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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or tweeted at @cwarn89.
If we hadn’t seen it for ourselves, we wouldn’t believe it.
When Atlanta took a 14-0 lead with 8:48 remaining in the first half of Super Bowl 51, erasing that deficit would have counted as the greatest comeback in the game’s history. An ensuing 57-yard drive by New England that took 15 plays (including two Falcons defensive holding penalties) and 6:27 off the clock was terminated by a devastating interception return for a touchdown. With 2:21 left in the half, the Patriots trailed 21-0.
After an 11-play drive in which they had to settle for a field goal, New England went into the half down, 21-3. By the 8:31 mark of the third, that disadvantage had risen to 28-3 on an all-too-easy Tevin Coleman touchdown reception.
Then, somehow, overtime. And then, after a favorable coin toss, the improbable thing became inevitable.
As much as New England fans celebrated, a part of them must have felt like Tom Brady did at the 0:17 mark of the James White touchdown video, where he was just trying to make sure that what happened did, in fact, actually happen.
For a detailed review of the comeback, please see our rundown in the last Patriots Thursday Observations column of the season, “It’s Not Over Yet.”
With time comes perspective, and with that perspective, some thoughtful looks back on the biggest comeback in NFL championship history.
Soo many thanks to all the sports reporters who took the time to offer their points of view: Matt Chatham, former Patriot linebacker and founder of FootballByFootball.com; Mark Daniels of The Providence Journal, Chad Finn of The Boston Globe; Tanya Ray Fox of USA Today Sports Media Group; Mike Giardi of CSNNE; Mike Reiss of ESPN.com; and Bob Socci, play-by-play announcer on 98.5 The Sports Hub and host of The Bob Socci Show on patriots.com.
For an insider look at reporting on the NFL championship (and, really, the experience of writing up any away game), I recommend Christopher Price’s column “What it’s like to cover a crazy Super Bowl finish.” Great work by Chris here.
Ah, remember February 5? To the WABAC machine!
All of our media members predicted the Patriots would win. As Socci said, “Initially, my expectations were consistent with conventional thought, that Super Bowl LI figured to be a high-scoring, closely-contested game. As the game drew nearer, my confidence in the Patriots increased based on a number of factors: I believed they had the advantage at head coach and quarterback, possessed a better defense, and would enjoy success running the ball against Atlanta’s defense. In truth, after also considering the contrast in experience between the teams, I said to myself and others, ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots end up pulling away.’ It goes to show what I know – or, more importantly, don’t know.”
“I expected a competitive Patriots victory,” said Chatham. “From my pre-game study, I expected the Patriots to control interior play on both sides of the ball – was shocked to see that not happen for about three quarters. I also expected better Patriots ball security all around. That, too, was an unexpected problem in the game. With those two unlikely things swinging dramatically to Atlanta’s side, many of my pre-game assumptions were predictably way off.”
Though most of our pundits correctly laid out a few basics of the contest, including some prescient score predictions, no one foresaw the tectonic shift in momentum. Giardi said, “Coming into the game, I didn’t think the Falcons defense was good enough to keep the Patriots under 30 points. And while I still don’t think the Pats defense is this elite unit, I love their toughness and their ability to tighten up inside the 20. So while I figured (Matt) Ryan and company would get into the high 20s, I assumed they’d never be in control. I ended up getting both predictions right, but it didn’t play out like I figured. Not at all.”
Like Socci, Reiss grew more confident in the Patriots’ chances as Super Bowl week went along. “I had predicted the Patriots to win, 37-31, but as the game drew closer I was thinking that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a more comfortable victory for New England. So much for that,” Reiss said. “The whole atmosphere leading up to the game was special – what a great Patriots turnout – and it just felt like Tom Brady wasn’t to be denied. No doubt, I didn’t see the game unfolding the way it did. Not many did.”
Finn said he “picked the Patriots to win 34-31, which wasn’t too far off from the final score but was way off in terms of how they got there. I thought it would be a tight back-and-forth game throughout, with both teams’ defenses struggling to stop the opposing offenses, with Stephen Gostkowski ending it with his own Vinatieri moment. Obviously, it wasn’t a back-and-forth game. It was 28-3, and now let’s see what you’ve got, Brady. I like the way it played out much better. Watching Gostkowski lining up for a winning kick might have caused half of New England to black out.”
Fox, looking at New England’s history, also anticipated a taut thriller. “I’m pretty sure I texted my Mom that the final score would be 27-24, Patriots. I was sure that it would be a last minute, one-possession game because that’s the only way the Patriots win (or lose) Super Bowls! Little did I know.”
Though he came the closest in his score prediction, Daniels believed the Patriots could follow an uneventful path to get there. “Well, after diving into the numbers, looking over the two rosters, and comparing the schedules, I honestly thought the Patriots were going to roll over the Atlanta Falcons. I didn’t think it was going to be a blowout, but thought the Patriots would win with relative ease. I thought the Patriots were a superior team defensively and that the Falcons weak offensive line was going to be their biggest downfall. My prediction was actually close to being right – Patriots 34, Falcons 27 – but certainly didn’t think it would play out like it really did.”
Socci, for one, saw pretty quickly a couple of the problems with his prediction, saying, “Chief among the things I didn’t fully realize is just how much team speed and quickness Atlanta had on both sides of the ball. Nor, despite expecting Freeman and Coleman to be keys for the Falcons, did I fully comprehend what kind of trouble they could create for New England’s defense.”
When The Patriots Were In Trouble
Finn said he saw what he called “real trouble” at the point “When Robert Alford left Brady lunging at air on the pick-six to make it 21-0 with a little over two minutes left in the first half. We all knew the stat: the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history is from a 10-point hole, which the Patriots pulled off two years ago against the Seahawks. The 21-0 deficit didn’t feel insurmountable, but a comeback felt very unlikely, especially the way Brady and the offense were struggling.”
Chatham felt that having to settle for a field goal late in the first half foretold how the game would play out. “I thought they were in trouble when they couldn’t convert the first and 10 from Atlanta’s 15 into seven points before the half. Not as an indication that there wasn’t time to come back, or that they weren’t capable of coming back – more that they were prone to missing opportunities on this day. That’s never (typically) something you want happening when you’re chasing a championship. This was the standard-breaker of all standard-breaker games.”
