MOBILE, Ala. — The past 11 drafts, the Patriots have chosen nine wide receivers. Seven are no longer in the NFL. Only N’Keal Harry is still on the team.
With 10 picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Patriots are in need of another receiver — and are hoping to find one that won’t end up on a graphic with busts such as Taylor Price (2010), Aaron Dobson (2013), and Josh Boyce (2013).
This year’s Senior Bowl rosters featured 18 prospects at the position, with the most notable Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith out of Alabama. Smith, however, did not participate in practices or the game, and will probably be off the board before the Patriots’ first selection comes up at No. 15.
There will be plenty of other options, though, including a pair of Clemson wide receivers.
Capping a strong week of practice, Amari Rodgers caught a 15-yard touchdown and a two-point conversion for the American team during Saturday’s game. He scored the touchdown on a contested catch and maintained possession after sustaining a hit which drew a penalty flag.
Rodgers played both as a slotback and a split end, demonstrating his ability to get open from both spots. His primary role will likely come in the slot, where he can show off his shiftiness, physicality, and ability to run after the catch. He’s also quick, and estimated he can log a 40-yard dash time of around 4.4 seconds.
At 5-foot-9½ and 210 pounds, Rodgers is on the shorter side with a compact frame, but he showed his willingness to get vertical during one-on-one drills and reached to grab multiple catches in traffic, which elicited oohs and aahs from the crowd. Among those watching was his father, Tee Martin, an assistant coach for his alma mater Tennessee who played in the 2000 Senior Bowl.
As a senior last season, Rodgers was Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s most popular target, with a team-high 77 receptions for 1,020 yards and seven touchdowns. Rodgers also served as Clemson’s main punt returner (nine returns for 64 yards) and logged reps in Mobile, too.
According to early mock drafts, Rodgers is slated to go in the second or third round.
Cornell Powell, a teammate both at Clemson and on the American team, is considered much more of a sleeper but also put forth a memorable showing. His game performance Saturday was highlighted by a toe-tap catch along the sideline for a 21-yard gain, and he caught one other pass, also for 21 yards.
During practice, Powell proved to be adept at gaining separation. On Wednesday, he logged the fastest max speed, 20.47 m.p.h., in all seven-on-seven, one-on-one, and team drills.
In addition to his speed, Powell stood out for his route-running, change of direction, and great hands. Asked what he would list as his biggest strength, Powell said his versatility, citing his ability to play both outside and inside, as well as his interest in blocking linebackers.
Powell told the Globe he did meet with the Patriots on Tuesday night, along with 15 other teams.
“They want us to be genuine, be ourselves,” he said of his impressions. “They don’t want someone who’s going to go in there and fake it. Be honest. Just go out there and try to explain your passion for the game. It can’t be forced.”
As a fifth-year senior, Powell finished with 57 receptions for 882 yards and seven receptions. More than 80 percent of his production came in the second half of the season. He logged three straight 100-yard games, including 161 at Notre Dame and 176 against Pitt. Powell is just the third Clemson receiver to record back-to-back 150-yard games, joining DeAndre Hopkins (2012) and Sammy Watkins (2013).
Other names to watch include Florida’s Kadarius Toney, who was named the top receiver on the American team by the secondary. As a senior last season, Toney caught a team-high 70 passes for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns. His explosiveness and electric nature as a slot receiver have earned him first-round buzz.
Louisville’s Dez Fitzpatrick had the best stat line Saturday, earning the Offensive MVP award with six catches and 90 yards for the National team. His 80⅝-inch wingspan should give him a wide catch radius, in conjunction with his route-running and football IQ.
“I probably showed a big guy at my size can still move like a little guy, getting in and out of my breaks pretty well,” Fitzpatrick said. “A lot of guys don’t go out there and have pre-snap reads like I do. The first thing I’m looking at is the safety near me and the corner near my side. I almost know what the coverage is before they even go out there and the play is snapped.”
Michigan’s Nico Collins and South Carolina’s Shi Smith also impressed. Smith had three catches for 52 yards, including a 32-yard gain on third down after showing out throughout the week with his short-area quickness.
Collins, who opted out of last season amid the coronavirus pandemic, expressed gratitude to be practicing again. As a deep threat, he flashed his ability to win jump balls by taking advantage of his tracking ability and 6-foot-4 height. Collins also didn’t shy away from NFL commentary, saying he models his game after Tampa Bay Buccaneers wideout Mike Evans and is looking forward to matching up against Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey.