Sorry you won’t read many observations about the Super Bowl here. I’m loathe to watch the Sunday pre-game stuff for a couple of hours, much less two weeks. I’m thinking it should be close, like all New England Super Bowls this millennium, and high-scoring. So… go ahead and place your bets, I guess?
Spent the past couple of weekends watching college football players at the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game in preparation for this, our first draft column of the season. After covering the Patriots’ draft for several years, I came to the conclusion that, as difficult as it could be to predict the specific names of players New England would choose, we could start to predict the general types of players they tend to select at certain points of the draft.
With only a few days of practice, Senior Bowl offenses inspired about as much confidence as a pufferfish platter at Red Lobster. Still, it was a decent demonstration of athleticism and how players perform under pressure knowing their future bosses are watching. The South held on to beat the North, 16-15. (I knew you were on the edge of your seat, there.)
For a more extensive rundown of past Patriots picks who fit these categories, please take a look at our Senior Bowl “That Guy” column from last year. Also, for a slightly different perspective on Coach Bill Belichick’s drafts, you can take a peek at our annual Round-by-Round Review from 2016. (We should have an updated one later this month.)
Quick rundown of Guys To Be Named Later, i.e. we’ll get a better idea after the NFL Combine:
The 3-Cone Guy: The Patriots seem to appreciate quickness measured by 3-cone drills more than straight-line speed measured by 40-yard dashes. (On this point, WEEI.com’s Chris Price and I agree.) Seventh-rounders Julian Edelman (6.62-second 3-cone) in 2009 and Darryl Roberts (6.66) in 2015 fit this description. We’ll see all the relevant times after the combine concludes March 6.
Best Guess If I Had To: Back-of-all-trades Donnel Pumphrey out of San Diego State, who, at 169 pounds, weighs almost enough to break the surface tension of water.
The Freakishly Athletic Guy: You can call this the Jamie Collins pick. Once in a while the Patriots will go after a guy who makes the combine crowd react like they’re watching a rim-shaking dunk by a high schooler. Some nice feats of derring-do at the all-star tilts, but we’ll have to wait for the numbers.
On to the Guys!
The Solid First-Rounder: The Patriots have a high rate of success in the first round, with Richard Seymour (2001), Vince Wilfork (2004), Nate Solder (2011) and Dont’a Hightower (2012) just a few examples of high-end, long-term starters culled from their top selections. Defensive tackle Montravius Adams out of Clemson (6-3, 308) had a strong game for the South and seemed to have the flexibility along the line that New England craves. Last season, Adams made All-SEC Second Team with 39 stops (8.5 for loss) and 4.5 sacks.
The “Who’s That Guy?” Guy: Using second-round picks on unheralded names like Sebastian Vollmer (2009), Tavon Wilson (2012), and Jordan Richards (2015) demonstrated how the Patriots value players differently than many draftniks. If Bill and Co. like what they see in a guy, they go get him. Not a lot of unknowns at the Senior Bowl, so we went with…
East-West Shrine Guy: Temple cornerback Nate Hairston (6-0, 192) showed sound defense on an end zone fade route and made a great punt team tackle. For the Owls, Hairston had 27 stops (including three for loss), two interceptions and three pass break-ups in 2016.
The Small-School Defender: New England drafted Zach Moore (Concordia) in 2014 and Markell Carter (Central Arkansas) in 2011, both in the sixth round. At the Senior Bowl, safety Lorenzo Jerome (6-0, 192) out of adorable St. Francis University had the kind of day that would put him on the front page in Loretto, Pennsylvania (population: 1,341). Jerome opened some eyes in this game with two interceptions, a well-played tackle for loss on a reverse, and a forced fumble. As a senior, Jerome totaled 59 tackles (5.5 for loss), 2.5 sacks, six interceptions, and five pass break-ups for the Red Flash.
Note: if you begin to experience Red Flash, please consult your physician.
Offensive Line Double-Dips: As shown with Joe Thuney and Ted Karras last year, Tré Jackson and Shaq Mason in 2015, and Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming in 2014, the Patriots have been on a recent streak of nabbing at least two O-linemen per draft (they also took guard Jon Halapio in 2014). Taking a couple of well-aimed shots in the dark here, I’ll go with Dion Dawkins (6-4, 317) out of Temple and Justin Senior (6-5, 322) from Mississippi State. Both had solid games last Saturday. This past season, Dawkins was named All-American Athletic Conference First Team by league coaches. Senior made Second-Team All-SEC and was awarded the Kent Hull Trophy this year for having his foot in the crease. What? Hold on…
Nope, my mix-up. The Kent Hull Trophy is awarded to the best collegiate O-lineman in Mississippi, in honor of the late MSU center and NFL Pro Bowler who played for the Buffalo Bills from 1986-1996.
