New England always seems to find at least one hidden gem in the undrafted free-agent ranks. UDFAs who made the squad in 2013 include wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (32 rec, 466 yds, four TDs), defensive tackle Joe Vellano (54 tackles, two sacks), offensive guard Josh Kline (seven games played, one start), and punter Ryan Allen (16 starts). You can link to last year’s column here.
The Patriots went into the draft with plenty of roster room for rookies, opening the door to more UDFAs than we’ve seen in Foxboro in a long time. Here are the ones we know of (NEPatriotsdraft.com deserves credit for their annual diligence on this topic), and – back by popular demand (not true) – High School Fun Facts!
Below we list the UDFAs who have been linked to New England over the past week. Asterisks note the first nine rookie free agents officially signed by the club.*
*Ball Hawkins: Speedy cornerback and kick returner Travis Hawkins out of Delaware hopes to make a case to stay in Foxboro for the foreseeable future.
Why undrafted: Hawkins transferred from Maryland to a smaller program after not getting enough playing time to make his mark. With his physique (5-10, 195), he won’t exactly break down doors or get asked to grab stuff off the high shelf.
Why invited: Ran a 4.37-second 40 at his pro day, which would have tied him for fastest among all corners at the NFL combine. Also had a 6.80-second 3-cone drill (tied for sixth among combine CBs). Had four interceptions in 2013 while averaging 27.4 yards per kickoff return (one TD).
High School Fun Fact: At Quince Orchard High in Maryland, Hawkins played corner, quarterback, running back and wide receiver. Ranked the 12th-best corner in the nation by Scout, Hawkins had two INTs on defense and 11 TDs on offense his senior year.
*A Tight End? Justin Time: The Patriots neglected to draft a tight end this year, making East Carolina’s Justin Jones (6-8, 274-wha-?) an intriguing player for them to get a good look at this summer.
Why undrafted: Jones actually did not play in 2013 as he was declared ineligible. (During their statement last August, ECU did not clarify a reason.) Jones also had less-than-spectacular production his junior year (five starts, 25 catches, 346 yards). As one can imagine based on his size, not a speedster (4.90 in the 40).
Why invited: Dude’s six-foot-snowman and weighs more than most of New England’s D-linemen. Brobdingnagian. Also ran a 6.88 3-cone at his pro day, which is actually quicker than running back Shane Vereen’s time (6.95). By now we should understand the importance of that drill in the minds of the Gillette gentry.
High School Fun Fact: Jones played football at Heritage High in Georgia, where he had five touchdown catches as well as 10.5 sacks and five forced fumbles. Also captained the hoops team (shocker) where he averaged 10 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots.
*Finch In A Pinch: Oklahoma running back Roy Finch could add depth to New England’s running back corps as a Lilliputian third-down receiving option.
Why undrafted: Finch measures just 5-6, 177 pounds, which is about the size of Justin Jones’ left leg. Lilliputian. (Sorry: I must reference Gulliver’s Travels every six months to make my major feel useful.) He only started two games in the past two seasons and rushed for just 347 yards in 2013.
Why invited: The size of an atom and just as hard to catch, Finch averaged 25.6 yards as the Sooners’ main kick returner. Also averaged 5.9 yards per carry and caught 58 passes in his career at a large school program. Has an entertaining highlight reel.
High School Fun Fact: In high school down in Niceville, Florida (which sounds like an absolute hellhole), Finch made All-American status in football, rushing for 1,659 yards and 27 touchdowns his senior year.
If Less Is More, What’s Morris? Linebacker James Morris adds another player from a Pats-friendly program (Iowa) and could contribute on special teams.
Why undrafted: Morris doesn’t have a lot of size for a middle linebacker (6-0, 241), nor does the term “Herculean” come to mind with his bench press (18 reps at the combine).
Why invited: With Belichick Bud Coach Kirk Ferentz at Iowa, those Hawkeyes always get a second look. Morris also ran a 4.67 40 and sub-7.00 3-cone drill at his pro day. He made the All-Big 10 Second Team with 106 tackles (17 for loss) and four interceptions.
