We’re doing our Thursday Observations early to give you, dear reader, a little extra time to prep for tomorrow night’s broadcast of NFL Draft Round One. (At this point, the draft has gotten so over-hyped that I expect network talking heads to start it off with the Bugs Bunny-Roadrunner Hour’s “This Is It.”)
Overture, curtain, lights!
Following Coach Bill Belichick’s picks during his tenure in New England has revealed certain types of players he tends to select. With those in mind, we give you our third and final predictive draft column of 2018. (You can see the previous, post-combine column here.) What we miss in names we hope to make up for in categories.
As a helpful reminder of past Patriots draft picks, please take a look at our annual Round-by-Round Review, listing every New England selection since 2000. While we’re at it, two columns pointed out potential rookies who did not receive NFL combine invitations this spring. For a list of notable athletes, some of whom might get a call from friendly Foxboro in the next few days, please see our Combine Snubs series: Part I and Part II.
As I write this, New England has eight picks in the NFL draft: two first-rounders (23 and 31 overall), two second-rounders (43, 63), one third (95), two sixth-rounders (198, 210), and one seventh (219). The draft takes place over the next three days, beginning with first-round coverage tomorrow night, April 26. Rounds 2-3 happen Friday, Rounds 4-7 on Saturday. Oh, how I long for the days of Saturday afternoon starts, just me, my laptop, a pizza, and a couple of bottles of Diet Dr. Pepper. Halcyon days of youth, those were. (I was in my early 40s, but still.)
As the audience at a Chippendale’s show would say: let’s get a look at the guys!
The Solid First-Round Guy: The Patriots established their early dynasty with first-round defensive linemen like Richard Seymour (2001), Ty Warren (2003), and Vince Wilfork (2004). In keeping with that tradition, I’m going with a not-too-flashy, versatile D-lineman in Florida’s Taven Bryan (6-5, 291). Bryan has the quickness and burst of a defensive end (impressive 7.12-second 3-cone drill and 35-inch vertical at the combine) and the strength of an interior lineman (30 bench reps). Bryan made All-SEC Second Team honors in 2017 with 40 tackles (six for loss), four sacks, and three quarterback hurries.
Because New England has two first-round picks, we’ll add another possible selection here. Among the aforementioned stalwart defenders back in the early 2000s, the Patriots also chose a couple of tight ends (Daniel Graham, 2002; the ageless Benjamin Watson, 2004). The latter two are pointing me toward Dallas Goedert (6-5, 255) of South Dakota State. Goedert made the Walter Camp All-American Team at the FCS level with 72 catches for 1,111 yards and seven touchdowns. He also impressed at his pro day, with a 35-inch vertical and 7.02-second 3-cone that belie his size. I mean, barring a surprise trade or retirement, Rob Gronkowski is playing tight end in New England this year, but bringing in a new guy of similar size wouldn’t hurt. (And, man, I hope that “surprise trade or retirement” line doesn’t come back to haunt me.)
Previously Mentioned Guy: Harrison Phillips, Stanford DL.
The “Who’s That Guy?” Guy: If you’re like me, when New England drafted offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer in 2009, you may have tilted your head like Nipper the RCA dog and thought, “Vollmer? Have I heard of him?” Safety Tavon Wilson (2012) and safety/play trailer Jordan Richards (2015) also make the list of unexpected second-round selections. In the mold of those two defenders, I present Dorian O’Daniel out of Clemson. While undersized as a linebacker at 6-1, 223, O’Daniel could take on the strong-safety, in-the-box defender role Belichick has sought with previous picks. O’Daniel had a great combine, with a 4.61-second 40-yard dash (top 11 for linebackers) and a 6.64-second 3-cone (tied for top linebacker, top three safety) that would bring speed and quickness to a defense that needs more of those things. O’Daniel made First Team All-American with a Tiger-best 104 tackles (11.5 for loss), five sacks, and two pick-sixes.
Previously Mentioned Guy: Trayvon Henderson, Hawaii S; Nick DeLuca, North Dakota State LB
The Injured Guy: Bringing this category back, solely for the purpose of mentioning linebacker Jack Cichy (6-2, 238) from Wisconsin. The Patriots take chances with injured players (Gronkowski, 2010; Ras-I Dowling, 2011; Dominique Easley, 2014), and they could find some quality in Cichy, who missed all of 2017 with a knee injury and about half of 2016 with a pectoral issue. Cichy managed to run a 7.06-second 3-cone and jump a 33.5-inch vertical at Wisconsin’s pro day in March, which would have placed him ninth and 13th, respectively, among combine linebackers. In 2016, Cichy totaled 60 tackles (seven for loss) in seven games.
