BSMW has been only sporadically updated for some time now. As I find less and less of the on-air sports media to be even remotely palatable, it is difficult for me to find the desire to write much about it.
Hey there, football fans. While we enjoy the Celtics’ show of resilience and ignore the Red Sox’ ongoing jigsaw puzzle of a season (who fits where?), let’s delve into the Patriots’ swollen summer roster, shall we?
Instead of going with the players I think will make the final 53 – because no one gets them all right and no one remembers anyway – I’ll list the entire 90-man squad as of Wednesday evening, with some hot takes to be expected before training camp in late July. For a refresher on the new kids (no, not those New Kids), please read our “That Guy” 2017 Draft Review and our “Who’s the FA? UDFA!” rundown of undrafted free agents New England invited to camp.
A few positions also feature the Zach Sudfeld Nominee for the new roster addition who captures hearts during the preseason, much like the lanky tight end did in Foxboro way back in 2013. For a refresher, please read this Doug Kyed piece from NESN, which began, “Forget the breakout star in New England – Zach Sudfeld may be the breakout star of the NFL this summer.”
And you know what? Kyed had a point. Sudfeld had eight catches for 101 yards and one touchdown in four preseason games, seeming like a solid choice for a complement to Rob Gronkowski. Sudfeld went on to catch zero passes in three regular-season games, so the love was short-lived. His name now serves as shorthand for fans’ summer lovin‘. I’ve also included a few Summer Faves, i.e. players whom fans will like but won’t expect to make the September 53.
Regarding the hot takes, please keep in mind that, much like the pundits who will spew them, I do not believe in them. They’re for entertainment and preparation purposes only.
On to the roster!
Quarterback: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
I mean, yeah. Right? No one could possibly think otherwise. Unless…
Toasty Take: The Pats should trade Garoppolo for a slew of picks after Brissett shows something in the preseason. “This Garoppolo kid? He’ll never be more valuable.”
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: After watching Garoppolo consistently demonstrate command of the offense in preseason, the brass trades Brady for an NFC team’s entire draft slate until 2020. “How long does Brady have? What about his concussions? Will Gisele let him play? This Garoppolo kid’s got amazing potential!”
Running Back: Mike Gillislee, James White, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, D. J. Foster, Brandon Bolden, UDFA LeShun Daniels, Jr.; James Develin and Glenn Gronkowski (Fullbacks)
A deep, variable lineup. Gillislee has the potential to take over the time-consuming Blount carries, while Burkhead seems to have a little of everything. Oh, and White just set a bunch of Super Bowl records. Should be a fun group to watch this summer.
Zach Sudfeld Nominee: Foster. As the coaches rest White and Lewis, Foster will excel this summer, with the most chances to show off his receiving skills. Also keep an eye out for Daniels, who at 5-11, 222 pounds, will probably get some carries within a yard or two of the end zone.
Summer Fan Fave: Lil’ Gronk. He does so many Gronk-like things, just smaller. Someone get the Groot/Baby Groot comparisons going, stat!
Toasty Takes: They cut Bolden to make room for Burkhead; they cut Lewis to give Foster a chance. “Lewis can’t stay on the field! They love this Foster kid!”
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: They end up trading away Gillislee to Philly to get LeGarrette Blount back. “Gillislee has no locker-room presence. They miss Blount!” (Chances of this will increase exponentially if Gillislee fumbles.)
Wide Receiver: Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Matthew Slater, Devin Lucien, Andrew Hawkins, DeAndrew White, UDFA Austin Carr, UDFA Cody Hollister
Loaded with talent, the challenges will come with trying to discover the best combinations on the field and whether or not to add any youth to the aging mix. Cooks, for whom the Patriots traded a first-round pick, will come under close scrutiny regarding his ability to decipher the playbook. The clutch duo of Edelman and Amendola returns. Hogan lived up to expectations (and, in the case of his AFC Championship performance, beyond them). Mitchell, the first draft pick to make consistent, pressure-filled contributions in years, could break out as a sophomore.
I think it’s funny how we have to put Slater on this list. He’s caught one regular-season pass in his career. To put that in perspective, that’s only one more pass than (insert name of anyone you know here.) I mean, maybe he should be listed as a safety?
Zach Sudfeld Nominee: Rookie Carr had massive production at Northwestern and could thrive as a slot receiver in this offense, especially against second- and third-string defenders.
Summer Fan Fave: Whoever returns punts in place of Edelman or Amendola. If White, for example, brings one back 30-plus yards, he’ll get a fan reception he hasn’t seen outside of Tuscaloosa.
Toasty Take: New England should release Amendola after one of the young receivers starts to look pretty good. “They can’t justify paying that much to a guy who’s not that productive!”
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: Cooks is a huge disappointment (this particular take should be deployed upon Cooks’ first obvious training camp mix-up). “He just can’t figure it out. No one said he was smart!”
Scorchin’ Summer Take: They trade away Edelman. (This take begins after Carr has multiple catches in the second or third preseason game.) “He’s a new Edelman. They need to get younger at the position. That Super Bowl catch was all luck!”
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James O’Shaughnessy, Matt Lengel, UDFA Jacob Hollister, UDFA Sam Cotton
I think we can all expect Gronk to have a slow-paced summer as the team brings him back from a surgery-shortened season. With Allen safely in the fold after a trade with Indianapolis, the third TE remains the spot in question. Lengel showed a solid understanding of the playbook and consistent blocking skills from different positions (in-line, backfield, motion). O’Shaughnessy’s a special teamer with eight receptions in two seasons, including two catches for -1 yard in 2016. Hollister caught 29 passes for 488 yards and six touchdowns at Wyoming last year. I know very little about Nebraska rookie Sam Cotton, but apparently the Patriots took some kind of a liking to him. (There’s probably a word for that.)
Zach Sudfeld Nominee: Hollister, who looks like the pass-catcher out of the new bunch. Summer scrimmage stats, baby!
Toasty Take: The Pats made a mistake letting Martellus Bennett go. “Dwayne Allen is fine, all right? But he’s no Martellus Bennett!”
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: Time to trade Gronk. He’s never on the field. “This Hollister kid can catch passes, and he’s so young and healthy!”
Tackle: Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming, LaAdrian Waddle, fourth-rounder Tony Garcia, sixth-rounder Conor McDermott, UDFA Max Rich, UDFA Andrew Jelks
A surprising show of stability by Cannon at right guard brought everything together last season, helped along by the return of Coach Dante Scarnecchia, who should already have a book deal for his autobiography in the works. How about Dante’s Internal: The Innermost Thoughts of New England’s Longtime Coach? No? Whatever.
In any case, Solder’s presence gives Garcia and McDermott some time to learn and advance in the system. Fleming’s job may be in danger, though right now he’s the best backup in Foxboro. I get the feeling this O-line will change a lot in the next 12-24 months.
My Own Sincere Take: I have never been impressed with McDermott. He has the raw tools, but he has yet to put them together. Of course, if any coach can help him, it’s Scar.
Toasty Take: Solder gets traded to let Garcia learn on the job. “How else is he going to learn? Practicing against blocking sleds? Trial by fire!”
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: New England will have rookie starting tackles by September. “The team is too cheap. They’re mad at Brady for the concussion thing!”
Guard: Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason, Ted Karras, James Ferentz, Jamil Douglas, Chase Farris, UDFA Jason King, UDFA Cole Croston
A fundamentally well-executing pair, Thuney and Mason had some tough downs vs. bigger, stronger competition. Without any draft picks used on the interior, Bill Belichick could look for help here. As it stands, though, not a bad pair to be stuck with, and Karras has shown some promise.
Toasty Take: Mason gets replaced for a longer-limbed pass-blocker.
I know, I know. Not all that toasty.
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels works up a new playbook without guards consisting of swinging gate plays. It is perfectly within the rules and lethally effective, causing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to bleed from his tear ducts. “They’ve got to do something to shake things up. Besides, Belichick lives for this stuff!”
Center: David Andrews, UDFA Cole Croston
The Patriots just signed Andrews to a multi-year extension, not bad for an undrafted player entering his third year. Croston’s a bigger guy (6-5, 314 vs. Andrews’ 6-3, 295) but Andrews is stronger and quicker, and he has the trust of a certain guy we like to call Gisele’s neurological study subject.
Toasty Take: Croston takes over for Andrews. I mean, it could happen, I guess?
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: Pats coaches cut Andrews because, “They don’t like Georgia!” I don’t know. Seriously, I got nothing.
Defensive End/EDGE: Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, Kony Ealy, Geneo Grissom, third-rounder Derek Rivers, fourth-rounder Deatrich Wise, UDFA Corey Vereen
The Patriots took Flowers in the fourth round in 2015. Nice pick. This year, they brought in more youth to be tutored by Ninkovich, a solid contributor whose locker room presence will set this crew on the proper path. Interested to see how often and in what way the team uses Ealy, who looks to position himself as a notable contributor. Rivers, New England’s top pick this year, has rare athleticism and seems only slightly less raw than sashimi. If Wise can follow the career of former Arkansas teammate Flowers, this position could stay in good shape for years to come.
Zach Sudfeld Nominee: Vereen has the kind of hustle that catches eyes and captures hearts. He should rack up some big plays against third-stringers and make the summer highlight reel. We could rename this the Justin Rogers Nominee, after the 2007 sixth-round edge player out of SMU who had a productive preseason in Foxboro and lasted until final cuts. (Confession: I loved Justin Rogers. Got picked up off waivers by Dallas and played special teams there for a couple of years.)
Summer Fan Fave: Grissom, a solid special teamer, should get some chances with the defense and make some plays. Hell, I’m rooting for him; there’s just not much room.
Toasty Take: Ninko’s out, Rivers is in. “He’s just not athletic, and that’s important.”
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: Rivers and/or Wise is/are total bust(s). “They just haven’t shown anything. This was a terrible draft!”
Lineman: Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine, Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo, UDFA Josh Augusta, UDFA Adam Butler
Branch and Brown return to anchor the line, with Valentine seeking more time in the rotation after a strong playoff performance (including this goal-line stop vs. Pittsburgh). New England added Guy from free agency, an intriguing player (6-4, 305, 4.5 sacks for the Ravens in 2015) who spent seven seasons with three teams before coming to Foxboro. With some bigger, younger dudes like Hamilton (312 pounds), Kilgo (314) and Augusta (347!), the Pats have a chance to develop depth at the position.
Summer Fan Fave: Augusta. I mean, a humongous rookie who stepped in at fullback in college? If he gets just one snap as a backfield blocker in the preseason, the Foxboro fan base shall be smitten.
Toasty Take: With some murmurs about Brown’s disappointing effort this past season (ProJo’s Mark Daniels spells out the situation from last December here), any lack of playing time will be viewed as a condemnation of his status at Gillette. “Another first-round bust? What is wrong with Belichick’s drafts?!?”)
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: If the Patriots don’t start Augusta at the nose and go back to their 3-4, they’re missing a huge opportunity. “Belichick has clearly lost his touch. How old is he? He can’t evolve!”
Linebacker: Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Jonathan Freeny, Trevor Bates, UDFA Harvey Langi, UDFA Ellis Brooks
Trading away Jamie Collins seemed to make no sense last season. Taking away the best athlete on that side of the ball seemed unnecessarily risky; however, a quick look at the highlights from the game up in Buffalo shows at least two occasions where Collins got himself out of position, hurting the defense and the team. So, to answer the question, “Are the Patriots better without Collins?” Maybe not on paper, but yes in terms of overall execution. The coaching staff will test this crew during summer scrimmages by seeing who fits where without Hightower on the field. The captain is more than the ‘backer glue, he’s the foundation. No one else listed above has his size-strength combo, so keep an eye on whether this crew can hold down the fort when he’s on the sidelines.
Zach Sudfeld Nominee: Langi got a $115,000 contract from the Patriots (thanks for the details, Mike Reiss), which seems like a serious downpayment for an undrafted player (read: the Pats must like him). Langi’s got decent size (6-2, 251) and speed (4.66 40), and made plays all over the field for BYU, even as a running back. Get them Langi jerseys ready! (Though, don’t, because he might not stay with 48.)
Summer Fan Fave: Bates is a quick-footed (6.75 3-cone) Maine alum who joined the Pats’ practice squad last fall. With a few well-timed plays, the former Westbrook, Maine resident seems like an ideal candidate to curry fan favor in the hot months.
Toasty Takes: Belichick is fine-tuning a way for McClellin to jump the line on passing plays (it’s now illegal vs. field goal attempts, but not during regular offensive downs, right?). “Juuuust by the edge of the rules, that guy.” Also, the Patriots will cut Van Noy because Langi looks so good. “They’ve got to go with the kid. Van Noy was never the answer. And by the way, how many BYU guys does one team need?”
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: If Hightower looks a little sluggish and/or doesn’t play much in the summer, look for trade rumors to start. “This is exactly like with Collins. Belichick doesn’t like that Hightower gets credit for two Super Bowl wins. BB hates the defense! The defense hates BB! So much hate everywhere!”
Magma Hot Summer Take: Belichick will cut all the linebackers and replace them with strong safeties to cater to today’s pass-first offenses. “He’s supposed to be a genius, but he’s going to outsmart himself!”
Cornerback: Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, Justin Coleman, UDFA Kenny Moore, UDFA D. J. Killings, UDFA Dwayne Thomas
Logan Ryan will be missed, but – again, on paper – after the addition of Gilmore and retention of Butler, this could be the team’s most talented corner crew in years. If Cyrus Jones can shake off the palpitation-inducing moments of his rookie year, he could become an essential contributor to this group. Wouldn’t be shocked to see a UDFA make it as a special teams player this fall.
Summer Fan Fave: D. J. Killings, if only for the awesome name-on-the-back-of-the-jersey potential.
Toasty Take: Gilmore is going to mess up at some point, and when he does, allusions to this play vs. Chris Hogan shall abound. (Also, if we’re going to belabor the point, to this play vs. Brian Tyms.) “You mean they spent all this money on this guy and didn’t extend Butler’s contract? They should call Gilmore ‘Quizno’s Sub’ because he’s always getting toasted!”
So, I guess a double entendre on “toasty.”
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: When someone plays well (Rowe, one of the Joneses, whoever), it’s time to trade away Butler. “He’s not happy here. Why not let him make money somewhere else? The Patriots are a selfish organization!”
Safety: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Brandon King, Jordan Richards, UDFA Jason Thompson, UDFA David Jones, UDFA Damarius Travis
While I was half-kidding about the zero-linebacker defense, it’s easy to see that the Patriots value a stable of safeties, both for defense and special teams. The McCourty-Chung-Harmon combo remains intact, while Ebner and King partner with Slater to maintain a strong special teams base. The clock is ticking on Richards (“Second-round pick! Belichick the GM is hurting Belich-aaauuugh Ican’tbreathe!”), with a trio of undrafted rookies looking to make their marks.
Zach Sudfeld Nominee: Thompson, who had a notable pro day mentioned in our “Combine Snubs Who Showed ‘Em” series (where we compared him to Slater), has the athleticism (6.57 3-cone, 11-foot-1 broad jump) and experience at Utah to contribute on special teams right away. Should be a fun guy to watch develop.
Summer Fan Faves: I’m putting both Jones and Travis here, for different reasons. Jones can return punts and, if successful this summer, will get fans talking about him. He also had nine interceptions as a junior (his highlight reel is here). Travis, who’s more of a strong-safety type, hits like a locomotive with a grudge, as seen in this highlight reel.
Toasty Take: A few solid hits from Travis while Chung watches from the sidelines, and whispers will begin about replacing the veteran. “I mean, seriously: what has Chung really done? He was a bust! He was nothing coming out of college!”
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: McCourty’s time in New England is over. “I mean, it has to happen sometime, right? Belichick’s looking to replace him. The Patriots are notoriously cheap!”
Stephen Gostkowski, kicker; Ryan Allen, punter/holder; Joe Cardona, long snapper
Same triumvirate for the past two full seasons, ever since New England drafted Cardona in the 2015 fifth round. Gostkowski had an odd, up-and-down season, hitting 27 of 32 field goals (84.4 percent, lowest since 2012) and 46 of 49 extra-point attempts. Those three PAT misses (plus three in three playoff games over the past two seasons) marked the first misfires since Gostkowski’s rookie year in 2006, when he doinked one. Allen, a UDFA from 2013, remained steady, averaging 44.7 yards per punt (with a career-high 41.4 net) while dropping 23 footballs inside the 20. We don’t really talk about Cardona much beyond his Navy status, which is the perfect scenario for a long snapper.
Summer Fan Fave: The Patriots tried out kicker Josh Gable at rookie camp. The second he – or any other new kicker – gets on the turf at Gillette and makes a PAT, the next missile-toed messiah shall be anointed. Plus, Gable has a series of trick shot videos posted online that will attract any pundit. “I mean, if the kid can hit the goal post on purpose instead of by accident – sign him up!”
Toasty Take: If Cardona misses one or two snaps, some idiot will blame the Navy. “Let’s be realistic, here: being in the NFL is a full-time job, right? He’s lost focus. No disrespect, but they should cut him.”
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: With their success in the Super Bowl, Belichick should forego the PAT and try the two-point conversion every time. “They got a 100 percent success rate in the Super Bowl. All you need is 50 percent to break even. Belichick’s totally going to do this! He loves math!”
Man, these hot takes can get exhausting. Training camp begins in late July. Better rest up.
Chris Warner is just going to enjoy the 2017 season. No revenge, no nonsense, only a very good team working on playing well. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @cwarn89.
New England has a solid reputation for taking undrafted free agents and making them into championship-level contributors, from offensive linemen like David Andrews (2015) and Stephen Neal (2001) to defensive backs like Malcolm Butler (2014) and Randall Gay (2004). Coach Bill Belichick isn’t nearly as concerned about how you get to Gillette as he is with what you do once you’re there.
Here’s a link to last year’s UDFA column, which includes running back D. J. Foster, cornerback Jonathan Jones, and defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton, all currently listed on the Patriots roster. I also recommend reading part one of our “Combine Snubs Who Showed ‘Em” series from March, which included four players listed below.
With only four draft selections this year, the Patriots had plenty of roster positions to fill with UDFAs. (For an up-to-date list, it’s tough to do better than NEPatriotsDraft.com.) Some compelling choices by New England this year. Despite how loaded their roster is already, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if one of these undrafted players ends up at Foxboro this fall.
All that, plus: welcome back, High School Fun Facts!
A Langi Day’s Journey Into Night: That’s what watching all those names get called in the final rounds last Saturday must have felt like for BYU linebacker Harvey Langi (6-2, 251).
Why Undrafted: Langi’s a run-stopping type of linebacker trying to get into a league that grows more and more concerned about the pass. He’s not super-strong for the position (23 bench reps). Langi also got flipped around to different roles, including running back, so his stats suffered a bit (57 tackles is decent, but low for a linebacker).
Why Invited: Showed solid speed (4.66-second 40-yard dash) and quickness (4.45 20-yard shuttle). Also, one team’s lack of position is another’s sign of versatility, as Langi started at both linebacker and defensive end and rushed for 79 yards and two touchdowns as a senior. For an in-depth breakdown of one particular play stopping a Michigan State drive, check out this video.
High School Fun Fact: Langi won back-to-back state championships at Bingham High School in Utah. (Go Miners!)
Fun, Kinda-Local Fact: Langi scored his two TDs vs. UMass, playing offense after BYU’s backfield got decimated by illness and injury. UMass will travel back to Provo next season, then host the Cougars in 2018 and 2019. Someone get Mike Reiss on the line.
Augusta Seizure: If you have a chance at nabbing a player like Josh Augusta, you’ve got to take it. The Missouri defensive tackle/planetoid – all 6-4, 347 pounds of him – got a mention in our aforementioned Combine Snubs series and could add interior tackle depth.
Why Undrafted: At one point last season, Augusta reportedly reached 390 pounds, which is a manageable amount if you’re talking British currency, but not English weight. He only put up 22 reps on the bench, a mediocre number for a guy taking on 300-plus pounders. Totaling 23 tackles in 12 games doesn’t exactly inspire the same reaction as a wolf in a Tex Avery cartoon.
