American Football

What the Patriots were looking for in the fifth round through seventh round of the NFL Draft


Tennessee v LSU
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

From UCLA’s Atonio Mafi at No. 144 to Jackson State’s Isaiah Bolden No. 245.

The New England Patriots began the final stretch of the 2023 NFL draft by making three selections in the fourth round.

But the final stretch didn’t end there for head coach Bill Belichick, director of player personnel Matt Groh and Co. The war room inside Gillette Stadium would call the names of an additional six prospects as noon became evening on Saturday.

Here’s a look into what New England was looking for in the fifth round through the seventh round.

No. 144: A well-connected DT convert in Atonio Mafi, G, UCLA

After moving back from No. 135 overall in a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders, in stepped a UCLA product who was coached by New England’s contingent at the East-West Shrine Bowl.

Atonio Mafi served as a team captain that week in January. The 22-year-old previously served as a defensive tackle, too, switching to the other side as a true junior following 45 tackles, six for loss and one forced fumble. Seeing action in seven contests as a reserve in 2020, Mafi made three starts at right guard in 2021 and became a full-time starter for Bruins head coach Chip Kelly last fall. Second-team All-Pac 12 honors were earned in the process as the senior finished tied for the program record with 56 games played.

A rugby history and a road-grading build, Mafi had worked down to 329 pounds at 6-foot-3 by his pro day. He had also worked his way to the Patriots on a “30” visit. The fifth-rounder joined fourth-round interior picks in Troy’s Jake Andrews and Eastern Michigan’s Sidy Sow.

No. 187: A former projected first-rounder in Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU

The Patriots did not go wide receiver until the sixth round. And for a former Freshman All-American who was once thought to go in the first round. Kayshon Boutte fit the flier category by the time the clock struck No. 187.

Boutte, who won’t turn 21 until early May, had set the single-game SEC record 308 receiving yards versus Ole Miss back in 2020. Yet after tallying 83 catches, 1,244 yards and 14 touchdowns through his initial 16 games at LSU, a broken ankle sidelined him for the final seven games of his sophomore season and required a second surgery. Wearing No. 7 as a junior, the Louisiana native ended his Tigers stay with 48 receptions for 532 yards and a pair of scores last fall under new head coach Brian Kelly.

An underwhelming performance at the NFL Scouting Combine followed. It saw Boutte run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds. At 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, he posted the shortest vertical jump — 29 inches — among wideout participants along with 9-foot-10 broad jump that ranked second to last at the position.

No. 192: A Jake Bailey answer in Bryce Baringer, P, Michigan State

After being the first team to take a kicker in Maryland’s Chad Ryland, the Patriots would also be the first team to take a punter: Michigan State’s Bryce Baringer.

The reigning consensus first-team All-American punted 161 times for 7,406 yards during a collegiate run that began as an Illinois redshirt walk-on in 2017. It ended as a graduate senior in East Lansing. His average of 46 yards per punt stands as a Spartans program record and Big Ten record. A personal best of 49 yards per punt arrived last fall to lead the nation.

An invitation to the Reese’s Senior Bowl then arrived for Barringer, a 6-foot-2, 216-pound powerful righty who celebrated his 24th birthday during draft week. He joins March signing Corliss Waitman at the position in New England after 2019 first-team All-Pro Jake Bailey was released leading up to the new league year.

No. 210: A compact slot spark in Demario Douglas, WR, Liberty

Back to wideout the Patriots went, taking Liberty’s Demario Douglas at No. 210 overall.

The 22-year-old redshirt junior finished his Flames career having led the team in receiving in back-to-back seasons. And with 172 catches for 2,193 yards and 16 touchdowns altogether. But Douglas began his stay as a Freshman All-American in the kicking game who returned punts for touchdowns from 70-plus away both in 2020 and 2021. He also made a visit to the end zone as a rusher across 40 appearances and 17 starts.

An elusive athletic profile at an undersized 5-foot-8, 179 pounds, Douglas clocked the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds in Indianapolis to go with a 39 1/2-inch vertical and 11-foot-2 broad jump. Another late-round variable entering New England’s equation in the slot and on special teams.

No. 214: A lot of size in Ameer Speed, CB, Michigan State

A graduate transfer from Georgia with 60 games on the odometer, Ameer Speed made 11 starts in his sixth season of eligibility after winning the national championship with the Bulldogs.

He recorded a career-high 62 tackles and his five pass breakups ranked second on the Spartans. He also saw 87 snaps on special teams. That is where 474 snaps had been amassed in Athens from 2019 though 2021. It is also where the path to a roster spot is closest.

The role aligns with the name. At a long 6-foot-3, 209 pounds, Speed was timed at 4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash during the Michigan State pro day.

No. 245: A standout returner in Isaiah Bolden, CB, Jackson State

Florida State transfer Isaiah Bolden, the first HBCU prospect off the board this April, wrapped it up for New England in the seventh round as the last member of a 12-man draft class.

The 6-foot-2, 203-pound redshirt senior saw the field for 26 games under former head coach Deion Sanders and started 11 at cornerback last fall. The fall prior, he led the FCS kickoff return average and notched a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown as well as a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Bolden ran the 40-yard dash in a reported 4.33 seconds at Jackson State’s pro day while leaping for a 38-inch vertical and 10-foot-9 broad jump.

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