Almost every year, New England finds an undrafted free agent to fill out their roster. Some, like guard Stephen Neal, work their way up to starter. Others, like cornerback Malcolm Butler, seem to burst onto the scene all at once.
Right now, Butler, punter Ryan Allen, guard Josh Kline, center David Andrews, running back Brandon Bolden and special teamer Brandon King compose some but not all of the UDFAs in Foxboro this spring. It’s an important avenue of team-building, especially for a franchise that seems to emphasize the so-called “middle class” of the roster.
Below are the undrafted New England rookies listed on NEPatriotsDraft.com, an invaluable website for this time of year. We’ve included highlight reels for all the players we could find. (Beware of questionable lyrics on many of them. And, yes, I sound like my father.)
Plus, high school fun facts!
Why undrafted: Scheu’s 26 receptions ranked second among all Commodore receivers. Not exactly Texas Tech during its pass-happy heyday, there.
Why invited: He has good size. Ran a 4.70 40 and benched 225 pounds 23 times, which would have both been good enough for second place among combine tight ends. He was also named the team’s top scholar-athlete of 2015. Junior year highlights here.
High School Fun Fact: At Reitz Memorial High in Indiana, Scheu started at tight end for three years and played some fullback as a senior. His best year came as a junior, with 43 catches, 724 yards, and 10 touchdowns.
Hell Yeah, Hey D. J. Bring That Back: Arizona State slot receiver D. J. Foster (5-10, 193) made an appearance in our post-combine “That Guy” column in the potential seventh-round slot receiver category. He made the switch to receiver after playing running back at ASU.
Why undrafted: Not a huge guy, and his position switch may have scared some teams off. Also may have been knocked down draft boards after a mediocre 40 at the combine (4.57). His senior year output (59 receptions for 584 yards and three touchdowns) is solid yet not spectacular.
Why invited: He had a strong 40-yard dash at his pro day (4.46), and stood out due to his 6.75-second 3-cone. In 2015, Foster continued to run the ball, compiling 280 yards on 55 carries (5.1 ypc). In his career, he gained more than 2,000 yards each rushing and receiving. For an organization that values versatility more than the makers of New Shimmer, a productive receiver/running back should get a look. See his highlights here, but it’s NSFW unless you want your fellow employees to be regaled with racial epithets.
High School Fun Fact: As a senior for Saguaro High in Arizona, Foster carried the ball 20 times vs. Sunrise Mountain, gaining 508 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns – both state records.
Driving A Bentley: At least, Patriots coaches hope to. V’Angelo Bentley (5-8, 193), Illinois cornerback, arrives in Foxboro to round out their special teams squad and possibly add a defensive back.
Why undrafted: Look again at that 5-foot-8, and remember Bentley ran an uninspiring 4.57 40-yard dash at his pro day. His 7.22-second 3-cone drill didn’t exactly write his ticket to the NFL, either.
Why invited: Notched 54 tackles, one sack, and six pass break-ups last season. Also – and more importantly – Bentley received All-Big Ten Honorable Mention as a returner, ranking second in the conference in punt return average (8.6). He was also the only player in school history to return a kickoff, punt, interception, and fumble for touchdowns in his career. Short and vague highlight reel here.
High School Fun Fact: Bentley ran track at Glenville High in Ohio, where his coach was Ted Ginn, Sr.
Drawing LeBlanc: Cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc (5-10, 185) from Florida Atlantic adds his name to a growing group of rookie corners for New England.
Why undrafted: His 4.67 40 at his pro day couldn’t have helped, and measuring a bit under 5-10 probably didn’t have scouts shouting his name, either.
Why invited: Completed a respectable 6.95-second 3-cone drill and put up 21 reps on the bench. Made All-Conference USA Second Team, leading the league with four interceptions. That, along with 11 pass break-ups, earned him Team Defensive MVP honors. Returned kicks and punts; also served as team captain. Aggressive coverage highlights here.
High School Fun Fact: While at Glades Central High, LeBlanc doled out the “Hardest Hit of the Year” in Palm Beach County. (I have no way to verify this, but it sounds cool.)
A Hit And A Miss: Mississippi linebacker C. J. Johnson (6-1, 234) could work his way onto the roster as another smaller linebacker/special-teamer type.
