With the NFL combine officially opening Tuesday, head coach Bill Belichick and members of the New England Patriots staff find themselves in Indianapolis.
And with their visit to the Midwest in mind, here is a glance down 10 of the 323 names the Patriots will be watching this week at Lucas Oil Stadium, courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com.
Todd Gurley, Running Back, Georgia
Just three months removed from an ACL tear, combine medical evaluations will be Gurley’s biggest test. And if an organization like New England feels the 6-foot-1, 226-pound back can once again regain a hold of the position – similar to first-round defensive tackle Dominique Easley last year – then his place at 32nd overall cannot be ruled out. But, even so, the 20-year-old’s availability at that place won’t be known until April 30. Gurley’s acceleration, downhill power, leg drive and decisiveness could see him go much higher, perhaps becoming the first running back taken in the first round since 2012.
Melvin Gordon, Running Back, Wisconsin
Gordon is a prospect the Patriots have some familiarity with, as his former teammate in the Wisconsin backfield, James White, was drafted by New England in the fourth round last May. Yet as it stands now, the 6-foot-1, 207-pound Badger is a candidate to be drafted in the first round this April. After he and White both rushed for 1,000-yard seasons in 2013, Gordon amassed 2,500 yards to go with 29 touchdowns on a whopping 343 carries 2014. His change of direction, jump cuts and open-field burst allowed him to turn runs inside out, but he will have to commit to contact and inside runs more steadily at the next level. Gordon will also have to play more of receiving role than he was designed to in the Wisconsin offense.
Duke Johnson, Running Back, Miami
The 5-foot-9, 206-pound Hurricane has shown balance in short areas, starting and stopping to elude defenders on his trek off tackles and into space. And while he is not carved in the mold of a between-the-tackles back and has dealt with fumble problems, Johnson is in the mold of a jet-powered, tough-to-bring-down multipurpose back. For teams looking to add a dimension on third down as well as in the return game, he’s one to watch for on the second day of draft developments. With the uncertainty surrounding unrestricted free agent Shane Vereen, the Patriots could be one of the teams watching him.
Rashad Greene, Wide Receiver, Florida State
A wiry, 6-foot, 180-pound Seminoles wideout, Greene uses his quick footwork in and out of breaks to separate over the middle, and he uses his gliding long speed to separate over the top. He sets up his routes with little deliberation. tracks the ball well to find the soft spot, and defeats his size at the catch point to convert on contested plays. And although his build and strength are not cut from the cloth of an outside receiver, his experience lining up there and in the slot draws semblance to what the Patriots like to do on offense. In addition to catching 270 passes for 3,830 yards and 29 touchdowns over his four seasons at Florida State, Greene also served as a punt returner to the tune of two touchdown run-backs.
Devin Funchess, Tight End, Michigan
There is a fine line between a wide receiver and a tight end, and the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Funchess falls in its crosshairs. His impact as a jump-ball target has carried over from his time at both positions, however. A long, fluid and flexible receiver, the 20-year-old has stood inline, in the slot and out wide on his way to adjusting to throws and creating mismatches at Michigan. Funchess’ glove-sized hands have witnessed their share of drops, but they’ve also witnessed their share of uncatchable catches. And while his consistency as a receiver and blocker remains to be seen, a lot could be seen in the seam of a two-tight end set like New England’s.
Cameron Erving, Offensive Lineman, Florida State
An offensive tackle, guard and center over his time at Florida State, the 6-foot-5, 308-pound Erving is pliable. His hand usage and footwork have helped him play across the line and cross through it with agility. Whether or not the two-year starter can find one home will be a contingency, though. Responding to speed rush and maintaining leverage could keep him on the interior in the NFL, and perhaps at center, where he replaced Patriots fourth-round pick and Rimington Award winner Bryan Stork, last fall.
A.J. Cann, Offensive Lineman, South Carolina
The 6-foot-3, 311-pound Cann gets out of his stance low and stays low. Through engagement, the four-year starter at left guard has been able to dip down with his knees instead of his waist, and he’s maintained control with the inside hand on defensive linemen thenceforth. Though his technique pass protection leaves him susceptible when there’s room to work with, his lateral movement and consequent power leave him hard to move on run blocks. And thus, if the Patriots elect to draft a guard in the first two rounds, the 23-year-old South Carolina senior is one to keep an eye on.
Carl Davis, Defensive Tackle, Iowa
The 6-foot-5, 321-pound Davis may find his best fit as a rotational 4-3 defensive tackle in the NFL, but that is the direction the league is headed. Fast off the ball as he gets centers and guards on their heels, the redshirt senior stood in the way from both the one-technique and three-technique at Iowa. He set the line back with quick movement on pass plays. And he proved tough to move with heavy hands and a well-dug anchor on run plays as well. Concerns with every-down effectiveness and lateral range loom, but Davis’ proclivity for causing trouble in short-yardage situations and through double-teams could make him of interest to the Patriots.
Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Defensive End, UCLA
Odighizuwa’s game is easier to pronounce than his name. A seven-technique defensive end with the versatility to move inside on three-man lines, the UCLA Bruin has been able to get even versus the run and angry versus the pass. By benching offensive tackles on back side to contain the corner, and by jumping through B-gaps on twists to alter the trajectory of runs, the 22-year-old senior is, in a word, well-rounded. He’s left his mark deeper than his 6-foot-4, 266-pound measurements would indicate, pushing and pulling at the point of attack and exposing low hand placement in drop-back passing situations. And, adding onto those elements, his long arms have aided him in controlling and escaping, for he doesn’t require much of a wheel base to pull off spin moves to get to the quarterback. Odighizua may not wrap up all the quarterbacks he disrupts, but his qualities are worth assessing.
Alvin Dupree, Defensive End, Kentucky
At Kentucky, Dupree aligned as a weak-side outside linebacker and a strong-side nine-technique in 3-4 fronts, but he also put his hand on the ground as a seven-technique defensive end in 4-3 fronts. And from there, 6-foot-4, 267-pound Wildcat traveled everywhere. He stayed parallel to the line on zone-reads; he dropped into zone versus wide receivers in the flat; he crossed the face of tackles to shoulder into B-gaps; he stunted into the A-gaps. Dupree did many things, showing the athleticism to chase through space and also run the arc. And while his array of rush moves are rather unrefined and his leverage is often lost off initial punch, his explosiveness is what plants on him the first-round radar. A team with uncertain edge depth could be waiting there.