High School Fun Fact: Morris was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Iowa as both a junior and senior. In his time at Solon High as a linebacker and running back, the team won 41 straight games, including three consecutive state titles.
*Gillette … Where It’s At: He’s got two turntables and a microphone. That’s Bowling Green tight end/fullback Tyler Beck (Beck. Am I right?), hoping to deepen the roster’s lineup of blockers and pass-catchers.
Why undrafted: Beck had just 10 catches for 177 yards and two TDs last year. He also failed to wow at his pro day, completing an unremarkable 4.81 40 and 18 reps on the bench press.
Why invited: New England could use another H-back type, and Beck’s size (6-3, 250) fits that role. He also earned Academic All-MAC nods his junior and senior year. The man knows how to study.
High School Fun Fact: As a team captain his senior year, Beck had 37 catches at Wilson High on his way to being named All-Pennsylvania by the PA Writers Association.
Not-So-Fun Fact: Sorry to say that Beck just got released by the Pats.
*High-Speed Cameron: Outside linebacker Cameron Gordon from Michigan has the potential to contribute on special teams at Foxboro.
Why undrafted: Gordon seems undersized at 6-2, 236 pounds. This is a coincidence, but we seem stuck in an 18-bench-rep rut at this point of the column; that’s what Gordon netted on his pro day. Was not a starter at the beginning of last season but stepped in due to injury.
Why invited: Ended up fifth on the team with 49 tackles, along with three interceptions and one forced fumble. Has some speed (4.72 40) and remarkable quickness (6.74 3-cone, shiftier than Danny Amendola’s 6.81). Also earned Academic All-Big Ten honors three times.
High School Fun Fact: After starting for Melvindale High for two years, Gordon transferred to Inkster High (also in Michigan) as a senior, where they won the state championship. As a strong safety that year, he had 126 tackles, five sacks, five interceptions and three forced fumbles.
We Find Those Scarlet Knights And Deering: As predicted in our Patriots Mock Draft (scroll down to the end), safety Jeremy Deering (6-1, 209) makes the New England UDFA list as their Rutgers/Utility Player addition.
Why undrafted: Deering only played safety for one full season, moving around on offense (including receiver and Wildcat QB) in the three seasons prior. Only had 39 tackles last year.
Why invited: Well, he’s got the whole Rutgers deal going for him. He also had a hell of a pro day on the banks of the Raritan, running a 4.33 40, a 6.99 3-cone, and jumping 10-6 in the broad jump. Averaged 26.8 yards per kick return. Though he never excelled at any one position, Deering’s versatility probably made him attractive to the Foxboro front office.
High School Fun Fact: A graduate of Leto High in Florida, Deering was ranked the number-five running back in the state (812 yards, three touchdowns). As a junior QB, he passed for over 800 yards and 10 TDs.
*No Kidding, Sherlock: As a possible addition at smaller, shiftier, “move” tight end, Asa Watson arrives in Foxboro this week for his summer audition.
Why undrafted: At 6-2, 239 pounds, Watson has the characteristics of a classic ‘tweener, as he’s too big for receiver and too small for an in-line tight end. Caught just three passes last season. Also had to redshirt his junior year after undergoing heart surgery. (That’s a red flag, but still impressive: I get a sore throat and I’m couch-bound for two days.)
Why invited: Had 22 receptions as a redshirt junior (post-surgery). Ran a solid 4.69-second 40. Had a 7.00-second 3-cone, notable for a tight end his size (current Patriot D. J. Williams ran a 7.29). Also had 26 bench presses (a damn sight better than 18). And, no surprise at this point, he was named to the All-ACC Academic Team. (For another potential reason he got invited to Foxboro, see the Patriots Fun Fact below.)
High School Fun Fact: At Rock Hill High in South Carolina, Watson was selected for the state’s Shrine Bowl and received the Outstanding Achievement Award for having the highest GPA among all participants.
Patriots Fun Fact: Asa is former Patriot Benjamin Watson’s little brother.
