During the Super Bowl bye week, why not take a little break from watching highlights of NFL players and instead check out highlights of future NFL players?
Hmm? Sound good?
Watching last Saturday’s Senior Bowl and the previous Saturday’s East-West Shrine Game has helped prime this space for the first BSMW Patriots draft column of the season. It took several years of attempting to cover the hundreds of potential NFL players coming out of college before figuring out a way to winnow down the process by looking at “that guy” New England tends to draft: the different types of athletes at certain positions more likely to get a call from Foxboro. For a comprehensive look at Coach Bill Belichick’s selections while in New England, here’s our annual Round-by-Round Review from 2017. (An updated version including last year’s picks coming soon.)
This Senior Bowl provided little drama, as the South rushed (or, really, passed) its way to a 45-16 yawner where the outcome had little doubt by halftime when the South led 18-3. (The Shrine Game ended up as a 14-10 slugfest.) For our purposes, we won’t necessarily discuss the best players in the game, only the ones who would seem to fit in New England and who might be available. For example, Marcus Davenport (6-6, 259) would get his own special allocation this year as a double-category guy due to his rare qualifications as a Solid First-Round Guy and a Long-Limbed Defensive End. But the University of Texas at San Antonio product did too many good things in 2017 (8.5 sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss) to hang around long enough for the Patriots to pick him.
A quick note: the NFL Combine will provide more than the eye test, which will offer a better look at a crucial position –
The 3-Cone Guy: Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick appreciates quickness, which gets measured by 3-cone drills better than by 40-yard dashes (Chris Price of Boston Sport Journal wrote about this years ago). This could be called the Julian Edelman pick after his 6.62-second 3-cone (which he showed at a pro day as he was not invited to the combine) before being drafted in 2009. Cornerback Darryl Roberts, also a Patriots seventh-rounder, ran a 6.66 in 2015. We’ll look at our potential 3-Cone Guy post-combine, which takes place February 27 through March 5.
Let’s check out some Guys! Just ogle the hell out of ’em!
The Solid First-Round Guy: Though they’ve had some bumps recently, the Patriots’ first round picks have a history of paying off, with Richard Seymour (2001), Vince Wilfork (2004), Nate Solder (2011) and Dont’a Hightower (2012) becoming long-term, productive starters. Going with a defensive lineman for this one, as Harrison Phillips (6-3, 303) stood out as a consistent winner of one-on-one battles. For the 2017 season, Phillips had a ridiculous 103 tackles (17 for loss), 7.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles, making All-Pac-12 First Team (one would hope so) and Pac-12 All-Academic First Team.
Fun Fact: At Millard West High in Nebraska, Phillips was the 2013 Gatorade Nebraska Football Player of the Year and was also the 2013 Junior National Heavyweight Champion in wrestling.
The “Who’s That Guy?” Guy: New England has used second-round picks on names like offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (2009), and safeties Tavon Wilson (2012) and Jordan Richards (2015), none of whom were rated that highly going into the draft. Not that Belichick cares about ratings all that much. Sticking with the safety route, we’ll go with Hawaii’s Trayvon Henderson (6-0, 204), who avoided flashing just enough to make it in this category. For the Warriors, Henderson made All-Mountain West Honorable Mention and the Coach Bob Wagner Defensive MVP Award (no “Hart to Hart” references please) with 90 stops (including 10.5 for loss), two sacks, and three interceptions.
So if the Patriots happen to pick a safety from a school as far away from New England as possible, you, dear reader, will be one of the few folks around the region not saying, “Who’s that guy?”
The Small-School Defender: New England drafted Zach Moore (Concordia) in 2014 and Markell Carter (Central Arkansas) in 2011, both in the sixth round. The team has had some success with an undrafted West Alabama project named Malcolm Butler, so we’ll go back to the Sun Belt Conference for South Alabama safety Jeremy Reaves (5-11, 204), who did just about everything he could to show up on scouts’ radar. Reaves had an interception, two pass break-ups (including on a two-point conversion attempt), and a tackle for loss on fourth down. Reaves led the Jaguars with 104 tackles (seven for loss), 1.5 sacks, three interceptions, eight pass break-ups, and three forced fumbles. This kid hangs around the ball better than Prince Charming.
