Ah, that time of the year again, folks: the post-combine, pre-draft moment where I continue to miss on most of my Patriots draft predictions.
They say necessity is the mother of invention and, after years of scouting dozens of candidates every spring, I felt the necessity to cut down on my work. Therefore, in large part due to research that went into compiling my award-winning (note: status may be exaggerated) Round-By-Round Review of New England drafts since 2000, I switched to the “That Guy” method of pre-draft Pats predictions, basing upcoming picks on the types of players they have taken this century. You can read our first “That Guy” of 2019 posted after the Senior Bowl here.
The NFL draft begins with Round One on Thursday evening, April 25, Rounds Two and Three on Friday, and Rounds Four through Seven on Saturday. Gone is the glorious grind of a weekend beginning at noon on Saturdays and wrapping Sunday evening; gone with it is my pizza-and-Dr.-Pepper-fueled column rating new New Englanders. I kinda miss those days (the pizza and Dr. Pepper especially). For a rundown of various drills mentioned at last week’s NFL Combine in Indianapolis below, please see the NFL’s workouts page, with in-depth explanations of tests for speed (40-yard dash), quickness (3-cone drill, 20-yard shuttle), and strength (225-pound bench press), among others.
Now, get your pencils and programs. We’re on to the picks.
The Solid First-Round Guy: New England consistently does well with first-round picks weighing 300-plus pounds. Beginning with Richard Seymour in 2001, the list includes defenders Ty Warren (2003), Vince Wilfork (2004), and Malcom Brown (2015) and O-linemen Logan Mankins (2005) and Nate Solder (2011). All long-term starters, with Seymour and Wilfork qualifying as NFL Hall of Fame contenders.
New England will take a long look at Clemson defensive tackle/pick-up truck Dexter Lawrence, who measured in at 6-4, 342 pounds. Lawrence also had the second-best combine bench press with 36 reps, impressive for anyone, much less a guy with 34.75-inch arms. Last season, he made First-team All-American with 44 tackles (7.5 for loss), 1.5 sacks, three tipped passes, and a blocked kick. Lawrence suffered a setback last fall when he got suspended by the NCAA after a positive PED test showed he had something called ostarine in his system. Not sure what that is, but it sounds awful, like a 1970s-era cleaning product discontinued due to harmful side effects.
“You want it clean, use Ostarine! Right, Spot, buddy? Spot? Noooo!”
Anyway, the Patriots can get off to a big start by using their Day One pick on a big guy.
The “Who’s That Guy?” Guy: New England has chosen less-heralded players in the second and third rounds, with mixed results. While offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer worked out well in 2009, and safety Duron Harmon paid off in 2013, safety Jordan Richards disappointed in 2015. Rutgers safety Saquan Hampton (6-1, 206) seems to fit in this category. He’s rated as a later pick; meanwhile, New England has done well with Rutgers safeties over the past several years. Hampton gathered three interceptions, broke up 13 passes, and totaled 65 stops as a senior. He missed time in college due to injury, another condition of many Patriots second-round selections (looking at Gronk here while trying to ignore Ras-I Dowling). Hampton ran a 4.48 40, a top eight mark for combine safeties, and he put up a 10-foot-5 broad jump, top six for the position.
The 3-Cone Guy: Also known as the Julian Edelman award, the 3-cone drill measures a player’s quickness. While many NFL scouts get attracted to the shiny object of a blazing 40-yard dash, the Patriots tend to focus on players who can get open with sharp routes. (Some highlights of Edelman doing just that in the Super Bowl here.) Here comes Michigan cornerback David Long (not to be confused with West Virginia linebacker David Long, as the NFL Combine page seemed to do). Long (5-11, 196) ran a 6.45-second 3-cone drill and doubled-down on his quicksilver qualities with a 3.97-second 20-yard shuttle. Both of those times topped all participants at Indy. Long had 17 tackles last season, a sign that defenses tended to avoid him. He nabbed one interception and broke up nine passes. Oh, and his 4.45-second 40 didn’t look too shabby, either.
