Welcome to the second part in our ongoing 2016 Patriots pre-draft series. In our first “That Guy” column of the year, we reviewed the Senior Bowl (as well as the East-West Shrine Game and the NFL Players’ Association Bowl) in search of candidates who fit New England’s draft profiles.
Now, after the NFL combine, we have some numbers to go by, which adds to our list of categories. For a comprehensive look at all of Bill Belichick’s draft choices since 2000, please see our Round-By-Round Review from earlier this year.
We don’t say this often, but good job, NFL. The league has put together a solid web page for combine news, including a review of what each workout entails.
Without further ado, we present the Patriots’ “That Guy” rundown, version 2.0.
The 3-Cone Guy: New England’s love of 3-cone prowess has been well-documented (we see you, Chris Price). Defensive back Darryl Roberts fit this pick last year after a 6.66-second 3-cone drill at Marshall’s pro day. Another seventh-rounder by the name of Julian Edelman ran a 6.62 in 2009. This year, Stanford receiver Devon Cajuste depicted his quicks, finishing the 3-cone in 6.49 seconds. Here’s a bigger surprise: Cajuste is 6-4, 234 pounds. While he slinked around the cones faster than an over-caffeinated ferret through a drain pipe, will Cajuste’s pedestrian 4.62 40 time give the Patriots pause? Is his 36-inch vertical combined with his height enough to make him a viable red-zone target? Interesting to see if New England would want to fit Cajuste into their offense, and how they’d do it.
Fun fact: neither Roberts nor Edelman was invited to the combine, which reminds us to ask you to watch out for our annual Combine Snubs series. Maybe New England’s seventh-round 3-cone contender is working out as you read this.
Quickly, one would assume.
The Freakishly Athletic Guy: In 2013, Southern Mississippi pass-rusher Jamie Collins blew away scouts at the combine with a 4.64 40-yard dash, a 41.5-inch vertical jump and a 11-foot, seven-inch broad jump. The Pats drafted the 6-3, 250-pounder and made him into one of the most dynamic defenders on the team.
Though we couldn’t find anyone at the 2016 combine with size and athleticism to match Collins (and we’ll bet few, if any, can do eight consecutive backflips), free safety Justin Simmons of Boston College impressed in most events. While BC’s 2015 offense provided about as much momentum as a cement block in a mud puddle, their defense did excellent work, and Simmons played a big part in that. At the combine, the 6-2, 202-pounder leapt 40 inches vertically and 10.5 feet broadly, and also submitted a 6.58-second 3-cone drill (second best to Cajuste). His 4.61-second 40 didn’t blow the doors off, but was good enough for top seven among safeties (for comparison, 2013 pick Logan Ryan ran a 4.56).
Last season, Simmons totaled 67 tackles, five interceptions, and two forced fumbles. He played most of his career at safety but did fill in at corner on occasion due to injuries.
The Small School Defender: The Patriots like to plumb the depths of the lower divisions in the later rounds, coming up with Zach Moore out of Concordia (2014) and Markell Carter from Central Arkansas (2011). This year, there’s a lot to like about defensive end Matt Judon out of Division II Grand Valley State. At 6-3, 275 pounds, Judon ran a 4.73-second 40, benched 225 pounds 30 times, and jumped up 35 inches, all top five for combine defensive linemen.
As one would expect, Judon rampaged through the Greater Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference like Grendel through a Danish village. Of his 81 total tackles, 23.5 went for a loss, including – seriously – 20 sacks. He added three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. For an entertaining look at Judon’s 2015 GLIAC Demolition Tour, see his highlights here.
Offensive Line Double-Dips: Picking up Tré Jackson and Shaq Mason last year bulked up the interior O-line. Maybe some focus on the exterior this spring, as both Sebastian Vollmer (over 30) and Nate Solder (torn bicep last October) have taken their share of lumps. Looks like Joe Haeg of North Dakota State is getting some attention as a New England tackle candidate. Though he played in a lower division, the Pats aren’t shy about picking FCS alums, especially from a program that has won a ridiculous five national championships in a row. Neither are the Patriots shy about legacies, and they’ll take a look at Brandon Shell of South Carolina, whom NESN’s Doug Kyed confirmed the Patriots talked to in Indianapolis. Shell is the nephew of former Raiders O-lineman/mauler Art Shell. Bet Bill Belichick has some stories.
At the combine, Haeg (6-6, 304) had a fast 40 (5.16 seconds) and quick feet for a lineman (7.47-second 3-cone). An All-American for the past two years, Haeg split his time between right and left tackle (ah, versatility remains a beautiful thing), starting 60 of 61 games while at NDSU. Shell, meanwhile, ran a respectable 5.22 seconds and delivered an impressive 9-foot, 4-inch broad jump – not bad for a 6-5, 324-pounder. Built with almost 35-inch arms that would give Laocoön nightmares, Shell started at right tackle through his junior year, switching to the left side as a senior. He also made the Fall SEC Academic Honor Roll in 2014. Which is probably pretty good, right?
