With the NFL Draft less than a week away, this is when draft nerds like myself finally get to some of the players that will be selected on day three or even reach free agency.
Over the last two decades, the Patriots have set the bar in terms of acquiring late-round draft picks, and undrafted free agents, and turning those players into household names.
Here are some potential fits for the Patriots at every position that are sleepers in this year’s draft:
Chase Litton, QB, Marshall
Litton hasn’t received as much draft buzz as potential #1 overall pick Josh Allen, but he’s Allen-like due to a rocket arm and athletic build. Litton is right up there with the draft’s top quarterback prospects in terms of making NFL throws. In fact, he ranked fifth in the draft class in Pro Football Focus’ “big-time throw” metric that measures the number of “wow” throws a quarterback makes. However, Litton is considered a late-round prospect due to his erratic ball placement, a tendency to lock onto receivers and a high number of turnover worthy plays. He also has major off-field concerns that he’ll have to prove are behind him. I did a thread on Litton that highlighted the good and bad aspects of his game.
Nic Shimonek, QB, Texas Tech
There’s a lot to like about Shimonek. He looks the part as a tall quarterback in the pocket with the arm talent to make throws from different platforms and on the move. Also, in an interview with Bleacher Report’s Doug Ferrar, Shimonek articulated the high football IQ that seemed to translate on tape last season. You often see him coming off his first read and even getting to his third or fourth reads to attack defenses. There are some significant concerns, however, as his ball placement into tight windows and pocket awareness are suspect, as is his ability to close out games in the fourth quarter. Still, for a late-round prospect, Shimonek displayed the arm talent and intelligence to compete for a roster spot.
Chase Edmonds, RB, Fordham
Edmonds is my favorite sleeper on this list. He dominated the Patriot League during his time at Fordham to the tune of three-straight seasons with over 1,600 rushing yards. Here’s what I wrote about Edmonds after he impressed at the combine:
Edmonds then went to Indy and had a very Patriots-like workout as a standout at the running back position in the three-cone drill ranking in the 90th percentile at 6.79 seconds. In 2015, Edmonds was the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year, finishing third in the FCS with 1,648 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns. Edmonds followed that up with a strong 2016 campaign earning FCS All-American First-Team honors with 1,799 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. He dealt with injuries last season but was an extremely productive player in college.
Edmonds’ production at Fordham speaks for itself, but the tape also shows a player that eerily resembles Patriots running back James White. Edmonds is shifty and jukes defenders with insane lateral jump cuts. He’s a smooth runner that can slither his way around defenders instead of taking them head-on. Edmonds can also catch the ball out of the backfield with 86 receptions for 905 yards in his collegiate career. Like White, his role may be as a receiving back early on in his career. But if he can be more decisive as a runner and develop a better feel for blocking schemes he could potentially be a steal for the Patriots on day three.
Akrum Wadley, RB, Iowa
Wadley has the athleticism and lateral agility to be selected much higher than he’ll end up going in the draft. He’s as elusive and explosive as any running back in this class. He has a slew of breathtaking jump-cuts and moves that display short-area explosiveness on tape. Wadley also runs with underrated power and balance for a running back of his size. At Iowa, he also showed natural ability as a receiver and often lined up in the slot as a receiving threat, and his athleticism makes him a problem after the catch. His combination of elusiveness, burst, balance, and power are reminiscent of former Patriots running back Dion Lewis. However, the knocks on Wadley are worrisome and explain why he’ll likely be a day three pick. At 5-foot-9, 194 pounds, Wadley doesn’t have the size that typically translates to an every-down running back at the next level. Plus, he also struggles mightily in pass protection and needs to be more decisive between the tackles as a runner. Still, Wadley’s explosiveness and production over the last two seasons at Iowa (2,858 scrimmage yards, 26 TDs) make him an intriguing late-round pickup. Check out my thread on Wadley here.
Deontay Burnett, WR, USC
Burnett entered the draft following his junior season at USC after he hauled in 86 passes for 1,114 yards and nine touchdowns as Sam Darnold’s favorite target. He’s an incredibly shifty receiver that can create easy separation at the top of routes despite a noticeable lack of polish as a route runner. Burnett also has very strong hands at the catch point and made his fair share of acrobatic catches during his time at USC. There are major concerns about his route running, however, as he struggled to make define cuts at the top of routes and often faded away from the quarterback coming across the field. With that said, his quickness, strong hands and YAC ability would translate nicely into a slot role with the Patriots.
