounds with nearly 33-inch arms who loves to smother routes at the line of scrimmage and use his play strength as a weapon. The Oregon product posted a 9.42u RAS with a solid 4.50-second 40-yard dash for a player of his size while also posting an excellent broad jump to show off his explosiveness (11'1"). Jackson has similar coverage traits as Hart, with both players likely testing into day two.

Rutgers cornerback Max Melton
Rutgers cornerback Max Melton

Max Melton, Rutgers

No, we aren't including Melton simply because he went to Rutgers. With a 4.39-second 40-yard dash, Melton posted a relative athletic score of 9.65 out of ten. Although he primarily played outside corner at 5-11, 187 pounds, Melton also has some experience playing nickel. Melton's tape against some tough competition was solid in man coverage, and he is an aggressive downhill player against the run. He has Patriot-like traits with inside-outside versatility.

Michigan cornerback Mike Sainristil
Michigan cornerback Mike Sainristil

Mike Sainristil, Michigan

Sainristil is an undersized cornerback prospect who tested as an average athlete (7.66u RAS). However, his field work was impressive, making it look effortless. Sainristil is also an instinctive player who primarily played nickel for the Wolverines but logged snaps on the perimeter and in the box – a versatile, smooth athlete with a knack for making plays against the run and pass.

Safety:

The Patriots defense made it work in the backend with several box safety body types replacing Devin McCourty as the primary free safety in a post-safety heavy defense last season.

With head coach Jerod Mayo and defensive coordinator DeMarcus Covington saying the defensive system won't change much from the Belichick era, the question is, will the Pats prioritize getting a true center fielder in the McCourty mold or continue on the same course?

Miami safety Kamren Kinchens
Miami safety Kamren Kinchens

Kamren Kinchens, Miami

Kinchens was squarely in the round two conversations heading into the combine, but a disastrous workout where he ran a 4.65 40-yard dash with a 2.11 out of 10 RAS could push him down the board. With that said, Kinchens had ten career interceptions at Miami with excellent anticipation and ball-tracking skills to find the football. Although they play different positions in the secondary, Kinchens's combine is reminiscent of Brian Branch's last year. Despite great film and football instincts, teams will knock him because of his athletic profile. It's worth noting that Kinchens has a good relationship with Pats personnel man Alonzo Highsmith.

USC safety Calen Bullock
USC safety Calen Bullock

Calen Bullock, USC

While asking around this week about who is the best pure free safety in this draft, Bullock's name came up more than anyone. Bullock didn't do all the drills at the combine, but he posted a 4.48-second 40-yard dash and moved extremely well during field work. The USC product has the length and movement skills to cover in man-to-man and play the deep-middle. He'll be a day-two pick.

Utah safety Sione Vaki
Utah safety Sione Vaki

Sione Vaki, Utah

Vaki is someone we should all have on our radars for the Patriots as a potential two-way player and core special-teamer on day three. Although he's too stiff to play deep safety, Vaki is an urgent tackler and stout player at the point of attack in the run game with an above-average athletic profile (6.98u RAS). Vaki can also play running back, with some teams asking for him to go through running back drills here in Indy. A classic Patriot, if those still exist.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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