ECU wide receiver Justin Hardy posted an impressive 3-cone time at the combine. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

ECU wide receiver Justin Hardy posted an impressive 3-cone time at the combine. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

When it comes to evaluating the performance of a potential Patriot draftee at the combine, it always has to be taken as part of a bigger picture, one that includes the interview, as well a big picture snapshot of what that individual can bring to the table. But at the same time, it’s undeniable that the Patriots put more stock in some drills than others, including the 3-cone drill.

We’ve written extensively about New England’s connection with the 3-cone drill, a workout that examines a prospects quickness and agility as opposed to simple, straight-line speed. While Bill Belichick dismissed it last year as not being “football-specific,” history tells us that more often than not, the 3-cone performance plays a role in New England’s scouting process with it comes to scouting defensive backs and wide receivers.

With the understanding that anything under 6.8 is considered extremely quick, it’s easy to draw a line between the 3-cone and the Patriots scoring process. They wound up with three of the top 10 finishers in the drill from the 2013 combine — third-round pick Logan Ryan (6.69), fourth-rounder Josh Boyce (6.68) and undrafted free agent T.J. Moe (6.53). Going back through the years, Julian Edelman posted a 6.62 as a collegian. Deion Branch was 6.71. Chad Jackson checked in at 6.74. And Wes Welker was at 7.06. (That also translates to the defensive side of the football — including Ryan in 2013, Nate Ebner was also quick as a collegian with a 6.59, and Devin McCourty‘s 6.7 at the 2010 combine put him second among all cornerbacks.) Not all the times were posted at the combine, but you certainly get the idea.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the top 3-cone finishers at this year’s combine, and how they might fit with the Patriots:

1. Tennessee CB Justin Coleman: 6.61 – The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder blew away the rest of the corners in the 3-cone, beating his nearest positional competition by .16 seconds. He was at or near the top of most of the other major categories at his position, and certainly helped his draft stock with a solid performance across the board. Working primarily in a nickel capacity with Tennessee, he had the best season of his collegiate career last year with the Volts, finishing with 42 tackles, five pass breakups and a career-best four picks. While the Patriots are probably not in the market for a corner in the early-going, Coleman — known as a fast and aggressive defensive back who can play both inside and outside — would make an intriguing fit for New England if he did somehow last until the middle rounds.

2. East Carolina WR Justin Hardy, 6.63 – The 5-foot-10, 192-pounder began his collegiate career as a walk-on, but managed to become one of the more prolific receivers in the nation the last two years, catching 235 passes in his last two seasons at ECU. That included an amazing 121 receptions last year as a senior, and 387 catches for 4,541 yards and 35 touchdowns at ECU for his career, making him the FBS career leader in receptions. (He capped his senior year with the Burlsworth Trophy as the nation’s best former walk-on.) He reportedly struggled at the Senior Bowl, and is considered a mid-rounder at best. He doesn’t have overwhelming speed, but is known as a tenacious blocker and dependable target to go along with his very good footwork and agility. Like many of the other prospects in this group, if he lasts until the third day, the Patriots would likely at least consider him based on his quickness.

3. West Virginia WR Mario Alford 6.64 – This 5-foot-8. 180-pounder won’t awe anyone with his size, but his quickness could separate him from the rest of the pack. He nailed most of the speed drills at the combine, and that, combined with his college numbers (65 catches, 945 yards, 11 TDs as a senior) make him an interesting prospect. His special teams skills (he worked as a kick returner this past season for WVU, and had a 100-yard return for a touchdown against Alabama) also makes him an intriguing possibility for any team looking for speed and quickness.

4. Nebraska WR Kenny Bell 6.66 – Bell has all the physical tools, as he was one of the best at his position in the vertical jump, broad jump and 3-cone. The 6-foot-1, 197-pounder is a long-limbed prospect who had 181 catches in his four seasons with the Huskers, including 47 for 788 yards and six touchdowns last year as a senior. Regarded as an above-average blocker with good special teams skills, his 14.9 yards per catch as a collegian also suggest he’s the type of player who might be able to become a field-stretching wide receiver at the next level. His size, speed and quickness all combine to make Bell an intriguing mid-round prospect for some team.