Why Invited: Apparently, Augusta had a thyroid issue that he got under control this past winter, allowing him to get down to 347 (he has said he wants to play at 335). At his weight, a 5.19 40-yard dash is remarkable. Consider: New England third-round offensive lineman Antonio Garcia ran a 5.15 40 while weighing 45 pounds less. Also consider Augusta’s impressive 28.5-inch vertical.
High School Fun Fact: Augusta played defensive tackle and tight end for Peoria High in Illinois, making First Team All-State at both positions. He also won the 2012 Class 2A shot put championship.
Fullback Fun Fact: To see the big man as a fullback knocking two defenders out of the way, you can click on this link.
Jason And The Golden Flee: Another one of our combine snubs, Utah safety Jason Thompson (6-1, 210) lit up his pro day, ensuring a camp invite. Better to be snubbed in February than in April, I suppose.
Why Undrafted: Nominally a safety, Thompson totaled only eight tackles last year, which made him stand out about as much as a ball-point pen in an office supply store.
Why Invited: Eight tackles isn’t much for a starting safety, but it’s solid for a special teamer. His athleticism really earned him the call, though. In terms of combine safeties, Thompson would have been tops in the 3-cone drill (6.57 seconds), 20-yard shuttle (4.01 seconds), and bench press (20 reps). Add an 11-foot-1 broad jump and a 4.44-second 40, and we’re looking at another college special teams ace in the mold of Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner.
High School Fun Fact: At Kennedy Catholic High in Washington, Thompson earned Seamount League Defensive Back of the Year honors. He also played QB, passing for over 800 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Kids In The Hollister: Now, who says Bill Belichick lacks compassion? He brought in brothers! Twins! Perhaps Arkansas wide receiver Cody Hollister (6-3, 214) and Wyoming tight end Jacob Hollister (6-4, 239) can carpool to Gillette this summer.
Why Undrafted: As a receiver, Cody caught 27 passes in his career, with 10 of them coming in 2017. In terms of production, that’s like what a teenager accomplishes at the summer job his parents made him take but felt bad so they let him bring his phone to work. At tight end, though Jacob did well in the Mountain West Conference (First Team honors – 29 receptions, 488 yards, six TDs), it is viewed as a lesser league. He’s also a bit of a ‘tweener, size-wise.
Plus: Twins? I mean, do we really trust them, on the whole? Don’t twins communicate telepathically about taking over society? Could be. We’ll never know.
Why Invited: Cody notched eight tackles to earn Co-MVP of Arkansas’ special teams (along with their punter). As a pass-catcher, seven of his 10 receptions went for first downs. Jacob has the right size for a “move” tight end, and showed off some solid numbers at his pro day, including a 36.5-inch vertical that would have scored in the top five for combine tight ends, plus a 4.64 40 and 7.12-second 3-cone. (For comparison, former Pats TE Tim Wright ran a 4.64 40 and a 7.27 3-cone.)
High School Fun Fact: In Bend, Oregon, the brothers won the 5A state championship playing for Mountain View High, as Cody hauled in 12 passes for 146 yards in the title game. His QB was Jacob, who spent his senior year throwing for 31 touchdowns against only three interceptions.
Columnist Not-So-Fun Fact: The Wyoming Cowboys may have the least informative player page of any Division I school.
Along Came A Spider: Richmond safety David Jones (6-1, 205) got added to the list of hopefuls and could make a name as (yet another) special-teams contributor.
On the subhead, should I have gone with a David Jones’ Locker pun? Or maybe a Monkees reference? Eh. Moving on…
Why Undrafted: After only playing in six games in 2016, Jones tallied 29 tackles and two interceptions for the Spiders. Not the quickest defensive back, with a 7.31 3-cone and a 4.32 20-yard shuttle. His 12 bench presses probably failed to turn heads as well.
Why Invited: In 2015, the junior Jones led the FCS with nine interceptions while racking up 97 tackles. Jones’ 4.43-second 40 would have made him the third-fastest safety at the NFL Combine. He also returned punts last season, bringing one back 68 yards for a touchdown.
High School Fun Fact: Jones won three straight city championships at St. Petersburg (FL) Senior High, including going undefeated in 2010. He also lettered in hoops and track and field.
I’m calling it: Jones is the under-the-radar guy the Patriots end up keeping. He graduated Summa Cum Laude, for Pete’s sake!
Just What I Needed: A song by the Cars for a very special Carr – Austin Carr (6-0, 202), that is – who, given his production as a Northwestern receiver, must have gotten other offers after the draft. He also made our list as a notable Combine Snub.
Why Undrafted: Hard to say, but it seems that the slot position gets undervalued. Also, a 4.62-second 40 can make a receiver get left behind (literally, I suppose).
Why Invited: Carr made All-Big Ten First Team, leading the conference in catches (84), yards (1,196), and touchdowns (12). Looking beyond the aforementioned 40 (“a-forty-mentioned?” No?), Carr crushed his pro day, especially with quickness scores (4.07 20-yard shuttle, 6.70 3-cone) that would have placed him in the top four for combine receivers. He uses that slipperiness to get open, as seen in this impressive video of him vs. Ohio State.
High School Fun Fact: Carr put up crazy numbers as a senior at Benicia (CA) High, including 1,481 yards rushing with 19 TDs and 844 yards receiving with 11 TDs.
Non-Football High School Fun Fact: After winning his school’s and county’s Poetry Out Loud Competition, Carr competed in the event as a state finalist.
King ‘Maker: Guard Jason King (6-3, 303) out of Purdue will seek solace in the offensive line’s interior, where the Patriots could probably use some depth.
Why Undrafted: His pro day numbers failed to show much athleticism, from a pedestrian 5.30 40 to a pedestrian-stuck-on-the-curb 7.75 3-cone. Also, interior offensive linemen tend to get overlooked on draft day.
Why Invited: His 35 bench reps would have tied for top overall number at the combine. A Big-Ten Honorable Mention last season, King helped the Boilermakers’ top two rushers average over five yards per carry on the year. He has started every game since his sophomore season.
High School Fun Fact: While blocking for Pulaski Academy in Arkansas in 2011 (Go Bruins!), King’s team averaged over 51 points per game, going 14-0 and winning the state championship.
Leave Them Asking For Moore: Valdosta State cornerback Kenny Moore probably wasn’t playing it coy during draft day, but now he finds himself in Foxboro with the opportunity to become another Patriots defensive back from a Division II school. (We see you, Malcolm Butler.)
Why Undrafted: Division II guys get overlooked like gum on a sidewalk, in that you’ve got to make contact in order to appreciate their sticktoitiveness. (Was that too much? Felt like a long way to go.) Moore’s also a smaller dude at 5-9, 185.
Why Invited: Moore made 2016 AFCA National Division II First Team All-American by leading the Blazers with 65 tackles, including 6.5 for loss (one sack), five interceptions, and eight pass break-ups. You can watch his season highlight reel here.
High School Fun Fact: While playing for Lowndes High in Valdosta, Georgia, Moore helped his team go 9-2 and make the GHSA Class AAAAAA Playoffs (aka the Fonzie Division).
Killings’ Field: Pretty strong football name for D. J. Killings (5-10, 187), a cornerback out of Central Florida. The last cornerback the Patriots drafted out of Central Florida? Asante Samuel.
Coincidence? (Absolutely. It is the definition of coincidence.)
Why Undrafted: Killings had to work through some injuries his junior year, essentially his-own-last-naming his chances at preseason hype for his senior year. The Knights finished 6-7 overall, 4-4 in the little-ballyhooed American Athletic Conference.
Why Invited: The senior had 42 tackles, three interceptions, and 11 pass break-ups. He also put up solid pro day numbers, including a 4.48 40, 10-4 broad jump, 22 bench reps, and 6.97 3-cone.
High School Fun Fact: Killings was ranked by ESPN as the 103rd-best cornerback in the country while playing for First Coast High in Jacksonville, FL.
Max Effect: Say what you will about the level of competition, but Harvard has had a very good football team for many years now. Offensive lineman Max Rich (6-7, 311) has been part of that success, and judging by his pro day, it’s easy to see why. (He’s another one of our Combine Snubs, by the way. I’m just saying.)
Why Undrafted: The Ivy League doesn’t exactly provide a launching pad to the pros. Also, judging by his player photo, he’s got to straighten his goddamn tie. I’m fishing for reasons, because otherwise…
Why Invited: Rich made First Team All-Ivy and really got noticed after the Crimson’s pro day. He ran a 5.12 40 and a 7.18 3-cone, the latter of which would have crushed the O-line competition at the combine. His 30-inch vertical would have made top five for linemen. Rich also was a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which awards soup.
Nope, sorry: I’m being told the William V. Campbell Trophy is awarded by the National Football Foundation and is also known as the Academic Heisman.
High School Fun Fact: Named Outstanding Senior Lineman at Jesuit High in Portland (Oregon), Rich also won back-to-back basketball championships as a junior and senior.
Butler Cleans Up: Vanderbilt’s Adam Butler (6-4, 293) got the call and will arrive in Foxboro to try to make the roster among an already crowded field of defensive linemen.
Why Undrafted: Not Mercury with a 5.23 40. Not Hercules with 23 bench press reps. Had 31 tackles as a senior, hardly the type of number that will get scouts rushing for the phone like that scene in Airplane!
Why Invited: His 28.5 inch vertical? Not too shabby. Most importantly, Belichick attended Vanderbilt’s pro day, so we have to assume the coach saw something he liked. Other likable traits include 7.5 tackles for loss, including a team-leading four sacks that all came against SEC opponents. Butler also moved around the line from tackle to end, showing the type of adaptability Belichick covets. His highlight reel – complete with more F-words than your dictionary between the letters E and G – can be found here.
High School Fun Fact: A two-time captain for Duncanville High in Texas, Butler blocked eight field goal attempts his senior year. He also played center in the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl in Dallas.
Gopher It: Things are looking golden for Minnesota’s Damarius Travis (6-1, 206) after an invite to prove himself at the strong safety position.
Why Undrafted: Man, a 4.65-second 40 can ruin your entire spring. Travis is also slightly smaller than advertised (his player page calls him 6-2, 215). He missed most of the 2015 season after injuring his hamstring in the opening game.
Why Invited: How much does a 40-yard dash really mean, anyway? (Malcolm Butler ran a 4.62 at his pro day, for what that’s worth.) He did show some quickness with a 4.14 20-yard shuttle and a 6.96 3-cone (compared to Butler’s 4.27 and 7.20 – Heavens, what a miserable pro day Malcolm had!). Travis led the Gophers with 83 tackles (five for loss) and had two interceptions. For a highlight reel that makes it look like Travis hits so hard he’d make a ton of bricks wince, you can go to this link.
High School Fun Fact: Travis’ team won the district championship during his senior year at Pensacola High in Florida.
Croston The Line: Offensive lineman Cole Croston (6-5, 314) out of Iowa could provide some depth at the center position, currently manned by 2015 undrafted free agent Andrews out of Georgia.
Why Undrafted: As is pretty typical, not a big year for interior O-linemen in general. Croston had a tough year with injuries, missing four full games. Slow-footed showing at the pro day with a 5.29 40 and a 7.61 3-cone drill. His 17 bench reps seem light for the position.
Why Invited: Great size, and comes from a solid program coached by longtime Belichick ally Kirk Ferentz. As a junior, Croston saw time at both tackle positions, starting six games on the right and four on the left.
High School Fun Fact: Croston earned first team all-conference honors at Sergeant Bluff-Luton High in Iowa as both an offensive lineman and a punter. (Sgt. Bluff Luton should be a recurring character on “NCIS: New Orleans,” a title I started writing as a joke before discovering that show actually exists.)
College Fun Fact: The only Iowa player the Patriots have drafted under Belichick was an offensive lineman – center Mike Elgin in 2007.
Any Volunteers? Here’s one: defensive lineman Corey Vereen (6-1, 254) of Tennessee has an uphill battle to make the roster as a pass-rusher, but stranger things have happened.
Why Undrafted: An undersized defensive end, Vereen appears to lack the speed (4.92 40) and quickness (7.50 3-cone) to convert to a linebacker or edge position. Also, anyone playing on the same line as Philly first-round pick Derek Barnett will fail to get credit, as Barnett got most of the attention from both opposing offenses and scouts.
Why Invited: With a solid 26 bench reps, Vereen shows the strength he used to get around blockers. You also have to respect his production, as he came in second on the Vols with seven sacks on the year, part of 11.5 tackles for loss. He also recovered two fumbles and broke up three passes. Looking at his highlights from his junior year, his gait and tenacity resemble Rob Ninkovich.
High School Fun Fact: Over his last two years at West Orange High in Florida, Vereen totaled 31 sacks – 16 as a junior, 15 as a senior.
Why Undrafted: At his size, a 4.66-second 40 probably won’t do it. Thomas also injured his knee as a sophomore, cutting his season short. He started only three games in 2016 and spent about half the year at nickelback, a position that scouts tend to overlook (and a band that should be).
Why Invited: Despite limited playing time, Thomas had 42 tackles including seven for loss and one sack, plus one interception and seven pass break-ups. Showed versatility all across the defensive backfield throughout his career.
High School Fun Fact: Thomas had three interceptions and 14 pass break-ups as a senior at O. Perry Walker High in New Orleans.
High School School-Based Fun Fact: O. Perry Walker High was named after Superintendent Oliver Perry Walker when it opened in 1970. In 2013, the school merged with L. B. Landry High, named after Lord Beaconsfield Landry, an African-American activist and doctor.
I Learned My LeShun Well: Iowa running back LeShun Daniels (5-11, 222) will live to tell stories about heading to New England and going to camp with the defending Super Bowl champs.
Why Undrafted: Not much stands out from Daniels’ pro day. It’s not a bad 40 (4.53 seconds), but the 3-cone (7.28) leaves some quickness to be desired. Iowa had an up-and-down year, offensively, as they won three games scoring only 14 points in each.
Why Invited: The Patriots could use another big back in camp. His 4.45 20-yard shuttle and 36-inch vertical look impressive coming out of a runner that size. Daniels was named the offense’s Most Valuable Player and a permanent team captain in 2016, rushing for 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns. Thanks to the Internet, you can watch a montage of Daniels running the football and working out while looking as ripped as a Drax action figure.
High School Fun Fact: At Harding High in Ohio, Daniels rushed for 1,614 yards and 15 TDs as a senior, also lettering in track for four years.
NEPatriotsDraft.com named the two following players as tryouts for New England. By the time you read this, they may be sitting on a plane headed for another team’s camp. Ooh, the NFL off-season! So many moving parts!
We’ve Hired A Second Butler: Or maybe a third, even. We shall see if Rodney Butler (6-0, 230), a linebacker out of New Mexico State, can bring his college productivity to the NFL level.
Why Undrafted: Most of what you need to know sits in the previous sentence, from the lesser-known Aggies to the smaller-sized linebacker. Butler also had a mediocre pro day, putting up a 4.76-second 40 and a 7.40-second 3-cone, both of which lacked the speed for a smaller guy like him to stand out.
Why Invited: Production. Butler made All-Sun Belt First Team by compiling 165 tackles on the season, leading the nation with a 13.8 per-game average over 12 games. In NFL terms, if Butler maintained that average over 16 games, he would total 221 tackles, or 54 more than this season’s league-leader Bobby Wagner. (I don’t care if you’re playing in the NFC, the Sun Belt Conference, or the Mayflower League, 13.8 is an impressive amount.) Butler also jumped a 39-inch vertical that would have been the top score for combine linebackers, and he put up 23 reps on the bench, which would have been top five.
High School Fun Fact: This guy’s been producing longer than Robert Evans, as he racked up 118 tackles as a senior at Palm Springs High in California to become Desert Sun Defensive Player of the Year.
I’m Being Serious, You’re Telling Jelks: Oof. Close, but no. Time to wrap up this column with Vanderbilt offensive lineman Andrew Jelks (6-6, 309), to bolster the blocking back-ups. (Christ, now I’m resorting to alliteration. Strike the set! We’re done here!)
Why Undrafted: Jelks missed the entire 2016 and 2015 seasons with knee injuries. He ran at his pro day and delivered sub-par numbers, including a 5.61 40 and a 8.06 3-cone. Jelks is getting over a serious double-dose of mishaps, but I’ll say it: those times seem geological.
Why Invited: Despite his injury, Jelks’ teammates named him a team captain, which says a lot about how they viewed him. As mentioned before, Belichick spent time at Vanderbilt’s pro day, so he must have seen something that initiated this call. Jelks was named a Freshman All-American for his work at right tackle, then started on the left his sophomore year. He has solid size for the line and could provide a smart investment after spending a year on injured reserve.
High School Fun Fact: At Henry County High in Tennessee, Jelks played left tackle on his senior year’s 15-0, state-title-winning squad, where he accumulated over 70 pancake blocks.
(Well, looky here how I’m walking away from the obvious pancake puns! I think I’m really maturing.)
Local College Fun Fact: Jelks’ first career start happened against UMass at Gillette Stadium in 2013. You can watch number 50 start at right tackle and move around, including a brief stint as a blocking tight end at 1:18.
Well, my friends, thanks for following this site throughout the Pats draft process. We might post a roster review at some point, but right now New England has so much talent on paper it’s going to be very difficult (and, dare I admit, futile) to figure out who’s sticking around in September – and that’s not including the horrible roulette wheel of injuries that befall every team.
One word of advice … well, call it encouragement: enjoy this year. The team has won two Super Bowls in three seasons, which happened to be two of the most exciting games ever. If you can’t have fun as a Patriots fan now, when can you?
Have a great spring. Enjoy the weather. Check out the Breakers. See you down the field.
Chris Warner dreams of playing Aaron Burr on Broadway and understands that dream shall always remain unfulfilled, which is really better for everyone. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @cwarn89
Well, here comes the shortest Patriots draft story ever. After an active off-season that saw New England bolster its roster before the draft, Bill Belichick didn’t have a ton of holes to fill going into last weekend. The team had traded their first-round pick to New Orleans for receiver Brandin Cooks and had swapped their second-rounder with Carolina for pass-rusher Kony Ealy and a third-rounder. They’d also obtained tight end Dwayne Allen and a sixth-rounder from the Colts for a fourth, and signed away running back Mike Gillislee from the Bills for a fifth.
This, of course, made the first two rounds of the NFL Draft pretty boring for Patriots watchers. I’d compare it to watching grass grow, but at least in that case you can a) see some kind of change, and b) get reminded of a wonderful, haunting Peter Gabriel video.
The Patriots got active later on Friday, picking up a couple of players in Round Three who could become a productive part of New England’s future. In all, the team drafted four players, the lowest amount not only in Belichick’s tenure but in franchise history.
For a look at the categories I missed before the draft (and with only four picks, there are quite a few), have a gander at my final pre-draft “That Guy” column. You know what? I’m not ashamed. Not all that proud, sure, but still: not ashamed.
By the way, that Peter Gabriel video is from 1992. The Patriots’ first draft selection was born two years after that. Just reading the previous sentence makes all my joints feel sore. Oof, my hip!
Here are New England’s 2017 draft picks, listed by round and overall number:
Round Three (83): DE Derek Rivers (6-4, 248), Youngstown State
Round Three (85): OT Antonio Garcia (6-6, 302), Troy
Round Four (131): DE Deatrich Wise (6-5, 274), Arkansas
Round Six (211): OT Conor McDermott (6-8, 307), UCLA
The Trades: Ah, yes. As with most years, Belichick and Co. had more moving picks than an NBA center. They opened Day Two with two selections in the third (72 and 96). First they moved back, giving up 72 for Tennessee’s third- (83) and fourth-rounder (124). After picking Rivers with 83, they moved back up to 85, giving Detroit a third (96) and their newly-obtained fourth (124). So, essentially, the Patriots swapped 72 and 96 for the 83rd and 85th selections.
Like most, I figured the Patriots would look for a Backup Tight End in the draft, and they did, sort of. On Day Three, they traded their fifth-rounder (183) to Kansas City for tight end James O’Shaughnessy and a sixth-rounder (216). To cap off the draft, New England moved up in the sixth by switching their slot (216) and throwing in their seventh-rounder (239) with Dallas’ sixth (211). They used that final pick on McDermott.
