The Patriots have been quite adept at finding players who might have operated out of pre-draft spotlight because they didn’t get an invite to the combine: Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Danny Woodhead, Troy Brown, Kyle Arrington and Sebastian Vollmer are six examples of players who didn’t get a combine invite but still managed to find success in the NFL.
None of those players were held back by the fact that they may have been slightly under-the-radar prospects because they didn’t get a ticket to perform in the Underwear Olympics in Indy in late February. Now, it’s easier than ever to get noticed, according to Vollmer.
“I’m not sure in this day and age that there’s really ‘under the radar,’ ” Vollmer said when asked about pre-draft life as a non-combine invitee. “All your game film is out there. You can’t change that, and people see it. Then, just kind of go through the whole process with the interview and whatever else you can do. Most of your work is done already with what you did in college. I think people are going to find you and just keep progressing. It doesn’t matter how you get into the league as long as you get there -- and then, you've got to outwork certain people.”
With that in mind, here are 10 combine snubs -- all of who are mid- to late-round or rookie free agent possibilities -- who likely are on New England’s radar.
Wide receiver Jasper Collins -- Like his Mount Union brethren -- Cecil Shorts and Pierre Garcon -- Collins is attempting to reach the NFL from a relatively small school. But while Shorts and Garcon had the chance to show their stuff at the combine, Collins wasn’t so lucky. He turned heads as the only Division 3 player at the East-West Shrine game after a college career with 232 catches (second in school history to Shorts) in 52 games for 3,527 yards and 37 touchdowns. When you’re talking about prospects at the wide receiver and defensive back position, it’s also worth mentioning that the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder had a better than average 6.85 time in the 3-cone drill. According to reports, he worked out for the Patriots on March 21.
Tight end Michael Williams -- The Patriots aren’t exactly in the market for another tight end, but a reference from Williams’ college coach and trusted Bill Belichick pal Nick Saban might be enough for New England to take a late-round flier on him. The 6-foot-6, 269-pounder had 24 catches for 183 yards and four touchdowns for the national champions, and could provide depth for the Patriots.
Cornerback Travis Howard -- The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Ohio State defensive back played in 43 games with the Buckeyes and started 23 times, including all 12 games as a senior. He flashed very good ball skills over the course of his career at Ohio State, finishing with eight picks (including four as a senior). Like Williams getting a reference from Saban, if Howard received a thumbs-up from Belichick’s pal Urban Meyer, it could be enough to put him over the top in the eyes of the Patriots.
Defensive end Wes Horton -- At 6-foot-4 3/4 and 264 pounds, this defensive end out of Southern Cal had 5.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles as a senior for the Trojans, but he didn’t get the call to compete in Indy in February. However, he could be quite the late-round find later this month if he’s able to show that he can compete on a consistent basis. He started all four years at USC, and for what it’s worth, with 34 1/4 inch arms, he certainly has the long, lean body type the Patriots crave at the end position.
Cornerback Branden Smith -- This 5-foot-10, 168-pound cornerback out of Georgia is a tremendous athlete who also has worked in the backfield and on special teams in the return game. He flashed positively as a senior with 25 tackles, but had perhaps his most impressive season as a junior when he started seven games and had 24 tackles and two picks, to go along with 13 carries and three receptions -- as well as returning seven kickoffs and nine punts.
Defensive end David King -- The 6-foot-4, 275-pounder started all 13 games for Oklahoma, and was an All-Big 12 honorable mention for the Sooners after finishing the year with 2.5 sacks and two tackles for loss. He does have some positional versatility at a high level, having played both defensive end and defensive tackle for Oklahoma over the course of his college career.
Wide receiver Chad Bumphis -- The Mississippi State product has terrific straight-line speed (a 4.52 40 at his pro day), but the 5-foot-10, 196-pounder also has shown some nice agility with a 6.91 in the 3-cone drill and 4.26 in the short shuttle. Bumphis had 58 catches for 922 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior (including four games in which he topped 100 yards), putting the capper on a collegiate career in which he had 159 catches for 2,270 yards and 24 touchdowns. (He also has special teams value, as he worked as a punt and kick returner in college.) He projects as a slot receiver in the NFL.
Defensive tackle William Campbell -- At 6-foot-5 and 308 pounds, this Michigan product jumps off the page for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that he’s played on both the offensive and defensive line, as well as fullback and special teams over the course of his college career. He played in 51 consecutive contests with the Wolverines, making 11 starts at defensive tackle, but it’s his versatility that could really help him at the next level.
Wide receiver DeVonte Christopher -- Utah's 6-foot-1, 192-pounder had 39 catches in 2010 and 42 catches in 2011, and even though his numbers dipped as a senior because of inconsistent play at the quarterback spot (22 catches, 301 yards), it’s clear he has the ability to play at the next level.
Quarterback Matt McGloin -- We took a look at the possibility of McGloin joining the Patriots here, and now we can report that a league source has indicated that New England has expressed interest in the former Penn State quarterback as a backup to Tom Brady. With former Patriots offensive coordinator Billy O’Brien serving as the coach at Penn State, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see New England at least kick the tires on a handful of former Nittany Lions, including McGloin and offensive lineman Matt Stankiewitch.