||04-15-2005 11:52 AM
some picks for the later rounds
The craft of the draft
Hidden gems part of Super Bowl hardware
April 12, 2005
By: Chris Warner
With all the talk about the Patriots' first draft pick on Saturday, April 23, maybe the more pertinent question revolves around which one of the 2005 draftees will help out the most.
Last year, first rounder Vince Wilfork from Miami fell to the Patriots at number 21, and ended up as a big contributor throughout the year. Meanwhile, undrafted free agent Randall Gay of LSU helped out the embattled defensive backfield and got more playing time than any Patriot rookie besides Wilfork. This year, safety Guss Scott and tight end Benjamin Watson both get to show their stuff after first seasons lost on the IR, while safety Dexter Reid, defensive end Marquise Hill, running back Cedric Cobbs and receiver P.K. Sam will try to demonstrate improvement after one full year in New England.
Where's the hidden treasure in this year's draft? Well, though grumblings may persist about a dearth of can't-miss prospects, no one can deny that this crop has a bunch of high-potential picks. If New England can pluck Tom Brady from round six in 2000, or get great production out of David Givens in 2002's round seven, then it's no wonder the region has gotten excited for the draft weekend.
First, a correction, or a short series of them: in the last column, I neglected to factor in Denver forfeiting a third-round pick due to some salary cap violations (who knew?), so New England's draft order is as follows, with round followed by overall pick (and details in parentheses):
Round One, Pick 32; Round Two, Pick 64; Round Three, Pick 100 (compensatory pick); Round Four, Pick 133; Round Five, Pick 145 (from Arizona); Round Five, Pick 170 (CP); Round Six, Pick 206; Round Seven, Pick 246; Round Seven, Pick 255 (CP).
Chances are, with three compensatory picks, Coach Bill Belichick and personnel guy Scott Pioli will want to move up in a round or two to get their hands on a particular player. While they'll be looking at a linebacker for their first pick, the Monty Beisel free agent signing gives them a little leeway. No part-time starting linebacker from the Kansas City Chiefs should have to hold down the middle all by himself; it just seems that New England can get some decent value in the early to middle rounds at that position and firm up some other spots along the way.
Seriously, this is all about as predictable as the path of a Tim Wakefield pitch on a windy day, but let's look at the idea of sleepers in this draft.
Since the last column, three local college players have seen their stock rise to near-1999 levels: Northeastern's Liam Ezekiel, UConn's Keron Henry, and Umass' Rich Demers. Ezekiel, a 6-1, 245-pound linebacker, has steadily risen up the charts with strong bench presses and decent 40-yard dash times (the 4.75 range). Henry, a 6-2, 225-pound receiver, timed under 4.6 in the 40. He had nearly 900 yards receiving last year and averaged 13 yards per catch in the Big East.
Demers has appeared on the scene more suddenly than a post-college beer gut (I don't want to talk about it). The fullback measures equally to a brick outhouse at six feet tall and 255 pounds. He ran a 4.6 40 and - here's the scary part - bench-pressed 225 pounds 34 times, which is more than most defensive linemen at the scouting combine. Demers only had 44 rushes last year, averaging over four yards per carry. He's a brute out of the backfield who can catch the ball. His recent tests has put him firmly in the middle of the fullback pack.
Will the Pats draft him? I think not, or at least not sooner than the sixth round. They've won two Super Bowls without a prototypical fullback, so drafting one now seems less than a need. Plus - and this is the same reason why they won't look too closely at big receiver Matt Jones from Arkansas - they have Watson coming back, who should fill the roll of speedy big-target blocker.
Another New England guy not getting a ton of press is Southern Connecticut State linebacker Sarth Benoit. Benoit (6-2, 253) runs the 40 in 4.63 and had 28 reps of 225 at his pro day, which puts him in contention with the second wave of linebackers. He totaled 73 tackles in 10 games last year for the Owls, who also boast undrafted NFL lineman Joe Andruzzi as an alma mater. I think the Patriots will take a look at this guy in the later rounds. Just a hunch. Plus, Coach Belichick hasn't shown any interest in him, which puts me into the old reverse psychology mode. The more the Patriots visit with a player, the less likely I think it is that they'll draft him.
I swear, it feels like six years since they beat the Eagles in Jacksonville. I'm wasting way too much time over here. You know it's bad when I'm thinking about getting the NFL Network just to keep track of the Pats players allocated to Europe.
