A gander at last year’s column here, with notable mentions of linebacker James Morris and a certain West Alabama cornerback who may or may not have made one of the biggest plays in Patriots history. (Go on. Go ahead: Watch it again. We’ll wait.)
Lots of info out floating around out there regarding UDFAs. We tend to stick with NEPatriotsdraft.com for all our NFL undrafted rookie signing needs. Below is a rundown of fresh free agents the Patriots called to Gillette. Plus: high school fun facts!
Georgia On My Line: After picking up two guards in the fourth round (Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason), New England continued to add to the interior offensive line with center David Andrews from Georgia.
Why undrafted: At 6-2, 295 pounds, Andrews resides on the smaller side of offensive lineman. This was also a solid drafting year for guards and centers, taking on-the-bubble players like Andrews out of the action.
Why invited: He has three years of experience as a starter. Makes up a bit for his relatively diminutive stature with speed (5.12-second 40) and strength (27 bench reps). Showed consistency, playing in 50 games in his Georgia career. From a positive Pats perspective, he was given the Frank Sinkwich Toughest Player Award (named after Georgia’s 1942 Heisman winner). Also voted the Bulldogs’ “overall permanent captain.” Somewhere Bill Belichick let out a happy sigh.
High School Fun Fact: At Wesleyan High in Johns Creek, Georgia, Andrews was named the 2010 Gwinnett County Offensive Lineman of the Year.
Come On, Quarterbacks Can’t Play Receiver: Former Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner (6-3, 218) tries to follow in the footsteps of another QB-to-WR convert currently working in the Foxboro area.
Why undrafted: Julian Edelman notwithstanding, the aforementioned conversion fails more often than not. As a QB in 2014, Gardner threw for 10 TDs and 15 INTs. At his pro day, he ran a 4.65-second 40, which put him on the slow end of receivers. His 9-foot, 9-inch broad jump was less than explosive.
Why invited: The Pats aren’t exactly overstocked with larger pass-catchers, and Gardner did haul in 16 passes as a junior. He showed guts with his 2013 performance vs. rival Ohio State (passed for 451 yards and four TDs). Also put up some solid pro day numbers beyond the 40 (Beyond The 40, by the way, should be the title of the book on New England’s draft strategy). He had 15 bench reps and a 6.96-second 3-cone drill.
High School Fun Fact: Gardner was teammates with former Wolverine and current Patriot linebacker Cameron Gordon at Detroit’s Inkster High.
Wait – Is That Pronounced “Hopper”? Well, now it is, sort of. Cal-Berkeley pass-catcher Chris Harper (5-11, 182) gets a shot with the Patriots, looking to add depth as a slot receiver.
Why undrafted: During this draft, teams had their pick of solid wide receivers (Draft. Pick. Get it?), especially those in the slot role. Even as a smaller player, Harper’s weight (or lack of it) could concern some teams. While he has decent stats (see below), nothing there stands out. A down year for 5-7 Cal, with no players drafted.
Why invited: Harper caught 52 passes for the Golden Bears in 2014 (second-highest on the team) for 634 yards (12.2 avg) and six touchdowns. He also served as their main punt returner (7.7 avg). He has decent speed (a 4.52 40 at his pro day), and quickness (a reported 7.03 3-cone drill). Also – and most importantly – he made this rather Gronkesque catch vs. UCLA last October.
High School Fun Fact: As a senior, Harper led the Serra League in receiving at Crespi Carmelite High. He also played cornerback and was ranked as the 12th-best corner in Southern California.
Come Back to the Nickel and Dime, Jimmy Jean, Jimmy Jean: Free safety Jimmy Jean out of Alabama-Birmingham adds some height to the defensive backfield at 6-2, 202 pounds.
Why undrafted: The NFL seems to overlook Conference USA a bit. More importantly, Jean had an unimpressive showing at his pro day, with a meh 40 (4.58), blah 3-cone (7.34) and yeesh bench press (seven reps).
Why invited: Jean did some of everything for the Blazers, compiling 42 tackles, one interception, six pass breakups, one forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. He’s also got the height New England could be seeking this season.
High School/Junior College Fun Fact: After attending Blanche Ely High in Pompano Beach, Florida, Jean played two years at Arkansas Baptist Junior College, where he earned their Little Rock Touchdown Club 2012 College Player of the Year Award.
You Come At The King, You Best Not Miss: New England went after – and got – another bigger defensive back, strong safety Brandon King (6-2, 217) out of Auburn.
Why undrafted: Though he went into Auburn as a safety, ranked as one of the top junior college DBs in the country, it seems that King got moved around on defense for the Tigers. Didn’t compile many stats there. Ended up with just 12 tackles on the season last year.
Why invited: Took one for the team in 2014, as he was asked to take on a pass-rushing role (had two QB hits). Tested very well at his pro day, with a 4.49-second 40, a 10-foot-6 broad jump, and 19 bench press reps. Has similar size to draft pick Matthew Wells, which makes us think that Belichick is up to something with these safety/linebacker hybrid types.
High School Fun Fact: As a senior at Thompson High in Alabaster, Alabama, King racked up 116 tackles, including 21 tackles for loss.
While We’re Young: Looks like Shane Young out of Sam Houston State will try to get a chair at the increasingly crowded tight end table this summer.
Why undrafted: Not anything in particular. As in, not particularly fast (4.90 40), nor particularly quick (7.45 3-cone), nor particularly explosive (31.5-inch vertical). Young (6-3, 250) only played in three games last year, catching four passes. Sam Houston State runs in the Southland Conference, which is part of a lower division (FCS).
Why invited: Caught 11 passes for 151 yards and two TDs as a junior. Went to the FCS National Championship with the Bearkats that year. Can play H-back and fullback.
High School Fun Fact: A captain at Lago Vista (California) High, Young was named the offensive line MVP. He was also All-District in baseball.
He’s A Brick, House: Ah, the Commodores. Appropriate reference for Vince Taylor, a defensive lineman from Vanderbilt who manned the nose tackle spot.
Why undrafted: At 6-1, 306 pounds, Taylor seems a bit small for the position. Does not have much speed (5.40 40) or quickness (7.46 3-cone). Vandy went 3-9 last year, 0-8 in the Southeast Conference.
Why invited: We’ll refer again to the “Brick House.” At his pro day, Taylor bench-pressed 225 pounds 36 times, which would have led all defensive linemen at the NFL Combine and tied for second-best overall. Last fall, he had 43 total tackles, including 20 solo stops and three for loss (1.5 sacks).
High School Fun Fact: A First-Team All-State defensive tackle as a senior at Oak Grove High in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Taylor had 97 solo tackles (117 total) and returned a fumble 55 yards for a touchdown.