5. Kansas ILB Ben Heeney 6.68 – A slightly undersized thumper with a big motor, the 6-foot, 231-pounder did well enough in Indy when it came to speed drills (like the 3-cone, shuttle and 40-yard dash) in his positional grouping to garner some post-combine buzz. He led the Big 12 in solo tackles as a senior with 88, and had 35 tackles for a loss in his three-plus years as a regular. While there are reported drawbacks to his game (namely in coverage), the size/speed combo can’t be overlooked. The Patriots aren’t necessarily in the market for a linebacker in the early going, but could certainly be interested if he lasts until the last day.

Best of the rest:
6. Miami WR Phillip Dorsett 6.7: The son of legendary Tony Dorsett, he’s a terrific speed threat.
7. Utah FS Eric Rowe 6.7: Rowe played both corner and safety in his collegiate career.
8. Alabama WR Amari Cooper, 6.71: One of the best receivers available, the Heisman finalist is expected to go Top 10.
9. Stanford SS Jordan Richards 6.74: His father played football at Tufts in the 1970s.
10. LSU CB Jalen Collins 6.77: Many teams who are trying to supersize their secondary in the mold of the Seahawks likely cover the 6-foot-2, Collins.
11. Texas OLB Jordan Hicks 6.78: Hicks, the only outside linebacker in the top 15, projects as a mid-round prospect.
11. UConn CB Byron Jones 6.78: See below.
13. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah 6.79: He finished as the top performer at his position in four separate drills: vertical jump, broad jump, 3-cone and short shuttle.
13. Wake Forest CB Kevin Johnson 6.79: One of the top corners in the ACC, he started 41 games as a collegian and never missed a contest because of injury.
15. Memphis CB Bobby McCain 6.8: At 5-foot-9, he was one of the shortest cornerbacks at the combine.

Maybe the most intriguing prospect on the 6-15 list — at least as far as the Patriots might be concerned — is Jones. A sizable defensive back (6-foot-1 and 199 pounds), he played both corner and safety in college, and that sort of versatility is always welcomed in Foxboro. He finished his four-year career at UConn with 130 tackles and eight interceptions, including three as a junior, and while his senior season was hampered by a torn labrum, he certainly impressed as one of the winners at the combine. In addition to his stellar 3-cone time, he also broke the 2013 record set by Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins in the broad jump, becoming the first prospect to break 12 feet — he hit 12 feet, 3 inches. (It actually would have broken the world record of 12 feet, 2 inches, which was set in 1968.) He topped that off with a 44.5 vertical leap. The performance certainly was enough to land him on the radar screens throughout the league. Considered to be a mid-round pickup before the combine, his Pro Day (March 31), will certainly be worth monitoring, especially given the fact that it’s considered to be something of a down year in the draft when it comes to the defensive backs available.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Peyton Manning will reportedly look to restructure his contract with the Broncos.(Elsa/Getty Images)

Peyton Manning and the Broncos are reportedly looking to restructure Manning’s contract with the Broncos. (Elsa/Getty Images)

In a move which isn’t coming as a surprise to many, according to the Denver Post the Broncos and Peyton Manning are working on restructuring the quarterback’s contract.

Manning, who will turn 39 in March, is scheduled to have a $19 million salary both in 2015 and 2016. With the Broncos having a number of their own free agents to potentially re-sign, the team is looking to free up some cap space, and with Manning turning 39 years old, as well as looking at Tom Brady restructuring his contract to help the Patriots, this move was essentially just a matter of time.

The quarterback finished fourth in the NFL in passing yards this past season with 4,727 yards and second in the league with 39 touchdown passes.

Manning played the last month of the 2014 season with a quadriceps injury and underwent a fourth neck surgery four seasons ago. The Broncos lost to the Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs at home.

The report adds the Broncos and Manning’s representatives, led by agent Tom Condon, hope to reach a conclusion on a revised contract by early next week.