Jordan Thomas, TE, Mississippi State
Thomas was a JUCO transfer and only had 31 career receptions in two seasons at Mississippi State. However, at 6-5, 265 pounds, Thomas has rare straight-line speed and ball skills for a player of his size. He also showed off a large catch radius and impressive body control in the red zone. Thomas knows how use his body to box-out defenders and separate at the top of routes. He was as a big wide receiver for the Bulldogs that moved all over the formation, but he was adequate as an outside blocker on screens and in the run game. When appropriately used, Thomas was a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses due to his rare combination of size, speed and coordination. He could develop nicely into a move tight end at the next level.
Brandon Parker, OT, North Carolina A&T
There are some small school prospects with high-upside in this draft and Parker is another one of those. He’s massive standing at nearly 6-8 and weighing in at 305 pounds with room to add weight. His issues on tape could be fixable. He moves well in space and out of his stance with light feet to slide in pass protection. However, he’s late to his punch too often, and despite having long arms, he doesn’t fully know how to use them yet to leverage blocks. The Patriots sent offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia to workout Parker at his Pro Day, and Scar might be the perfect teacher to add polish to Parker’s game.
Kylie Fitts, EDGE, Utah
It’s difficult to write this section without mentioning N.C. State’s Kentavius Street. Street was sharpied into this spot for months but unfortunately tore his ACL in a pre-draft workout in early April. Fitts’ combine workout put him on my radar as a potential Patriots target. He doesn’t have ideal size, height or arm length for a Patriots’ edge defender but his workout numbers fit their mold to a tee (pun intended). The Pats put a heavy emphasis on the three-cone drill in the scouting process, and Fitts ran a blistering 6.88-second three-cone in Indy, which ranks in the 95th percentile for edge defenders. That quickness and burst show up on tape as he has impressive explosion off the snap, and has no problems changing directions. Fitts also showed off great bend around the edge, and hand usage as his punch and rip move worked adequately enough to generate pressure. There are two major concerns with Fitts: health and play strength. He was hurt for most of 2016 and battled nagging injuries all last season as well. He also had trouble setting the edge in the run game and can be overpowered by bigger tackles. Fitts can make an NFL roster as a situational pass rusher and could be an every-down player if he can stay healthy.
Dorian O’Daniel, LB, Clemson
O’Daniel may go a little higher than some of the other players on this list, but when you study his tape and background, it screams Patriots. First, O’Daniel will make an NFL roster as a rookie solely on his special teams play alone. He racked up 48 special teams tackles at Clemson and is an absolute monster on coverage units. And second, the athletic ability he displayed on tape that saw him flying to the ball on special teams translated to the combine with a stellar workout. Athletic linebackers like O’Daniel are very en vogue right now in the NFL, but some concerns will cause him to fall in the draft. Despite being a great tester, O’Daniel doesn’t change direction well in space and lacks hip fluidity to change directions in coverage. He also has trouble shedding blockers and can often be blocked by slot receivers and tight ends. Still, don’t be surprised if the Patriots prioritize his special team’s skills and take him earlier than expected.
Nick Nelson, CB, Wisconsin
The Patriots sent Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio to Wisconsin’s Pro Day where he worked out both Nelson and teammate Jack Cichy. Nelson is a physical press-man corner that forces receivers to feel his presence throughout the route. He’s also very patient in coverage and isn’t fooled easily by double-moves. Nelson is known for his work ethic both in the film room and on the practice field, which we know will get the Patriots’ attention. He’ll likely slide in the draft due to some hip stiffness and a torn meniscus that he suffered during a pre-draft draft workout that won’t keep him out of training camp.
Kris Weatherspoon, S, Troy
Weatherspoon is an athletic, versatile safety that hasn’t gotten a ton of pre-draft hype despite having ideal traits for the NFL game. Weatherspoon played both safety spots at Troy and found work as a slot defender both in man and zone coverage situations. He looked most comfortable in zone where he showed good awareness and was constantly looking for work. He has a good understanding of route concepts and how certain play calls change his responsibilities snap-to-snap. He’s also a bigger safety who flashed playmaking skills around the line scrimmage in the run game. However, tackling in space and staying in front of quicker receivers/ball carriers are major concerns. Weatherspoon has potential as a matchup-based player that could develop into a solid in-the-box safety at the next level.