For Socci, a turnaround during a recent championship helped him maintain hope for a similar second-half performance by New England. “Despite the halftime difference, at 21-3, I still believed the outcome was far from decided,” Socci said. “At one point, I even referenced Super Bowl XLVII on air. In that game, the Ravens led the 49ers by the same score until the final seconds of the second quarter (it was 21-6 at the half) and eventually held on to win only after surviving a first-and-goal threat by San Francisco in the final half minute. With somewhat of a nod to Mohamed Sanu, I wondered aloud on the radio if the long halftime would help the Patriots and hinder a young team like the Falcons. After a three-and-out to start the half and good field position for their first possession of the second half, I fully expected the Pats to begin their comeback. Of course, it didn’t happen then and there.”
Fox maintained some optimism for New England coming out of halftime, but that was short-lived. “Knowing the Falcons were going to get the ball to start the second half, I thought to myself, ‘if the Pats can stop them right out of the gate, they have a shot at this.’ Then they did! The Falcons went three-and-out, and the Patriots got the ball, and it was their time to get something going. Then they went three-and-out and ended up with negative yardage. It was then, before the Falcons even scored that touchdown to go up 28-3, that I thought the game was over. I figured if Brady and the offense couldn’t get it together to take advantage of that opportunity, it was over.”
The lead reaching its 25-point peak sent Giardi to the archives. “Anyone who tells you they didn’t think the Pats were in trouble is either a) a fool b) a blind optimist (and I guess I can appreciate that, too!) or c) the ballsiest SOB on the planet,” Giardi said. “At 21-3, I had doubts. At 28-3, I was looking up the worst losses in the Belichick era. There aren’t many, for what it’s worth. A 20+ point loss to the Chargers in a regular season game eons ago, another regular season loss to the Colts when half their team was hurting, and then those couple of playoff losses to the Ravens – 24-0 after one quarter (in 2010), and that 28-13 AFC title game loss at home (in 2013) when it just wasn’t that close.”
Reiss said that at “28-3, midway through the third quarter was my starting-to-have-significant-doubts point. I have the text-message evidence from a halftime exchange with my wife that I hadn’t ruled out the Patriots at halftime. I had been checking back on how our kids had reacted to the 21-3 deficit, and wrote, ‘Let’s see if they can pull off biggest comeback in SB history. Wouldn’t put it past Tom Brady.’ (Note: Here is a screenshot of said text.) After 17 years, I’ve learned to never count out Brady, although I have to admit, at 28-3 I was thinking how disappointing it was for him and the Patriots that they didn’t bring their ‘A’ game to the most important game of the season. It happens. But I also knew that they would still go down with a fight, and make the Falcons earn it. That’s the one thing you can always count on from Bill Belichick’s teams – you have to knock them out. They lie down for no one.”
That 25-point deficit also sounded the game knell for Socci, who said, “They gave the ball back to Atlanta and soon fell behind, 28-3. That’s when I resigned myself to the reality that a come-from-behind win was improbable, at best.” Socci then had to get into the right frame of mind to deliver the unfolding bad news to his listeners. “During the ensuing break, I told myself to remain focused, to concentrate on being a ‘pro’ and having a broadcast I could be proud of. Part of my thinking at the time was to be sure to chronicle the success of the Falcons – and tell their story – as well as the disappointment for the Patriots.”
As I said three weeks ago in the aforelinked column, the lede I scribbled onto my notepad after the pick-six made it 21-0 was “No heart-stopper tonight. No, ‘Well, if this didn’t happen, or this.’ Atlanta is just better.” Then I hunkered down for what I expected to be a disappointing-yet-predictable finish, with the Patriots putting together a couple of touchdown drives in the second half to make the score somewhat respectable. Happy to learn I did not stand alone in writing up and then tossing out a few sentences that described a different fate.
Reiss said, “Mine was something along the lines of, ‘This had a familiar feel to some of the Patriots’ most gut-wrenching playoff losses: Offensive line struggles to protect, no running game to help settle things down, and costly turnovers. Instead of vindication, it was heartbreak.'”
“When the score was 21-0, I started to work on my Super Bowl LI lede,” said Daniels. “With my job, I need to send in a game story as soon as the game ends. A blowout always helps because I essentially get started in the second half. When the Falcons extended the score to 28-3, I tweeted, ‘I thought this game was a mismatch, but definitely picked the wrong team’ and started to write my game story. I didn’t think the Patriots would be able to comeback from a 25-point deficit with the way the Falcons were moving the ball.”
Daniels got deep into this version of the report, and I mean deep. “I had several different ledes that I was working on around this time. I started working on this:”
HOUSTON – Super Bowl LI was supposed to be the place for poetic justice. Instead, it turned out to be a night of heartbreak for Tom Brady and the Patriots.
It was thought that Brady suffered enough at the hands of Deflategate, but inside NRG Stadium, the Atlanta Falcons thought otherwise.
Brady was under pressure and off the mark. Receivers couldn’t hang on. Running backs couldn’t run the ball. Defensively, they struggled to stop both the Atlanta run and the pass. Add in a few turnovers and what was supposed to be a remarkable 2016 season turned into a forgettable Super Bowl as Atlanta handed the Patriots a BLANK-BLANK Super LI loss.
As the Patriots took the first, for the first time in Super Bowl LI, chants of ‘Brady! Brady! Brady!’ broke out. The Patriots were hoping to get off to a fast start on Sunday night and the fans were there in full force, but the first half was anything but celebratory for Brady and his team.
Instead, it was misery for the Patriots.
Due to the nature of how he constructs his game columns, none of Finn’s worst-case-scenario statements made it past overtime. “It’s funny, my usual post-game assignment is to write a goofy but fun X-number of thoughts column that goes up immediately after the game. The X is the number of points the winning team scores. It requires that I write constantly throughout the game, and naturally a lot of it dies on the vine as the game takes different twists and turns,” Finn said. “In this one, well, at one point I probably had 35 thoughts about, you know, underestimating the Falcons, and the Patriots’ offense’s no-show, and all of that stuff. When the Patriots cut it to 28-20, I thought, there’s a great chance a lot of what I’ve written never sees the light of day. And it didn’t. I wish I’d saved it, but as I banged out all of the stuff about the Patriots comeback and the unreal turn of events and so on, I just deleted what I’d written about the Falcons. Wish I’d kept it on a separate file.”
