NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
The Sugar Bowl features a young up and coming Louisville team led by QB Teddy Bridgewater, who could be vying for a top five pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Bridgewater and the Cardinals will face the Florida Gators and a defense that is just loaded with NFL players at each position.
The Patriots have had a pipeline in at the University of Florida in the past. This year with the quality and caliber of players they will be producing this year, especially on the defensive side of the ball, you can bet that the Patriots will be watching these players closely.
Potential New England Patriots in the Sugar Bowl
#22 Matt Elam, SAF, Florida (5’10/202) (#5 Ranked Safety) – Elam has emerged as one of the best strong safety prospects in this year’s draft class. Elam is an aggressive player who can play in the box and deliver punishing tackles, but he has also shown enough range and ability to play as a single high safety in various coverages.
Florida likes to line Elam up all over the field and with his speed, strength and instincts he can hold his own wherever he plays. He is always around the ball and as you would expect from a big time hitter like Elam, he will get too aggressive and miss tackles at time. He has become the emotional leader of the Gators defense and reminds me of a Bob Sanders or Mike Doss type of safety when they entered the draft. I believe the Patriots need to become more physical on defense this off-season and adding a physical safety like Elam would give them the type of presence they have lacked since Rodney Harrison retired. Even though Elam would look great in a Patriots uniform, it’s a little tough picturing the Patriots taking a SAF in rounds one or two, based on the move of McCourty to FS, the free agent signing of Steve Gregory and after using a mid-second round pick on Tavon Wilson last year.
#73 Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida (6’3/303) (#7 Ranked Defensive Tackle) – Floyd is another player I think would fit in well on the Patriots defensive line. Above all the Patriots ask their players to be versatile, and Floyd has the tools to be position versatile. He’s been moved around a bit by HC Will Muschamp, moving to DE in 2011.
Floyd played 3-4 DE for the majority of the 2011 season and moved around this season again. Floyd has the ideal build for a DT 6’3″ and just over 300 pounds. He shows excellent agility and moves around the field very well for his size. Floyd lacks techinique and won’t offer much in terms of pass rush, but he is a player that can play multiple spots and does not give up on a play. With the proper coaching and development Floyd can be a very good defensive lineman. He has all the natural tools, but needs to put it all together.
#1 LB Jon Bostic, LB, Florida (6’1/246) (#13 Ranked ILB) – Bostic took over the middle linebacker position from Brandon Spikes in 2010 and has been a rock in the middle of the talented Gators defense. Bostic doesn’t possess the size or physicality that Spikes does, but Bostic does provide a stout in the box linebacker who is good at finding the ball carrier. Like Spikes Bostic isn’t the best in coverage, especially against slot WR or quicker RB, but that’s not because he lacks the instincts, he’s just limited in his quickness and change of direction.
I’ve been preaching that the Patriots need depth at LB and while I would like to see them add a LB who is quick and better in coverage, Bostic would add depth and provide some of the same qualities that the Patriots starters currently do. Size will be a question mark, as Bostic is listed at 6’1″ but is likely closer to 6′ even.
#2 Dominique Easley, DL, Florida (6’2/280) (#10 Ranked Defensive Tackle) – Easley was a highly recruited DL out of Staten Island, NY who hasn’t exactly lived up to the billing thanks to a variety of injuries, including a torn ACL. However, Easley is a player who I believe has his best football ahead of him. Easley has played primarily inside at defensive tackle and with some added strength could develop into a good one at the NFL level. When watching Easley this year, he struggles to get off of initial blocks and can be overpowered, but he never gives up on a play.
He exhibits a relentless motor, which allows him to make plays from behind and down the field. He does provide more pass rush than his teammate Shariff Floyd and if he can get up to around 300 lbs. like the Patriots perfer their DL to be, he could be the interior pass rusher they need. Easley is only a Junior and it’s not a given he will enter the NFL Draft.
#11 Jordan Reed, TE, Florida (6’3/243) (#6 Ranked Tight End) – The Patriots would appear set at Tight End with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski holding it down for the next decade, but I wouldn’t put anything by Bill Belichick. Reed is one of the best “joker” tight ends in the country and could likely provide some of the same offensive versatility that Aaron Hernandez does right now. Reed is a former QB and who has quickly become the best receiving threat in the Gators offense.
Reed has very good speed and agility for the position and it wouldn’t hurt adding another player like that to the offense. With all the injuries that have hit Aaron Hernandez during his three years in the NFL, it’s likely the Patriots will look to add a reliable back up to him in the off-season. Why not go back to the University of Florida and add another athletic TE who hails from the state of Connecticut. * Reed is a Junior and as of now isn’t declared for the draft.
#21 Adrian Bushell, CB, Louisville (5’11/184) (#19 Ranked Cornerback) – Bushell is a former Florida Gator who transferred to Louisvile after Urban Meyer left the program and has developed into the top Senior defensive prospect on the Cardinals. He is one of most underrated players in this year’s draft in my opinion. He has the ideal frame with good length for an NFL corner. The thing that stands out about Bushnell is his fluidity in space, he is able to open up his hips and run laterally or vertically with a receiver and looks smooth doing it. Bushell plays a lot of off-zone coverage, once he recognizes the play he is able to break on the ball and make a play. His recognition skills do need some improvement.
Even though he is about 185 pounds he is a good tackler and will come up and stick you. Besides his ability as a corner he is the gunner on the punt coverage unit and returns kicks, which only adds to his value. Bushnell might not be well known right now, but he is someone who is likely to hear his name called in April. As a side note Bushell is an alumni of DeSoto HS, the same High School as former Patriots CB Ellis Hobbs.
#55 Mario Benavides, OC, Louisville (6’4/280) (#9 Ranked Center)- Benavides has started at Center for four years and has been a reliable performer for the Cardinals. Over the course of the four years he has developed into one of the most respected players on the Louisville team. He entered the season in much better shape after dropping over 25 pounds in the off-season.
According to Benavides himself he played this season somewhere around 280 pounds, and it has really helped with his quickness and mobility. While the Patriots look like they have found their long term center in Ryan Wendell who led the entire NFL in playing time this season. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to add a respected leader like Benavides who will fight through injuries to get on the field to the offensive line corps and see what he develops into.
Others Draftable Prospects to Watch:
#5 Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville (6’3/218) – Potentially one of the top picks in 2014 draft
#23 Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida (5’11/211)
#73 Xavier Nixon, OT, Florida (6’6/314)
#4 Andre Debose, WR, Florida (5’11/189)
#99 Omar Hunter, DT, Florida (6’0/313)
#29 Hakeem Smith, SAF, Louisville (6’1/187) (Jr.)