Note: The name Cichy starts with a soft C and rhymes with “Itchy,” because that’s how ready he is to play am I right, people?
Previously Mentioned Guy: First time this category has shown up this year. Hope Cichy can stay healthy, no matter where he ends up.
The 3-Cone Guy: We can also call this the Julian Edelman category as, in 2009, the receiver completed a 6.62-second 3-cone at his pro day (nine years later, that time would qualify as fourth-best receiver at this year’s combine). Just for pure eye-bursting agog-gery, Oklahoma cornerback Jordan Thomas‘s 6.28 retains its status here. Along with his 3.94-second 20-yard shuttle, Jordan established himself as the pinball lightning candidate. The corner had 27 tackles (two for loss), two pass break-ups, and one interception last season for the Sooners.
Previously Mentioned Guy: Thomas. I mean, 6.28 isn’t a 3-cone time; it’s a dinner time. Just ape-turd loco.
The Small-School Defender: Such fits in this category include Central Arkansas’ Markell Carter (2011) and Concordia’s Zach Moore (2014). I still like South Alabama safety Jeremy Reaves (5-10, 202), an All-Sun Belt Conference First-Teamer. During the Senior Bowl, Reaves notched an interception, two pass break-ups, and a fourth-down tackle for loss. In 2017, Reaves led the Jaguars with 104 tackles (seven for loss), 1.5 sacks, three interceptions, eight pass break-ups, and three forced fumbles.
Reaves had a lousy pro day (4.66-second 40-yard dash, 7.44-second 3-cone), numbers comparable to those of another Sun Belt alum, former West Alabama corner Malcolm Butler (4.62 40, 7.20 3-cone). What Reaves puts on film counts just as much, if not more.
Previously Mentioned Guys: Reaves; also Malik Reaves, Villanova DB. So, two guys named Reaves.
Offensive Line Double-Dips: For the past three years in a row, New England has picked at least two offensive linemen on draft day. With only slightly more confidence than I have in New England’s spring weather, I take UCLA’s Kolton Miller (6-9, 309) and Stanford’s David Bright (6-5, 307) here. Miller showed off some nifty numbers at the combine, including a a combine-OL-best 10-foot-1 broad jump. His 4.95 40 and a 7.34 3-cone both came in top three for offensive linemen. Miller made Second Team All-Pac-12 at left tackle for the Bruins (also the alma mater of New England’s 2017 sixth-round selection Conor McDermott, now with the Bills).
Bright made All-Pac-12 Second Team last season. Over the course of his career, he played every spot along the line except center. The Patriots like their linemen more versatile than Da Vinci’s Swiss Army knife, so that’s a point for Bright. He also lived up to his last name, earning a Pac-12 All-Academic honorable mention.
Previously Mentioned Guys: Brandon Parker, NC AT OT; Joseph Noteboom, TCU OT; Jake Bennett, Colorado State C; Austin Golson, Auburn C/G; Ike Boettger, Iowa OT
The Long-Limbed Defensive End: Last year, New England drafted Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise; they took Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom back in 2015. With his impressive performance in the Senior Bowl, we’ve kept Ohio State team co-captain Jalyn Holmes (6-5, 283) in mind. He ran a 4.83 40-yard dash (sprightly for his size) and put up a solid 25 reps on the bench press. The Buckeye made 2017 All-Big Ten Honorable Mention with 29 tackles (three for loss), two sacks, three pass break-ups, and a forced fumble. Also noteworthy: OSU’s defensive coordinator is Belichick buddy Greg Schiano.
Intriguing-But-Maybe-That’s-Just-Me Guy: As someone who has a history of liking Utah defensive ends – as my pre-draft Q&As with Koa Misi (2010) and Paul Kruger (2009) prove – I am curious about Utah edge player Kylie Fitts. At the combine, the 6-4, 263-pound hybrid (as we used to call DE/OLB types wwaaaayyy back in, like, three years ago) ran a 4.69-second 40 and a cat-quick 6.88-second 3-cone drill. Add 31 bench reps, and you’ve got quite a specimen. The fact that he’s only slightly more productive than a short windmill in a tall forest (23 tackles, three sacks in 10 games) means the Patriots might overlook him, but he’s a guy worth watching this weekend.
