It was inevitable, I guess. After spending a chunk of this week thinking about Patriots Hall of Fame candidates and another chunk of this week thinking about Patriots fits in this year's draft class, my mind was bound to drift.
On Thursday, I voted for Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour and Rodney Harrison, in that order, to be finalists for the Patriots Hall of Fame. It was about 24 hours after I submitted my ballot before I started to wonder. . . Who in this year's draft class might be the next Vrabel? Is anyone's skill set reminiscent of Seymour's? Might there be a diamond in the rough with a style of play like Harrison's?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not wandering around in a blinding offseason fog. I know full well there may not be a single player in the draft who has a career that matches up with any of the aforementioned Patriots Hall of Fame hopefuls. I'm not looking to knight soon-to-be rookies as franchise-faces-in-waiting.
But there are prospects in this class who've earned postseason honors and possess physical traits that might conjure up memories of when Vrabel, Seymour and Harrison were college stars. We've listed three, and the Patriots they match up with, below.
HALL HOPEFUL: MIKE VRABEL
Vrabel was one of the best defensive players in the country when he left Ohio State. Two-time All-American. Two-time Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year. Three-time All-Big Ten selection. Owner of every Ohio State sack record.
The only thing he didn't have? A combine performance that was at all memorable. According to NFLCombineResults.com, he checked in at 6-foot-4, 270 pounds with 34-inch arms. He clocked a 4.94-second 40 and a glacial 7.77-second three-cone. His vertical was 29.5 inches and his broad jump was 102 inches.
Thanks perhaps to his lackluster testing, Vrabel fell all the way to the third round despite his college track record. He spent four years with the Steelers before signing with the Patriots.
THE COMP: CLELIN FERRELL
Ferrell had an incredibly decorated career at Clemson. Just as decorated as Vrabel's. Ferrell was also a two-time All-American. He was named the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year in 2018, and he won the Ted Hendricks Award as the country's top defensive end.
But like Vrabel, Ferrell is not considered an athletic-testing specimen. He checked in at 6-foot-4, 264 pounds with 34-inch arms at the combine. His three-cone wasn't quite as bad as Vrabel's, but at 7.26 seconds it won't help boost Ferrell's draft stock. Ferrell's 4.40-second short shuttle -- about average for someone at his position -- is almost identical to Vrabel's 4.43. Ferrell has not run a 40-yard dash, nor has he jumped in the vertical or the broad, during the pre-draft process.
There are bendier and more explosive edge defenders in this class, which is why Ferrell could potentially fall to the bottom of the first round. But Ferrell's off-the-charts college production for the national champions should indicate that he'll have a shot to be special at the next level.
HALL HOPEFUL: RICHARD SEYMOUR
Seymour dominated at Georgia before being selected No. 6 overall by the Patriots in 2001. He was an All-American as a senior, and he was named an All-SEC choice twice.
Part of what set apart Seymour when he got to the next level? His frame. At 6-foot-6, 299 pounds and with 34-inch arms, he had the length and athleticism (4.95-second 40, per Pro Football Reference) to be able to play just about anywhere along the defensive line. Though he didn't rack up big sack numbers with the Patriots, he could've. That simply wasn't his role.
Still, he was just about unblockable. Just as he was at Georgia. It's no surprise that Seymour is up for not only a Patriots Hall of Fame nod, but a Pro Football Hall of Fame spot as well. Seymour was one of 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year.
THE COMP: JERRY TILLERY
We had Tillery off the board to the Patriots at pick No. 32 overall in our third Patriots-specific mock draft this offseason -- in large part because of his physical similarities to Seymour.
At 6-foot-6 and a shade under 300 pounds, Tillery is long (34-inch arms, 10.5-inch hands) and an impressive athlete (4.93 40, 4.33-second short shuttle). He's also a refined pass-rusher -- he tied with Alabama's Quinnen Williams for the highest interior pass-rushing grade handed out by Pro Football Focus last season -- and he's strong enough to hold up in running situations. Tillery could play a variety of techniques in myriad fronts.
Sound like a potential Patriots Hall of Famer you know?
Tillery did not have the collegiate body of work that Seymour did. He had only 12.5 sacks in his career. He was not an All-American. But might the Patriots value Tillery more than other teams because of his length and versatility? They valued Seymour more than the Browns did back in 2001 (the Browns took interior defensive lineman Gerard Warren third overall) and ended up with one of the NFL's best defensive linemen of his era.
HALL HOPEFUL: RODNEY HARRISON
Harrison didn't play at a powerhouse program such as Vrabel or Seymour, but he starred at Western Illinois, an FCS school. According to ChicagoNow.com, he was named a second-team All-Gateway Conference honoree as a freshman. As a sophomore, he was a second-team All-American, and he earned first-team All-American honors as a junior.
Harrison's draft stock wasn't going to be as high as those who excelled at bigger programs, but he also wasn't a big-time tester. That didn't help his cause. He ended up a fifth-round pick for San Diego after he ran a 4.82-second 40 before the draft in 1994, per the Chicago Tribune. But with his instincts, his aggressiveness and his size (6-1, 220 pounds), Harrison became a force as a strong safety and carved out a 15-year NFL career.
THE COMP: B.J. BLUNT
Had to dig a little deeper for a comparison here, but we found an interesting one. Blunt starred at McNeese State (an FCS program) as a 6-foot, 220-pound linebacker. After his senior season, he was named Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year and an FCS first-team All-American.
Small school. Productive. Aggressive tackler. Not afraid to make his voice heard on the field.
Some similarities to Harrison, certainly. But . . . linebacker?
That's where Blunt spent the majority of his collegiate career, but he was a safety at Garden City Community College before he arrived at McNeese. Blunt -- who had an impressive interception in the East-West Shrine Game -- could occupy a hybrid role as a pro. But first, he'll have to earn a roster spot as a special-teamer. To do that, he'll have to prove to teams he can run. Like Harrison, Blunt clocked a forgettable 40-yard dash time (4.73) in the pre-draft process. As a result, his phone may not ring until Day 3.
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