This off-season has been uncharacteristically "flashy" for the Patriots brass. What got lost in the shuffle, though, is that only 66 players are currently under the contract, which opens up a huge room for undrafted free agents post draft. Mike Reiss writes:
5. Including Branch, unsigned restricted free agent Malcolm Butler, and exclusive-rights free agents Matt Lengel and Brandon King, the Patriots have 66 players on their roster. At a time when clubs can have up to 90 players, that leaves 24 open spots. The Patriots currently have seven draft picks, which would mean there's a possibility of as many as 17 undrafted free agent signings this year, a significant class compared to the single-digit classes of each of the last three years -- eight in 2016, seven in 2015, and nine in 2014. The last undrafted Patriots class of 10 or more players came in 2013 when the club signed 19, a crop that produced punter Ryan Allen and offensive lineman Josh Kline. The Patriots always seem to find at least one contributor in the undrafted ranks, as evidenced by the last three years:
- 2016: Special teamer Jonathan Jones
- 2015: Center David Andrews, special teamer Brandon King
- 2014: Cornerback Malcolm Butler
They'll end up making 7-8 draft picks and have a ton of roster spots for UDFA in a deep class. Makes since to get hands on as many as pos. https://t.co/C9NNg255kJ— Mike Loyko (@NEPD_Loyko) March 26, 2017
As stated above, finding quality contributors among UDFAs have been Belichick's MO. And this class is no short of intriguing targets who can bring us pleasant surprise. Larger room only means they can afford to examine even more "low risk - high reward" players than usual.
I kick off the series by introducing two developmental tight ends who might contribute in a big way after a year or two.
Tyrone Swoopes, TE (Texas)
It simply isn't a draft season until a former college QB switching into a new position gets linked to Patriots (remember Braxton Miller hype train last year?) thanks to Julian Edelman. This year's notable name is Tyrone Swoopes, a former Longhorn "duel threat" (read: underwhelming at passing even at college level) QB switching into a TE. Reportedly, he is having some nice showings lately.
He is obviously a project which requires significant seasoning on most likely practice squad before being able to contribute. However, with extra space on the 90 men roster, Patriots can certainly afford to take a flier on him to see if he is worth developing.
Antony Auclair, TE (Laval)
This TE class is full of players from small school / lower level competition. It is hard to have a grasp of their true capability from films (if they actually exist), Auclair from north of the border caught my attention the most when I saw him going against better prospects in this year's East-West Shrine game.
While sample is limited, he moved extremely fluid for his size while showing flashes in blocking and catching as well.
Matt Miller of Bleacher Report writes:
A Canadian prospect, 17 NFL teams traveled to watch Antony Auclair and his teammates work out at the school's pro day. After a strong showing at the 2017 East-West Shrine Game, the 6'6", 254-pound Auclair has plenty of buzz building. An in-line prospect with good blocking effort and a strong foundation of technique, Auclair can become a three-down player in the NFL with development. His movement skills are also impressive. He's an easy mover and has enough burst to get into his route with separation. As a drive blocker, he latches on with long arms and has the lower-body strength to move defensive ends to the second level. Auclair is a hands-catcher with a natural ability to pull in the ball. In space, he's a natural runner with yards-after-catch potential.
A lack of play against top competition is the biggest question mark. Auclair did look the part on film and in the Shrine Game, but even then, it was against second-tier talent. As a route-runner, he's very limited and very raw. Auclair will need his passing game completely built up at the pro level. Most of the grabs on film are made in space, and he has to show he can make plays in traffic. Auclair doesn't have great natural athleticism and his ability to beat coverage with speed or quickness remains to be seen.
Good read. Shrine Week had Eric Saubert flash early, but I thought it was Antony Auclair who was the best TE all week there https://t.co/0CScv1NCIj— Ryan Booher (@bootang25) March 26, 2017
Laval TE Antony Auclair is a fun guy. Big, fast, good blocker.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 28, 2017
More on Auclair
SUMMARY: Growing up playing the quarterback position in Canada, Auclair moved to tight end where he was a consistent force at Laval Rouge et Or, a university located in Quebec City. He posted steady production the past three seasons, including 17 receptions for 229 yards and two touchdowns as a senior. Auclair received an invitation to the 2017 East-West Shrine Game and impressed against other draftable prospects. He has prototypical size and build for the position and is a better athlete than expected, shifting gears in his movements to uncover. He catches the ball well, but his inexperience as a route-runner, especially vs. NFL-level talent, is obvious. Auclair shines as a blocker with his natural power and competitive motor, overwhelming defenders at the point of attack. Rated as one of the top prospects for the CFL Draft, Auclair isn’t NFL ready and needs time, but his combination of size, strength and speed belongs in the NFL – intriguing developmental prospect.
Like Swoopes, he is another project that requires some time before he is ready, I deem this guy's sheer upside to be worthy of a spot on the 90 men roster.
The next entry will focus on wide receivers and running backs.