For the past several years, we at BSMW have organized our Patriots pre-draft thoughts into specific categories, filling in players’ names for when New England tends to pick “that guy.” (Here’s last year’s column.)
This method has helped with a few predictions, including cornerback Cyrus Jones (The Alabama Guy), defensive lineman Deatrich Wise (The Long-Limbed Defensive End), long snapper Joe Cardona (The Navy Guy) and guard Shaq Mason (Offensive Line Double-Dip). Though the Patriots didn’t pick safety Obi Melifonwu, he did end up in Foxboro after having checked the pre-draft box as The Freakishly Athletic Guy.
A few players stuck out from the Senior Bowl last Saturday (stats here) and the East-West Shrine Game two weeks ago (give this the ol’ clickaroo). Some names to keep in mind during pre-draft season below.
The Backup QB: Maybe he’ll become another Jimmy Garoppolo, maybe not, but I have a huge player crush on N. C. State’s Ryan Finley (6-4, 208). He showed a smooth delivery at the Senior Bowl, roping the ball through tight windows, completing seven of 11 passes for 83 yards in limited action. He even rushed for a first down and – I appreciate this part – slid to protect himself. Never seemed overwhelmed by the moment. In 2018, Finley completed 67 percent of his passes (326 of 484) with 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, averaging 302 yards per game.
Fun Finley Fact: In 2017, Finley threw 339 passes without an interception, the longest streak in the FBS that year.
East-West Shrine Guy: I enjoyed watching David Blough out of Purdue. Seemed to have command of the huddle, and moved around the pocket with little panic, hitting on 10 of 15 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns. Last season, Blough passed for 3,705 yards, completing 66 percent of his passes (305 of 462), for 25 TDs and 10 interceptions. Though he’s not exactly a redwood at 6-0, 205, neither is fellow Boilermaker alumni Drew Brees (6-0, 209).
That’s right: I just declared Blough to be the next Brees. Come at me!
Fun Fact: Blough caught one pass in each of his four seasons at Purdue, scoring one TD on a seven-yarder as a senior.
The Small School Defender Guy: Nice showing by defensive lineman Khalen Saunders out of Western Illinois. The 6-1, 322-pound defensive tackle/boulder-out-to-crush-Indiana-Jones had a first-quarter sack that demonstrated his hand-fighting expertise, as he managed to swim past the offensive lineman and race toward the QB with the purposeful nature of a salmon in springtime. You’d want an FCS player to rack up stats at that level; Saunders obliged, tallying 72 total tackles (13 for loss), with 6.5 sacks, one pass break-up, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Fun Video Fact: Saunders can do a back flip. It’s true.
Fun Mascot Fact: The Western Illinois mascot is the Leatherneck.
Honorable Mention: Delaware safety Nasir Adderley (6-0, 195) wrapped up the Senior Bowl with an interception, a fitting end to a game-long display of more solid hits that a K-Tel collection, tied as the North team’s leading tackler with five. Adderley had 87 tackles, four interceptions, and seven pass break-ups as a senior.
Fun Fact: Against New Hampshire, Adderley ran back his first kickoff return of the season for a touchdown.
Fun Mascot Fact: The Delaware mascot is the Fightin’ Blue Hen.
Long-Limbed Defensive End: I liked Anthony Nelson out of Iowa – all 6-7, 271 pounds of him – who kept consistent pressure on opposing passers, at one point using his Kraken-like appendages for a strip sack. Among Nelson’s 45 tackles last year came 13.5 for loss, including 9.5 sacks. He also notched six QB hits and a fumble recovery.
The Backup Tight End: Here’s a rough statistic for those of us looking at a potential future without Rob Gronkowski. Backups Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister had seven receptions between them this year, equal to Gronk’s catches in the past two playoff games. Yeesh. That makes Washington’s Drew Sample (6-5, 255) all the more appealing, as he showed mobility and good hands on an underthrown backside route, as well as a willingness to mix it up in traffic. He wrapped up the game with four catches for 39 yards. Last season, Sample caught 25 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns.
The Take-A-Chance-On-This-Receiver Guy: Many New England draft picks spent on receivers. Few successes. (You can say, “Look at Edelman!” but I just don’t think a seventh-rounder from 2009 dismisses my point.) I enjoyed watching Keelan Doss (6-2, 207), a smooth route-runner out of U.C. Davis. Doss had strong hands and showed a consistent willingness to block. Didn’t hurt that the Senior Bowl announcers compared him to NFL receiver Keenan Allen, whom Coach Bill Belichick adores. In 2018, Doss caught 118 passes (yup, I double-checked) for 1,334 yards (double-checked that, too) and nine TDs. He also ran the ball 10 times for 82 yards.
Fun Fact: Doss ran the ball once his junior year. Effective, as it went for a 42-yard touchdown.
The Seventh-Round Slot Receiver: Oh, Edelman, you say? From down the road comes Umass’ Andy Isabella, who consistently showed off his ability to get open and fight for yardage as he snagged seven passes for 74 yards. On his touchdown, Isabella caught a bubble screen at the 19, darted downfield, and broke a tackle at the eight to reach the end zone. Very impressive day from the Minuteman to follow an impressive season. Isabella caught 102 passes last year for 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns in 12 games. (Lots of double-checking, all true.) He also rushed 11 times for 79 yards and one TD. Isabella returned kicks up until his junior year, when he averaged 22.8 yards per return, and he averaged 8.6 yards per punt return in his career (nine for 77).
Okay, I’m all in. I’m breaking out the Isabella highlights.
East-West Shrine Guy: Everyone noticed Georgia receiver Terry Godwin, who seemed on the cusp of changing the game just about every time he touched the ball (four receptions for 80 yards and two TDs will do that). Not exactly a hulking figure at 5-11, 174, Godwin stuck out with precise routes and great quickness. Godwin caught 22 balls for 373 yards and three touchdowns last season. As a freshman, he averaged 14.5 yards per punt return (four for 58).
Fun Fact: Godwin threw for a touchdown in Georgia’s 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl win over Penn State.
Funner Fact: Godwin and Isabella played on the same field last season, as Georgia manhandled UMass 66-27 down in Athens. Godwin had two catches for 16 yards. Isabella did what he could, racking up 15 receptions for 219 yards and two touchdowns. So … I guess Isabella can run with the big dogs.
That’s it for now, Patriots draft fans. After the NFL Combine wraps up in early March, we’ll add a few categories like 3-Cone Guy, the aforementioned Freakishly Athletic Guy, O-Line Double-Dip, the Navy Guy (may not have a contender this year), the Alabama Guy, and the “Who’s That Guy?” Guy, aka the little-known safety-linebacker hybrid whom New England will draft in the second round. Until then, have a gander at last year’s edition of our annual Round-by-Round Review of Patriots drafts during Belichick’s tenure. (Spoiler: Bill the GM does better than you might think.)
Not going to comment on the big game coming up because it’s Monday and I have no idea. Something quite a few more pundits should be saying.
Chris Warner is already getting nervous. You can console him on Twitter: @cwarn89. Also: Happy Birthday, Becky!