Previously Mentioned Guys: Holmes; Chad Thomas, Miami
The Alabama Guy: Given the relationship of Coach Belichick and Alabama coach Nick Saban, it’s not a surprise that defenders Dont’a Hightower (2011) Xzavier Dickson (2015), and Cyrus Jones (2016) all got called up by the Patriots. This year, with 14 ‘Bama players getting invited to the NFL Combine (10 on defense), the only stunner would involve a lack of Crimson Tide washing up on New England’s shores. (Yeah, that one’s a little too much, even for me.) With a fair amount of young and new blood coming in, linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton (6-0, 233) gets our notice. He hurt his knee vs. LSU in November (also qualifying him for Injured Guy status), before that totaling 40 tackles (5.5 for loss) and 2.5 sacks in nine games. The team captain also had two pass break-ups and a forced fumble.
Hamilton enrolled early at Tuscaloosa, joining the team in January 2014. His knowledge of their system could help him move up the Foxboro draft board.
Previously Mentioned Guy: Levi Wallace, CB
The Backup Quarterback: Maybe this category should get renamed The Future Starting Quarterback, because 2018 will soon turn into a disaster and all is lost. (Do you think 49er fans got so fidgety in the early 1990s? I don’t remember that, though I may have been distracted due to the Patriots not exactly crushing it at the time.) I’m going to remain stubborn here and stick with Texas Tech’s Nic Shimonek (6-3, 218) after his impressive 12-of-18 passes for 105 yards in the East-West Shrine Game. What can I say? Shimonek demonstrated lots of field awareness and accuracy on the West’s game-winning drive, floating a TD pass into the left end zone corner for the win. 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).
Two Patriots-type links of note: Shimonek was coached by Tech alum and 2003 Patriots draft pick Kliff Kingsbury. He also started his college career at the University of Iowa, coached by Belichick pal Kirk Ferentz.
Previously Mentioned Guys: Shimonek; Kyle Lauletta, Richmond
The Backup Tight End: Listen, no one gets more influenced by the Combine Snubs than I do. In my defense, the Patriots tend to pay as much attention to less-heralded players as any other team, helping strengthen their so-called “middle class” of the roster at a rookie-contract rate. With tight end Dwayne Allen totaling 10 receptions in 2017 and Jacob Hollister chipping in four, the Patriots could look for another pass-catcher. That brings me to Weber State product Andrew Vollert (6-6, 239), who demonstrated speed (4.60 40) and quickness (4.08 20-yard shuttle, 6.90 3-cone) at his pro day that would have been at or near the top of combine tight ends. Vollert made Second-Team All-American by catching 61 passes for 733 yards and five touchdowns. The tight end also threw for two TDs. For a highlight reel where Vollert runs up the seam more than a stocking rip, click on here.
Previously Mentioned Guy: Ian Thomas, Indiana; Will Dissly, Washington
The Arizona State Offensive Guy: The Patriots took on two Sun Devils in 2016, seventh-rounder Devin Lucien, and undrafted rookie D. J. Foster. Running back Kalen Ballage (6-1, 227) had a notable combine, with his speedy 4.46 40, 10-foot-2 broad jump, and 6.91-second 3-cone (all top five for combine backs). In the Senior Bowl, Ballage led the North team with 10 rushes for 57 yards. At ASU, Ballage ran 157 times for 669 yards (4.3 avg.) and six touchdowns. He also had 20 receptions for 91 yards and ran back 20 kickoffs for 437 yards (21.85 avg.).
Previously Mentioned Guy: Ballage, backfield mate Demario Richard (5-10, 219).
