ESPN’s Mike Reiss named four possible free agent targets for the New England Patriots and they’re worth noting because Reiss is the best in the business. Last year, Reiss connected the Patriots to Bills WR Chris Hogan, and the Patriots ultimately signed him away from their division rivals. Reiss also mentioned WR Rod Streater; the Patriots worked out Streater a few days later.
Here are the four players that Reiss names and my thoughts on each player.
RB Benny Cunningham
The 26-year-old Rams running back took a visit to Foxboro as a restricted free agent last year -- he could be a factor as a returner and in other special-teams areas-- and that naturally puts him on the radar this year on the unrestricted market.
Cunningham could be an improvement over RB Brandon Bolden in the sense that he’s a better offensive player and his ability as a returner might be considered more valuable than Bolden’s contributions as a blocker. Cunningham is a great receiver and a viable runner when given opportunities.
EDGE Datone Jones
The Packers' defensive end/linebacker is the type of hybrid defender with high-end physical traits that Bill Belichick seems to like to collect. The 6-foot-4, 285-pound Jones (26) is a 2013 first-round pick out of UCLA who hasn't panned out, but might benefit from a change of scenery.
Jones wants to return to the Packers but might be the odd man out with three other Packers pass rushers entering free agency. Jones cut his weight to 270 pounds for 2016, but he never found a place in the Packers 3-4 front. He seems to be a perfect candidate to play a Trey Flowers-like role as a 4-technique in the 5-man front, a defensive end in the 4-man front, and nose tackle in the 3-man passing down front.
EDGE Jarvis Jones
Another 2013 first-round pick (Steelers) who hasn't met expectations, the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Jones (27) also falls into the hybrid category and had some pass-rushing skills coming out of Georgia that made him a top prospect. A fresh start elsewhere could bring out the best in him.
The Steelers benched Jones for the 80-year-old James Harrison and it’s wouldn’t be a surprise if Pittsburgh moved forward with Harrison over their former first round pick. Jones ran a shockingly slow 4.88s 40 yard dash at his Pro Day, but could be a potential pass rush-only replacement in the Patriots defensive end rotation.
WR Robert Woods
The 6-foot-0, 190-pound wide receiver (Bills) runs the type of precise routes that should catch the Patriots' eye, and teams that look beyond his mid-level production (more a result of middling quarterback play) and focus on his top physical traits could view him as a top value in free agency.
Can I compare Robert Woods to a summer’s day? Reiss is referring to Woods’ ability to run excellent hitch and comeback routes, which is the route of choice by QB Tom Brady. The Patriots might not have space for Woods, but if the price is right he could be an excellent option on the outside.
Which of these four players would you want in a Patriots uniform?
Reiss also highlights the lone ugly aspect of the Patriots 2016 season: bye weeks. Check out his notes here.