Twenty rookie free agents currently reside on the New England Patriots’ roster.
Six of them sit in the secondary.
It is a good slice of the pie – 30 percent – for a team that already steps on the scale with one of the NFL’s deepest defensive backfields. This year’s assortment has hailed from Richmond, Utah, Minnesota, Central Florida, Louisiana State and Valdosta State in aim of staying on the scale as the 90-man roster thins.
Until then, here’s glance through all six.
Richmond’s David Jones
A 6-foot-3, 210-pound safety with experience at corner and on special teams. Finished his Spiders career with 41 games played, 195 tackles, 14 interceptions, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 11 punt returns, nine kickoff returns and one touchdown run-back. Picked off four passes in one game as a redshirt junior and first-year starter back in 2015. Once projected as high as a third-round pick, fractured left forearm for a second time in September of 2016. Recorded a 4.43-second 40-yard dash, 7.31-second three-cone, 4.32-second short shuttle, a 34-inch vertical and 10-foot-9 broad jump at the Richmond pro day in March. Centerfield-type with tracking ability.
Utah’s Jason Thompson
Wyoming transfer who started both at quarterback and running back as a true freshman in 2012, going 27-of-52 passing for 222 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Added 38 carries for 121 yards and a score, and four catches for 20 yards before redshirting in 2013 and sitting out all but the Las Vegas Bowl in 2014 due to NCAA rules. Moved to safety in 2015. Concluded his final two seasons at Utah having played in 24 games – primarily on special teams – to register 13 tackles and a fumble recovery. Posted a 4.45-second 40, 6.57-second three-cone, 11-foot-1 broad jump and 39.5-inch vertical at the Utes’ pro day. Benched 20 reps of 225 pounds. Lack of defensive experience combined with an abundance of athleticism.
Minnesota’s Damarius Travis
A 6-foot-2, 215-pound fifth-year senior who appeared in 53 career games with 23 starts. Accumulated 190 tackles, 13 pass breakups, four interceptions, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. Saw his 2015 season end after one start and 10 tackles due to a hamstring injury suffered on the punt-block unit. Granted a medical hardship waiver in 2015, and returned to garner an All-Big Ten honorable mention from the media after leading Minnesota with 83 tackles to go with five tackles for loss, two interceptions, four pass deflections and a fumble recovery. An East-West Shrine Game participant and a late addition to the Senior Bowl. Timed 4.28 seconds in the short shuttle and 7.08 seconds in the three-cone drill at NFL Scouting Combine in February.
Central Florida’s D.J. Killings
Listed at 6-foot, 185 pounds. Collected 42 tackles with three for loss, one sack, three interceptions and 11 deflections as a senior while starting all 13 games across from Seattle Seahawks third-round pick Shaquill Griffin. Started seven games as a junior in 2015. Played in 16 contests between his freshman in sophomore campaigns to log 25 tackles, five deflections and two picks. Ran a 4.48-second 40, 6.97-second three-cone and 4.21-second short shuttle at the UCF pro day. Put up 22 reps on the bench and notched a 37.5-inch vertical with a 10-foot-4 broad jump. Received a reported $31,000 guaranteed between signing bonus and base salary.
Louisiana State’s Dwayne Thomas
A 6-foot, 201-pound fifth-year senior who was granted a medical redshirt as a freshman and suffered a torn ACL in 2014. Entered for 41 games with 12 starts from 2012 through 2016. Saw time at corner, nickel and dimeback, as well as both safety spots. Finished his Tigers career with 110 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 20 passes defended, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Late add to the Senior Bowl in Mobile. At his April pro day – alongside five eventual draft picks on LSU’s defensive side – he ran a 4.66-second 40-yard dash, 7.19-second three-cone and 4.38-second short shuttle. Leaped for a 9-foot-11 broad jump and 33.5-inch vert.
Valdosta State’s Kenny Moore
Valdosta native joined his high school football team as a senior, and capped off his four-year collegiate career having played in 46 games to accrue 171 tackles, one sack, 25 pass deflections, one forced fumble and 11 interceptions returned for two touchdowns. Led Valdosta State with 65 tackles, eight breakups and five interceptions as a senior in 2016. Listed at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds with experience at corner, nickelback and strong safety. Named a first-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association in addition to being an All-Gulf South Conference pick. Accompanied a fellow Patriots rookie free agent, Killings, in the National squad secondary during January’s second-annual Tropical Bowl.
The stockpile of undrafted defensive backs might say as much about the players’ interest in choosing the Patriots as it does the Patriots choosing them. And Jonathan Jones, who signed on as an undrafted rookie via Auburn last spring and went on to appear in every game through Super Bowl LI, is the latest example at DB.
“There were some teams I was talking to, but I think once I got a chance to talk with the coaches and talk with everyone in this organization I knew this would be a great spot for me,” Jones told reporters last May during organized team activities. “They preach here that you get what you earn here, so it’s kind of one of those places that as long you put the hard work in and dedication, you’ll get the results.”
Jones got the results. He went on to become the fourth undrafted defensive back in three years to latch onto the Patriots’ 53-man roster for significant time, outlasting fellow 2016 rookie free agents including Illinois’ V’Angelo Bentley and current Chicago Bear Cre’Von LeBlanc, not to mention 2015 seventh-round pick Darryl Roberts and veteran E.J. Biggers.
In the process, the 5-foot-10, 190-pounder joined a group that included a former tryout corner by the name of Malcolm Butler, as well as a Tennessee nickel named Justin Coleman and a hybrid linebacker and special-teamer by the name of Brandon King.
Perhaps one of this year’s six undrafted defensive backs will make a case of their own in the months to follow like others before them did. At the very least, they’ll have the opportunity to make for a difficult decision.
“This organization is one of the best-put-together organizations,” said Jones. “They truly believe that you get what you earn, so you come here, you put in the work, you put in the time and preparation, and the rest is up to the coaches to make their decisions.”