On to the picks and the New England draft tendencies they fit (sometimes):
The Long-Limbed Defensive End: Now referred to as the Trey Flowers category, Rivers will look to get into the pass-rushing rotation and – if all goes well – become a bigger part of the defense by his sophomore year, much like Flowers did. Rivers has great athleticism, as his 4.61-second 40, 30 bench reps, 35-inch vertical jump, and 6.94-second 3-cone time all made top five for defensive linemen at the NFL combine. At Youngstown State (which would have also qualified him for our Small-School Defender category), Rivers absolutely Godzilla’d the joint, making All-Missouri Valley First Team with 15 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss, along with three fumble recoveries.
Fun Fact: The Youngstown State team nickname is the Penguins. They are the only four-year college in the country with that nickname. Check out mascots Pete and Penny!
Offensive Line Double-Dip Guys: New England drafted zero offensive linemen in 2013. Since then, they’ve taken no fewer than two per year, starting with Bryan Stork (Florida State) and Cameron Fleming (Stanford) in 2014. Garcia had a great senior year, making All-Sun Belt First Team while preventing any sacks against him personally on a line that allowed the fewest sacks in the country (nine). He had a notable performance against Clemson that included six knockdown blocks. Athletically, he has shown good speed (5.15 40) and quickness (7.70 3-cone), and his 31-inch vertical jump was the second-highest for offensive linemen at the combine. The latter half of the double dip, McDermott, has a few similar qualities to current Pats left tackle Nate Solder, who’s also 6-foot-8 and also a former tight end. McDermott ran a 5.18 40 and jumped 28.5 inches, the latter of which is a top-eight combine score. At UCLA, McDermott made All-Pac-12 Conference Second Team. Though both players are lighter at 302 and 307 pounds, respectively (yes, say hi to football and sumo wrestling, where over 300 pounds makes you “light”), they can use their rookie years to develop within New England’s system. Strong picks for the future.
Fun Facts: Garcia averaged 12 points per game and was named all region honorable mention as a basketball player at Charles R. Drew High in Riverdale, Georgia. McDermott averaged 15.2 points and 8.5 rebounds as a senior at Ensworth High in Tennessee and was named the state’s Mr. Basketball in his division.
Fun, Kinda Freaky fact: McDermott has 11-inch hands. Go grab a ruler, put your hand at the base of it, and see how much bigger Fryin’ Pan Hands McDermott’s mitts are.
The Back-To-The-Well Guy: When the coach finds a player he likes and/or a college system he appreciates, he has a tendency to return to that school for the draft (think: Rutgers). With Flowers contributing at such a high level in 2016, the Wise pick is no surprise. He got a mention in our “That Guy” Senior Bowl column as a Long-Limbed Defensive End after standing out in the East-West Shrine Game (his 36-inch tentacles helped). Wise showed decent speed with a 4.92 40, a strong broad jump (10-foot-4) and a solid vertical (33 inches), but he stood out in the 3-cone with a 7.07-second time. A team captain at Arkansas, Wise had 49 tackles (5.5 for loss) and 3.5 sacks. If he can go after the game with a similar approach to his former college teammate, he could develop into a strong, consistent contributor.
Fun Fact: Wise earned his district’s Defensive Player of the Year honors at Hebron High in Carrollton, Texas after racking up a whopping 113 tackles and 10 sacks.
Coming up later this week, an in-depth look at the many undrafted players New England will bring in to camp. Is it odd that I’m excited about this? Maybe a little, right?
Thanks for reading, and see you soon.
Chris Warner still gets a little freaked out by the “Shock the Monkey” video. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweeted at @cwarn89.
Over the past few months, we at BSMW have tried to get Patriots watchers ready for the draft with a steady, accessible stream of info. (By the way, at my age, I’ve grown to appreciate a steady, accessible stream.) Anyway, from reviewing past drafts to categorizing future ones, we’ve tried to set you up for no surprises on NFL Draft weekend – or at least, as few as possible. Selections begin the night of Thursday, April 27 (Round One), and continuing through Friday night (Rounds Two and Three) and Saturday (Rounds Four through Seven).
Though at this point Coach Bill Belichick could make a nice, comfy bed out of his laurels, he refuses to rest on them. In the past, he has cautioned about drafting for need, saying that, if you pick a specific position and miss, then the next year you’re picking for the same position. As examples of how the coach seeks out NFL-proven players over unknown college quantities (and thanks for your column, Mike Reiss), he dealt his first-round pick (32 overall) to the Saints for speedy receiver Brandin Cooks. He bulked up New England’s defensive line by swapping draft picks for Carolina’s Kony Ealy and signing ex-Raven Lawrence Guy. He traded a pick for tight end Dwayne Allen with the Colts. He signed running backs Rex Burkhead (formerly of the Bengals) and Mike Gillislee from the Bills, the latter costing the Patriots a fifth-rounder.
At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if they traded up in the draft and focused on three or four guys, because – just looking at this roster on paper – not a lot of rookies are going to make it to September. But it’s going to be fun to watch.
As of this writing (and with Belichick, aka Trader Bill, this can all change in a matter of minutes), New England has six picks overall, though none on Day One (Round One). They do have two Day Two picks with third-rounders (72 and 96 overall). On Day Three, they have one fourth (132), one fifth (183), one sixth (200), and one seventh (239).
On to the review!
Round-By-Round Review: Back in February, we got over our post-Super-Bowl haze long enough for our annual look at New England drafts since 2000. This list is arranged by round instead of year, a framework that showcases potential trends under Belichick.
Highlights: Well, Tom Brady in Round Six. I mean… duh. (Sorry. That’s something my daughter’s gotten into the habit of saying, and it’s getting to me.) Also, some notable success in the fourth round over the past few years, with players like Malcolm Mitchell, Trey Flowers, Shaq Mason, and James White showing up big on the big stage.
Patriots Draft Preview, “That Guy” Senior Bowl Edition: The “That Guy” series investigates the types of players New England has drafted and makes predictions based on such categories. Posted a few days before the Super Bowl, our first such column of the year pointed out some standouts from the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game.
Highlights: Villanova defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon (6-7, 283) at the Senior Bowl and Arkansas end Deatrich Wise (6-5, 274) at the Shrine Game both stood out in the Long-Limbed Defensive Guy category. Also, we’ve liked Mississippi State pass-catcher Fred Ross as a Seventh-Round Slot Receiver since his Senior Bowl performance.
By the way, does no one keep track of official stats at the Senior Bowl? Take a couple of minutes online trying to find Ross’ numbers from that game. I have him catching at least three passes, but I have yet to see a complete stat sheet anywhere. I mean, come on, NFL: how are we supposed to care if you don’t?
Thank you, readers. I needed that.
Patriots Draft Preview, “That Guy” Combine Edition: In light of player testing at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis in early March, we based certain picks for the Pats on their athleticism and availability in each category.
(See how I’m trying to make this process sound scientific? I assure you, it is not. At least not any more than in a “here’s why heads comes up in a coin flip” kind of way.)
Highlights: Speaking of flipping, UConn safety Obi Melifonwu (6-4, 224) had a 44-inch vertical jump and an 11-foot-9 broad jump to capture our Freakishly Athletic Guy category. Also, defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson (6-3, 310) debuted as our Alabama Guy, a position he has kept since.
Combine Snubs Who Showed ‘Em, Part I: For every NFL hopeful who gets invited to the combine, many more do not. Each player’s pro day gives him a chance to show scouts how well he can perform. As happens every year, we had some contenders who will get invited to camps this summer.
Highlights: Lots of intriguing, athletic offensive linemen, including Alabama State tackle Jylan Ware, who, at 6-8, 317 pounds, ran a 4.92-second 40, and Harvard tackle Max Rich (6-7, 311), whose 7.18-second 3-cone drill would have made him the quickest OL at Indy.
Patriots Draft Preview, “That Guy” Free Agency Frenzy Edition: By the third week of March, we saw some combine snubs’ scores settled and several New England off-season roster additions in place. It was time to take another look at how the Patriots might view the draft.
Highlights: With more moving around than a game of Tetris being played by a birthday-cake-addled child, this column seems as if I were trying to re-establish some sort of baseline. But I did stick with West Georgia linebacker Dylan Donahue (6-3, 248) as a Small-School Defender. As The Back-up Quarterback, I liked Iowa QB C. J. Beathard (6-2, 219) who has the most random Patriots connection you’ll find anywhere. (Hint: Singing and a cowboy hat may be involved.)
Combine Snubs Who Showed ‘Em, Part II: As testing continued throughout the U.S., so did eye-opening performances. Because the Patriots should have lots of roster room after the draft, I’d be very surprised if none of our snubs show up in Foxboro.
Highlights: Iowa pass-catcher/water bug Riley McCarron – all 5-9, 185 pounds of him – would have been top three at the combine in the 40 (4.36 seconds), the 20-yard shuttle (3.99 seconds), and the 3-cone (6.57 seconds). Meanwhile, cornerback-turned-halfback Brandon Wilson (5-11, 198) out of Houston would have crushed combine ball carriers with his 41-inch vertical and 11-1 broad jump, both tops for RBs.
Patriots Draft Preview, “That Guy” Pre-Draft Edition: One last chance to figure out whom the Patriots are looking at for the draft, made more difficult by their many off-season signings and trades. Although I am happy I avoided the pressure of putting up a Running Back Guy category, as Gillislee has found the light within the AFC East Division.
Highlights: I think BYU safety Kai Nacua (6-1, 205) ends up in Foxboro, and I believe Utah special teamer Jason Thompson would fit perfectly with the Patriots. I would never have thought either of those things without their impressive pro day numbers.
Next week, our post-draft summary in the form of our final “That Guy” column of the year, seeing where the new Patriots fit. After that, our annual “Who’s The FA? UDFA!” column, an in-depth look at undrafted free agents whom New England invites to camp. (Here’s a link to last year’s piece.) See you next week.
Chris Warner is excited to watch “American Ninja Warrior” with his daughter, it’s just that, for the last time, THE FURNITURE IS NOT FOR CLIMBING. He is at email@example.com and @cwarn89 on Twitter.
Well, we’ve made it to our last “That Guy” column before the draft. (Here’s a link to the previous, Free Agency Frenzy Edition.) After the NFL Draft happens Thursday, April 27 through Saturday, April 30, one final “That Guy” will summarize the Patriots’ picks. New England’s selections should be fun to follow, and about as predictable as a labrador puppy in a room full of plush animals.
Rabbits! Kittens! Squirrel-looking thingies! What do I pick?!?
As of this post, New England has seven selections, two in the third round (72 and 96 overall), one fourth (132), two fifth (163 and 183), one sixth (200), and one seventh (239). It wouldn’t be a shock to see them make a trade to get into the Day One/Round One conversation, but we’ll go with what they have for now.
The Solid First-Rounder: No Day One picks for the Pats thus far, but in case they make the aforementioned hypothetical trade, we’ll offer up a long-term starter along the likes of Richard Seymour (2001), Vince Wilfork (2004), Nate Solder (2011) and many others.
Possible Pick: Looks like Tarell Basham (6-4, 269) from Ohio would fit here as a flexible pass rusher, especially in the wake of both Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long departing in free agency. Basham showed steed-like speed with a 40-yard dash of 4.70 seconds (for comparison, 6-2, 265 Dont’a Hightower ran a 4.68). In 2016, he made the All-MAC team with 11.5 sacks. In a smaller-school conference, Basham dominated.
The “Who’s That Guy?” Guy: Despite being undervalued (or at least, less valued by other teams) before the draft, offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (2009) and safety Duron Harmon (2013) became household names around New England. Tavon Wilson (2012) and Jordan Richards (2015), less so.
Possible Pick: We had safety Tony Conner of Ole Miss, but a mediocre pro day (a 4.74 40 that could have him eating more dust than a Hoky) has forced us to look at a different dude, same position. After getting snubbed by the NFL Combine, BYU’s Kai Nacua (6-1, 205) had a great pro day with a 4.49 40, a 39-inch vertical leap, and a 6.87-second 3-cone drill. In 2016, he had 48 tackles and six interceptions. In what could potentially be a nice little tell, he also had a workout with the Pats. (Tipping my cap to Rich Hill of PatsPulpit.com.)
The 3-Cone Guy: New England loves quick feet. If we compare, say, 2003 draft pick Bethel Johnson with 2009 selection Julian Edelman, we see a Maserati vs. a dirt bike. Former Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel once said that Johnson was so fast, he goes rabbit hunting with a hammer. Johnson ran a 4.30 40 at his pro day; Edelman, a 4.52. But, when it comes to running routes, getting open, and gaining the trust of Tom Brady, quickness wins. Johnson had 30 receptions in three seasons with the Patriots. Edelman has a few more. (Edelman ran a 6.62-second 3-cone; Johnson apparently did not run it.)
When it comes to speed, you might respond, “Well, what about Randy Moss?” To which I would reply, “Well, what about the platypus?” Some beings just stand out from others.
Possible Pick: Cornerback Kevin King would be perfect here, but the Patriots’ lack of a second-round pick (where King might be available) makes us seek fiery footsteps elsewhere. We’ll go later in the draft and seek out Utah safety/special teamer Jason Thompson (6-1, 210), another combine snub (I’ve got to admit, I love those combine snubs) who used his pro day to demonstrate how he would have fit in with the best football players in the country. His 6.57-second 3-cone was .05 seconds faster than Edelman’s and would have finished second overall at the combine. No glacier-footed galoot, Thompson also ran a 4.44 40 and leapt an 11-foot-1 broad jump and a 39.5-inch vertical.
Thompson was also a candidate for our “Special Teams Guy” category below, but his prowess in the 3-cone deserved preferential treatment.
The Freakishly Athletic Guy: Former Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins crushed the 2013 combine, moving his 6-3, 250-pound frame across 40 yards in 4.64 seconds. He also demonstrated the explosiveness of a vinegar vat spill at a baking soda factory with a 41.5-inch vertical and 11-5 broad jump. This athleticism gave him – let’s all say it together, Pats fans – flexibility, making New England more difficult to scout.
Possible Pick: UConn’s Obi Melifonwu made Collins look positively human. The 6-4, 224 safety/”Westworld” nightmare had a 44-inch vertical, an 11-9 broad jump, and a 4.40-second 40. The guy who will be making opposing offenses scream “freeze all motor functions” made First Team All-ECAC with 118 tackles and four interceptions.
Question: why on Earth would anyone keep a vat of vinegar at a factory full of baking soda? Seems like poor planning.
Offensive Line Double-Dip Guys: A recent trend of picking two offensive linemen per draft has proven beneficial to New England, including Joe Thuney and Ted Karras last year and Tré Jackson and Shaq Mason in 2015. With tackle Vollmer released and Solder aging (he just turned 29), it could be time to stock up again.
Possible Picks: I’ve had Utah guard Isaac Asiata and Vanderbilt tackle Will Holden here for a while, but the lack of early picks pushes me back toward guard Jermaine Eluemunor (6-4, 332) and Ole Miss tackle Jeremy Liggins (6-3, 315). Like Asiata, Eluemunor is a bigger, stronger dude (34 bench reps at the combine) who could bulk up the middle of the Patriots’ O-line. Liggins moved to tackle last spring from tight end. He was recruited as a gravity-enhanced QB and moves like one, with a 4.92-second 40 and a 31-inch vertical leap.
The Long-Limbed Defensive End: Now the Trey Flowers category, the Pats use the draft to fish for Mr. Fantastic types who can get to the QB. Michael Buchanan (2013) is another, less-heralded example.
Possible Pick: It’s worth repeating that, at 6-7, 289 pounds, you can’t get much longer-limbed than Tanoh Kpassagnon out of Villanova. Among his 45 tackles, Kpassagnon had 11 sacks and 21.5 overall tackles for loss last year. Running a speedy 4.83 40 and broad-jumping 10-foot-7 showed that he can turn the corner faster than my child in the supermarket aisle right after I tell her it’s time to go. And, no, we are not getting another bakery cookie.
Well, okay… One.
The Alabama Guy: It seems like Coach Bill Belichick and Alabama coach Nick Saban have been passing notes to each other since eighth grade (those notes would probably say things like, “Let’s watch film after school” and “I got a C-minus. It is what it is”). Their relationship has brought Hightower (2012), Cyrus Jones (2016), and Brandon Deaderick (2010) to the club.
Possible Pick: Defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson (6-3, 310) would offer solid value in the middle rounds after racking up 62 tackles, three sacks, and four pass break-ups. The fact that he’s played in a Patriots-like defense for the past four years gives him a chance to contribute early.
The Ohio State Defensive Back: Now that former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano has become the defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes, it seems prudent to review DBs under the same coach who mentored such Patriots as Devin McCourty (first round, 2010), Duron Harmon, and Logan Ryan (both third round, 2013).
Possible Pick: He’ll probably be gone by the time they select, but if New England can get their hands on Dareon Conley (6-0, 195), they’ll do it. Under Schiano’s tutelage (a hilarious word if you repeat it enough), Conley had 26 tackles, four interceptions, and eight pass break-ups, good enough for All-Big Ten Second Team honors. He’s fast (4.44 40) and flurrious (6.83 3-cone).
The Injured Guy: When it comes to gambling on picking an injured college player, the payoff runs the gamut, from Rob Gronkowski in 2010 to Ras-I Dowling a year later.
Possible Pick: After past looks at Florida linebacker Alex Anzalone and Washington pass-rusher JoJo Mathis, it’s time to get offensive with center J. J. Dielman out of Utah. Dielman hurt his foot in October and missed the rest of the season. He made All-Pac 12 Second Team in 2015, blocking for Devontae Booker. Unable to run at the combine, Dielman put up a solid 27 reps on the bench.
The Small School Defender: Past picks include sixth-round D-linemen Markell Carter (Central Arkansas, 2011) and Zach Moore (Concordia, 2014). Also interesting that a non-drafted guy out of West Alabama named Malcolm Butler excelled so well. (Interesting like how your grandfather discusses the birds he saw on his walk, but still.)
Possible Pick: West Georgia linebacker Dylan Donahue stays here, not just for his stats, but for his athleticism and potential to play any linebacker position. Not small at 6-3, 248, Donahue had a respectable 4.75 40 and put up 26 bench reps. As a Division II First-Team All-American, Donahue sacked various opposing quarterbacks 13.5 times, which is an overly wordy sentence. He totaled 67 tackles for the Wolves, 20 for loss.
The Backup Quarterback: I’ll admit, picking Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round in 2014 made me scratch my head, but he has become a viable backup and a potential trade chip. Last year, Jacoby Brissett in the third round also elicited a dandruff-shampoo-commercial reaction, but he won a game and could at least serve as a viable backup.
Possible Pick: I still like Iowa’s C. J. Beathard (6-2, 219), if only because he represents potential value in the later rounds. He passed for 1,929 yards and 17 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions. Beathard led the Hawkeyes to 21 wins, the third-most for a QB in school history.
The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: At last, Malcolm Mitchell broke through as a rookie, ending a drought of productive, pass-catching picks since Edelman showed some spark in 2009. (Now’s not the time to mention the promise Aaron Dobson displayed in 2013. Though I just did. Darn it.) New England might seek out a bigger guy, a Michael Floyd type, just without the oh-I-can-just-take-a-nap-here-in-my-car vibe. (In all seriousness, I hope Floyd gets the help he needs – and getting away from football for a while might be the first step.)
Possible Pick: Keeping with the size angle, Robert Davis of Georgia State sets himself apart. At 6-3, 219, he can post up smaller defensive backs, and with a 4.44-second 40 and 6.82 3-cone, he can blow by and/or shake loose from bigger DBs. Davis made All-Sun Belt First Team in 2016 for the second year in a row with 67 catches for 968 yards (14.4 avg.) and five touchdowns. He caught at least one pass in 49 straight games.
Here’s a highlight reel of Davis, which includes a 75-yard touchdown catch-and-run at Oregon.