The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: Back in 2016, New England picked Georgia’s Malcolm Mitchell, who became the first rookie receiver to show consistent compatability with Tom Brady since Deion Branch in 2002. Selecting a receiver always entails risk, which might explain why Belichick has never taken a rookie wideout in the first round. At the combine, Texas Tech’s Dylan Cantrell, though a bigger guy at 6-3, 227, still managed to demonstrate a certain small-guy athletic ability that seems to fit in well at Foxboro. Cantrell really showed his stuff with a 4.03-second 20-yard shuttle and a 6.56-second 3-cone, both top scores for combine receivers. At his pro day, he jumped a 41-inch vertical, an 11-foot-3 broad jump, and a 4.47-second 40. Cantrell received All-Big 12 Honorable Mention at Tech with 71 receptions for 816 yards (11.5 avg.) and seven touchdowns.
Previously Mentioned Guys: Michael Gallup, Colorado State; Daurice Fountain, Northern Iowa; Tre’Quan Smith, Central Florida
The Special Teams Guy: In 2008, the Pats picked UCLA’s Matthew Slater in the fifth round, a selection that seemed to jumpstart special-teams-specific draft moves. These have included punter Zoltan Mesko in 2010, Nate Ebner in 2012, and long snapper Joe Cardona in 2015. Our quest for a special-teamer/backup linebacker results in Arizona State’s Christian Sam (6-1, 244) who put up some solid numbers at the combine, including a 4.75-second 40, a 7.03-second 3-cone drill, and 28 bench presses. Sam made All-Pac 12 Honorable Mention in 2017, leading the Sun Devils with 127 tackles (9.5 for loss), three sacks, one interception, and one forced fumble.
Previously Mentioned Guys: Kenny Young, UCLA LB; the wonderfully named Fred Warner, BYU LB
Fun, For-Your-Consideration Guy: Kaare Vedvik (6-4, 208), Marshall punter/kicker. The Nuke-Legged Norwegian (note: not his real nickname) makes for a fun story, as he spent his junior year of high school in Kansas before heading back to his native country, then returned to the U.S. to try kicking in college. Made 10 of 16 field goals and 41 of 42 extra points last season. According to überscout Gil Brandt, Vedvik booted a 55-yard field goal in front of scouts.
The Navy Guy: Belichick spent much of his childhood around the Naval Academy and has remained connected with it throughout his coaching life. He has kept track of Navy football, drafting Cardona and before that bringing in fullbacks Kyle Eckel and Eric Kettani to Foxboro. Though we’ve heard very little about linebacker D. J. Palmore (6-3, 236) since the East-West Shrine Game (no Navy players got combine invites), he remains the favorite to make a squad this summer. The 2017 co-captain totaled 75 tackles (12.5 for loss) and 2.5 sacks, along with two pass break-ups and three fumble recoveries.
Worth Repeating From The Previous Column: What happens when the subject of your pre-draft interview has no plans to play in the NFL? Why, my favorite Q&A, featuring Navy linebacker Ross Pospisil in 2009.
Previously Mentioned Guy: Palmore
The Seventh-Round Slot Receiver: New England selected Edelman in 2009’s seventh round, a pick with a long-standing impact that no one foresaw. A few times Belichick has returned to Round Seven, seeking a slot like a weekend Vegas gambler, taking Northwestern’s Jeremy Ebert in 2012 and Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon in 2014. New England brought in Jordan Matthews this off-season, but with Edelman’s age becoming a potential issue, plus Danny Amendola’s departure for South Beach, I’d love to see Oklahoma’s Jeff Badet (5-11, 182) get a closer look this summer. Besides Shimonek, Badet’s my other East-West Shrine Game crush, as he had five catches for 42 yards, including two fourth-down conversions. Badet also makes my Combine Snubs list after he did some crazy stuff at his pro day. His 4.34-second 40 would have tied for fastest combine receiver, while his 39.5-inch vertical would have tied for second among WRs. Last season at OU, Badet caught 26 passes for 400 yards and three TDs, while rushing for 44 yards on six carries (6.8 avg.) and returning 15 kicks for 313 yards (20.9 avg.)
Previously Mentioned Guys: Badet; Braxton Berrios, Miami
Heaven (and Bill) only knows what kind of head-scratching pick trades and/or dizzying player transactions will happen in the next couple of days leading up to the draft. I’ll try to edit and provide updates as they come. Planning to post my last “That Guy” (Draft Review edition) on Monday, with a column on undrafted free agents later in the week.
Here’s hoping for a solid, semi-predictable, productive weekend.
Chris Warner made the mistake of buying a family-size bag of M&Ms and has yet to share them. You can email him your food-hoarding confessions at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @cwarn89.