NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
It’s always difficult to identify which prospects the Patriots will target in the draft. Most of the time it’s hard enough trying to figure out which needs they might try to fill. For that reason the combine brings excitement, anticipation, and over-analysis as fans and media try to determine which players their team will be focused on.
This week in Indianapolis there will be players on the field that will play for and make an impact on the Patriots next season, it’s inevitable. It is our job to try and figure out which ones that will be. Here is a position by position breakdown of prospects the Patriots could be watching closely at the combine.
For the sake of this preview, I’m not going to rely solely on draft history and track record to project players. They’ve broken the mold enough times over the last few years to show up they are as unpredictable as ever when it comes to the players they like. I mean, did anyone have any indication that Jamie Collins was on their radar last year. I think not.
While some tendencies are valuable to rule players out, the prospects I list are players I feel could fit the needs of the team, the system, and the ever evolving philosophy of Bill Belichick. He’s always a step ahead, so it’s best to look forward to the future and not what he did in the past (even though it has some relevancy).
* Players are not listed in any specific order*
It is unlikely the Patriots spend an early pick on a Quarterback, especially if Ryan Mallett is still on the roster during the draft. There’s always the chance a player drops into their laps or they decided to use one of their late picks to take a flyer. It’s more likely they bring in a priority free agent and allow them to compete for a roster spot, much like they did with Brian Hoyer. Here’s the Quarterbacks that could interest them.
1. Zach Mettenberger, LSU – This falls under the value category. Mettenberger could fall into the middle rounds for any number of reasons; a torn ACL, erratic plays, or questions about his make up. Mettenberger’s physicals and on the board interview with the Patriots will tell the story. Even with the torn ACL, it’s likely he goes higher than the Patriots value. If Ryan Mallett is traded and he’s available in the 3rd or 4th round, then he becomes a legitimate possibility.
2. A.J. McCarron, Alabama – A similar case to Mettenberger. McCarron fits many of the qualities the Patriots look for in a developmental Quarterback. The fact that he’s such a high profile name and has a set of “solid across the board”, but unspectacular skill-set means a QB needy team uses a pick on him before the Patriots. None the less, he’s someone they will inevitably watch closes.
3. Jeff Matthews, Cornell – Matthews is an intelligent, strong-armed, big bodied QB prospect. His stock is all over the map with some teams much higher on him than others. If the Patriot decided they want another developmental QB, Matthews becomes a legitimate candidate for one of their late round picks. The Patriots will want to how accurate Matthews can be at the combine. At the very least they will get a smart kid that can handle rigors of learning a complicated NFL playbook.
4. Tom Savage, Pittsburgh – Savage makes a lot of sense as a Priority Free Agent target. A big, strong armed passer, that’s been inconsistent throughout his college career. Savage’s development was hinder by his bouncing around from college to college. There is no doubt he has an NFL arm and became a team captain quickly after transferring to Pitt, but the Patriots will be looking for improved timing, accuracy, and ball placement in the throwing drills. I’m not sure I’d spend a pick on Savage, but he’s intriguing developmental flyer.
I’m going to assume there will be changes at Running Back this off-season. We know Bill Belichick loves to draft for a year in advanced and after 2014 both Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are free agents. LeGarrette Blount is currently a free agent and Brandon Bolden is a JAG. Even if all those guys return next year, I believe it’s likely a Running Back is selected. It’s an incredibly deep and talented running back class. There isn’t a consensus top back, but there is a ton over value in the mid-late rounds. The Patriots typically like to draft bigger runners, as Bill Belichick has not selected a RB less than 205 pounds in his time with the team.
1. Charles Sims, West Virginia – The Patriots struggled to find a consistent pass catcher out of the backfield once Shane Vereen went down, and Vereen goes down often. Sims was the best runner at the Senior Bowl showed nice short area burst through the hole and an effective all-around game. Despite his small hands, Sims is one of the best receivers at the position. Sims has average speed and agility, so it will be interesting to see how he tests. As a mid-round option Sims is a player that offers value and a player that could make an impact as a rookie.
2. Jeremy Hill, LSU – If the Patriots are looking for a bigger back Hill is sure to garner interest. He possesses an impressive, thick build and plays a bit like LeGarrette Blount because he is so big, but plays with some finesse and wiggle. He’s not a one dimensional back and actually fits the Patriots system pretty well because he has experience in LSU’s pro-style offense. He carries some off the field baggage with him, but he could follow in Stevan Ridley’s footsteps, by replacing Stevan Ridley. To get Hill that Patriots will have to use a day two selection. Don’t pay much attention to his 40 time, his game is more than that, but he moves well for a big back.
3. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State – I’m not suggesting the Patriots will use this high of a pick on a RB, but Hyde is definitely a player that will be on their radar. One of the most physical runners in the draft, he possesses the size and physical running style the Patriots value. Hyde is still developing as a pass catcher, but has shown he can do it. The Patriots will have to investigate Hyde’s maturity and character concerns during interviews. If the Patriots trade out of the first round and accumulate day two selections, a pick like this becomes more realistic.
4. Terrance West, Towson – A powerful, compact runner that is best suited to run between the tackles. He put on an impressive performance in the FCS playoffs, gaining the attention of NFL scouts. West won’t run very fast, but the Patriots aren’t turned off by a slow 40. Things like running style, ability to take contact, and physical build have always been more important. His draft stock is a little unpredictable, but he’d provide good bang for their buck on day three of the draft.
5. James White, Wisconsin - While White is on the lighter side for a Patriots Running Back, he showed up at the Senior Bowl with a bulked up frame and impressed with his all-around game. He’s got a huge lower body and takes contact well. I like his ability to consistently produce positive yards with great vision and quick cuts. White is developing his all-around game and is someone to watch in the mid-late rounds.
