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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Wed May 29 - 04:00 PM | Thu May 30 - 09:55 AM

Jaheim Bell Brings Explosiveness and Versatility to Patriots Tight End Room

Bell's college position coach and Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy offer insight into the Patriots seventh-round pick's journey to New England. 

Patriots selected Jaheim Bell in the seventh round of the 2024 NFL Draft.
Patriots selected Jaheim Bell in the seventh round of the 2024 NFL Draft.

After selecting quarterback Drake Maye, the Patriots went into the last two days of the 2024 NFL Draft with a clear objective: weaponize the offense.

Weaponizing the offense became a catchphrase for New England when de facto general manager Eliot Wolf used those terms at the combine in February. Wolf inferred that the Patriots offense lacked dynamic playmakers who could create a positive environment for their quarterback.

The Patriots personnel shortcomings were largely to blame for the demise of 2021 first-rounder Mac Jones. Jones had his slice of the blame pie, too. But the Pats former quarterback's supporting cast was also underwhelming, especially given his skill set as a point guard passer, and Wolf seemed to acknowledge that was an issue during Jones's three seasons in New England.

With the Patriots hitting the reset button with a more toolsy playmaker in Maye, Wolf quickly went to work to avoid repeating New England's mistake with Jones. The Pats personnel chief double-dipped in a strong wide receiver class with Ja'Lynn Polk (No. 37) and Javon Baker (No. 110) — two downfield receivers to pair with Maye's excellent arm talent.

Although the second and fourth-round picks have the most buzz, the Patriots potentially landed a steal with seventh-round tight end Jaheim Bell. The selection of Bell with their final draft choice (No. 231) would usually be seen as a lottery ticket on a player who's a long shot to make the roster. However, that's not the case here. Many pundits projected Bell to go two rounds earlier than where he ultimately landed.

New England also thoroughly vetted Bell, with exposures at the Senior Bowl, a private meeting before his Pro Day, a 30-visit in Foxborough, and even communication with Florida State's coaching staff after the draft about the best ways to integrate Bell into the offense. Clearly, the Pats have a plan for Bell that goes beyond a typical seventh-round pick.

According to Florida State deputy head coach and tight ends coach Chris Thomsen, the Patriots thorough process has provided comfort for Bell.

"What I think he feels good about is that they did their homework on him. They were the team that probably did the most homework on him. So I think he feels great," Thomsen told Patriots.com.

For his former position coach at Florida State, the Patriots reaching out after the draft for tips on coaching Bell was something new to Thomsen.

"I haven't really had that before, honestly. Somebody calling after the draft and saying give me the ways this person learns. Give me the things that you learned about him. I thought that was pretty interesting," Thomsen said. "It was pretty impressive that they were doing some follow-up. Give us a little bit of info to help us speed up the process. I really do think they've got a good role in mind."

Following a successful one-year stint at Florida State, where Bell had a career-high 503 receiving yards, the 22-year-old participated in the Senior Bowl. In Mobile, Bell was on assistant coach Troy Brown's American squad, with Brown serving as the team's offensive coordinator.

"I'm doing day three of the draft for Sirius Radio, and they're asking me who's still left out there. Jaheim Bell was sticking out like a sore thumb," Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy told Patriots.com. "I know going into the draft, the focus up there was on playmakers. To get a guy like that in the seventh round is an exciting pick. He's a guy I've never thought wouldn't make a 53-man roster next fall."

As an explosive utility playmaker, Bell has the physical traits and a clear path to a role in the Patriots offense.

Why did Bell fall to the seventh round?

After reading all this hype, you're probably wondering why Bell fell to the seventh round. If he's so talented, why didn't Bell go earlier?

It's a fair question that Nagy summed it up like this after talking to scouts and executives around the NFL:

"I was really surprised that he was still there [in the seventh round]. I've done some calls around the league to try to figure that out over the last couple of days," Nagy began. "I feel like the league, in general, has done a better job over the years taking guys we used to label as tweeners. Sometimes, when guys don't fit perfectly for a certain role, some teams just aren't real creative with it."

At 6-2, 241 pounds, Bell is what scouts call a "tweener." He isn't big enough to play traditional tight end but isn't quite fast enough to play wide receiver. Bell's versatility can be considered a strength since he has played tight end, running back, and wide receiver. However, a team needs a plan to maximize Bell's potential with alignment and scheme.

View photos of Patriots sixth round pick, tight end Jaheim Bell in action at Florida St.

"He can bring so many things to the table with his position versatility. You can move him around at tight end, you can motion him, and you can play him in the slot. He's lined up at fullback and running back. The bottom line is he's a playmaker," Nagy continued.

The other knock is that Bell lacks the size to be an in-line blocker. Therefore, to make him useful in the running game, Bell needs to play off the line where he can get a head of steam into his blocks while fitting up to similar body types, such as linebackers and safeties rather than defensive ends.

