While the New England Patriots continue their march in the playoffs, their front office continues to plan the direction of the Patriots' 2014 NFL draft. The East-West Shrine Game is next up on the parade of prospect scouting, with the Senior Bowl coming up next week.
Here are five potential Patriots who you can watch this weekend in the Shrine Game.
Tom Brady has no plans of hanging up his cleats anytime soon, but Ryan Mallett's future with the New England Patriots is less clear. If he were to be traded or leave in free agency after the 2014 season, the Patriots need a viable backup.
Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has some skills that the Patriots desire. His quick release, patience in the pocket and ability to extend the play should endear him to NFL coaches.
At least one former backup quarterback who hailed from Eastern Illinois—now Dallas Cowboys starter Tony Romo—has worked out pretty well in the NFL.
Eric Galko from OptimumScouting.com had a firsthand look at Garoppolo at the Shrine Game this week:
While each quarterback utilized their best skill set today to have a “solid” day, Jimmy Garoppolo had the best day in my eyes. His quick release was on display, both on quick step short route and when asked to sling it deep. He utilized a great pump and go move that forced Pierre Desir to bite, allowing for big separation for Matt Hazel on a long throw. While his placement wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t an issue and likely stemmed from QB-WR chemistry not fully formed.
If the Patriots want to add a quarterback in the middle rounds of the draft, Garoppolo and Georgia's Aaron Murray are two of the better options.
San Jose State receiver Chandler Jones may share a name with a current New England Patriots player, but that is about it. The younger Jones measures just 5'9" and weighs in at 180 pounds.
Jones the receiver makes up in speed and polish what he lacks in size. He can also contribute as a returner on special teams.
Jeff Risdon from DetroitLionsDraft.com provided a glimpse of Jones during Shrine Game practice:
San Jose State wideout Chandler Jones also impressed. He exudes smoothness in everything he does, just a polished athlete with a good sense of the game. He made a tough contested catch in traffic by attacking the ball with extended hands, then quickly pivoted outside and broke away from SJSU teammate Bene Benwikere. He followed that with a sliding catch in front of BYU safety Daniel Sorenson, who was around the ball a lot in team drills.
Jones is likely to be picked in the seventh round or become a priority undrafted free agent. If that is the case, expect New England to pounce quickly on a second Chandler Jones for its team.
The New England Patriots have successfully turned the slot receiver position into a commodity. Wes Welker leaves? No problem. Julian Edelman steps in and catches 100 balls for over 1,000 yards.
If Julian Edelman leaves for greener pastures this offseason, the Patriots might look at Michigan wide receiver Jeremy Gallon in the 2014 NFL draft. He isn't big or tall—5'7" and 183 pounds—but he has a knack for getting open despite a 40-yard dash time that probably won't break the 4.5-second barrier.
Thomas Melton from DraftFalcons.com had this to say from St. Petersburg covering the Shrine Game:
Jeremy Gallon is one of the better receivers here as well, and continues to show that despite his size he has the potential to be a quality slot receiver in the NFL. He is going to go Day Three if he gets drafted at all, but I think he can stick at the next level.
If Gallon is available in the later stages of the draft, the Patriots could take a flier on the undersized Gallon.
While Sealver Siliga, Joe Vellano and Chris Jones have done good work filling in for Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly this season, the New England Patriots will certainly look at addressing depth on the interior defensive line in the 2014 draft.
Louisiana Tech defensive tackle Justin Ellis fits what New England may be looking for at an affordable price. Ellis is big enough—351 pounds—to act as a nose tackle but can also penetrate and get in the backfield when asked to.
Dane Brugler from CBSSports.com has given Ellis high marks so far this week from the Shrine Game:
Entering the week, my top defensive tackle prospect participating this week was Louisiana Tech DT Justin Ellis (6-2, 351) and he hasn't disappointed so far. He used his active hands and quick feet to beat blockers during drills, putting spin moves on Oklahoma's Gabe Ikard and also steamrolling him on a few occasions. To no surprise, Ellis weighed in as the heaviest prospect here at 351 pounds and he uses that girth well to bully blockers and surge through the line of scrimmage.
Ellis is likely to be selected on Day 3 of the draft, a perfect developmental pick for New England.
The New England Patriots have enjoyed the services of a Fresno State lineman—Logan Mankins—so much, that they might be tempted to add another.
Fresno State guard Austin Wentworth offers some positional versatility—he can play tackle as well—and is adept picking up both power- and speed-rushers in protection.
Eric Galko from OptimumScouting.com had some notes on Wentworth from Wednesday's Shrine Game practice:
Austin Wentworth of Fresno State had another strong day, playing with plus hand positioning and size, and arching his back well through the pass block. Wentworth looks comfortable playing tackle and not worrying about speed edge rushers, and looks like a solid draftable player based on his play this week against multiple types of interior rushers.
Whether the Patriots choose to keep Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, both or neither on the roster in 2014, Wentworth is a solid option on Day 3 of the draft.