Reviewing the Patriots' 8 Biggest Scouting Combine Takeaways
From Feb. 20 to Feb. 26, 333 draft prospects showcased their skills, measurables and character inside the confines of Lucas Oil Stadium.
Through all the medical examinations, interviews, psychological and aptitude tests, as well as workouts, teams like the Patriots discovered what could not be found on tape.
It's tough to get inside the mind of head coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio, as neither man formally spoke to non-team affiliated media at the combine, per ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss.
So the question is: What did the Patriots get out of the trip to Indy?
Here are New England's biggest takeaways from the seven days of information gathering.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com.
Right Tackle Is a Position of Interest
Coming off a strong season with New England, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is set to become an unrestricted free agent. In light of this, the Patriots met with a collection of notable tackles at the combine.
According to D.J. Bean of WEEI.com, Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald and Walter Cherepinsky of WalterFootball.com, the following bookends have spoken with Patriots staff:
Oday Aboushi, Virginia
Originally a Boston College commit, Aboushi met with the Patriots for "quite a bit," cites WEEI.com's Bean. Per VirginiaSports.com, Aboushi was a captain for the Cavaliers and first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference. Spending time at both left and right tackle in college, the 6'5", 308-pound Aboushi projects as a Day 2 pick.
Justin Pugh, Syracuse
According to The Boston Herald's Howe, the 6'4", 307-pound Pugh "had some good battles" against Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones in practice during their time at Syracuse. Could the two-time All-Big East first-team (h/t SUAthletics.syr.edu) selection join his Orange teammate in Foxborough? Probably a middle-round selection, Pugh could very well play both tackle and guard in the NFL.
Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin
The 6'6", 308-pound Badger started at both tackle spots in college, details UWBadgers.com. A converted tight end, Bean reports that Wagner met with a Patriots scout on Day 1 of the combine. Likely a mid- to late-round pick, Wagner's versatility and athleticism will draw comparison to New England left tackle Nate Solder.
David Bakhtiari, Colorado
Speaking of Nate Solder, Colorado's Bakhtiari is close friends with the Pats' 2011 first-rounder and had a former interview with the Patriots on Feb. 21, per Howe. At 6'4" and 299 pounds, Bakhtiari is capable of playing anywhere along the offensive line. That adaptability, as well as his connection with Solder, makes him an intriguing prospect for Day 2 of the draft.
Brennan Williams, North Carolina
From 1986 to 1993, Williams's father Brent was a defensive end for the Patriots. Could the younger Williams follow in his dad's footsteps? A native of Easton, Mass., the 6'6", 318-pound Tar Heel figures to be a right tackle at the next level. A local talent with tremendous size, Howe reports that Williams met with Patriots scouts in Indy. He should be on New England's radar in the middle rounds of the draft.
Luke Marquardt, Azusa Pacific
Azusa Pacific is no feeder for NFL, but the 6'8", 315-pound Marquardt is putting his school on the map. A man of imposing size, Marquardt's fits the mold of a New England tackle. The Patriots met with him at the combine, according to Cherepinsky of Walterfootball.com. Marquardt's college coach was Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jackie Slater, who is also the father of Patriots Pro Bowl gunner Matthew Slater. With that in mind, Marquardt is a mid-round sleeper pick to keep tabs on.
Making an Effort to Re-Sign Cornerback Kyle Arrington
What do Ras-I Dowling, Alfonzo Dennard and Malcolm Williams have in common?
They are the only cornerbacks under contract with the Patriots for 2013, per Spotrac.com.
New England is in the process of bolstering that deficiency.
According to The Boston Herald's Jeff Howe, the Patriots are starting negotiations with soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Kyle Arrington. Howe indicates that Arrington's representatives met with the Patriots in Indianapolis during the combine:
The Patriots and Arrington each expressed interest in remaining together at the end of the season, and these talks could start that process.
Although the combine serves as a venue for prospects to impress NFL franchises, it's also a venue for NFL franchises to get in contact with in-house free agents.
The 26-year-old Arrington has filled a variety of roles for the Patriots. Despite some struggles on the outside, the Hofstra product found his niche as the squad's nickelback last season.
If New England is making strides to retain Arrington first, how much priority is being placed on retaining Aqib Talib? Before the trade deadline, the team traded a fourth-rounder to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for a seventh-rounder and the press-man corner.
The swap paid off for the Patriots in the short-term, but its long-term implications are up in the air. Dennard, the team's starting right cornerback, is facing possible jail time following his conviction for assaulting a police officer last April. The moral of the story is that New England needs all the help it can get.
West Virginia's Tavon Austin out of Reach at No. 29?
West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin was nothing short of spectacular in Indianapolis. As a result, he may be long gone by the time New England is on the clock at pick 29 of Round 1.
The 5'8", 174-pound all-purpose threat caught fire running the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds, benching 14 reps of 225 pounds and catching nearly every pass thrown his way in the receiver drills.
