10 NFL Draft Prospects Rising Up the New England Patriots' 2013 Draft Board

Sean Keane@@keanedawg86Correspondent IMarch 22, 2013

10 NFL Draft Prospects Rising Up the New England Patriots' 2013 Draft Board

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    When it comes to the New England Patriots’ draft board, I can’t help but think of Bill Belichick holed up in his headquarters giddily maneuvering players up and down like Dr. Frankenstein assembling mismatched body parts to resurrect a monster from the dead.

    “Hehe, if I slot a receiver in Round 1, I can add depth along the defensive line after that.  Or if I go for an offensive lineman early, I can let Vollmer walk and spend that money on defense.  No, wait, I’ve got it!  If I take a defensive lineman first, I can address wide receiver next, then add depth along the offensive line in the later rounds.  Yes!  It’s alive!  Muahahahaha! My draft is alive!  Oh crap, my Junior Mints melted all over my hoodie.”

    Or something like that.

    In any case, the Patriots are once again on the cusp of capturing another Super Bowl title.  With most of their roster intact, they can afford to be picky (no pun intended) with their selections and address specific needs.

    Here are 10 players who have elevated their draft stock through impressive workouts at the NFL combine and individual pro days, outstanding work during Senior Bowl week or high production this past season.

    Many of these players would be welcome additions to any NFL roster, but all of them hold even more appeal for the Patriots and their team needs.


    *Note: All NFL Combine stats were taken from www.nfl.com/combine.

Margus Hunt, DE, Southern Methodist University

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    The Patriots recently brought free agents John Abraham and Dwight Freeney to Foxboro for visits, so they obviously see a need at defensive end, particularly in terms of generating more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

    Given New England’s championship aspirations, it may focus strictly on established veterans to bolster its defense. 

    Last week’s signing of Adrian Wilson certainly lends credence to that theory.  With Chandler Jones, Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower, Brandon Spikes, Devin McCourty and Alfonzo Dennard all expected to see time in the starting lineup, the Pats already have an excellent core of young playmakers to build around.

    However, if the Patriots fail to sign an impact free agent, Hunt’s recent performance places him squarely in the team’s crosshairs.

    A former shot put and discus star in his native Estonia, Hunt never played competitive football until his freshman year at SMU.  The 6’8” behemoth posted impressive stats in 2012, recording eight sacks, three passes defended and two forced fumbles.  He figures to get even better with more coaching.

    Bill Belichick also loves players who contribute on special teams, and Hunt was a one-man wrecking crew in that regard, posting block totals that would make Bill Russell jealous.

    He blocked an NCAA record 10 field goals during his career and added seven blocked punts for good measure.  Obviously he has the skills to make a major impact in the kicking game.

    That’s all old news.

    Hunt’s more recent performances are what have him skyrocketing up draft boards, potentially into the bottom of the first round.

    He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.60 seconds, good for third among all defensive linemen at the NFL combine.  His 38 reps on the bench press were tied for the most of any player in attendance. 

    NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks is already drawing comparisons between Hunt and NFL superstars Julius Peppers and J.J. Watt.  With another good showing at his upcoming pro day, Hunt’s unique blend of size, speed and athleticism will make him one of the most coveted defensive linemen in the 2013 draft and land him at or near the top of New England’s wish list.

    Bottom Line: First–Round Target

Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee

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    With cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington re-signed and Adrian Wilson in the mix at safety, the Patriots wasted little time addressing two of their biggest offseason needs.

    Then they went ahead and created an even bigger one by releasing last year’s prized offseason acquisition, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd.

    If the season began on Saturday, the Patriots would trot out Danny Amendola and Donald Jones as their starting wide receivers.  Good thing the season doesn’t start until September.

    Nevertheless, Lloyd’s absence makes the position a major need as draft day approaches.  That means several receivers who weren’t great fits for the team a week ago now likely find themselves garnering more consideration from the boys in navy blue.

    Chief among them is Tennessee’s Justin Hunter.

    The 21-year-old junior led the Volunteers and was fourth in the SEC in receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns in 2012, despite sharing targets with this year’s top wideout prospect, Cordarrelle Patterson.

