The NFL Draft begins on Thursday night, April 25 (for some of us, it’s about time). Over the past few months, we’ve tried to match up incoming NFL hopefuls with the types of players Coach Bill Belichick tends to draft. Our most recent “That Guy” column used NFL Combine numbers to help judge players’ athleticism and ability to fit in at Foxboro. After that, we sought out the best results from nationwide pro day testing and compiled them in our “Combine Snubs” piece.
This brings us to our penultimate “That Guy” column, using any free agent signings, pro day performances, and other updates to hone in on potential Pats selections for 2019. We’ve added a few noteworthy combine snubs while also keeping track of players named in previous columns.
Here, then, comes our last full pre-draft write-up. Let’s see how we do…
The Solid First-Round Guy: The Patriots have tended to do well picking first-rounders, especially those weighing over 300 pounds (Richard Seymour in 2001 and Vince Wilfork in 2004 serve as prime examples). With a number of defensive lineman ranked in the top 32, New England has a shot at continuing that success this year. If Clemson defensive tackle/human asteroid Dexter Lawrence (6-4, 342) remains available at the end of Round One, the Patriots have to take him. Lawrence’s size makes him an immediate contributor, especially considering his First-Team All-American status last year after 44 tackles (7.5 for loss), 1.5 sacks, three tipped passes, and a blocked kick. The big man also put up 36 reps in the bench press, the most among defensive linemen at the combine, second overall.
Thoughtful Aside: New England has succeeded in drafting tight ends here (Daniel Graham, 2002; Benjamin Watson, 2004), and – despite their bolstering the position by signing Austin Seferian-Jenkins – the retirement of Rob Gronkowski and free agent fleeing of Dwayne Allen might spur them to try another. I just don’t think any of the top guys they want will be available at 32. (NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry has had the Pats picking Iowa TE T. J. Hockenson in the first, possibly via trade up. From your lips to Belichick’s ears, Phil.)
Previously Mentioned Guy: Lawrence
The “Who’s That Guy?” Guy: We see reaches in the draft on a regular basis. For New England, sometimes they work (offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer, 2009), sometimes they do not (safety Jordan Richards, 2015). The second- or third-rounder the Patriots may perceptibly stretch for could be linebacker Sione Takitaki (6-1, 230) out of BYU. Ranked as a Day Three guy, Takitaki has some of the qualities the Coach and Co. look for, including solid production. The linebacker racked up 118 tackles last season, including nine for loss (three sacks). He also broke up three passes and forced a fumble. Takitaki did well for his position at the combine, with a 10-foot-5 broad jump (top two linebacker), 24 bench presses (top six LB), a 37-inch vertical (top eight), a 7.21-second 3-cone drill (top 12), and a 4.63-second 40 (top 13).
Takitaki got into some trouble early on in his career, reminding us of former BYU defender/current Patriot ‘backer Kyle Van Noy, who put similar types of troubles behind him. Like Van Noy, you can see Takitaki’s effectiveness on blitzes and stunts on his highlight reel.
Combine Snub Guy: Interesting and relevant fact here that neither Vollmer nor safety Tavon Wilson (2012) got invited to the NFL Combine. With that in mind, let’s try another safety, namely Chris Johnson (6-3, 200) of North Alabama. His 6.61-second 3-cone drill would have reigned supreme among combine safeties, while his 4.42-second 40 would have come in fifth. In 2018, Johnson notched 47 tackles, two interceptions, and three pass break-ups.
Previously Mentioned Guy: Saquan Hampton, Rutgers S
The 3-Cone Guy: Also known as the Julian Edelman category, New England looks at quickness as a better indicator of playing ability than straight-line speed. (Boston Sports Journal’s Chris Price elaborates here.) Enter David Long (5-11, 196) out of Michigan, as the cornerback’s 6.45-second 3-cone ranked tops at the combine. (For comparison, the Mercury-footed Edelman ran a 6.62). Long’s 3.97-second 20-yard shuttle also out-quicked all other combine participants. The corner’s 2018 stats demonstrate how offenses tended to avoid him, as he ended up with 17 tackles, one interception, and eight pass break-ups in 13 games.