*Gary, New Man: (That references a 1980s new wave… you know what? Ask your parents.) Looks like strong safety Shamiel Gary out of Oklahoma State signed with New England and will try to add depth to the defensive backfield.
Why undrafted: Gary transferred from Wyoming after two seasons; transfers always bring some question marks. His quickness numbers (4.35 20-yard shuttle, 7.44 3-cone) don’t seem to match up with his size (5-11, 205), which is more Finch-like than Jones-like. (I was going to say more Lilliputian than Brobdingnagian, but at this point that’s just pretentious. So I’ll just edit this part out.)
Why invited: Had 47 tackles and nine pass break-ups in 2013. Started all but two of the Cowboys’ regular-season games in his two seasons in Stillwater. Ran a solid 4.50 40 and had 22 bench reps, both of which would have gotten him into the top five for safeties at the NFL combine.
High School Fun Fact: Gary won District Player of the Year honors at Washington High in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he had 124 tackles as a senior. Also passed for 530 yards.
*I Can’t Live, If Living Is Without Houston: Running back Stephen Houston of Indiana could add some depth as a bigger horse in the Foxboro stable at 5-10, 225 pounds.
Why undrafted: The Hoosiers ended up 5-7 last year – not exactly a lure for NFL scouts – with Houston deferring the majority of carries to a younger back. Also not a blazer with a 4.52 40.
Why invited: Given his size, that 40 time is more than respectable. Houston made our Combine Snubs piece last month for his eye-popping vertical leap (40 inches), broad jump (11 feet), and 3-cone (7.07 seconds). He averaged 6.7 yards per carry with five touchdowns, adding 11 catches for 113 yards. He also returned 13 kicks for a 22-yard average.
High School Fun Fact: From Little Rock, Arkansas, Houston transferred to Lakota West High in Ohio, where he rushed for 887 yards and 11 TDs.
The Patriots Ott To Get Him: Harvard long snapper Tyler Ott (6-3, 250) comes in for a tryout, giving last year’s snapper Danny Aiken some added competition. Ott played tight end for the Crimson.
Why undrafted: Maybe you missed the Harvard and/or long snapper part, but each played a factor here.
Why invited: Patriots are always looking to upgrade and will take Ott over Aiken if the former has a better summer performance. Ott’s experience as a former tight end (15 catches, 188 yards, four touchdowns) and abilities (he ran a 4.82-second 40 at his pro day) add elements of versatility that could help him stick.
High School Fun Fact: At Jenks High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Ott lettered in football, basketball and track & field. He was an All-State tight end his senior year.
Buntyn Looks To Do Some Hittyn: Walk-in-closet-sized defensive tackle Deylan Buntyn (6-3, 323) could, almost literally, fill out the defensive line.
Why undrafted: Buntyn was credited with four tackles in 12 games played. While we understand the nature of nose-tackle play – to take up space and help others make tackles – the fact that he had fewer than a handful more stops than I did last fall probably didn’t make his draft ranking leap up NFL boards.
Why invited: If you weigh over 320 pounds and enjoy causing piles of humanity, you just might get a camp invite.
High School Fun Fact: Buntyn went to Havelock High in North Carolina and then junior college at the New Mexico Military Institute, where he played for two years.
Say You, Say Me, Seali’i: UCLA defensive lineman Seali’i Epenesa raised his profile by staying low. The run-stopper hopes to establish himself – literally, in the physical sense – at the NFL level.
Why undrafted: Not super big (6-1, 309), super fast (5.25 40) nor super strong (23 bench reps), Epenesa lacked the dynamism of some of his Bruin cohorts. At his position, he also didn’t rack up a lot of stats (16 tackles, one for loss).
Why invited: Ask some of the best Patriots defensive linemen about stats, and most of them will sound indifferent. If Epenesa has the technique and willingness to stop opposing linemen from moving him and/or getting to his linebacker teammates, he’s got a shot to stick.
High School Fun Fact: As a senior at Iolani High in Hawaii, Epenesa earned Interscholastic League Honolulu Defensive Player of the Year honors with 82 tackles (10 sacks).
