Prototypical Patriots: Griffin's athleticism makes him intriguing fit at corner

Prototypical Patriots: Griffin's athleticism makes him intriguing fit at corner

The Patriots may soon find themselves back in the cornerback market even after adding free-agent cover man Stephon Gilmore this offseason.

There's no guarantee that Malcolm Butler will be in the fold in New England in 2017, and even if he is, it's safe to say that no team -- no matter how flush with cover men they may be -- will turn its nose up at a good player at the position. It's simply too important. 


This year's draft class is loaded with talented corners, which means that Bill Belichick and his staff could watch a first-round player slip deep into the second round and potentially make a move to add him to a group that already features Gilmore, Butler, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones and special teams standout Jonathan Jones.

What do the Patriots typically like to draft at cornerback? They have a track record of grabbing great athletes with sound footwork who are willing tacklers. If you have experience playing man-to-man as well as zone, that's a plus. If you can play inside and out, that will also earn you points. Of course, production in big-time conference and special teams ability won't hurt you either.

There are so many draftable corners in this year's class that we've broken them up into two groups: Those who look like they'd be better fits primarily in the slot with the Patriots, and those who look like they could handle responsibilities outside the numbers for Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. 

Today we'll handle the outside guys, and on Monday we'll provide you with some names who could make their livings inside.

This is the third installment of a 12-part pre-draft series where we're looking into Prototypical Patriots at a variety of positions. To catch up on our first few cracks at this, head here for linebackers and here for safeties.

Sidney Jones, Washington, 6-feet, 186 pounds: Thought to be one of the draft's best corners before tearing his Achilles at Washington's pro day, Jones could slip into the second or third rounds and be looking at a redshirt rookie season. His 4.47-second 40-yard dash and 7.02 three-cone drill at the combine weren't elite markers of athleticism, but his toughness and his instincts to mirror receiver routes would make him an easy fit in New England if he makes a full recovery. The Patriots likely won't have a shot at top-end corners in this year's draft like Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley and Alabama's Marlon Humphrey, but if Jones slips because of his injury, they could end up with a Day 1 talent on Day 2.

Kevin King, Washington, 6-foot-3, 200 pounds: The Patriots don't typically draft the tallest, longest corners available, but they may be willing to make an exception for King. Despite his size, he's still one of the most explosive athletes in the class, which he proved in Indy when he ran a 4.43-second 40, jumped 39.5 inches in the vertical, and recorded top-notch times in the three-cone (6.56 seconds), 20-yard shuttle (3.89 seconds) and 60-yard shuttle (11.14 seconds). Other long corners in this draft -- Florida's Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor, West Virginia's Rasul Douglas and Clemson's Cordrea Tankersley, for example -- simply don't bring the same kind of athleticism to the table. Keep in mind, even when the Patriots have acquired bigger corners, whether it's Gilmore, Rowe, Aqib Talib or Ras-I Dowling, they've all tested out as special athletes.

Fabian Moreau, UCLA, 6-feet, 206 pounds: Another corner who was injured during his pro day -- he suffered a torn pectoral while bench-pressing -- Moreau is an intriguing talent whose health could force him down draft boards. Athletically he checks every box -- 4.35-second 40, 38-inch vertical, 136-inch broad, 6.94-second three-cone -- and his technique has steadily improved as he's made the transition from running back to the defensive side of the football. He appears to carry with him all kinds of potential, and in a spot like New England -- where he may be able to take a back seat for a season -- could thrive. 

Cameron Sutton, Tennessee, 5-foot-11, 188 pounds: Sutton reportedly went through a private workout for the Patriots during the pre-draft process, and it's not hard to see why they'd be interested. Had it not been for a fractured ankle he suffered early in his senior year, he would have been a four-year full-time starter in the SEC. He's been touted as a strong leader and he's one of the most productive punt returners in this draft. He might eventually end up inside, but he could be a little light at the moment to play that spot in New England where its expected that slot corners will be effective against the run and against bigger targets in the passing game. Athletically he's not as freakish as some others in the class, but his 40 (4.52 seconds) and three-cone drill (6.81 seconds) fall into the range the Patriots have accepted in the past. 

Howard Wilson, Houston, 6-foot-1, 184 pounds: When Belichick went to speak at a coaches clinic hosted by Texas coach and former Houston head man Tom Herman, he might've had the opportunity to ask about this fascinating prospect. Howard's length, fluidity in coverage and strong ball skills should have defensive minds salivating, but he played just one season as a full-time starter, leaving some question marks as to what he might've done had he stayed in school for one more year. His long speed (4.57-second 40) could be better, but he's among the quickest corners in the draft (6.68-second three-cone, 3.94-second 20-yard shuttle), and he's a fearless tackler. Perhaps a move to the slot will benefit him down the line, but sticking a long, ball-hawking corner like this on some of the NFL's bigger wideouts will be an enticing opportunity for his next coach.

