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.
If you enjoy watching quarterbacks who look like Baby Huey among peers, check out this video of Liggins behind center for Northeast Mississippi CC.
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).
By the way, “The Fast and The Flurrious” is apparently a Star Trek game. Or Powerpuff Girls game. What a time to be alive.
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.