2015 Patriots Draft Review (“That Guy” Edition 3.0)

After 16 Patriots drafts under Bill Belichick, we’d have to be nitwits to overlook some patterns. As we pointed out in our first “That Guy” draft preview back in February,  certain types of players tend to get called to Foxboro during this time of year.

New England came into the draft with nine picks. They added two over the course of two separate trades and ended up using all eleven. How many of these rookies will make the final roster? Tough to say, but we know where they fit into the Patriots’ outlook this past weekend.

Here’s a rundown of the action:

DAY ONE

ROUND ONE (32 overall): Malcom Brown, Texas DL (6-2, 320)

DAY TWO

ROUND TWO (64): Jordan Richards, Stanford SS (5-11, 211)

ROUND THREE (96): Traded along with 219 for 111, 147, and 202 (details below)

ROUND THREE (97): Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma OLB (6-3, 262)

DAY THREE

ROUND FOUR (101): Trey Flowers, Arkansas DE (6-2, 265)

ROUND FOUR (111): Tre Jackson, Florida State OL (6-4, 330)

ROUND FOUR (131): Shaq Mason, Georgia Tech OL (6-2, 304)

ROUND FIVE (147): Traded to Green Bay for 166 and 247 (details below)

ROUND FIVE (166): Joe Cardona, Navy LS (6-2, 242)

ROUND SIX (178): Matthew Wells, Mississippi State OLB (6-2, 222)

ROUND SIX (202): A. J. Derby, Arkansas TE (6-4, 253)

ROUND SEVEN (247): Darry Roberts, Marshall CB (5-11, 187)

ROUND SEVEN (253): Xzavier Dickson, Alabama OLB (6-3, 260)

Now, on to our categories, most of which we most recently spelled out in the “That Guy 2.0 Edition” draft preview in April.

The First Round, Solid-Bet Guy: Well, hello there, Malcom Brown. Nice to see you hanging around this late on Day One.

School Stats: At Texas, the consensus First-Team All-American (no Ken Sims references, please) had 72 tackles (15 for loss), 6.5 sacks, eight QB hits, and two forced fumbles.

Physical Testing Notables: Running a 5.05-second 40 and a 29.5-inch vertical at his size deserve mention. Also made top 15 of all D-linemen in the bench press with 26 reps.

Our Take: Can we compare him to Vince Wilfork? Eh, why not? It’s May. The Patriots can dream. Seriously, though, Brown could make the list of Patriots’ first-round defensive linemen (Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Wilfork) who, while not putting up big numbers, contributed in a big way to the team’s success by eating up blocks and freeing up teammates. He does have the power to take on double-teams and the speed to give offensive fronts fits.

Quick Take: Best available, and the right type of player.

The “Who’s That Guy?” Guy: How can we continue to be surprised at selections like Stanford Jordan Richards (5-11, 211)? He joins the ranks of Tavon Wilson (2012) and Duron Harmon (2013) in the “Safeties We Could Have Waited A Day To Pick” category.

School Stats: A team captain at Stanford, Richards had 79 tackles (third on the team) with three interceptions, five pass breakups, and three forced fumbles.

Physical Testing Notables: We found one biggie – his 6.74-second 3-cone drill at the combine, second-best of all combine safeties, ninth overall. Other than that, Richards made top 15 for safeties in the vertical jump (32 inches), broad jump (9-foot-3), and 20-yard shuttle (4.22 seconds) in an average 2015 field.

Our Take: On the one hand, we could have another Wilson, a smart player the Patriots rated more highly than most who has played mostly special teams. On the other hand, Richards could become similar player to Devin McCourty, an intelligent, football-savvy player keeping the defense properly lined up from his backfield spot. Words like “coachable” carry a lot of weight in Foxboro, but – speaking as a guy who won a few coach’s awards in high school (glorified participation trophies), that stuff doesn’t always translate to game-day production. Or popularity.

I’m just saying.

Quick Take: Richards gets on special teams right away, but limited safety work in 2015. The future is unwritten, as Joe Strummer might say.

The Trades: It happens in some form or other every spring. New England sent their late-third (96) and a seventh (202) to Cleveland for an early fourth (111), fifth (147), and seventh (219). They then traded that fifth (147) to Green Bay for a later fifth (166) and a seventh (247). In other words, the Patriots traded two picks and ended up with four in return.