All this would lead to believe Manning will indeed return for his 18th season in the league.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

Patriots safety Devin McCourty is set to become a free agent once the new league year begins in early March, but the Patriots and McCourty have a few options between now and then.

Patriots safety Devin McCourty is set to become a free agent once the new league year begins in early March, but the Patriots and McCourty have a few options between now and then.

The team could place the franchise tag on the safety, which would pay him just over $9 million next season, or they could sign him to a long-term contract, or the organization could let him test free agency with the potential of him signing with another team.

McCourty has spent all five of his NFL seasons with the Patriots.

“I’ve kind of broken it down as the worst-case scenario would be that I get franchised and come back to play for another year here,” McCourty said to reporters (via CSNNE.com) at a Fuel up to Play 60 event at Lowell High School on Wednesday. “To me that’s no reason to stress. I love it here. The franchise tag is player-friendly now. It’s a good number. There’s no reason really for me to be stressed. If I hit free agency, I hope there’s some teams that want me to play there. Hopefully that goes over well. It’s still exciting.”

The Rutgers product acknowledged the team and his representatives have discussed a long-term deal, but the franchise tag hasn’t been brought up.

“They haven’t said so we’ll see,” McCourty said. “I guess every player you’d rather have a long-term deal or a chance to get a long-term deal. But like I said, it’s not a bad situation to be in.”

McCourty was a major part in the defense this past season for the Super Bowl Champions, often being the last line of defense in the secondary as a single-high safety, which allowed the rest of the defense to play free in front of him. He finished the season and postseason with 78 tackles and three interceptions.

Ultimately, he doesn’t know where he will be playing next season, but hinted he wants to stay in New England.

“I really don’t know,” McCourty said. “I could say anything right now, but being honest, I don’t know. It could go either way, I think.”

“If all things are equal, I’ll be back here,” he added.

The safety said he’s kept in touch with a lot of the team, including Darrelle Revis, and as much as he’d like the whole team to come back to defend their title, he knows the nature of the NFL and that simply just cannot happen with free agency, etc.

“I think you’ve seen every year when teams win Super Bowls, fans get mad because they’d like to bring that whole team back,” McCourty said. “I think financially, if teams could they would. They’d bring everyone back. But every year there’s another draft, there’s other free agents, and teams are always looking to improve.

“Since I’ve been here, I think this team is No. 1 as far as forget about last year and move on and how to be a better team the next year. I think that’s the reason they’re successful year in and year out. They don’t stay stuck in the past and worry about a bunch of other things. They only worry about the coming year. Obviously I think it would be awesome if all our guys could come back and try to get another run at the Super Bowl, but I don’t know how realistic that is.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

With the combine in the books, one of the next phases of the evaluation process involves the Pro Days, where players get a chance to work out in a more controlled environment on their own campus. While every school has yet to announce their information and schedule, here’€™s a look at what has been announced to this point. (Expect more updates in the coming days.)

March 2: Wake Forest
March 3: Pitt, Auburn
March 4: Mississippi State
March 5: Nebraska, Clemson
March 6: Arizona State
March 11: Southern Cal, Louisville, Oklahoma
March 12: Oregon
March 13: Ohio State, West Virginia
March 18: Michigan State, Georgia
March 19: Stanford
March 23: Iowa
March 24: Texas
March 27: LSU
March 31: Florida State, UConn
April 2: Miami, Washington
April 7: Florida

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

The murder weapon in the Odin Lloyd shooting has not been located, but on Wednesday a Massachusetts State Police sergeant testified in court that the shell casings found in Aaron Hernandez’s rental car matched ones found at the murder scene.

The murder weapon in the Odin Lloyd shooting has not been located, but on Wednesday a Massachusetts State Police sergeant testified in court that the shell casings found in Aaron Hernandez’s rental car matched ones found at the murder scene.

At Hernandez’s trial in Fall River, Sgt. Stephen Walsh said the casing found inside Hernandez’s Nissan Altima by an employee of the rental car company and the five found at the scene were fired by the same gun — a Glock.