Combine Snub Guy: Nicholls wide receiver Damion Jeanpiere (6-1, 185) lasered through a 6.41-second 3-cone that would have been the fastest time at this year’s combine. His 4.25-second 40 also would have topped all combine participants. Jeanpiere tracked down 44 passes for 850 yards, a 19.3-yard average, scoring thrice.
A Possible Metaphor For The NFL: If you look at the 3-Cone Top Performers combine page on NFL.com, you will see the misplaced photo of the other David Long, a linebacker from West Virginia who did not participate in most combine drills. Strange no one’s bothered to fix that over the past several weeks. (Get it together, dipturds.)
Previously Mentioned Guy: Long
The Freakishly Athletic Guy: Former Patriot linebacker Jamie Collins lit up his combine in 2013, besting all linebackers in multiple categories. Though they did not draft current New England safety Obi Melifonwu, who moon jumped at his combine, the Patriots tend to make use of the versatility that such athleticism affords. Wide receiver Miles Boykin (6-4, 220) presented some of the most impressive combine numbers in 2019, especially considering the Notre Dame product’s size. After running a notable 4.42-second 40, Boykin had top wideout numbers in the vertical jump (43.5 inches) and the 3-cone (6.77 seconds). He came in second for receivers with an 11-foot-8 broad jump, and third with his 4.07-second 20-yard shuttle. For the Irish, Boykin compiled 803 yards receiving on 54 grabs (14.9 avg.), with eight touchdowns. He was last year’s Citrus Bowl MVP with three catches for 102 yards and a TD.
If anything, Boykin’s highlights show that he can catch the ball in a crowd.
Previously Mentioned Guy: Boykin
The Backup QB Guy: Given that Tom Brady will turn 42 before the season begins, maybe we should change this category to The Groom-For-Future Guy. In any case, time to look at a young ‘un with the potential to take the helm at Gillette. Ever since the Senior Bowl I’ve focused on Ryan Finley (6-4, 213) of N. C. State, who has operated with a calmness and control that should serve him well in the NFL. Last season, Finley hit on 326 of 484 passes (67 percent) for 3,928 yards and 25 touchdowns (11 INTs).
Finley ran a 4.73-second 40-yard dash. (Not that it matters. Back to the Brady combine video!)
Previously Mentioned Guy: Finley; David Blough, Purdue
The Offensive Line Double-Dip Guys: Not including 2018’s draft, Belichick has tended to grab O-linemen in pairs. Over the past few years, this double-up approach has yielded guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason, as well as backup Joe Karras. Looking at two college tackles here with Max Scharping (6-5, 320) of Northern Illinois and Trey Pipkins (6-6, 309) of Sioux Falls. Scharping has solid size and submitted notable quickness times for an offensive lineman (4.69-second 20-yard shuttle, 7.77-second 3-cone). He made All-MAC First Team in both 2016 and 2017, starting 53 consecutive games in his career. He played every snap for the Huskies in 2018.
Pipkins showed some quick feet with a 7.61-second 3-cone and 4.7-second 20-yard shuttle, with a notable 5.12-second 40 to boot. He made First-Team Division 2 All-American status as a senior starting at left tackle, improving on his junior campaign where he started all 12 games and earned Second-Team All-Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference honors.
Combine Snub Guy: Texas tackle Calvin Anderson (6-4, 292) had a 7.20-second 3-cone that would have been the best of all combine linemen; meanwhile, his 4.45 second 20-yard shuttle would have placed second. He showed his strength at his pro day with 30 bench presses, sixth-best mark for combine OLs. Anderson made Honorable Mention All-Big 12.