As a play-by-play announcer, Socci found himself in a different situation than most. No unusable ledes for him, because his reporting on the game happened in real time. “As the comeback unfolded – including the third-and-10 conversion (from their own nine-yard line) that prolonged the game-tying drive – I stopped trying to anticipate what was going to happen and became consumed by calling what was actually happening. As strange as it sounds, and not to suggest in any way that I called the end of the game perfectly – far from it, I know – but thinking back to the final few series I remember being more or less ‘in a zone’ trying to react and describe what I was seeing. In other words, for the most part, I stopped thinking ‘big picture’ to focus on the snapshot of each succeeding play.”
When The Falcons Were In Trouble
The Dont’a Hightower strip sack at 8:31 of the fourth with the Patriots trailing 28-12 seemed to get the team going. This gave New England’s offense the ball in Atlanta territory, leading to a touchdown (Danny Amendola catch) and two-point conversion (White run) to make the score 28-20 with six minutes remaining. This cut a daunting 16-point deficit in half, with a lot of time left on the board. At that point, I wondered, if I – who had all but given up on this team – now believe the Patriots have a good chance, what must the Falcons be thinking?
Despite the lopsided score at the half, Giardi saw some positive signs for New England. “At halftime, I tweeted that the one thing you could hang your hat on in regards to a comeback was that Atlanta’s defense was on the field for way too long in the first half, but while I figured there would be a run, as I said before, I never thought it would go like that. Hightower’s strip sack was the first thing that made me think maybe, but I wasn’t sold until James White took the direct snap and crashed in for the first two-point conversion. That’s when I believed we had a chance at something special.”
Fox sensed a change in momentum at a time when many (including myself) believed the Patriots offense had failed to generate it, settling for three points with 9:44 left. “When Gostkowski made the 33-yard field goal to close it to 28-12, that was when the mood really began to shift,” Fox said. “The Patriots were suddenly playing their game, and while they’d only scored nine points on their last two possessions, they were methodical. Five-to-six minute drives, 70-plus yards. The Falcons were rushing and spending very little time on the field. That’s always the death knell against Brady and Belichick. You can’t give them the field. Hightower’s strip sack was absolutely a byproduct of the fact that the offense was not only giving the defense time to rest, but also changing the entire mood on the sideline.”
That field goal affected Chatham’s outlook in a similar way. “When the score hit 28-12 with (9:44) remaining, I remember thinking that’s WAY too much time to leave Brady and the offense. Two scores in eight-ish minutes for this offense isn’t unprecedented at all. Neither is two consecutive defensive stops. It took both together to pull it off, but at that point the comeback possibility seemed very reasonable.”
“For me, it was the Hightower strip sack,” said Daniels. “When a team is down by this much, you need a game-changing play by either the defense or special teams. When Hightower strip-sacked Matt Ryan and Alan Branch recovered, I quoted Rocky Balboa and tweeted, ‘I didn’t hear no bell.'”
Daniels began to see fatigue setting in for Atlanta. “At this point, it was clear that the Falcons defense was really tired. I think one huge thing we didn’t think about during the game was the amount of time the Patriots had the ball. Although they weren’t always scoring, the long drives were wearing Atlanta down. As soon as the Patriots were in striking distance, I knew my original gamer was in trouble. I turned to my coworker Kevin McNamara and said, ‘the Patriots are going to f*** us.’ What I meant by that was, after settling on what I was writing for a game story and he was writing for a column, we were going back to the drawing board with our deadline minutes away. Around this time I tweeted, ‘RIP my game story’ and started to write about the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.”
“Well, the Hightower strip sack was the biggest play and momentum-shift of the dozen or so things that absolutely had to happen for the Patriots to pull off the comeback,” said Finn. “But even then, when he made that play, I was skeptical that the clock was going to be the Patriots’ friend. I really started thinking it could happen when the Patriots marched down and scored on the Amendola TD, then converted the two, making it a one-score game with roughly six minutes left. That’s the first time it felt like time wouldn’t run out on them. I’m not a big believer in momentum in sports, but it was a palpable feeling at that point. Of course, even then the Patriots needed the Falcons to bumble their way out of field goal position to give themselves a chance to tie.”
“One of the many remarkable things about the Patriots’ comeback is the number of turning-point plays for both teams,” said Socci. “For example, the Pats scored to make it 28-9, only to see the extra-point try careen off the upright. Then Atlanta recovered an on-sides kick, only to squander the opportunity to expand its lead. And even after Hightower’s strip sack and the ensuing touchdown to pull the Pats within 28-20, the Falcons drove to New England’s 22-yard line in three plays. So, there were many instances where I sensed trouble for the Falcons, only to change my mind seconds later.”
Full belief in something special going down came later for Reiss. “So many things still had to happen for the Patriots to win, even after the Hightower strip sack,” he said. “So the first time I really felt like the Falcons were in trouble was after Danny Amendola’s two-point conversion to tie the game at 28. Once it got to overtime, it was hard for me to envision anything but a Patriots victory and once Matthew Slater called heads and the coin came up heads, I turned to a colleague and said, ‘Can you believe they’re going to win this?’ And that’s when I began writing the first few paragraphs of my final piece with the anticipation that they were pulling off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.”
Some New Perspective
In terms of picking up on more aspects of the game over the past few weeks, Reiss said there are “so many, and they come mostly from watching many of the NFL Films-produced pieces with on-field and post-game sound. This Patriots team had a special chemistry. There was a lot of love among this group and you heard that come through in the celebration. You can’t order up team chemistry at the start of the year, but this team had the magical mix – from the coaches to the players.”
“I’ve watched it more than I care to admit. I mean, get a life!” said Giardi. “The Pats’ physicality with the Falcons skill guys is more and more impressive as you hit the replay button. They really made Julio Jones work. Logan Ryan played a damn good football game (again). Atlanta played softer as it increased the lead. Understandable. Hell, a couple of those Pats drives took an eternity. But the one thing it did was allow Brady to get into a rhythm. And once the Falcons needed to get more aggressive, it was too late. Brady was locked in.”
