Welcome to part three of our “That Guy” Patriots draft series. In our previous two installments, we reviewed some Senior Bowl standouts and inspected NFL Combine results in our search for players who may fit in at Foxboro.
Since then, we’ve had a few weeks to look at pro day results in our “Combine Snubs” series, as well as watch New England build their squad for the 2016 season. These observations have led to a few alterations to our “That Guy” column. Here are the types of athletes the Patriots tend to draft, with suggestions on particular players for later this spring.
The First Round, Solid Bet Guy: The more we look at the NFL taking away New England’s first rounder, the more it hurts. Using defensive linemen as an example, the Patriots have a strong record for the position in Round One that includes Richard Seymour (2001), Ty Warren (2003), Vince Wilfork (2004), Chandler Jones (2012), and Malcom Brown (2015). All starters. Their selections in Round Two? Marquise Hill (2004), Ron Brace (2009), and Jermaine Cunningham (2010). That’s a disconcerting difference in production, there.
We wanted to consider an athlete they could select in the second round who could contribute for years to come, and possibly utilize some of ex-Patriot (and lone first-round bust) Dominique Easley’s minutes as an interior rusher.
Possible Pick: For where they’ll be drafting, it’s easy to consider Carl Nassib of Penn State. A defensive end at 6-7, 277 pounds, Nassib showed the ability to work inside and create havoc against interior defensive linemen. He has good speed (4.84-second 40) and solid quickness (7.27 3-cone, 4.37 20-yard shuttle) that give him positional flexibility New England adores. Nassib, a walk-on at PSU, won the Ted Hendricks Award this past season as the best college defensive end. He led the nation in sacks with 15.5, adding six forced fumbles on the year.
The “Who’s That Guy?” Guy: By making second-round picks out of unheralded names like Sebastian Vollmer (2009), Tavon Wilson (2012), and Jordan Richards (2015), the Patriots demonstrated how they often value certain players differently than most pundits. If they like a guy, they tend to go get him.
Possible Pick: I mean, based on the name alone, we had to select linebacker Cassanova McKinzy out of Auburn. Coach Bill Belichick traveled to Auburn for their pro day; he surely witnessed McKinzy (6-1, 248) during position drills. McKinzy started at middle linebacker as a freshman and had 263 career stops. As a senior, he tallied 74 tackles, including 10 for loss (five sacks) and 20 quarterback hits. A minor scouting note: he had one of his most prolific games vs. Alabama, with eight tackles and three QB hits.
I’ll take Cassanova, because me and Romeo ain’t never been friends.
The 3-Cone Guy: The Patriots seem to appreciate high-octane 3-cone drills more than speedy 40-yard dashes. (WEEI.com’s Chris Price would tend to agree.) This has led to the drafting of Julian Edelman (6.62-second 3-cone) in 2009 and Darryl Roberts (6.66) in 2015, among many others who have quick feet for their respective positions.
Possible Pick: We’re going to go to the defense here, as Kansas State cornerback Morgan Burns (5-10, 200) had a 6.60 3-cone during his pro day (of course, his 4.38-second 40 probably won’t hurt his stock, either). Burns earned All-Big 12 Honorable Mention status as a defensive back with one interception and 10 pass break-ups. Most importantly, he was named All-American as a kick returner, bringing back four kickoffs to the far horizon* last year while gaining an average of 33.5 yards per return.
*I’m trying to think of another phrase for “to the house” or “all the way.” I’m open to suggestions.
The Freakishly Athletic Guy: Every once in a while, the Patriots select someone who drops jaws at the combine. In 2013, that was Jamie Collins, whose 11-foot, seven-inch broad jump at 250 pounds remains a stunner. (You can watch it here. Listen for the announcers laughing at its ridiculousness.)
Possible Pick: We went with Justin Simmons out of Boston College for our combine edition, and we stick with him now. He’s big for a free safety at 6-2, 202 pounds, and with a 40-inch vertical, 10-foot, six-inch broad jump, and a 6.58-second 3-cone, he has the quicks and power to play various spots in sub packages. His experience at cornerback could help defenses give different, QB-confusing looks. At BC, Simmons had 67 tackles, five interceptions and two forced fumbles.
The Long-Limbed Defensive End: New England often seeks out a lanky pass-rusher, as seen in the likes of Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom in 2015 and Michael Buchanan in 2013. While they seem pretty stocked at the position – Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard remain stalwarts; Chris Long just got added in free agency – the trading of Chandler Jones could open up an opportunity for rookie minutes in a sub role.
