February and March have taken us by storm and as spring is in the horizon, the window to the NFL Draft is steadily dwindling. With the Indianapolis Combine ending February 25th after starting on the 22nd, teams got a chance to examine college players’ athleticism more closely. There were multiple names who improved their stocks through fantastic showcases in front of scouts, general managers, and coaches. New England Patriots Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio and head coach Bill Belichick were in attendance and a handful of players undoubtedly caught their eyes.
Cooks won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best receiver. The 5’10″ 190 lber caught 128 passes for 1730 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013 after 67 catches, 1151 yards, and five scores in 2012. The knock on Cooks is his size. Still, most of these draft “gurus” are as reliable as your local weatherman. This kid has elite speed and balance to make up for his stature. Can be a legit slot weapon. Patriots need wide receiver depth and may not be sold on Josh Boyce. Though best suited for slot, Cooks could transition to a dangerous blazer who can make big plays downfield splitting coverages. Steve Smith.
TE Trey Burton, University of Florida
Highlights: 4th fastest TE dash 4.62… 2nd fastest TE three cone drill… 5th fastest 20 yard shuttle
The 6’3″ 230 lb Burton is small for a tight end, but plays the exact role Aaron Hernandez did at UF. While he is nowhere near the athlete Hernandez is, Burton could excel in the same tight end position New England utilized Hernandez in. He is versatile and played full back for the Gators a lot during his career, as well. Burton can be had in the 4th round, but he will be a serviceable NFL tight end or H-Back and has a high ceiling. Also ran the ball in 2010 75 times for 349 yards and 11 touchdowns. 38 catches, 445 yards, just one touchdown in 2013. Not overly physical, just four receiving touchdowns in four years, but solid blocker on passing downs. Good look for spread option team in late rounds… WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Highlights: 4.53 dash…
Evans didn’t post top performances at the combine, but he hung around the top five in most categories. While his speed isn’t spectacular for being 6’5″, he is massive at 230 lbs which slows him down. Evans also tends to have stiff hips, and basketball was his first passion. Even still, he could be the best wide receiver in the Draft. Teamed up with Johnny Manziel for 151 catches, 2499 yards and 17 TDs in two seasons. He is physical, has great hands, will go over the middle, and be force in the red zone. Though he didn’t wow anyone at the combine, Evans solidified his legitimacy earning positive marks from scouts. Should go top 10, could potentially slip. Pats could trade up for this stud or Clemson’s Sammy Watkins if Belichick and co. think one of the two are legit enough to be serious playmakers as rookies. Lil Wayne’s first client signed to Cash Money Sports… could scare teams away… Vincent Jackson.
DT Aaron Donald, University of Pittsburgh
Highlights: Fastest DT 40 4.68… most bench press reps for DT at 35… fastest DT 3 cone drill time
Donald is undersized at 6’1″ 285 lbs, but how has that stature worked out for Cincinnati Bengals stud 2 time All Pro Geno Atkins? The former University of Georgia standout slipped to the fourth round in 2010 due to his lack of prototypical size in the interior defensive line, even after being double and triple teamed every game as a Bulldog. With blob nosetackles becoming endangered species in the NFL, Donald could add to the trend of slimmer, quicker, more athletic defensive tackles anchoring defenses in the pass-happy league. Donald didn’t play against elite competition in the ACC, but man did he dominate. In 2013, Donald had 28.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, and 11 sacks. His senior season wasn’t a fluke. In 2012, Donald had 18.5 tackles for loss with 5.5 sacks, and, as a sophomore, racked up another 11 sacks. Even at his best, Vince Wilfork’s strong suit isn’t getting to the quarterback. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich need help on the edges (most defensive snaps in NFL) and a relentless interior pass rusher like Donald could put the two defensive ends in more one on one situations, or potential free looks at the QB. Teams may still be living in the old ages and draft (highly talented) mooses such as Timmy Jernigan or Louis Nix, but interior defensive tackles in the mold of Donald are the prototypes that teams are now looking for. Donald is highly unlikely to slip to 29, but the Patriots could always trade up and grab the Geno Atkins of 2014. FS Brock Vereen, University of Minnesota
Highlights: 2nd fastest 40 of FS 4.47… most bench reps for FS at 25… 2nd fastest 3 cone drill of FS
The younger brother of Patriots scat back Shane Vereen impressed a lot of scouts at the combine and earned himself a serious Day 2 look. Though the Patriots may look for a safety in the first or second round, or stand put with 2013 third round pick Duron Harmon at strong, it’s worth noting that Vereen has skyrocketed up draft boards due to his Combine performance, and he is a free safety, not strong. It wouldn’t be a cute move to draft Shane’s younger brother, it would be a potential insurance plan for 2014 free agent Devin McCourty. Vereen could be had on Day 3 in the fourth round and would be a nice value pick for New England, who was recently rewarded the 140th pick overall from the NFL compensation process. Vereen is scouted as being extremely smart. He takes precise, calculated angles, and has quick instincts in center field. His hands aren’t great, as seen by his career four interceptions, but picks aren’t everything. Vereen has big time football smarts and leadership intangibles that make Bill salivate.