Predicting what the Patriots will do in each draft feels like trying to plot out snowflakes in a blizzard: you keep track of every storm and graph each flake falling, but at some point you realize you’re just a nitwit out in the cold. I mean, imagine if local weathermen had the same record of forecasting that draft gurus do.
In our previous, Way-Wicked-Early Edition, we plotted out roster concerns and where we figured Bill Belichick & Co. would address them. Now, we review our initial picks and amend them where necessary.
We’ve given NFL.com criticism in the past for its pop-ups and occasional navigational quagmires, but they deserve credit for their combine coverage. For a list and a description of events, you can read (and listen to) this link.
Now come on along to check out our updated picks. And get ready for the big storm starting May 8.
Round One: The Versatile Defensive Lineman
Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
(6-6, 312). (Actually 6-5, 304.) Tuitt suffered a foot injury and couldn’t work out at the combine beyond an impressive 31 reps in the 225-pound bench press. Coach Belichick’s rapport with Irish coach Brian Kelly could come in handy here, potentially giving New England’s personnel people access to some background that other NFL coaches may not have.
Fielding Tuitt on one end of the line and Chandler Jones on the other may prove too much for the Foxboro front office to forego. The junior played both defensive end and tackle, tallying 49 stops with 7.5 sacks for the Irish in 2013.
Round Two: The Long-limbed Cornerback
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska, (6-3,
215). (Weighed in at 218 pounds.) New England has a history of drafting defensive backs in the second round, and – after Eugene Wilson in 2003 – it becomes a history they’d rather forget (Terence Wheatley, Patrick Chung, Darius Butler, Ras-I Dowling, Tavon Wilson). Will the Pats grow enamored of this player’s height and long arms? He’s so raw that his name comes with an asterisk and a warning at the bottom of the menu, but Jean-Baptiste’s size and power could see him go in the second round.
At the combine, Jean-Baptiste ran a 4.61 40, not fast but not slow enough to scare off the Pats, who tend to look for other traits beyond straight-line speed (Logan Ryan ran a decent 4.53; Asante Samuel a less-than-blistering 4.49). Jean-Baptiste had a so-so short shuttle at 4.33 seconds and showed fair strength with 13 bench reps, but he came alive in the jumping categories, leaping 41.5 inches vertically (best among DBs) and 10 feet, 8 inches broadly (tied for third best among DBs). The Cornhusker had 41 tackles, a sack, four interceptions and 12 pass break-ups last season.
Round Three: The (Other) Big Tight End
C. J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
(6-6, 262) (Actually 6-5, 265). While a rush on tight ends could come to fruition, a surplus of receivers will probably get picked over first. Other tight ends had surprising times in their 40s, bolstering the market for smaller, “move” types. In other words, Fiedorowicz has a solid chance to remain available in the third.
The Iowa product ran a 4.76 40 and benched 225 pounds 25 times, numbers that seem like a drag queen at the Provincetown Carnival: noticeable on their own, but probably not standing out on that particular day. He should be commended, however, for his 7.10-second 3-cone drill (someone notify WEEI.com’s Chris Price, who has kept track of the link between Pats drafts and 3-cone times).
The big ol’ Hawkeye managed 23 catches and five touchdowns in 2013 but could flourish in the right (read: Brady-led) offense. Coach Belichick’s relationship with Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz won’t hurt in terms of getting a full picture.
Round Four: The Solid Interior Lineman
Tyler Larsen, Utah State (6-4,
317). (Weighed in at 313 pounds.) This guy had more starts than an over-caffeinated teen at a horror movie marathon, leading off 51 consecutive games at Utah State. Larsen made the All-Mountain West Conference team three times. Though weighing in at 313, his 6-4 is legit. Also legit? His upper body strength, as he had 36 bench reps in Indianapolis.