The defense responded by claiming bullets fired by a Glock can’t be identified like that.

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar
Linebacker David Harris has spent eight seasons in the NFL, all with the Jets. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Linebacker David Harris has spent eight seasons in the NFL, all with the Jets. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. With the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag, here are a few possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that all of these guys aren’t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they’re players we think would be a good fit in New England. We already featured C.J. Spiller,  Hakeem Nicks, Torrey Smith, Rahim Moore, Charles Clay, Jerry Hughes, Pernell McPhee, Orlando Franklin, Dane Fletcher, Roy Helu and Rey Maualuga. Today, it’s David Harris.

David Harris
Position: Linebacker
Age: 31 (Jan. 21, 1984)
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 250 pounds

The skinny: He’s not the most well-known of the potential free agents — Patriots fans might know his previous starring role as “Guy Who Broke Tom Brady’s Interception-Free Streak” in the 2010 Divisional Playoffs, a pick that set the tone for New York’s upset of the Patriots. But over his eight seasons in the NFL, all of them with the Jets, Harris has distinguished himself as a smart and heady veteran who brings a nice consistency, poise and professionalism to the field and the locker room. Harris is one of the last men standing in Rex Ryan‘s really talented defenses of roughly a half-decade ago, and the second-round pick out of Michigan has made his mark as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, becoming a second-team All-Pro in 2009. He’s had some issues in coverage over the last few years, but is a stout presence in the middle, and over the last few years, played a very nice complementary role while working with New York’s outstanding defensive front when it comes to slowing the run. In New England, he’d likely work as a complementary piece to linebackers like Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins.

By the numbers: 3,249 – the number of defensive snaps played by Harris over the last three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s the highest total on the Jets roster in that time.

Why it would work: Harris is a smart, dependable veteran who could be had relatively cheaply. He’s registered at least 123 tackles in three consecutive seasons and has 30 career sacks. He’s known as someone who is stout against the run, and while no one is questioning the bonafides of defenders like Hightower and Collins after 2014 the idea of a thumper on the inside as a two-down defender against the run who comes off the field on passing downs would effectively make him Brandon Spikes without the Twitter baggage. (Something that’s appealing to the Patriots.) And as someone who has played eight years in the league but has missed out on the playoffs the last three seasons, the idea of being a part of a team that goes deep into the postseason on a fairly regular basis would also figure to hold some sort of appeal. He clearly passes the Rosevelt Colvin test in the sense that Bill Belichick has spoken very highly go him in the past on a fairly regular basis. (More on that shortly.) And it would represent a nice opportunity for the Patriots to poach a quality veteran from a divisional rival.

Why it might not work: If he does hit the market, Harris could be one of the more underrated gems of free agency on a few levels, including the fact that the veteran could have his choice of a few potential landing spots, including with his old boss Ryan in Buffalo (as a guy who could replace Spikes, at least on a semi-regular basis). Rumors also had the Falcons and Bears showing interest in the vet. (That doesn’t begin to take into account the idea of him staying put with the Jets.) And then, there’s also the fact that if the Patriots are able to bring back Hightower, Mayo and Collins, there probably wouldn’t be a lot of playing time available to a guy like Harris — who has carved out a tremendous niche as an iron man — in New England, even if he would acquiesce to play more of a two-down, run-stuffing role with the Patriots.

Quote: “I have a lot of respect for David Harris. That guy, first of all, he never comes of the field — not just this year, but any year. The guy is like a 98, 99 percent playtime player for them every year, year after year. It’s obviously a defense that has a lot of communication and adjustments, and he’s certainly at the center of that. Both as the signal caller and then at the line of scrimmage, you can see him adjusting the front or making some type of communication calls to his teammates. He’s a very instinctive player, which unfortunately we’ve seen that first-hand. He does a good job for them. He’s been very consistent, durable, dependable, productive over a long period of time.” Belichick on Harris, 12/19/14

