New England Patriots: Analyzing Latest NFL Draft Rumors and Reports
Getting a read on the New England Patriots' draft plans is more difficult than getting a read on how to solve a Rubik's Cube. There are a number of twists and turns, with multiple layers to the equation, and just when you think you've got it solved, there's a blue square on the red side, and you have to start all over again.
That's what it feels like on a yearly basis, with the Patriots always keeping their plans under wraps and keeping everyone guessing in the process.
Now that we're a week away from the draft, though, the reports have piled up, and we have a pretty good feel of what prospects the Patriots have been eyeing in the predraft process. So, let's take a look around the web and see what the reporters are saying about the Patriots' draft plans.
Patriots Host Florida LB Neiron Ball for Predraft Visit
The Report (via Aaron Wilson of National Football Post)
Medically cleared following microfracture knee surgery, Ball ran the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds and is regarded as an ascending draft prospect. He also had a 34 1/2 inch vertical leap and a 4.26 three-cone drill. The 6-foot-2, 236-pounder bench pressed 225 pounds 22 times at the NFL scouting combine.
The Patriots are far from the only team interested in Neiron Ball, with Aaron Wilson listing nine teams that have hosted him for a visit or have held a workout with the Florida product.
Ball has versatility to play in multiple spots in any defense; he has lined up as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 and a 4-3 and as an inside linebacker in a 3-4. He has top-notch athleticism, as evidenced in his workout numbers at his pro day. He also has the ability to cover kicks and punts on special teams.
All this interest is surprising; NFL.com's Lance Zierlein grades Ball as a "priority free agent," while CBSSports.com has very little information at all. With so many teams interested, why is Ball given such a low draft grade? It's because of his checkered medical records, which include microfracture surgery on his knee in 2014 and brain surgery in 2011.
Ball's draft status is a bit of a wild card; he could be picked as early as Day 2 and as late as...well, not being picked at all.
Dante Scarnecchia Touring the Nation to Work Out Offensive Linemen
The Report (via Phil Perry of CSNNE.com)
Former Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has been all over the country to work out some of the best offensive line prospects in this year's draft class -- particularly players on the interior of the offensive line.
He's been to Florida State, South Carolina and Georgia Tech as part of his travels, and now it appears as though he made his way to Duke's pro day last month to take a peek at guard Laken Tomlinson.
The Patriots went through a lot of shakeups on the offensive line last season, particularly in the first four weeks of the regular season. The interior offensive line spots were all revolving doors, with Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell, Jordan Devey, Marcus Cannon, Josh Kline and Bryan Stork all getting their turns in the rotation. Connolly is still a free agent, and the Patriots still have a glaring need at guard, so their heavy interest in offensive linemen is no surprise.
Dante Scarnecchia was the Patriots' offensive line coach for much of the past two decades; he finally called it quits after the 2013 season; he has coached up some of the most raw prospects into formidable starters at the NFL level. His involvement in the scouting process is a huge plus for the Patriots.
Perry singles out Duke guard Laken Tomlinson as one particular prospect the Patriots have examined more closely, and they'll probably like what they see from the 6'3", 323-pound lineman. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein ranked him as the fifth-best guard in the draft, and CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler ranked him as the best guard.
Patriots Hosted 34 Prospects for Workouts, Including 9 Defensive Backs
The Report (via Frank Cooney of NFLDraftScout.com)
Belichick, who is always all-in on his commitment to football, orchestrated 34 visits, a number that includes 21 workouts, according to an unofficial list compiled by NFLDraftScout.com as of Monday.
That high number of workouts means Belichick probably is more interested in seeing them walk the walk than just talk. ... With an admitted need at defensive back, the Patriots list of meetings is topped by nine cornerbacks and safeties, including six who worked out.
Six of those nine prospects were cornerbacks, and three were safeties. Some prospects, such as Trae Waynes (Michigan State) and Kevin Johnson (Wake Forest), will be long gone by the time the Patriots go on the clock at No. 32, but others such as Bobby McCain (Memphis) and Justin Coleman (Tennessee) could be had as late as Day 3.
It's not surprising that the Patriots would focus so heavily on the secondary with their predraft visits; while there are a lot of names in the Patriots secondary, there are not a lot of guarantees. There are plenty of players with starting experience, but none that jump out as surefire locks to lock down a starting spot.
The Patriots have an opportunity to find someone who could provide some clarity in their coverage unit in the short-term and long-term.
Patriots Host RB Todd Gurley for Predraft Visit
The Report (via Field Yates of ESPN)
University of Georgia running back Todd Gurley, arguably the top-ranked player at his position in this year's draft, is in Foxborough for a visit Wednesday with the New England Patriots. The visit is one of the team's allotted 30 pre-draft visits that often include medical examinations, meetings with coaches and a tour of the team's facility.
The Patriots have lost a couple of big names from their offensive backfield this offseason in the form of Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, but they have already done a respectable job of building a formidable backfield with the likes of LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray, Travaris Cadet, James White, Brandon Bolden and Tyler Gaffney.
Gurley has been rehabbing from a torn ACL he suffered in 2014, but he is still widely regarded as a first-round prospect and the best prospect at his position—both NFL.com and CBSSports.com have Gurley at the top of the pecking order among running backs in this year's class.
NFL.com's Lance Zierlein regards Gurley as a "decisive runner" who is hard to bring down but says there are "questions about whether he'll return back to his play speed" following his knee injury. A predraft visit would allow the Patriots to get a closer look at Gurley's medical records and could give them just the insight they need to determine whether he would be worth a pick in the first round.
Jerod Mayo Restructures Contract to Stay with the Patriots
The Report (via Dan Hanzus of NFL.com)
NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that Mayo has agreed to a one-year deal worth $4.5 million fully guaranteed. The inside linebacker and team captain has a chance to make up to $6 million if he reaches all incentives in the deal. The contract also includes two option years.
Mayo's Patriots future was uncertain after his suffered a torn patellar tendon in Week 6 of last season. It was the second consecutive year that Mayo's season ended in Week 6 -- he suffered a torn pectoral muscle in 2013.
OK, so it's not exactly draft news, but it's news that could affect the Patriots' draft plans.
Contrary to Hanzus' thoughts, Mayo's Patriots future was never in doubt; his contract included a "$4.5 million injury guarantee," according to ESPN's Mike Reiss, which practically precluded the Patriots from cutting Mayo.
However, now that Mayo is back, linebacker looks like a much less glaring need than it was previously. The Patriots still have young linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower in the fold to pick up the slack if Mayo is not back to his old self. They don't need more than a sprinkling of depth at the linebacker position.