"He doesn't have the freedom to play on the line of scrimmage. He's not going to be a "Y" tight end. But in terms of playing fullback or as a wing and fitting up on the move – that's where the athleticism comes into play," Nagy added. "You can't fit a round peg in a square hole. He's not gonna be that guy that's attached to the line of scrimmage. But you can get a lot out of him in the block game because he is athletic in space."

Although criticisms of Bell's blocking are prevalent, Thomsen feels it's an underrated area of his game.

"People have to look at the tape on that. You always have to be realistic. He's not 6-6 and 265 pounds to go in there and just dominate the defensive end. But he's willing and really worked hard to get better at the technique," Thomsen said.

Bell's projection at the next level isn't as simple as penciling him in as a "Y" tight end or "X" receiver. It'll take some creativity from AVP's staff to unlock his playmaking ability and put him in positions to succeed as a run blocker. Still, it's worth the extra work for an offense needing dynamic skill players.

Projecting a Role for Bell in the Patriots Offense

Let's provide some background about his football journey to project Bell into the Patriots offense properly.

Bell began his collegiate career at the University of South Carolina. In three years in Columbia, the versatile utility man played tight end and running back for the Gamecocks, amassing 757 receiving yards, 301 rushing yards on 80 attempts, and ten total touchdowns.

Bell entered the transfer portal after former offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield left South Carolina. Florida State recruited Bell, who attended Valdosta High School, roughly 75 miles from Tallahassee, as a three-star recruit. The Patriots draft pick also attended high school with FSU quarterback Tate Rodemaker, so there were some "connecting pieces," as Thomsen put it.

Bell was ranked as the top tight end in the transfer portal, with Thomsen outlining what drew him to Bell when he turned on his South Carolina film.

"NFL, college, high school, we're all looking for guys who can either go down the field or break a tackle to create an explosive play," said Thomsen. "He can really win down the field vertically. He's big and strong. He's a 600-pound squat guy. He can line up in a lot of different spots, block well, and catch the ball down the field, which is what he does best. Then, break tackles. Guys that are that big in the lower body and that strong are just hard to get down."

"We could really put him in any spot where we thought there was a matchup problem for the defense. If it was a safety or a linebacker that we thought would have a hard time covering him, he was versatile enough to put him anywhere," Thomsen explained.

Although he's undersized, the plus side for Bell is that he's very athletic for a tight end. Bell posted an 8.43 out of ten relative athletic score at the NFL Combine. The Pats tight end's 4.61-second 40-yard dash ranks in the 75th percentile for weight-adjusted speed score, while it was tied for the third-fastest time among tight ends at this year's combine.

Nagy agreed with Thomsen's assessment, adding, "This guy can legit get down the seam. They probably didn't do as much of that with him as they will at the NFL level. He can really stretch the seam."

The other element Bell brings to the offense is his ability to run after the catch and produce on schemed touches. With his running back experience, Bell averaged 8.1 yards while breaking 12 tackles after the catch last season. The expectation is that Van Pelt will install a misdirection and play-action heavy scheme, setting up horizontal foot races for players like Bell. With Bell, the idea could be to get the ball in his hands off those play-action fakes with room to run.

"For sure, you can get him involved in that—on the leaks and the shallows and all those things," Nagy said. When he gets the ball in his hands, he can make plays. He's rugged."

Along with stretching the seam and carrying the ball, Thomsen added that Bell will contribute on special teams. As the projected third tight end, Bell will need to play in the kicking game to make the 53-man roster and carve out a game-day role. To Thomsen, that's a strength of Bell's game.

"The other thing, too, is his special teams skill set is elite because he can run in space and is physical. So he checks the boxes for what you look for in an elite special teams player. That's where he can bring a ton of value to the team," Thomsen said.

My next question to Thomsen was what his thoughts were on Bell returning kickoffs under the new NFL rules. With kickoffs now shifting to a more read-and-burst through the line skill, Bell's running back-like vision, contact balance, and explosiveness could be effective.

"Yeah, he could do that. He can do pretty much anything you want him to do on a football field," Thomsen replied.

Lastly, Thomsen outlined the worker behind the scenes the Patriots are getting in Bell, pointing to his professionalism even at the collegiate level. Specifically, Thomsen mentioned a stretch where Bell managed an ankle injury last season.

"He was in the building at 6 a.m. getting treatment. After practice was over, he ate lunch, went to take care of academics, and then it was two hours in the training room in the afternoon," Thomson said. Then, he studied the game plan. He went home at about 5 p.m. I felt like here's a guy who's approaching this like a pro."

The Patriots tight end room features incumbent starter Hunter Henry and free-agent addition Austin Hooper. The two veterans provide reliability, with Henry being a QB-friendly security blanket and Hooper having experience in Van Pelt's offense from their time together in Cleveland.

However, Bell brings an explosive play element that the two vets don't have at this stage. Bell is this group's fastest seam runner and most dynamic ball carrier. Plus, he's a very versatile blocker who can give the Patriots a chess piece at fullback or in an old-school H-Back role.

There's a clear role with value in Bell's big-play ability for this seventh-rounder to not only make the Patriots roster but make an impact offensively in New England.

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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