    The 6’4” Hunter carried that momentum into the NFL combine.  He showcased nice deep speed with a 4.44 40-yard dash and put his trademark explosiveness on display with the best broad jump of any receiver at 11’4”. 

    As if his ideal size, speed and explosiveness weren’t enough to turn heads, he also tied for the best vertical jump at his position with a leap of 39.5”.

    Then he put on an even better show at Tennessee’s pro day.

    Hunter added an inch to his vertical and two inches to his broad jump.  Put it all together and you have one of the most productive receivers in this draft class with elite size at 6’4”, 200 lbs, 40.5” vertical leap, 11’6” broad jump and 4.44 40–yard dash.

    If he can correct some of the concentration lapses he suffered in 2012, Hunter could be an absolute steal for the Patriots at the end of Round 1.

    Bottom Line: First–Round Target

Aaron Dobson, WR, Marshall

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    Justin Hunter isn’t the only receiver on New England’s radar.  Far from it.  I expect Belichick and Co. to kick the tires on no less than five wideouts as they search for another weapon to line up opposite Amendola.

    Currently rated as a fringe third-round prospect by NFL.com, Dobson is similar to Hunter in that he brings excellent size (6’3”, 210 lbs) and deep speed to the position.

    Dobson was nursing a hamstring injury and didn’t run at the combine, but he ran a 4.40 40–yard dash at Marshall’s pro day.

    He averaged 14.5 yards per catch during his four-year career and scored a single-season high 12 touchdowns in 2011.

    Patriots’ fans may remember another deep threat from Marshall who had success in Foxboro—some guy by the name of Randy Moss.  Dobson isn’t anywhere near Moss’ level; after all, few are, but there’s reason to believe he could carry the torch in New England.

    Bottom Line: Third–Round Target

Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M

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    “You don’t see that every day, a white guy running a 4.3.”

    Those are Swope’s own words when recounting his experience at the NFL combine, where he tied likely first-round pick Tavon Austin for the second fastest 40-yard time of any receiver participating.

    His time was actually 4.34, not 4.30, but who’s counting?

    While Swope elected to stand on his workout numbers from the combine, he still impressed during Texas A&M’s pro day.

    NFL Network’s Mike Mayock was effusive in his praise of the former Aggie, citing his ability to play outside or in the slot and noting how effortlessly he catches the football.

    For the record, Swope didn’t drop a single pass all day.

    A three-year starter in college, Swope amassed 252 receptions, 3,117 yards and 24 touchdowns during his career, and his versatility will certainly catch Belichick’s eye.

    Bottom Line: Third–Round Target

Da'Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee Tech

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    Rogers had what you might call a tumultuous college career.

    A former blue-chip wide receiver, Rogers burst onto the scene as a sophomore in 2011 with 67 receptions, 1,040 yards and nine TDs for the Tennessee Volunteers.  His reception total was the highest in the SEC, and his yards and touchdowns were second.

    Unfortunately, he never played another game for Tennessee.

    A series of failed drug tests and attitude issues led to his suspension from the team and his ultimate transfer from the university.  He immediately found a home at Tennessee Tech and picked up where he left off with another 61 catches for 893 yards and 10 TDs.

    There’s little doubt Rogers can play, and the 6’2”, 219-lb horse backed that up with a 4.52 40-yard time, 39.5” vertical leap and 11’0" broad jump at the NFL combine.

    He joined the aforementioned Justin Hunter at Tennessee’s pro day and lost a one-on-one vertical leap showdown, but overall he still showed well.

    The issue with Rogers remains his off-field concerns, which, as Sports Illustrated's Don Banks points out, he began putting to rest during his combine interviews.  He appeared contrite and is saying all the right things on his road to public relations recovery.

    New England will of course do its due diligence, but if he continues his positive offseason, look for Rogers to merit serious consideration on Day 2 of the draft.

    Bottom Line: Second–Round Target

Aaron Mellette, WR, Elon

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    I told you there were a lot of receivers here.

