With the most significant wave of free agency now in the rearview mirror, NFL teams are primarily focusing on the draft for the home stretch before April's selection process.
As the Patriots and others begin finalizing their draft boards, they'll have an opportunity to visit top college prospects at their respective campuses and host draft targets on top-30 visits. This week is headlined by Pro Days at major college programs nationwide, including a local connection roughly 25 miles north of Gillette Stadium at Boston College.
A small Patriots contingent led by college scouting director Camren Williams and personnel coordinator Brian Smith were in attendance to see eight players go through workouts inside Fish Field House on Boston College's campus. Williams led the prospects through football-specific drills on the field while Smith ran the athletic testing.
Although other potential day-three selections were participating in the Pro Day, the headliner was Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers.
Flowers drew 23 NFL teams to Chestnut Hill on Friday afternoon, running several routes with redshirt sophomore quarterback Emmett Morehead throwing the speedster passes. After running a 4.42-second 40-yard dash in Indianapolis, Flowers decided to stand on his combine testing numbers, so he didn't participate in the athletic testing portion, but he continued to solidify his stock as a first-round talent.
The explosive wideout's throwing session consisted of slant routes, five-yard outs, deep hitches, comeback patterns, slot fades, corner routes, and his favorite post-corner double move. From this vantage point, Flowers was trying to show scouts that he could do more than play in the slot, running his fair share of routes on the boundary.
At a shade over 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds, Flowers projects as a three-level threat from inside the formation. He has jitterbug quickness to break away from man coverage, a nice feel for finding soft spots in zones, and breakaway speed to pick up yards after the catch.
Along with creating separation with his short-area quickness, Flowers's best routes are vertical double-moves where he can snap off post-corner patterns and stutter-and-go's from multiple alignments. The route that dazzled those on hand was a post-corner where he started on the hash, faked an outside break like a corner route, then broke on the post and gained speed to track the ball over his shoulder.
Despite his size, it's also clear that Flowers has the release package and vertical speed to at least flex outside on occasion. He often uses the hop-step release shown above to gain ground on defenders and cause them to open their hips, allowing him to release off the line quickly. However, Flowers needs to be more efficient at the top of his routes while operating on a vertical stem to lose coverage at the next level, which is why some teams view him as a full-time slot (other than his size). I believe Flowers can play on the boundary at times, at a 25-30% clip, because he's a very capable vertical route runner. But his cleanest projection is to play in the slot while he develops a complete vertical route tree.
Flower ended the workout by showcasing his abilities as a returner, catching punts off the jugs machine and showing teams how he can use his explosiveness in that phase of the game.
Spinning it forward to him potentially becoming a Patriot, Flowers's skill set is an ideal fit with New England's other pass-catchers, including their offseason additions. The Pats have plenty of size, contested-catch ability, and bigger receivers capable of picking up YAC. But they don't have a twitchy receiver that creates downfield opportunities with explosive route-running, and that's describing Flowers to a tee, along with his skill as an open-field ball carrier.
Flowers, who also participated in the East-West Shrine Bowl, where he worked with the Patriots coaching staff, told Patriots.com that he hasn't had much contact with New England since getting to know them in Las Vegas. After they had an entire week together in Vegas, we probably shouldn't look too much into the fact that Flowers hasn't met with the Pats lately.
The bigger question and scouts we spoke with are truly divided on this: where do you feel comfortable selecting Flowers in April's draft? In Vegas, he was described to me as a fringe first-rounder but more likely a top of the second round prospect. However, Flowers's stock has soared throughout the pre-draft process, and most pundits now project him to go in the 20s.
That might make the 14th overall selection too rich for the Patriots, given that Flowers will likely need to play a specific role at the next level rather than being a true do-it-all receiver. Still, the BC product has left zero doubt that he'll be a dynamic playmaker at the next level, and New England needs to prioritize adding more of that this offseason.
Flowers deserves the headlines from Boston College's draft showcase, but he wasn't the only NFL hopeful that stood out on Friday. Eagles defensive lineman Marcus Valdez's versatility was extremely impressive. Valdez went through on-field drills at defensive line, linebacker, and then surprised the crowd by catching passes at the fullback spot. Valdez projects as an interior pass-rusher with the alignment flexibility to rush from the three or five-technique and might've put himself in the late-round conversation.
Along with Valdez, another Shrine Bowler who caught the eye was hybrid LB/S prospect Jaiden Woodbey. Woodbey was also on the West team that the Patriots coached in Las Vegas. He has the size (6-4, 235) and physicality to serve as a money-backer in the box, where he practiced at the Shrine Bowl, and the man coverage skills to play safety.
Lastly, Purdue quarterback Austin Burton, the son of WBZ Sports Director Steve Burton, showed off his skills for scouts clocking a 40-yard dash in the 4.65-4.7 second range. Burton tested well and looked at the part throwing the ball, too. He projects as an undrafted free agent.
The Patriots coaching staff and personnel department are on the scouting circuit for the next few weeks all over the country, but the missing ingredient to their offense might be down the street in Zay Flowers, while Boston College's Pro Day uncovered a few other hidden gems.
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