Players and positions for Patriots fans to look for at the NFL Combine
The 2016 National Football League season has its first major event this week, and that is the scouting combine at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts. It is an event where players are critiqued on every aspect of their being. They will run a series of on-field drills, highlight by the 40-yard dash, broad jump, and three-cone drill. They also go through a multitude of interviews with coaches and media. It is truly a welcome to the big-time event for these young players. Bill Belichick will be there with his coaching entourage, scouting players for this April’s draft.
Here are five positions Patriots fans should be looking for at this weekend’s combine, and a corresponding player at that position that could land in Foxborough.
Running Back: The position that would make the most sense for the Patriots to address first in this year’s draft as of right now is running back. I would expect them to look to sign a free agent running back, but this year’s draft has been considered one deep in offensive and defensive lineman. Therefore, skill position players could slip into the second round. Now the Patriots first pick is at pick number 60, but definitely don’t rule out the Patriots trading up in round two. If that is the case the ideal scenario would be Heisman Trophy Winner Derrick Henry out of Alabama, being selected by the Patriots.
Henry had an outstanding college career and runs like a horse. Time and time again in college he would just receive the handoff find one hole, and take off for 40-plus yards. At 6-2, 242 pounds his size may hurt him in the pros. Alabama running backs have typically had tremendous college careers and then fall flat in the NFL. Examples include Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, they benefited from the best offensive line in the nation. However, Henry will have the benefit of Ivan Fears being his positional coach in New England, who is one of the best in the game at what he does. Bill Belichick also has a good relationship with Nick Saban.
Running backs work out on Friday February 26th.
Offensive tackle: The Patriots really don’t need a legitimate starting offensive lineman. Their two starting tackles in Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder are expected to return, they have a battle for the starting center spot between David Andrews and Bryan Stork, and at guard expect Dante Scarnecchia to play a big role in developing Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason. However, they do need some depth. A name that has floated around Patriots mock drafts of late is tackle Joe Haeg out of the FCS powerhouse that is North Dakota State.
At 6-6, 307 pounds Haeg is the prototypical, “swing-tackle” that the Patriots are in need for, because Marcus Cannon simply can’t get the job done. He played on both sides of the offensive line at tackle during his time in Fargo. His pass protection is solid, and he could use some work in the run game. At times he gets the roller blade feet when shuffling. Also, the transition from division one FCS, to the NFL is monumental. Haeg is a projected third round talent.
Offensive lineman work out on Friday, February 26th NFL Network.
Cornerback: The Patriots right now have their number one cornerback in Malcolm Butler. The number two spot looks to be Logan Ryan, but there are still some serious question marks there. The three spot is wide open, and that is why they will need to address that spot in this spring’s draft. A name that stands out right now is Artie Burns out of Miami. Standing at 6-0, 197 pounds Burns has the build and athleticism to be a legitimate pro corner.
Burns was an All-American hurdler on the Hurricanes track and field team. However, when you watch his tape his athletic skills go out the window. Too often he gets beat off the ball, and while he has good speed, his recovery speed is not that great. Also, he plays much to high leading to him getting beat off the ball. He does have the swagger that you would expect from a Miami defensive back, which truly is a positive. You need confidence at that position. Expect to see Burns taken late in day two or early in day three of the draft.
Defensive backs work out on Monday, February 29th.
Linebacker: Now that Jerod Mayo has retired and Jonathan Freeny has proven himself as strictly a special team’s player, the Patriots are in need of line backing depth. A name that seems like a viable option for the Patriots is Beniquez Brown out of Mississippi State. At 6-2, 238 pounds, Brown has good build for an inside linebacker, and fits the mold of what the Patriots are looking for right now. He had 99 tackles, 11 of which were for losses, and four sacks last season for the Bulldogs. Watch any tape of him in college and you’ll quickly realize he was the quarterback of that defense, which stands out big time for Bill Belichick. In addition, the Patriots have taken flyers on Mississippi State linebackers the past few seasons. Players such as Deonte Skinner and Matthew Wells have been brought in for camp the past two years. Brown right now is projected to go in rounds two through four.
Linebackers work out on Sunday, February 28th.
Wide Receiver: I am not one sold on drafting a wide receiver as a Patriots fan, because with the exception of Julian Edelman in 2009, it simply has not worked out for the past ten years for the Patriots. Chad Jackson, Taylor Price, Aaron Dobson, and Josh Boyce are all names that come to mind when it comes to failed Patriots wide receiver projects. Although, there is one name that I would consider this year and that is Will Fuller out of Notre Dame. At 6-0, 184 pounds you would immediately think slot receiver. Wrong! He can get outside the numbers and be effective in the red zone. Most importantly, he fights for the ball and he’s going to grind it out for four quarters. That can’t be said for the four receivers I previously mentioned. The Patriots would have to really extend themselves for Fuller because he is a projected first or second round player.
Wide Receivers work out on Saturday, February 27th.