*Deontae’s Paradiso: It looks like linebacker Deontae Skinner will get a look at NFL heaven, as the Mississippi State product got the call to come to Foxboro.
Why undrafted: Skinner’s not the tallest of ‘backers at 6-1. More detrimental to his stock, he put up a meager 14 reps on the bench at his pro day.
Why invited: The man weighs in at a stout 250 pounds, ran a 4.81 40, and completed the 3-cone drill in 7.18 seconds – strong numbers for a middle linebacker, showing the ability to pitch in right away on special teams. Ended up second on the team with 64 tackles despite missing two games. Also had 4.5 tackles for loss (one sack) and an interception. All notable, especially considering his SEC competition.
High School Fun Fact: Playing defensive end as a senior at Noxubee County High in Mississippi, Skinner compiled 134 tackles, with 28 for loss (11 sacks).
The Song Remains The Sa-Me: Ole Miss’ Ja-Mes Logan will get a look from the Patriots as he tries to stand out amongst a crowded wide receiver group this spring.
Why undrafted: Ran a 4.69 40 at his pro day. We can just stop there, I think. No need to mention his two 2013 punt returns for minus-two yards. Um…
Why invited: Especially in light of the above, Logan showed surprising quickness, with a 4.00 20-yard shuttle and a 6.76 3-cone. He caught 44 passes for 583 yards (13.2 avg.) and three touchdowns last season. He’s 6-2, 192, which for a receiver in New England qualifies as Godzilla’s cousin. Also caught three passes in the East-West Shrine Game.
High School Fun Fact: His senior year at Westfield High in Houston, Logan had 40 receptions for 793 yards and 12 TDs.
Hood ‘N’ The Boyz: New England also called Tevin Hood from Arizona to bring some youth into the defensive tackle position (beyond their first-rounder, of course).
Why undrafted: Transferred from two previous schools (Duke and San Diego) before settling on Arizona. Hood’s just 5-11, undersized for a defensive lineman. Not to say he’s slow, but his 40-yard dash (5.28 seconds) and 3-cone drill (8.01 seconds) were timed using a correlating equation of how organic matter fossilizes into coal.
Why invited: The dude weighs 314 pounds. At his height, you may as well plop a standing safe in front of opposing offensive linemen and have them figure out how to move him. Hood benched 225 pounds 32 times, which would have tied him for 10th-best overall at the combine (tied for third-best among D-linemen). Made All-PAC-12 Honorable Mention with 37 tackles (7.5 for loss) and two forced fumbles.
High School Fun Fact: At Hamilton High in Arizona, Hood made 130 tackles as a senior. He also wrestled, winning the state title as a heavyweight.
College Fun Fact: Hood majored in English. We’re sure he’s hoping for the Pats to make A Modest Proposal. Woohoo! (Seriously, though, if this NFL thing doesn’t work out for him, he may be in trouble.)
Malcolm In The Little: New England saw enough of cornerback Malcolm Butler out of wee lil’ West Alabama to reportedly give him a shot in camp.
Why undrafted: The aforementioned itty-bitty nature of UWA, which competes in adorable Division II out of the so-cute-you-want-to-eat-it Gulf South Conference. Butler himself isn’t exactly shopping the Big & Tall stores at 5-10, 197. He ran a 4.62 40 and had a 7.20 3-cone at his pro day, or what opposing receivers would describe as, “I’m open!”
Why invited: Butler had 45 tackles last year, but really made his mark breaking up 16 passes and intercepting two (taking one back for a TD). Returned 13 kicks for 363 yards, a 28-yard average. Made the AP Little All-American Third Team. Had six INTs as a junior.
High School Fun Fact: Butler averaged five tackles per game as a senior at Vicksburg High in Mississippi.
Any UDFAs you’re looking for New England to sign or sorry they missed out on, please let us know below.
Chris Warner can be reached sentimentally with any reference to Bailey’s in Boston. He can be reached more conventionally by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @cwarn89