Possible Pick: Lots to like about Matt Judon, a small-school wrecking crew from the Greater Lakes Interscholastic Athletic Conference. Judon (6-3, 275) actually outweighs the 2012 rookie version of Jones (266) and ran a slightly faster 40 (4.73 to Jones’ 4.87). Not saying Judon could come in and start, but he does have some notable talents (30 bench press reps, 35-inch vertical) that could help him become a solid defender in time. The GLIAC Defensive Lineman of the Year led the nation with 18 sacks. He also forced three fumbles and recovered two.
Offensive Line Double-Dips: Last year, the Pats looked to Tré Jackson and Shaq Mason as rookies to bolster the interior line. The year before, both Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming added important minutes, with Stork coming in to start at center and stabilize a shaky offense. Their veteran offensive tackles are getting closer to the ends of their careers (as are we all, really), so it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Belichick looked for two rookies to add to the O-line.
Possible Picks: We’ve got to acknowledge North Dakota State tackle Joe Haeg (6-6, 304), especially after his meeting with Patriots coaches during Senior Bowl week. Haeg was an All-American in his final two seasons, earning Top Collegiate Offensive Lineman by the FCS Athletic Directors Association. Also ran a 5.16-second 40 at the NFL Combine and had a 7.47-second 3-cone, good enough for fifth-best OL.
South Carolina’s Brandon Shell is another tackle candidate we’ve noticed, especially after a 5.22-second 40, impressive given his size (6-5, 324). He started at left tackle as a senior after spending most of the previous three years on the right side, compiling 47 consecutive starts. Shell is the great-nephew of Hall of Fame lineman Art Shell, which we’re sure Belichick knows and appreciates.
The Alabama Guy: ‘Bama coach Nick Saban coached with Belichick at Cleveland lo these 25 years ago. This has led to such players as Dont’a Hightower getting nabbed in the first round in 2012, as well as LB Xzavier Dickson getting the call late in last year’s draft.
Possible Pick: We’re going with cornerback Cyrus Jones this year. At 5-10, 197 pounds, he’s not super big. With a 4.49-second 40, he’s not super fast. But, with a 6.71-second 3-cone, he is super quick, and he uses it well on the field. Last season, Jones returned four punts for touchdowns (“to the far horizon,” maybe? No?), averaging 12.6 per take-back. He also had two interceptions and eight pass break-ups. Here he is working his magic vs. the Spartans with a punt return TD in the Cotton Bowl.
The Rutgers Guy: Due to Coach Belichick’s relationship with former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano, players from that school have flowed through Foxboro with all the force of the mighty Raritan, including Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon.
Possible Pick: Oh, so, so much to like about Quentin Gause. The 6-0, 232-pound linebacker had solid production with 96 tackles and a team-leading 12 tackles for loss, sure, but my oh my: the intangibles, people. Team captain? Check. Big Ten Sportsmanship Award? Academic All-Big Ten? Check and check. The “R” Man Courage Award? Checkeroo. And you know what? Running a 4.73-second 40 and a 7.01-second 3-cone probably can’t hurt, either.
The Ohio State Guy: Belichick used to have a friendly relationship with former Florida coach and current Ohio State head Urban Meyer. That has probably cooled a bit over the past several years, draft-wise, considering some of the algal slime that has crawled out of the Gator swamp up to Foxboro. (Seriously, if Mike Reiss is calling the benefits of that relationship into question in his indispensable Sunday notes, there’s an issue.) But now, since former Rutgers head coach Schiano took on the role as OSU co-defensive coordinator, we’re taking another gander at the Buckeyes.
Possible Pick: We’d like to add Tyvis Powell to the list of solid, dependable safeties on the Patriots’ potential roster. He has noteworthy size at 6-3, 211 pounds and great speed for said size with a 4.46-second 40. (For comparison, the 6-0, 196-pound Harmon ran a 4.51, while the 5-11, 193-pound McCourty ran a 4.48.) Add a thoroughly decent 7.03-second 3-cone, and we’re in the Buckeye business. At OSU, Powell had 71 total tackles, with three interceptions, three pass break-ups, and a blocked kick. He had eight career interceptions, with one each in bowl games vs. Alabama and Notre Dame.