The Backup Tight End: Take a look at our annual Round-By-Round Review of Patriots draft picks since 2000, and you’ll see quite the lineup of tight ends. Starters tend to come early (Daniel Graham, first round, 2002; Benjamin Watson, first round, 2004; Gronkowski, second round, 2010) while backups (David Thomas, third, 2006; A. J. Derby, sixth, 2015) and never-ups (Lee Smith, fifth, 2011; Andy Stokes, seventh, 2005) come later.
Possible Pick: Though Darrell Daniels out of Washington looked like a good fit here, I succumb to my combine snub love with former Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes (6-4, 247), who, though slower in a straight line (4.68 40 vs. Daniels’ 4.55), displayed a better 3-cone time than Daniels at the Longhorns’ pro day (6.89 vs. 7.09). The Patriots have shown some willingness to convert guys to different positions, whether it’s using a college QB like Edelman as a receiver, Detroit Lions offensive lineman Michael Williams as a tight end, or even college wrestler Stephen Neal as a guard. Swoopes had 967 yards rushing in his career with 24 touchdowns, giving him the third-most QB rushing TDs in Longhorn history.
The Special Teams Guy: If you look at players like Matthew Slater (UCLA, 2008) and Nate Ebner (Ohio State, 2012), you see college special teams guys who weren’t necessarily drafted to start on offense or defense. If you look at players like Geneo Grissom (Oklahoma, 2015) and Brandon Bolden (Ole Miss, 2012), you see college starters who became special teams guys. Which way to go, which way to go …?
Possible Pick: Let’s go with a starter, one whose pro day numbers make him a potential special teams contributor as a rookie. Missouri State linebacker Dylan Cole (6-0, 239) went off the rails in testing, running a 4.54 40 and a pinball-quick 6.82 3-cone, while also putting up 32 reps on the bench press. Cole was named All-Missouri Valley First Team with 142 total tackles (eight for loss) and two interceptions.
The Navy Guy: Because his father coached there for decades, Belichick takes a special interest in the Naval Academy. He drafted long snapper Joe Cardona in the fifth round in 2015. The Midshipmen had no representatives at the combine, and they did not post results of their pro day. We’re flying blind! We’re on instruments!
Possible Pick: We’ve spoken of quarterback Will Worth (a potential pass-catching convert) and receiver Jamir Tillman (40 catches for 631 yards and two TDs), but given Belichick’s history of bringing in Navy fullbacks like Kyle Eckel and Eric Kettani, I’m calling up Shawn White (6-1, 255), who averaged 5.7 yards a carry and scored seven touchdowns. He also spent time on special teams as a junior.
The Back-To-The-Well Guy: If one player from a particular school excels in Foxboro, the front office takes notice and, on occasion, picks another player from that school. We can call this the Rutgers Rule, but the team had a recent run on Florida State offensive linemen with Bryan Stork (2014) and guard Jackson (2015).
Possible Pick: Seeing how well 2016 draft pick Elandon Roberts did at linebacker last year, it seemed like a good idea to look for another defender out of Houston. Linebacker Tyus Bowser has gotten a bit too hot for the Patriots’ draft position, which leaves defensive end Cam Malveaux (6-5, 273). The Cougar ran a 4.77 40 and jumped a rather cougar-like 37.5 inch vertical and 10-5 broad jump. As a team captain last season, Malveaux notched 21 total tackles, with 7.5 for loss, a ratio not unlike cake-to-frosting in a child’s daydream.
No, you may not have another piece of cake.
Okay… fine. A small one.
The Seventh-Round Slot Guy: Ah, of course, the Edelman Slot. Taken up by Northwestern’s Jeremy Ebert in 2012 and Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon in 2014, the Pats seek quicker, smaller guys who can get open underneath and keep the offense blah blah (moving the chains cliché) blah.
Possible Pick: Once again, going with Mississippi State’s Fred Ross (6-1, 213), whom I’ve written about since his impressive performance at the Senior Bowl. Ross made All-SEC First Team for the second year in a row, leading the conference in touchdown receptions with 12. He had 72 catches for 917 yards (12.7 avg.). As prolific as he was, he might slip down draft boards after a pedestrian combine that included a meh 4.51 40, an eh 6.99 3-cone, and a gunh 10 bench reps. Dude can ball, though.
The Pedigree Pick Guy: Looking at this as a brand new category to be employed sporadically, bringing it up this year with one particular player in mind. In the future, as more former NFLers who played under Belichick have sons go through college, we’ll have to revisit it. In this case, it’s the son of 2001 Patriots linebacker Bryan Cox.
Possible Pick: Florida’s Bryan Cox got an up-close look-see by Belichick himself at the Gators’ pro day. The smaller defensive end (6-3, 265) dealt with injuries in 2016 and ended up with only 19 tackles, with half a sack. In 2015, he tallied 45 tackles, with 10.5 for loss (3.5 sacks). He’s more of a plugger type, with only decent speed (4.89 40) or strength (18 bench reps) for his size, but his pedigree could entice the coach to pick him later on Day Three.
Next week, a Patriots 2017 draft preview-review, as it were, with lots of links to this year’s draft prep columns. See you then.
Chris Warner had an ice cream cake recently that made him reassess his relationship with Earth and his role on it. You can reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @cwarn89.
In part one of our annual Combine Snubs series, we saw some speedy receivers and strong defenders who used their college pro days to prove they would have belonged at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. In part two, we continue our search for small school standouts and big school back-ups who, despite getting snubbed, could still hear their names called on draft weekend (or soon thereafter).
As always, a big thank you to long-time pro scout Gil Brandt for his invaluable pro day page, the most comprehensive look at college pro days throughout the nation.
Let’s get to the athletes…
Running Up That Hill: Sometimes, quarterbacks who excel in college don’t project to do nearly as well in the NFL (Blessed Be Tebow Forever). Taysom Hill tried out as a running back at BYU’s pro day, and the former QB did well. Measuring 6-2, 221 (which, in terms of QB physique, would make him more fire plug than lamppost), Hill ran a 4.44 40-yard dash, which would have made him the fourth-fastest running back at the combine, just ahead of Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey. Hill’s 38.5-inch vertical jump would have been second-best among RBs, while his 7.03-second 3-cone drill (tied, eighth), 10-foot-2 broad jump (eighth), and 4.37-second 20-yard shuttle (tied, 10th) all would have gained top 10 running back scores.
Hill had a lot of experience running the football: his career rushing total of 2,815 is the most ever for a Cougar QB. One issue that might prevent him from getting drafted is his age: following a two-year mission after high school and a redshirt year, Hill will turn 27 years old in August.
Fun Fact: Hill served his LDS mission in Sydney, Australia, which sounds absolutely awesome. If you go, just remember that not all koalas are cuddly.
Catcher In The Riley: This guy is no phony. A smaller receiver at 5-9, 185, Iowa’s Riley McCarron had the kind of workout that will get scouts talking. Running a 4.36-second 40 would have made him the third-fastest wide receiver at the combine, tied for fifth overall. His quickness tests made a summer housefly seem logy, with a 3.99-second 20-yard shuttle (top receiver, tied for third overall) and 6.57-second 3-cone (tied, first receiver; tied, second overall). His 40.5-inch vertical would have been third-best for receivers.
Not exactly sure why McCarron failed to make combine invite lists, but one reason may have been Iowa’s lack of passing in 2016. The slot receiver received All-Big Ten Honorable Mention, leading the Hawkeyes with 42 receptions for 517 yards (12.3 avg.) and four TDs. He also returned seven punts for 148 yards (21.1) and one touchdown (this 55-yarder vs. Illinois).
Fun Fact: McCarron lettered in football, basketball, baseball, and track at Wahlert High in Dubuque, Iowa, where as a junior he won the state title in the 100-meter dash.
Last Wilson Testament: If you get one final shot to impress NFL scouts, you’ve got to take it. Not many did it better than Houston’s Brandon Wilson (5-11, 198), who played cornerback throughout his college career and switched to halfback for the Las Vegas Bowl in lieu of injuries. Wilson would have done well testing at both positions, as his 4.38-second 40 would have come in second for running backs, fourth for corners. His 41-inch vertical would have been the best at either position, while his 11-1 broad jump would have come in first for running backs, second for corners. Benching 225 pounds 24 times would have made him top corner, tied for second running back.
As a team captain at Houston, Wilson made American Athletic Conference Second Team with 42 tackles (four for loss) and two sacks, breaking up five passes with one interception. He returned 21 kicks for 510 yards (24.3 avg.) and made conference Special Teams Player of the Week in September with a 109-yard touchdown return of a missed field goal attempt vs. Oklahoma.
Fun Fact: In his career, Wilson scored eight touchdowns in six different ways, including rushing (two), kick returns (two), fumble return, interception return, and blocked field goal return. His missed field goal return can be seen in this clip. (This is what setting up a wall on a kick return looks like.)
So This Guy Swoopes In: Well, well, another quarterback seeking a different position. At 6-4, 247 pounds, Texas’ Tyrone Swoopes looks like a pass-catching tight end, and he’s trying to make the switch for the draft. His 4.68 40 would have tied for ninth combine tight end, his 4.39 20-yard shuttle eighth, his 35-inch vertical tied for fifth. Most impressive was his 6.89 3-cone time, which would have come in second for tight ends in Indy. Used as a running QB in short-yardage situations (called the “18-wheeler” package, which, I mean – you can’t do better than that), Swoopes had 174 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in 2016. His best performance came early in the season vs. 10th-ranked (and highly overrated) Notre Dame, when he rushed 13 times for 53 yards and three TDs in a 50-47 double-OT win. Swoopes started 12 games at QB as a sophomore, passing for 2,409 yards.
Serving Trey: Maryland running back Trey Edmunds (6-1, 223) had a heaping helping of attention after a 4.43-second 40 that would have made him the fourth-fastest back at the combine (especially notable considering the guy just ahead of him, Tarik Cohen of North Carolina A&T, measures 5-6, 175). Edmunds also had a 35.5-inch vertical and a 10-2 broad jump, both good for eighth-best back. Though his 7.25-second 3-cone showed a change-of-direction skill that seems only slightly better than an oil tanker, it still would have tied for 10th-best RB at the combine. Edmunds, a transfer from West Virginia, played in only five games for the Terps last year before fracturing his foot. He opened the season with a rushing touchdown and a special teams TD (blocked punt return) vs. Howard. You can watch that scoop-and-score on the BTN Network page.
Fun Fact: “Scoop And Score” would be a great name for an ice cream parlor/singles bar.
Fun, Related Fact: I did not sleep all that well last night.
Let’s Hear It For The Boise: What to do with Thomas Sperbeck, wide receiver from Boise State? On the one hand, the six-foot, 187-pound receiver ran a 4.59-second 40, jumped a 32-inch vertical, and leapt a 9-4 broad jump, none of which would have dented the top 15 for receivers at the combine. On the other hand, his 4.05-second 20-yard shuttle would have made top five receiver, while his 6.71 3-cone would have made top four. That kind of quickness could get him a look at camp this summer, as could his 2016 stats. Sperbeck made the All-Mountain West First Team (second year in a row), leading all conference receivers with 80 receptions and 97.8 yards per game (his 1,272 yards total came in second). He finished his career as BSU’s all-time leader in receiving yards (3,601).
Fun Fact: Sperbeck had three pass attempts in 2016, connecting on all three for touchdowns. Here’s video of him completing a four-yarder to then-freshman QB Brett Rypien in 2015.
Fun, Wicked-Athletic Fact: His senior year at Jesuit High (Carmichael, CA), Sperbeck led the football team in passing, rushing, scoring, and tackles.
Fun, I-Kinda-Thought-So Fact: For fans my age, yes, Brett Rypien is related to former Washington quarterback Mark Rypien, his uncle.
Tech A Chance On Me: Most fullback candidates don’t get drafted, but – especially with the success of teams like New England who utilize the position well – Texas Tech fullback/tight end Tyler Scalzi could get a call for camp. Scalzi (6-3, 238) put up an astounding 37 reps on the bench, which bested all combine running backs by seven and would have beaten the top overall mark this year. Scalzi also put up a 10-6 broad jump that would have been fourth-best running back at the combine, and a respectable a 32.5-inch vertical.
Used mainly as a blocker on special teams, Scalzi put up more zeroes in his career than Nolan Ryan’s scorekeeper. He’s a strong, powerful player who could make a roster as a special-teamer and run package blocker.
Fun Fact: Scalzi hails from Flower Mound, Texas, ranked number one in the “Best Cities For Families” report from ApartmentList.
Gray Area: Not sure where athlete Deanté Gray will end up, position-wise, but the 5-9, 183-pound returner/receiver/cornerback reportedly ran a sub-4.40 40 at TCU’s pro day. In 2016, he had 10 receptions for 119 yards, and also rushed five times for 37 yards (74 avg.). Gray averaged 22.5 yards on kick returns (19 for 427). As a freshman Frog, Gray won Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week honors after returning five punts for a total of 160 yards, including one 70-yard touchdown. This past season on defense, he tallied 11 tackles (one for loss), and one pass break-up.
Crossan Over The Goal Line: Tip of the cap to NESN’s Zack Cox for his report on Dalton Crossan, a New Hampshire running back/receiver/returner/possible equipment guy who had a notable pro day. Crossan (5-10, 202) ran a 4.52 40-yard dash, which would have only made him 12th-best back at the combine, but his 4.14-second 20-yard shuttle would have been the top score for combine running backs, while his 6.85-second 3-cone would have come in third at the position. Among combine backs, Crossan’s 21 bench reps (tied, sixth), 35-inch vertical (tied, 10th), 10-foot-2 broad jump (eighth) all would have made top 10. At UNH, Crossan made All-Colonial Athletic Association Second Team with 233 rushes for 1,281 yards (5.5 avg.) and 10 touchdowns, along with 42 catches for 266 yards and four TDs. He also averaged 21.5 yards per kick return.
Fun, Patriots-Related Fact: According to NESN’s Doug Kyed, Crossan’s pro day was actually run by the Patriots.
Fun, Patriots-Related Fact, Part II: Crossan was ranked nationally as a high school lacrosse player, getting offered a full scholarship to play at Michigan. (I’m pretty sure Bill Belichick knows this.)
All I Remember’s An “Excuse Me, Miss”: The best part of the Combine Snubs series involves finding players with unusual backgrounds, and offensive lineman Jeremy Liggins (6-3, 315) out of Ole Miss fits this description well. As a junior college transfer out of Northeast Mississippi Community College, Liggins played tight end in 2014 with a role as wildcat QB in short-yardage situations. By October of 2015, he got several snaps at tackle. He entered the fall of 2016 as the team’s top left tackle. Liggins demonstrated the type of athleticism one might expect from a former QB, running a 4.92-second 40 that would have been second-fastest for combine linemen. His 31-inch vertical jump would have tied for second-best, while his 9-foot-4 broad jump would have made third OL. A 4.7-second short shuttle would have come in 10th. Ole Miss’ offense averaged 464.3 total yards per game last season.
Fun Fact: As a 265-pound quarterback at Lafayette High in Oxnard, Miss., Liggins won 32 straight games and two straight 4A state championships. He showed off his arm at Mississppi’s pro day, throwing the football almost 70 yards.
Let’s Geaux Malveaux: Defensive end Cam Malveaux did well at Houston’s pro day, beginning with his lanky, 6-6, 273-pound measurements that could give opposing linemen waking nightmares of giant squid. Malveaux ran a notable 4.69 40, which would have tied for 11th at the combine among defensive linemen (as we’ve said before, the combine fails to differentiate between pass-rushing defensive hybrids and run-stuffing nose tackles). His 37.5-inch vertical would have been the third-highest for D-linemen, while his 10-foot-5 broad jump would have tied for sixth. For the Cougars (hey, I thought BYU were the Cougars), Malveaux – a team captain with Wilson – had 21 tackles total, with 7.5 of them going for loss (one sack), and two fumble recoveries.
Fun Fact: Two of Malveaux’s top games came against Navy (two tackles for loss in 2016, six tackles in 2015), so you’ve got to figure Coach Belichick has heard this guy’s name.
Cruel To Be Kai: I’m at my wit’s end wondering what safeties have to do to get invited to the combine. BYU’s Kai Nacua (6-1, 205) ran a 4.48-second 40, good for sixth best combine safety. His testing would have made top six at the position with a 39-inch vertical (third-best safety), 10-7 broad jump (fifth-best), 4.14 20-yard shuttle (fourth) and 6.87 3-cone (tied, sixth). For the Cougars (seriously, BYU and/or Houston – pick a new mascot!) in 2016, Nacua tallied 48 tackles (1.5 for loss), six interceptions, and a forced fumble. He had 14 interceptions for his career.
Fun Fact: According to Gil Brandt’s BYU pro day report, Nacua had a private workout scheduled with New England on April 3.
How Does It Feel? Would you like a little Dylan? Here’s an undersized one: linebacker Dylan Cole (6-1, 239), who put up the kind of numbers at Missouri State’s pro day that would have made him one of the most athletic linebackers in the combine. Cole’s 4.52-second 40 would have made him the second-fastest linebacker, behind only Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers (4.46). Cole also leapt 39 inches vertically – which would have topped all other linebackers – and 10 feet, five inches horizontally, good for a tie at fifth. His 6.82-second 3-cone (second-best LB) and a 4.19 20-yard shuttle (fourth-best) also shone. Add 32 bench presses, which would have beaten the combine-best LB Ben Gideon’s 27 and come in eighth overall, and you’ve got a snub so bad it would make a pug’s nose recoil. (I mean, really: look at this face.)
Playing at the FCS level, a player needs to stand out. Cole was a ketchup stain on a white tie, making Walter Camp FCS All-American and All-Missouri Valley First Team for the Bears with 142 total tackles (eight for loss) six passes defensed, and three forced fumbles.
Fun Fact: Cole was an all-state running back for Logan-Rogersville High in Missouri in 2011 with 225 carries for 2,002 yards rushing (8.9 avg.) and 33 touchdowns.
Whoa-Oh, Black Bear, Bam-Ba-Lam: Yeah, that one’s a reach. Speaking of reaches, Maine’s Patrick Ricard has a better-than-average one at 6-3, 300 pounds, and the defensive lineman had some solid scores at his pro day, with a 5.00-second 40, 36-inch vertical (tied for fourth-best combine D-lineman) and a respectable 4.55 20-yard shuttle. He stood out in the bench press with 33, which would have tied for second-best DL at the combine. At Maine, Ricard made All-Colonial Athletic Association First Team with 50 tackles (15.5 for loss) and 5.5 sacks.
Besides his testing, a big reason he’s included here is that the only team to send an NFL rep to the Black Bears’ pro day was New England. Which, you know, kind of makes sense.
Fun Fact: Ricard won the Central Mass. DII Super Bowl with David Prouty High (located in Spencer) in 2009.
Fun, Follow-Up Fact: David Prouty helped start the high school in the late 1880s. His family had begun a wire mill and a shoe factory earlier in the century.
Harper’s Bizarre: Well, not that weird, but it’s still a bit odd that safety Jarrod Harper (6-0, 210) wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine, considering his West Virginia pro day results. Harper ran a 4.56 40, which would have tied for ninth-best among combine safeties. He had a 9-11 broad jump (tied, 11th safety), and tied for second-best among the nation’s top safeties with a 6.72 3-cone and a 4.13 20-yard shuttle. As a senior, Harper had 71 tackles (55 solo), including three for loss for the 10-3 Mountaineers.
Howard Huge: He might not be that big, actually, as a six-foot, 301-pound defensive lineman, but Darrien Howard loomed large at West Virginia’s pro day. His 4.97 40, 26 bench reps (tied, 10th DL), 29-inch vertical, 9-4 broad jump, 7.17 3-cone (tied, 13th), and 4.69 20-yard shuttle all would have fit in well among DLs above 300 pounds. As a senior at WVU, Howard totaled 66 tackles (40 solo), including six for loss. He added one forced fumble.
