Blogger’s Note: The 2019 NFL Draft Combine ended earlier this week after a grueling four days where players were made to wear spandex while running, lifting, jumping, being asked if they had both nuts, and doing positional drills. Now we’ve been given the yearly transparency into how these players stack up side by side, from a raw athleticism point of view.With that in mind I kicked off a little electronic mail with Mattes, my fellow draft nerd, about this year’s class and what it could mean for the Pats.
So the combine is all over and apart from the Pro days the stage is set for the draft. What are your thoughts coming out of the “underwear olympics” and of this draft class?
I’mma let Maverick sum this one up for me:
Seriously, though, if this weekend didn’t prove how the NFL is all about speed now, then I don’t know what will. Gone are the days where the big, no-neck dudes reign supreme. In today’s NFL, it’s about the more svelte, quick-burst type guys, even at historically beefy positions like D-tackle, D-end, and middle linebacker. Just look at all of the hype surrounding Montez Sweat (DE, Mississippi State) after his 4.41-second performance in the 40 this weekend. That’s an excellent time for anyone to post, but that’s absolutely insane for a defensive lineman. He probably just vaulted himself into the top 10 (top 15, at minimum) after that one. Even Michigan’s Rashan Gary – with his 6’5″, 282-pound frame – posted an impressive 4.58-second mark and undoubtedly moved himself even further up in the first round, too. There were also four linebackers who posted times 4.5 seconds and below. If there’s one area the Pats desperately need to improve, it’s speed over the middle of the defense (e.g. a linebacker with sideline-to-sideline ability). Fortunately, it looks like there might be some help in this year’s crop.
JB: Hah yaaa it was a big long weekend for the front-7. To that end I don’t think it will be one of those “glamorous” draft where we have marquee names at skill positions littering the top-20. Those names just aren’t out there (really outside of Kyler Murray, who are the “10 year” talents?. What there are a lot of are guys like Ed Oliver who can change the game in the trenches and try to alter these pass heavy NFL offenses.
But we’ll get to that. I think it’s important to address how many possible bust situations this combine has created. A lot of guys with not a lot of production in college but eye-popping results in Indianapolis.
Mattes: I agree that the potential for busts has increased significantly over the past few years with all the Combine hype. While there’s no doubt that pure speed is definitely becoming more valuable than pure strength, I do think people put way too much merit in the 40-yard-dash. Not only does it prove absolutely ZILCH in terms of football I.Q. and ability, but very rarely do guys run 40 yards in a straight line. Like ever. To be honest, drills like the shuttles or the three-cone drill are a much better indicator of how well a guy can move all around the field. I think most NFL teams around the league are smart enough to still look at game tape before locking in on their guy, but there are plenty that still fall victim to the all the Combine B.S. (see: Raiders, Oakland).
I think the best example of a “look before you leap” candidate this year is wide receiver D.K. Metcalf from Ole Miss. Besides Sweat, this is the dude who has been getting the most attention in Indy, and rightfully so. It all started last week with him looking like he was formed straight from Zeus’s forehead on Instagram.
Then, the guy ran a 4.33-second 40-time, posted 27 reps on the bench press, and almost jumped through the roof of Lucas Oil Stadium with a 40.5-inch vertical – all at 6’3″ and 228 pounds. But let’s not forget that this guy has just 67 catches in 21 college games (although he did average over 21 yards per catch in 2018). So, again, all the measurables are there with this guy, and then some, but I’m not sure if he’s truly worthy of a spot in the top half of the first round. At least, he certainly doesn’t come without risk. I’d be more comfortable with a guy like Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry, who posted just as many reps on the bench, is about the same size (6’4″, 213 pounds), and has over 200 catches and 25 total TDs over the past three years.
JB: Yup! Metcalf is certainly going to now be picked higher than necessary. I actually REALLY like his teammate from Ole Miss, A.J Brown. He has Q Boldin-like (<3) size (6’0 226lb) and caught over 1,300 yards with 6 TDs this year.