Finn didn’t think he’d gained much perspective recently because he had immersed himself in replays of the Super Bowl so soon afterward. “Like most Patriots fans and observers, I devoured everything in the days after the game: all of the SoundFX stuff, the DVR’d Fox broadcast, Inside the NFL, the abbreviated replay on the NFL Network, all of it. Hell, I wished there was more.”
“Super Bowl LI was so enjoyable that I think I watched it over and over again about five or six times,” said Daniels. “At this point, if my wife sees it on the TV again, I’m in trouble.”
“To be honest, my perspective hasn’t changed much,” said Fox. “It was a miraculous win, and it always will be. Sure, in hindsight we can recognize the signs that the Patriots were never as badly off as it seemed – chiefly time of possession and total plays – but a 25-point deficit is still a 25-point deficit. I think that when we watch that game back, when they make the ESPN ’30 for 30’, it will have the feel of re-living the 2004 ALCS. I don’t think it will ever get old.”
The Patriots solidified their reputation as winners, said Daniels. “It’s literally impossible to count the Patriots out. We live in a world of hot takes when it comes to football, but it’s getting increasingly harder to be negative when it comes to Bill Belichick and this team. Even when they’re down by 25 in the Super Bowl, there’s always a way. Even when they trade Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones, their defense still looks elite. Super Bowl LI was so hard to process because games never play out that way.”
Did this game define the Patriots? Chatham believes it may have done the opposite. “This was the game that will force anybody who responsibly covers this team or dutifully roots for this organization to forever stay away from absolute statements about them. This thing broke all the proverbial rules. Outlier City. But since it happened, from here on out, who the hell knows…”
Over time, and with repeated viewings, certain aspects of the contest start to set themselves apart from others. “For me, it’s also interesting to see which players step up big on the biggest stages,” said Daniels. “We all know Tom Brady was going to bring it in Super Bowl LI. After seeing Dont’a Hightower making a stop on Marshawn Lynch in Super Bowl XLIX, it wasn’t shocking to see him step up again in Super Bowl LI. For me, it was great to see James White and Trey Flowers elevate their status to the sports world. Flowers was one of the best stories last season and he’s about to turn into a star. I’ve always been a big supporter of White, so to see him go off was enjoyable. He’s a good person and I always thought he was a little underrated when it came to his pass-catching ability.”
Multiple looks helped Reiss see one of White’s overlooked contributions, a moment of rock-solid execution. “As for specific plays in the game, I could go through no shortage of a dozen of them that stood out to me, but No. 1 on the list is the third-and-10 from their own 9-yard line on the game-tying drive with 3:17 remaining – Tom Brady to Chris Hogan for 16 yards. The Falcons blitzed off the defensive left side and running back James White helped pick it up. It was a huge pickup, which I’m sure was aided by Brady’s pre-snap communication, but I’m not sure it’s received its due (the Patriots are probably punting if they don’t convert there). Think about it – White makes that blitz pickup to extend the game-tying drive, while Falcons running back Devonta Freeman blows his assignment earlier in the fourth quarter and it leads to a game-turning Hightower strip sack. If ever there was an advertisement for the importance of blitz pickup among running backs, this is it.”
Over the past few weeks, Socci said, “I’ve also thought more about the various turning-point plays and unsung contributions of so many. For example, as enormous a play as Hightower’s sack was, Trey Flowers’ 2.5 sacks were equally important. One occurred after the on-sides recovery by the Falcons and another after the Jones grab that could have helped to clinch the game.”
Giardi has a theory as to how New England got so far behind. “Hell of a turnaround by Nate Solder in the 2nd half. His first half was about as bad as I’ve ever seen him play, by a long shot. I think it took the Pats longer than they thought to adjust to the Falcons’ speed. Lot of misses early on that you hadn’t seen from that group. Same held true offensively. Couple of those matchups, Atlanta was just so much faster/quicker early on.”
Reviewing footage helped Finn assess what happened to Atlanta’s speed. “The one thing I noticed on the repeat viewings that I didn’t pick up on during the game was how gassed the Falcons defense was because they were constantly on the field. That’s common knowledge now, but in the heat of the moment it was a crucial detail that I didn’t pick up on. It’s not just that the Patriots offense wore them out. Their own offense wore them out, too.”
Socci thought back to before the Super Bowl started and considered what it would mean. “Shortly before the game I was chatting with some colleagues just outside our booth. At one point, one of them asked, ‘Do we all agree that the overriding story entering this game relates to Brady and his legacy?’ I did. And immediately after the game, many of my on-air comments and thoughts were centered around Tom and what he accomplished in the wake of a remarkably trying time, enduring the Deflategate saga and suspension, as well as his mother’s battle with cancer. Of course, much was also said about what the win meant to Patriots fans, Belichick, and the organization as a whole, including mention of the ‘D’ word – as in dynasty. With a little more time and space, I realize just how much that game demonstrated qualities we heard about early in the season, as the team’s personality was taking shape: togetherness and toughness. A very close-knit team never fractured from the circumstances they faced early, including Brady’s suspension and Garoppolo’s injury, through those they confronted in their final game, falling behind by 25 points in Super Bowl LI. All along, they showed great toughness, physically and mentally. The Pats never lost their poise.”
Chris Warner likes going outside and screaming, “Let’s Gooooooo!” to no one in particular. His email is email@example.com; twitter @cwarn89.
New England coach Bill Belichick manages the back end of his roster as well as any NFL coach. Past Patriots champions benefitting from the rise of unsung athletes (in 2014, cornerback Malcolm Butler started just one game; this past season, running back James White scored zero rushing TDs) points to the readiness of every player.
With the NFL Combine coming up February 28 through March 6, the names of potential draftees will be floating around New England like oh-so-many stray Christmas ornaments in puddles of slush. But before we look at potential rookies, we should get a better understanding of a few more players already in Foxboro. Below are the names of some potential contributors we could see more of next fall.
Lucien Up: Have you heard of the Patriots’ Receiver Rule of Sevens? (Probably not – I kinda made it up.) In 2002, the team used a seventh-round pick on David Givens, who grew to become one of Tom Brady’s most dependable pass-catchers. Seven years later, Julian Edelman came to New England as a seventh-rounder. In 2016, the Pats picked Devin Lucien out of Arizona State. Every seven years, a seventh-round receiver. Coincidence?
