Here’s where I usually tell you about how New England keeps at least one undrafted rookie free agent on their roster each fall. This year, for the first time in a while, I’m not so sure.
Granted, looking back at last year’s UDFA column, neither Vanderbilt defensive lineman Adam Butler nor Wyoming tight end Jacob Hollister exactly leapt off the page as keepers (though the consensus said that BYU linebacker Harvey Langi had a better-than-average shot). This year, with the Patriots coming off of a Super Bowl appearance, with veterans returning from injury, and more than the usual amount of practice squad players seeming to have a real shot, it seems tougher than ever for an overlooked rookie to make the team.
In other words, looks like you’re going to be right as usual, Miguel.
A quick rundown of this year’s undrafted rookie crop:
Agony And Lacy: Must have been tough for Oklahoma State wide receiver Chris Lacy (6-3, 205) to wait around after the draft, but New England decided to bring him in and compete in a very crowded pass-catcher field.
Why Undrafted: Lacy’s 4.60-second 20-yard shuttle and 7.29-second 3-cone show the quickness of a distracted mall walker. (For comparison, 244-pound Patriots rookie linebacker Christian Sam ran a 4.25 and 7.03, respectively.) Caught a mere 20 passes for 264 yards last season. Won’t knock anyone out with his bench press (11 reps) either.
Why Invited: At 6-3, he’s one of the biggest receivers on New England’s roster (Kenny Britt is also 6-3; Cody Hollister is 6-4). That size, plus solid speed with his 4.51-second 40-yard dash, and a strong (10-foot) broad jump, could make him a difficult cover for smaller defensive backs. Known as a blocker at OSU. Earned First Team Academic All-Big 12 three years in a row, so maybe he can pick up the Patriots’ offense quickly?
High School Fun Fact: Lacy was named Offensive MVP as a senior at DeSoto (Texas) High with 60 receptions for 1,206 yards and 16 touchdowns.
I Am Wimann, Hear Me Roar: Tight end Shane Wimann (6-3, 252) out of Northern Illinois becomes another practice camper looking to stand out amidst a deep-yet-top-heavy field. Could have an opportunity to contribute.
Why Undrafted: His 4.95-second 40-yard dash, 4.59-second 20-yard shuttle, and 7.20-second 3-cone look a lot better for an offensive lineman than an end. Decent size, but not a standout physically. (He no Gronk. GRONK HUGE.)
Why Invited: Led the Huskies with seven touchdown receptions. Fourth on the team with 30 catches for 283 yards (9.4 avg.). Notable blocker with experience on special teams. Has starting experience dating back to his redshirt freshman year.
High School Fun Fact: At Wisconsin Dells High, Wimann earned South Central Conference MVP and Player of the Year honors in football and basketball, respectively.
Oh, What A Dangled Webb Retrieved: The Patriots went out of their way to secure the services of Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb (5-9, 202), who received higher-than-usual compensation for UDFAs reporting to Foxboro (a reported $70,000 in guarantees).
Why Undrafted: You’ve got to be a fast rabbit to make it through the woods, but at his size, Webb’s 4.49 40 and 7.13 3-cone may fall short (sorry). Vanderbilt went 1-7 in the SEC, beating only Tennessee (who went 0-8).
Why Invited: A four-year starter, Webb wrapped up his senior season as the Commodore’s career rushing leader with 4,173 yards. Gained 857 yards on 192 carries last year (a thoroughly decent 4.3 per carry vs. SEC defenses) with 10 touchdowns. Also caught 13 passes for 188 yards (14.5 avg.) and a TD.
High School Fun Fact: The MVP of his football team at Gainesville (Florida) High, Webb also won back-to-back state titles in the long jump.
Will The Wolf Survive? Interesting to see if one of Los Lobos makes it in the Northeast, as New Mexico punter Corey Bojorquez (6-0, 217, as if it matters) gets a camp invite.
Why Undrafted: Well, NFL teams don’t tend to draft punters, Zoltan Mesko notwithstanding.
Why Invited: Bojorquez made All-Mountain West First Team after averaging 47.3 yards per punt last season. Set a school record with four punts of 70 yards. Left-footed, which Bill Belichick tends to prefer in his punters. Was a Ray Guy semifinalist. (And if you want to hear Belichick talk, bring up Ray Guy.)
High School Fun Fact: As a senior at Mayfair High (Bellflower, California), Bojorquez had a long punt of 80 yards. He also played soccer.
Harris End, Rock You Like A Hurricane: It’s early morning; the sun comes out. Time to see that a team needing pass-rushing help is going to try to add depth to the position, with Miami defensive end Trent Harris (6-2, 238) a pressure-providing possibility.
Why Undrafted: Harris has more physical limitations than Jeff Goldblum at the end of The Fly. (This is a terrible exaggeration, by the way.) He’s undersized for a D-end, and he lacks the speed (5.02 40) and quickness (4.45 20-yard shuttle) to make up for it. Also not the most powerful given his 17 bench reps and 32-inch vertical. Totaled only 37 tackles last season.
Why Invited: Like his Miami teammate Braxton Berrios (New England’s sixth-round slot receiver pick), Harris made All-ACC Third Team. Of the aforementioned 37 tackles, 10.5 went for loss, with a team-best 8.5 sacks. Harris also led the Hurricanes with six quarterback hurries. (So, Hurrycane? Nope? Sorry.)
High School Fun Fact: Harris had 14 sacks as a senior at Winter Park High (Florida).
Annoying Boston Sports Pundit: “Fourteen sacks in high school? He probably could have played for the Patriots in the Super Bowl! HAH!” *collapses* *farts*
Anyway. Moving on…
Let’s Get Frank: Not the first time the Patriots have sought out an LSU guy, as defensive lineman Frank Herron (6-3, 303) makes his way to Gillette.