Why undrafted: Rather uninspiring numbers for both the combine and at his pro day, including a 4.81-second 40 and a 7.69-second 3-cone drill. (For comparison, Pats rookie offensive guard Joe Thuney ran a 7.47.) Also missed two weeks due to an October knee injury.
Why invited: Showed some toughness by coming back in two weeks and not the expected four. Plays Mike linebacker, where New England could use some depth. Had 43 tackles, two sacks, and two interceptions in 10 games. Johnson displayed versatility by moving from defensive end to middle linebacker before his senior year. High effort, low production sophomore highlights here.
High School Fun Fact: When he played at Philadelphia (Miss.) High, Rivals.com ranked Johnson the number one high school player in Mississippi.
Look At The Bones! Not to be confused with Jon “Bones” Jones, Auburn’s Jonathan Jones, cornerback, will be fighting for a roster spot amongst a crowded field of defensive backs.
Why undrafted: Jones measures on the smaller side at 5-9, 186 pounds. Also not the quickest, with a 7.25-second 3-cone drill.
Why invited: His 4.33 40 time was the third-fastest overall at the NFL Combine. Strong for a corner, as his 19 bench press reps tied for second at the position. Started for four years at corner; ended his final year with 69 tackles, one interception, and 13 pass break-ups. Fast-paced interception highlights that also need a mute button here.
High School Fun Fact: While at Carrollton High in Georgia, Johnson was the 110-meter high hurdles national champion with a time of 13.72 seconds.
They Stretchya, They Workya, De’Runnya: Ole Miss’ De’Runnya Wilson (6-5, 224) arrives as a tight end/receiver hybrid and could bring even more versatility to New England’s receiving crew.
Why undrafted: We call it versatility, others may call it a man without a position. Also ran a flat-out miserable 4.82 40, which would be fine for a blocking TE but not a 224-pounder.
Why invited: New England has searched for a prolific “move” tight end ever since He Who Shall Not Be Named committed That Thing We Won’t Talk About. Wilson made All-SEC Second Team last year, catching 60 passes for 918 yards (15.3 avg.) and 10 touchdowns. Impressive highlight reel (that’s what highlight reels are for, after all) here.
High School Fun Fact: Wilson’s basketball team won the state championship his junior year, as he averaged 13.7 points and 10.9 rebounds for Wenonah High in Birmingham, Alabama (go Dragons!).
All Right, Hamilton! Defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton (6-3, 312) from Ole Miss could further bulk up the defensive front in Foxboro.
Why undrafted: Hamilton tweaked his hamstring in March, which may be partly to blame for mediocre times in the 20-yard shuttle (4.88 seconds) and the 3-cone (7.90).
Why invited: Put up 29 reps on the bench press, which would have tied him for eighth at the combine. Was also said to have had a “very good pro-day workout” by Gil Brandt on NFL.com. Has started since his sophomore year at nose tackle, a position the Pats seem quite interested in this off-season.
High School Fun Fact: As a senior at Raleigh High in Mississippi, Hamilton had six sacks and two blocked punts, making the All-State team. If you want to see two high school plays highlighted, click here.
Smithers, I’m Home: Free safety Mr. Devonta Burns (5-10, 203) of Texas A&M could contribute as a special-teamer and eventually make his way into defensive sub packages.
Why undrafted: Not an explosive athlete, with non-special times in the 40 (4.52) and 3-cone (7.07) for someone his size. Had a mere 17 tackles in 2015. Had zero interceptions in his college career.
Why invited: As a nickel corner, had 57 tackles in 2014, as well as one pass break-up and two forced fumbles. Plus, special teams experience. Some almost-impossible-to-see kickoff coverage highlights here.
High School Fun Fact: Burns was named to the 4-5A First-Team All-District squad as a senior at Arlington Martin High in Texas and was ranked the third-best safety in the state by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football.
Pay The Bryce: Well, we shall see. Bryce Williams (6-6, 257), East Carolina tight end, will give New England’s bigger TEs some reps off this summer.
Why undrafted: His 4.94-second 40 was about the same as our aforementioned rookie guard Thuney, who ran a 4.95. As far as strength, his 19 bench reps seem low for the position of blocking tight end.