What’d I Miss? Looks like LSU safety Rickey Jefferson (5-11, 204) missed out on an opportunity to exhibit his skills at the combine, as his 4.55 40 (tied, eighth safety), 17 bench reps (also tied, eighth), 35.5-inch vertical (sixth), 10-foot broad jump (tied, 10th), and 7.00-second 3-cone drill (10th) would have all made top 10 in Indy. At LSU, Jefferson had 22 tackles, one interception, and one pass break-up. He played special teams, manning both punt and kickoff coverage squads.
Fun (But Not So Much That As The Opposite Of That) Fact: In 2013, 18-year-old Jefferson was arrested for allegedly attacking a plain-clothes police officer who was arresting his buddy during Mardi Gras. Eh. Live and learn.
We Can Leave Your Friends Behind: Honoring the request for more names at the safety dance, Orion Stewart (6-0, 203) of Baylor gets added to the list of snubs who stood out. Stewart’s 4.58 40-yard dash would have come in 12th for safeties in Indy, but his other results would have made top 10 at the position, including a 37.5-inch vertical (tied, third), 10-5 broad jump (tied, fifth), 4.11 20-yard shuttle (second) and 7.05 3-cone (10th). Stewart made All-Big 12 Honorable Mention last season, notching 76 total tackles (five for loss), with six interceptions and five pass break-ups.
Below, some comparative numbers between invitees and snubs (aka “Good Heavens, John Ross is fast”):
TOP COMBINE VS. SNUBS RESULTS (Combine In Italics)
4.22 seconds – John Ross, Washington WR
4.35 seconds – Francis Owusu, Stanford WR
4.38 seconds – Anthony Nash, Duke WR
4.39 seconds – Dominique Reed, Arkansas WR
38 reps – Hunter Dimick, Utah DE
37 reps – Tyler Scalzi, Texas Tech FB/TE
35 reps – Isaac Asiata, Utah OG; Carl Lawson, Auburn DE
33 reps – Patrick Ricard, Maine DL
44.0 inches – Obi Melifonwu, UConn S
41.0 inches – Brandon Wilson, Houston RB/CB
40.0 inches – Xavier Coleman, Portland State CB
11-foot-9 – Obi Melifonwu, UConn S
11-foot-1 – Jason Thompson, Utah S; Brandon Wilson, Houston RB/CB
6.56 seconds – Kevin King, Washington CB
6.57 seconds – Jason Thompson, Utah S; Riley McCarron, Iowa WR
3.89 seconds – Kevin King, Washington CB
3.99 seconds – Riley McCarron, Iowa WR
4.01 seconds – Jason Thompson, Utah S
Please look for our final pre-draft wrap-up soon, including our last, best shot at “That Guy” Patriots draft picks.
Chris Warner ran a 4.9 40, 30 years and 80 pounds ago. He can be reached at email@example.com and @cwarn89 on Twitter.
I made the mistake of reading Ron Borges’ piece in The Boston Herald Wednesday. It’s called “Borges: A one-sided conversation over breakfast with Bill Belichick,” and I’m linking to it here, with the warning that it could cause severe agitation.
This column makes me despondent. Borges used to write for The Boston Globe, which had the best sports page in the country 30 to 40 years ago. Do yourself a favor and order the compilation of Ray Fitzgerald columns called Touching All Bases. When you get it, turn to the final entry, written in 1982, called “Tricks of the Trade.” It’s eye-opening, because, in his inimitable, cheeky way, Fitzgerald lets you in on how to hack your way through a column. It’s a timeless piece.
Seemed like a good idea (“good” being a relative term) to go over this Borges work bit by bit, in a Drew-Magary-takes-on-Gregg-Easterbrook kind of way.
Put on your housework clothes, because we’re going knee deep.
PHOENIX – I sat down for breakfast yesterday with Bill Belichick. He seemed kind of distant.
He and his fellow coaches had come out west to join their bosses, as well as the straw bosses who run the NFL, for the annual league meetings. That’s where members of the rules committee annually conspire with commissioner Roger Goodell against the Patriots. Bill knows this better than the rest of us, but he was kind of mum on the subject.
Ah. See, if you read actual Patriots news, you would know that Belichick skipped out on NFL meetings to attend college pro days in Florida. If you did not know this, the column would get super confusing. The rules thing, I assume, is based on the presumption of many local fans that the NFL conspires against New England on a regular basis. Never mind that this week an NFL owner was quoted as saying that, if another team besides the Patriots proposes a rule change, it gets more traction.
But let’s not let the extra work of writing fact-based background get in the way. Avant, Ron!
When I went to charm school, one thing I was taught was the best way to get a conversation going is to break the ice with small talk.
Ha! Charm school. I don’t think he ever even went to charm school. Get it?
So I asked something I was sure a lot of people back in New England were wondering about since Super Bowl LI ended with Tom Brady’s jersey inside some Mexican editor’s sports coat.
“How come nobody stole your hoodie?” I asked.
No one – not one single person I’ve spoken to, texted with, or emailed – has ever asked about stealing the hoodie. Perhaps the biggest reason for that is because Belichick did not wear a hoodie during the Super Bowl. Again: facts. Maybe 20 seconds of research, depending on one’s ability to type “Belichick SBLI” and click on “Images,” would have made that apparent. At this point, I’m not sure if Ron even watched the game.
But why strain oneself, really? Why try, when you can effortlessly demonstrate writing skills that ooze from every pore?
Not wanting to cause an international incident by getting into a beef with Mexico over some dirty laundry, Bill thought it best not to comment. Who could blame him with a wall going up and all.
“Dirty laundry” is a pun, there, that accurately determines the level of humor within this article. We’ll ignore the weird wall comment, which I have to assume Ron thought was funny. Let’s keep going, Guy Imitating Everyone’s Probably-Racist Uncle!
I did wonder what he might think the hoodie was worth on the black market if Brady’s soiled game jersey was valued at $500,000, but I didn’t ask. Why pry?
Belichick. Didn’t. Wear. A. Hoodie.
Instead I did it the way it’s done these days. I spoke to one of the FOBs instead, who insisted, “A dollar more than Brady’s!” Of course. Who would quarrel with a spokesman from a society more secretive than the Freemasons? Not me. Back to my oatmeal.
Get over the hoodie, for God’s sake. Moving on, there is so much to unpack in this paragraph. FOB means Friend Of Bill, which leads to some journalistic issues. Did Borges actually talk to someone who knows Belichick? Is this a real quote? I don’t know, and I can’t tell from the context of this piece. What’s potentially revealing, though, is the line “I did it the way it’s done these days.” Though I’m not exactly sure what Ron is referring to, it seems like a curmudgeonly jab at today’s journalism, i.e., a method of getting around a source’s unavailability. That again calls into question the veracity of his quote: is there a real FOB, or to him, does “the way it’s done these days” mean making something up?
Because he made up just about everything else, often in fruitless searches for laughter. Cases in point:
Breakfast at 6:35 a.m. is a tad early by sportswriter’s standards, but according to deeply held beliefs in New England, Bill usually would have had lunch by now as well as done hot yoga, a Zumba class, watched tape of 12 college seniors and every AFC East opponent’s games since 1971, balanced his salary cap, worked on variations of the Pythagorean theorem and taken 100 throws right-handed and 100 lefty with his Paul Rabil-model lacrosse stick. No wonder the guy was kind of quiet.
This hyperbole is intended to be a burn on both Belichick and his fans. He works hard! The irony is that the coach leaving early to attend pro days is in itself a testament to his preference for football analysis over meetings. Remember, when it comes to scouting, his father wrote the book on it. Also, during the season, Belichick wakes up around 4 a.m. after about four hours of sleep. What a jerk!
Ron brings in the “No wonder the guy was kind of quiet” reference, another strained attempt at humor that at this point is just distracting. How confusing this must have been for readers who did not realize Belichick had left early. Must have seemed like the longest prelude to an interview ever.
Though, I’ve got to admit: solid reference on Paul Rabil.
Our silent rendezvous yesterday was in a hotel where it costs $11 for coffee, unless you want cream. Then it’s $17. That’ll put a damper on conversation, not to mention your appetite, so it was kind of quiet at the table.
So … billionaires like to meet at fancy hotels. Front page news, that. But, in light of nagging questions of veracity, I wondered if the $6 for cream were true. It is not. I got in touch with the Arizona Biltmore and received this price list: small coffee at The Café, $3.75. Large coffee, $4.75. Room service pot of coffee, $12. All cream is complimentary.
Now, some of you might be telling me to relax, that it’s obvious he’s exaggerating. I didn’t think it was so obvious. According to the hotel’s Cabana Club menu, an Arizona Sunrise cocktail costs $12, so it’s not impossible to think the prices he wrote were real.
In any case, if Borges wants to get into how expensive the place is, he could try harder. (He actually would have to: a room with two double beds costs $210 a night – not the Town ‘n’ Country Motor Inn, but not exactly The Ritz.) Its seems like even hyperbole gets a half-assed effort here.
Coffee there was so expensive, I had to ask Robert Kraft for a MicroLoan. It’s just not that difficult. Also worth noting how Ron keeps bringing out the “quiet at the table” ruse. Because Ron’s all alone. Seriously, this thing has turned into a plaintive cry for help.
I’ll skip a few more half-hearted metaphors regarding Belichick’s absence (“Bill had kind of a faraway look,” is one example) and settle into this mud puddle of references:
Later in the day, the owners were going to vote on a rule change that would prevent what it called “the leaper” block attempt on a field goal or extra point. You remember that became Shea McClellin’s specialty last season. He looked like Edwin Moses hurdling the line and slapping down kicks so New Englanders knew this was now a conspiracy to stop the Patriots. It seemed logical to ask Bill if he believed the Philadelphia Eagles offered that change just to hurt his team.
For those under 30, Edwin Moses won the Olympic gold medal in the 400 hurdles in 1976 and 1984. (Fun fact: the U.S. women swept the 100 meter hurdles last year in Brazil. That took 90 seconds of research.) Ron wants Pats fans to know how silly they are to think the rule was brought up to work against them. It’s a safety issue. Right?
The competition committee claimed it was an unsafe play. Well, isn’t running through the line more unsafe than jumping over it?
Kind of a turnaround from the previous point, here. In one paragraph, he says that Patriots fans are ridiculous for pointing out what they see as a ridiculous rule. In the next, he agrees that rule seems ridiculous. I have to wonder if anyone else looks at these columns before they get printed.
More disdain for Pats fans unveiled here:
I didn’t want to ask why he decided to blow the bank on Stephon Gilmore for $14 million a year when he’s paid Malcolm Butler minimum wage his entire career because In Bill I Trust, but I have to admit the last time I saw Gilmore he was about 15 yards behind Chris Hogan. It makes you think, unless you’re a Patriots fan.
Wow. Not even hiding it anymore. Besides contempt, Ron shows disingenuousness. He knows how contracts work in the NFL, and that, as an undrafted rookie, Butler was not going to make a lot of cash until his second contract (which is what Gilmore, a first-round pick with Buffalo, signed with the Patriots). In other words, Butler’s “entire career” has been three years of UDFA money. (You can check out old pal Miguel Benzan’s Patscap Twitter page for more info and links to salaries.) As far as Gilmore getting toasted by Hogan, just about every Patriots fan who paid attention this season thought of that upon news of the signing.
But Patriots fans don’t think, apparently. It’s almost like they’ve been conned into believing Belichick is good at his job.
What was on my mind was if Bill was considering doing his hair like Gilmore’s in a kind of bonding thing with the new guy? Sources say, you know. Then I realized with a hoodie that could get kind of bulky in the back. Bill seemed a little detached so why ask?
If making fun of dreadlocks is not racist, it is, at the very least, an exhausted, desperate bid at humor. “Wouldn’t it be funny if an old white guy got dreads?” could have passed for an attempt at a joke last century. It’s clumsy and painful now. And again with the hoodie, and again with the “detached” Belichick-as-absentee reference. At this point, he’s like a child in love with the same knock-knock joke.
“Not Bill Belichick!”
I’m skipping ahead. One can only take so much.
It was kind of quiet at the table with just me and Bill and one bowl of oatmeal and it was getting late.
God damnit. This is like if T. S. Eliot drank a bottle of gin, fell on his face, got concussed, and then tried to write “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
Kind of quiet … getting late … coffee spoons … Like a patient etherized upon a table, indeed.
In Gainesville, Fla., where the University of Florida was holding Pro Day, it was already 10 a.m. I had a few more questions but Bill had drifted away. I thought, poor guy is so tired he came to breakfast disguised as an empty chair, which up to that point I thought was a pretty clever way to keep things intimate.
Someone please read that last sentence and explain to me just what in a tinker’s hump is happening there. Belichick is not present. We get it. With this empty chair thing – are we supposed to read it and experience it as a joke, where the premise hits us all of a sudden and our response is presumed to be laughter? I can’t imagine an adult writing this paragraph, reading it over, and thinking, “Yup, earning my money today.”
Judging by his record for drafting Gators from Gainesville, …
Ah! Alliteration! See, he already said the University of Florida was in Gainesville, but sometimes we sports writers can’t resist those alliterative phrases, even when redundant. Anyway, onward, Ron, you Writerly Rapscallion!
… it seemed his time might have been better spent over a bran muffin.
Is that a poop joke? I’m, like, 90 percent certain that’s a poop joke.
Of the eight Gators he’s drafted in 17 years, only Jeremy Mincey hasn’t been a bust. Only three remain in the NFL and none are in New England, unless you include Aaron Hernandez, whose uniform number is now W106228 not 81. Unlike when he was a tight end, whenever we see Aaron these days he’s covered … with prison tats and handcuffs.
Boy, Belichick must be terrible at drafting. (Only we know he’s not.)
Okay, to sum up something Borges knows but isn’t saying: Belichick knew former Gators coach Urban Meyer well and drafted a slew of his players several years ago. Florida has a new coaching staff and quite a few athletes – including the son of former Patriot Bryan Cox – who are getting a close look from the coach.
We’ll get to Hernandez in a minute, but I’d like to pause here and reflect on the fact that most of the “research” that went into this column involved finding the prison number of the former tight end. No statistics, no wins/losses, no combine results. A prison number.
Time for a super-fun detail. If you type the above number into a search engine, this article from an April 2015 page of The Daily Mail pops up. Here’s the best part: the first bit of the headline reads,
EXCLUSIVE: Aaron Hernandez is Prisoner W106228 – not 81 –
Looking at the similarities between the headline and his sentence, it sure seems that Ron got this idea from a source other than himself. This points to his laziness, because he can’t even think of another way to state a sad, stale one-liner. By the way, that ellipsis leading up to the “punchline” is all his.
Prison tats and handcuffs! Because innocent men were killed! Ba-da-BOOM!
Crap, there’s more? There’s more.
Maybe avoiding Gainesville might have been wiser than avoiding breakfast, because there’s only so many mistakes you can make with an omelet, but there was no sense asking. Bill was gone.
Maybe the biggest irony of this Borges work is that he laments “the way it’s done these days,” while showcasing the reason why it’s done that way. In the previous century, when I first got the AOL disk in the mail and stuck it in my tangerine iMac, I discovered Bill Simmons, aka “Boston Sports Guy,” on AOL Digital City. Like him or not (and these days, mostly not), Simmons tapped into the frustration that a lot of sports fans felt with writers – why do those guys get to travel and follow the team, yet seem to hate it? Why can’t I build a following writing with passion and humor from my home?
So, back to the headline question: why is Borges in Phoenix? What does he tell us about the NFL meetings that we didn’t know already, besides the price of a cup of coffee (which he made up)? Seems like a lot for the Herald to pay for an ongoing schtick of talking to a chair. Ron offers no fewer than 11 references to Belichick’s absence (“quiet,” “distant,” “invisible,” etc. – eviscerating a horse that was beaten to death by paragraph six), and zero references to New England actually winning the Super Bowl.
What hurts, here, is that it’s yet another blown opportunity. What is a day at the Phoenix Biltmore like? What’s the mood among owners and coaches? Laughs and golf? Furrowed brows and tense talks? I mean, if you’re there, do something besides writing about game-worn hoodies that were not worn at the game. And, if you’re going to write about the coach not being there, tell us he’s not there. Give us a Belichickian rundown of the breakfast. Was the bacon executed well? Did the kitchen put enough time into preparing the coffee? Does anyone work harder than the omelet chef? So many options.
There’s mailing it in, and then there’s this column, written with all the effort of having an intern send an emoji. About 10 years ago, Borges retired from the Globe. Given his palpable apathy shown on this page, it’s apparent he’s stayed that way.
Chris Warner still has that tangerine iMac somewhere. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter @cwarn89.
Every year, over 300 college athletes get invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. There, they go under the proverbial (and sometimes literal) microscopes of pro football personnel, getting interviewed, tested, poked, and prodded to prove their potential worth to a franchise.
And they’re considered the lucky ones.
For every invitee there exist multiple snubs, forcing the forgotten to take part in college team pro days. For the past few years, we’ve sought out athletes who show that, had they been invited to Indy, they would have belonged.
For an explanation of what each drill entails, you can check out the NFL Combine workouts page. (The 3-cone drill, which highlights a player’s quickness, has proven to be an important one for the Patriots.) Many thanks to longtime NFL scout Gil Brandt for his pro day page, an invaluable resource during this time of year.
So, is there a potential Malcolm Butler or Sebastian Vollmer among these snubs? We shall see.
Barnes Storming: Alabama State tight end Brandon Barnes blew the hinges off the door at his pro day. Measuring almost 6-5 and 255 pounds, Barnes ran a 4.69 40-yard dash that would have tied for top 10 tight end at the combine. His 35.5-inch vertical jump would have placed sixth among TEs, while his 7.03-second 3-cone drill would have been fifth-best. Along with his 20 bench presses (eighth), and his 9-foot-6 broad jump (12th), Barnes demonstrated he would have fit in well with the tight end herd.
Now here’s a surprise: last season, Barnes caught only five passes for 85 yards (17.0 avg.) with one touchdown. That did not preclude him or his followers from putting together a nice little highlight reel, where Barnes spends most of his time split out. Go, Hornets!
Ware The Boys Are: Seems to be Alabama State at the moment. Offensive tackle Jylan Ware ran a 4.92-second 40, none too shabby for a 6-8, 317-pound mass of a man. That time would have been second-best for offensive linemen in Indianapolis. Ware also would have made combine linemen top ten in the broad jump (9-foot-5, third), and vertical jump (29 inches, tied for seventh), and 11th with his 4.70-second 20-yard shuttle. Here’s a quick interview with Ware on nfldraftdiamonds.com.
Earning And Burton: A potentially moneymaking pro day for Deante Burton of Kansas State. The 6-2, 200-pound receiver ran a so-so 4.53 40-yard dash, but showed off his change-of-direction skills like a boomerang in a wind tunnel. His 4.07-second 20-yard shuttle would have made fourth receiver at the combine, just ahead of Eastern Washington’s Cooper Kupp. Burton’s 6.75-second 3-cone would have tied for ninth combine wide receiver (with, of all people, Kupp). Burton caught 29 passes last year for 404 yards (13.9 avg.) and one TD. He also made First Team Academic All-Big 12.
One Small Step, One Giant Leap: Despite being named All-Big Ten Honorable Mention in 2016, Nebraska’s six-foot, 216-pound quarterback Tommy Armstrong will probably switch positions in his bid for the NFL. He made a very strong case for receiver at his pro day. After running a meh 4.57-second 40, Armstrong hit the top 10 for combine receivers in four categories: 37.5-inch vertical (fourth), 4.11 20-yard shuttle (seventh), 6.76 3-cone (10th,) and 16 bench reps (10th). Armstrong passed for 2,180 yards, 14 touchdowns, and eight interceptions, adding 512 yards and seven TDs rushing (4.5 avg.).
Fun And/Or Odd Fact: Former Nebraska QB Eric Crouch won the Heisman Trophy in 2001 yet never caught on as an NFL QB. Hamburg Sea Devils, anyone?
Carr Is Driven: Northwestern receiver Austin Carr capped off a stellar season with a shiny pro day. The All-Big Ten First-Teamer ran a mediocre 4.61 40, but showed off a 6.70-second 3-cone and 4.07 20-yard shuttle, which would have respectively placed him third and fourth for combine receivers. His 16 bench reps would have placed 10th. Hard to figure why Carr didn’t get the combine invitation after setting one school record with 1,247 receiving yards and tying another with 90 receptions. He averaged almost 14 yards per catch.