His electrifying clinic has his stock is on the rise. And as Doug Kyed of NESN.com stated via Twitter, that's not good news for the Patriots:
Tavon Austin is really special. Sorry Patriots fans, you're not getting him any more. Even though he would be perfect in New England.
— Doug Kyed (@DougKyedNESN) February 24, 2013
Austin's plug-and-play abilities make him an ideal fit as a slot receiver for the Patriots. He's got the burst and sure hands to fill the void of Wes Welker, who will be an unrestricted free agent come March 12.
Coincidentally, Austin is a student of Welker's game.
According to MassLive.com's Nick Underhill, Austin would sit down with Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen—who was Welker's position coach at Texas Tech—and watch tape on No. 83. What he saw on film translated to the field, explains Underhill:
Austin runs many of the same routes – the pivot, the stick, as well as several option routes – that are staples of Welker’s game.
NFL.com's Ian Rapoport and Albert Breer (via Dan Hanzus) say the 31-year-old Welker and the Patriots could get an extension done before free agency starts. But if that doesn't transpire, the Patriots would be hard-pressed to find a better predecessor than Austin.
More Than Due Diligence with a High-Value Running Back?
Marcus Lattimore is battling back from one of the most gruesome knee injuries in recent football memory.
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews told ESPN's Stephania Bell in an interview at the NFL scouting combine that Lattimore is ahead of schedule with his rehabilitation and there's a possibility the running back could take the field in the fall.
Once touted as the best tailback in college football, Lattimore must now show NFL teams that he's worth a draft pick. And because of his relentless determination, he's garnering plenty of intrigue.
On Feb. 24, the 5'11", 221-pound ball-carrier told NFL Network he has met with "maybe 10 teams." Interestingly enough, the Patriots were one of them.
Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald reported that Lattimore met with Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears on Feb. 21.
Was this meeting an act of due diligence? The Patriots have a stockpile of rushers, including Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, who were taken in Round 2 and Round 3 of the 2011 draft.
That said, the Patriots have been known to take chances on value picks who have fallen down the board, and Lattimore has potential to become an every-down back in the NFL.
In three seasons with the Gamecocks, he rushed for 2,677 yards and 38 touchdowns. With those numbers in mind, it would be no surprise to see some team take the Lattimore on Day 2 of April's draft.
Maybe, just maybe, it will be New England.
Safeties Matt Elam and D.J. Swearinger Look Like Fits for New England
It's been a while since New England's secondary had an imposing presence in center field. Safeties Matt Elam and D.J. Swearinger could both change that.
But are they built to play for the Patriots?
Matt Elam, Florida
With four Florida products on New England's roster, it's clear that Coach Belichick is fond of the football program down in Gainesville. The 5'10", 208-pound Elam could be the next Gator to join up in Foxborough.
Field Yates of ESPNBoston.com assessed how Elam would work in New England:
From a Patriots perspective, Elam offers value as a player who can play in a strong safety role, as he's a willing tackler and forceful defender despite his smaller frame. He added that he played within a scheme at Florida that called upon him to play in both a free and strong safety role, similar to how many NFL teams are today.
The Patriots look for position flexibility and physicality. Both of those characteristics pretty well define Elam's game. Although he's not a big safety, Elam can pack a punch and he ran a solid 4.54 40-time. He could be on New England's radar between Round 1 and Round 2.
D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina
South Carolina isn't the Patriots' prospect pipeline, but Belichick does admire the talent within the Southeastern Conference. Much like Elam, D.J. Swearinger is a hitter who may be within New England's sights on Day 2 of the draft.
At 5'10" and 208 pounds, Swearinger has a very similar frame to Elam. He only ran a 4.67 40-yard dash, but he looked very comfortable in his backpedal. He offers seasoned experience and can line up anywhere in the defensive backfield.
Swearinger is a fan of New England's system to boot, per WEEI.com's Christopher Price:
“I like the New England style of defense and I like coach Belichick and how he does things and how disciplined he is,” Swearinger said Sunday at the combine. “They win championships, and I think I can help them be a part of that.”
According to Price, Swearinger met informally with two Patriots scouts in Indianapolis. Although player meetings must be taken with a grain of salt, Swearinger certainly has the makeup to grab New England's attention.
Rutgers Connection with a Cover Linebacker
Coach Belichick has an affinity for Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Linebacker Khaseem Greene does not appear to be an exception.
The 6'0", 241-pound Big East defensive player of the year is friends with Belichick's son Steven. The two were on the football field and in class together at Rutgers, according to Field Yates of ESPNBoston.com.
Greene had kind words to say about the younger Belichick, per Yates:
"He's just an all-around great guy, and he knows football," Greene said. "It's crazy that his father is one of the best coaches in the NFL and then his son is right there. It seems like he is following in his footsteps, because you talk to Steve and he knows football inside and out."