Well, of course it is. Still fun, though. In the 2016 preseason, Lucien caught three passes for 39 yards. The team cut him in September but signed him to the practice squad right away. At ASU, Lucien had 66 catches for a team-best 1,075 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. He transferred out of UCLA for his senior year with the Sun Devils after 58 receptions in three seasons for the Bruins. This highlight reel demonstrates his strong hands and elusiveness, as well as some surprisingly profane lyrics.
With the futures of free agent Danny Amendola and house-arrestee Michael Floyd carrying some doubt, Lucien could get a second look from coaches this summer.
‘Cause I’m A Housler: The Patriots nabbed Rob Housler with a futures contract, which makes their tight end dynamic all the more interesting. Assuming Martellus Bennett leaves for greener pastures (as in money-green – and good for him, by the way), New England has post back-surgery Rob Gronkowski, Matt Lengel, and Gregg Scruggs. Gronk is the lightweight here at 265 (amazing how big tight ends have gotten), so Housler arrives as the pass-catching TE.
The six-year vet has been injured for the past two years (Browns, Bears), but back in 2012 Housler had his best season at Arizona with 45 catches. You can watch his highlight reel in about the time it takes to boil an egg. As Patriots salary cap expert Miguel Benzan has said, we shouldn’t be surprised at New England double-dipping for tight ends in the draft, but even if they do, Housler could factor in come September.
Superstar DJ, Here We Go: We can’t anoint him as a superstar just yet, but running back/receiver D. J. Foster out of Arizona State has potential. He only had one reception in 2016 to go along with seven carries for 24 yards (3.4 avg.), but his ability to play both running back and slot will get him a few chances for more time on the field.
Foster ran a 4.45-second 40 and a 6.75-second 3-cone at his pro day. Three stats of note from his college days in regards to consistency: he appeared in all 53 games during his career; he’s one of only five players in NCAA history to compile 2,000 yards rushing as well as receiving; he caught at least one pass in all 53 games. (Just a few of those catches and runs are highlighted here.)
You know how certain writers have players they like to keep an eye on? I’ll just say it: Foster’s my guy. (I hope this does not doom him.) The fact that he and Lucien both come from ASU isn’t an accident, as Belichick has noted his respect for Sun Devils coach Todd Graham in the past.
Got A Lot Farther By Workin’ A Lot Harder: Defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton had just three tackles in two games this year, but he did a solid job against the Browns’ rushing attack, helping to limit Isaiah Crowell to a mere 1.7 yards per carry (he came into that game averaging 6.5). You can watch a quick clip of Hamilton executing the “zero technique” (head-to-head with the center) here. An undrafted free agent out of Ole Miss, Hamilton could factor into the Patriots’ future, especially with veteran Alan Branch turning 32 this past season.
At 6-3, 315 pounds, Hamilton won’t be chasing down QBs, but his 29 bench press reps at Ole Miss’ pro day speak to his strength. Could be a fun player to watch develop.
Inaction Jackson? Guard Tré Jackson played in 13 games in 2015, starting nine. Last year, he was put on injured reserve after getting placed on the Player Unable to Perform (PUP) list before the season, battling a knee injury. If healthy (and, yes, that “if” is only slightly less serious than the look on Falcons’ fans’ faces in overtime), Jackson could provide some necessary bulk in the middle of the line. Guard Joe Thuney (305), center David Andrews (295), and guard Shaq Mason (310) all seem about as intimidating as a herd of dik-dik; meanwhile, Jackson weighs in at a more gravity-enhanced 326 pounds. Interesting to see how many reps Jackson gets with the starting unit this summer.
Some nice Florida State game film of Jackson from 2014 here (he’s the right guard, number 54).
A Roster Survivor: Glenn! Must be fun to have two Gronks around, as fullback (and little brother to Rob) Glenn Gronkowski made the off-season roster to this point. At 6-2, 234, Lil’ Gronk finds himself a bit of a ‘tweener: not big enough to block in-line, not small or shifty enough to elude linebackers in coverage. In terms of the 2016 roster, he got dropped more often than a hockey puck, but he managed to make it back to the practice squad each time and now sits on the off-season lineup.
The Kansas State product, who had a cup of coffee in Buffalo before being released in September, had a crazy college stat: though he only caught 15 passes in his career as a fullback, he averaged 24.6 yards per reception, the highest average in school history. So, something to consider, I suppose. You can watch Gronkowski’s game film vs. Kansas here.
By the way, Cup of Coffee in Buffalo sounds like the title of the saddest play you could imagine. It’s like if Death of a Salesman had a sequel.
Double Dog Darius: Nose tackle Darius Kilgo had five stops this past season for Denver before the Broncos released him in late November. The Patriots signed him off waivers, released him, then signed him to the practice squad in December. Kilgo could get crowded out of the defensive line rotation with such youngsters as Hamilton, Malcom Brown, and Vincent Valentine, but even in a pass-first era, most coaches like to have a stockpile of big bodies.
Considering he’s roughly the size of a lion at 315 pounds, Kilgo rates highly as an athlete, running a 5.17 40 and benching 225 pounds 33 times at his pro day. On his highlight reel (starting at the 0:19 mark), you can see Kilgo hustle from his nose tackle position to push a running back out-of-bounds on a flat pass.
Cardinal Rule: The Patriots continue to hold on to Tyler Gaffney out of Stanford. The running back has shown promise in previous seasons, only to end up on injured reserve (with Carolina in 2014 – from whom New England snatched him – and with the Patriots in 2015). Gaffney has made it to the roster on a couple of occasions but has zero carries as a professional. At 220 pounds, the potential is there (here he is running for a TD in a preseason game vs. the Saints); his fate will partly be determined by what the Patriots do with LeGarrette Blount.
As a senior at Stanford, Gaffney ran for over 1,700 yards and 21 touchdowns. He had a 6.78 3-cone drill at the combine, notable for a guy his size. In his nifty highlight reel, Gaffney scores running a Wildcat play and, later, catching a pass in the flat. (By the way, consider pressing Mute before watching. I know I’m old, but I can’t even allude to what gets said on that thing.)
Please keep looking out for our Patriots’ draft “That Guy” columns. Coming soon: a review of NFL Combine participants who would fit in at Foxboro.
Chris Warner knows another big snowstorm is coming, but he’ll be damned if he could tell you when. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @cwarn89.