Fun Fact: The quickest 3-cone time from an offensive player this year came from North Dakota State QB Easton Stick, who scored an Edelmanesque 6.65 seconds.
Silly Fact: Quarterback Tim Tebow’s 3-cone time was 6.66, which I have always found hilarious.
The Freakishly Athletic Guy: We’ve referred to this as the Jamie Collins Pick, but now we’ll consider a current Patriot and call it the Obi Melifonwu Selection. Anyone who stands out at the combine with impressive results, such as when the 6-4, 224-pound Melifonwu put up a 44-inch vertical leap and 11-foot-8 broad jump, gets a nod here. Notre Dame receiver Miles Boykin put up similarly batguano-nutface numbers, jumping a 43.5-inch vertical and an 11-foot-8 broad jump. Measuring 6-4, 220 pounds makes his Riverdance-rapid feet look even more outlandish, with a 4.42-second 40, 6.77-second 3-cone, and 4.07 20-yard shuttle. (Some clips of him in action here.) Boykin led the Irish in 2018 with 803 yards receiving, 54 catches, and eight touchdowns.
The Backup QB Guy: The Patriots trading for Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen? I’ll believe it when I see it. New England recently added Jimmy Garoppolo (second round, 2014) and Jacoby Brissett (third round, 2016) as potential successors to Tom Brady, who would have none of it. Time to try again as Brady looks to play the 2019 season as a 42-year-old. I pointed out how well Ryan Finley played in the Senior Bowl, and I saw nothing from his combine performance to take him out of this category. (I mean, let’s face it: New Englanders don’t judge a quarterback by his combine performance.) Last season for N. C. State (Brissett’s alma mater, by the way), Finley completed 67 percent of his passes (326 of 484) for 3,928 yards and 25 touchdowns vs. 11 interceptions.
Previously Mentioned Guys: Finley; David Blough, Purdue
The Offensive Line Double-Dip Guys: Last year held the Patriots took top pick Isaiah Wynn and no other O-linemen, the first year since 2013 when they took fewer than two. They made a double-hit in 2016 with Joe Thuney and Ted Karras, followed by a double-miss in 2017 with Antonio Garcia and Conor McDermott.
My proper prediction of Shaq Mason in 2015 came in part due to a photo of him working out for O-line guru Dante Scarnecchia and belies my poor record calling these picks. With their interior line well-established, let’s look at some college tackles with mid-round rankings. Two guys stick out to me: Mitch Hyatt of Clemson and Max Scharping of Northern Illinois. Hyatt (6-5, 303) ranked third among all offensive linemen in the 20-yard shuttle with a time of 4.52 seconds, top three for combine offensive linemen. He also did well in the 3-cone drill (7.72 seconds) and showed solid strength in the bench press with 28 reps (a top 10 mark for OLs). Hyatt started 57 games over four years for Clemson, earning consensus All-American laurels during the Tigers’ championship run this year.
Scharping is something of a velociraptor at 6-6, 327 pounds, making his shuttle and 3-cone times (4.69 and 7.77 seconds, respectively) all the more impressive. In 2016 and 2017, Scharping made the All-MAC First Team, not allowing a sack in either season. He started 53 consecutive games in his career and played every snap in 2018.
Fun Fact: Scharping caught a 2-point conversion to help Northern Illinois defeat Ohio 24-21 in October.
The Small School Defender Guy: The Patriots picked sixth-rounders Zach Moore (2014) out of Concordia and Markell Carter (2011) out of Central Arkansas. Last year, they picked seventh-round cornerback Keion Crossen out of Western Carolina. They’ve also signed undrafted players such as linebacker Dane Fletcher out of Montana State and a certain “Go” defensive back out of West Alabama. New England scouts seek talent like your deft sibling getting the prize out of a cereal box: they put in the effort, but they seem to have a knack, too.
