The front seven’s time at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine is over. And with their departures from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, some closing thoughts with a New England Patriots emphasis.
A Few Inside Men
After selecting Dominique Easley in the first round last year, there is a belief that New England will go back to defensive tackle at some point this year. And when watching Easley, whose sudden first step and violent lateral quickness set him apart from the one-technique shade at Florida, it’s clear there are many forms of the position to fulfill.
The kind that may be of interest to head coach Bill Belichick, coordinator Matt Patricia and the Patriots is the two-gap, lane-clogging kind. The Patriots graded out at the bottom of the league in short-yardage run defense in 2014, and Vince Wilfork, who showed every-down resilience coming off a torn Achilles, will turn 34 in November.
Some names that could be of intrigue to the Patriots as the draft approaches introduced themselves at the combine. Washington nose tackle Danny Shelton, who is cast as a top-15 pick, had an informal meeting with members of New England’s staff, according to Doug Kyed of NESN.com. And at least two more, Texas’ Malcom Brown and Houston’s Joey Mbu, also had formal interviews. Their forte’s vary, with Shelton built to anchor a 3-4 while Brown and Mbu are expected to generate some push in 4-3 sets. But there are others who could follow in behind them over the next two months.
Ellis McCarthy out of UCLA is one that could surface. The 6-foot-4, 338-pound junior lined up inside and out over his collegiate career, battling knee injuries. As a full body of work, however, there’s something a little Wilfork about the way he plays the run.
And in the middle rounds, that could be a chance worth taking. He further demonstrated why at the combine, with impressive short-area movement for his strength and size.
Looking for the Prototype Defensive End
Since 2012, the Patriots have drafted four prospects in the mold of 4-3 defensive ends. The list includes Syracuse’s Chandler Jones in the first round, Arkansas’ Jake Bequette in the third round, Illinois’ Michael Buchanan in the seventh round, and most recently, Concordia-St. Paul’s own Zach Moore in the sixth round last May. But how those four stacked up at their respective combines is far more similar than where they were taken and how they’ve fared thenceforth.
Each measured in at 6-foot-5, posted a vertical between 33 and 35 inches, a broad between 113 and 123 inches, and also ran the 40-yard dash between 4.78 and 4.87 seconds. And outside of Moore, who clocked a 7.41-second three-cone time, the other three completed the drill in no more than 7.07 seconds.
The weight of those performances isn’t an exact science, and their performances on film certainly outweighed what transpired over their trips to Indianapolis. But if there is anything to pick up from the numbers notched by Jones, Bequette, Buchanan and Moore, it’s that New England has a type.
In result, here is a glance down the list of those who came close to the unsolidified parameters this year.
- Danielle Hunter, Louisiana State: Measuring in at 6-foot-5 and 252 pounds, Hunter ran a 4.57 40-yard dash but did not participate in the three-cone, the vertical or the broad jump. The Tiger projects in the mold of a 3-4 outside linebacker or nickel defensive end on a four-man line.
- Lynden Trail, Norfolk State: Stepping in at 6-foot-6 and 269 pounds, Trail, who is seen primarily as a stand-up edge linebacker, clocked a 4.91 40-time and a 7.32 three-cone. Excluding his size, those timed numbers set him more so on the outskirts. But the Florida transfer jumped for a 32.5-inch vert and a 117-inch broad, placing him on the fringe of the Patriots’ trend for lower-body explosiveness.
- Preston Smith, Mississippi State: Smith hit the tape at three-tenths of an inch below 6-foot-5, weighed 271 pounds, ran a 4.74 40-yard dash and a 7.07 three-cone. The defensive lineman also stretched out for a 34-inch vertical and a 121-inch broad, fitting him inside the boundaries New England’s previous four draft choices established.
- Obum Gwacham, Oregon State: A converted wide receiver, Gwacham lined up at defensive end for the Beavers in 2014. And at the combine, he stood in at 6-foot-5, 246 pounds and ran a 4.72 40-yard dash. He elevated for a 36-inch vertical and a 121-inch broad as well.
- Alvin Dupree, Kentucky: Propelling his way into the midst of the first-round conversation, Dupree was measured at 6-foot-4 and 269 pounds, ran a 4.56 40-time and also jumped to the top with a 42-inch vertical and Jamie Collins-challenging 138-inch broad. Give or take an inch with his helmet on, Dupree has experience as a seven-technique defensive end and also as a wide linebacker. He performed on-field workouts with the latter on Sunday.
- Owamagbe Odighizuwa, UCLA: An exception to the unwritten height rule, Odighizuwa fell just under two inches shy of 6-foot-5 at the combine. The Bruins defensive end did, however, weigh in a 267 pounds and ran a 4.62 40-yard dash and a 7.36 three-cone. A potential first-day selection, Odighizuwa also netted a 39-inch vert and a 127-inch broad. There is some leeway where the Patriots see him, yet his testing is visible in his play.
Not many may coincide with the trends set by the Patriots’ four, and not many participated in each event that those before them did. But the trends are worth looking into, given the state of the team’s edge-rushing depth and the depth of this year’s edge-rushing class.
Leaving on a Hightower Note
While the combine is like the SAT to a college career’s GPA, Texas Christian’s Paul Dawson – who headed into the combine at one of the top prospects at inside linebacker – ran a 4.93 40-yard dash at 6-foot and 235 pounds. And Miami’s Denzel Perryman – also atop the group, not far behind UCLA’s Eric Kendricks – ran an underwhelming 4.78 at 5-foot-10 and 236 pounds.
But Benardrick McKinney of Mississippi State ran a 4.66 at 6-foot-4 and 248 pounds, likely securing himself a place among this year’s top 64 picks.
Inside linebacker is an area where the Patriots appear to be in good standing, with green dot Jerod Mayo also working back from a second consecutive trip to injured reserve. It would not come as a shock to see New England add additional pieces to that part of the roster, however, and the former teammate of Patriots practice-squadder Deontae Skinner is one to look into.
McKinney’s name came up in the annual draft outlook from Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel over the weekend. And an NFL comparison within it struck close to home. “He’s like a Dont’a Hightower,” a scout told McGinn. “Big, physical guy. I think he can [play every down].”
It may only be one scout’s opinion, but it’s one worth stashing away.