East-West Shrine Guy: Villanova defensive back Malik Reaves (5-11, 201) gets the call here, and not just because he has the same last name as Jeremy. In the Shrine Game, Malik did a notable job jamming wide receivers at the line, and he showed solid run support. Last season, Reaves had 58 tackles (two for loss), two interceptions and two pass break-ups, as well as a forced fumble.
Offensive Line Double-Dips: From Antonio Garcia and Conor McDermott this past year to Joe Thuney and Ted Karras in 2016 and Tré Jackson and Shaq Mason the year before that, New England is on a streak of grabbing two or more O-linemen on draft weekend. My random picks for the Senior Bowl include two tackles, as the Patriots’ depth at that position has been tested this season. North Carolina AT’s Brandon Parker (6-7, 303) and TCU’s Joseph Noteboom (6-5, 306) showed solid run blocking for the South team. Parker’s a long dude, engulfing pass-rushers like a cuttlefish on a crab. He helped the Division I-AA Aggies go 12-0. Noteboom, meanwhile, did a solid job walling off defenders with his large frame. The Horned Frog received an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention last year and was named to the First Team Academic All-Big 12 four years in a row. He started 40 consecutive games, the past two seasons at left tackle.
Maybe, instead of taking two tackles, New England will look at one of these guys below…
East-West Shrine Guys: Interesting note on a couple of the Patriots draftees above that Thuney, Karras, and center David Andrews all played in the Shrine game. With that in mind, two interior offensive linemen caught the eye. Colorado State center Jake Bennett (6-3, 295) and Auburn center/guard Austin Golson (6-5, 310). Bennett made All-Mountain West Football First Team last season, as the Rams allowed an average of only 0.67 sacks per game. Golson, a team captain at Auburn, started at center, left guard, and both tackle spots in 2017. He was also invited to the Senior Bowl.
Fun Fact: Bennett proposed to his girlfriend last November after CSU beat San Jose State. Romance!
The Long-Limbed Defensive End: New England drafted Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise last year (after Wise got a mention as an East-West Shrine Game standout in this space – woohoo!) as well as Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom in 2015. Ohio State’s Jalyn Holmes (6-5, 279) made a general nuisance of himself in the Senior Bowl, especially when it came to harassing quarterbacks. In 2017 Holmes, a team captain, was voted an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention after his 29 tackles (three for loss), two sacks, three pass break-ups, and one forced fumble.
East-West Shrine Guy: This year’s Wise could be Miami defensive end Chad Thomas, who measured in at a healthy 6-6, 275. Thomas seemed to spend the bulk of the game in the West’s backfield, pressuring the quarterback and eliciting what should have been a holding penalty in the fourth quarter. Thomas had 41 tackles in 2017 (12.5 for loss) and 5.5 sacks.
The Alabama Guy: Belichick respects Coach Nick Saban of Alabama, leading to the selection of cornerback Cyrus Jones, outside linebacker Xzavier Dickson, and Hightower over the years. The only guy on the South roster who went to Alabama who won’t A) be drafted too early (like Da’Shawn Hand), B) play offense (like center Bradley Bozeman) or C) punt the football (like J. K. Scott) is cornerback Levi Wallace (6-0, 176) who got roasted on a crossing pattern. Seems atypical for the corner, who had 48 tackles (4.5 for loss), two sacks, three interceptions and an a-wha? 15 pass break-ups in 2017.