Looks like defensive end John Cominsky (6-5, 286) out of Division II Charleston fits the bill this year, especially after a whiplash-inducing combine performance. Cominsky ran a 4.69 40 yard dash, third best for all defensive linemen at Indy. He scored seventh for D-linemen in both the vertical and horizontal (broad) jumps. His 7.03-second 3-cone qualified him for third best DL (for comparison, that 3-cone time would have come in sixth among combine running backs). At Charleston, Cominsky had 67 tackles (16.5 for loss), with three sacks, two forced fumbles, and 10 quarterback hits.
Interesting to see what an NFL coach recognized for his defensive schemes could do with a big, quick guy like that. (You know, if any such coach were to come along.)
Previously Mentioned Guy: Khalen Saunders, Western Illinois
The Long-Limbed Defensive End Guy: In 2017, the Patriots took Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise. In 2015, Trey Flowers got the nod. Though he didn’t test during the combine due to recent pectoral surgery, Austin Bryant (6-4, 271) out of Clemson allegedly has a nearly 81.5-inch wing span, which qualifies him here. (For comparison, LeBron James has an 84-inch wing span.) Bryant had 44 tackles in 2018 (14.5 for loss), including eight sacks in 15 games. He reportedly suffered a pectoral tear in November but played through the injury.
Meanwhile, I spend 30 seconds and at least two audible groans getting out of bed every morning.
Previously Mentioned Guy: Anthony Nelson, Iowa
The Take-A-Chance-On-This-Receiver Guy: Due to the variable nature of their offense, New England has had an overall difficult time drafting productive receivers. Georgia alum Malcolm Mitchell proved instrumental in the team’s 2016 Super Bowl run, but chronic knee issues have prevented him from playing since. The fun pick here looks like Andy Isabella from UMass. He’s too perfect, really: an undersized kid from a local university wowing everyone with a blistering 4.31-second 40? Do I take him here? Do I dare?
I do not. Instead, going with the post-combine high provided by Colorado State’s Bisi Johnson (6-0, 204), he of the sunflower-sized 10.75-inch hands who put up a respectable 4.51-second 40 and impressed in the quickness categories with a 6.88 3-cone (top five for combine receivers) and 4.16 20-yard shuttle (top 10). Last season, Johnson had 54 catches for 796 yards and four touchdowns in 11 games. Do I have the guy New England will pick, here? Probably not. Just trying to anticipate the Pats zigging-not-zagging.
Fun Fact: Johnson’s first career reception for CSU was a touchdown his freshman year.
Previously Mentioned Guy: Keelan Doss, UC Davis
The Backup Tight End Guy: With veteran Dwayne Allen getting cut and both Jacob Hollister and Ryan Izzo coming off IR, might be time to stock up on help for Rob Gronkowski. Historically, the Pats have done well picking tight ends early, with Daniel Graham (2002) and Benjamin Watson (2004) in the first round and Gronk (2010) in the second. The 2019 draft class has some top-heavy talent at the position, but maybe New England will (zigging, not zagging) wait a bit before bulking up there. That brings me to Drew Sample out of Washington.
Ever since his Senior Bowl performance, I’ve kept an eye onSample (6-5, 255), and he hasn’t disappointed. He ran a 4.71 40 and posted a 7.15 3-cone, the ninth- and fifth-best times respectively among combine tight ends. Used largely as a blocker, Sample managed 25 catches for Washington last season, gaining 252 yards and scoring three touchdowns.
Fun Fact: Sample earned the Iron Husky Award for his work in the weight room.
Previously Mentioned Guy: Sample
The Alabama Guy: Due to Belichick’s close, long-term relationship with Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, Alabama alums have the advantage of playing with similar football concepts to those in Foxboro. The fact that 2012 first-rounder Dont’a Hightower performed so well as a rookie came from his time in Alabama’s defense. Depending on availability, I’m liking outside linebacker Christian Miller. He’s got good size at 6-3, 247, and he showed some power with a 38.5-inch vertical, top three for edge defenders at the combine (he did not run the 40 after dealing with a hamstring injury at the end of last season). Out of Miller’s 36 tackles last year for Alabama, 11.5 went for loss, including 8.5 sacks.