Shaquill Griffin, Central Florida, 6-feet, 194 pounds: Griffin is a first-round caliber athlete who could come off the board late thanks to all the talent in this year's crop. He was a top-five corner at the combine when it came to the 40 (4.38 seconds), the 60-yard shuttle (11.62 seconds), the vertical (38.5 inches) and the broad jump (132 inches). He was a top-10 performer in the three-cone drill (6.87 seconds), 20-yard shuttle (4.14 seconds). He had four picks and 15 pass breakups last season and is thought to be a dependable tackler. Even if he can't find the field defensively early on, his aggressive style and athleticism could make him an early special-teams contributor.

Brandon Wilson, Houston, 5-foot-10, 198 pounds: This is another prospect who made his way to Gillette Stadium recently for a visit, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. No surprise there. Why? He was a three-way player for the Cougars, and some experts believe he's such a good athlete that he has the ability to contribute at any or all of those spots at the next level. He had one of the more impressive pro-day workouts in the nation this year, running a 4.36-second 40-yard dash, jumping 41 inches in the vertical, 133 inches in the broad jump and benching 225 pounds 24 times -- eye-popping numbers for a 5-foot-10, 198-pound human being. Even if he never cracks the top of the depth chart at any of the positions listed here, he's so fast and explosive that he would seem to be a natural covering kicks. The Patriots may be even more focused than usual on the kicking game in this year's draft as both Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner hit contract years in 2017.

Jamal Agnew, San Diego, 5-foot-10, 185 pounds: At just about every position, there's a late-round prospect who receives little buzz but looks like a great match for the Patriots. For me, Agnew is that guy at corner. He barely cracks the physical measurements that the Patriots typically draft at the position, but he's an eye-popping athlete -- he ran two 40s in under 4.4 seconds at his pro day, beat the seven-second mark in the three-cone, broad-jumped 125 inches and got 16 reps on the 225-pound bench -- with a strong resume as a return man and a history of making plays coverage. He racked up 11 career interceptions and broke up 48 passes at San Diego, and against the run he doesn't hesitate to seek out contact. He'll be tabbed by some as a slot corner because of his size, but like Sutton, he may be a bit slight to take on that role in New England. Outside though? That could work. Small school . . . small frame . . . great athlete . . . good ball skills . . . aggressive run-supporter . . . overlooked during the pre-draft process . . . Remind you of any other Patriots corners you know?

Patriots LB Ellis 'all in' on football before giving medical school a shot


Patriots LB Ellis 'all in' on football before giving medical school a shot

FOXBORO -- When a new player arrives to the Patriots, there's a familiar refrain that's recited from behind the podium at Gillette Stadium: "Football is important to him."

Whether the subject is a rookie or an established veteran, those five words can serve as Bill Belichick's stamp of approval. It means the player cares. It means the player is willing to put in time.

Belichick hasn't gone on the record on any of the members of this year's class of undrafted free agents just yet, but linebacker Brooks Ellis seems to fall into that category of players to whom football is important.

If it wasn't, he would probably be putting all of his energy into getting accepted into medical school right now.  

Ellis was a two-year captain at Arkansas and one of 12 finalists for the Campbell Trophy, also known as the "Academic Heisman." He maintained a 3.82 grade point average as a pre-professional exercise science major with a minor in biology, he was the first two-time Academic All-American in program history, and he was the SEC's Scholar-Athlete of the year for 2016.

All that is to say, Ellis had options upon graduation.

Football won out. He agreed to a deal with the Patriots soon after the draft, and he's spent the better part of the last month trying to learn defensive terminology and special-teams techniques. 

But eventually Ellis hopes to be an orthopedic surgeon, and later this summer he'll submit his applications to medical schools in order to kick-start that process for whenever it's time to pursue his next plan full-throttle.

"I'm putting my all into this right now," Ellis said, wearing Patriots gear while standing on the Gillette Stadium turf last week. "But when I get some spare time, I'm finishing applications, and then when I get back in July I'm sending those in.

"If I get accepted somewhere, I'm going to tell them I need to defer until I know for sure what the football situation is going to be. So I'm all in on football, and just in case, I'm going to have that ready to go when I get out of it."

If all goes well for Ellis this spring and summer, it could be a while before he's taking the Hippocratic Oath. The Patriots have a long history of giving worthy undrafted players a shot at the 53-man roster, and Ellis plays one of the few positions on New England's loaded roster that might have room for a newcomer or two.

On paper, he certainly looks like their type.

The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder was his team's leading tackler for two seasons. He played all three linebacker positions in Arkansas' defense -- strong-side, middle and weak-side -- and he started 31 consecutive games to finish his career. Ellis also has extensive special teams experience, and he recorded one of the quickest three-cone drills among linebackers at this year's NFL Scouting Combine.

That he learned under Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema can't hurt his chances, either.

Bielema began his coaching career at Iowa under former Belichick assistant Kirk Ferentz, and Belichick has dipped into Bielema's programs at Wisconsin and Arkansas several times over the course of the last few seasons. Running back James White, defensive end Trey Flowers and former tight end AJ Derby all played for Bielema, and Ellis joins fellow Arkansas rookies Deatrich Wise (fourth-round pick) and Cody Hollister (undrafted) on this year's squad.  

