New England Patriots' Round 1 Big Board Ahead of the Combine
Narrow the list down further to prospects that they could take in the first round—pick 29, give or take a few slots due to trades—and you have a very narrow band of players that you are focusing on.
Here are six 2014 NFL draft prospects the Patriots will be taking a hard look at during their time in Indianapolis.
Note: Players were selected based on overall talent, scheme fit, positional need and projected availability.
Ra'Shede Hageman (DL, Minnesota)
Ra'Shede Hageman is the defensive lineman whom the New England Patriots have been missing since they shipped Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders.
He has the quickness and strength to disrupt offenses from the 1- or 3-tech position, but he also has the 6'6" frame and long arms to hold the edge from the 5-tech. When he keeps his pad-level down, he is an absolute force to be reckoned with.
If the Patriots line up Hageman next to Vince Wilfork—with Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones on the edges—in even fronts, defenses will have a tough time deciding who to assign the double-team to. In odd fronts, Wilfork can man the middle, while Jones and Hageman play the 5-techs.
Bill Belichick might have to trade up—like he did with Jones and Dont'a Hightower in 2012—to land Hageman. If he impresses Belichick with his football IQ during team interviews at the combine, consider him fair game in the second half of Round 1.
Option in Round 2: Dominique Easley (DL, Florida)
Option in Rounds 3-7: Ryan Carrethers (DL, Arkansas State)
Louis Nix III (DL, Notre Dame)
If the New England Patriots want a Vince Wilfork clone—he isn't getting any younger or cheaper—they could do a lot worse than Notre Dame's Louis Nix III.
Nix's massive 345-pound body serves as an effective repellent to opposing running backs and is surprisingly quick and agile for a man his size when trying to rush the passer. While he doesn't tally many sacks himself, collapsing the pocket certainly aids his teammates.
The Patriots will want to assuage their fears over the health of Nix's knees. If he is medically cleared at the combine, that should lock up a first-round grade from most NFL teams.
Option in Round 2: None
Option in Rounds 3-7: Daniel McCullers (DL, Tennessee)
Kyle Van Noy (OLB, Brigham Young)
Bill Belichick so loves versatility, that I wouldn't be surprised if he had a Swiss army knife tucked in his sock next to the red challenge flag. If that is the case, he might feel like drafting a versatile weapon as well.
BYU outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy can do it all. He can rush the passer, blitz, stop the run, set the edge and drop into coverage. He isn't going to blow you out of the water with any one trait, but the overall skill set is quite impressive.
At 6'3" and 242 pounds, Van Noy offers Belichick a versatile player with a big enough body to execute what is expected from a Patriots linebacker.
If Van Noy can impress Belichick at the whiteboard like Jerod Mayo did prior to the 2008 NFL draft, Van Noy will be hard to pass up at the end of the first round.
Option in Round 2: Ryan Shazier (OLB, Ohio State)
Option in Rounds 3-7: Michael Sam (DE/OLB, Missouri)
Calvin Pryor (FS, Louisville)
Calvin Pryor reminds me of a bigger—6'1" and 210 pounds—and more athletic Bob Sanders, a former Indianapolis Colts safety who played with an effusive energy and reckless abandon that unnerved opposing players. For a more modern-day example, look at Seattle's Kam Chancellor.
Vance Bedford—Pryor's position coach at Louisville—told Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel all about his effect on opponents:
He had three games in a row where he hit somebody and they did not finish the game. He doesn’t want to injure anybody, but he brings a certain physicality that if you’re going to throw the ball down the middle of the field, you’re going to pay a price.
That’s how the game used to be played. He did things the right way and that’s what people like about him so much. And he’s a coach on the field—high football IQ. He controls everything. Gets guys lined up. Makes the checks. He does it all. He’s a guy Louisville is going to miss next year and I wish I had him here with me at Texas right now.
Pryor hits like a truck, but we aren't talking about Brandon Meriweather here. Pryor isn't a one-trick pony. He shows good long speed and takes good angles to the ball.
If Pryor runs well at the combine, his price might get too rich for the Patriots. If he lasts until the 29th pick in the first round, Belichick wouldn't hesitate to make Devin McCourty and Pryor the best safety duo in the AFC.
Option in Round 2: Jimmie Smith (SAF, Northern Illinois)
Option in Rounds 3-7: Ty Zimmerman (SAF, Kansas State)
Zack Martin (OL, Notre Dame)
Zack Martin isn't sexy, but neither were the picks of Logan Mankins, Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer. Martin had a fine career at Notre Dame as a tackle, but due to less-than-ideal arm length he projects as a guard in the NFL.
Mankins showed this year just how important versatility is, replacing Solder at tackle when he was out with a concussion. Martin's ability to fill in at either guard or tackle spot can't be overlooked.
Martin has solid feet, consistent hand placement, functional strength and good balance in his stance. He fits in both angle and zone schemes and will be a strong locker-room presence.
Look for the Patriots to take note of Martin's measurables at the combine. If they want a safe pick on offense that can contribute as a rookie, Martin will be their guy.
Option in Round 2: Xavier Su'a-Filo (OL, UCLA)
Option in Rounds 3-7: Joel Bitonio (OL, Nevada)
Jace Amaro (TE, Texas Tech)
At 6'5" and 260 pounds, Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro might look the part, but he isn't Rob Gronkowski. Amaro has good speed, runs decent enough routes—when he concentrates—and has good hands, but his blocking ability isn't up to par with the likes of Gronkowski.
That said, if the Patriots are looking for a "move" tight end who can split out wide and create some mismatches, Amaro is a good option. Eric Ebron is the top prospect in that mold, but he will likely be long gone by the time New England is on the clock.
Belichick will certainly have some questions for Amaro during interviews at the combine. His questionable motor running routes and blocking, his poor reads when trying to find the soft spot of zone coverage and some maturity and criminal issues off the field will need to be answered for.
There are also significant medical issues that the Patriots will need to check out. Amaro suffered a torn ACL in high school and a significant spleen injury in 2012.
There are significant concerns regarding Amaro, but New England may decide—like with Gronkowski—that the rewards outweigh the risks.
Option in Round 2: C.J. Fiedorowicz (TE, Iowa)
Option in Rounds 3-7: Troy Niklas (TE, Notre Dame)
For more Patriots and NFL Draft analysis, follow James Christensen on Twitter @NEPatriotsDraft.