The Versatile Guy: Too bad Geneo Grissom doesn’t quite qualify as a Freakishly Athletic Guy, or we would have gone 3-for-3 in our category predictions. Grissom, aka The Man Without A Position, played defensive end, linebacker, and even (as a sophomore) tight end for the Sooners. Will he find a spot in New England’s defense, or will he have a hard time contributing at Foxboro?

School Stats: At linebacker his senior year, Grissom had 39 tackles (6.5 for loss), 3.5 sacks, one interception, four pass breakups, and two forced fumbles.

Physical Testing Notables: At the combine, Grissom ran a 4.81 40-yard dash, lifted 20 bench reps, and had a 37-inch vertical. He also had a 1.65-second 10-yard dash, which is very quick for a man his size (running back David Cobb out of Minnesota had a 1.64).

Our Take: We thought we had an original idea by evoking Rob Ninkovich here, but then criminal mastermind Tom Curran over at CSNNE.com posted that comparison.  The similarly-sized Ninkovich ran a 4.91-second 40-yard dash and a 1.66-second 10-yarder at the 2006 combine, with 23 reps on the bench. Beyond the physical comparison, coaches also had a hard time finding a position for Ninkovich at the NFL level. He was a long snapper for the Saints and Dolphins with six career tackles before coming to Foxboro in 2009.

Quick Take: If the Patriots can make Grissom’s versatility a virtue, he will produce consistently.

The Lanky Defensive End: Must admit, did not have this category in our “That Guy” columns this year, but Trey Flowers fits a trend of drafting long-limbed pass-rushers over the past few years, from Chandler Jones to Michael Buchanan to Zach Moore. Flowers lacks great quickness but – like the aforementioned players – has the loping gait to get around offensive tackles and hassle the QB.

School Stats: The All-SEC Second Teamer (Coaches’ vote) had 68 tackles last season, with 15.5 for loss (six sacks). He also had six pass breakups and nine quarterback hits.

Physical Testing Notables: Flowers put up 28 bench reps at the combine (top 11 for all defensive linemen), leapt a 36.5-inch vertical (top five for DL), and completed a 4.40 20-yard shuttle (top 11).

Our Take: We’ll ignore the nagging image of Jake Bequette (another big, athletic pass-rusher out of Arkansas) and go to the other end of the spectrum with Willie McGinest. I know, I know – we’re not fitting Flowers for his red jacket just yet –  but the way he holds off blockers against the rush, and his ability to tip passes rushing or dropping back (look again at those six pass breakups last fall) reminds us of McGinest a bit.

Too much, too soon? Eh. Again, no one’s putting on pads for a while. Let’s just go with it.

Quick Take: Not super fast, but athletic overall, Flowers adds his name to the growing list of Patriots hybrids who will give their defense all-important flexibility.

The Injured Guy: Normally, this category describes someone who has missed significant time in college due to injury. Rob Gronkowski couldn’t play his junior year at Arizona due to a neck injury; Virginia’s Ras-I Dowling was about as brittle as winter dog scat. Still, guard Tre Jackson fits here because he reportedly failed multiple NFL team physicals. Jackson had to sit out his junior year in high school with a knee injury, but he started 42 games at FSU. Apparently, that’s good enough for the Pats.

School Stats: Hard to measure stats for a lineman, but we can summarize all of his 2014 Honors with this – Unanimous All-American.

Physical Testing Notables: He’s not fast (5.52-second 40), nor super strong (20 bench reps), but he is 6-4, 330 pounds. so …

Our Take: The Patriots needed more mass in the middle, and they got it in Jackson, who was rated as a late second-round pick by many (including us, when we had New England taking him in our mock draft – oh my God we got one right, sort of!). Also important that Jackson played most of his career alongside former FSU and current New England center Bryan Stork.

Quick Take: If communication is key to an offensive line’s success, Jackson and Stork have the potential to become a solid combo again.

The Other Offensive Lineman Guy: Thinking the Pats would take at least two OLs over the weekend (just as they did last year with Stork and Cameron Fleming), we actually mentioned Shaq Mason in our mock draft.  (What?!? TWO hits on a Patriots mock draft? I hath slain the Jabberwock!). Another interior force, Mason made a lot of mocks because he was seen working with former Patriots line coach and current consultant Dante Scarnecchia during Georgia Tech’s pro day.