Hey there, Patriots fans. Feel like you’ve gotten a bit behind in draft research? This may, in part, result from your having lives outside of football, but also because you’ve been floating through the daydream ending of New England’s 17-2 championship season.
Well, we here at BSMW want to help. Starting with the first installment of our “That Guy” draft series posted after the Senior Bowl earlier this month, and now with our annual Round-By-Round Review, you can impress your friends with the SparkNotes version of the 2017 Patriots draft.
Speaking of SparkNotes, I finally figured out that Santiago was destroyed but never defeated. Only took me about 35 years.
In terms of our rankings, I’ve tried to keep the parameters simple: if a young player remains with the team, he remains a success. If he’s cut, he didn’t work out. I don’t go overboard factoring in expectations: for this, 2012 second-rounder Tavon Wilson sets an example. He didn’t start on a regular basis, but he contributed on special teams, played out his four-year contract, and went to Detroit. Not a stellar pick, but one with value. On the other hand, late-round picks who exceeded expectations (2009 seventh-rounder Julian Edelman, 2000 sixth-rounder What’s-His-Name-With-The-Five-Trophies), don’t earn extra credit, so this method seems to balance out overall, percentage-wise.
With New England faring well recently in later rounds, an interesting trend should emerge. The better the Patriots do, the less room they will have for rookies. Last year, Kamu Grugier-Hill exemplified this. The linebacker fit two of New England’s “That Guy” draft categories: Small School Defender (Eastern Illinois) and Special Teams Guy. However, because the Pats already had a core group of special teams players, Grugier-Hill didn’t make the final 53. The Eagles scooped him off the waiver wire in September and featured him as a special-teamer in 2016 (he was credited with eight tackles). So, even though I won’t deem Grugier-Hill a successful pick, it’s important to highlight how even solid selections fail to make the cut on more talented rosters.
As of this writing, Coach Bill Belichick has six picks in the 2017 draft, accounting for all seven rounds except the sixth (part of the Kyle Van Noy trade to Detroit). For a more complete rundown of various trades and mind-numbing NFL penalties, you can read Rich Hill’s projected draft picks column on PatsPulpit.com. Intriguing to see if – given the mix of young talent on the roster and unrestricted free agents possibly leaving – New England uses all six picks.
Day One (Round One) of the NFL Draft begins at 8 p.m. on April 27 (Thursday); Day Two (Rounds Two and Three) at 7 p.m. April 28, and Day Three (Rounds Four through Seven) on Saturday, April 29, at noon.
And round and round we go…
2000: None (pick went to NYJ for BB)
2001: Richard Seymour, DL, Georgia
2002: Dan Graham, TE, Colorado
2003: Ty Warren, DL, Texas A&M
2004: Vince Wilfork, DL, Miami; Benjamin Watson, TE, Georgia
2005: Logan Mankins, OL, Fresno State
2006: Laurence Maroney, RB, Minnesota
2007: Brandon Meriweather, DB, Miami
2008: Jerod Mayo, LB, Tennessee
2009: (No Pick – traded down)
2010: Devin McCourty, DB, Rutgers
2011: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
2012: Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse; Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
2013: (No Pick – traded down)
2014: Dominique Easley, DL, Florida
2015: Malcom Brown, DL, Texas
2016: (No pick – Taken away by the NFL because science doesn’t exist)
Total Picks: 15
Successful Picks: 12 (Seymour, Graham, Warren, Wilfork, Watson, Mankins, Mayo, McCourty, Solder, Jones, Hightower, Brown)
Most Successful Pick: Seymour
Despite what I wrote above about not necessarily giving certain picks greater weight than others, I tend to hold the first round to a higher standard. Every first-round pick has started in Foxboro (though Easley had only three starts). Maroney rushed for 1,580 yards in his first two years in the league, but injuries limited him. Meriweather had 12 interceptions in four seasons with New England and remains in the league. I don’t consider either one a bust; however, in light of the red jackets many of these first-rounders have and will receive, they failed to live up to Patriots First Round status.
Jones makes the “nice” list for two reasons: he contributed at a high level through most of his contract, and his trade to Arizona returned more value to the Patriots (draft picks for starting left guard Joe Thuney and receiver Malcolm Mitchell). Call it a win-win.
Belichick has the 32nd pick this year. Curious if he’ll move it. (Is anyone making a documentary of their draft room this April? Because, considering where this franchise is right now, I would find that fascinating.)
2000: Adrian Klemm, OT, Hawaii
2001: Matt Light, OT, Purdue
2002: Deion Branch, WR, Louisville
2003: Eugene Wilson, DB, Illinois; Bethel Johnson, WR, Texas A&M
2004: Marquise Hill, DE, LSU
2005: (No pick)
2006: Chad Jackson, WR, Florida
2007: (No pick – traded for Wes Welker)
2008: Terrence Wheatley, DB, Colorado
2009: Patrick Chung, DB, Oregon; Ron Brace, DT, BC; Darius Butler, DB, UConn; Sebastian Vollmer, OT, Houston
2010: Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona; Jermaine Cunningham, DE, Florida; Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida.
2011: Ras-I Dowling, DB, Virginia; Shane Vereen, RB, California
2012: Tavon Wilson, DB, Illinois
2013: Jamie Collins, OLB, Southern Miss; Aaron Dobson, WR, Marshall
2014: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
2015: Jordan Richards, DB, Stanford
2016: Cyrus Jones, DB, Alabama
Total Picks: 23
Successful Picks: 13 (Light, Branch, E. Wilson, Vollmer, Gronkowski, Spikes, Vereen, T. Wilson, Collins, Garoppolo, Chung, Richards, Jones)
Most Successful Pick: Gronkowski
Sure, things didn’t end all that well with Collins, but drafting a college defensive end from a winless Southern Mississippi squad and helping him become one of the most productive linebackers in the NFL deserves credit. As with the aforementioned Tavon Wilson, the Patriots often take chances in this area of the draft on players with lesser perceived value (Richards belongs on that list, as does Vollmer) or with injury histories (Gronk, Dowling, Wheatley). This makes for an up-and-down round, especially when compared to the previous one.