Fun Fact: As a senior at Spring Valley High in South Carolina, Miller tallied 188 tackles and 24 sacks. I mean, I know that’s just high school, but yikes.
The Alabama Backup Tight End Guy: New category this year, specifically for Irv Smith (6-2, 242). The ‘Bama tight end had a solid combine showing, looking smooth catching passes and scoring well in drills. His 4.63-second 40 put him in the top three for tight ends in Indy, while his 32.5-inch vertical put him in the top 10. As a junior this past season at Alabama, Smith caught 44 passes for 710 yards and seven touchdowns, the school’s single-season record for tight end TDs.
Strong TE class this year, which of course means the Patriots will forego the draft and sign some free agent from a sub-.500 team who will catch 30 balls.
The Special Teams Guy: In 2008, the Patriots drafted Matthew Slater out of UCLA. At the time, he was seen as a kick returner and fourth or fifth receiver. Instead, he turned into the Patriots’ best special teamer of this era. New England took Nate Ebner out of Ohio State in the 2012 sixth round, proving their willingness to spend picks on special teams talent (as if taking kicker Stephen Gostkowski with a 2006 fourth and long snapper Joe Cardona with a 2015 fifth hadn’t already convinced us). Looking at a smallish linebacker type with past production on his resumé brings us to Dre Greenlaw out of Arkansas (I mean, after Wise and Flowers, we’ve got to have another Arkansas connection, right?). Former Razorback coach/current Patriots consultant Bret Bielema could provide a connection here, as he recruited Greenlaw. The 5-11, 237-pound ‘backer only played eight games last season due to a foot injury, yet managed to rack up 80 tackles (6.5 for loss), two sacks, and two interceptions. He did not run at Indy but put up 24 reps on the bench press, top six for combine LBs.
The Seventh-Round Slot Receiver Guy: Edelman in 2009. Jeremy Ebert in 2012. Jeremy Gallon in 2014. The Pats haven’t been able to repeat that Edelman magic, but the relatively low expense of a last-round pick means they should keep trying. Would love to see Cody Thompson (6-1, 205) get a shot here. The former high school QB converted to receiver at Toledo (a MAC school like Edelman’s Kent State. Coincidence? Yeah, probably). Thompson ran a less-than-spectacular 4.57 40, which could keep his stock around the late-round level. However, he excelled in the all-hallowed quickness categories, running a 4.03-second 20-yard shuttle and a 6.87 3-cone, first and fourth among receivers, respectively.
Thompson caught 48 passes for 647 yards and a team-leading 10 touchdown receptions this past year. He set the Rockets’ career record for touchdown grabs with 30.
Fun Fact: As a high school senior quarterback in Huron, Ohio, Thompson threw for 1,883 yards and 17 touchdowns while rushing for 1,139 yards and 22 TDs.
Previously Mentioned Guys:Isabella, UMass; Terry Godwin, Georgia
The Navy Guy: Belichick has a storied relationship with the Naval Academy through his father’s time there as a coach. WhileCardona remains the only member of the Naval Academy to get picked by the Patriots, multiple cadets have made their way to Foxboro, including fullbacks Kyle Eckel and Eric Kettani. (Fun catching-up interview with Kettani including several mentions of Belichick and other Navy/Pats alums here.)
No Navy players received an NFL Combine invitation. We’ll keep an eye on whether former quarterback/running back/receiver Zach Abey (6-1, 212) tests at a pro day this spring.
Well, that’s all for now, Pats fans. We’ll review a few things – including a “Combine Snubs Who Showed ‘Em” pro day piece (last year’s included Pats seventh-round pick Crossen) – and post a quick “That Guy” rundown a couple of days before the draft. Thanks for giving this a read.
Chris Warner once jumped a 27-inch vertical in college, probably. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org; his Twitter is cwarn89.