School Stats: Gained All-American status (USA Today) his senior year after starting all 14 games at right guard. Also started all 13 games there as a junior. Last year, Tech ranked number one nationally in rushing (342 yards per game, a school record).

Physical Testing Notables: Mason, whom we also mentioned in our “Combine Snubs Who Showed ‘Em” series, ran a 4.99-second 40, which would have made him the second-fastest offensive lineman at the combine, just .01 seconds behind Ali Marpet. Mason also put up 25 reps on the bench and had a 32-inch vertical leap (tied for fifth-highest for combine OLs).

Our Take: Anyone who appears to get the okey-doke from Coach Scarnecchia certainly passes our test. Last year, New England traded Logan Mankins, known as their toughest lineman. Mason has been described as a mauler who could bring back some of that edge to the offensive interior.

Quick Take: The Pats, after going up to the buffet for seconds in the fourth round last year, again come back to the table with some grade A offensive linemen.

The Navy Guy: Wow. They did it. They really did it. While we listed Joe Cardona as the example for our Navy Guy category, and also mentioned him in our mock draft (wait: THREE RIGHT?!?), we figured he would only get signed after the draft ended. (Oh … Still, we’ll take credit.) Coach Belichick (a “Navy Guy” in another sense) couldn’t wait any longer and nabbed the long snapper before anyone else could.

School Stats: Cardona, who played lacrosse throughout high school (another Belichick talking point), started all four years as the Navy long snapper. He was regarded as the best in the nation.

Physical Testing Notables: The only player at the combine representing his position, Cardona put up 30 bench press reps, tying him for top 13 overall.

Our Take: As we’ve mentioned every time his name has come up, Cardona has a five-year military obligation. After two years, he can apply to opt out of the final three and instead serve six years in the Navy (or Marine Corps) Reserve while playing football. Now, unless Belichick has some kind of connection at Annapolis (hmmm…), there’s little chance Cardona will work in Foxboro this fall.

Quick Take: Stranger things have happened, but we don’t see Cardona snapping for New England beyond a camp appearance this summer. See ya in 2017, Joe!

The Special Teams Guy: While he played outside linebacker at Mississippi State, Matthew Wells’ size (222 pounds) takes him out of contention for that position in a base defense. He joins the ranks of Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner as late-rounders taken with an eye for their potential prowess on kick and punt teams.

School Stats: The blitzing Bulldog had 45 tackles (8.5 for loss) and four sacks last year, breaking up eight passes.

Physical Testing Notables: Wells ran a preposterous 4.43 40 at his pro day, which – as we mentioned in our aforementioned Combine Snubs series – would have qualified him as the second-fastest safety at the combine. He also had a 6.97-second 3-cone drill.

Our Take: Linebackers Jonathan Casillas and Akeem Ayers, both acquired in mid-season trades last year, have left Foxboro for free agency. Those two helped special teams play an important-yet-underrated role in New England’s success, so it makes sense to address that area of the roster later in the draft (add Cardona to that list, as well).

Quick Take: Can’t stop looking at that 4.43. Could also play a run-stopping, safety-type role in sub packages.

The Backup Tight End: Here’s another category we should have thought of before, because New England always tries to add depth there. A. J. Derby was a man without a position, going to Iowa as a quarterback out of Coffeyville, Kansas Community College, but ending up as a linebacker/special teamer. He asked for a transfer and got it, playing two years at Arkansas. Converted to tight end as a senior.

School Stats: In 2014, Derby caught 22 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns. Had a career game against Alabama with four receptions, including a 54-yard TD.

Physical Testing Notables: Derby ran a 4.72-second 40 at his pro day, which would have placed third among tight ends at the combine. Also had a 6.99-second 3-cone drill, which would have come in second. He started one game at QB for Arkansas as a junior (vs. Rutgers), completing 14 of 26 passes for 137 yards.

Our Take: Now this pick makes more sense. Derby practiced under Belichick buddy Kirk Ferentz at Iowa, played his best game at tight end vs. Coach Nick Saban (another BB bud), then had one of his best games at QB vs. Rutgers, aka New England South. His experience leading offenses and practicing at linebacker can only enhance his potential.

Quick Take: Faster than Scott Chandler, bigger than Tim Wright, and quicker than both, Derby adds an intriguing option at tight end while learning special teams.

