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Sunday NFL thoughts: Notes on the 2018 NFL combine from a Patriots perspective

Quick hit thoughts around the league and the Patriots.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

With the NFL’s scouting combine entering its final days, let’s clean out the notebook on the event so far and what it has brought for the New England Patriots:

1. According to a report by NESN's Doug Kyed, Bret Bielema is present at the combine as a representative of the Patriots. Bielema was fired as head coach of Arkansas last November and now appears to go join Greg Schiano and Chip Kelly as former coaches doing some minor work for Bill Belichick. Bielema's program recently groomed Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise Hr., so a connection between him and New England certainly exists. Whether it goes beyond the representative stage remains to be seen.

2a. Defensive tackle Maurice Hurst was seen as a first-round prospect before the combine. However, this status appears to be in question after the 22-year old was diagnosed with a heart condition during medical examinations. If the Michigan product indeed falls down the draft board due to this diagnosis, it will be interesting to see when the first team jumps on him because it sees the upside as more significant than the potential risk taken by investing a draft choice in him.

2b. The Hurst situation reminds a bit of current Patriots right tackle Marcus Cannon, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma before the 2011 draft. While the TCU product was not projected to be picked as early as Hurst is/was, he likely would have been drafted before the Patriots selected him in the fifth round. The investment paid off for the team as Cannon went on to become one of the best right tackles in the league. Will Hurst’s career take a similar path? Time will tell.

3. With Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett in San Francisco and Indianapolis, respectively, the Patriots are certainly in the market for a backup passer to groom behind Tom Brady. However, the team opted not to send offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels to thd combine. It is therefore no surprise that the team is not holding any reported formal meetings with quarterback hopefuls. Expect a different approach once pro days start across the country next week.

4. The current generation of quarterback prospects grew up watching Tom Brady turn from a sixth round pick into the greatest passer pro football has ever seen. Naturally, the admiration among the NFL hopefuls currently participating at the combine is evident. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, for example, told reporters he would approach playing behind Brady "like a little kid": "I’d be trying to learn as much as I could. I’d be asking him a lot of questions like, ‘Why did you do this?’ or ‘What did you feel would work on this?’ A lot of questions."

Richmond quarterback Kyle Lauletta echoed Jackson’s remarks when asked about potentially playing in New England with Brady: "That would be a dream come true. I think any quarterback would love to be in that position. Learning from a guy like Tom Brady, you can learn so much just by the way he works and observing the way he goes about his business day to day."

"I really enjoy watching his film," said Western Kentucky quarterback Mike White about Brady. "The way he operates and the way he plays the game of football is unbelievable. It shows how he wins all the time. I’ve tried to emulate my game after him. [...] I just like watching his film because of the way he beats a defense before the ball is even snapped and how he’s constantly getting his offense into the right play. They’re never in a bad play with him because he’s always super prepared and he knows what he’s getting before the ball is even snapped. It’s a pleasure watching him play."

Washington State’s Luke Falk, who ranks highly among potential New England draft targets, called Brady a role model: "I definitely try to emulate Brady. I think he’s just the best at what he does. He’s definitely a good guy to try to model your game after. [...] He’s 40 years old and still puts everything he’s got into it. So I really just want to do that with my game. If it’s good enough for him it’s good enough for me. You see somebody at his age that’s been doing it for so long and he’s still so motivated."

5. While the combine has an impact on players’ draft outlooks, it is only one piece of the pre-draft puzzle; reading too much into performances at Indianapolis can be dangerous. Nevertheless, there were some standouts so far both positively and negatively. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley more and more looks like a candidate to get selected first overall, while UCLA offensive tackle Kolton Miller is quickly rising up draft boards due to his outstanding blend of size and athleticism and could become a first rounder when all is said and done.

Quarterback Josh Allen of Wyoming also was among the standouts, especially during passing drills, all while Louisville’s Lamar Jackson is putting to rest any speculation of him changing positions at the next level. Speaking of the next level, Oklahoma offensive tackle Orlando Brown might enter it as a question mark following a terrible outing during athletic drills. The first round prospect ranone of the slowest 40-times in recent memory and did not fare much better in other drills.