Which players to know from the NFL Combine

Which players to know from the NFL Combine
February 22, 2013, 3:15 pm
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Cornerbacks
The Patriots seem to have an ever-present need at corner both at the top of their depth chart and further down. The guilty verdict in the Alfonzo Dennard case injects a little uncertainty into his situation, although it seems unlikely he’ll miss football games. Aqib Talib’s pending foray into free agency does as well. Kyle Arrington told me during the season he’d prefer to return but until he re-signs, he hasn’t re-signed. And the unknowns that is Ras-I Dowling still lurks.
 
2013 Class Quality
B+
 
Names At The Top
Dee Milliner, Alabama. 6-1, 200.
Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State. 6-2, 185
Desmond Trufant, Washington. 5-11, 190.
Xavier Rhodes, Florida State. 6-2, 215.
Tyrann Mathieu, ex-LSU, 5-9, 175.
 
Patriot Types
By the time the draft comes, the uncertainty of pending free agents Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington and the status of Alfonzo Dennard’s future with the law should be sorted out. If Talib and Arrington go elsewhere and Dennard is headed for a long stay in the big house, that drastically changes things. Chances are better none of those things happen, however. The presence of Mathieu, a player who was booted from the LSU program for (reportedly) repeated drug violations and entered rehab last August is intriguing because he may be the most talented defensive back in the draft and could be a value pick for New England if he stays on the board a while.

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Safeties
This is a position the Patriots can’t seem to solve. Devin McCourty looks like a long-term answer back there but his skill set – rangy, able to cover ground, smart, sure tackler – are best suited for a free safety role. The Patriots need a hitter who can support at the linebacker level and still be aware enough in coverage to not get exposed. Patrick Chung’s sharp drop in 2012 puts him on the outs as he enters free agency. Steve Gregory is physically overmatched. Tavon Wilson is promising, but the Patriots desperately need a high-talent player back there to help solve their recurring problems in getting hosed when the rest of the defense is playing pretty well.
 
2013 Class Quality
A
 
Names At The Top
Eric Reid, LSU. 6-2, 210.
Matt Elam, Florida. 5-10, 205
Kenny Vaccaro, Texas. 6-0, 215
Zeke Motta, Notre Dame. 6-2, 215.
T.J. McDonald, USC. 6-2, 211.
 
Patriot Types
Reid is a first-rounder but he seems an ideal fit for what the Patriots lack. Elam is a little undersized but plays with great intensity that is necessary for a strong safety. Motta and McDonald have the size, intangibles and intelligence to be valued by the Patriots and they’ll be on the board after the first night of drafting.
 

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Outside Linebackers
The Patriots have Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower at the top of the depth chart at OLB. They should be there for the foreseeable future. Dane Fletcher, who re-signed with the team in late January, has the potential to be a good cover linebacker, something the Patriots really missed when he was injured in 2012.
 
2013 Class Quality
C
 
Names At The Top
Jarvis Jones, Georgia. 6-3, 240
Barkevious Mingo, LSU. 6-5, 240
Dion Jordan, Oregon. 6-6, 240.
Arthur Brown, Kansas State. 6-1, 231.
 
Patriots Types
The Patriots will likely seek some versatility if they choose to go with a linebacker in the draft because they are fairly well-stocked at the top of the roster. The guys mentioned above could be off the board prior to New England turning its attention there. A name to keep in mind, though, is Ohio State’s John Simon. A superb competitor who may come with the recommendation of Mike Vrabel given the Buckeyes pedigree, Simon seems like a nice complementary player who could have upside and will be on the board in the middle rounds.
 

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Inside Linebackers
Brandon Spikes is the guy right now. He’s made big improvements since he’s been with the Patriots, but there was plenty of room for improvement as well. He brings an attitude. As noted earlier, Dane Fletcher is the odds-on favorite to be the top coverage linebacker. Mike Rivera is also in the mix at the linebacker level but he doesn’t seem to be challenging for time given his limited appearances to date.
 
2013 Class Quality
C
 
Names At The Top
Manti Te’o, Notre Dame. 6-2, 255.
Alex Ogletree, Georgia. 6-3, 232.
Kevin Minter, LSU. 6-2, 245.
Kevin Reddick, North Carolina. 6-3, 240.
Kiko Alonso, Oregon. 6-3, 242
 
Patriots Types
Te’o, for all his weirdness, is a terrific playmaker with excellent range despite below-average speed. Would it stun me to see the Patriots shrug and take a chance on a player who got embroiled in one of the strangest stories in recent memory? Not at all. Minter is a machine and comes from the battle-tested SEC as does Ogletree.
 

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Defensive End
The Patriots have two very good ends right now in Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. For versatility purposes, they have Jermaine Cunningham who can come in depending on the situation as well. Trevor Scott is a free agent and it will be interesting to see if he comes back. He flashed well enough but didn’t have much to show for his sturdy play. Justin Francis is a versatile player as well with eye-opening quickness for a big guy that seems more suited to play inside but got reps on the edge as well.
 
2013 Class Quality
B-
 
Names At The Top
Bjoern Werner, Florida State. 6-4, 275.
Damontre Moore, Texas A&M 6-4, 250
Sam Montgomery, LSU, 6-4, 265.
Ezekiel Ansah, BYU, 6-5, 267.
Datone Jones, UCLA. 6-4, 280.
 
Patriots Types
Margus Hunt. He’s 6-8, 277, a native Estonian who is 26 and played as a walk-on at SMU after coming over to throw shot and discus. Does that not sound like the kind of player Bill Belichick would like to tinker with? Jones is powerful and versatile but rare is the front-seven Pac-12 player that winds up on the Patriots. Alabama’s Damion Square, a 6-2, 283-pounder or Notre Dame’s Kapron Lewis-Moore, who would likely start the season on PUP because of a torn ACL in the BCS Championship, could be late-round considerations.
 

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Defensive Tackle
If you’re a Patriots fan, it should be daunting to think of the decline and fall of Vince Wilfork. He’s at the top of his game right now, underrated even as he draws respect and Pro Bowl honors annually. He’ll be 32 this November. There’s nobody remotely close to his area code in terms of ability or pedigree on the roster. Not Kyle Love nor Brandon Deaderick nor any other player the Patriots plunk down in the middle and ask to follow Vince’s lead of disruption and selflessness. It may be time to look for a player who can be entering his prime as Wilfork exits his. This draft is absolutely stocked with options.
 
2013 Class Quality
A
 
Names At The Top
Star Lotulelei, Utah. 6-4, 320.
Sharrif Floyd, Florida, 6-3, 303
Sylvester Williams, 6-3, 313
Johnathan Hankins, 6-3, 320.
 
Patriots Types
There are many. Floyd, a projected first-rounder, may not have the girth to play the nose in a 3-4 front, but he’s an unselfish and versatile player. Hankins is the kind of appliance-sized player who can play on the nose and eat space. Brandon Williams of Missouri Southern is 6-2, 341 with passion and athleticism and the ability to get to quarterbacks (27 sacks) and the SEC offers later-round options with Alabama’s Jesse Williams (6-4, 320) and Georgia’s John Jenkins (6-4, 359) and Kwame Geathers (6-6, 350).