The Backup Quarterback: Though the Jimmy Garoppolo pick met some resistance from Pats followers in 2014, the only thing that seems wrong with it now is that it happened a couple of years too early. Is there a new Garoppolo to give us hope? As one can deduce from the final score, the South QBs had some serious production. Their coach was Bill O’Brien, the current Texans coach and former Patriots offensive coordinator. With that in mind, we’ll pick Senior Bowl Most Outstanding Player Kyle Lauletta (6-3, 217) out of Richmond. Lauletta hit on eight of 12 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns. Most appealing for Pats fans, he seemed proficient in a variety of throws, including the seam route, on which he completed a 28-yarder to Indiana tight end Ian Thomas and a 14-yard touchdown to Oklahoma State receiver Marcell Ateman. Last season, Lauletta won CAA Offensive Player of the Year honors after completing 281 of 433 passes (65 percent) for 3,737 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Fun Fact: Lauletta’s father Joe played football at the Naval Academy in the 1980s, a fact that Belichick must know, right? I feel like that could make a difference, somehow.
East-West Shrine Guy: Texas Tech’s Nic Shimonek (6-3, 218) shone amidst what was, granted, an opaque bunch, completing 12 of 18 passes for 105 yards. His finest moment capped off the West’s game-winning drive, as he looped a 34-yard toss into the arms of Houston’s Steven Dunbar at the pylon for the game’s final points. Shimonek showed good feet and field awareness on that drive, knifing a short pass between two defenders to receiver Jeff Badet to convert a fourth-and-five. Shimonek made All-Big 12 Football Honorable Mention for the Red Raiders after completing 328 of 493 passes (67 percent) for 3,963 yards and 33 touchdowns (vs. 10 interceptions).
The Backup Tight End: Though undrafted rookie Jacob Hollister contributed this year, neither he nor veteran Dwayne Allen provided much offense to complement Rob Gronkowski (they combined for 14 receptions while Gronk had 69 ha oh my God I forgot about that). New England could seek out another Martellus Bennett type, a blocker who can catch and, when on the field with Gronk, make defenses crazy. Some nice names to pick from last Saturday, but I’ll go with the aforementioned Thomas (6-3, 256), who flashed strong hands and smooth route-running on his one catch while devoting himself to blocking both in-line and in motion. For the Hoosiers, Thomas made All-Big Ten Honorable Mention with 25 catches for 376 yards and five touchdowns.
The Arizona State Offensive Guy: Based on their signing a couple of Sun Devils in 2016 (seventh-rounder Devin Lucien and undrafted rookie D. J. Foster), the Patriots may give running back Kalen Ballage (6-2, 222) a long look on Day Three of the draft. Ballage led the North squad with 10 rushes for 57 yards, showing great quicks for a man his size. At ASU, Ballage ran the ball 157 times for 669 yards (4.3 avg.) and six touchdowns. He also caught 20 passes for 91 yards and took back 20 kickoffs for 437 yards (21.85 avg.).
Again, very specific category, but one worth a look.
The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: We can call this the Malcolm Mitchell pick, because he was the first rookie in years to show real chemistry with Brady after several draft attempts (Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, and Taylor Price, to name a few). Michael Gallup (6-1, 198) of Colorado State may have fallen short of highlight reel stats on Saturday, but he did lead the North with three receptions for 60 yards. The quality of his catches stood out, including a nice down and out for a 31-yard gain and a tough, jumping catch in the middle of the field where he held on to the football despite receiving a sizable wallop. Gallup made the All-Mountain West Football First Team. He set a school record with 100 catches for 1,413 yards and seven touchdowns. Of Belichickian note: this past season Gallup had a productive day vs. Alabama (five catches, 81 yards).
East-West Shrine Guy: Hard to miss Northern Iowa’s Daurice Fountain (6-2, 210), who led the East with three catches for 61 yards and a 30-yard punt return. Fountain had a quick slant that he turned into a 38-yard gain, plus a nine-yard jump ball where he outwrestled the defender for the football. Fountain led UNI with 399 yard on 31 receptions for five touchdowns.