To be kind, he lacks foot speed, with a glacial 8.22-second 3-cone drill and a 23.5-inch vertical jump that won’t get him on the Celtics (although this year, maybe). Still, after watching Pats center Ryan Wendell get pushed around in the playoffs, a big, strong pivot could bring some punch to the offense.
Round Six: Doubling Down On Round Four
Marcus Martin, USC (6-3, 310). Would be nice, but …
John Urschel, Penn State (6-3, 313). We let Martin go here because the junior has risen up draft boards. Urschel caught our focus for several reasons, including his time at Penn State under former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. Urschel has been lauded for his smarts at PSU, earning a 4.0 average both as an undergrad and grad student in math.
The former Nittany Lion could fall to the Pats due to a lumbering 40 time (5.31 seconds); however, his size, strength (30 reps in the bench press), and 3-cone drill (7.55 seconds, top 10 for all O-linemen) make him intriguing. Add to that the fact he features more brains than a zombie movie (possibly from that horror marathon mentioned above) and that he has experience in a New-England-style offense, and he looks more and more like a Foxboro candidate.
Round Six: The Complementary Receiver
Kevin Norwood, Alabama (6-2, 198). Cody Hoffman, BYU (6-4, 223). We would love to see Norwood picked here, but his combination of production in the SEC, better-than-expected speed (4.48-second 40) and quickness (6.68 3-cone drill) should make him attractive to an NFL team before the sixth round. Hoffman could stay on the board due to his 4.65-second 40 time (that’s not just pedestrian, that’s icy-sidewalk-during-rush-hour-pedestrian) and his injury-plagued senior year. Tallying 57 catches for 894 yards and five touchdowns proved disappointing considering that, as a junior, Hoffman caught 100 passes for 1,248 yards and 11 TDs.
Hoffman would add size to the New England receiving corps, a group that – when missing the 6-3 Aaron Dobson – literally comes up short in competition. He lacks velocity, but his 6.89-second 3-cone drill shows the ability to break open in tight spaces. Could provide another bigger target outside the hash marks.
Round Six (Compensatory Pick?): The Special-Teamer/Quality Backup
Tyler Starr, South Dakota (6-4, 250). Not exactly sure how New England’s compensatory picks will work out, but we wanted to add Starr to the mix here. The Pats have looked to these later rounds for special teams depth since taking Matthew Slater in the fifth round in 2009 (Nate Ebner in the sixth in 2012 provides another example). At outside linebacker, Starr was the Missouri Valley Defensive Player of the Year for South Dakota with 71 tackles (15 for loss), nine sacks, one interception and four forced fumbles.
Starr ran a plodding 4.95-second 40 while putting up 24 reps on the bench press (10th among linebackers). He sticks out for his quickness, including his 6.64-second 3-cone drill (first among linebackers – Hey, Price! Three-cone alert!) and 4.15-second 20-yard shuttle (fourth). For perspective, his 6.64 3-cone proved better than any running back at the combine and would have tied for third best among all receivers.
Round Seven: The Big Defensive Lineman With Potential
Zack Kerr, Delaware
(6-2, 334). (Actually 6-1, 326.) The Patriots have had some success with late-round additions to the D-line, including Myron Pryor (sixth, 2009) and Brandon Deaderick (seventh, 2010). At 326 pounds, Kerr has the bulk to man the middle of New England’s defense. He was named to the All-Colonial Athletic Association First Team, after 57 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles his senior year.
Kerr seemed to help himself at Indianapolis, benching 225 pounds 28 times and running a 5.08 40. At first we thought his speedy performance would put him into an earlier round, before we realized that for whatever reason everyone seemed to zip along at the combine. (Seriously, the ball boy could have run a 4.6.)
The big Blue Hen also leapt 28.5 inches in the vertical – pretty impressive if you consider that a 167-pound man would have to leap that height with himself on his back to demonstrate the same power.
ROOKIE FREE AGENTS
The Patriots have a consistent record of success when it comes to finding productive undrafted free agents. Below, we feature several athletes who may get bypassed during the draft but could easily find their way to Foxboro the following week.
