Patriots Shrine Bowl Scouting: 3 to watch

The New England Patriots and coach Bill Belichick are spending the week in paradise…Nevada, that is.

The pats were one of two teams selected to coach draft prospects at the 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl, with the other Atlanta Falcons select staffers and head coach Arthur Smith. New England staff will coach the West, while Falcons coaches will coach the East.

Typically, the game served as a prominent vehicle for scouting potential talent and even served as a potential design-time pipeline.

For the Patriots, wide receiver Tyquan Thornton, cornerback Jack Jones, running back Pierre Strong, and defensive lineman Sam Roberts were all contestants in 2022, as were undrafted rookies LaBryan Ray and D’Eriq King. As the Patriots head into the upcoming season, they’re hoping to find similar success in finding some first-year gems in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Over the next few days, several of the nation’s leading prospects will attend drills and drills at the University of Nevada Las Vegas campus facilities in preparation for the game, which takes place Thursday, February 2 at Allegiant Stadium.

While many players are expected to draw attention during the week’s events, here are three players who might raise an eyebrow for the Pats coaching contingent in the Nevada desert.

Mekhi Garner: CB, LSU

The Patriots need a handsome defender at the perimeter, and Garner certainly fits the description. At 6-2, 212, he has both the power and length to compete at the catch point. Garner’s greatest asset is his ability to recognize route concepts and stay with his opponent. As a result, he is best in Zone. Despite being an adequate pressman defender, he needs to improve his technique and discipline to become more consistent. With Garner considered a top prospect for the East roster, look to the Pats to test his skills with some of their fast and powerful receivers. If Garner can hold his own while continuing to show fluid movements, the Patriots will likely give him a strong look when draft time comes.

Zay Flowers: WR, Boston College

Despite not training on Saturday, Flowers remains one of the most watched players of the week. The fast receiver is among the nation’s top slot prospects. He has the ability to use his route speed and field understanding to excel in fast-hitting routes with run-after-catch opportunities. He also displays a vertical element in his game that allows him to separate from his defender. Still, his ability to hold his own at 5-10 and 172 pounds against pro-caliber physical cornerbacks is something to watch all week. Flowers also had some questions about his pass-catching reliability. During his time on Chestnut Hill, he was inflicted with 24 drops, a drop rate of 11 percent. Knowing Belichick’s disdain for poor ball safety, look to Flowers’ west team coaches in the coming days to test him significantly in that area.

Michael Turk: P, Oklahoma

With incumbent punter Jake Bailey currently on the fringes of the “Foxboro family business,” the Patriots will keep a sharp eye on their West squad punter. After previous stints at Lafayette College and Arizona State, Turk relocated to Oklahoma in 2021. In his first season as a Sooner, he averaged 51.2 yards per punt while watching eight of his 35 punts go more than 60 yards. In 2022, he punted 63 times for an average of 46.8 yards. He earned the first-team all-conference in each of his four years of college, while his career average ranks among all-time FBS players. Turk can clearly use power and demonstrate an impressive hangtime during his work on Saturday. His workload should increase as the week progresses.

The 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl will be held on Thurs. February 2nd at Allegiant Stadium.