Fun Fact: The Patriots drafted Northwestern receiver Jeremy Ebert in the seventh round in 2012.
Fun And/Or Odd Facts: As a senior at Benicia High in California, Carr rushed for 1,481 yards and 19 TDs. In all four years at Northwestern, he rushed once for a seven-yard loss.
Out With The Old, In With The Newell: It’s possible that Montana State fullback Chad Newell (6-1, 215) “lost his invite in the mail” because he’s a bit of a slowpoke, as his 4.75-second 40 would make geologists impatient (14 combine defensive linemen had faster 40 times). Looking at some of the other drills, though, Newell would have made himself at home in Indy. His 37.5-inch vertical jump and 6.80-second 3-cone both would have registered as second-best for running backs; meanwhile, his 4.15-second 20-yard shuttle would have been the highest mark for running backs at the combine.
Newell, a team captain for the Bobcats, earned All-Big Sky Honorable Mention as a fullback after rushing for 703 yards and eight touchdowns (4.8 yard avg.) and catching six passes in eight games.
Fun Fact: Newell was a mechanical engineering major. That means that he did mechanical stuff with moving-parts things and junk.
Funner Fact: I was an English major. That means that WORDS.
Flynn And You’re In: A smaller school like Montana State can still come up with NFL-caliber athletes. Along with Newell, there’s offensive lineman J. P. Flynn (6-6, 310). Flynn ran a 5.15 40-yard dash, a top-eight time for combine linemen. He also leapt a 30.5-inch vertical, tied for third-best, and a 4.73 20-yard shuttle, tied for 12th. Most impressive – and a time that will catch some eyes in Foxboro – his 3-cone of 7.05 seconds would have beaten all combine offensive linemen, as the best OL time in Indy came from Utah’s Garrett Bolles at 7.29 seconds. At guard, Flynn made All-Big Sky Conference First Team, helping the Bobcats run up 4,047 yards of offense (2,332 rushing, 1,715 passing).
Fun Fact: Flynn was a mechanical engineering technology major. So take that, Newell!
More Than A Thousand Reeds Springing Up Like Weeds: Or maybe just one, in this case. Receiver Dominique Reed (6-2, 182) out of Arkansas did himself some big favors at his pro day, his numbers catching special attention from Gil Brandt himself. Reed, whose build fits his name at 6-2, 182, ran a 4.39 40 and leapt a 40-inch vertical, both good enough for third-best combine receiver. His 6.82 3-cone would have tied for 14th-best WR at Indy. Reed caught only 16 passes for 256 yards and two TDs for the Razorbacks in 2016. In his two-year Arkansas career, he had 44 catches for 791 yards (18.0 avg.) and returned 19 kicks for 383 yards (20.2 avg.).
Fun Fact: Reed was named team MVP of Coffeyville Community College in 2014, leading the Red Ravens with 61 receptions for 1,157 yards (19.0 avg.) and 18 TDs.
Fun-Song-Stuck-In-Your-Head Fact: If you think of Peter Gabriel singing “Red Raven” to this tune, you’ll get it stuck in your brain for an hour. You’re welcome.
Cool It Now, Kublanow: Though not a huge guy at 6-2, 300 pounds (“huge” being a relative term, here), Georgia offensive lineman Brandon Kublanow put up some strong numbers at his pro day. A 29-inch vertical would have tied for seventh combine lineman, while his 31 bench reps would have made fifth-best for OLs. Most importantly, Kublanow, a center, comes from the same program that produced starting Patriots center David Andrews. As a Bulldog, Kublanow started 39 straight games from 2014-2016, taking over at center after Andrews left. He was a team captain last season.
No Gambling Against Grambling: Pass-catcher Chad Williams (6-1, 207) made us wonder why scouts would bet against him as he worked out at Louisiana Tech’s pro day. The Senior Bowl invite ran a 4.40 40-yard dash, which would have tied for third-best combine receiver. He also put up a 38.5-inch vertical, which would have been fourth-best. He would have bested all combine receivers on the bench, putting up 26, three more than the top number at Indy (Billy Brown, Shepherd). Williams earned AFCA National FCS Second-Team All-American honors (not exactly sure what all that means, but stick with me) with 90 catches for 1,337 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Fun Fact: AFCA stands for American Football Coaches Association. FCS, of course, is Football Championship Series, formerly Division I-AA. (See? I told you to stick with me.)
Some Rich Kid From Harvard: We’ve seen a few candidates for offensive line whom New England could seek out, either later in the draft or right after it. They’ve now got a local guy on the radar. Harvard tackle Max Rich (6-7, 311) had a stellar pro day, with a 7.18-second 3-cone that would have been the fastest time for offensive linemen at the combine. He also ran a 4.51-second 20-yard shuttle (second-best for combine OLs) and a 5.12 40 (eighth-best among OLs). His 30-inch vertical would have tied for fifth-best OL. Rich was named First Team All-Ivy by league coaches and to the New England Football Writers’ All-New England Team for 2016.
Fun Fact: NFL quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard. (It’s true. I looked it up.)
Lighten Up, Francis: Maybe Francis Owusu lost weight, or maybe his training got him into peak shape for Stanford’s pro day. In either case, a wonderful showing for the wide receiver, who measured 6-3, 221 pounds – enticing for any team like the Patriots seeking a larger pass-catcher. Running a 4.35-second 40 would have earned him third place among combine receivers, fourth place overall. His 39-inch vertical (fourth wide receiver, 10th overall), 10-7 broad jump (11th WR), and 4.13-second 20-yard shuttle (tied for ninth WR) would have gotten notice in Indianapolis. His 7.07-second 3-cone isn’t super swift, but suitable for a receiver his size (220-pounder Michael Floyd ran a 7.11 3-cone at Notre Dame’s pro day in 2012).
One big reason for Owusu’s snub? His stats, or lack thereof. Eight receptions for 113 yards and one touchdown in 2016. For some perspective: last season, I scored only one fewer touchdown for Stanford than he did.
Fun Fact: Owusu’s big brother Chris has played in the NFL since 2012 for the Bucs and Jets.
A Night With Shining Armah: Looks like defensive end Alex Armah (6-0, 244) out of Georgia State could rescue his career with a switch to fullback. Some interesting numbers for the former defender at his pro day. His 4.70-second 40 won’t turn lots of heads, but most of his other scores compare well with combine running backs, including 26 bench reps (second for all combine backs), a 7.00-second 3-cone drill (sixth place), a 4.29-second 20-yard shuttle (seventh), and a 10-foot-2 broad jump (eighth). For the Wolves, Armah rang up 52 tackles, including 14.5 for loss (nine sacks).
Aaaaannnthonnyyyyyy! Nice work running by receiver Anthony Nash, who posted a 4.38-second 40 at Duke’s pro day. That time would have been third-fastest for combine receivers, tied for seventh-fastest overall. His 37.5-inch vertical would have tied for fourth WR. The 6-4, 211-pound pass-catcher had 29 receptions for 398 yards in 2016 (13.7 avg.), with two touchdowns.
Some Pressure On Cole Could Produce A Diamond: Lineman Cole Gardner (6-6, 301) sparkled at Eastern Michigan’s pro day (as did his teammate, whom we’ll get to below). Gardner leapt 33 inches high, a top score for combine offensive linemen. His 5.06-second 40 and nine-foot broad jump both would have scored top seven for linemen, while his 7.46 3-cone would have netted third OL. Gardner, a left tackle, made All-MAC Second Team for the Eagles, who were ranked second in the country in allowing tackles for loss.
Fun Fact: Gardner, a team captain in 2016, converted to offensive lineman in 2015. As a sophomore tight end the previous year, he caught eight passes for 78 yards.
Fun Patriots-Related Fact: Starting left tackle Nate Solder began his college career as a tight end, catching three passes for 50 yards as a freshman at Colorado.
I’ll Be Here A Wylie: No, he may not hear his name called on draft day, but Eastern Michigan offensive lineman Andrew Wylie (6-5, 304) did enough work at his pro day to get on post-draft calling lists. His 34-inch vertical would have bettered his teammate Gardner, and thus all offensive linemen at the combine. His 9-7 broad jump would have tied for first among combine OLs; his 7.46-second 3-cone would have come in third; his 5.12-second 40 would have come in eighth. Wylie bookended Cole in 2016, making All-MAC Third Team at right tackle. He had 44 starts in his career.
Fun Fact: Wylie started at left tackle as a sophomore and played left guard for seven games as a junior before settling in at right tackle.
Lonely Is The Hunter: Looks like defensive end Hunter Dimick (6-3, 268) won’t have too much time to himself after his strong pro day at Utah. (I’ve always kept an eye out for defensive edge players from that school: back when we called them hybrids, I interviewed Paul Kruger in 2009 and Koa Misi in 2010 for PatriotsDaily.com.) Dimick should get a long look on draft day after putting up 38 reps on the bench press, which would have bested the top overall combine score by three (submitted by Utah teammate Isaac Asiata). With his strength came quickness, as Dimick ran a 4.13 20-yard shuttle that would have come in first for all combine defensive linemen. His 7.15 3-cone (13th DL) and 4.73-second 40 (14th DL) would have fit right in at Indy, too. Dimick earned All-Pac 12 and Second-Team All-American honors in 2016 with 14.5 sacks (third-best nationally), and 20 tackles for loss. He also broke up seven passes and forced a fumble.
Fun Fact: At Syracuse High in Utah, Dimick was the state sack leader in both 2010 and 2011.
Sooner Rather Than Later: Not sure why Oklahoma linebacker Jordan Evans got snubbed, but I do feel certain that scouts asked themselves the same question on his pro day. The 6-3, 232-pound speedster ran a 4.51-second 40, better than all but one combine linebacker (Jabrill Peppers, 4.46). He also had a 4.27-second 20-yard shuttle (sixth best linebacker), a 7.00-second 3-cone (ninth best), and 19 bench press reps (14th – tied with Peppers). In 2016, Evans made All-Big 12 First Team, leading the Sooners with 98 tackles. He also had 2.5 sacks, four interceptions, and eight pass break-ups.
I’m Serious, He’s A Kidder: Defensive end Caleb Kidder (6-5, 269) out of Montana lacks great speed (4.93 40), but his 6.91-second 3-cone time would have tied for second-best among combine defensive linemen, while his 30 bench press reps would have tied for fourth DL. Kidder’s switch from tackle to end his senior year worked out well, as he made All-Big Sky Conference Second Team with 5.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. He totaled 55 tackles on the year, with six QB hits and a blocked kick.
A Trip To South Quincy: Strong safety Quincy Mauger made scouts’ journey to Georgia’s pro day worth it. At 6-0, 208, Mauger showed some ability to make up for a relative lack of size with athleticism for the position. His 4.60 time would only have been 14th-best among combine safeties, but his 10-foot broad jump (tied for 10th), 4.22 20-yard shuttle (ninth), 37.5-inch vertical (tied for third), 6.83 3-cone (fifth), and 20 bench reps (tied for first) would have all made top 10 at Indy. For the Bulldogs, Mauger had 21 tackles, two sacks, and two interceptions.
Fun Fact: If you’re like me, you’ve been pronouncing his name wrong. According to his Georgia player page, it’s mo-ZHAY.
Fun, Random, Local Fact: The Quincy (Mass.) High School mascot is the President.
X-Man, The Last Stand: Congrats to Portland State cornerback Xavier Coleman (5-9, 189) for making the best of his last chance to impress NFL reps. He ran a not-quite-combine-ready 4.50 40, but put up a 40-inch vertical (second-best for combine corners), 10-5 broad jump (eighth-best), 4.15 20-yard shuttle (10th-best), and 6.85 3-cone (eighth-best). Coleman, a team captain, earned All-Big Sky Conference First-Team honors with 29 tackles, two interceptions, and five pass break-ups. He started 35 games in his Vikings career.
There Is No Acceptable Pun For Heiman: Though Cody Heiman (6-1, 229) played linebacker for Washburn, he put up the kinds of numbers that could see him make a switch to strong safety. He may be thinking along these lines as well, considering his shedding of the pounds (his player page lists him at 245). Running a 4.57 40-yard dash would have made top 12 for combine safeties, top two for linebackers. His 36-inch vertical (sixth safety, fourth LB), 10-2 broad jump (sixth safety, eighth LB), 4.21-second 20-yard shuttle (eighth safety, fourth LB), and 6.90 3-cone (seventh safety, sixth LB) would have all qualified for top 10 at either position. Best of all, his 31 bench reps would have been the most for both positions by far (linebacker Ben Gedeon out of Michigan put up 27). Heiman led the Ichabods (see below) with 79 tackles and three interceptions.
Fun Fact: Washburn University, located in Topeka, Kansas, is named after Ichabod Washburn (aka “the father of the wire industry“) who was born in Kingston, Mass.
We CU, UCLA: Bruin Eli Ankou, a defensive tackle about as stout as a barrel of Guiness at 6-3, 331 pounds, ran a surprisingly swift 5.15-second 40 at the Bruins’ pro day. It’s tough to compare that time to other defensive linemen at the combine, because they don’t break down D-linemen into separate ends or tackles categories. Had Ankou run with the comparably-sized offensive linemen at Indy, he would have tied for eighth-fastest 40. He also would have tied for the best broad jump among OLs at 9-foot-7. Ankou’s 31 bench reps would have made fourth for combine defensive linemen.
While attending school in glorious, beautiful Westwood – where it never snows in March! – Ankou compiled 85 tackles in the past two seasons, with seven for loss and three passes defensed.
Fun-But-Less-So-This-Time-Around Fact: Again, we’re pronouncing a player’s name wrong. It’s E-lee.
All The Leaps Are Brown: Well, not all of them, but linebacker Richie Brown (6-1, 234) out of Mississippi State made a good case for an NFL camp with his 37-inch vertical leap, which would have tied for second-best linebacker at the combine. His 6.75-second 3-cone would have tied for top linebacker time at Indy (with Tyus Bowser). In 2016, Brown led the Bulldogs with 102 tackles (four for loss), with 1.5 sacks, two pass break-ups, and one forced fumble.
Fun Fact: Brown, who has an industrial technology degree, used to back up MSU grad and current Texans linebacker Bernardrick McKinney, who had five tackles and two passes defensed vs. New England in the Divisional Round this past January.
Less Than A Scherer Thing: An injury this past season set Missouri linebacker Michael Scherer (6-1, 231) back a ways, but his pro day may have returned him to draft boards. His 26 bench reps (second-best combine linebacker), 10-2 broad jump (tied, eighth-best LB), and 34-inch vertical (tied, ninth-best) all would have made top 10 for combine linebackers. Scherer played in seven games before his season ended with an ACL injury in his right knee, tallying 53 tackles (3.5 for loss) and defending three passes. His previous two years, he averaged 103.5 stops per season.
A Light In Augusta: Not sure if you can call a 347-pounder “light,” but considering Missouri defensive tackle Josh Augusta reportedly weighed 390 during the season, he’s gotten positively svelte – and has said he’d like to get down to 335. He’s on this list not just for his notable size, but for an alleged 4.95-second 40 at Mizzou’s pro day. If true, his 40-time is 0.13 faster than Vince Wilfork’s 5.08 back in 2004, when he weighed in at 323. Augusta had 23 tackles in 2016, with four for loss (one sack).
Fun Fact: Augusta rushed for two touchdowns last season. You can see him carrying the ball and blocking as a fullback on this SB Nation page.
Superman And Green Lantern Ain’t Got Nothing On Me: Yes, his pro day was just that good. Donavin Newsom completes our Tigers trifecta. The lithe linebacker (6-1, 237) showed his stripes at Mizzou’s pro day, running a 4.50-second 40 that would have been second-best for linebackers at the combine. His 36-inch vertical would have come in fourth among linebackers, while his 22 bench reps would have been eighth-best for LBs. Newsom had himself a hell of a 2016, leading the team with 73 tackles (5.5 for loss, including three sacks), four pass break-ups, and a forced fumble.
The Devil And The Deep Blue D: A Blue Devil, that is. Duke had zero combine invitees, but – along with receiver Nash above – safety Corbin McCarthy added his name to the list of noteworthy snubs. On the small side at 5-9, 208, McCarthy flew through the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds, which would have tied for second-fastest safety at the combine. His 4.18-second 20-yard shuttle (tied, fourth), 36-inch vertical (sixth), and 10-foot broad jump (tied for 10th) all would have made combine safety top 10, while his 7.28 3-cone would have come in 12th. At Duke, McCarthy had 59 tackles (12 for loss), including 3.5 sacks. He also broke up two passes and forced one fumble.
Fun Fact: McCarthy’s roster bio photo looks like Matthew McConaughey and Josh Lucas had a kid. (It also, upon closer inspection, shows he eschews the Windsor knot for something a little more extravagant.)
Thompson Twin: Hold me now, we could have another Matthew Slater on our hands. Utah special-teamer Jason Thompson will make a lot more potential roster lists after his pro day performance. The 6-2, 210-pound kinda/sorta safety would have crushed it at the combine at that position, with top safety scores in the 3-cone (6.57 seconds, second overall), 20-yard shuttle (4.01 seconds, fifth overall), and bench reps (20, tied for top safety). His 11-1 broad jump (second safety, sixth overall), 4.44-second 40 (third safety), and 39.5-inch vertical (fourth) would have all made top four for combine safeties. Last season, Thompson had eight tackles and one fumble recovery, mostly on special teams. He is the ultimate jack-of-all-trades guy who never found a regular starting position.
Fun Fact: Thompson made the switch to safety after transferring from Wyoming in 2014, where he had played both quarterback and running back. His first play for the Utes came on their opening offensive snap in the Las Vegas Bowl, where he ran an end-around and lateraled to the QB, who threw downfield. (You can see the highlight here.)
TOP COMBINE VS. SNUBS RESULTS (Combine In Italics)
4.22 seconds – John Ross, Washington WR
4.35 seconds – Francis Owusu, Stanford WR
4.38 seconds – Anthony Nash, Duke WR
4.39 seconds – Dominique Reed, Arkansas WR
38 reps – Hunter Dimick, Utah DE
35 reps – Isaac Asiata, Utah OG; Carl Lawson, Auburn DE
31 reps – Eli Ankou, UCLA DT; Cody Heiman, Washburn LB
44.0 inches – Obi Melifonwu, UConn S
40.0 inches – Xavier Coleman, Portland State CB
11-foot-9 – Obi Melifonwu, UConn S
11-foot-1 – Jason Thompson, Utah S
6.56 seconds – Kevin King, Washington CB
6.57 seconds – Jason Thompson, Utah S
3.89 seconds – Kevin King, Washington CB
4.01 seconds – Jason Thompson, Utah S
4.07 seconds – Deante Burton, Kansas State WR
We’ll spend the next few weeks scouring upcoming pro days and compiling more Combine Snubs. The NFL draft begins April 27.
Chris Warner got a new DVD player but forgot about the Daffy Duck compilation in the old one which got stuck and required a screwdriver and several minutes of his life he’ll never get back. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @cwarn89.
It seems like New England goes about free agency signings the same way I approach a breakfast buffet. I start out intent on just oatmeal and a banana, but after seeing they have omelets made to order? I mean, I’ve got to at least inquire, right?
New England went against their typical wait-and-see mode this off-season and loaded up their order with a little of everything. They traded for tight end Dwayne Allen, receiver Brandin Cooks, and defensive lineman Kony Ealy, while scooping up free agents like cornerback Stephon Gilmore, D-lineman Lawrence Guy, and running back Rex Burkhead, while re-signing safety Duron Harmon, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, and corner Justin Coleman.
Got it? Good. Because you might have to remind me later.
And, oh, hey – we’re still more than a month away from the NFL draft. Coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots move around the draft board like a nuthatch attacking a suet feeder, flitting about in search of the best angle for the biggest reward. A few of the team’s tendencies surfaced in our annual Patriots Draft Round-By-Round Review. From that, breaking down their drafts gets simplified: not by where they pick nor by areas of need, but by the categories of athletes they tend to select.