6. Andre Williams, Boston College – Williams combination of size, power, and deceptive speed is likely to pique the interest of the Patriots. He’s a high-character, well-spoken kid that probably won’t go until early on day three. Look out for Willimas in the 40 he’s expected to run much faster than many project. He offers nothing as a pass catcher, but if LeGarrette Blount is lost in free agency, Williams could fill that role.
7. Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky – Andrews represnts an upgrade over the likes of Brandon Bolden. While I don’t think he is a lead back, I think will be a great rotational and developmental back. He’s been the nations best all-around back over the last three years; catching passes, returning kicks, and carrying a heavy workload. He’s prone to fumbles and isn’t very fast. In the late rounds of the draft, Andrews would be perfect value for the Patriots.
8. De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon – I’m tempted to include the Black Momba on this list because the Patriots sorely missed Danny Woodhead’s ability to catch passes and challenge defense with sudden burst in two minute situations. Thomas’s versatility as a pass catcher, kick returner, and wid receiver should be of interest to the Patriots. They still haven’t fixed their kick return issues and could use more speed in that area. Thomas is tiny, but he’s a fierce, and tough runner. If the Patriots are looking for another Danny Woodhead of even Jeff Demps, this could be a fit.
The Patriots went heavy at WR last year and it’s tough to see them using more than one selection in the draft at the position. The upgrades at WR are likely to come via Free Agency. The types of receivers the Patriots will have interest in are versatile, reliable pass catchers, that offers something currently lacking on the roster. Don’t sleep on the Patriots adding a slot receiver, especially if Julian Edelman walk in UFA.
1. Jarvis Landry, LSU – Impressive WR that is best suited to play in the slot. Very good hands and a savvy route runner. Landry offers a projectable receiver that has experience in a pro style system. To get their hands on Landry the Patriots will have to commit a day two pick. He’s someone I know they will be watching closely in Indianapolis.
2. Odell Beckham Jr., LSU – Landry’s teammate, Beckham has a higher ceiling than Landry because of his better speed and more dynamic playmaking ability. It’s likely Beckham is selected in the first 40 picks, but if the Patriots opt to go WR early, Beckham is sure to be one of the targets. Keep an eye on his 40 time, if he runs fast, I don’t envision him getting out of the first round.
3. Allen Robinson, Penn State - Robinson is a big, productive receiver that excellled under former Patriots OC Bill O’Brien at Penn State. Robinson is similar to Dobson in that he can impact the passing game in all areas of the field, but isn’t the most explosive in terms of speed and separation. I might be a little lower on Robinson than most, I think he’s a late 2nd-3rd round pick. His 40 time and agility testing will tell the story of how high he can go in May.
4. Robert Herron, Wyoming – Herron is one of the best slot receivers in the draft. He’d add speed and quickness to the slot position. Herron is one of the draft’s best values. With so many underclassmen declaring Herron is likely to be pushed into the middle rounds.
5. TJ Jones, Notre Dame - Notre Dame may become the new Rutgers this season. There are a number of prospects at Notre Dame that will interest the Patriots. Jones isn’t the biggest name, but he’s a very good player. Quick, separates from coverage, and has exceptional intangibles. Jones is well worth a late round pick.
It’s no secret the Patriots are going to be studying the Tight Ends closely at the combine. Just about all of the top guys will be under the microscope. Most of the attention will be paid to Jace Amaro and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, as those constitute top picks in the draft. If the Patriots chose to wait until later in the draft Rob Blanchflower, Arthur Lynch, and Richard Rodgers will all garner interest. The three players have a common bound, they all played their High School football in Massachusetts. N
o need to break these players down individually, they’ve been discussed at length. For Blanchflower and Amaro the medicals are important. For Seferian-Jenkins the interview process will determine if he goes in the first or second round. For Colt Lyerla, the entire thing is critical. He needs to interview great and put on a show to make people forget about some of his off-field issues.
1. Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
2. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
3. CJ Fiederowicz, TE, Iowa
4. Richard Rodgers, Cal
5. Arthur Lynch, Georgia
6. Rob Blanchflower, UMass
7. Colt Lyerla, Oregon
Offensive Tackle isn’t the biggest need, but all three of the players included are versatile players that might be best served to kick inside. Zack Martin will be a hot commodity in Indianapolis after his dominate Senior Bowl effort. Joel Bitonio and Michael Schofield are both intelligent and versatle OL that the Patriots will want to spend time with in Indy.
1. Zach Martin, Notre Dame
2. Joel Bitonio, Nevada
3. Michael Schofield, Michigan
It’s no secret that Right Guard was one of the weak-links on the Patriots offense last year. Dan Connolly should be out the door and luckily for the Patriots there is a talented group of players available at Guard in this year’s draft. I can’t see the Patriots using a first round pick on one, so guys like Anthony Steen, Chris Watt, and John Urschel are names to watch in the middle rounds of the draft.
1. Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA
2. Anthony Steen, Alabama
3. Chris Watt, Notre Dame
4. John Urschel, Penn State
As of right now the Patriots don’t have a starting Center on the roster. Ryan Wendell is an UFA and there is no guarantee the team wants him back. Marcus Martin and Weston Richburg are two of the best centers that fit the profile for the Patriots. They traditionally like their Centers on the shorter size to win leverage battles. Martin has only played the position for one season, but on film he shows easily the most potential of the lot. Matt Armstrong is a small school player that not many people know about. I’ve heard some good things about his movement skills and quickness as a blocker. This is a position that will be addressed either in Free Agency of in this draft. Keep an eye on these three and the others as they workout this weekend.
1. Marcus Martin, USC
2. Weston Richburg, Colorado State
3. Matt Armstrong, Grand Valley State
For defensive prospects, check out page two.