The NFL Combine has been well underway and all the college talent has shown up ready to put on their best face for the league.
The Patriots enter this draft season with five draft picks in hand- 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and a pair a 7th rounders. Plenty of holes on the roster reared their ugly heads throughout the slugfest of a 2012 season, and here's a list of prime positions where the Patriots could use some help:
DT - The Patriots have an amazing player in Vince Wilfork, but whether the defense is in the 4-3, or the 3-4, the issue has been the same: who plays next to Vince? Once Richard Seymour departed, the Patriots have been unable to fill the shoes on the defensive line and this off-season is no different. Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick are quality depth players, but in order to generate consistent pressure up the middle, the Patriots need to start improving their talent next to Vince.
DB - Safety and cornerback, there are plenty of options for improvement. The Patriots secondary is mostly up in the air, beyond Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory- Alfonzo Dennard has his issues with the law, Aqib Talib is no guarantee to return, Kyle Arrington has shown an inability to play as a top cornerback on the outside, Tavon Wilson and Ras-I Dowling are unproven commodities, and Pat Chung...well does the team want him back? Don't be surprised if the Patriots continue to spend draft picks on this same defensive position.
WR - Brandon Lloyd is the only wide receiver on the roster with more than two receptions in their career. With Julian Edelman and Wes Welker as free agents, don't be surprised if the Patriots treat the wide receiver position the same way they've treated the running back and tight end spots; look for a double dip come draft day.
Lucky for the Patriots, there's plenty of talent at the combine and there's a lot of players worth noting. My good friend Mike Loyko of NE Patriots Draft has been compiling a spreadsheet of combine details, for those interested. Here are some interesting facts from the weigh in:
Tallest Player: Levine Toilolo, TE, Stanford and Margus Hunt, DE, Southern Methodist stand at slightly above 6'8
Shortest Player: Robbie Rouse, RB, Fresno State stands at slight above 5'5
Heaviest Player: T.J. Barnes, DT, Georgia Tech weighs 369 lbs (at 6'6)
Lightest Player: Onterio McCalebb, RB, Auburn weighs 168 lbs (at 5'10)
Longest Arms: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama with 36.75 inches
Shortest Arms: Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina with 28 inches
Biggest Hands: Malliciah Goodman, DL, Clemson and Kyle Long, OL, Oregon with 11 inches
Smallest Hands: Johnny Adams, DB, Michigan State with 8 inches
Please note that only the offensive players have taken part in the typical jump, speed, and cone drills, while the defensive front seven players have performed the bench press. Here are the stats:
Fastest 40: Marquise Goodwin, WR, Texas, 4.27s
Most Bench Reps: Brandon Williams, DL, Missouri Southern, and Margus Hunt, DL, Southern Methodist with 38 reps
Highest Vertical: Christine Michael, RB, Texas A&M, 43"
Longest Broad: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee, 11'6
Fastest 3 Cone: T.J. Moe, WR, Missouri, 6.53s
Fastest Short Shuttle: T.J. Moe, WR, Missouri, 3.96s
Luckily for Patriots fans, there is plenty of information out on wide receivers and we can all cross our fingers that at least one will join the team and be around for a long time.
Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia - Austin exploded on the day, throwing down 4.34s 40 yard dash. He looked smooth in drills and was able to show off his athletic ability. He won't be the big target on the outside, standing at 5'8, 174 lbs, but he has all the ability to cause trouble on the field. He has solid hands and has shown throughout his college career that he can be relied upon with the football. He can play in the slot and he can break away down the field. The main concern is his durability at 174 lbs, but if teams feel confident in his longevity, he could be a productive player for a long time.
Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee - Hunter is a physical freak, standing at 6'4, 196 lbs. He was possibly the most impressive athlete, running a 4.44s 40, with the day's best long jump (the best indicator for explosion out of the snap), and the day's 2nd best vertical jump. He will be an outstanding outside receiver for some team out of the draft.
Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M - Swope had a great day, measuring it a 6'0, 204 lbs. He's a do-it-all receiver with a penchant for blocking down the field. He is one of the all time leaders in receptions through his college career, notching 252 over four seasons. He was great in the drills, showing off strong hands, and he also showed up with a great 4.34s 40 yard dash, an explosive 10'5 broad jump, and a top 10 three cone drill at 6.76s.
The Patriots are in need at receiver in multiple roles. Brandon Lloyd was capable on the outside, but the Patriots could do well to add another big body on the outside to develop into a starting role after another season. That role would be filled by a player entirely different than who the team might need as a slot receiver, a speed receiver, or a pure possession receiver.
Mark Harrison, Rutgers - Harrison stands at 6'2.5 and a beastly 231 lbs, yet still was able to turn in a fantastic 4.46s 40. He has all of the physical ability of a big outside receiver, with a great 10.75 broad jump, a 38.5 vertical, and a 6.99s three cone. He's still growing as a prospect, and wasn't able to play with the strongest of quarterbacks, but he's currently standing as a 7th round prospect, who might continue to rise up in the draft. I believe Harrison could be groomed into a quality outside receiver, possibly similar to San Diego's Malcom Floyd.
Da'Rick Rogers, Tennessee State - Rogers is 6'2 and 217 lbs, and could possibly be the best athlete at receiver in this draft. While his 4.52s 40 won't wow many, it's quality speed to go with his elite 6.71 three cone quickness and his explosive 39.5 inch vertical and 11 foot broad jump. Rogers was kicked out of Tennessee and forced into his small school due to his own mistakes (drugs), but he interviewed extremely well and owned up to his past (he's passed every drug test since the transfer). He's a tough receiver with solid hands who could be available in the late second, possibly the third round. Rogers has been compared to Anquan Boldin.
Tavarres King, Georgia - King is my sleeper in this draft, 6'0, 189 lbs, with a 4.47s 40. He runs a solid 6.91 three cone, and has a more than respectable 36.5 inch vertical and 10.25 foot broad jump. He's not a burner, he's not a slot guy, and he won't be an A.J. Green type of a receiver. However, he showed reliable hands, and has the ability to separate from receivers, run fluid routes, and has enough athleticism to make a name for himself. Currently pegged as a 3rd-4th round pick, King could be the player Brandon Lloyd was for the Broncos.
Ryan Swope, Texas A&M - We pointed out Swope's great day and believe he could be an excellent fit for the Patriots. Standing at 6'0, he has the ability to kick to the outside, while still remain a threat in the slot- similar to how the Patriots have tried to use Julian Edelman. Swope, of course, is much more polished as a receiver than Edelman, and has a more durable frame. Swope is considered a 4th round pick.
Tavon Austin, West Virginia - Austin is a first round lock after the combine, showing that every incredible feat on the football field is backed by NFL level talent and future potential. While he may be small at 5'8, 174 lbs, he has the speed, quickness, and apparent durability to last in the NFL. While at WVU, Austin rushed the ball 72 times as a senior, collecting a total of 176 touches from scrimmage, marking himself the first player since current Houston Texans' gadget player James Casey to notch 100+ receptions and 50+ rushes. Austin could definitely be considered a much smaller Percy Harvin-like talent.
Markus Wheaton, Oregon State - Considered a 2nd round pick, Wheaton can do it all as a receiver. He's 5'11, 189 lbs, with 4.45s speed, 6.8s three cone quickness, and 37 inch, 10 foot explosion. He is versatile, notching over 600 yards and 5 TDs rushing the ball, and could easily become a favorite of Bill Belichick's. Not so much purely a slot receiver, Wheaton can play all over the field and his combination of sure hands, physicality, and athletic ability could take him far, as a Hines Ward type of player.
There's plenty of talent at receiver in this draft, and there should be quality talent available throughout the second, third, and fourth rounds. The draft will rely heavily upon the Patriots' success during free agency, but assuming the return of both Wes Welker and Julian Edelman, a Patriots haul of both Markus Wheaton and Tavarres King could set this franchise's offense in motion for the next five years.
There will be more player breakdowns to come and we'll review the defensive players after their drills tomorrow.