NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
The 2014 NFL Draft just wrapped up, but the roster building continues. Signing undrafted free agents has been an important compenent to the Patriots organization over the last decade plus and this year is no different. Last year the Patriots had mulitple undrafted players make their roster and make an impact, don’t under-estimate the importance of these players.
Here is a list of the players the New England Patriots have signed to a rookie contract and a quick scouting report on what they bring to the table.
Justin Jones, TE, East Carolina – Jones is one of the biggest Tight Ends to ever enter the NFL. He stands over 6’8″ tall and is nearly 280 pounds. He sat out the 2013 season due to an eligibility issue otherwise he probably gets drafted. Jones’ key to success is obvious his size and catch radius. Not only is he 6’8″ tall, he also has a 37″ vertical leap and over a 400 lbs. bench press. His role in the NFL is likely to be that of a move Tight End, as he’s not a good blocker, in fact he played a bit of a hybrid role Wide Receiver role for the Pirates. Lots of teams had interest in his services, but the Patriots won out. Jones will have the opportunity to earn a roster spot.
Asa Watson, TE, North Carolina State – Asa is the brother of former Patriots 1st Round pick Ben Watson. He’s also from the same high school and town that produced Jadeveon Clowney. Watson is a “move” TE standing 6’3″ 237 pounds and ran a respectable 4.69 40 during the draft process. He was forced to sit out the 2011 season after undergoing heart surgery and never was given the opportunity to be a prime time target at NC State. His size-speed combination is something attractive to NFL teams and like Jones will have a chance based on the lack of Tight Ends on the Patriots roster.
James Morris, LB, Iowa - A predictable signing by the Patriots. Each year they seem to sign at least one UDFA from Iowa and Morris is the Hawkeye’s best undrafted player. A team captain that had four years of strong production in the Big Ten. Morris can play in the middle or slide out to Weakside Linebacker and he projects as a Special Teams standout. He’s a little undersized, at 6’1″ 241, but he ran in the 4.6-4.7 range and has strong football instincts. Looking at the Patriots LB depth chart, Morris has a good chance to win one of the final roster spots, especially if he shows well on Special Teams.
Roy Finch, RB, Oklahoma – Finch is a diminutive (5’7/177), dynamic, and exiciting change of pace RB. He exploded onto the OU stage as a Freshman, making highlight reel runs, catching the ball out of the backfield, and breaking off big plays. After that it was all downhill for Finch. He got in Bob Stoops doghouse and he could never escape. When you watch Finch the first thing that stands out is his explosive start-stop ability. He can make defenders miss and is tough to square up because of his quickness. He’ll never be an everydown back, but as a 3rd down player and possible returnman he can carve out a bigger role in the NFL than he did at Oklahoma.
Jeremy Deering, SAF, Rutgers – Surprise, surprise the Patriots signed a Rutgers defensive back. Deering blew away NFL scouts at his Pro Day by running a 4.33 40 yard dash and a 3-Cone of 6.78 seconds. Deering is a bit of a Swiss Army knife. In 2010 he finished second on the team in rushing and started five games as a Wide Receiver. In 2011 he moved from Receiver to Running Back, but most of his success came on Kick Returns. He finished 4th Nationally with an impressive 31.2 yard/return average. He only moved to Free Safety before the 2013 season and ended up starting 10 games for the Scarlet Knights. Projecting him to the NFL, his value will come on Special Teams coverage and return units. His primary position remains a little clouded, but I’d guess he’s a Free Safety in the eyes of the Patriots.
Travis Hawkins, CB, Delaware – A former University of Maryland transfer that went on to earn three letters at Delaware. Hawkins was one of the top Defensive Backs in the CAA over the last two seasons, but his value in the NFL might come in from his return ability. He ran a 4.37 40 at his Pro Day and averaged over 27 yards per return. Standing almost 5’10″ and 192 pounds, Hawkins bench pressed 225 20 times, had a 34″ vertical jump, 10’8″ broad jump, 4.32 short shuttle, and 6.80 3-Cone. His speed is something to keep an eye on, but as of right now he has to be considered a long shot to stick.
Tyler Beck, TE/FB, Bowling Green – Beck is an under the radar kid whose height probably makes him a Fullback or H-Back in the NFL. A three time All-Academic MAC selection, but he hasn’t made much of an impact on the field. Over his four year playing career Beck has amassed only 25 career receptions including a career high 10 catches in 2013. At Bowling Green’s pro day he ran in the 4.80 range in the 40. He’s a very long shot to stick around past the summer.