Previously Mentioned Guys: Scharping; Mitch Hyatt, Clemson
The Small School Defender Guy: Last year New England picked Western Carolina cornerback Keion Crossen in the seventh round. They’ve also taken Central Arkansas defensive lineman Markell Carter (2011) and Concordia DL Zach Moore (2014), both in the sixth. Looking for a player with big numbers from a small school led us to pass-rusher Markus Jones (6-2, 255) out of itty-bitty Angelo State. Jones had to rack up some stats to get noticed at that level, and he delivered, winning the Gene Upshaw Award for Division 2 Lineman of the Year after leading the nation in tackles for loss with 34 and coming in second for sacks with 17.5. He also forced three fumbles and blocked two kicks. (Some of those highlights shown here.)
Combine Snub Guy: Cornerback Rodney Randle (5-10, 186) out of Lamar would have been the overall fastest (4.28 40) and quickest (3.88 3-cone) at the combine. That athleticism helped him produce 70 tackles, 12 pass break-ups, and an interception last season. If the Pats continue their run on small-school DB talent, Randle should get a long look.
Previously Mentioned Guys: John Cominsky, Charleston; Khalen Saunders, Western Illinois
The Long-Limbed Defensive End Guy: Former fourth-round pick Trey Flowers got injured his rookie year in 2015 and had to wait out the season to see what he could do. Well, what he could do was become a prominent part of two Super Bowl wins. In terms of new prospects, we can see Arizona State defenders on New England’s roster (tackle Lawrence Guy, linebacker Christian Sam), and realize it’s about time we said hello to Renell Wren (6-5, 315). The ASU product ran a nifty 5.01-second 40, put up 30 bench reps, and jumped 32 inches on his vertical, showing the type of speed and power that will give him some flexibility on the line next year. In 2018 for the Sun Devils, Wren had 43 tackles (4.5 for loss), one sack, and two pass break-ups. Wren proves difficult to block on the interior in his highlight reel.
Combine Snub Guy: Pass rusher Dylan Carroll (6-5, 245) out of Grand Valley State ran a respectable 4.76-second 40 at his pro day, and he shone in several other drills. His 38-inch vertical and 10-foot-5 broad jump both would have come in fourth for combine edge defenders, while his 30 bench reps would have been second-best for the position. Carroll had 47 tackles (seven for loss), 1.5 sacks, and six QB hits last year.
Previously Mentioned Guys: Austin Bryant, Clemson; Anthony Nelson, Iowa
The Take-A-Chance-On-This-Receiver Guy: No, he’s not a burner (we knew that even before his 4.63-second 40), but Jakobi Meyers (6-2, 203) of North Carolina State runs meticulous routes and shows the ability to snag passes in traffic. He also ran a respectable 7.07-second 3-cone drill. Meyers led the Wolfpack in receptions with 92, gaining 1,047 yards (11.4 avg.) and scoring four touchdowns. He began his career at N. C. State as a quarterback, but switched to receiver after redshirting. You can watch Meyers live off of a steady diet of slants and outs (catching passes from Finley, no less) in his highlight reel.
Previously Mentioned Guys: Bisi Johnson, Colorado State; Keelan Doss, UC Davis
The Backup Tight End Guy: Hunh. No longer a backup position, I see. Well, if we’re still looking at the projected middle of the draft, it’s tough to find a better all-around end than Drew Sample (6-5, 255) out of Washington. Sample caught 25 passes for the Huskies last season for 252 yards and three TDs. Though used largely as a blocker, he has shown the potential to become a productive receiver in the NFL, as his 4.71 40 and 7.15 3-cone both made top 10 for combine tight ends.
You can see Sample lining up in all sorts of different positions against Auburn here.
Combine Snub Guy: Northern Iowa’s Elias Nissen (6-4, 243) ran a 4.62-second 40 and a 7.05-second 3-cone, both of which would have come in third for tight ends at the combine. He also benched 23 reps, a number that would have placed second. Used as a blocker and special-teamer on the Panthers, Nissen caught 12 passes for 154 yards.
Previously Mentioned Guy: Sample
The Alabama Guy: Linebacker Dont’a Hightower has been a solid contributor to New England’s defense since his rookie season. It helps that the Crimson Tide coach, Nick Saban, coaches a similar defense to what Belichick prefers in Foxboro. This brings us to outside linebacker Christian Miller (6-3, 247), who showed some pop at the combine with a 38.5-inch vertical that came in third for edge defenders (he hasn’t run the 40 due to lingering hamstring issues). Miller notched 36 tackles last year, 11.5 for loss, with 8.5 sacks. Some examples of Miller’s quickness off the edge in this reel.