Why invited: Not Gronk-level talented, but definitely Gronk-sized. Could provide another big body at the position, which would mean competition for the likes of Michael Williams. Williams (Bryce, that is) caught 58 passes for 588 yards and four touchdowns last season. Some highlights of what a big pass-catcher can do are found on this link.
High School Fun Fact: At North Davidson High in North Carolina, Williams excelled in football (school offensive MVP), track (All-conference in the 110 meters), and basketball (all-county).
Shaq’ing Up: The Patriots did not draft a running back, but they decided to add to their running back stable by inviting Shaquille Powell (5-9, 210) out of Duke.
Why undrafted: Powell’s a smaller back but lacks the speed (4.63 40) and quickness (7.07 3-cone) that runners of his size seem to require. Averaged just 4.3 yards per carry. Also, fair to say that Duke is not known as a football school.
Why invited: Powell caught 35 passes for 212 yards (6.06 avg.) and two touchdowns and did not fumble his senior year – in fact, he lost only one fumble in his entire career (418 touches). Was an Academic All-ACC selection for three years running (so to speak). Powell’s prowess on runs, screens, and wheel routes can be witnessed here.
High School Fun Fact: As a senior at Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, Powell rushed for 2,458 yards and 40 touchdowns on his way to a state title.
His Middle Name Is Kringle-Jack: Linebacker Kris Frost (6-2, 240) out of Auburn also got a camp invite and could fit as a backup middle linebacker.
Why undrafted: Frost lacks speed, running a 4.97 40 at the combine. He also had shoulder issues in February that prevented him from performing the combine bench press.
Why invited: Second on the team with 96 tackles. Also had two interceptions and one forced fumble. Pretty good quickness with a 7.15 3-cone. Along with Jones (and Garrett, below) – and with the fact that Belichick visited Auburn this spring for pro day – highlights the coach’s interest in the Tigers. You can see Frost’s game film vs. Mississippi State in 2014 here.
High School Fun Fact: As an outside linebacker for Butler High in Matthews, North Carolina, Frost’s team went 16-0. In his final two years, he tallied 178 tackles, (22 for loss), six forced fumbles, and seven interceptions.
Justin Case: Apparently, when it comes to training camp, you can’t invite too many linebackers. Justin Garrett (6-1, 226) became the latest Auburn defender to make his way to Gillette.
Why undrafted: Garrett’s smaller than most ‘backers and failed to make up for that lack of size with great speed, getting timed at a mediocre 4.75 seconds in the 40.
Why invited: His 28 bench press reps would have been the second-best effort for linebackers at the combine. Had 50 tackles, one sack, and two interceptions for the Tigers in 2015. Showed some versatility by practicing as a safety before his sophomore year. Watch Garrett return a fumble for a TD in this clip.
High School Fun Fact: Playing for Tucker High in Stone Mountain, Georgia, Garrett was ranked as the number 12 outside linebacker in the country by Scout.com.
It’s A Shame About Ray: Or not. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with camp invitee wide receiver Melvin Ray (6-2, 208) out of – wait for it – Auburn, who will provide some competition for the lower end of the receiver roster.
Why undrafted: Ray ran a less-than-spectacular 4.60 40-yard dash at his pro day. Playing behind superior pass-catchers, Ray only managed 33 receptions for his career. Just turned 27 years old last month, as he played minor league baseball prior to attending Auburn.
Why invited: His 6.98-second 3-cone drill is pretty swift for his size. Speaking of size, right now Ray ties with rookie Devin Lucien for the second-tallest receiver on the team behind Aaron Dobson. Averaged 17.2 yards per catch and gained a TD or first down on 81 percent of his receptions. Has special teams experience. He eluded non-existent coverage for one of his four career TDs here.
High School Fun Facts: As a senior at North Florida Christian in Tallahassee, Florida, Ray caught 53 passes for 1,058 yards and 16 TDs. He later got picked by the L. A. Dodgers in the 2008 MLB Draft.
If any new undrafted players join the team after this article posts, please let us know in the comment section below. Also, if a Boston sports radio host says something outlandish, feel free to voice your outrage.
Chris Warner wanted to play tight end for the Patriots growing up and was a huge fan of Lin Dawson. He tweets from @cwarn89.