We posted our previous “That Guy” column right after the NFL Combine. This column has some changes, but still lists more than a few combine testing numbers. For clarification of each drill, the NFL Combine page provides some useful info.
After the Cooks trade with New Orleans and the Ealy trade with Carolina, the Patriots have no first- or second-round picks. Though that may change, it has forced us to look later in the draft for certain types of athletes. New England has selections in the Third (two), Fourth, Fifth (two), Sixth, and Seventh rounds. Round One of the NFL Draft happens on Thursday night, April 27. Rounds Two and Three on Friday, April 28, and Rounds Four through Seven take place all day on Day Three, April 29. I can tell you this: as excited as you are now, you won’t believe how bored you’ll get after the first 15 minutes.
In any case, here are the sorts of players to look for next month…
The Solid First-Rounder: As said before, no Thursday night pick for the Pats; however, that could change via trade, allowing in a potential starter. The Patriots have a history of success in their first-round selections, as seen in our aforementioned Round-by-Round Review. (Am I pushing that too much? I’ll stop.) Past picks include Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, Dont’a Hightower, and Logan Mankins.
Possible Pick: With the Patriots drafting at 32, we previously picked tight end Evan Engram out of Ole Miss, but now it’s time to look more closely on the defensive side of the ball. Lots to like about Ohio defensive end Tarell Basham (6-4, 269). With the departures of veteran free agent pass-rushers Jabaal Sheard (Indianapolis Colts) and Chris Long (Mt. Kilimanjaro Waterboys), the Pats will look to add further depth along with Ealy and Guy.
By the way, “Ealy and Guy” sounds like the new quirky detective show on USA that follows reruns of “Rizzoli and Isles.” (You can take the “Rizzoli and Isles” quiz now!) Anyhoo, Basham came out of relatively tiny Ohio University to make some waves during Senior Bowl week, proving difficult to contain in one-on-one drills. His 4.70-second 40-yard dash didn’t disappoint. He was named the 2016 MAC Defensive Player of the Year with 16 tackles for loss (11.5 sacks), 44 tackles, and two forced fumbles. Seems like the type of player who could come in and rotate early as a rookie before expanding his role.
The “Who’s That Guy?” Guy: Beginning in the second round, the Patriots have selected players like Sebastian Vollmer in 2009, Tavon Wilson in 2012, and Jordan Richards in 2015, who did not exactly enter the draft adorned in neon lights saying “Pick Me Early.” Even if they fall short of acquiring a second-rounder, New England could use one of their two third-rounders on a less-than-famous prospect, much like they did on Duron Harmon in 2013.
Possible Pick: I had Northwestern defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo fitting here, but since free agency I’ve done a little shifting around (and as you’ll see, I end up with a lot of pass-rushers in other categories). Tony Conner of Ole Miss fits into this area of the draft, not just as a surprisingly high selection, but also as an Injured Guy (more on that below). Conner, a safety (like three of the four Patriots mentioned in this category), was well on his way to the NFL, reaching All-American Freshman status in 2013 and All-SEC Second Team as a sophomore. His junior season got derailed by a torn meniscus in his knee. When he returned as a senior, he managed 41 tackles (3.5 for loss) and a half-sack, along with five passes defensed, failing to reach his previous levels. Considering his setback and follow-up surgery junior year, the 6-0, 225-pound Conner could show off more of his previous abilities this spring.
The 3-Cone Guy: If you’ve ever read my pre-draft stuff before, you’ll remember that New England seeks out a player with quickness over straight-line speed. Seventh-rounder Julian Edelman had a 6.62-second 3-cone at his pro day in 2009, showing off the short-twitch skills that have helped him become the player he is today.
Possible Pick: Washington cornerback Kevin King keeps this spot after his two 2017 NFL Combine bests: 6.56-seconds in the 3-cone and 3.89-seconds in the 20-yard shuttle. (Compare to Edelman’s 6.62 and 3.92 marks, and you’re looking at particle-accelerator-fast feet). The 6-foot-3 King also leapt a 39.5-inch vertical (tied for top seven overall) and a 4.43-second 40. King earned All-Pac 12 Conference Honorable Mention, both on the field and academically. He had 44 tackles (3.5 for loss) and two interceptions. Plus, his last name would provide a boon to those like me with an affinity for terrible, pun-filled headlines.
Like, a picture of him next to Kevin Faulk, with the headline “Faulk-King Great.” Right? Like that.
The Freakishly Athletic Guy: Former Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins earned this moniker at the 2013 combine, moving around in ways that a 250-pound linebacker should not: a 41.5-inch vertical and 11-foot-7 broad jump. Such athleticism can help coaches set up difficult match-ups on either side of the ball.
Possible Pick: We’ve been keeping an eye out during pro day testing, but the athleticism of UConn’s 6-4, 224-pound safety Obi Melifonwu is rarer than steak tartare. A 44-inch vertical. An 11-foot-9 broad jump. A 4.40-second 40 (tied for eighth best at the combine). Crazy numbers for the First Team All-ECAC safety who wrapped up 2016 with 118 tackles, four interceptions, and three pass break-ups.
Fun Fact: Melifonwu gained 1,394 yards and scored 17 touchdowns as a running back at Grafton High School in Massachusetts.
Fun Watch: You can see those moon-man jumps in slo-mo on this CBS Sports page.
Offensive Line Double-Dip Guys: A few years ago, New England started going all Noah on O-linemen, seeking them out in pairs. In 2015, they picked Tré Jackson and Shaq Mason. Last year, Joe Thuney and Ted Karras got selected. After releasing tackle Sebastian Vollmer this off-season, the team should be seeking depth on the line.
Possible Picks: Though he will never be confused with the rabbity King, Isaac Asiata (6-3, 323) could add some bulk and strength to the middle of the Patriots’ front five. The guard out of Utah had a combine-best 35 reps on the bench press. Asiata earned the Morris Trophy for best offensive lineman in the Pac-12, voted by the conference’s defensive linemen. At tackle, Will Holden from Vanderbilt gets the call, especially after Belichick’s visit to the Commodores’ pro day. Holden has the right size at 6-7, 311 pounds, and he put up some of the top combine scores for O-linemen in the 3-cone and 20-yard shuttle. The All-SEC Second-Teamer started as a right tackle sophomore year but moved to left beginning as a junior, starting all 13 games his senior year.
The Long-Limbed Defensive End: Drafted out of Arkansas in 2015, Trey Flowers has worked up to the role of the team’s best pass-rusher, giving the Patriots enough confidence to let Long and Sheard seek contracts with other teams. In 2016, the Patriots seemed to have about as many sacks as a roomful of eunuchs (actually, they sat firmly in the middle of the pack, tied for 16th in the league with 34). New England (and most other teams, really) could use another rangy D-lineman to get after the QB.
Possible Pick: Hard to let go of 6-7, 289-pound Tanoh Kpassagnon out of Villanova, especially considering his baby-anaconda 36-inch limbs. With those reachers, he can name quarterbacks George and hug them and squeeze them. Kpassagnon ran a 4.83 40, leapt 30 inches, and jumped 10 feet, seven inches. No big surprise, he earned Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year honors with 40 tackles (19 for loss) and 8.5 sacks.
Technique: Here’s an interview with Kpassagnon at the Senior Bowl, where he talks about working on his technique. Considering Flowers’ nickname is “Technique,” maybe Foxboro is the place for Kpassagnon to go.
Bonus Technique: Oh, it’s also an album by New Order? Have fun.
The Alabama Guy: Belichick and Alabama coach Nick Saban‘s relationship goes back to a different era, one where giant, square glasses frames made sense (I had the same kind as Saban in this Browns coaching photo). Second-year player Cyrus Jones and Super Bowl standout Dont’a Hightower (2012) are two examples of Tuscaloosans becoming Foxborobros.
Possible Pick: Not like they’re starving for defensive linemen, but Dalvin Tomlinson (6-3, 310) had a good year in Alabama’s defense, with 62 tackles (5.5 for loss), three sacks, and four pass break-ups. Tomlinson also made some noise at the combine, with a 5.19 40 and a 27-inch vertical jump, both notable numbers for a 300-plus pounder.
Fun Fact: Tomlinson won three state titles as a high school heavyweight wrestler in Georgia, compiling a career record of 169-2.
The Ohio State Defensive Back: This is a recent amalgam of The Rutgers Guy and The Ohio State Guy, taking into account former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano moving into the D-Coordinator position at OSU. Call it a potential category of the future.
Possible Pick: Declared junior Dareon Conley (6-0, 195) should get a long look from the Gillette front office. He made All-Big Ten second team with 26 stops, four interceptions, and eight pass break-ups for OSU. At the combine, Conley ran a 4.44-second 40 and – more importantly – a 6.68-second 3-cone, tied for top three corner.
Fun Fact: In 2015, Conley blocked a punt vs. Rutgers. Because it always comes back to Rutgers.
The Injured Guy: New England has been known to gamble on an injured collegian, hoping to cash in on the player out-performing his draft status. Tight end Rob Gronkowski in 2010 immediately comes to mind. Alas, so does Ras-I-Dowling in 2011. Like I said: it’s a gamble.
Player To Watch: With the Patriots having so few picks early, I’m backing off of linebacker Alex Anzalone out of Florida and moving down the draft a bit, switching my attention to edge rusher JoJo Mathis (6-2, 266) out of Washington. Mathis led the Huskies in sacks after six games with five, then had to stop due to injury and eventual foot surgery. He did not test at the combine and could fly under the radar before the draft. As a late pick, he has the chance to provide a decent payoff.
An extended look at Mathis vs. Arizona embedded in this article. Lots of potential to work with, there.
The Small-School Defender: Sixth-rounders Markell Carter of Central Arkansas (2011) and Zach Moore out of Concordia (2014) show New England’s willingness to look past school pedigree for potential gems looking to dazzle once light is shone upon them.
Holy crap, that was poetic.
Possible Pick: Sticking with West Georgia outside linebacker Dylan Donahue (6-3, 248) here. He’s got the physicality with a 4.75 40 and 26 bench reps. He’s also got the prerequisite almost-unbelievable numbers for a small-school product. The Division II First-Team All-American and Gulf South Conference Defensive Player of the Year had a school-record 13.5 sacks in 2016, racking up 67 tackles (20 for loss).
Donahue’s Division II dominance calls to mind that of former Patriot Dane Fletcher, a D-II defensive end out of Montana State who played linebacker for New England. You can see Donahue’s pass-rushing skills (and some rather flustered offensive linemen) in this highlight reel.
The Backup Quarterback: Some recent surprise choices include Jimmy Garoppolo in the 2014 second round and Jacoby Brissett in the 2016 fourth. Both seemed like high picks for a team with the best QB in all the land, but they’ve worked out so far, helping New England to a 3-1 record to begin 2016.
Possible Pick: I don’t think the Patriots will pick quite as high again. With that in mind, after Davis Webb of Cal had a solid Senior Bowl and an impressive combine, his draft board status got too lofty for the Patriots to take him. That switches our focus to C. J. Beathard (6-2, 219) out of Iowa, who led the Hawkeyes with 1,929 yards and 17 touchdowns vs. 10 interceptions. Beathard completed 170 of 301 passes for a 57 percent completion rate. An added bonus is the fact that Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and Belichick go back about 25 years to the pair’s days coaching for the Browns. So, hey: in-depth scouting report for a potentially solid backup.
Random Pats Connection: When I had Webb here, I noted that he began his career at Texas Tech under head coach Kliff Kingsbury, the Patriots’ 2003 sixth-round QB pick. With Beathard, a more random connection arose. His father Casey has written songs for Kenny Chesney, including the single, “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems.” Chesney was seen celebrating the Pats’ most recent Super Bowl victory with Robert Kraft.
Yeah. When I said “random connection,” I was not kidding around.
The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: After selecting Deion Branch and David Givens in 2002, New England had a long, discouraging history of drafting receivers who didn’t quite fit in at Foxboro, including Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce in 2013. (Let’s not even discuss Chad “Combine Skills Champion” Jackson). The Pats found a gem in Edelman (more on him below); they halted their poor streak after finding Georgia pass-catcher Malcolm Mitchell in the fourth round last year. The rookie caught 32 balls for 401 yards and four touchdowns in 2016, bringing hope to the overall daunting challenge of finding first-year fits for New England.
Possible Pick: I liked the size and athleticism of Kenny Golladay (6-4, 218) out of Northern Illinois, but a lot of other people agreed with me after his impressive combine performance. Still seeking out a bigger receiver (I mean, Patriots wideout Michael Floyd isn’t going anywhere anytime soon) brings us to Michigan’s Jehu Chesson (6-3, 204). Chesson stood out at the combine with an 11-foot broad jump and 4.09-second 20-yard shuttle (both top six for wide receivers) and a 6.70-second 3-cone (top three for receivers, top nine overall), which, given his stature, must have looked like a sapling on ice skates. For the Wolverines – Wolverines! (Sorry, couldn’t help myself) – Chesson caught 35 passes for 500 yards (14.3 avg.), with two touchdowns in 2016, a down year after a notable junior season (50 for 764, nine TDs) with a different QB.
The Backup Tight End: As of this writing, the Patriots have brought in Rob Housler and old pal Michael Williams after losing Martellus Bennett in free agency. It seems like they could use another lighter, quicker guy to put stress on defenses if Rob Gronkowski proves unavailable. (Lower case “if.”)
Possible Pick: The previous column’s mention, Iowa’s George Kittle, did yeoman work at the combine, but Darrell Daniels (6-3, 247) out of Washington seems more like the receiving type TE the Pats could look for here. Daniels ran a speedy 4.55-second 40, the fourth-best time for tight ends at the combine. He also had a 7.09-second 3-cone, tied for sixth-best TE. In his senior year as a Husky, Daniels earned All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention with 17 catches for 307 yards (18.1 avg.) and three touchdowns. Plus, if you watch highlights, he resembles former Patriots tight end Tim Wright. (For comparison, some Wright highlights from the Buccaneers in 2013.)
The Special Teams Guy: Picks like UCLA’s Matthew Slater in 2008 and Ohio State’s Nate Ebner in 2012 tend to emerge in the fifth and sixth rounds, guys who might fill in on offense or defense in a pinch, but who get drafted to focus on special teams. I liked Boston College safety John Johnson here before, but his combine work might take him a little too high for the late-fifth, early-sixth rounds.
Possible Pick: Here’s where studying pro days from combine snubs comes in handy, as it led me to Oklahoma linebacker Jordan Evans (6-3, 232). Evans had scouts conking themselves on the head like they’d neglected V-8, showing serious juice in a 4.51-second 40, which would have been second-best linebacker time at the combine. He also had top-10-worthy 4.27 20-yard shuttle and 7.00 3-cone times. The All-Big 12 First Team defender led the Sooners with 98 tackles, adding 2.5 sacks and four interceptions.
The Navy Guy: The connection between Belichick and the Naval Academy is well-documented. (Literally, you could say: the coach and his father contributed the Belichick Collection of football tomes to the school library.)
Possible Pick: Hard to overlook wide receiver Jamir Tillman, who caught 40 passes for 631 yards and two TDs this past season. Decent numbers anywhere, but especially notable on the third-best rushing team in the country. He averaged 15.8 yards per catch. For his career, Tillman amassed 1,626 yards receiving via 91 catches (17.9 avg.) and 10 touchdowns.
Fun Fact: Tillman rushed six times in his career for 51 yards (8.5 avg.).
Fun Retro Fact: When I was a child, the Navy had the best recruiting ads on television: It’s Not Just A Job, It’s An Adventure.
The Back-To-The-Well Guy: While Belichick might not have ties as strong to most schools as he does Navy, the success of one player can lead to selecting another from the same program. Rutgers had its own category for years. Florida State (center Bryan Stork, 2014; guard Jackson, 2015) is another example of a program that has provided some recent additions.
Possible Pick: Had linebacker Tyus Bowser here previously in light of New England drafting Houston LB Elandon Roberts in the sixth round last year. However, Bowser’s draft stock may have gotten too rich for New England after a killer combine. (Note: Killer Combine is not the name of a Stephen King novel about farm equipment gone amok. But it should be.) We’ll switch over to offense here, taking Cal running back Khalfani Muhammad in light of the Patriots drafting Cal running back Shane Vereen in 2011 and signing rookie free agent receiver Chris Harper in 2015. At 5-7, 174 pounds, the word “diminutive” is itself too big to describe Muhammad, but he made All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention in 2016 with 1,543 all-purpose yards. He led the Bears with 827 yards rushing on 152 carries (5.4 avg.), caught 17 passes for 132 yards, and returned kicks at a 24.3-yard clip. A combine snub, Muhammad has yet to be tested, but his highlights show speed, quickness, and a surprising amount of strength.
Seventh-Round Slot Guy: We can look back at Jeremy Ebert (Northwestern, 2012) and Jeremy Gallon (Michigan, 2014) and see New England trying to reap similar benefits as with the Edelman selection of 2009. Again, 3-cone can play a large role, but production and adaptability provide keys as well.
Possible Pick: I had Isaiah McKenzie out of Georgia here before, but he is Khalfani-sized at 5-7, 173-pounds. Seriously, those guys’ frames could barely hold up a painting. Instead, I’ll go back to Fred Ross (6-1, 213), a Mississippi State receiver whom I mentioned in our “That Guy” Senior Bowl column. (There I go, linking myself again.) Ross, a two-time First-Team All-SEC selection, caught 72 passes for 917 yards (12.7 avg.), for 12 TDs. He also returned punts. At the combine, Ross put up respectable-yet-unremarkable numbers (4.28 20-yard shuttle, 6.99 3-cone) that will keep him toward the back of the draft. So, sure, he shouldn’t be confused with John Ross – he of the astounding 4.22-second 40 – but he can play in the NFL.
Nice look at Ross’ versatility on this brief, densely profane highlight reel.
The Pedigree Pick Guy: We’ve introduced this category this year in light of former Patriot Bryan Cox’s son entering the draft next month.
Possible Pick: We watched defensive end Bryan Cox, Jr. (6-3, 264) do some damage at the East-West Shrine Game, getting in the backfield often and causing general havoc. His combine wasn’t the best, but a 4.89 40 fails to represent the type of impact he could potentially have on the field. Injuries limited Cox to 19 tackles (2.5 for loss) in 2016.
Other Possible Pick: Illinois linebacker Hardy Nickerson (6-0, 228) is the son of the Tampa Bay Pro Bowler of the same name who had an amazing 214 tackles in 1993. The younger Nickerson had 107 tackles last year (5.5 for loss) and two interceptions.
Next week, we’ll post the first of 2017’s Combine Snubs Who Showed ‘Em series, checking in on notable field days from players whom NFL scouts overlooked. Last year’s Snubs wrap-up column is worth a review as it includes current Patriot linebacker Trevor Bates, who at 6-1, 245, ran a 6.75-second 3-cone drill at Maine’s pro day.
You want a quick preview snub? Sure. Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong projects as an NFL receiver; his pro-day times in the 3-cone and 20-yard shuttle would have made top 10 at the combine.
See? Fun. Hope to have you back next week. You’re officially invited.
Chris Warner noticed that the woman sitting across from him has the same coffee travel mug and he now wonders if he should try to make eye contact and nod toward his own mug, like, “Hey, how about that? Twinsies!” but is deciding against it. You can email him advice about how to initiate human contact at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @cwarn89.
Listen, I tried. For years, I struggled to figure out players Coach Bill Belichick and his cohorts would select in each draft. I’d look at New England’s draft positions, figure out where athletes were ranked, and attempt to make them fit. At my prediction rate, I may as well have spent my time trying to drink a Fribble through a paper straw.
A few years ago, after putting together a Round-by-Round Review of Patriots drafts since 2000, a better, simpler way emerged: before narrowing down to specific names, find general types. As we’ll see below, the New England draft board often gets lined up differently from other teams’ boards, resulting in some surprises. That inconsistency itself has become one of a few trends that have surfaced, giving us keys as to how the Foxboro front will go about their business. Round One happens Thursday night, April 27. Rounds Two and Three follow on Friday, with Rounds Four through Seven on Day Three.
