Like watching the draft prospects run the 40-yard dash, the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine came and went in a blur.
Unless the New England Patriots choose to pull a first-round Tavon Wilson-style surprise on us, they will take one of the players who was on the field at the combine with the 29th pick in the draft—if they take anyone at all.
The Patriots have just five picks this year, but that's still five opportunities to improve a team that went to the AFC Championship Game last year. If we know anything about head coach Bill Belichick, it's that we can never rule out a draft-day trade, especially one that involves them moving down in the draft to accumulate more picks.
No matter what the Patriots do, they'll have plenty of options. Here are just some of the names that should be on their minds as they enter the 2013 NFL draft.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com.
Recently, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller sent North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper to the Patriots at No. 29. Some fans might revolt at that. Guard is not a pressing need for the Patriots, but sometimes, it's not about drafting for need.
Cooper's 35 bench-press reps were the third-most at the combine at any position.
His strength isn't his only...erm, strength, and in fact, his calling card is as a pulling guard.
The Patriots love a guard who can get out in space (see Mankins, Logan) and having two of them would allow the Patriots to be that much more versatile and effective on screens, draws and other misdirection plays that would have Cooper on the move. He didn't show off his quickness in the drills, but it shows up on tape.
The Patriots like to employ principles of both man and zone blocking schemes; he's versatile enough to fit either way. If they were to draft him, that could open the door for them to move Dan Connolly to center in place of Ryan Wendell, who could return to a backup role.
Is Tavon Wilson the starting strong safety of the future? Is Steve Gregory better suited for that role? Either way, the Patriots have questions on the back end of the secondary, and South Carolina safety D.J. Swearinger could provide some answers.
He did not run a great 40-yard dash at 4.67 seconds, but with a top-10 finish in the bench press (17 reps), vertical jump (37 inches), broad jump (124 inches) and 20-yard shuttle (4.11 seconds), and a top-five finish in the three-cone drill (6.7 seconds), his stock could be on the rise.
Swearinger has already garnered a lot of attention in this space as a fit for the Patriots. He met with the team at the combine (via BaltimoreRavens.com), so there's at least a sliver of interest. At the combine, he expressed appreciation for the Patriots' style of defense (via Christopher Price of WEEI.com):
I like the New England style of defense and I like coach Belichick and how he does things and how disciplined he is. They win championships, and I think I can help them be a part of that.
It's the playmaker mentality—teams want to see turnovers. They want to see you make plays. Just going in and securing the tackle and hoping to get a turnover at the same time. Just being a playmaker. It's a big risk, but that's why you have to secure the tackle first and then strip the ball.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller compared him to 49ers safety Dashon Goldson, a player who the Patriots have targeted in the past. Although Goldson is a free safety, Miller told me he could see Swearinger playing strong safety, as well.
If the Patriots want to add another player with a knack for turnovers (six interceptions and four forced fumbles in his three years as a starter), then they should look to Swearinger. His value prior to the combine was somewhere between the second and fourth round (wide gap, I know), but with his strong showing, he might have moved up a bit.
A Rutgers defensive back to the New England Patriots? Just call it deja vu.
Considering the way Devin McCourty's development has gone to this point, though, I would say Patriots fans shouldn't be too worried about that.
He put his physical talents on display at the combine, with top-five finishes in the three-cone drill (6.69 seconds), 60-yard shuttle (11.28) and 20-yard shuttle (4.06).
As we all know, however, it's not just about the "Underpants Olympics." Bleacher Report Patriots featured columnist Mike Dussault agrees that Ryan would be a good fit for the Patriots:
...you can't teach the toughness, intelligence and competitiveness that Ryan has been praised for. With Aqib Talib's future still uncertain, and the Pats reportedly ready to rollwith a Devin McCourty and Tavon Wilson starting-safety tandem at this point, corner remains one of the team's biggest overall needs.
Ryan's experience in both zone and man-to-man schemes, as well as playing in a demanding program like [former Rutgers head coach Greg] Schiano built before leaving for Tampa Bay, only improve his chances of being successful in New England.