Previously Mentioned Guy: Miller
The Special Teams Guy: Both Matthew Slater (2008) and Nate Ebner (2012) fill roster spots specifically as special teamers. Their head coach, who got his start in that area and pays as much attention to it as any phase of the game, wouldn’t have it any other way. Now we’re looking at Dre Greenlaw (5-11, 237) out of Arkansas. Two reasons for this: one, he had great production in 2018, with 80 tackles, (6.5 for loss), two sacks, and two interceptions in only eight games; two, former Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema has worked with the Patriots as a coaching consultant, providing a natural connection.
Combine Snub Guy: Difficult to overlook the production of Oklahoma linebacker Curtis Bolton (6-0, 218), who tallied 139 tackles in 2018, with 12 for loss, including 4.5 sacks. In terms of special teams work, Bolton scored two ST TDs (the good kind), recovering blocked punts for points. Given his size, he may convert to safety in the NFL, and he has shown the capacity to do so, delivering both a 4.53 40 and 7.18 3-cone at his pro day that would have been top 14 numbers for combine safeties.
Previously Mentioned Guy: Greenlaw
The Seventh-Round Slot Receiver Guy: Since drafting Edelman here in 2009, New England has taken some shots trying to repeat the magic. Attempts with Northwestern’s Jeremy Ebert (2012) and Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon (2014) didn’t stick. We’ve gone full circle here to come back to Georgia’s Terry Godwin (5-11, 184), who wowed us at the East-West Shrine Game (four catches for 80 yards and two TDs) and came from the same program as Malcolm Mitchell, who had the best rookie season for a New England receiver in years before retiring due to chronic knee issues. Godwin caught 23 passes for 385 yards (16.7 avg.) and three touchdowns last season. He can return punts, too, as evidenced by his limited-yet-impressive four returns for 58 yards (14.5 avg.) as a freshman.
You can get a strong grasp of Godwin’s elusiveness in this reel.
Combine Snub Guy: Stanford’s Trenton Irwin (6-2, 204) might make sense here. Irwin got snubbed by the combine committee and couldn’t participate in Stanford’s pro day due to a nagging knee injury, meaning he should remain available late on Day Three. In 2018, he pulled in 60 passes for 685 yards (second on the team in both) and two touchdowns. On special teams, he returned 14 punts for a 11.6-yard average and tallied one tackle, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Plus, he’s a California kid with beautiful blond locks. Sure, it’s a long shot, but so was Edelman.
Previously Mentioned Guys: Godwin, Andy Isabella, UMass; Cody Thompson, Toledo
The Navy Guy: The Naval Academy and Belichick have a storied connection, as the coach’s father Steve worked as an assistant there for decades and literally wrote the book on scouting. The Patriots drafted long snapper Joe Cardona in the fifth round (another Special Teams Guy) and have brought multiple Navy fullbacks into camp. Though finding cadets seeking NFL employment has proven difficult this year, it looks like safety Sean Williams (6-1, 197) has shaken the trees, participating in Towson’s pro day on March 28 (thank you to Navy Football for that info). Williams, a 2018 co-captain, ranked third on the team in tackles with 85 (1.5 for loss). He intercepted two passes, broke up five, and forced a team-best five fumbles on the year. Another special teamer for the roster? We shall see.
Previously Mentioned Guy: Zach Abey, QB/RB/WR
And that’s all for this year’s pre-draft columns. We’ll post a review with links to all our draft pieces next week before the NFL Draft begins with Round One on Thursday evening, April 25. Rounds Two and Three happen Friday, with Rounds Four through Seven wrapping up on Saturday, aka Day Three.
Thanks for reading. We’ll see you soon.
Chris Warner hopes to get three or more of these picks correct but understands this all comes down to a fool’s errand. He’s at email@example.com and on Twitter @cwarn89.