NEPD Staff Writer: Dan Hope
The Duke Blue Devils will be playing in their first bowl game since 1995 on Thursday when they take the field against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Belk Bowl. Four months from Thursday, which will be Day 3 of the 2013 NFL draft, the Blue Devils have a good chance of also having their first player selected in the draft since Drew Strojny in 2004.
The Duke player most likely to be drafted, wide receiver Conner Vernon, should be selected somewhere between the fifth and seventh round, and could be a Day 3 target for the New England Patriots. Who else should be on the Patriots’ draft radar in the Belk Bowl? Read on to find out.
Conner Vernon, WR, Duke
The New England Patriots could potentially lose both Wes Welker and Julian Edelman as unrestricted free agents this offseason, and even if they lose just one of them, they will be in the market for another slot receiver in the 2013 NFL draft. If they wait until the late rounds to address that need, Duke’s Conner Vernon could be an attractive option.
Vernon does not have breakaway speed, but he is a skilled route-runner with the open-field quickness to be a dynamic target in short and immediate passing games. At 6’1” and 200 pounds, Vernon is a bigger receiver than either Welker or Edelman, but he projects as a slot receiver rather than an outside weapon at the next level.
Like Welker and Edelman, Vernon can also return punts. He likely won’t be a major game-changer at the next level, but for an offense like the Patriots who uses slot receivers heavily, he has the potential to be a very good addition as a late-round choice.
Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, Cincinnati
Another receiver who could be on the Patriots’ radar as a late-round pick is Cincinnati’s Kenbrell Thompkins.
Thompkins was never a consistent producer in two seasons with the Bearcats, and has a troubled past, but he showed enough flashes to be the radar of NFL teams as a late draft choice or undrafted free agent. As a good athlete and solid route-runner who can make plays down the field, the 6’1”, 190-pound receiver is an NFL long shot, but has the potential to be a solid fourth or fifth option in the right system.
The Patriots have a severe lack of depth at wide receiver, so a player like Thompkins who they may be able to sign as an undrafted free agent yet has the potential to emerge in a training camp is a player who they should be keeping an eye on.
Maalik Bomar, OLB, Cincinnati
Another position where the Patriots need depth is at linebacker, meaning that they will be looking for options at that position should they acquire more Day 3 selections or as undrafted free agent. A potential option as either a late-round draft pick or free agent is Cincinnati’s Maalik Bomar, an athletic outside linebacker who could provide depth and contribute on special teams.
Bomar is an undersized linebacker at only 228 pounds, but with good short-area quickness, instincts and tackling ability, he is a solid playmaker. He won’t be a game-changer and will need to bulk up to make it at the next level, but if he can find a home on special teams, he could be worth developing as a late-round pick or undrafted signing.
Other Prospects to Watch:
Drew Frey, SS, Cincinnati - Grade: 7th Round-Undrafted
Sean Renfree, QB, Duke - Grade: 7th Round-Undrafted
George Winn, RB, Cincinnati - Grade: 7th Round-Undrafted
Travis Kelce, TE, Cincinnati - Grade: 7th Round-Undrafted
Greg Blair, ILB, Cincinnati - Grade: 7th Round-Undrafted