Many of Schiano's recruits, including Ryan, are still at Rutgers, so the bond remains. Ryan's grade and projections have him going in the third or fourth rounds.
The Patriots don't target workout warriors. We hear that a lot, but we know they have certain guidelines for what they like in their players. That being said, they only value the combine to an extent—it is just one piece of the puzzle. Another big piece, and more important than the combine, is what the player showed on tape.
Texas A&M defensive end DaMontre Moore was a top-five pick before the combine, and then, rumors began leaking that he wasn't going to be drafted in the top five, the top 10 or even the first round. All this while he ran a staggeringly slow 4.95-second 40-yard dash and put up just 12 reps on the bench press, the fewest of any defensive linemen at the combine.
Over the past two years, he has been one of the nation's best at creating plays in the backfield, ranking sixth in sacks (21) and fourth in tackles for loss (38.5). Interestingly enough, his numbers all went up from 2011 to 2012, even as he transitioned from the Big 12 to the SEC.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller still sees him as a good value pick at the end of the first round, and had this to say when projecting him to the Falcons:
Moore's athletic numbers weren't inspiring, but the more I look at this player the less convinced I am that he can play standing up in a 3-4 scheme. He does have good hand use and a nice first step, but when asked to convert speed to power he's not in the top tier of players in this year's class.
The best situation for Moore would be in Atlanta, where the team can use him as a situational pass-rusher in year one while letting him gain strength behind John Abraham.
Well, replace "Atlanta Falcons" with "New England Patriots" and "John Abraham" with "Rob Ninkovich" and you've got what sounds like a great situation for Moore to step into.
Justin Bannan. Trevor Laws. Drake Nevis. All three are solid interior pass-rushers, and all three were compared to Penn State defensive tackle Jordan Hill.
His stock may have taken a hit at the combine with a 5.23 40-yard dash, but he showed his strength with 28 reps on the bench press.
He's not the ideal size at 6'1" and 303 pounds, but Vince Wilfork is only an inch taller, and Hill's height could actually be an advantage in helping him get leverage on offensive linemen. Hill could be the rotational interior disruptor the Patriots have been looking for to put alongside Big Vince.
If we believe Belichick holds his pipelines dear, he may have a brand new one at Penn State, where former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien now leads the way for the Nittany Lions.
Hill could be had for a third- or fourth-round pick, and could give the Patriots another option along with Brandon Deaderick, Kyle Love and Myron Pryor to put next to Wilfork in the 4-3 front.
That's the response Patriots fans have gotten used to delivering after Roger Goodell announces another unknown small-school product.
The Patriots are in the market for a defensive tackle, but not just anyone will do the trick. They need someone who can create pressure up the middle.
B/R Patriots featured columnist Mike Dussault said he'd be a good fit for the Patriots in the second round:
At 6'1" and 335 pounds, he certainly looks like a Vince Wilfork clone on paper. But Williams has been noted for his ability to get push up the middle—the thing the Patriots defense needs most.
Williams is making a jump from Division 2 to the NFL, but his performance at the Senior Bowl showed how capable he is of immediate improvement. He will remain a project, but his strength and ability to bull rush and collapse the pocket could make him the perfect interior tool for Bill Belichick along the defensive line.
With 38 bench-press reps at the combine, the most for any defensive tackle in Indy, Williams showed that his ability to clog multiple holes in the middle of the line of scrimmage wasn't just because he's bigger than anyone else lining up against him. It's true strength and power that allowed him to do it.
The Patriots could get Williams at the end of the second round.
There are a lot of questions around the Patriots secondary with Kyle Arrington and Aqib Talib both set to hit free agency, so the Patriots could be looking for answers come April. Boise State cornerback Jamar Taylor could help give them one.
He had a strong showing at the combine overall, tying for the fourth-fastest 40-yard dash among all defensive backs, while finishing in the top five in the bench press (22 reps) and the 20-yard shuttle (4.06 seconds). He also finished in the top 10 in the broad jump (127 inches) and the three-cone drill (6.82 seconds).
