NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
This year’s Hawaii Bowl features the Fresno State Bulldogs, in their first year under head coach Tim Deruyter vs. June Jones’ Southern Methodist Mustangs. Both programs are on the rise and both feature players who will be playing on Sunday this time next year.
Which players will the Patriots Scouts be watching on Christmas Eve?
Potential 2013 Patriot Targets
#16 Phillip Thomas, SS, Fresno State (6’1/215) (#3 Safety) – Thomas is a big athletic strong safety, who is going to move up draft boards as he gains more national exposure. Thomas can seemingly do it all for the Bulldogs. He can play in the box and be a force in the run game, blitz off the edge, play man coverage or play a single high safety position and read the QBs eyes.
While the Patriots have overhauled their safety position with Devin McCourty moving over from CB as well as the additions of Steve Gregory and Tavon Wilson, they may still be in the market for a “do everything” type of safety like Thomas. If Thomas does have a weakness it is his tackling ability as he can take bad angles and miss tackles. If you watch the Hawaii Bowl, Thomas will be impossible to miss as he makes plays all over the field.
#8 Robbie Rouse, RB, Fresno State (5’7/190) (#13 Running Back) – Rouse is an all-purpose running back who has developed into one of the biggest play makers in college football. Rouse posted his 3rd straight thousand yard season and best his career high in catches with 58. Even though he is only about 5’7″ he can play bigger than his size.
Rouse is an elusive back with tremendous cutting ability, he’s not afraid of contact. In the NFL he will most likely have to be a situational player as it’s tough to be “the guy” if you don’t weigh 200 pounds. Danny Woodhead is an impending free agent and if the Patriots are looking for a similar type player who can catch the ball, spread the field and break off a big play Rouse could be a guy to watch.
#92 Margus Hunt, DL, SMU (6’8/280) (#15 Defensive End) – Margus Hunt is something like a myth. A monsterous Estonian who was on the verge of making the Olympics as a discus thrower decides to take on football. The first thing you notice about Hunt is his obvious frame. Even on a football field he stands out, and he moves very well for such a big guy. He was named the biggest physical “freak” in college football for his ability to bench press 225 over 35 times, his 82 inch wingspan and ability to run a 4.6 forty.
Despite that, his development has been disappointing as his technique and instincts are still a mess. As you would expect from a 6’8″ player he loses leverage easily and when he does he get blocked. He struggled to get off blocks throughout the season, and despite having big time physical strength he hasn’t figured out how to harness it into football strength. Hunt’s biggest contributions right away in the NFL might be on special teams. He’s a FG blocking specialist having blocked 17 total kicks in his college career.
While Hunt is raw, Bill Belichick does love big athletic guys at his defensive end positions. I fully expect the Patriots to add another DE/OLB in this years draft and Hunt is a guy they will at least look at. Going into the season Hunt was being talked about as a possible late 1st – early 2nd round pick with a good season. It’s now a lot more likely he is not going to be drafted until late day two – early day three.
#3 Darius Johnson, WR, SMU (5’10/175) (#19 Wide Receiver) – Darius Johnson is a player I believe the Patriots will definitely be looking at. He is purely a slot guy, but possesses good speed/quickness and has shown the ability to make big plays. The Patriots lack speed throughout their WR corps, even Wes Welker who is having another big season has slowed down some. Johnson is the type of WR the Patriots targeted last season when they selected Jeremy Ebert in the 7th round. Johnson is a better player than Ebert and would give the Patriots some depth behind Welker.
SMU coach has called Johnson the best WR he has ever coached, which is coming from a guy who has coached multiple NFL WRs. Johnson has returned punts early in his college career, which would add some special teams ability to his resume. Keep an eye on Johnson in the game, with two 7th round picks the Patriots could target a WR like Johnson in that area.
Other Players to Watch:
#4 Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State (6’3/210) (JR.)
#48 Zach Line, RB, SMU (6’1/230)