The Injured Guy: New England likes to take chances with players who have missed playing time due to injury. This has worked out well in some cases (Rob Gronkowski) and not so well in others (Ras-I Dowling). Last year, the Patriots selected guard Tré Jackson, who had been bothered with knee issues while at Florida State. Jackson did miss time with injuries, but he started nine games as a rookie and should vie for playing time this year.
Possible Pick: Boise State guard Rees Odhiambo is worth reviewing. The 6-4, 314-pound Odhiambo injured his ankle in October and missed the rest of the season. Despite playing in only eight games, he was named to the All-Mountain West First Team. Injuries have chased the native Kenyan throughout his college career, as he has never started more than nine games in any one season. Still, for a mid-round pick, Odhiambo could serve as an inexpensive backup for the interior O-line.
The Day Two Running Back: In 2011, the Patriots drafted Shane Vereen in the second round and Stevan Ridley in the third. In 2015, injuries to Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount showed how much the team needed depth at the position.
Possible Pick: Even after signing Blount, we assume New England will seek out another sizable back this spring, which brings us to Keith Marshall of Georgia. Marshall (5-11, 219) averaged 5.1 yards per carry for the Bulldogs, scoring three TDs. At the combine, he blew away the field with a 4.31-second 40, the fastest at Indy this year (As far as we can tell, no draftee has had a faster pro day this spring.) We spend a lot of time yakking about how the Patriots don’t fall in love with 40 times, but Marshall’s 25 bench reps and 6.98-second 3-cone should factor in here.
The Sixth-Round Small School Defender: From Markell Carter (Central Arkansas) in 2011 to Zach Moore (Concordia) in 2014, the Patriots aren’t shy about checking out the lower divisions for talent. With about 27 sixth-round picks this year (note: number may be exaggerated for effect), it seems like an ideal time to revisit this tendency.
Possible Pick: Back to the GLIAC (see: Matt Judon above) for some more D-II action. We mentioned Justin Zimmer from Ferris State in our Combine Snubs series. He would fit in well here. The 6-3, 302-pounder moved faster than a rolling temple boulder, notching a 4.85-second 40. His 7.01-second 3-cone drill would have come in fourth for NFL Combine safeties this year. Perhaps most awesome was Zimmer’s 44 bench reps of 225 pounds that would have bested all 2016 NFL Combine participants. At Ferris State, Zimmer tallied 81 tackles, with 26 coming for loss, half of those in sacks. He broke up five passes and forced four fumbles.
The Backup Tight End: No position has changed more for the Patriots over the past few weeks than tight end. The signing of Martellus Bennett created a dreamscape for wannabe offensive coordinators all the way from Madawaska, Maine down to whatever scattered parts of Greenwich, Connecticut root for New England. The signing of Clay Harbor added a smaller, “move” tight end, and – along with a healthy A. J. Derby – could fortify the position even more. So what do we do? We go jack-of-all-trades on ’em.
Possible Pick (Move TE): We’ll take our chances on a prolific college QB, one Jason Vander Laan of the aforementioned Ferris State. He’s got good size (6-4, 240), decent speed (4.75 40) and excellent quickness (6.73 3-cone – better than all combine tight ends). And, best of all, he has the football knowledge and production that could make him a threat from different positions. Vander Laan won The Harlan Hill Trophy (Division II Player of the Year Award) two years running. He is the first quarterback in the history of the NCAA with four consecutive seasons both passing and rushing for 1,000-plus yards. In 2015, he threw for 2,626 yards and 27 touchdowns and ran for 1,542 yards and 24 touchdowns.
I mean, I know it’s Division II, but he produced numbers like a 12-year-old playing against 11 cats. Old, disinterested ones.
Possible Pick (Blocking TE): Sometimes we add picks that probably won’t happen but would love to see. Enter LaQuan McGowan, a tight end/fullback out of Baylor who measures an astounding 6-6, 405 pounds. His running times are, as one might predict, only slightly faster than erosion, with a 5.48-second 40. However, he leapt a noteworthy 24 inches vertically, and put up 30 reps on the bench. He has noted his willingness to play guard, his natural position. Hey, we could see plays like this in the future. Could be fun.
The Special Teams Guy: As a former special teams coach, Belichick has always paid attention to the one-play wonders of the NFL. We think drafting specifically for ST roles probably got going in 2008 with Matthew Slater, continued in 2012 with Nate Ebner, and was maintained throughout with plenty of specialists (long snapper Joe Cardona last year, for instance).