Our take: On the surface, this seems like the sort of guy the Patriots take a flier on on a semi-regular basis: veteran defender who is looking to put the capper on his career with a chance to go to (or win) a Super Bowl. However, as previously mentioned, Harris is likely to find several suitors on the market — if he does get that far — most of which would likely allow him to continue to work as a three-down player, as opposed to the two-down specialist he’d likely be if he came to New England. (There’s also the question about just what can be expected out of Hightower next spring and summer because of a late-season injury and recent surgery.) Still, if the idea of working in occasional relief of presumed starters like Mayo, Hightower and Collins and the chance to get back to the playoffs sooner rather than later appeals to Harris, then he could certainly find a home with the Patriots, as long as the dollars were competitive.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Things were relatively quiet for the Patriots at the NFL combine this week. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Things were relatively quiet for the Patriots at the NFL combine this week. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The 2015 NFL combine wrapped up in Indianapolis on Monday, and here are five things we learned, mostly from a Patriots perspective:

1. Deflategate won’t go away

Sadly, the whole Deflategate situation didn’t go away at the combine, it just got talked about even more after a few quiet weeks following the Super Bowl. The big development was Colts general manager Ryan Grigson saying the Colts notified the NFL of suspicions they had of the Patriots the week leading up to AFC championship game. Going by Grigson, the NFL was aware of the Patriots potentially using under inflated footballs, and the NFL didn’t do anything about it until halftime. Also coming up last week was the revelation of an NFL employee being fired as part of a memorabilia sting — stealing game balls for himself that were intended for charity. It seems this story will not die until the Ted Wells investigation is completed, and even then there may be more to this story. It’s also worth noting the Patriots will play the Colts in Indianapolis next season.

2. Another offensive lineman?

Joining Bill Belichick, Nick Caserio and their staffs at the combine was former offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who for a second straight season has assisted the Patriots leading up to the draft. It’s possible the Patriots have plans to select another offensive lineman, as last season they drafted two — Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming — with Scarnecchia’s input. His presence in Indianapolis this week conducting interviews with players may suggest the team has plans to select another one, especially on the interior given how much longer Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell have left with the team. Scarnecchia has long-lasting relationship with Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett, helping draft Stork last season, and the Seminoles have a few other strong offensive line prospects this season as well, so it’s possible a Florida State-New England pipeline has been started.

3. Pats stay quiet

This wasn’t much of a surprise, but no members of the Patriots organization held formal press conferences, like most other teams. Belichick almost never speaks at the combine, although he did in 2014, so this isn’t exactly an earth-shattering development. Belichick did make headlines when he walked into the combine on Friday with Rex Ryan. Ryan had a throwback Thurman Thomas jersey on, while Belichick wore a hoodie for his foundation. Caserio did give a 1-on-1 interview with Patriots.com, where he talked about free agency and with the reality of the NFL, the Patriots will be a different team next year.

4. Winston impresses

From a league perspective, the biggest story of the week was Jameis Winston and how he performed at the combine, both on the field for his workouts and during his meetings with individual teams. Many feel his performance this weekend solidified himself as the No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft. The Florida State product spoke to the media on Friday and before taking any questions he acknowledged he’s made some mistakes in the past, but is moving on. He also was very confident in himself, saying he plans on winning a championship next year in the NFL. He added he doesn’t want the debate to be him vs. Marcus Mariota, rather him vs. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