Why Undrafted: His career stats (21 tackles and zero sacks last season, 67 and two in four years) won’t garner much attention. Unimpressive in most pro day events (8.00-second 3-cone, 8-7 broad jump).
Why Invited: Did well in his 40, with a 5.08-second time. Also had a noteworthy 27.5-inch vertical (strong for a 300-pounder) and a solid 25 bench reps. Had flexibility at LSU, playing all along the defensive line.
High School Fun Fact: While at Memphis Central High, both Rivals and 247sports named Herron the number two player in Tennessee.
Stonewalled Jackson: No draft day calls for J. C. Jackson? No biggie (well, maybe it is, as you’ll see below). The 5-10, 201-pound Maryland cornerback will look to add D-back depth and special teams production to the Patriots roster.
Why Undrafted: Jackson transferred to Maryland after dropping out of Florida because he was arrested in Gainesville on four counts of armed robbery (double-triple-take-WHA-?!?) in 2015. Yeah. That’ll do it.
Why Invited: A jury acquitted Jackson on all counts, in part because he did not wield a weapon, and in part because he refused to cooperate and name the alleged co-assailants. So … good, I guess? Most likely, Jackson got the phone call from Foxboro because of his athleticism (4.46 40, 6.92 3-cone) and production for the Terps. The corner made All-Big Ten Honorable Mention with 40 tackles, three interceptions, and seven pass break-ups.
High School Fun Fact: As a wide receiver and defensive back at Immokalee High (Florida), Jackson caught 31 passes for 862 yards (a cuckoonuts 27.8-yard average) and 14 touchdowns; meanwhile, he tallied 53 tackles with two interceptions.
Sorry I Just Have To Say: Man, that fact that Urban Meyer did not want him back at Florida raises more red flags than Moscow at the 1980 Summer Olympics.
Once Moore To The Breach: Ole Miss defensive back A. J. Moore (5-11, 202) gets another chance to show his stuff to NFL teams, hoping to join the list of undrafted Rebel alums who have forged a career in Foxboro (BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Brandon Bolden).
Why Undrafted: At his pro day, Moore showed a lack of change-of-direction skills (4.38 20-yard shuttle, 7.27 3-cone) that border on barge-like. The Rebels had a meh year, going 6-6 overall, 3-5 in the SEC.
Why Invited: Sixth place in the SEC West resembles sixth place at the town fair pie contest. Does that mean it’s bad? Hell, no. It’s goddamn pie. Moore also showed strong straight-line speed with a 4.40-second 40-yard dash, and solid power with a 10-foot-2 broad jump and 17 bench reps. Plays nickel, a position the Patriots will inspect as diligently as a Marvel nerd does a post-credit sequence. Last year, Moore totaled 48 tackles (three for loss), one sack, and three pass break-ups.
High School Fun Fact: Moore made First-Team All-State in Mississippi as a senior linebacker at Bassfield High, ringing up 132 tackles (11 for loss) and 3.5 sacks. He also rushed for five touchdowns.
We’re Trying Atkins: Seems yet another Georgia guy has gotten a call, as defensive tackle John Atkins (6-3, 321) has become the third rookie Bulldog to sign with the team in 2018.
Why Undrafted: Is it true that Atkins ran his 40-yard dash so slowly he was in danger of getting caught from behind by a glacier? No, but his 5.38 seconds in the event, plus a 7.95-second 3-cone drill, failed to show any suddenness.
Why Invited: Also lacking suddenness? Big trees. They just stay there, a proper definition of Atkins’ job on defense. The lineman/sequoia started 14 of 15 games last year. He had 38 tackles (one for loss), a tipped pass, and a fumble recovery last season.
High School Fun Fact: After attending Thomson High (Georgia), Atkins spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy, like fellow Georgia alum and former NFL defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan. Sullivan, for whom the Patriots traded receiver Bethel Johnson in 2006, was charged with possession of marijuana that summer and later released by New England. (I guess shipping him off to military school didn’t work – kind of like with that Finkelstein kid.)
Good Afternoon, Good Evening, And Good Knight: He’s here! The Rutgers guy! Sure, he’s a punter, but Ryan Anderson (6-1, 203 it doesn’t matter I said) could end up as a safety/corner/blitzer given his background as a Scarlet Knight. (Side note: at this point, seems like Pats punter Ryan Allen should feel about as secure as your credit card information at a traveling carnival.)
Why Undrafted: Punter. Good to have a great one, but not hard to get a good one.
Why Invited: All-Big Ten First Teamer? Nice. Lefty? Cool beans. Anderson averaged 44.4 yards per punt, setting the single-season high mark by the banks of the Raritan. Was on the Ray Guy Awards watch list with seven punts of 60 or more yards. Also a CoSIDA First Team Academic All-American. (CoSIDA, of course, is a prescription drug that treats bowel inflammation. Wait, what? No: it’s actually the College Sports Information Directors of America. So probably not even related to that first thing.)
High School College Fun Fact: Anderson was a redshirt senior at Rutgers, his only season there. Prior to that, he punted and played receiver at Olivet College for two seasons (Go Comets!), where he caught 13 passes for 134 yards and one TD. Before that, Anderson played at Saginaw Valley State (Go Cardinals!).
That’s the lineup as of this writing. Surely rookies will come and go for the next few months; I’ll try to update on the more notable signings.
On that note, my lieblings, looks like we’re all set for the spring. Go outside, check out the daffodils (or pansies, or birds of paradise, or cacti, or whatever’s blooming where you are), take in some fresh air, and gear up for a fun, entertaining summer camp at Foxboro. Let’s all work on our punting, shall we?
Just like Tom Brady, Chris Warner can’t wait to yell “Let’s Goooo!” when it means something. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org and his Twitter is @cwarn89.