8 Late-Round Prospects Who Would Be a Perfect Match for Patriots
In recent years, the New England Patriots have had as much success at the bottom of the NFL draft as they've had at the top of it. Last season, they featured three seventh-round picks who played a significant role: Julian Edelman (2009), Brandon Deaderick (2010) and Alfonzo Dennard (2012).
The Patriots currently feature 11 first-round picks, eight second-rounders, four third-rounders, five fourth-rounders, five fifth-rounders, six sixth-rounders and seven seventh-rounders on their roster, as well as a whopping 29 who were not drafted at all.
One thing Bill Belichick preaches and practices is that it doesn't matter how players arrive in New England, all that matters is what they do once they get there.
For a team that wins as many games as the Patriots, it's amazing how many of their contributors are found amongst the players no one seems to want.
Let's take a look at a handful of prospects who will be available on Day 3 of the draft and could fit the mold of what the Pats look for at some positions of need.
All stats courtesy of NFL.com.
Hugh Thornton, G, Illinois
The Patriots' history of drafting players like Tyrone McKenzie shows their willingness to take a chance on a prospect who has overcome hardships in life. Hugh Thornton fits that mold as well. Thornton found his mother and sister murdered nearly 10 years ago, then had to move in with an aunt after being abused by his father.
Despite all these challenges, Thornton still emerged to become a versatile and dependable offensive lineman who fits the Patriots' style. He has the necessary temperament, but also moves well on his feet, something the Patriots require. They love athletic linemen who can pull and get to the second level like Thornton can.
With Donald Thomas departing in free agency, the Patriots need to round out their depth at guard. Thornton is a good fit, while also bringing some versatility to work at tackle as well.
Reid Fragel, T, Ohio State
The Patriots have selected a 6'8" tight end who converted to tackle once before. While Nate Solder was a first-round pick, Reid Fragel is more of a developmental prospect, given his single season of experience at the position. But there's no question, he fits the physical mold they like in their tackles.
As you would expect, Fragel is still extremely raw, but given his nasty playing style and movement skills, he could project to a long-term backup to both Sebastian Vollmer and Solder. With Marcus Cannon possibly ready to move the guard, the development of a backup swing tackle will be essential this offseason.
Chris Jones, DT, Bowling Green
Chris Jones is the kind of player who just screams "Patriots." A two-time co-captain, Jones was named first-team All-MAC, MAC Defensive Player of the Year and third-team AP All-American as a senior, but it's his unstoppable work ethic that makes him stand out most.
At just 6'2" and 302 pounds, Jones lacks the ideal size for the interior of the Patriots' line, at least as far as rundowns go, but what Jones could bring to the table is a sub-package interior pass rush that the Patriots have struggled without for over two seasons. Add in his superlative work ethic, and Jones seems like just the kind of player Bill Belichick likes to work with.
He may be overly specialized, but his quickness and smart play, along with a good dose of power and explosion, could make him the perfect tool for one of the Patriots' biggest areas of need.
A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa
A.J. Klein is the kind of linebacker who would be a great addition to their current corps. Universally praised for his instincts and playing demeanor, he has just the kind of football intelligence to excel in a cerebral system like the Pats'.
Perhaps most enticing aspect about Klein is his coverage skills, as he returned four interceptions for touchdowns in his career. He could round out New England's linebackers, backing up all three positions, give them another versatile piece and one who can potentially excel in the passing game.
When you boil it down, Klein is tough and smart, the greatest characteristics of any potential Patriots, and fits a significant need.
Josh Johnson, DB Purdue
Josh Johnson has the ultra-competitiveness and confidence any NFL team will require of their cornerbacks have. At 5'9", 200 pounds, he's similarly built to Kyle Arrington, and in the Patriots' system he'd likely be restricted to slot cornerback duties.
While the Patriots awarded Arrington a four-year contract, they really have no solid slot corners behind him. They paid the price for this when Marquice Cole was eaten alive by Anquan Boldin in the AFC Championship.
Johnson is the kind of player you can never have too many of, and while the need for another slot corner isn't big enough to expend a high-round pick on one, a low-round guy like him is perfect value. The dime-corner and special teams roles would get an instant upgrade with him, and give the Pats some insurance should Arrington need to shift back outside.
Jamoris Slaughter, S, Notre Dame
Everyone knows how much the Patriots like versatility, and Slaughter is a player who has lined up all over the defense, though his best spot would be as an in-the-box safety. While the Patriots' major safety needs should be covered, especially with a similar player like Tavon Wilson being selected in the second round last year, Slaughter could provide depth and special teams ability.
The Patriots' struggles in the middle of the field over the last two seasons are well-documented, and Slaughter would be added insurance for improvement there. He's a hard-nosed player who plays strong at the line of scrimmage, and could bring an element to attitude that the Pats offense has lacked.
His strengths are physicality and pass coverage, two things you can never have enough of. His recovery from a torn Achilles that occurred in Week 3 of 2012 will have to be monitored, but the Pats have the depth to give him time.
Aaron Mellette, WR, Elon
Aaron Mellette is a small-school receiver with the size that the Patriots need. He's not the "deep threat" that many Patriots fans clamor for, but he has enough route savvy and strength to become a solid receiver in the NFL.
Despite his outside-receiver size, Mellette was used on bubble screens due to his agility, known favorites of Josh McDaniels and the Patriots offense. His strong catching ability would also make him a red zone threat. He had 18 touchdowns his senior year.
Projecting receivers for the Patriots is hard enough, even more so when they're coming from small programs, but the Patriots have reportedly already showed interest in the Elon product. There's no question the Pats need receivers, and Mellette fits the mold of exactly the kind they lack.
Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State
While much is made of the Patriots needing to add vertical threats, what's often lost is that they need to challenge the defense along the sidelines as well, and that's where Marquess Wilson is most dangerous. He would bring the kind of height and vertical-jump ability the Pats have missed since Randy Moss departed.
Not to say Wilson is Moss, but he would be a unique threat outside in a way that Wes Welker and Deion Branch never were. His solid hands and ability to go up after balls would also add another tall red-zone target for Tom Brady. In conjunction with Rob Gronkowski, the Pats receivers would be head and shoulders above their defenders.
Though he does have some character concerns after ripping Mike Leach and the Cougars program after being suspended, he appears to have the physical traits the Pats need to truly round out their offensive weaponry.
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