The Long-Limbed Defensive End: New England often seeks out a lanky pass-rusher, as seen with Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom in 2015 and Michael Buchanan in 2013. While they had depth at the position this season (enough where the trading of Chandler Jones seemed not-quite-seppuku-like), Rob Ninkovich and Chris Long are in the teenage vampire movie of their careers.
Sorry: Twilight. That’s what I meant. Anyhoo, you can’t get much longer-limbed than Villanova phenom/potential-Game-of-Thrones-character-name Tanoh Kpassagnon, whose 6-foot-7, 280-pound build had Senior Bowl scouts all agog. In Mobile, Kpassagnon (which may be pronounced pass-EN-yo, but good luck with that) had a hurry and a sack and made himself a general nuisance for most of the game. Last season, Kpassagnon made All-Colonial Athletic Association First Team, leading the conference with 21.5 tackles for loss, including 11 sacks.
The only reason the Pats won’t draft him is that he’s getting a little too much attention from scouts. (The quote from a Philly scout made him sound like a GQ cover model.) Interesting to see how highly New England values him.
East-West Shrine Guy: With Flowers’ success coming out of Arkansas, maybe Deatrich Wise will get a look? The 6-5, 275-pounder looked strong against the run, using his long arms to shed blockers. For the Razorbacks, Wise had 49 tackles, 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and seven QB hurries.
The Alabama Guy: The connections between Bill Belichick and Coach Nick Saban of Alabama go back about 25 years, making the Tide a constant target of Pats’ draft speculation. Last season, they used their top pick in the second round on slot cornerback/serial punt mishandler Cyrus Jones. In 2015, New England drafted outside linebacker Xzavier Dickson. In 2012, they spent the aforementioned first-round pick on Hightower.
As much as we love tight end O. J. Howard, the Pats will draft after pick 30, and they know Howard will stick around about as long as the cool kid after CCD class. (Hey, you want to go to the spa, or you want to talk more Beatitudes?) With this in mind, keep an eye out for linebacker Ryan Anderson (6-2, 258) at the end of the first round. Anderson did not play in the Senior Bowl due to a thumb injury suffered during practice, but his 61 tackles, 19 tackles for loss (nine sacks) and four forced fumbles in 2016 (All-SEC honors) will probably suffice. I mean, if they can get a player similar to Hightower, I assume they’ll do that.
The Rutgers Guy: Well, it’s time to retire this category. Coach Belichick and former Rutgers head Greg Schiano had such a high level of respect for each other that the Raritan used to have a steady flow north, but that has become a trickle since Schiano has been out of New Jersey. New England drafted Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, and Logan Ryan, and could look to take more defensive backs under Schiano’s tutelage as he continues as associate head coach and defensive coordinator at Ohio State. Therefore… The Ohio State Guy: Ol’ Belichick pal and current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer unintentionally screwed the Pats with most of Meyer’s Florida players New England selected. Chad Jackson in 2006 remains the team’s biggest second-round misfire, while a certain Tight End Who Shall Not Be Named still casts a shadow over Foxboro. So, to be more specific…
The Ohio State Defensive Back: There we go! New category! Looks like Malik Hooker (leave it alone, Chris, just … leave it) is the number-one ranked corner in the draft, so we’ll go with Gareon Conley, a junior who declared for the draft but did not play in the Senior Bowl. Conley had 26 tackles, four interceptions, and eight pass break-ups. We’ll be keeping an eye on him during the combine.
The Injured Guy: New England tends to take chances with college players who missed time due to injury. Sometimes this gamble works (Rob Gronkowski, 2010), sometimes not (Ras-I Dowling, 2011). Well, despite our past misgivings about Florida, we’re taking a shot with linebacker Alex Anzalone (6-3, 240). The declared junior looked fast afoot and quicker with a diagnosis than a surly-yet-misunderstood TV doctor. In 2016, he broke his arm after only eight games, missing the rest of the season. In 2015, a shoulder injury forced him out of all but two contests. Though missing out on five games this season, he still had the third-highest tackle total with 53 for the Gators, including four for loss and three sacks. He also had two pass break-ups and six QB hits.