    Of everyone listed, Mellette was the most productive in college.

    During his three years as a starter, he compiled an utterly dominant 296 catches, 4,147 yards and 42 TDs.  That’s an average of roughly 99 catches, 1382 yards and 14 TDs per season.

    He may not have the same talent level as some of the other receivers in the draft considering he amassed his stats playing against a lower level of competition, but he wasn’t simply productive—he was prolific.

    Listed at 6’2” and 217 lbs, Mellette has never been accused of having blazing speed.  Indeed, he’s often lauded for his possession ability and knack for hauling in tough catches with his strong hands.

    Still, he ran a 4.52 40-yard dash at the combine, so he isn’t exactly a plodder either.

    Last year, the St. Louis Rams took WR Brian Quick out of Appalachian State in the second round.  Based on when the two players took the field against each other, NFLDraftScout.com reports at least one scout thinks Mellette has a chance to be the better pro.

    "Flip on the Elon-Appalachian State game from last season," said one pro scout. "Quick was good, but that Elon kid (Mellette) was the most impressive receiver on the field that day. If you're looking for flash and sizzle - Mellette isn't your guy. But if you want production, I think he can be a reliable player at the pro level."

    Of course, it would be a shock to see Mellette taken as high as Quick was, but considering the Patriots don’t pick in Rounds 4, 5 or 6, they might look his way in Round 3.

    Bottom Line: Third–Round Target

Aldrick Fordham, DE, South Carolina

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    Fordham isn’t so much a player who has risen on the Patriots draft board as he is one who could rise with a solid pro day next week.

    Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller alludes to Fordham’s workman–like mentality when discussing his potential impact as a role player at the next level.

    Belichick loves his lunch-pail players, and Fordham could put himself on New England’s Round 7 radar with a good workout.

    Bottom Line: Seventh–Round Target

Jasper Collins, WR, Mount Union

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    OK, this is the last receiver, I promise.

    Collins wouldn’t be the first receiver drafted out of Division III Mount Union, following in the footsteps of Pierre Garcon and Cecil Shorts.  He ranks second on the school’s all-time receptions list behind Shorts and led the Purple Raiders to a Division III National Title.

    He didn’t get an invite to the NFL combine, but he was the only D-III player invited to play in the Shrine Game.

    He flashed decent speed during his pro day with a 4.47 40-yard time and his 6.85 time in the three-cone drill would have placed him among the top 10 receivers at the combine.

    Known for his steady hands and crisp route running, Collins would make a lot of sense as a seventh-round pick lined up in the slot between Amendola and the Patriots tight ends.

    Bottom Line: Seventh–Round Target

Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas-Pine Bluff

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    Currently projected as a second-round pick on NFL.com, Armstead has the talent to play for a major football program but chose Arkansas-Pine Bluff because it allowed him to play track as well as football.

    Armstead put up superb numbers at the NFL combine, particularly in drills that measure speed, athleticism and explosiveness, including the fastest 40-yard time ever for an offensive lineman at 4.71 seconds.

    He then built on that success during his pro day, where he wowed scouts during positional drills.

    Armstead was named first–team All-SWAC three years straight and is one of the fastest draft risers this offseason.  Listed at 6’5” and 306 lbs, he has the prototypical size, athleticism and exceptional speed to play on the outside in the NFL.

    Depending whether or not the Patriots re-sign Sebastian Vollmer between now and draft day, expect Armstead to earn a long look with one of their early picks.

    Bottom Line: Second–Round Target

Emmett Cleary, OT, Boston College

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    Like Collins and Fordham, Cleary profiles as a late-round draftee, if he gets drafted at all.

    Unlike those two, he earned accolades in a major conference, landing a spot on the second-team All-ACC squad.

    Boston College is renowned for producing quality NFL offensive linemen, and Cleary could be the next in line.  He played both tackle positions and left guard during his time at BC, offering the sort of versatility any NFL coach would covet.

    Under the tutelage of offensive line guru Dante Scarnecchia, Cleary would provide invaluable depth with the potential to blossom into a starter.

    Bottom Line: Seventh–Round Target