Just for kicks, here are some other middle- to late-round linebackers who could have a ticket to Foxboro in a little over a week:
Matt McCoy, San Diego State. The six-foot, 244-pound backer runs a 4.55 40 and played alongside the highly touted Kirk Morrison. Whether that helped him or Kirk the most remains to be seen.
Eric Mahl, Kent State, 6-2, 245. He hasn't gotten much press lately. Mahl runs a 4.6 40 and benches 28 reps of 225. He also had 126 tackles last year for the Golden Flashes, who currently boast the previously underrated San Diego tight end Antonio Gates as a graduate (so underrated, in fact, that Gates played hoops in college, not football).
Boomer Grigsby, Illinois State. At six feet and 245 pounds, Boomer runs a 4.67 and has taken a slow climb up the draft charts after testing well for scouts. Plus, it's time for the NFL to get a new Boomer.
What? What's that? You're thinking about outside linebackers or convertible defensive ends? Why, me, too:
Roy Manning of Michigan and David McMillan of Kansas are great physical prospects who probably need a fair amount of work to be productive in the NFL. Manning (6-2, 252) runs well (4.6) and had a great bench press (30 reps), so scouts have now got him on their collective radar despite his relative lack of on-field expertise. McMillan has played at defensive end and outside linebacker, so he's a well-rounded guy (the type of player New England looks for). He's 6-3, 260, and runs the 40 in 4.55; his one weakness has been his overall strength (16 reps of 225, which is about 16 more than I can do, but low for a pro prospect).
Tyler King, UConn. Played as a defensive end at 6-5, 271, but with 4.75 speed, he could prove to be an ideal pass-rusher at the next level (I love saying "at the next level." It makes me sound like I know what I'm talking about). It's a stretch, but as a local guy I thought he was worth a look.
The most intriguing player I found who's gotten little ink this month is George Gause of South Carolina. Gause has spent time at both outside linebacker and defensive end and reportedly made the switch at the behest of his coaches (a team player. Not the worst attribute). He's 6-4, weighs 270 and runs a 4.65 40, which could make him another Willie McGinest. Or not. Like I said, I'm interested, nothing more. Just window shopping at this point.
Despite the sudden glut of free agent receivers, the Patriots have three guys signed to one-year contracts and have shown less than blind faith in Bethel Johnson and P.K. Sam. As much as I hate using this word, it would behoove them to seek depth at the position from an undrafted free agent. Some choices:
Tony Madison, Kansas State. Not great stats, but he has more potential than a boulder at the top of a hill. At 6-1, 215, he can run the 40 in 4.52. Might be the possession receiver they count on if any injuries befall the Pats receivers - which, if history is any guide, they will.
Tony Brown, Tennessee. This Tony tests even better. He's 6-2, weighs 200 pounds, and was timed at 4.45 in the 40. He also pushed out 18 reps of 225 and jumped 40 inches for his vertical. If you were entering the draft as a receiver, those are the types of numbers you'd like to put up. Of course, he did very little for the Vols his senior year, so he could be an amazing test specimen or a not-so-hidden secret come April 23-24. I don't know. That's why it's so dang interesting.
Last on the receiver list is Fred Amey of Sacramento State, who also returns kicks. He's not big (5-10, 197), and not a super speedster (4.5 second 40), but he's strong (20 reps) and tough over the middle and could be a solid surprise for anyone who takes a shot at him.
My final sort-of-hidden pick comes down to Colt Colletti of Nicholls State. He answers the question, what does New England do if Kevin Faulk gets hurt? Colletti is a stocky 5-9, 215. He also ran a 4.48 40 and benched 33 reps, which puts him in the same class as the strongest guys at the combine at any position.
Of course, I have no idea how high, or even if, any of these players will get drafted. The point of the exercise is this: the Patriots have most members of a championship team returning, and two or three of the right additions will help them improve immensely. Maybe that assistance won't come in the first round (though, each year since 2001, Richard Seymour, Daniel Graham, Ty Warren, and Wilfork have worked out pretty well), but some of the later picks can come in and make a difference. Just ask Tom Brady, Givens, Patrick Pass, Dan Koppen, or Stephen Neal.
In the next 10 days, dozens more eligible players will pop into the NFL GM collective consciousness, asking for some kind of a break to help the team. A low percentage of them will pay off, just like in the early rounds. It's draft day. Save me a seat.