Here’s a reminder for when New England takes someone in Round Two who a) ranks as a Day Three pick or b) plays a seemingly unnecessary position (Hello, Garoppolo!): the chances the Pats will find the right player are better than the chance Matthew Slater will correctly call a coin toss. And we know what happened in overtime.
2000: J. R. Redmond, RB, Arizona State
2001: Brock Williams, DB, Notre Dame
2002: (No pick)
2003: (No pick)
2004: Guss Scott, DB, Florida
2005: Ellis Hobbs III, CB, Iowa State; Nick Kaczur, OL, Toledo
2006: David Thomas, TE, Texas
2007: (No pick)
2008: Shawn Crable, OLB, Michigan; Kevin O’Connell, QB, San Diego State
2009: Brandon Tate, WR, North Carolina; Tyrone McKenzie, LB, South Florida
2010: Taylor Price, WR, Ohio
2011: Stevan Ridley, RB, LSU; Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
2012: Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas
2013: Logan Ryan, DB, Rutgers; Duron Harmon, DB, Rutgers
2014: (No pick)
2015: Geneo Grissom, DL, Oklahoma
2016: Joe Thuney, OL, N. C. State; Jacoby Brissett, QB, N. C. State; Vincent Valentine, DL, Nebraska
Total Picks: 20
Successful Picks: 10 (Hobbs, Kaczur, Ridley, Mallett, Ryan, Harmon, Grissom, Thuney, Brissett, Valentine)
Most Successful Pick: Ryan
New England has gone six-for-six in this round since 2013, giving the Third a major boost from 29 percent to 50. That double-dip of Rutgers defensive backs set the Pats on the right path: five of those selected have started games, while the lone exception (Grissom) has made his mark as a core special teams player. Very strong work by Pats’ brass of late.
This round seems to jumpstart the hit-or-miss nature of the draft, as we delve into a class of players who tend to have certain amounts of athleticism or football intelligence, but not necessarily copious amounts of both. If you told me you thought Harmon would end up contributing more than you thought, say, Crable would have, then you either have a great eye for overall talent, or you are a pathological liar. I mean, for God’s sake, Crable jumped over a guy.
A nice update here on Crable from September, 2013. The man had an impressive rise out of a difficult childhood and, after trying out for the NFL, he returned to Ohio to work with families in need.
Okay, back to football: Let’s watch that Valentine goal-line tackle for loss in the AFC title game vs. Pittsburgh one more time, shall we?
2000: Greg Robinson-Randall, OT, Michigan State
2001: Kenyatta Jones, OT, South Florida; Jabari Holloway, TE, Notre Dame
2002: Rohan Davey, QB, LSU; Jarvis Green, DE, LSU
2003: Dan Klecko, DL, Temple; Asante Samuel, CB, Central Florida
2004: Dexter Reid, DB, North Carolina; Cedric Cobbs, RB, Arkansas
2005: James Sanders, DB, Fresno State
2006: Garrett Mills, FB, Tulsa; Stephen Gostkowski, K, Memphis
2007: Kareem Brown, DL, Miami
2008: Jonathan Wilhite, DB, Auburn
2009: Rich Ohrnberger, OL, Penn State
2010: The Tight End Who Shan’t Be Named, Florida
2011: (No Pick)
2012: (No Pick)
2013: Josh Boyce, WR, TCU
2014: Bryan Stork, OL, Florida State; James White, RB, Wisconsin; Cameron Fleming, OL, Stanford
2015: Trey Flowers, DL, Arkansas; Tré Jackson, OL, Florida State; Shaq Mason, OL, Georgia Tech
2016: Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia
Total Picks: 24
Successful Picks: 11 (Green, Samuel, Sanders, Gostkowski, Stork, White, Fleming, Flowers, Jackson, Mason, Mitchell)
Most Successful Pick: Samuel
Trying to avoid getting blinded by the Super Bowl afterglow here, I’m going back to Samuel as the best pick from this round instead of White, Flowers, or Mitchell. Gostkowski headed this list two years ago, with Stork following up last year because, and I quote myself, “Stork’s potential to play center and help the O-line mesh in the foreseeable future makes him our number one choice.” Whoops. Still, I’m keeping Stork on the successful list because he started on a Super Bowl-winning team and got replaced by someone better (perfectly acceptable for a fourth-rounder).
Like the previous round, lots of correct choices lately: six of seven fourth-round players drafted since 2014 remain with the team, including the aforementioned trio of major SB contributors (a quartet if you include starting right guard Mason). Here’s a fun snippet from last year’s column: “Flowers had a strong preseason and, if healthy (in 2016), could contribute in a pass-rushing rotation.” Could contribute, I said.
My gosh, I am adorable. In any case, White’s championship performance, Flowers’ and Mason’s strong sophomore seasons, and Mitchell’s breakthrough as a rookie pass-catcher help change the perception of this middle round. The percentage of productive picks has almost doubled from the pre-2014 rate of 24 (four of 17). Great value for the middle of the draft.
2000: Dave Stachelski, TE, Boise State; Jeff Marriott, DT, Missouri
2001: Hakim Akbar, DB, Washington
2002: (No pick)
2003: Dan Koppen, OL, Boston College
2004: P. K. Sam, WR, Florida State
2005: Ryan Claridge, OLB, UNLV
2006: Ryan O’Callaghan, OL, California
2007: Clint Oldenburg, OL, Colorado State
2008: Matthew Slater, WR, UCLA
2009: George Bussey, OL, Louisville
2010: Zoltan Mesko, P, Michigan
2011: Marcus Cannon, OL, TCU; Lee Smith, TE, Marshall
2012: (No pick)
2013: (No pick)
2014: (No pick)
2015: Joe Cardona, LS, Navy
2016: (No pick)
Total Picks: 14
Successful Picks: 5 (Koppen, Slater, Mesko, Cannon, Cardona)
Most Successful Pick: Koppen
Slater, Mesko and Cardona have helped create the perception of the Fifth as the Special Teams Round. Cannon’s impressive turnaround this season at right tackle halted the trend of iffy offensive linemen (O’Callaghan, Oldenburg, Bussey). Belichick went on a streak of trading the fifth pick in recent years (including the 2016 selection for receiver Keshawn Martin). I suppose we should keep our eyes out for another special teamer or backup-offensive-lineman-to-be-developed this year.
Did anyone else like Lee Smith as much as I did? No? Well guess what: he’s still in the league!
