NEPD Staff Writer: Dan Hope
Bill Belichick and his coaching staff will be too busy to attend the East-West Shrine Game this week, and there’s nothing unfortunate about that.
But while the coaches’ focus will be upon the New England Patriots’ next opponent, the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots will certainly be sending scouts to St. Petersburg, Fla., to scout a plethora of players at the East-West Shrine Game.
Second to only the Senior Bowl, the East-West Shrine Game is a premier postseason game for 2013 NFL draft prospects to have one final chance in fully-padded football action to impress NFL scouts and coaches. The Shrine Game’s alumni include many NFL stars and legends, including none other than Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
While there are occasional exceptions — A.J. Jenkins ended up being the No. 30 overall pick after playing in the Shrine Game last year — most Shrine Game draft picks tend to be selected between the third and seventh rounds.
With that in mind, we take a look at 12 players — six from each roster — who the Patriots could target with their third-round pick, seventh-round pick or somewhere in between should they trade (it’s a virtual certainty they will) and acquire more picks on Day 3.
Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas-Pine Bluff (East)
The Patriots’ offensive line quickly turned from an area of concern to a strength of their roster this season, but even if they re-sign unrestricted free agent right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, drafting more offensive line depth at some point in the draft would be a smart move.
There aren’t any offensive linemen in the Shrine Game who will be selected before Day 3, but one player with big upside who could pique the Patriots’ interest late in the draft is Arkansas-Pine Bluff offensive tackle Terron Armstead.
Armstead has great size, both in terms of girth and length, and he has terrific feet. He is a terrific pull blocker in the ground game, and he has big potential, especially if he were to enter the Patriots system with esteemed offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.
Armstead is a raw player who did not exactly dominate even against a lower level of competition, but for a team with the patience to develop him, he could be a steal.
Scott Vallone, DT, Rutgers (East)
Although defensive tackle may be the deepest position in the entire 2013 NFL draft, it is surprisingly one of the weakest positions at the East-West Shrine Game. That said, one of the Patriots’ biggest needs is for a quick under tackle who can be an interior complement to Vince Wilfork on their defensive line.
Rutgers’ Scott Vallone is the best potential fit for that need at the Shrine Game. Vallone is an undersized defensive tackle, but he has good interior pass-rushing ability and quickness. He could draw interest as a seventh-round pick, and for a team like the Patriots who has shown an increased interest in Rutgers players in recent years, they could be a logical match.
Strength and power as a run-stopper could be a concern for Vallone at the next level, but he has potential as a situational pass-rushing tackle who has the quickness and rush moves to beat blockers inside and disrupt plays in the backfield, something the Patriots are currently lack from any player other than Wilfork on a consistent basis.
Gerald Hodges, OLB, Penn State (East)
The Patriots have a very talented starting trio of outside linebackers, but one of their biggest needs this offseason is to add depth. Penn State’s Gerald Hodges may not be a big difference-maker at the next level, but he is an active and well-rounded outside linebacker who would provide good depth for Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower.
Hodges is a consistent tackler and a good athlete. He is very good at dropping back into coverage and making plays in pass defense, an area where the Patriots need to improve at the position, and could really benefit from having a player like Hodges in a situational role.
Hodges is not a pass-rush linebacker and he does not have great size, but as a backup strongside/weakside linebacker, he would be a solid mid-round selection. The only hitch for the Patriots, however, is where they would draft him: he would be a reach in the third round, and he won’t last until the seventh round, so the Patriots would need an earlier Day 3 pick to target Hodges.
Robert McCabe, OLB, Georgetown (East)
Another option for the Patriots as outside linebacker depth who could still be available in Round 7 is Georgetown’s Robert McCabe. McCabe is unlikely to go before the late rounds due to a lack of size and having played against a lower level of competition, but he is a good athlete and tackling machine.
McCabe led the entire FCS with 159 total tackles in his senior season, which is a result of great instincts, consistent tackling and an ability to cover ground quickly in space. Against significantly bigger and faster athletes at the next level, however, size and coverage ability will be concerns.
Nonetheless, McCabe would be a very good choice for the Patriots with their final pick of the draft. At the very least, McCabe projects to be an asset on special teams at the next level, and the Patriots will be looking for backup outside linebackers who can contribute on special teams while getting situational snaps on defense.
Rod Sweeting, CB, Georgia Tech (East)
The Patriots are very weak at cornerback behind Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard, and Talib is an unrestricted free agent, leaving cornerback as a major lingering need to address this offseason. If the Patriots are still looking for cornerbacks on Day 3 of the NFL draft, a potential late-round pick could be Georgia Tech’s Rod Sweeting.
Sweeting is an athletic cornerback who is effective at covering deep, an area where the Patriots need help. He has solid ball skills and good speed, but will slip in the draft due to a lack of physicality and inconsistent play both in coverage and tackling.
Sweeting is a project who may not amount to anything more than a special teams player at the next level, but for a team in need of cornerback depth, he is talented and worth a shot in the draft’s late rounds.
Josh Evans, FS, Florida (East)
The Patriots have been far more solid at safety since Devin McCourty moved from cornerback to free safety, but even with McCourty, Steve Gregory and Tavon Wilson, adding another safety in the 2013 NFL draft would be a smart move. There are many safeties worth a look at the Shrine Game, but the one most likely to suit the Patriots’ interests on the East roster is Florida’s Josh Evans.
Evans was overshadowed this season by fellow safety Matt Elam, who projects as a second-round pick, but he is an NFL prospect in his own right. Evans has good size and athleticism, and is both a solid cover safety and a good tackler.
Evans has the athleticism to keep up with receivers over the middle, and is also a very good blitzing safety. He is not a big difference-maker, but he is an active and instinctive player.
Evans would be a reach as a third-round pick and will not make it to the seventh round, but would be a great fit for safety depth in the middle rounds of Day 3 should the Patriots acquire a pick or picks in those rounds.
West prospects can be found on page two.