The NFL’s best and the brightest will descend on Indy this weekend in hopes of finding the next great prospect at the annual scouting combine. When it comes to the Patriots and how they navigate the Underwear Olympics, you’ve got questions. Luckily for you, we have answers.
WHAT DRILLS SHOULD PATRIOTS FANS PAY ATTENTION TO?
The Patriots aren’t necessarily the type to fall head-over-heels for a prospect based on their on-field performance in Indy, but the one aspect New England appears to consistently pay attention to is the 3-cone drill. Many of the wide receivers and defensive backs the Patriots have made a point of going after over the last dozen or so years have really knocked it out of the park when it came to the 3-cone drill, which measures quickness, agility and fluidity as opposed to straight-line speed. New England nabbed three of the top 10 performers in the 3-cone drill last season in wide receivers T.J. Moe and Josh Boyce and defensive back Logan Ryan. Dating back the last dozen years, Deion Branch, Chad Jackson and Devin McCourty all posted sub-seven-second times in the 3-cone at the combine. Greg Salas and Jeremy Ebert (who both had a cup of coffee with the Patriots as receivers) also had great showings as collegians as well, while Julian Edelman and Wes Welker did the same at their pro days (they weren’t invited to the combine). The performance needs to be put in context with the rest of the pre-draft process, but it’s certainly a drill for New England fans to keep an eye on.
FOR THE PATRIOTS, HOW IMPORTANT IS THE INTERVIEW PROCESS?
Patriots personnel chief Nick Caserio has said several times that the interview process is big when it comes to New England’s pre-draft evaluation -- in the past, he’s used Pat Chung as an example of a prospect who won over the New England brain trust with an excellent interview. According to players who have gone through the process with the Patriots, New England isn’t as blunt in its questioning as some other teams, but at the same time, there’s not a lot of getting-to-know-you time, as the teams have a limited window when it comes to their Q&A with the individual prospects. While some people compare the combine process to a job interview, this feels more like speed dating. “You ask questions to figure out if this guy is controlling his life or is someone else controlling it,” said Scott Pioli, who was part of the Patriots’ interview process at the combine when he was a member of the front office.
HOW MUCH STOCK DO THE PATRIOTS PUT IN ON-FIELD PERFORMANCE IN INDY?
For the Patriots, the combine usually is the next-to-last part of the pre-draft evaluation process, one that began in the fall, stretched through the college season and will continue following the combine with individual workouts and pro day scouting. “The way we kind of look at it, if you evaluate the player over the course of the fall -- let’s say you watch six games, this is really kind of another game,” Caserio said. “It’s another opportunity for [players] to be evaluated.”
IS NOT BEING INVITED A BAD SIGN FOR A PROSPECT?
Not by any means. Several players who weren’t invited to the combine have gone on to be key players in the New England system, including Sebastian Vollmer, Julian Edelman, Dane Fletcher and Tavon Wilson. Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker and Troy Brown didn’t get invited to the combine. According to Vollmer, there’s some hurt at first, but more often than not, if you can play, the NFL will find you. “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.”
ARE THERE A FEW PLAYERS PATRIOTS FANS SHOULD BE PARTICULARLY AWARE OF?
Yes, specifically the tight end and defensive line position. We’ve already raised a handful of names here, but in the wake of a Tuesday afternoon conference call with NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, we’ll narrow that focus to two:
1. Minnesota defensive lineman Ra’Shede Hageman: Hageman is a 6-foot-6, 318-pounder who has played at several spots up and down the defensive line. Our pal Rumford Johnny was the first to make a Richard Seymour comparison in his versatility, body type and disruptive style, and his college film certainly bears that out. Hageman had 34 tackles last season, including 11 for losses, as well as one interception and eight pass deflections. Hageman wouldn’t necessarily be the heir apparent to Vince Wilfork, but for a team that needs to start thinking about the post-Wilfork era in a few years, Hageman would appear to be a good place to start.
”I think Hageman from Minnesota is kind of the big question mark there,” Mayock said when asked about possible Patriots interest at No. 29. “If he’s still on the board — because he’s an explosive kid — he could play a couple of different spots, and coach [Bill] Belichick likes those versatile guys. He’s had some off-the-field questions attached to him, but he’s got a ton of ability and talent. So if Hageman was sitting there, I think he’d be really interesting.”
2. Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro: In our first mock draft, we didn’t have Amaro lasting until No. 29, and a solid performance at the combine could drive him even further out of New England’s range. But his pass-catching skills and versatility certainly could provide a boost for the Patriots passing game and help replace some of the offensive oomph New England lost at the tight end position last year. The 6-foot-5, 260-pounder broke the NCAA all-time record for receiving yards in a season by a tight end with 1,352 as a junior in 2013.
”[Eric Ebron] is going to be long gone [but] there’s a lot of different varying opinions on what you’re looking for,” Mayock said. “[Austin] Seferian-Jenkins, for lack of a better term, is built like [Rob] Gronkowski, whereas Amaro from Texas Tech is built more like [Aaron] Hernandez. So there are a lot of people that like Amaro and point to Hernandez as that ‘kind’ of guy. Depending on what you’re looking for -- and that’s probably the kind of guy they are looking for -- if Amaro is sitting there and they like him, he’d be logical at 29.”