2000: Antwan Harris, CB, Virginia; Tom Brady, QB, Michigan; David Nugent, DT, Purdue.
2001: Arther Love, TE, South Carolina State; Leonard Myers, DB, Miami
2002: (No pick)
2003: Kliff Kingsbury, QB, Texas Tech
2004: (No pick)
2005: (No pick)
2006: Jeremy Mincey, OLB, Florida; Dan Stevenson, OL, Notre Dame; LeKevin Smith, DL, Nebraska
2007: Justin Rogers, OLB, SMU; Justise Hairston, RB, Central Connecticut; Corey Hilliard, OL, Oklahoma State
2008: Bo Ruud, OLB, Nebraska
2009: Jake Ingram, LS, Hawaii; Myron Pryor, DT, Kentucky
2010: Ted Larsen, C, NC State
2011: Markell Carter, DE, Central Arkansas
2012: Nate Ebner, DB, Ohio State
2013: (No Pick)
2014: John Halapio, OL, Florida; Zach Moore, DE, Concordia
2015: Matthew Wells, LB, Mississippi State; A. J. Derby, TE, Arkansas
2016: Kamu Grugier-Hill, OLB, Eastern Illinois; Elandon Roberts, ILB, Houston; Ted Karras, OL, Illinois
Total Picks: 25
Successful Picks: 5 (Brady, Pryor, Ebner, Roberts, Karras)
Most Successful Pick: The Quarterback Not Named Kingsbury
Go ahead and watch “The Brady Six” again. I’ll wait.
See? That was fun, watching the Patriots pick a sixth-round quarterback out of Michigan, even though they had their franchise guy in Drew Bledsoe, who the following off-season signed the largest contract in NFL history. Always remember those facts the next time you hear anyone insist “the Patriots missed on Brady, too.” I’ll defer to Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post, who on February 10 compiled a list of Boston media reactions regarding the Brady pick at the time.
Quality over quantity, I suppose. Ebner continued his work as a key special teams guy. Though I first viewed Roberts as a special teamer, the linebacker came on strong on defense this year, taking some reps for the traded Jamie Collins to net 45 tackles as a rookie.
But seriously, who cares? The Patriots could draft Donny from Dunkin‘ every year and still: Brady, man. Come on.
2000: Casey Tisdale, OLB, New Mexico; Patrick Pass, RB, Georgia
2001: Owen Pochman, K, BYU; T. J. Turner, LB, Michigan State
2002: Antwoine Womack, RB, Virginia; David Givens, WR, Notre Dame
2003: Spencer Nead, TE, BYU; Tully Banta-Cain, LB, California; Ethan Kelley, NT, Baylor
2004: Christian Morton, CB, Florida State
2005: Matt Cassel, QB, Southern California; Andy Stokes, TE, William Penn
2006: Willie Andrews, DB, Baylor
2007: Oscar Lua, LB, Southern California; Mike Elgin, OL, Iowa
2008: (No pick)
2009: Julian Edelman, WR, Kent State; Darryl Richard, DT, Georgia Tech
2010: Thomas Welch, OT, Vanderbilt; Brandon Deaderick, DL, Alabama; Kade Weston, DL, Georgia; Zac Robinson, QB, Oklahoma State
2011: Malcolm Williams, CB, TCU
2012: Alfonso Dennard, DB, Nebraska; Jeremy Ebert, WR, Northwestern
2013: Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois; Steve Beauharnais, LB, Rutgers
2014: Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan
2015: Darryl Roberts, DB, Marshall
2016: Devin Lucien, WR, Arizona State
Total Picks: 29 (Wowza.)
Successful Picks: 8 (Pass, Givens, Banta-Cain, Cassel, Edelman, Deaderick, Dennard, Lucien)
Most Successful Pick: Edelman
Will Lucien join the stable of seventh-round reliable pass-catchers that includes Pass, Givens, and Edelman? Could be fun to watch – as is his 2015 ASU highlight reel. (Some caution here as it’s NSFW; although, in his defense, he is ’bout his paper like a mothereffer scratch ‘n’ win.)
While fewer than one in three seventh-rounders makes the cut, we should point out short-time contributors who got left off the list, like pass rusher Buchanan (nine tackles in 15 games as a rookie) and cornerback Andrews (24 tackles in two seasons). With 29 seventh-round selections in 17 drafts (54 picks combined in the sixth and seventh), we see consistent attempts to add depth at the back end of Day Three. Exactly what this area of the draft is for.
Some of the Patriots’ notable undrafted free agents (also called rookie free agents, or RFAs) include starting center David Andrews and second-team All-Pro corner Malcolm Buter. After the draft, please keep an eye out for our annual “Who’s The FA? UDFA!” series. (Last year’s is linked here.)
Some past UDFAs who contributed: Stephen Neal, OL; Tom Ashworth, OL; Eric Alexander, LB; Randall Gay, DB; Wesley Britt, OL; Antwain Spann, CB; Kyle Eckel, RB; Santonio Thomas, DL: Mike Wright, DL; Corey Mays, LB; Pierre Woods, OLB; BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB; Vince Redd, OLB, Tyson Devree, TE; Gary Guyton, LB; Brian Hoyer, QB; Ray Ventrone, DB; Chris Harper, WR; Josh Kline, OL.
Some UDFAs on the roster now: Butler, CB, West Alabama; Andrews, OL, Georgia; Ryan Allen, P, Louisiana Tech; Brandon Bolden, RB, Ole Miss; Brandon King, DB, Auburn; D. J. Foster, RB, Arizona State; Jonathan Jones, CB, Auburn; Woodrow Hamilton, DL, Ole Miss.
Maybe I should end 2017’s column with the same line I used to wrap up last year’s: “With a few solid picks, maybe a surprise UDFA or two, and good health, the 2016 Patriots could continue their impressive run.”
I mean … sure. Let’s keep it vague: With a strong rookie class, the wise coaching of Bill Belichick, the insatiable desire of Tom Brady, and the relentless pursuit of excellence by an entire organization, 2017 could be a year of specialness for Foxboro folks.
Chris Warner watched his alma mater’s hoops team lose by 20 this weekend, yet in light of the Super Bowl he never really thought they were out of it. You can reach him via email at email@example.com or through Twitter @cwarn89.