Moving onto the Pats, one of the funkier things about looking at their drafts is that obviously you have to always keep the past season in mind. Not to sound like jackass New England fans but we’re always a top team year to year so it’s sort of difficult to peg where our most glaring need is, especially in the top few rounds. Where do you think positionally we could use some draft help?
Mattes: Wide receiver is the most obvious, and there could be some good guys to be had at the end of Round 1. I’ve seen as many as three or four wideouts being taken in the first round of some mocks; there’s just not really a consensus as to how the top ones all shake out. Metcalf and Brown are likely to be gone early on, but I wouldn’t mind a guy like Harry at No. 32. I’m also a really big fan of Marquise Brown from Oklahoma.
Tight end is another area they should look at, whether Gronk comes back or not. The reason why is because there’s actually a very rare amount of tight end talent near the top of the draft, and it could be worth nabbing one of them, possibly by even trading up in the first round to do so. Somehow, two of them are from Iowa, T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, with the former being more of a pass-catching/blocking combo (a la Gronk) and the latter being a more athletic, Evan Engram-esque type. Alabama’s Irv Smith Jr. is another solid option, and he caught everything thrown his way in the gauntlet drill this weekend. I know I’m on the record as saying they shouldn’t reach on a tight end this year just because we’re nearing the end with Gronk, but if any of these guys are somehow still there at the end of the first round, Belichick shouldn’t even blink before handing in the card.
Finally, I’d like to see them add to the defensive front, especially at linebacker and especially in terms of speed. I just want guys who can cover someone – ANYONE – over the middle of the field and who don’t look like their feet are stuck in concrete half the time. We could also use some reinforcements along the line with the potential to lose three rotation guys in free agency, most notably Trey Flowers. Fortunately, this draft is absolutely LOADED in terms of pass-rushing talent, so the Pats can probably wait on selecting one. Although perhaps an interior guy with some ability to get to the quarterback (Ohio State’s Dre’Mont Jones and Notre Dame’s Jerry Tillery come to mind) wouldn’t be a bad choice at 32.
What do you think?
JB: While I agree WR is a huge position of need and would love to grab Harry or M.Brown we just don’t have the history of drafting them that high. Action Jackson was the only one we’ve even reached into RD2 for to my memory (I’m probably forgetting a couple). Maybe Belichick just likes to stick to vets who can prove they can do the “little” things at WR the “right way” (he loves the little things).
I agree the DL could use the pick as much as any other positional group. Dre’Mont Jones is an excellent call. I could also see them looking local and grabbing Zach Allen out of BC. Allen is a similar size ( 6’4 280lb) as Jones but is more an End to Jones’ Tackle. He’s got a little Trey Flowers in him as he is a guy who can play the edge on 1st and 2nd and then move inside on passing downs. Finally, if he is around, and this is a HUGE if, I wouldn’t mind landing Dexter Lawrence, a DT from Clemson. He is a MAMMOTH tackle (350lb) who we could potentially use as a run stuffer a la Big Vince.
What about past round 1? Any wildcards you like for the Pats or otherwise?
Mattes: You are correct, sir: Belichick has never taken a wide receiver in Round 1. But hey, there’s a first time for everything, right? We shall see.
And nice choice with Allen there. He’s very Flowers-like in that he can both defend the run and rush the quarterback. As far as Dexter Lawrence goes, while I’m not denying how much of a force he can be, I think Lawrence Guy proved last season that he is more than capable of being our big run-stuffer. Sure, we could always use more than one, but I think there’s much more value to be had in bringing in high-end talent at other positions with such a high pick. Like I mentioned above with Jones and Tillery, I wouldn’t mind bringing in more guys who can bring some interior pressure at first and then looking at guys who play more on the outside a little later on.
