NEPD Editor: Doug Kyed
Entering the 2012 NFL Draft, there seems to be one common sentiment among Patriots fans, “We need defensive backs!”
One of the chief reasons why the Patriots need defensive backs is their spotty history in the draft taking corners and safeties.
Throughout the twelve seasons Bill Belichick has been Head Coach, the Patriots have taken 21 defensive backs, four remain with the team.
I put together a spreadsheet containing all of those players vitals, hoping to come up with some patterns to possibly try to determine what the Patriots look for in a DB, and which players in the 2012 class they’ll potentially be looking at. (Thanks to NFLDraftScout.com and the Boston.com Draft Database for all combine results)
Here are some of the most interesting findings:
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The Patriots like short defensive backs. Of the 21 players the Patriots have drafted, four have been 5’11” or taller: Hakim Akbar (potentially drafted as a linebacker), Christian Morton, Patrick Chung and Ras-I Dowling. Three of those players are 6’0” or over (Chung is 5’11” and only Dowling is 6’1”.
When I threw out this stat on Twitter, there were some people speculating that it was likely that taller players weren’t around when the Patriots were drafting. That’s simply not true. In 2003, Rashean Mathis, Ken Hamlin, Drayton Florence, Bryan Scott and Terrence Keal, all over 5’11”, were drafted soon after Eugene Wilson. In 2004, Will Allen was drafted between Guss Scott and Dexter Reid. In 2005, Domonique Foxworth and Travis Daniels were drafted after Ellis Hobbs. In 2007, Eric Weddle was drafted after Brandon Meriweather. In 2008, Terrell Thomas and Antwaun Molden were drafted after Terrence Wheatley, a major reach at 62… you get the point.
Now I’m definitely NOT saying that height is all that matters in the NFL for defensive backs. But, what I will say is that for twelve years, the Patriots were using one system that didn’t seem to be working and it took them twelve years to finally draft a defensive back over 6’0” early in Dowling. The sense is that the Patriots like smaller corners because they can turn and run better and have smoother hips.
Some other notes:
-Ellis Hobbs is the shortest at 5’9” flat.
-Seven players were 5’9”, ten were 5’10”, one was 5’11”, two were 6’0” and one was 6’1”
-Three of the 5’11”+ players were safeties.
-It’s still early, but the Patriots are 2/4 for players over 5’11”, as Chung has been a quality player and Dowling looked great before his injury.
Bill Belichick also likes his defensive backs fast. Of the 21 players drafted, 17 have ran sub 4.5 40s. Four ran 4.3 40s, thirteen ran 4.4 40s, one ran a 4.5 40 and two ran 4.6 40s (one being Hakim Akbar who was drafted as a linebacker). All of the players who ran 4.5+ 40s were safeties.
I don’t think anyone would have figured that Belichick drafts workout warriors, but he does like his speedy corners. The Patriots haven’t drafted a defensive back who ran a 4.5+ 40 since 2005, James Sanders, one of their most successful picks.
Obviously speed is important in the NFL, but it does seem like the Patriots restrict their potential players to sub 4.5 speed. With the relative success of James Sanders, it might be wise to step away from that once in a while.
Some other notes:
-Average speed is 4.47
-Fastest player was Antwan Harris
-Slowest player was Hakim Akbar
The Patriots only took one player in the second round or higher prior to 2007, Eugene Wilson. Since 2007, they’ve taken a defensive back in the first two rounds every year with varying success.
Brandon Meriweather was the earliest pick at 24, while Christian Morton (one of the 6’0” players) was the latest at 233. The average pick of all of these players is 116.7.
Seven players have totaled 20 starts or more in the NFL: Eugene Wilson, Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs, James Sanders, Brandon Meriweather, Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty.
The average number of college starts for Patriots defensive back picks is 28. Patrick Chung has the most starts with a sky high 51, whereas Malcolm Williams had zero at TCU. If you don’t count Williams, a special teamer, Antwan Harris is next with 14. Harris was Belichick’s first drafted DB.
Other than Williams, the Pats haven’t drafted a DB with less than 23 starts since 2001.
From what I can tell, Eugene Wilson, Guss Scott, Hobbs, Chung, Butler, McCourty, Dowling were the only captains at college.
It’s worth noting that four of those players have been drafted in the last three years, so maybe thats a new system for Belichick and that Patriots.
Terrence Wheatley, Darius Butler, Guss Scott, Eugene Wilson, Brandon Meriweather, Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty all participated in the Senior Bowl.
James Sanders and Hakim Akbar were the only juniors that left early for the Draft.
-Average arm length is 31”, high 32.875, low 29.5
-Average hand size is 8.95, high 9.5, low 8.13
-Average 20 yard split is 2.58, high 2.7, low 2.47
-Average 10 yard split is 1.53, high 1.64, low 1.43
-Average vertical is 37.65, high 43.5, low 31
-Average 20 shuttle is 4.15, high 4.39, low 4.01
-Average 3 cone is 6.87, high 7.21, low 6.27
-Average bench is 15.56, high 25, low 7
-Average wonderlic is 18.75, high 28, low 10
Overall, James Sanders seems to be the real outlier in the group. He was the standard height, but slower, heavier, stronger, had the second worst broad jump, was an underclassmen and wasn’t invited to the combine. The one thing that fit was that he excelled in the 20 shuttle.
Players like Ellis Hobbs, Brandon Meriweather, Darius Butler and Eugene Wilson seem to be the prototype for a Patriots defensive back.
Two things the Patriots really seem to look for is a better than average 40 time, better than average vertical and better than average 3 cone. They seem to worry less about height and the 20 yard shuttle.
The addition of Ras-I Dowling last year throws some of the things we learned off, but if I had to guess what DBs the Patriots were looking for, I’d expect a cornerback under 5’11” with a 4.4 40 time and a sub 7 3 cone who started more than 20 college games. If the player is a captain, it’s an added luxury.
We’ll find out all of those measureables after the NFL Combine and I’ll be revisiting this research then to go through which DBs the Patriots might be interested in.