While many expected the New England Patriots to supplement Tom Brady's support unit in the 2014 NFL draft, most figured that help would come at tight end. Instead, the Patriots ignored the tight end position entirely and opted for Michigan wide receiver Jeremy Gallon in the late rounds.
Football fans have likely heard of Gallon before, as he was the top receiver on a glamorous (albeit staggering) program last season. But can Gallon transport his impressive Ann Arbor resume to Foxboro? Here's a look at what the Pats' final pick of the draft could contribute.
Gallon (5'7", 185 lbs) barely has the size to qualify as an NFL receiver. However, as a smart route-runner who identifies zones and sits down in soft spots to get open, Gallon is a nice fit for New England's option-based offense that requires significant football intelligence.
In fact, Gallon even pinpointed New England as his best pro fit before the draft, according to the Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder. Gallon, who compiled 1,373 receiving yards and nine touchdowns on 89 receptions last year, certainly has the elusiveness, vision and hands to succeed in the league.
Gallon's open-field ability will be his ticket into the league. He had 79 career kick or punt returns at Michigan, and per WEEI's Christopher Price, Patriots special teams coach Scott O'Brien flew out to personally scout Gallon. With excellent combine testing numbers, Gallon holds some eerie parallels with another former New England seventh-round receiver:
That's not to say Gallon will eventually turn into Julian Edelman, who has overcome similar size issues to carve out an important niche in New England's offense. However, Gallon should provide special teams value, whether on return or coverage teams.
Skill position guru Matt Waldman of Football Outsiders suggested that Gallon could be "a more explosive player in the mold of Harry Douglas or Doug Baldwin." If he can contribute in the third phase while also learning the offense, that will exponentially increase Gallon's chances of making the 53-man roster.
Still, there's no ignoring the fact that the ironically named Gallon is pint-sized. Without breakaway speed to create separation, Gallon can get engulfed by bigger press-coverage corners. Thus, he is exclusively a slot receiver, as aligning Gallon outside the numbers against bigger corners is a fruitless proposition.
Moreover, despite his route-running ability, Gallon was largely utilized on screens and other short routes to get him the ball in the open field. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it would have helped if Brady Hoke had deployed a more diverse route tree in utilizing Gallon.
And for all his open-field ability, Gallon was surprisingly ineffective on those aforementioned 79 kick returns. Gallon had no touchdowns and averaged just 7.1 yards per return on 47 punt returns. For reference, that would have ranked 20th out of 23 NFL players with at least 20 punt returns last season, per Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Gallon also faces a stacked slot receiver depth chart. Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Josh Boyce all look like roster locks, and all will be decisively ahead of Gallon on the depth chart. Outside "X" receivers Aaron Dobson and Brandon LaFell and special teams captain Matthew Slater are also likely locks, with Kenbrell Thompkins a roster possibility as well.
That's already seven wide receivers, and both Edelman and Boyce could provide return value. Gallon has no clear path onto the roster, so he will need an impressive preseason where he distinguishes himself through at least one high-quality skill.
Even though Gallon is no lock to make the roster, the Patriots could do worse than layering their receiving depth in the seventh round. Gallon has a good college pedigree, and he could be a distinct practice squad possibility for the Patriots.
There are really no poor seventh-round picks, as teams are often plucking the highest upside player off the top of their big boards. Gallon has a useful skill set, even if physical limitations could limit his ceiling.
New England has had enough success with slot receivers that they deserve the benefit of the doubt in selecting those receiver types (outside "X" receivers are a different story, however). Gallon may or may not end up earning a roster spot, though, he is at least an identifiable name for Patriots fans to follow this summer.