"He came in, started about halfway through his true freshman year -- we weren't a really good football team, we were 3-9 -- threw him in the middle of it, didn't bat an eye, and he got better every game," Bielema said of Ellis on Quick Slants the Podcast. "Sophomore year, [he] really began to mature, develop. He's another guy that the potential -- because we never redshirted him -- to grow in this year is going to be huge . . .

"He's just truly very, very intelligent, compassionate. And the value that he brings is he could be an unbelievable role player. I'm not saying he's going to be a four-time All-Pro or anything like that, but he'll be reliable, dependable, in every phase of the game."

Robb Smith, Arkansas defensive coordinator from 2014-16, believes Ellis landed in the perfect spot. Prior to his time at Arkansas, he worked under Greg Schiano at Rutgers, where he coached Patriots safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon, former Patriots corner Logan Ryan, Patriots linebacker Jonathan Freeny and safeties coach Steve Belichick.

"He's one of those guys that's not only going to know his job, but what the other 10 guys around him are supposed to do," Smith said of Ellis. "He'll be able to be a leader from that standpoint in terms of helping guys with the system and the scheme. He's very good instinctively . . ."

"This guy's going to be replacing my knee someday. I'm serious. He's going to be an orthopedic surgeon that's outstanding. I know that's what his goals are. But hopefully he gets to play a lot of football between now and then."

There's one more Patriots link connecting Ellis to New England. His agent, Neil Cornrich, has counted Belichick as a client and also represents Bielema, Ferentz, Flowers, Derby, undrafted Patriots rookies Cole Croston and LeShun Daniels (both of whom played under Ferentz at Iowa) and Patriots running back Rex Burkhead. 

It may come as no surprise then that when Ellis signed with the Patriots, no one knew. He didn't announce it on Twitter, as is the norm for undrafted players when they come to an agreement with a team. And the news wasn't leaked. Instead, he waited for the team to announce it, which his new employers probably appreciated.

Ellis, who according to the Boston Globe received the fifth-most guaranteed money of the 19 undrafted rookies the Patriots signed, said he received some simplie advice from Cornrich before making his way to New England.

"He just said that you'll fit in well there," Ellis said. "You're the type of guy they like, and you're the type of guy that succeeds in that organization. Don't do anything special. Just go out there and work like you do every day, and it'll turn out for the best."

Even if it doesn't, Ellis will have medical school. But he acknowledges there's some unpredictability with that path, just as there is being an undrafted player in the NFL. He still has to be accepted. His application, including personal statements, interviews and MCAT results -- "It was horrible, I don't want to take that ever again," Ellis said -- still has to be deemed up-to-snuff.  

Whenever Ellis starts, it will be the beginning of almost a decade of training between schooling and residency. It will be a challenge, he knows, and it's one that he looks forward to. But he's hoping it can wait because football is important to him. 

"It just makes you work harder," he said of his uncertain future. "It makes you really focus on right now, and make sure that you're doing all you can in this area because even the next area might not be there.

"That's what I've done. I'm just working as hard as I can on this, and if that doesn't work out, then I've got the next thing, and I'm going to work as hard as I can in that area."

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski is a model citizen in the NFL. In fact, the NFL Players Association is advising rookies to be more like Gronk, according to The Boston Globe

The New England Patriots tight end has developed a name for himself on and off the football field. With that attention comes branding. And at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere from May 18 to 20, the NFLPA encouraged rookies to develop their own brand -- much like Gronkowski.

“Some people think he’s just this extension of a frat boy, and that it’s sort of accidental,” Ahmad Nassar said, via The Globe. Nassar is the president of NFL Players Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of the NFLPA. “And that’s wrong. It’s not accidental, it’s very purposeful. So the message there is, really good branding is where you don’t even feel it. You think, ‘Oh, that’s just Gronk being Gronk.’ Actually, that’s his brand, but it’s so good and so ingrained and so authentic, you don’t even know it’s a brand or think it.”

Gronkowski's "Summer of Gronk" has indirectly become one of his streams of income. The tight end makes appearances for magazines and sponsors. Because of his earnings from branding and endorsements, he didn't touch his NFL salary during the early years of his career.

Gronk was one of three players who were the topics of discussion during the symposium. Dak Prescott and Odell Beckham were also used as examples of players who have been able to generate additional income from endorsements. Beckham, in particular, has been in the spotlight off the football field. He's appeared on the cover of Madden, and just signed a deal with NIke which is reportedly worth $25 million over five years with upwards of $48 million over eight years. His deal, which is a record for an NFL player, will pay him more than his contract with the Giants.

“A lot of people talk to the players about, ‘You should be careful with your money and you should treat your family this way and you should treat your girlfriend or your wife.’ Which is fine. I think that’s valuable,” Nassar said, via The Globe. “But we don’t often give them a chance to answer the question: How do you see yourself as a brand? Because Gronk, Odell, none of those guys accidentally ended up where they are from a branding and marketing standpoint.”