The New England Patriots will be focusing on winning the later rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft and Pro Football Focus has recommended seven players that could interest Bill Belichick and company. Some of these players might be gone in round 4, some might be undrafted prospects, but all could have a role in New England.
The Patriots have a great track record in the fourth round since 2010, and always seem to find a contributor in rounds five, six, or seven. These are some players that could find a way onto the Patriots roster for 2017.
Nebraska SS Nathan Gerry
“Patrick Chung is getting up there in age, and Nathan Gerry could fill a similar role. Gerry, at 6-foot-2, 218 pounds, is bigger than the 5-foot-11 Chung, and is a physical player who is at his best coming downhill providing run support from the safety position. He recorded 23 run stops in 2016, and can cause some disruption in coverage, as his eight interceptions and nine passes breakups over the past two years would suggest...On 384 passing snaps in the 2016 season, Gerry missed just one tackle.”
I really like Gerry, and so do the Patriots; New England has met with with Gerry at multiple points this offseason. Gerry could be that hybrid linebacker-safety that the Patriots like, although Gerry adds less versatility than Chung because he can’t cover receivers in the slot.
Gerry is a fine cover-two strong safety and takes fantastic angles to the ballcarrier against the run. He lacks the sideline speed of a cover one safety (4.58s 40 yard dash and it shows on tape) and he can let the receiver get behind him at times. He’d back-up Chung and would be better in the box.
Iowa TE George Kittle
“Kittle was a dominating, all-around blocker in college. He also has the athletic potential to develop into a downfield weapon...While not as dynamic a receiver as Hernandez, he is a more complete player and has the type of versatility the Patriots covet...In his 2015 and 2016 seasons combined, Kittle surrendered only one QB pressure.”
The 6’4, 247 pound Kittle runs a ridiculous 4.52s 40 yard dash and has an explosive 11’ broad jump. Rotoworld mocked Kittle to the Patriots in the fifth round for a lot of the same reasons as PFF. He’s a top five receiver and blocker at the position, comes from a pro style offense with a long list of successful NFL tight ends, and played under head coach Kirk Ferentz, who coached under Bill Belichick while at Cleveland.
Oh, and Ferentz’s son Brian served as the Patriots tight end coach from 2010-11 before moving to Iowa, where he is currently the offensive coordinator. Talk about a series of connections.
Arkansas EDGE Deatrich Wise Jr.
“He has outstanding size and length for the position, and is strong enough to consistently set the edge. He is a high-effort player, and Belichick could take advantage of his unique physical traits to find a role for him to succeed in...Wise recorded the most QB pressures (eight) and tied for the most run stops (three) of any player in the 2016 East-West Shrine Game.”
Wise’s best physical comparable is former Patriots EDGE Chandler Jones and his arms are longer than former Arkansas teammate Trey Flowers’. He doesn’t have blazing speed (a laughable 4.92s 40 yard dash), but he’s explosive at the snap and is capable of re-setting the line of scrimmage and holding the edge.
Wise recorded 16.5 sacks, 23 tackles for loss, 4 forced fumbles, and 6 passes defended off the edge over the course of his career as a menace to opposing offenses. He won’t be a double-digit sack rusher in the NFL, but could settle in as an interior pass rusher in the Patriots defensive scheme due to his experience as a 5-technique, allowing Flowers to remain on the edge.
Kent State CB Najee Murray
“Najee Murray graded extremely well for PFF in 2016, finishing the year with a final grade of 85.6. Out of his 364 coverage snaps, 301 were in the slot. When in slot coverage, he allowed only 16 receptions on 38 targets, no TDs, and a 37.8 QB rating...Murray averaged 18.8 cover snaps between surrendered receptions in the slot in 2016, the best rate in FBS.”
The 5’9, 182 pound Murray has a 4.54s 40 yard dash, an explosive 10’2 broad jump, and a lightning-fast 4.05s shuttle and 6.83s three cone time. He disrupted 17 plays as a senior (2 interceptions, 14 break-ups, 1 forced fumble) and added 4 tackles for loss and 3 quarterback hurries out of the slot.
Murray’s passer rating allowed of 38.4 ranks 5th for cornerbacks, per PFF, behind early round prospects like Gareon Conley, Quincy Wilson, and Marshon Lattimore. We’ll talk later about the fifth player ahead of Murray.
North Carolina RB Elijah Hood
“Elijah Hood fits the bill as a big back, weighing in at 232 pounds, and is as tough to bring down as his build would suggest. Over the past two seasons, Hood averaged 3.96 yards after contact and had 25 rushing touchdowns. While not a burner, he broke off 19 runs of 15 yards or more in 2016. Hood is a patient, yet decisive, downhill runner with the vision and balance to be a productive power running back...Hood forced 96 missed tackles over the past two seasons at UNC.”
The 6’0, 232 pound Hood has a solid 4.57s 40 yard dash, 9’5 broad jump, and an impressive 7.12s three cone time. He battled injuries over his final year at North Carolina, but has shown an ability to run hard, catch the ball out of the backfield, avoid tacklers, and protect the quarterback as a blocker.
PFF says that Hood “averaged 4.1 yards after contact in 2015,” which was tied for the best mark in the NFL. If Hood can put his injury-plagued 2016 in the past, he could be a viable three-down back in the NFL.
UCLA OT Conor McDermott
“[McDermott] is fluid in his movement for a man his size, and uses his length well...McDermott allowed two QB pressures or fewer in every game in 2016 except for Week 1 at Texas A&M.”
McDermott was regarded as a first round prospect entering the 2016 college season, but opened up his year against unanimous #1 draft prospect EDGE Myles Garrett, allowing a ridiculous 11 pressures. McDermott dropped down the rankings, despite allowing just seven more pressures over the remaining course of the season.
The 6’8, 307 pound McDermott has reasonably impressive athleticism and compares to top prospects at the position. PFF notes that McDermott has poor technique and that his run blocking has gotten worse in each year of grading. Perhaps Dante Scarnecchia could mold McDermott into a viable starting tackle.
Michigan CB Channing Stribling
“Stribling was unafraid to use his length to disrupt receivers in 2016, while lining up in press on 68.8 percent of his coverage snaps...Quarterbacks recorded a 22.7 NFL passer rating when targeting Stribling in coverage in 2016, the second-best rate in the draft class (only Gareon Conley was better).”
Stribling is that fifth cornerback I didn’t mention when discussing Najee Murray. PFF notes that Sribling allowed just 19 receptions on 63 targets, for 251 yards, 1 touchdown, and 4 interceptions. He broke up 12 additional passes.
The 6’1, 188 pound Stribling runs an ugly 4.60s 40 yard dash, but has a solid 10’1 broad jump and 6.94s three cone. He’s purely an outside cornerback that’s experienced in press coverage and weak against the run. He needs to improve his technique if he is going to overcome his questionable athleticism in the NFL.