Possible Pick: While the Patriots tend to focus on smaller linebackers and/or bigger safeties for this role, Washington outside linebacker Travis Feeney catches the eye. He has unusual measurements for most special-teamers at 6-4, 230 pounds, and he did very well on his 40 with a 4.50-second time. Speaking of 40, that’s how many inches he jumped in the vertical, topping all other combine linebackers. A Huskies team captain, Feeney was voted UW’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player with eight sacks and 17.5 total tackles for loss last season. He also forced three fumbles.
The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: The Patriots have drafted a long list of receivers who failed to pan out in Foxboro. The ones that did (Deion Branch, David Givens, Julian Edelman) helped win Super Bowls, so it’s easy to figure they’ll take another chance this spring.
Possible Pick: Let’s take a closer look at the speedy Charone Peake out of Clemson. He’s got size at 6-2, 209 pounds – a veritable Gulliver compared to most of the LilliPatriots currently on the roster. He also has speed (4.38 pro day 40) and quickness (6.96 3-cone). Peake caught 50 passes last year for 716 yards, a 14.3 yards-per-catch average, with five touchdowns.
Aaaaand he’ll probably be a bust. But it’s worth a shot, people. It’s always worth a shot.
The Backup Quarterback: They got Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round (2014), Kevin O’Connell in the third (2008), Rohan Davey in the fourth (2002), Kliff Kingsbury in the sixth (2003), and Matt Cassel in the seventh (2005). Time to bring in a camp arm to nurture and – when the time comes – see how it can best help the team moving forward.
Possible Pick: Cassel was a backup out of USC who panned out, so why not take a starter from the same school? Cody Kessler has had a great career for the Trojans. At 6-foot-1, height might play a role in his lower draft status, but height didn’t seem to matter to Belichick when he kept Doug Flutie around. Plus, the kid can play: An All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention in 2015, Kessler completed 67 percent of his passes (298 of 446) for 3,536 total yards, 29 touchdowns, and seven interceptions.
Hell, Cassel completed 10 passes in his entire Trojan career, so the Pats should be able to do something with this guy, right?
The Seventh-Round Slot Receiver Guy: This trend started off quite well with Edelman in 2009, yet found less success with Jeremy Ebert out of Northwestern in 2012 and Jeremy Gallon out of Michigan in 2014. Still, if they can add another dependable sticks-mover in the seventh, they’ll give it a chance.
Possible Pick: Slot receiver, outside receiver, running back, returner. Byron Marshall (5-9, 205), did a little of everything for Oregon in 2015 before his season-ending injury after only four games. He was well enough to participate in Oregon’s pro day on March 14, with a so-so 4.56-second 40 getting overlooked due to encouraging quickness times (4.19 20-yard shuttle, 6.99 3-cone). As a junior in 2014, Marshall led the Ducks with 74 receptions for 1,003 yards (13.6 avg) and six TDs. He also averaged 7.5 yards per rush (52 for 392).
High School Fun Fact: At Valley Christian High, Marshall was the top-ranked sophomore in California in the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.67 seconds. So, hey, that 40-yard time? He’s just getting warmed up.
The Navy Guy: Last year, long snapper Joe Cardona got drafted. While he figured into our seven-round assessment, we did not think he would go as high as the fifth. Hard to think that any other NFL coach has the same fondness for Annapolis as Belichick. It is his hometown, after all.
Possible Pick: Hoo, boy. Whom to pick, whom to pick? Our choice comes between QB Keenan Reynolds, who set all kinds of rushing records for QBs, and FB Chris Swain, who would follow the New England tradition of Navy fullbacks in Foxboro (Kyle Eckel and Eric Kettani). Based on Belichick visiting Annapolis to see Reynolds, we’ll go with the QB. Belichick loves the Naval Academy, and he loves football history, and few Midshipman have made quite as much history as Reynolds. His 88 career rushing touchdowns are the most ever in Division I. He’s also the first player in Football Bowl Subdivision history to score at least 23 touchdowns in three different seasons. He rushed for 4,559 yards in his career, the most in FBS history by a QB. He’s not big (5-9, 190), but his ability to run the ball in open space – along with his experience under center – is something Coach Belichick might want to work with in camp.
Any “Guys” we’ve overlooked or any names you think belong in each category, please let us know in the comments section below.
Chris Warner tweets with the fury of the winds @cwarn89