You won’t find a mock draft here; I’m leaving the board open to tendencies and possibilities.
The NFL’s combine website is a reliable resource (it’s a home-team advantage, but still). For testing newbies regarding the goings-on at Indianapolis, the page explaining each drill can prove helpful, especially regarding the 3-cone and 20-yard shuttle quickness drills.
Also, please keep in mind: I listed the possible picks shown here in light of the NFL Combine. Some players who did not participate due to injuries or snubs should get mentioned in our next “That Guy” column in a couple of weeks.
On to the picks!
The Solid First-Rounder: A look at New England’s first-round draft picks in the Belichick era reads like a predictor of the franchise’s Hall of Fame. Plenty of Pats picked here should be heading to the red blazer store, including Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, and Logan Mankins.
Possible Pick: This is always a little tough, because the Patriots tend to stay away from the dynamic athletes and go for the more stable, diligent types (picking Seymour over much-ballyhooed Michigan receiver David Terrell, for example). You know what? The heck with it. I’m going with tight end Evan Engram out of Ole Miss. He’s a lighter guy at 6-3, 234, but his 40 (4.42 seconds), 3-cone (6.92 seconds), and 20-yard shuttle (4.23 seconds) make him about as pleasant to match up with as burlap. Engram, who served as team captain twice, went All-SEC and All-American after leading the team with 65 receptions for 926 yards (14.2 avg.) and eight touchdowns.
Many have put Miami tight end David Njoku here, but Engram actually fared better in the 40, 3-cone, and 20-yard shuttle (Njoku had 4.64, 6.97, and 4.34 seconds, respectively). However, Njoku’s ridiculous 11-foot, 1-inch broad jump might get him plucked off the board before New England drafts.
If you want to see a guy go up the seam more than a stubborn leggings tear, you can see Engram’s highlight reel here.
The “Who’s That Guy?” Guy: Beginning in the second round, the Patriots have selected players like Sebastian Vollmer in 2009, Tavon Wilson in 2012, and Jordan Richards in 2015, sending draft commentators scrambling for their back-page notes.
Possible Pick: The combine’s not the best place to fill in this category (Vollmer was a snub), but it’s still possible to find a lesser-heralded guy to rise up the draft ranks at Gillette. Defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo fits here as someone with high potential. The 6-3, 258-pound Northwestern product’s 10-foot-8 broad jump tied for second-best among all defensive linemen at the combine. He also ran a 4.72-second 40, had 25 bench reps (top 13 for combine DLs), and a 31.5-inch vertical leap. He notched 10 sacks last season (12 tackles for loss) and forced two fumbles on his way to earning All-Big Ten honorable mention. Odenigbo only took up football his sophomore year in high school, yet became an Under Armour and SuperPrep All-American by the end of his senior season.
I took up listening to U2 my sophomore year of high school. So, different sets of accomplishments, I guess.
The 3-Cone Guy: As noted multiple times on this site, New England’s got a thing for quickness. The drafting of Kent State QB Julian Edelman, who put up a swift 6.62-second 3-cone at his pro day in 2009, both points to the obsession and a good reason to continue it. The quarterback became a receiver, and – in case you haven’t been following the team recently – got to be pretty good.
Possible Pick: Cornerback Kevin King out of Washington wins the 2017 Quickness Award with two combine bests, a 6.56-second 3-cone and 3.89-second 20-yard shuttle. Both are impressive times considering Edelman’s 6.62 and 3.92 marks (and he’s not exactly known for munching plants in the Galápagos). King also showcased a 39.5-inch vertical (tied for top seven overall) and a 4.43-second 40. Another Pats-possible trait? Dude’s 6-foot-3.
King earned All-Pac 12 Conference Honorable Mention both for his work on the field and in the classroom last season. He tallied 44 tackles (3.5 for loss) and two interceptions. The Patriots could get a strong scouting report from Alabama coach and Belichick pal Nick Saban, as King racked up nine stops vs. the Crimson Tide in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, a 24-7 Alabama win.
Fun Fact: According to his UW player page, King won the Tyree Sports Community Service Award, a foundation that helps incoming freshmen catch footballs on their helmets. What? Wait a second … Nope. Read that wrong: it’s the Tyee Sports Council Community Service Award from the Tyee Club, a supporter of Husky Athletics. Different deal, I guess.
The Freakishly Athletic Guy: Ever since the Patriots took Jamie Collins in 2013, it’s been worth keeping an eye out for someone who lights up the combine. Collins showed the explosiveness of a Yosemite Sam cartoon with his 41.5-inch vertical and 11-foot, seven-inch broad jump. Belichick seeks versatility in his charges; physical ability can help gain that.
Possible Pick: Whoooaa. You know, being a 6-4, 224-pound safety set UConn’s Obi Melifonwu apart from the crowd already, but after this past weekend, he might have to take up residence on a different planet. He showed a combine-best (and Collins-besting) 44-inch vertical and 11-foot-9 broad jump. Think about that for a second. If Melifonwu were standing with his toes just inside the four-yard line, he could broad jump to the end zone. Add a 4.40-second 40 (tied for eighth best at the combine) and 17 bench-press reps (eighth among safeties), and Melifonwu has cemented his status as the WHAT THE HUNH?!? combine player of 2017. This past season, Melifonwu was named First Team All-ECAC after piling up 118 tackles (in 12 games, no less), four interceptions, and three pass break-ups.
Fun Fact: In the West African language of Igbo, the word “Obi” means “heart.” Sometimes pronounced haht.
Offensive Line Double-Dip Guys: The Pats have done well to go back to the OL buffet in recent drafts, stocking up on Tré Jackson and Shaq Mason in 2015 and Joe Thuney and Ted Karras last year. With the release of tackle Sebastian Vollmer and the relative lack of bulk on New England’s interior, the team could draft to bolster the line both inside and outside.
Possible Picks: If the middle of the offensive line is light, then Isaac Asiata projects well to anchor that bunch of helium balloons. The Utah guard checked in at 6-3, 323 pounds and put up a Herculean (and combine-best) 35 reps on the bench press. At tackle, Will Holden from Vanderbilt seems to fit. An elm tree at 6-7, 311 pounds, Holden managed a 9-foot-3 broad jump and a 28-inch vertical, showing the athleticism necessary to keep faster pass-rushers at bay. The All-SEC Second-Teamer started as a right tackle sophomore year but moved to left beginning as a junior, starting all 13 games his senior year. Asiata earned the Morris Trophy for best offensive lineman in the Pac-12, voted by the conference’s defensive linemen. It’s an award Asiata said he wanted since he started playing at Utah.
Fun Fact: Asiata is the cousin of NFL running back (and former Ute) Matt Asiata.
The Long-Limbed Defensive End: After his 2016 performance, this might get renamed the Attempt To Duplicate Trey Flowers Guy. The 2015 fourth-rounder out of Arkansas became the team’s best pass-rusher and went amok for 2.5 sacks in the Super Bowl to consistently give New England a chance to come back. With veteran Chris Long moving on in free agency, the Patriots are expected to tend to this position.
Possible Pick: Well, outside of Freddy Krueger living in my nightmares, you’re not going to get a longer-limbed demon than the 6-7, 289-pound Tanoh Kpassagnon out of Villanova, who sports 35-and-five-eighths-inch limbs. If running a 4.83 40 didn’t bolster his draft stock, then his 30-inch vertical leap and 10-foot-7 broad jump did. (Putting up 23 bench reps with those transatlantic-cable arms wasn’t unimpressive, either). Kpassagnon was the Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year with 40 tackles (19 for loss) and 8.5 sacks.
Oh, and that nightmare about Freddy? I dreamt he cut my arm off, then woke up having slept in an awkward position where I couldn’t feel my arm. True story.
The Alabama Guy: Belichick’s relationship with Coach Saban is only a little younger than the relationship between the Earth and the Moon. Second-round rookie cornerback/potential 2017 comeback story Cyrus Jones is the latest example; Dont’a Hightower came aboard in 2012.
Possible Pick: They seem stocked with defensive linemen, but could the Patriots take another one in Dalvin Tomlinson? (Well … of course they could. It’s not magic or anything.) The 6-3, 310-pounder whose 33.5-inch arms also make him look like a living Laocoön sculpture excelled at the combine, showing some speed (5.19 40) and athleticism (27-inch vertical, 9-foot-2 broad jump) for his size. He also did quite well in Alabama’s defense in 2016, notching 62 tackles (5.5 for loss), three sacks, and four pass break-ups.
The Ohio State Defensive Back: This is a recent amalgam of The Rutgers Guy and The Ohio State Guy, taking into account former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano moving into the D-Coordinator position at OSU.
Possible Pick: The best DB out of Ohio State this year will be Malik Hooker, meaning he should be gone by the time the Patriots pick. Declared junior Dareon Conley (6-0, 195) could make the Foxboro draft board. Conley ran a 4.44-second 40, 11th for combine corners. He submitted a 6.68-second 3-cone (tied for top three corner) and a 10-9 broad jump (top six corner). At OSU, he made All-Big Ten second team with 26 stops, four interceptions, and eight pass break-ups. You can watch a highlight reel where he demonstrates solid fundamentals here.
The Injured Guy: On the hunt for value like my mother at Zayre, New England will gamble on an injured player in the hopes that he will outperform his draft status. The greatest example of this theory? Rob Gronkowski in 2010. The not-so-greatest? Ras-I-Dowling in 2011. Eh, you take your shots. (Flashing back on Zayre, this discovery: Garanimals still exist!)
Player To Watch: Following up his noteworthy Senior Bowl performance with a strong combine, I’m sticking with linebacker Alex Anzalone out of Florida. The 6-3, 241-pound linebacker ran a 4.63-second 40-yard dash, a 6.88 3-cone, and a 4.25 20-yard shuttle, all top five for linebackers at Indy. Anzalone has played in only 10 games in the last two seasons due to shoulder and arm injuries. in his one full season (2014), he played in all 12 games as a backup and tallied 14 tackles.
The Small-School Defender: As we saw with Zach Moore out of Concordia in 2014 and even Kamu Grugier-Hill from Eastern Illinois last year, New England seems quite willing to overlook school status in favor of potential. Despite going undrafted, a certain cornerback from West Alabama whose name rhymes with Talcum Cutler adds to this ideal.
Possible Pick: The more I research West Georgia outside linebacker Dylan Donahue (6-3, 248), the more I like what I see. Running a decent 4.75 40 and putting up a solid 26 bench reps might get him a little more notice, but numbers for the Division II First-Team All-American tell a better story. The Gulf South Conference Defensive Player of the Year had a school-record 13.5 sacks in 2016, racking up 67 tackles (20 for loss) as an edge defender.
Donahue reminds me of Montana State product and former Patriot Dane Fletcher, a D-2 defensive end who converted to linebacker for the NFL. Both are from Montana (Fletcher went to Bozeman High, Donahue to Billings West), and both put up monster numbers in college.
Fun Fact: The word “monster” comes from the Latin “monere,” to warn, and “monstrum,” portent. It’s also the name of an oddly-sexualized cartoon high school.
The Backup Quarterback: Recently, the Patriots have been drafting quarterbacks earlier than expected, with Jimmy Garoppolo in the 2014 second round and Jacoby Brissett in the 2016 third. Though New England will probably wait until the later rounds before picking a QB this year, it’s still likely they’ll seek out another arm for the summer.
By the way, Another Arm For The Summer sounds like it would be the title of Mike Lupica’s worst novel. Christ, I’m cringing just thinking about it.
Possible Pick: Looks like Davis Webb of Cal had a strong Senior Bowl and could be a Day Three fit for Foxboro. He also had one heck of a combine, gaining top five scores for quarterbacks in the 40, vertical and broad jumps, and 3-cone and 20-yard shuttles. Last year, Webb got an Honorable Mention in the Pac-12 with 4,295 yards passing (62 percent completion rate), and a Tom-Brady-like ratio of 37 touchdowns against two interceptions.
Random Pats Connection: Webb began his career at Texas Tech under head coach Kliff Kingsbury, the Patriots’ 2003 sixth-round QB pick.
The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: Let’s see, here. New England skipped a couple of years in this category after taking Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce in 2013, but Malcolm Mitchell in the fourth round this past year has changed perspective. With 32 catches for 401 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games, Mitchell proved that – as difficult as it may be to find young receivers who can get on the same page as Brady – productive pass-catchers are out there.
Possible Pick: Looking for a bigger receiver with impressive combine measurements leads us to Kenny Golladay. The 6-4, 218-pound Northern Illinois product did solid work in Indianapolis, running a 4.50 40, a 7.00-second 3-cone, and a 4.15-second 20-yard shuttle. He also had a 10-foot broad jump. He is one of the biggest wideouts to participate in the combine.
Golladay made First-Team All-MAC last season, catching 73 passes for 1,129 yards and two touchdowns. New England only has two receivers on their roster over 6-foot-1: one (Devin Lucien) is a second-year player with no game experience; the other (Michael Floyd) is not exactly going to be running a lot of pass patterns over the next couple of months. Expect someone Golladay-sized to get a tryout at Gillette in July.
The Backup Tight End: As of this writing, the Patriots have six tight ends on the roster, only one of whom weighs under 265 pounds (Rob Housler, at a petite 250). It seems like they could use another lighter, quicker guy to put stress on defenses should Martellus Bennett and/or Rob Gronkowski be unavailable.
There’s a notable clip from the Week 16 Jets game edition of Mic’d Up where Matt Lengel has just scored his first career touchdown. At about the 2:35 mark, ends coach Brian Daboll says to him, “Don’t’ worry about your touchdown, got me?” followed by something that sounds like, “I want better in the run game.” In other words, You’re not here to catch passes, big fella. Even if the Patriots pick Engram early, they could still be on the lookout for a versatile H-back type.
Possible Pick: At the combine, Iowa’s George Kittle raised some eyebrows with a 4.52-second 40 (third-best tight end) and an 11-foot broad jump (also third). The 6-4, 247-pounder caught a mere 22 passes for 314 yards (14.3 avg.) and four touchdowns in 2016. He was often called on to block, as the Hawkeyes featured two running backs who gained 1,000 yards on the year.
Fun Fact: Since 1999, Kirk Ferentz has been Iowa’s head coach. Despite having known Belichick since coaching with him at Cleveland in the early 1990s, Ferentz has only had one of his players drafted by New England. (That player’s listed below. And if you can get this off the top of your head, you win the day.)
The Special Teams Guy: When New England drafted Matthew Slater out of UCLA in 2008, I figured they’d gotten themselves a fast receiver and potential kick returner in the fifth round. Little did I realize they would begin a trend of drafting players who focus and excel on special teams. Ohio State rugby player Nate Ebner (2012 sixth) also makes this list, as well as long snapper Joe Cardona (more on him below).
Possible Pick: Let’s keep it local with John Johnson (6-0, 208) out of Boston College. Timed at 4.61 in the 40, with a 6.72-second 3-cone (tied for second among combine safeties), a 4.18-second 20-yard shuttle (tied for fourth safety), a 37-inch vertical (also tied for fourth) and 14 bench reps at the combine, Johnson may have moved beyond typical Special Teamer draft status. At BC, he had 77 tackles (three for loss), three interceptions, and nine pass break-ups.
The Navy Guy: Belichick’s father, who was to football scouts what Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was to The Beatles (thanks for the refresher, Internet!), coached at the Naval Academy for 50 years. His son wanted Cardona in Foxboro badly enough to spend a fifth-round draft pick on him in 2015. The result? Super Bowl. (Okay, maybe not a direct correlation, but still.)
Possible Pick: For the record, no Navy guys made it to the combine this year. As a preview of future “That Guy” columns, keep an eye on receiver Jamir Tillman, who somehow managed to grab 40 passes this past season in a program that throws the ball about as often as Carli Loyd. His 631 yards receiving led the team by over 350. He averaged 15.8 yards per catch and came down with two touchdowns.
The Back-To-The-Well Guy: While Belichick might not have as strong a tie to most schools as he does Navy, the success of one player can lead to selecting another from the same program. Rutgers is the best example of this, as the Gillette lighthouse once beckoned to the Scarlet Knights like the Lighthouse of Alexandria to sailors in papyrus boats. Florida State (center Bryan Stork, 2014; guard Jackson, 2015) is another program that gets attention from around these parts.
Possible Pick: New England drafted Houston linebacker Elandon Roberts in the sixth round last year; that paid off in the form of 45 tackles and a forced fumble from the rookie. Easy to get enamored with Roberts’ college teammate, linebacker Tyus Bowser, watching his highlight reel. While I know that’s what highlight reels are for, the fact that a Houston product like Roberts found such success as a rookie points to his former teammate coming in with potential to contribute quickly. Bowser’s 7.5 sacks and 10.5 total tackles for loss in 2016 should help – especially if you consider he missed five games due to injury. The 6-3, 247-pound Bowser ran a 6.75-second 3-cone, best among combine linebackers. His 10-foot-7 broad jump qualified as top three among linebackers, while he added a 4.65-second 40 that made top five for good measure.
Ha! Measure, I said. About the combine. I kill me.
Seventh-Round Slot Guy: Looking at Jeremy Ebert out of Northwestern in 2012 and Jeremy Gallon from Michigan in 2014, we can see attempts to duplicate Edelman magic from 2009. Edelman’s NFL success makes college receiving stats about as reliable as a sundial in Seattle, but combine quickness may offer a clue or two regarding potential. (For the record, Edelman was not invited to the combine in 2009.)
Possible Pick: At 5-foot-7, he might be shorter than his future Fathead poster, but Isaiah McKenzie out of Georgia still manages to come up big on the field. McKenzie ran a 4.42 40 (tied for seventh best at the combine), and a 6.64 3-cone (third best), because if you’re going to be smaller than a tackling dummy, you’d better be fast and quick. As a junior in 2016, he was Georgia’s leading receiver with 44 catches for 633 yards (14.4 avg.) and seven touchdowns. He also ran for 134 yards on 19 carries (7.1 avg.) and returned a punt for a touchdown (he had five punt return TDs in his career). Pats brass must be contemplating the success of Bulldogs alum Mitchell in Foxboro last year and wondering whether that could translate to his former teammate.
Trivia Answer: The only Iowa player drafted by the Patriots under Belichick has been offensive lineman Mike Elgin in 2007.
Fun Fact: Elgin, Illinois is a stupid suburb of Chicago where jerks come from. (You know what you did, Kevin. You know what you did.)
The Pedigree Pick Guy: A new category this year, it may get used more frequently as former NFL players see their sons play in college. Although, as I write this, I have to wonder whether Slater’s pedigree (his father is Pro Football Hall of Fame left tackle and Brady-based truth-teller Jackie Slater) became a factor as Belichick considered drafting him. Safe to say it didn’t hurt.
Possible Pick: In any case, seeing the name Bryan Cox brought back some memories, the clearest of which involved his linebacker father back in 2001 planting Colts receiver Jerome Pathon like a daffodil bulb. (Nice piece on Cox, Sr. by Christopher Price here.) Cox had a mediocre combine, timing at 4.89 in the 40 and benching 16 reps, but his size (6-3, 265) and – like the category says – pedigree make him an intriguing prospect. Beset by injuries his senior year, Cox only had 19 tackles (2.5 for loss). Seen as a late Day Three pick, Cox could bring value to the right team.
In the next couple of weeks I’ll be putting together the first of 2017’s Combine Snubs Who Showed ‘Em series, checking in on notable pro days from players who did not get invited to Indianapolis. Last year’s Snubs wrap-up column is worth a review as it includes current Patriot linebacker Trevor Bates, who at 6-1, 245, ran a 6.75-second 3-cone drill at Maine’s pro day.
Enjoy the speculation, folks. It’s all we’ve got for the next several weeks. Well, that, and multiple “Three Games To Glory V” viewings.
Chris Warner actually kind of admires the flat-earthers for their sticktoitiveness, as misplaced as it may be. He can be emailed at email@example.com or tweeted at @cwarn89.