Speaking of the SEC…
The Alabama Guy: The Belichick-Nick Saban connection has been well-established. Last year, linebacker Xzavier Dickson filled the ‘Bama quota. Of course, Dont’a Hightower got taken in the first round in 2012. D-lineman Brandon Deaderick made the team as a rookie in 2010.
Finding a Crimson Tide defender at the combine who isn’t going to get picked before the late second round is like finding a one-piece bathing suit in Sports Illustrated – it probably exists, but you’ve really got to care. Despite a positive showing at the Senior Bowl, defensive back Cyrus Jones could still be available on Day Three. Jones (5-10, 196) ran a decent combine 40 (4.49 seconds), but has value as someone familiar with the Patriots’ defense under Saban. In 2015, Jones notched 37 tackles (including four for loss), seven pass break-ups, and two interceptions. As a punt returner, Jones averaged 12.6 yards and scored four touchdowns last fall. That’s right: four. In fact, here’s one now.
The Rutgers Guy: A quick look at the defensive backfield shows Ryan, Devin McCourty, and Duron Harmon, all Rutgers alums. In free agency, the Pats added linebackers Jonathan Freeny and Kevin Snyder. Belichick just seems to have confidence in those guys, and they tend to live up to those expectations.
Of the two Scarlet Knights invited to the combine, outside linebacker Steve Longa fits here – and could also fit the “Special Teams Guy” category. (It helped that he participated in the events, as receiver Leonte Carroo played it safe with an ankle injury.) Longa (6-1, 241) had some decent numbers (4.78-second 40, 32-inch vertical) and some not-as-good ones (19 bench reps, 7.5-second 3-cone), but after putting up three 100-plus tackle seasons in a row by the banks of the Raritan, it’s easy to see why he declared early for the draft.
This past fall, Longa led the team with 117 tackles, including two sacks. He also broke up two passes and forced two fumbles on his way to 2015 Rutgers Defensive MVP and All-Big Ten Third Team honors (media vote).
The Ohio State Guy: While the influence of current OSU (and former Florida) coach Urban Meyer has waned due to the inefficacy of most Pats picks from UF (“inefficacy” a super-nice term for “disastrous” and “soul-breaking”), the addition of defensive coordinator (and former Rutgers coach) Greg Schiano should rekindle interest in Meyer’s charges.
Seeing as Belichick collects safeties as if they were American Girl Dolls (and you’re welcome for that creepy image), free safety Tyvis Powell provides a lot to like. He has tremendous size (6-3, 211), solid strength (15 bench reps) and fluid speed (4.46 40). Powell had 71 tackles last year (third on the team), along with three interceptions, three pass break-ups, and a blocked kick. Of his eight career interceptions, two came in bowl games (one each vs. Alabama and Notre Dame).
The Injured Guy: New England often seems to take a chance on a player who missed time in college. It’s risky, but any policy that can land Rob Gronkowski seems worth it. Gronk had neck problems his junior year at Arizona, didn’t play the season, and skipped the combine. That pushed him to the second round.
This year’s combine-skipper extraordinaire looks like defensive lineman Adam Gotsis out of Georgia Tech. Gotsis banged up his knee vs. Virginia last October and missed the rest of the season, but managed 31 tackles in nine games, including five for loss. The 6-4, 287 stalwart remains a solid prospect to back up the D-line. An Australian native, Gotsis spent his youth playing Australian Rules football. He made the switch in high school and, in 2012, was selected to the IFAF World Team roster for the International Bowl in Austin, Texas. That team actually beat the USA, 35-29.
The Day Two Running Back: In 2011, New England selected Shane Vereen in Round Two and Stevan Ridley in Round Three. ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss has noted that it seems time for the Patriots to address the running back position in the draft; we don’t think there will be a double-dip in ball carriers in 2016, but we see his point.
New England doesn’t seem all that concerned about 40 times, especially for running backs. At the 2011 combine, Ridley ran a 4.73-second 40, stalactitic for a running back. On the other hand, his 6.78-second 3-cone was remarkable for a 225-pounder. This brings us to Daniel Lasco out of Cal, who had a notable East-West Shrine Game performance (62 yards on six carries). Lasco’s on the svelter side (6-0, 209), with decent speed (4.46 40) and an only okay 3-cone (7.22 seconds); however, he crushed a 41.5-inch vertical jump and an 11-foot-3 broad jump. Those leaps tied him for first overall in each combine event, making him an intriguing prospect.
