Two Patriots rookies continue to receive glowing reviews ahead of training camp

Liberty v Arkansas
Liberty v Arkansas / Wesley Hitt/GettyImages

Some may conclude the Patriots have an underwhelming 2023 draft class, but listening to the reviews from those who have coached several of these players, it's difficult not to be excited about their potential.

Amongst the chatter of the rookies, two players, in particular, continue to receive the most praise; wide receiver Demario Douglas and offensive lineman Atonio Mafi.

In a recent interview with NBC Sports Boston's Phil Perry, Shrine Bowl director Erik Galko discussed both players in-depth, not only sharing his impressions from coaching them but also how they will fit with the Patriots this fall.

First, Galko reviewed Mafi's best traits displayed during his 28 games at UCLA. He emphasized the lineman's ease of movement for a player his size, claiming he plays like a guy about 50 pounds smaller. He found that one of the more impressive aspects of his game since Mafi was previously a 400-pound nose tackle who lost the weight to move positions.

"But the way he moves, the way he's able to balance and play at the second level, he plays like a guy who's closer to 290-300 pounds. I think the upside there is still there. He's a guy who is still new to the position a little bit and still has a reason to expect to get a lot better."

He emphasized the growth Mafi has shown over the last two seasons in particular, sharing that those around UCLA have felt he was the most talented player on their roster, despite others being the faces of the team.

And when it comes to who he can be compared to on the Patriots already? Galko chose a rising star on the offensive line.

"So I think for a Patriots comparison, he's comparable to Michael Onwenu, the guard they also got on Day 3 (of the 2020 draft) and ended up starting for them early on as well. I think they're a little bit different players, but Mafi can have that same type of impact and it wouldn't shock me at all if Mafi started by the end of his rookie year. I think he's shown that he's extremely coachable and can make huge strides very quickly."

Perry then moved on to get more insight about Douglas, a wide receiver from Liberty who the Patriots drafted in the sixth round.

Galko talked about what stood out most from watching Douglas at the Shrine Bowl earlier this year and how he was able to stand out from one of the more prominent receivers in the draft.

"I think the first day, you know, a lot of buzz was on a different wide receiver, Zay Flowers, coming into the week, but Pop kind of showed that he's very similar to Zay Flowers in that way. I think the first couple days, I think it was a punt return snap where he just made two guys miss really quickly and you saw the twitch, you saw the burst. I think that opened up everyone's eyes right away."

He also mentioned how well-liked Douglas was by the Liberty coaching staff, who constantly raved about the receiver.

"The coaching staff there raved about him and said, 'Hey, we have to have him make plays for us. We can't have him run this whole diverse route tree. We got to get the ball on screens in quick plays and vertical routes.' But talking to Pop, he wants to get better so bad. He wants to develop as a route runner and really develop that nuance."

But the most impressive part of Douglas' game? His versatility.

His skillset allows him to be used nearly anywhere within the offense, and he's also experienced as a punt and kick returner, which the Patriots could certainly use on the roster right now.

On top of that fit for the team, Galko said Douglas' pairing with Belichick makes a lot of sense, especially since he's consistently trying to improve all facets of his game.

"So along with being a guy that's super twitchy, explosive, can be a returner, can be a receiver, slot receiver, can play outside. Genuinely, he wants to get so much better and has the right football character that it just makes sense that a guy like Bill Belichick would gravitate toward Pop Douglas."

So maybe their selections weren't the most exciting to New England fans, but if Galko described them accurately, it looks like Belichick may have struck gold on day three once again.