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Patriots scouts watched Pitt RB James Conner score 3 TDs against Virginia Tech

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The Patriots are still scouting big running backs.

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The New England Patriots scouts attended last Thursday’s bout between Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh, per NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread. Virginia Tech won a close game on the road with a final score of 39-36.

You can read the Pro Football Focus (PFF) scouting report from the game here, but here are the top prospects that the Patriots might have been watching:

Day 1

Virginia Tech TE Bucky Hodges, 6’6, 245 lbs: Hodges is in competition to be the top tight end off the board in next year’s draft (along with Alabama’s O.J. Howard and Michigan’s Jake Butt). Hodges collected 6 receptions for 145 yards against Pittsburgh. Hodges has improved as a receiving threat in each of the past three years (11.7 yards per reception in 2014, 13.3 YPR in 2015, 15.1 YPR in 2016), but is still a work in progress as a blocker.

Day 2

Virginia Tech WR Isaiah Ford, 6’1, 190 lbs: Ford is a second round prospect and he collected a whopping 10 receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown. Ford is coming off a 75 catch, 1,164 yard, 11 touchdown season in 2015, the first time a receiver has cracked 1,000 yards in school history. Ford is comfortably in the second tier of receiver prospects as he lacks the strength of the top players. Ford and Hodges were Virginia Tech’s top two offensive performers, per PFF.

Pittsburgh OG Dorian Johnson, 6’5, 315 lbs: Johnson is the 5th-ranked interior lineman prospect. He started for Pittsburgh at left tackle and right guard late in his freshman season, and he has been the starting left guard for the subsequent three seasons. He’s a traditional Pittsburgh grinder in the run game, but some question if his athleticism will translate to the NFL.

Pittsburgh OT Adam Bisnowaty, 6’6, 305 lbs: Bisnowaty has been a four-year starter at left tackle, missing time in his first three seasons with back and ankle problems. He was named First Team All ACC in 2015. Bisnowaty played well against Virginia Tech and the Patriots need an offensive tackle in a weak offensive tackle draft class. Bisnowaty was the highest graded offensive lineman in the game, per PFF.

Day 3

Virginia Tech CB Brandon Facyson, 6’1, 195 lbs: Facyson is in his fourth year as a starting cornerback for Virginia Tech (he received a red shirt in 2014 after starting three games). He has a nose for swatting away the ball and he has shadowed the opposing team’s #1 receiver. Virginia Tech has a long line of NFL-caliber defensive backs, from DeAngelo Hall to Brandon Flowers to Kam Chancellor to Kyle Fuller to Kendall Fuller. Facyson picked up 5 tackles and a tackle for loss.

Pittsburgh ED Ejuan Price, 6’0, 255 lbs: Price is 6th-year player after receiving medical redshirts in 2012 and 2014 due to chest injuries. He also suffered a season-ending back injury in 2013. Price has been a high-level starter whenever he’s been able to stay on the field. He sets the edge as well as any prospect and picked up 3 tackles for loss against Virginia Tech. Price has racked up 43.0 tackles for loss, 25.5 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles in his Pitt career. His size and injury history will drop him down draft boards, but he seems like a typical Patriots 4th round boom-bust pick.

Pittsburgh RB James Conner, 6’2, 240 lbs: Conner ran 19 times for 141 yards and 3 touchdowns and was the only reason Pitt was competitive against Virginia Tech. Conner was named ACC Player of the Year in 2014 after picking up 1,765 rushing yards and 26 rushing touchdowns. He tore his MCL in the 2015 season opener and was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma- the cancer that affected Chiefs S Eric Berry.

Conner is still working his way back as a dominant runner (672 rushing yards, 10 rushing touchdowns), but he has added a previously unseen receiving ability this year (15 receptions for 197 yards and 2 touchdowns).

The Patriots have unabashedly been scouting running backs this year, checking out FSU’s Dalvin Cook, Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd, and Clemson’s Wayne Gallman. I would expect the Patriots to take a running back in the third or fourth round of the 2017 draft.

PFA

Virginia Tech FS Chuck Clark, 6’0, 205 lbs: Clark picked up 7 tackles, one for loss. He is a three-year starter, including two years as a cornerback before moving to safety this year. He has racked up 23 passes defended and 13.5 tackles for loss in that time. The Patriots might have to replace FS Duron Harmon in free agency.

Pittsburgh DT Tyrique Jarrett, 6’3, 335 lbs: Jarrett is a two-year starter at nose tackle. He picked up 8 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 sack. He had 7 tackles for loss and 2 sacks in 2015. He’s a little slow off the snap, but he stays on his feet in traffic and possesses rare size.

Pittsburgh TE Scott Orndoff, 6’5, 255 lbs: Orndoff picked up 96 yards on 2 receptions and has 324 receiving yards on the season. He’s not an explosive athlete in the open field, but he’s a good blocker and could be a viable #2 tight end for a lot of teams in the NFL.