Not only is Greene from the same school as Patriots free safety Devin McCourty and defensive end Justin Francis, he also fits a need. New England hasn't had much speed at outside linebacker, and passing attacks have exploited it.
Greene, a former safety, knows how to defend the pass. He intercepted two passes and notched five deflections in 2012 alone. He looked fluid in his coverage drills at the combine and is very comfortable dropping back to track the ball.
Running the 40-yard dash in 4.71 seconds, Greene has the speed to keep up with tight ends, running backs and slot receivers. Although the Patriots typically go for "thumper" linebackers—a la Dont'a Hightower and Brandon Spikes—Greene would add a speed dynamic the defense has sorely missed.
Is he worth a Day 2 pick? Well, that depends on how highly the Patriots value cover linebackers.
Standouts in the 3-Cone Drill Catch New England's Eye
The 3-cone drill doesn't get the same notoriety as the 40-yard dash, but it still carries some weight. Instead of showing straight-line speed, the 3-cone drill shows lateral quickness and footwork.
This workout tests a player's change of direction. And as Christopher Price of WEEI.com points out, New England places a lot of value in its results.
Based on NFLCombineResults.com's data, here's a dozen former New England draft picks who placed in the top 10 at their position: Justin Francis, Chandler Jones, Jake Bequette, Devin McCourty, Terrence Wheatley, Brandon Meriweather, Chad Jackson, Ellis Hobbs, Asante Samuel, Deion Branch and David Givens.
This year, expect the Patriots to select a few more 3-cone standouts. Let's take a gander at some prospects who timed well and could be scheme fits for New England:
Da'Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee Tech
A Tennessee cast-off, Rogers found a home at Tennessee Tech. Standing in at 6'2", 217 pounds, Rogers has the size to be potent target down the field. He ran the 3-cone drill in 6.71 seconds at the combine. He would be great value in the third round.
Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
Wheaton doesn't have great size at 5'11", 189 pounds. However, he's got a great pair of hands and gets open due to his shifty footwork. Wheaton ran well at the combine, posting a 3-cone time of 6.8 seconds. This Beaver has deceptive big-play ability and should be taken in the second round.
Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina
Taylor is a specimen at 6'7" and 266 pounds. He's got the long arms and range to disrupt the line of scrimmage. He's got some bend in his step, too—he ran a 6.89 3-cone. That time was second to only LSU's Barkevious Mingo, who will be a first-round pick. Taylor's size and athleticism make him a gem in later rounds of the draft.
Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois
At 6'5", 255 pounds, Buchanan was one of the select few defensive ends to participate in the drill. He did not disappoint. Buchanan completed the 3-cone in 6.91 seconds. The Illini will likely end up a Day 3 draft choice, and a very viable one at that.
Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers
Another Scarlet Knight, Ryan's 5'11",191-pound frame will help him become a physical NFL starter. Running the 3-cone in 6.69 seconds, Ryan placed second among all cornerbacks who partook in the drill. He shouldn't leave the second round of the draft without hearing his name called.
Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise State
Taylor had a great all-around combine. The Bronco was one of the top performers in the 40-yard dash, the bench press, the 20-yard shuttle and he even clocked a respectable 6.82 in the 3-cone drill. The 5'10", 192-pound DB should excel on the outside in the NFL. Heating up at the right time, Taylor may end up a first-round pick.
Thin Quarterback Class Makes Ryan Mallett a Trade Chip
It's a subpar year to draft a quarterback. Sure, West Virginia's Geno Smith could very well end up being the No. 1 overall pick, but is he or any other passer truly a first-round talent?
Because of this, it wouldn't be a stunner to see some team unload a draft pick for Patriots backup QB Ryan Mallett.
When SI.com's Peter King broke the news on Feb. 25 that Tom Brady had agreed to a team-friendly contract extension up through 2017, it became clear that Mallett would not be holding a clipboard behind a 40-year-old Brady.
The 2011 third-round pick out of Arkansas certainly has some value. He's got a towering build, he can put some zip on the football and the Patriots only have five picks in April's draft. While this isn't a top-heavy draft, it is definitely a deep one.
Greg A. Bedard of The Boston Globe offered his insight on the quarterback situation in New England:
It's now a matter of when, not if, backup quarterback Ryan Mallett will be traded. With little good tape on him, it's going to be tough for the Patriots to get what they want, which, considering he's a third-round pick with two years development invested, would at least be a second-round pick if not a first-rounder. Hard to see a team giving that up at this point. But with a weak quarterback draft class, this is the perfect time;
The uninspiring on-field workouts of the quarterbacks at the combine helps New England's case. Obviously the team won't be in a huge rush to get rid of the gunslinger, but it does have a card in its back pocket.
However, Mallett has been in the system for two years and New England won't give him away for free.