5. Offseason should start heating up

It’s been relatively quiet on the Patriots’ front this offseason, but a lot of that has to do with the Patriots coming off their Super Bowl win. Many of the assistant coaches were given this past week if they chose because of how late into the year they worked. With the number of Patriots’ free agents, talks should start to pick up soon. The first order of business seems to be getting Darrelle Revis signed long-term to a new contract, as it doesn’t seem likely the team will have him play for $20 million next season, like he’s signed for. After Revis, the next order of business will likely be if the team will use the franchise tag or not. Prime candidates for the tag are either Devin McCourty or kicker Stephen Gostkowski, with McCourty being more likely one from this viewpoint. Both players are free agents and the team would like to have both back. After these decisions will come likely come some restructuring of contracts to free some cap space (Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Danny Amendola are all possibilities). Lastly, the team will have some other free agents to make decisions on, most notably their running backs — Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley. Although things have been quiet so far, things won’t be quiet for long.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Could the Patriots sign Rey Maualuga? (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Could the Patriots sign linebacker Rey Maualuga? (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. With the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag, here are a few possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that all of these guys aren’€™€™€™t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class  — instead, they’€™€™€™re players we think would be a good fit in New England. We already featured C.J. Spiller,  Hakeem Nicks, Torrey Smith, Rahim Moore, Charles Clay, Jerry Hughes, Pernell McPhee, Orlando Franklin, Dane Fletcher and Roy Helu. Today we’ll feature linebacker Rey Maualuga.

Rey Maualuga
Position: Linebacker
Age: 28 (Jan. 20, 1987)
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 255 pounds

The skinny: Maualuga has played all six of his NFL seasons in Cincinnati with the Bengals. The USC product battled a hamstring injury for a lot of this past season, forcing him to even leave the divisional round game against the Colts. He played in 12 games and finished with 59 tackles for the year. Over his six years with the Bengals, he’s only been able to play a full season in two of them — injuries the reason. His best year came in 2012 when he played in all 16 games and finished the year with 122 tackles. The former second round pick has started for the Bengals at middle linebacker for the majority of his career, and if Cincinnati doesn’t bring him back, he could be a good addition to another team.

By the numbers: When Maualuga returned from his hamstring injury this past season for the final seven games, teams averaged just 82 rushing yards in those games against the Bengals and were held to 85 yards or less in six of those games.

Why it would work: The Patriots might be in need of an insurance policy for Dont’a Hightower, as it was reported over the weekend the middle linebacker will be facing a recovery time of 6-7 months for his torn labrum. That timetable has him back somewhere between Aug. 10 and Sept. 10, which is the regular-season opener. With no guarantee he’s ready, the Pats may need to go get another linebacker, especially one that has proven they can play at the NFL level. He’s coming off of a two-year deal worth $6.5 million, so it’s likely the 28-year-old will be seeking the same sort of deal this offseason.

Why it might not work: The six-year veteran may not want to come to New England knowing he’d behind Hightower, Jamie Collins and likely Jerod Mayo, especially after starting for virtually his whole career in Cincinnati. It’s also quite possible he never becomes a free agent and the Bengals re-sign him. Cincinnati already brought him back once after his rookie deal expired, but that was after his 2012 season. Also going Maualuga’s way for staying in Cincinnati is linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s status for the beginning of next season. Similar to the Patriots’ situation with Hightower, the Bengals will need to make sure they have someone ready to play if Burfict isn’t ready. With Maualuga’s experience in the system, it would make sense to keep him around, opposed to going for someone outside the organization.

Quote: “Obviously Rey can make plays, but more than that, the mental aspect, the understanding of what we want to get done front-wise, it’s important to have the experience that he has. One thing he’s very, very good at is he’s a smart guy. He’s a good extension of [defensive coordinator] Paul [Guenther]. We’ve been missing kind of both those guys with he and Vontaze being out at the same time. Rey brings that mental aptitude back, as well as making the plays through the middle of the defense.” — Bengals coach Marvin Lewis on Maualuga

Our take: While the Patriots might be in the market for a linebacker, they probably won’t make as big of a splash with the signing as some may think. With Hightower potentially just being on the Rob Gronkowski plan as this past season — no preseason games, but ready for Week 1 — there might not even be a need for Maualuga. Instead of addressing the need in free agency, the Patriots may be better off just drafting a linebacker in the draft, having him get a ton of reps in training camp and during the preseason, knowing Hightower will be ready for the season-opener. There is a very slim possibility Mayo gets cut because he and the team cannot work out a restructure — then things may become a bit more pressing for a player like Maualuga, but from this viewpoint New England just won’t be in need for player of Maualuga’s caliber at the linebacker position.
Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable