WESTON, Fla. — Amari Rodgers felt an immediate familial connection with the Patriots.
While making the rounds at the Senior Bowl, where players meet with all 32 NFL teams, Rodgers, one of the top receivers in the draft, hit it off with New England’s contingent.
“They were fun,’’ Rodgers said, shortly after powering up 24 reps in the bench press at the House of Athlete combine this past week.
The Clemson product said the meetings in Mobile, Ala., where players chatted with 16 teams one night and 16 the next, were “mentally taxing” but very beneficial.
“You get familiar with how teams feel about you and stuff like that. It was good getting in front of them,’’ he said.
Rodgers’s bond with the Patriots came from a mutual connection — his father, former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin, now the Ravens’ receivers coach.
“The guy I interviewed with, he actually used to be on the same staff or something with my dad, at [Southern Cal],’’ said Rodgers, who couldn’t recall the Patriots staffer’s name. “So, he knew my father, and we were talking about that. It was pretty funny. It was a pretty relaxed interview. He was a cool guy. I remember that, because he knew my father.’’
It’s possible Patriots special teams assistant (and former Trojans kicker) Joe Houston was the mystery connection. Though Houston and Martin’s tenures in Los Angeles didn’t overlap, the school ties exist.
Whoever it was, a positive report was filed because New England has kept tabs on Rodgers.
“I actually just interviewed with the Patriots’ receivers coach [Mick Lombardi] two days ago,’’ Rodgers revealed. “I had a FaceTime interview with him … It went great, he’s a great guy.’’
Rodgers believes he has the skills to fit into any pro offense but acknowledged the thought of playing in New England is particularly appealing.
“I can definitely see myself playing for Coach [Bill] Belichick,’’ he said. “Because he kind of reminds me of Coach [Dabo] Swinney as far as discipline. Very hard and very focused and stuff like that. I feel like the Patriots and Clemson kind of relate to each other, so I feel like I would fit very well in the Patriots organization.’’
The 5-foot-10-inch, 210-pound Rodgers has exceptional strength as evidenced by his personal-best showing in the bench press, where he had never topped 20 reps.
Since 2017, only two receivers — DK Metcalf and N’Keal Harry — produced more reps at the NFL Combine than Rodgers. Both the 6-3, 228-pound Metcalf and the 6-4, 225-pound Harry scored 27.
“I wanted to get 23, but I got 24, so that’s even better. I feel good about it,’' said Rodgers, who used that power to battle for contested balls during his Clemson career.
Rodgers’s explosiveness and technical route running make him a natural in the slot and as a return man. He believes his work ethic is what separates him.
“I feel like I’m the hardest worker in this draft class. And I feel like every day I come to work, I’m trying to get 1 percent better,’’ he said. “I’m not trying to waste any days, because you don’t have too many days. Game could be taken from you at any moment, so I just come in every single day ready to work, trying to get better.’’
Rodgers, who is waiting until his Pro Day to get clocked in the speed drills — the 40-yard dash and three-cone drill — did show off his smooth route running during Friday’s combine showcase.
“As far as my route running, my hands, my running to the catch, I feel like that’s second to none,’’ he said. “I’m confident in myself, as well, so I’m just ready to show it.’’
Rodgers wasn’t the only impressive receiver working the House of Athlete combine with former Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall and director of pro training Mo Wells.
Iowa’s Brandon Smith (22 reps) and LSU’s Racey McMath (21) also impressed in the bench press. Not every player participated in each drill, but Smith topped the ticket in the vertical jump (44.75 inches) and the broad jump (136 inches).
Smith’s combination of size (6-3, 205) and athleticism is perfect for today’s NFL.
“Most receivers are not that big even though there are some big receivers. Big receivers are like finding diamonds,’' said Smith, who said he hasn’t yet had any contact from the Patriots. “My attack on the ball, my jump-ball ability, one-on-one situations, that separates me from other receivers.’’
McMath, who said he had a “good” meeting with the Patriots at the Senior Bowl, served as a gunner at LSU before working his way into the receiver rotation.
He was destined to become a speed guy, given his name.
“To be honest, my mother, I was kicking a lot in her stomach. She said it felt like I was always running. She came up with the name, her and my father,’’ he said, smiling. “It’s not complicated, it’s as simple as that to be honest. It’s a unique name, for sure. And I am fast.’'
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.