At Cal, Lasco fought some ankle issues in 2015 but did rush for 5.1 yards per carry (65 for 351) and three touchdowns. When healthy as a junior, he gained 1,115 yards rushing (5.3 avg), scored 12 touchdowns, and caught 33 passes for 356 yards and two TDs.
The Backup Tight End: Belichick has selected plenty of tight ends in the past 16 drafts. In 2015, A. J. Derby came along in the sixth round but ended up on injured reserve by August. After trading Michael Hoomanawanui and failing to get the most out of Scott Chandler last year, this position could get a wholesale makeover for anyone not named Gronk.
We liked Jerrell Adams (6-5, 247) out of South Carolina before the combine when he showed a strong desire to block and solid hands at the Senior Bowl. His workouts might help his status, as he ran a 4.64 40 (best for all combine tight ends) and a 7.05-second 3-cone, while submitting a 32.5-inch vertical (top seven for both events among TEs). Adams caught 28 passes last year in an offense that wasn’t exactly the rebirth of the Houston Oilers, so it would prove worth watching to see what he could do in Foxboro.
The Special Teams Guy: When the Patriots drafted Matthew Slater in the fifth round in 2008, most of us thought they were looking for another receiver. Nope. Slater has always been a special teamer first and foremost. Nate Ebner, who plays safety occasionally, got the call in 2012 in the sixth round. Despite getting some undrafted gems in Brandon Bolden (2012) and Brandon King (2015), New England consistently bolsters their special teams depth via the draft.
Hard to miss Travis Feeney out of Washington. A gangly Gus at 6-4, 230 pounds, Feeney bested all linebackers with a 40-inch vertical and got the second-fastest 40 time for the position at 4.50 seconds. His 7.22-second 3-cone was good enough for top 15 for LBs. Feeney, a team captain in 2015, was voted the Huskies’ Most Outstanding Defensive Player with eight sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss. He also forced three fumbles and swatted two passes.
I mean, 6-foot-4 with a 40-inch vertical? He’s got to at least try to block an NFL kick or two, right?
The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: Interesting to note that the Patriots have never drafted a first-round receiver under Belichick. For second-rounders, they’ve picked Deion Branch (2002), Bethel Johnson (2003), Chad Jackson (2006), and Aaron Dobson (2013). That’s a long time since striking pay dirt, so we figure they’ll address other areas early, then take a chance on a mid-round guy.
Keep an eye out for Jordan Peyton out of UCLA, who has a lot of athletic traits the Patriots seem to covet. He’s a little bigger than their typical crew (6-1, 207), has some speed (4.47 40) and a solid broad jump (10 feet, one inch). Actually, that broad jump measurement and his 20-yard shuttle (4.33 seconds) match Dobson’s perfectly. Dobson was faster (4.37 40) and did a little better on the vertical jump (35 inches to Peyton’s 34.5). Hmm. Maybe Dobson deserves another –
No, Chris. Don’t do it. Don’t delude yourself into the Annual Dobson Redemption Tour. It’s over, man.
Anyway, Peyton increased his production every year at UCLA, culminating in a 78-catch, 1,105-yard, five touchdown senior campaign. He’s an avid blocker with solid hands. Also carries the characteristic of most Patriots receiver picks in that he’s relatively uninspiring. You know what I mean? Not dynamic, not a potential game-changer. Just … fine. (Now, if you’re saying you knew what Edelman would become, stop it.)
That said, the last wideout pick who got me excited was Jackson, whose level of football athleticism turned out to be inversely proportional to his on-field intelligence. New England and receivers, man. Who knows?
The Seventh-Round Slot Receiver Guy: Edelman led the trend here in 2009, but Jeremy Ebert out of Northwestern (2012) and Jeremy Gallon out of Michigan (2014) also got the call in the seventh round. New England could use a youngster to give Danny Amendola a breather and bring a little more dynamism than Keyshawn Martin.
Arizona State’s D. J. Foster (5-10, 193) has an intriguing history with the Sun Devils, converting to wide receiver as a senior after spending the previous three years at running back. His disappointing 4.57-second 40 could keep him lower on draft boards, while his quicksilver 6.75 3-cone should make him a natural for the slot. Last year, Foster didn’t forget how to run the ball, rushing for 296 yards (5.1 avg). As a receiver, he hauled in 59 passes for 584 yards and 3 TDs.
The Navy Guy: Very surprised to see that Navy QB Keenan Reynolds was not invited to the NFL combine, especially considering that, last year, current Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona made the trip. Ah, well. We’ll have more on the Division One record-holder for rushing touchdowns by a QB (88) in our next “That Guy” column.
Chris Warner is interested to see how long it will take before the comment section below gets hijacked. Also, Twitter: @cwarn89