As far as a wild card pick at the end of Round 1, don’t be shocked if the team decides to bring in more help on the offensive line. Even after what was an historic year for the O-line as a whole, we’re likely going to lose Trent Brown in free agency this offseason. And Isaiah Wynn, who wasn’t even a full-time left tackle in college, is coming off a tough injury and is entirely unproven. What if he doesn’t work out? Also, Joe Thuney is scheduled to be a free agent after next season. With an aging QB and a much bigger focus on the ground game going forward, Belichick could continue to bolster the boys up front. (Kansas State’s Dalton Risner is a name to keep an eye on near the end of the first.)
What about some late-round guys? Who are some sneaky sleepers for the folks?
JB: I think Thuney is a prototypical “guy we’ll actually pay” but the OL is something I’m never going to be comfortable with. I like Risner a lot. That’d be a great get. I also like Mike Jordan (yup) out of Ohio State. He’s a bit of an odd fit as he’s about 6’6 but projected as an interior lineman. He is a Pats-type player, though, as he can play multiple positions (Guard or Center). To add to that though people are saying “no way” to Jordan being a Tackle, I think even either of us, weighing maybe 300lb combined, could probably play a down or two after a couple months training with Dante Scarnecchia.
O YOU WANT TO TALK SLEEPERS?
Keeping with the Pats you have to love David Sills. Once offered a scholarship by the USC Trojans as the next big thing at QB, his career didn’t pan out under center and he ended being a productive WR for the West Virginia Mountaineers. He still has the QB size (6’4 210lb) and you can’t ever wipe the “QB brain” for the game, something you know Belichick would love. He’s not freaky-athletic, posting a 4.57 and a 37.5 jump, but maybe a big body who can move the chains.
Next the cure to your TE ills we have Donald Parham out of the powerhouse known as Stetson. He is from the Jimmy Graham-Tony G mould where he began on the hardwood and transitioned to football. That’s the high school hardwood. He then had to prove himself for a few years on the Hatters football team before going off for 1,300+ yards and 8 TDs this past year. O and he’s 6’8. Parham might never be a blocking talent but a jump-ball end zone threat? Maybe.
Lastly I’m going with Justin Hollins out of Oregon. He is an edge rusher, probably a 3/4 OLB, who steadily progressed over his career with the Ducks rather than making one giant “leap”. His teammate and fellow pass rusher Jalen Jelks is getting more burn on the draft circuit, but Hollins might end up being the better player.
O and ya I know, Tyree Jackson is gigantic and fast and can throw the ball hard.
Mattes: HA! Tyree Jackson is a MONSTER (think Cam Newton but two inches taller). I think probably the funniest moment of the weekend is former NFL stud receiver Steve Smith having to go over to tell Jackson to stop throwing the ball so damn hard at receivers in the gauntlet drill. But being so raw and after playing for a small school like Buffalo, I think there are much better options on which to take a stab at QB, even though he’d be a blast to watch.
Speaking of, one of my big sleepers for the Pats is Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson. A 32-to-27 TD-to-INT ratio over the past two seasons might give some people pause, but he’s started more games (53) than anyone in Big Ten history and has more wins than any other N.U. Wildcat that ever lived. He’s also posted two straight seasons with QB ratings over 120. What’s most impressive, though, is that he played a full season of football in 2018 after tearing his ACL just last January. So he’s one tough S.O.B., and he’s also 6’4″, 226 pounds. Above all, though, his last name is “Thor-son.” Just think of how much fun we could have with that name.
I also like Anthony Nelson, a D-end from Iowa. Like A LOT. The 6’7″ defensive end might be one of the draft’s best-kept secrets due to an abnormal amount of talent depth at the position this year. His 9.5 sacks were good for second in the Big Ten last season, after totals of 6.0 and 7.5, respectively, in his previous two years. He has the ability to play in multiple schemes, potentially even as a standup linebacker, and the guy also recorded the fifth-fastest 40-time for all D-lineman at the Combine this weekend. He could stand to add some beef to his sub-275-pound frame, but he could be a steal in the middle rounds.
JB: Well buddy we have about a month and a half left before we see how this all plays out. And before that we have the Pro Days and all the other little rumors trickling in. I’d argue from now until April 25th is the fun part.