The Backup Quarterback: When Tom Brady starts for your team, it causes some head-scratching when you pick a QB closer to the beginning of the draft than the end. (Have the Pats lost faith in Brady? What else can be inferred from this? Do I have too much time on my hands? To whom am I speaking right now?) Still, it’s hard to argue that selecting Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round in 2014 didn’t reap benefits, or that taking rookie Jacoby Brissett in the fourth doesn’t have potential. With that in mind, Cal QB Davis Webb (6-5, 229) seemed to have the most control over his South team. He went seven of 10 for 116 yards and a touchdown in the first half, finishing 11 of 16 for 165 yards to earn Most Outstanding Player honors. He executed some delicious touch throws, including a moonshot dropped in the bucket on a 2-point conversion attempt.
Last season, Webb completed 62 percent of his passes, with 37 TDs and 12 INTs.
The Backup Tight End: Going all the way back to 2000 with fifth-rounder Dave Stachelski, the Patriots have consistently added to the tight end position as if they were grandma’s figurines (“Oh, just one Andy Stokes for the sun room. Isn’t he precious?”). First-rounders Daniel Graham (2002) and Benjamin Watson (2004) started in the early years, while second-rounder Gronkowski (2010) has performed a key role in recent seasons but could use some young depth behind him and Martellus Bennett, Northeastern University’s finest notwithstanding.
We mentioned Howard out of Alabama and his unavailability before, so let’s discuss Michael Roberts from Toledo (6-4, 261). A participant in both the Senior Bowl and the Shrine Game, Roberts has the size and quickness to contribute. He only caught one pass in Mobile, but he showed tenacious blocking in the Shrine Game and made a couple of nice catches-and-runs, including one where he shrugged off two would-be tacklers. Last year, Roberts had 15 touchdown receptions, the best for a tight end in the nation.
Fun Fact: Roberts’ hands measured 11 and 5/8 inches, over one inch bigger than receiver Malcolm Mitchell’s mitts, each of which resembles two ptarmigans colliding.
The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: The trick of drafting involves understanding how a player can fit in one’s system. The receiver position has the most pitfalls for Foxboroites, because they’re not just learning an offense, they’re trying to mesh with a QB who also happens to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Too bad Tom Brady can’t got along on scouting trips to play catch.
Watching the Senior Bowl, it was hard not to fall in love with Zay Jones (6-2, 202) out of East Carolina, who broke open more often than that plastic baggie containing all your child’s god damn Calico Critter accessories that you are guaranteed to step on barefoot later tonight. Jones finished with one touchdown catch but could have had as many as three more if not for a holding penalty, an overthrow, and a lack of official review on a toe-tap at the back of the end zone that would have inspired Degas. At ECU this past season, the two-time captain made All-American Athletic Conference First Team with 158 receptions (wha-?) for 1,746 yards (yikes!) and eight TDs.
The Special Teams Guy: The Pats consistently pick guys with a special teams focus. Perennial Pro-Bowler Matthew Slater came to Gillette via 2008’s fifth round. New England selected punter Zoltan Mesko in 2010, Nate Ebner in 2012, and long snapper Joe Cardona in 2015. This year, we like the look of a local, with Boston College safety John Johnson (6-1, 205) showing up in Mobile on a solid punt return tackle. Johnson, a captain for the Eagles, ranked second on the team with 77 tackles (a team-leading 56 unassisted). He also had three interceptions, nine pass breakups, a forced fumble, and a sack on BC’s top-10-ranked defense.
The Navy Guy: Cardona remains the only Navy Academy grad drafted by Belichick, though Fullbacks Kyle Eckel (scored two TDs in 2007) and Eric Kettani spent some time in New England, while others have been on the Patriots’ roster under reserve/military exemption (slotback Shun White, for example). This year featured no Navy players in Mobile, but we’re going to offer up East-West Shrine attendee Will Worth (6-1, 205) as someone with whom Belichick has become familiar. Starting the season as a backup quarterback, the senior was pressed into action in Week One when sophomore starter Tago Smith injured his knee. Worth himself had his season ended by a foot injury, but not before rushing for 1,128 yards and 25 touchdowns, while completing 72 of 117 passes (62 percent) for 1,397 yards and eight TDs.
Worth could be healthy in time to participate in the NFL Combine, if he’s invited. Hey, if he gets a solid 3-cone time, maybe the Pats will consider converting him to receiver.