The Special Teams Guy: New England drafted Matthew Slater out of UCLA in the fifth round in 2008, bringing a player whom many thought would become a third or fourth receiver and returner. Instead, Slater began what seems like a conscientious draft effort to focus on special teams players for Foxboro. Punter Zoltan Mesko in 2010, Nate Ebner in 2012, and long snapper Joe Cardona in 2015 all show Belichick’s willingness to use draft capital on a less-heralded part of the game. Let’s take a long look at BYU linebacker Fred Warner (6-3, 235), and not just because of his awesome last name. Warner reminds us a bit of current Patriot linebacker Kyle Van Noy, also a BYU and Senior Bowl alum. He showed notable quickness and tenacity in his tackling, and could start out as a special teams contributor. In 2017, Warner led the Cougars with 87 tackles (nine for loss), one sack, one interception, five pass break-ups, and one forced fumble.
East-West Shrine Guy: Speaking of Slater’s old school, UCLA linebacker Kenny Young demonstrated tremendous speed and in the prototypical special teamer/college linebacker mold (6-1, 226) could make an immediate impact on special teams. Young was selected to the All-Pac-12 Conference first team by coaches after leading the Bruins with 110 tackles (8.5 for loss).
The Navy Guy: The only Navy draftee is Cardona, though Belichick brought in fullbacks Kyle Eckel and Eric Kettani to New England, while placing other Academy graduates 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 D. J. Palmore (6-3, 236), a linebacker who also could have made our Special Teams Guy category as he showed up in punt and kick coverage. Palmore made the All-American Athletic Conference Second Team as he tallied 64 tackles (11.5 for loss) and three fumble recoveries.
The Seventh-Round Slot Receiver: You can also call this category The Continuing Search For The Next Edelman. A not-so-smooth transition from Julian to Jeremy, as neither Jeremy Ebert (Northwestern, 2012) nor Jeremy Gallon (Michigan, 2014) managed to stick around for long. Hard not to root for the little guy, and few at the Senior Bowl looked littler than Miami receiver Braxton Berrios (5-9, 177). He only caught one pass for four yards, but he shone on punt returns, bringing back five for 70 yards, including a long of 26. For the Hurricanes, Berrios made All-ACC Third Team as a receiver, leading the team with 55 catches, 679 yards, and nine touchdowns. He also made All-ACC Honorable Mention as a punt returner, averaging 15.9 yards per take back. Berrios received the Jim Tatum Award for best student-athlete in the conference.
East-West Shrine Guy: Last year we mentioned Northwestern receiver and Patriots preseason darling Austin Carr here. This year, it looks like Oklahoma’s Jeff Badet (6-0, 178) gets the call, as he kept the West team close in the early going. Badet caught three passes for 33 yards on a variety of routes in the first half. He also converted two fourth down plays, one in the second half, ending up with five catches for 42 yards. Badet transferred from Kentucky a year ago. At OU, he had 26 receptions for 400 yards and three touchdowns.He also rushed six times for 44 yards (6.8 avg.) and had a 20.9-yard kick return average (15 for 313).
Advertising Works Sometimes: I try to avoid candy. I often fail. I am 100 percent more likely to eat Reese’s peanut butter cups this week after watching the Reese’s Senior Bowl advertising. They had two commercials of note, one with the song “Cups” in the background (clever), the second with a football reference of “go for two.”
I just might, Reese’s. I just might.
My one pet peeve of the broadcast happened whenever they talked to people on the sideline while the game was in action. No need to see the Q & A while simultaneously shrinking the game, folks. We can listen to the interviewee (or, more likely, ignore him) as we watch football. In the span of a couple of minutes, each team scored a touchdown while Alex Flanagan spoke with the Reese’s P. R. guy, which is a little embarrassing. I mean, once, it happens. Twice? We gotta get back to the game, Mr. PB and Chocolate.
Willy Nilly: The new Bud Light commercial that I refuse to link to turns the entire “Dilly, Dilly” campaign into a troll job. Just repeating it over and over, for no apparent reason. I hope those ad execs get hit by a golf cart.
Please keep an eye out for our annual “With A Little Bit O’ Luck” column, looking back on the good fortune each Super Bowl winner has experienced since 2000.
Chris Warner could really use some chocolate right now, peanut butter optional. You can email him at email@example.com or tweet @cwarn89.