Only one of these players got invited to the NFL combine (receiver Corey Brown out of Ohio State). We’ve kept our original stats-based comments about each and added combine results or pro day dates.
The Productive Small-School Running Back
Branden Oliver, Buffalo (5-7, 208). Who doesn’t like to root for the little guy (besides Shaquille O’Neal fans, maybe)? Oliver had 310 carries for 1535 yards (5.0 avg) and 15 TDs. Also tallied 25 catches for 173 yards and 1 TD. Buffalo’s pro day is March 4.
The Underrated Middle Linebacker
Greg Blair, Cincinnati (6-1, 252). New England could use more size and depth backing up the line, especially with the possibility that Brandon Spikes will play elsewhere. Blair led the Bearcats with 106 tackles, including seven for loss (one sack). He also had three passes broken up and one forced fumble. Cincinnati’s pro day is scheduled for March 6.
The Pass-catching Fullback/Tight End Hybrid
Gator Hoskins, Marshall (6-1, 244). We mentioned Hoskins in our Senior Bowl review, but his one reception in that game failed to demonstrate his potential. Hoskins, who snared 13 TDs to lead all tight ends nationwide, would fill the Foxboro gap of a smaller, pass-catching tight end/fullback hybrid who can split out wide. In 2013, he had 44 catches and averaged almost 17 yards per grab.
Marshall has scheduled its pro day for March 12.
The Small-School ‘Tweener Defender
Jerry “BooBoo” Gates, Bowling Green (5-10, 227). From Tavon Wilson to Adrian Wilson, New England has tried to bring in a run-stopping safety/linebacker hybrid with enough speed to cover a tight end and. Besides, who doesn’t love a good Yogi the Bear quote?
In 2013, Gates had 71 tackles, including 4.5 for loss, plus two interceptions and two forced fumbles. He also averaged 31 yards per kickoff return. Bowling Green has yet to list a pro day on their website. Come on, Freddie and Frieda Falcon!
The Raw Receiver
Corey “Philly” Brown, Ohio State (5-11, 190). (Actually 178 pounds.) Last season, Brown led all Buckeyes with 63 catches, gaining 771 yards and scoring 10 TDs. Old Belichick friend Urban Meyer (though, considering some recent Florida alums that became Pats, maybe not Bill’s bestie at the moment) called on Brown as a rusher (four for 42 yards) and punt returner.
At the combine, Brown was timed with a 4.51-second 40, a 4.22-second 3-cone drill and a 7.16-second 3-cone drill. None will make NFL personnel directors get out of their chairs, but his experience, production and tutelage under Meyer could get him to New England.
The Backup QB For Grooming
Tommy Rees, Notre Dame (6-2, 214). Seemed like a good idea at the time. However …
Garrett Gilbert, SMU (6-3, 225). Despite Coach Belichick’s connection with Coach Kelly (and thus with Rees), we switched to Gilbert after we reviewed his accuracy. He completed 335 of 504 passes (66 percent) for 3,528 yards and 21 touchdowns in 10 games, missing the final two with a knee injury. Also ran for six TDs. He passed for over 300 yards in eight games and over 400 in three games. Totaled 538 yards passing vs. Temple.
SMU’s pro day is planned for March 28.
The Rutgers Guy
Antwan Lowery, Offensive Guard (6-3, 310). Rutgers rookies have been traveling to Gillette more often than Bon Jovi. Lowery battled injuries this past year but in 2012 was honored as a First Team All-Big East offensive lineman. In January, he participated in the East-West Shrine Game. During his redshirt freshman year he switched from D-line to offense, also filling in as a fullback for short-yardage situations.
Rutgers’ pro day is slated for March 12. (Put that on your calendar, Pats fans!)
What say you, draftniks? What players have we missed? What potential trades have we failed to take into account? Let us know in the space below.
Chris Warner can be reached via email at chris. [email protected] or through Twitter at @cwarn89