What?!? A college quarterback playing receiver? Do tell…
The Seventh-Round Slot Receiver: Northwestern’s Jeremy Ebert (2012) and Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon (2014) fit here, but none could live up to the growing legend of Julian Edelman (2009), who – get ready for this – played QB at Kent State. It’s true. The most promising slot guy at the Senior Bowl seemed to be Mississippi State’s Fred Ross (6-1, 203), who made a couple of nice catches on slants and crossers and had a sweet back-shoulder grab in the third quarter. Ross earned First-Team All-SEC honors for the second year in a row this past season, totaling 72 catches for 917 yards (12.7 avg.) and 12 touchdowns. He played every receiver position (ooh, versatility, you seductive minx) and returned punts.
So, why only a seventh-round prediction? State went 3-5 in the SEC, 6-7 overall.
East-West Shrine Guys: Fun to watch Kermit Whitfield out of Florida State (5-8, 183), who became a go-to guy for the East Team as the Shrine Game progressed. Whitfield had one drop but overcame that with some nice receptions, slipperiness in space, and a solid punt return. At FSU, Whitfield spent more time on the field than sunlight, catching 34 passes for 395 yards (one touchdown), rushing eight times for 79 yards (one TD), and returning 26 kicks for 595 yards (22.9 avg.). Another player worth mentioning in light of the previous Ebert pick is Austin Carr (6-0, 201), also out of Northwestern. Carr set a school record by catching a TD in six consecutive games. The former walk-on finished with 90 receptions, 1,247 yards, and 12 touchdowns, leading the Big Ten in all three categories to be named the conference’s Receiver of the Year.
Fun Fact: Carr attended Benicia High School in California, only about an hour’s drive from Edelman’s alma mater, Woodside High.
Another Fun Fact: The Big Ten Receiver of the Year Award was named the Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year Award, after German painter Hans Richter and American director Ron Howard.
Fun Fact-checked Fact: Actually, it’s named after Pat Richter of Wisconsin and Desmond Howard of Michigan. So, close?
Hey, how’s about some more new categories while we’re at it?
The Pedigree Pick Guy: Relatively rare (get it? Relatively? Amazing you get to read this stuff for free), this group will grow as former NFLers get older and more of their offspring develop into prominent college players. While watching the Shrine Game, it was hard to miss defensive end Bryan Cox (6-3, 264) out of Florida. Cox showed great change-of-direction and play-deciphering skills when he rushed the passer, stopped, and chased down a receiver on a bubble screen. He seemed difficult to block all day, beating different O-linemen one-on-one to harass West team QBs. Last year for the Gators, Cox fought through various injuries (including a broken hand) and managed 19 tackles, 2.5 for loss, half a sack, six QB hits, and a forced fumble.
His father had 49 tackles in 11 games for the Patriots, but his time in Foxboro is nicely summed up in this piece by Mike Reiss on ESPN.com.
The Back-To-The-Well Guy: The Patriots got a solid linebacker from Houston in last year’s draft (hey there, Elandon Roberts), so maybe they’ll take a long gander at Tyus Bowser (6-3, 244). Bowser looked fast and seemed to get himself in good position at the Senior Bowl. Last season, Bowser missed five games due to injury, yet still managed to tie for a team-best 8.5 sacks. He totaled 12 tackles for loss and notched a forced fumble and a safety.
Hey, You Got Peanut Butter In My Public Relations: Watching the Reese’s Senior Bowl – or any bowl game, for that matter – means checking out the company flack at halftime trying to connect football to her corporation. Anna Lingeris did a fine job (and that’s not sarcasm), talking about a player field trip to see kids and wrapping up with this nugget:
“From the brand perspective, from the Reese’s team and the Hershey company, that is what we’re about, being able to touch the community.”
You know what’s great about this? While you read it, Reese’s could be anything. They could make beer; they could sell garden hoses. PR is about promoting an emotion. Here, Ms. Lingeris has to convince us that a major corporation doesn’t just want to shovel limitless dollops of goober sluice down our expectant gullets, they want to connect with us and help us connect with each other. You think of it that way, and it’s almost like charity.
I have to admit, I’m a little jealous, because I think I would have crushed this if I’d followed that path out of college. Coming up with catchy slogans? Giving concise presentations? Promoting candy, for the love of God? Another professional opportunity missed.
In any case, see you next week. Not sure who will win, but I hope it’s the Patriots, because that’s what they’re about: being able to touch the community.
Chris Warner could also have been a pretty decent meteorologist and would have tried to crack up the anchor desk with his shenanigans. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @cwarn89.