NFL Scouting Combine preview: Defensive backs
DON'T PASS ON 'EM
With the NFL Scouting Combine about to begin -- and the NFL Draft just about two months away -- we'll take a daily look at the collegiate talent available at positions where the Patriots might be looking for help. Today we take a look at some of the best defensive backs hoping to make a good impression in Indy this week.
NFL SCOUTING COMBINE PREVIEW
The Patriots have done a fine job of stocking their secondary with diverse talent in recent years, yet Bill Belichick and his front office still may decide to add to the defensive backfield in this year's draft.
The reason? They're on track to watch two key members of that unit hit the open market: corner Logan Ryan and safety Duron Harmon. Luckily for teams in need, this is an incredibly deep class of safeties and corners, and there's a strong possibility that game-changing talent falls to the Patriots at pick No. 32.
They could hit up the corner position for someone who can press or play off the line like Ohio State's Gareon Conley. Or they could pursue a strong-tackling safety who excels in the slot like Washington's Budda Baker (pictured). No matter what they decide, they'll at least have the option to inject a little more youth into a group that could see some turnover this offseason.
MALIK HOOKER, S, OHIO STATE
Tale of the tape: 6-foot-2, 205 pounds
The Good: An instinctive safety with good range, Hooker used his size and athleticism to help him pick off seven passes last season as a redshirt sophomore. Though often used as a single-high safety in college, he's projected to be the kind of athlete who can cover tight ends and slot receivers man-to-man without issue.
The Bad: He really only played one year for Urban Meyer, and as a result his game can look a little rough around the edges at times. For instance, he has plenty of room for improvement when it comes to his tackling.
The Fit: If Harmon were to land elsewhere in free agency, it'd make sense for the Patriots to look long and hard at a safety who can provide over-the-top support in the three-safety "big nickel" packages that they so often deploy. Hooker would seem to fit that bill.
Available at No. 32? Not looking that way.
MARSHON LATTIMORE, CB, OHIO STATE
Tale of the tape: 6-foot-1, 192 pounds
The Good: Another red-shirt sophomore out of Ohio State. Another ridiculous athlete who is likely to go in the top-half of the first round. Lattimore should be able to match up with any number of wideouts at the next level as he has the long speed to track down the track stars and the quickness to shadow whatever short-area moves are thrown at him.
The Bad: Like Hooker, Lattimore has essentially seen one season of extensive action in the college ranks. He can be a little over-aggressive with his physical style of coverage at times, but he was flagged for just two penalties in 2016.
The Fit: Like Ryan, Lattimore is projected to play bigger receivers well and make quarterbacks pay with picks and pass breakups when they misfire.
Available at No. 32? Highly unlikely.
JAMAL ADAMS, S, LSU
Tale of the tape: 6-foot-1, 213 pounds
The Good: For those teams that want a hard-hitting presence from their first-round safety, Adams will be their kind of guy. He's a missile against the run, and a strong finisher in the open field. Universally thought of as a good leader, it sounds like he will be a character upgrade for whatever locker room he enters.
The Bad: Adams is a versatile defender, but he's not expected to time as one of the faster players at his position in Indy and may have some issues if a team asks him to be its centerfielder at the next level.
The Fit: If the Patriots were to start thinking of the future at their strong safety spot, Adams would be the ideal successor to Patrick Chung. He can cover tight ends. He can blow up opposing running games. He has special-teams experience. And he appears to have the football character that they covet. He's an ideal fit if available at No. 32.
Available at No. 32? Not likely. Most experts seem to believe that his combination of physical skills and leadership qualities won't let him get out of the top half of the first round.
SIDNEY JONES, CB, WASHINGTON
Tale of the tape: 6-foot-1, 170 pounds
The Good: Named a first-team All-Pac 12 choice each of the last two seasons, Jones is a polished cover man who understands concepts and has the burst to react to whatever routes are thrown his way (nine picks, 27 pass breakups in his career).
The Bad: Skinny. He'll need to try to bulk up in order to hold his own against NFL wideouts at the line of scrimmage and in run support.
The Fit: The combination of competitiveness and on-the-field savvy that Jones brings to the table would make him hard to pass up at No. 32 if he were to get that far. While his size isn't ideal, the Patriots have a Pro Bowl caliber corner in Malcolm Butler who is undersized by NFL standards so his frame shouldn't scare them off.
Available at No. 32? He plays like a lock first-rounder, but his physical skill set may not be as impressive as some of his peers at the position. That means the further away we get from real football games, and the more we focus on height/weight/speed numbers, the greater the chances seem to be that he slips.
TRE'DAVIOUS WHITE, CB, LSU
Tale of the tape: 5-foot-11, 191 pounds
The Good: White has good enough quickness and sound enough footwork to play both outside and inside. Per Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, he broke up more than a third of the passes sent his way last season (15 of 42).
The Bad: Like Jones, there are concerns about his physicality being where it needs to be to thrive at the next level. Coaches wanting their corners to be force players in the running game may want to look elsewhere.
The Fit: His experience in the SEC (four-year starter), special-teams experience as a punt-returner and gunner, and his ability to play both outside the numbers and in the slot would all give him added value in New England. If the Patriots were convinced he was a willing run-defender, he'd make all kinds of sense for Belichick and Matt Patricia.
Available at No. 32? There's a chance. With so many talented corners available, one or two are bound to fall victim to the numbers game even though they'd be surefire first-rounders most other years.