Tyler Ott, LS, Harvard – One of the top two long snappers in the 2014 NFL Draft. There isn’t much more to be said for this pick up other than it will add competition for Danny Aiken and that is never a bad thing.
Cameron Gordon, OLB, Michigan – Gordon is a 5th year Senior Linebacker, a 4-year Letterwinner, and 3-Time All-Academic Big Ten Selection. Played in 45 total games with only 10 starts, Gordon was primarily a Special Teams Linebacker for the maize and blue after bouncing around positions early in his career. He moved from Wide Receiver to Safety in 2010 and from Safety to Outside Linebacker in 2011. At the Michigan Pro Day he was timed at 4.72 in the 40 yard dash. His experience as a Strongside Linebacker isn’t extensive enough to get excited about. This is a Special Teams pick up and we know how much Bill Belichick likes these types of players.
Stephen Houston, RB, Indiana – Houston is a Running Back the Patriots showed some interest during the Pre-Draft process. He possesses an NFL build and body type standing 5’10 3/8 – 225. He ran a 4.52 at Indiana’s Pro Day and posted better than average agility numbers. Originally from Little Rock, Arkansas he spent his Freshman season at Independence CC in Kansas before transferring to IU. Houston is a two year starter with experience catching the ball out of the backfield and returning kicks. As a Senior he rushed for 753 yards, but averaged over 6.5 yards per carry. As a Junior he caught 37 balls, which is an impressive number for a back of his size. Given the state of the Patriots RB depth, Houston is a definite candiate to contend for a roster spot or a practice squad slot.
Ja-Mes Logan, WR, Ole Miss – A big bodied Wide Receiver with four years of starting (part time) experience in the SEC. Logan stands 6’2″/192 and ran a very pedestrian 4.69 40 at the Ole Miss Pro Day. His reception total increased each of the last four seasons peaking with 44 total catches in 2013. Logan was invited to the East-West Shrine Game and caught 3 passes in the game. He’s already graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Criminal Justice.
Deontae Skinner, LB, Mississippi State – A 3 year starter a Linebacker, Skinner finished second on MSU with 64 total tackles in 2013. He played primarily Outside in college, but his size and speed might push him to the interior. He ran a 4.81 40 at the Bulldog’s Pro Day and put up respectable agility numbers. His key to sticking in the NFL will be on Special Teams, but with the lack of depth on the Patriots roster he’ll have a chance to compete.
Seali’i Epenesa, DT, UCLA – Signing is confirmed by UCLA Head Coach Jim Mora. Epenesa is a two year starter on a talent and prosepct rich defensive line. Epenesa is a 6’1″/310 pound run defender and plugger. His primary role in the UCLA defense was to occupy blockers and plug run gaps. He won’t bring anything to the interior pass rush and is a long shot to stick.
Malcolm Butler, CB, West Alabama (Tryout or Signing Unknown) – Butler’s Head Coach tweeted out that he’s signed with the Patriots. 5’11″/180 pound defense back was an All-GSC Selection at Cornerback in 2013 after breaking up 16 passes. Butler averaged over 27 yards per kick return last season.
Calvin Tonga, NT, Colorado State (Tryout or Signing Unknown) – The biggest Defensive Lineman in the Mountain West Conference (6’3″/330 lbs). Tonga spent two seasons at Colorado State after transferring from Arizona Western Junior College. He started 12 games in 2013 and finished the season with 24 tackles including 2.5 TFL. He projects as a pure run stuffing Nose Tackle in the NFL.
Deylan Buntyn, DL, North Carolina State – A 6’3″ 323 pound Nose Tackle that originally attended Junior College at New Mexico Military Institute. He played in 11 games in 2013 with zero starts in only 4 total tackles. I’d be interested to know if this is a signing or a tryout. There isn’t much to his resume to get excited about.
Jordan Love, CB, Towson (Tryout) - A transfer from the University of Georgia. Two-year starter at Corner, Love had a very productive Senior season, breaking up 10 passes and piling up 62 total tackles. He was suspended for the FCS National Championship Game, which raises some red flags about his maturity. He measured in at 5’11″/189 and ran a 4.59 40 at Towson’s Pro Day. He’s coming in on a tryout which means he doesn’t count against the 90 man roster limit.
Donnie Owens, DT, Winston Salem State (Rumored)