The Three-Cone Guy: Anyone who follows the Patriots drafts knows about their interest (some might say obsession) with quickness demonstrated by low 3-cone times. Darryl Roberts qualifies this year with a nifty 6.66-second 3-cone. (For comparison, part-man, part-housefly Julian Edelman posted a 6.62.)

School Stats: Roberts started 42 games in his Marshall career, second among cornerbacks in school history. He made All-Conference USA as a senior after tallying 75 tackles (3.5 for loss), one interception, and 17 pass breakups. That last one is not a typo.

Physical Testing Notables: Add Roberts to the list of Combine Snubs we noted this spring (in Part II). Beyond his 3-cone, which would have hit the top four at the combine, Roberts had a top-four-worthy 11-foot-1 broad jump and a seventh-best 4.38-second 40-yard dash.

Our Take: He comes from the disrespected Conference USA and looks about as bulked up as a leaky balloon animal. Still, Roberts reminds us a bit of a latter-day Randall Gay, another rail-like CB who made the roster as a rookie free agent in 2004.

Quick Take: All hail the 3-cone. The 3-cone is all.

The Alabama Guy: We put Xzavier Dickson in this category for Part I of our “That Guy” series in February and kept him there for Part II. Seemed to make a lot of sense then, and now we see why. Ranked as a mid-round player, New England gets a late-round bargain. Dickson, another large defender, consistently produced for a program with a system familiar to Foxboro.

School Stats: Dickson had 42 tackles last season, including 12.5 for loss, and a team-leading nine sacks. He also broke up two passes.

Physical Testing Notables: At the combine, Dickson ran a 4.74-second 40.

Our Take: He may not be Pats starting linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Good, because the Pats didn’t spend a first-round pick on him. Dickson provides depth at an obviously (and increasingly) important position at Gillette. Having played defensive end as a freshman (ranked as a top-five high school DE in his recruiting class), he converted to linebacker as a sophomore and played in all 14 games that year. If he understand’s Coach Nick Saban’s defense, then he has a shot to come to New England and contribute as a rookie.

Quick Take: Wait – 260 pounds of experienced linebacker in the late seventh? Now, that’s how you cap off a draft.

Please watch this space for our annual undrafted free agent (UDFA) review.

Chris Warner tweets relentlessly: @cwarn89

Patriots Draft Preview (“That Guy” Edition 2.0)

As seen in our first “That Guy” draft preview from two months ago, New England tends to bring in certain types of players during draft weekend. With nine picks, the Super Bowl champs could fill some holes in a roster that – despite some big losses in free agency – remains solid overall.

Here’s our outlook on what types of players the Patriots will seek out this weekend, and some potential names who could fill those roles.

DAY ONE – Round One (One pick): 32nd Overall

First-Round, Solid-Bet Guy: Under Bill Belichick, New England has done well drafting in Round One (you can see our Round-by-Round column for a review of the past 15 drafts). From Richard Seymour (2001) to Nate Solder (2011), the Patriots tend to find players who not only contribute on a consistent level, but excel and end up starting.

Possible Pick: Carl Davis, Iowa Defensive Lineman (6-5, 320). We originally had Duke guard Lakinen Tomlinson here – and we find nothing wrong with that – but it seems that the Patriots could look to the defensive side of the line early. We’ll go back to where we were about three months ago: high on Davis after his Senior Bowl appearance. He only had 34 tackles and two sacks in 2014, but his position fails to rack up the stats. Davis’ size, speed (5.12-second 40-yard dash) and strength (28 bench reps, 33-inch vertical) could help him become part of the rotation this season. [Read more…]

Patriots 2015 Mock Draft (Mid-April Edition)

In our previous mock for New England, we looked at the positions the Pats could target in certain areas of the draft. We continue that practice this week, making a few tweaks in the wake of certain players’ pro day results.

As of this writing, New England has nine overall picks, including compensatory third- and seventh-round selections.

DAY ONE, Round One: DE/OLB

Possible Pick: Eli Harold, Virginia Defensive End (6-3, 247). Though we’ve considered both offensive and defensive linemen at this spot, there’s nothing wrong with getting some athleticism and production with their first pick. Harold had 54 tackles, seven sacks and 14 tackles for loss last year. He tallied 17.5 sacks in his career at Virginny, and he showed the ability to play off the line. Harold ran the 40 in 4.60 seconds and the 20-yard shuttle in 4.16 seconds, both impressive for a man his size. [Read more…]