Taylor has the size to play man coverage, and has the versatility to excel in off-man or zone coverage. He uses his hands well, but is not a great press-man corner because he can be too aggressive trying to jump routes at times.
Taylor was considered "the single biggest reason for [the] success" of the Boise State defense in 2012, but is still regarded as a Day 2 prospect. This could have to do with injuries, which kept him off the field for most of 2011, as well as his lack of experience against top-notch competition.
That being said, he could be moving up boards a bit with his strong showing at the combine.
If the Patriots want to get serious about addressing their lack of coverage linebackers, they can't afford to get caught up in off-field concerns—especially if those off-field concerns lead to a player like Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree falling right into their laps.
The timing of Ogletree's DUI charge could not have been worse for him, as it came just days before the combine and left coaches and GMs with plenty to ask the prospect in 15-minute private interviews.
His performance at the combine was not stellar, but not awful, at the combine. He put up 20 reps on the bench press, showing that he has at least functional strength at his position, and he ran a 4.7 40-yard dash, showing the athleticism that has helped him excel in coverage.
He was recruited as a safety, and played there as a freshmen before moving to linebacker. That experience helps him stay smooth in his drops and run with the faster tight ends, while not yielding too much in size or strength against the run. Ogletree is projected as a late first-round pick.
Matt Barkley may be the only first-round prospect in USC's offense, but turn on any USC tape and you'll see Robert Woods making plays with his legs on Barkley's short throws.
He had a pretty lackluster showing at the combine, with a 4.51 40-yard dash, a 33.5-inch vertical, a 4.47-second 20-yard shuttle and the slowest three-cone drill of any wide receiver. The question marks he added in Indianapolis won't help the question marks that already existed with regard to his health after ankle injuries slowed down his collegiate career.
So why should Patriots fans know Woods? Because he fits the Patriots offense: smart route-runner, capable of creating yards after the catch, runs the whole route tree, can line up outside or in the slot, and makes tough catches in traffic.
Matt Miller compared him to another Patriots receiver, Brandon Lloyd:
[Woods] doesn't have great speed to catch and make plays after. What he does do is separate from defensive backs because he's a smart route runner who has the agility and foot speed to quickly separate in and out of his break, but Woods is more of a possession receiver than a downfield threat.
The only problem with Woods' game is that he doesn't get off jams well, an area which the Patriots already struggle.
Woods does know how to haul in touchdowns, though, ranking second in the nation with 26 receiving scores over the past two years.
If they want to add him, they can't do so any later than the end of the second round.
It is being widely speculated that the Patriots will try to shop quarterback Ryan Mallett sometime this offseason, and if they do so, Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray could be the next SEC quarterback to back up Tom Brady.
Bray didn't put up fantastic numbers, but he threw well at the combine, and NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks said Bray was "one of the most impressive throwers in Indy, showing outstanding arm strength, velocity and touch on a variety of throws," and also said he could be the steal of the draft:
When I looked at Bray's film from the fall, I believed he was a gifted passer with A-plus arm talent. He showed the capacity to make all of the throws from the pocket with zip and velocity. Although his ball placement and accuracy fluctuates due to his sloppy footwork and fundamentals, Bray's ability to make tight-window throws separates him from others at the position.
Additionally, Bray is one of the few quarterbacks in the draft with experience playing in a pro-style offense that featured traditional drops from under center, quick throws from the shotgun and pistol, and play-action passes from two-back formations. Given the importance NFL coaches place on playing the game effectively from the pocket, Bray's game is ideally suited for Sundays.
Many compare Bray to Jay Cutler for his big arm, gunslinger mentality and his ability to make throws on the move. Bray would be a great developmental quarterback if the Patriots decide to move on from Ryan Mallett, another big-armed former SEC quarterback who Bray is often compared to favorably (better footwork and more accuracy on the move).
Bray is considered a third- or fourth-round prospect.