Patriots

Prototypical Patriots: Hubbard, Ejiofor look like Belichick's type on the edge

Prototypical Patriots: Hubbard, Ejiofor look like Belichick's type on the edge

Breaking down the edge defender spot is one of the reasons the Prototypical Patriots series is such an interesting one to put together.

For instance, last year, Deatrich Wise was an easy fit. His height, arm length, production (when healthy), and the conference he played in made him a perfect fit. He was Chandler Jonesian.

But Derek Rivers, who was taken one round ahead of Wise? He didn't make the "Prototypical" list. At 6-foot-4 and 248 pounds at last year's combine, Rivers was nearly a full 20 pounds lighter than what Bill Belichick has typically looked for in his top-101 edge defender draft picks in New England. Not exactly the "prototype."

Jermaine Cunningham (second round, 2010) was 6-3, 266 pounds. Jones (first, 2012) was 6-5, 266. Jake Bequette (third, 2012) was 6-5, 274. Geneo Grissom (third, 2015) was 6-3, 262. Trey Flowers (fourth, 2015) was 6-2, 266. All powerfully built. All from Power-5 conferences.

Rivers, who went to Youngstown State, was a bit of an anomaly. What did it mean? Did the Patriots see him as a player who could pack on pounds and look like his edge predecessors? Did they see him as a more versatile weapon who could play both on the line and off? Did they simply look at his outstanding athletic testing numbers (6.94-second three-cone, 35-inch vertical, 4.61-second 40 time), and say to themselves that they could work with him?

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Because Rivers suffered a season-ending injury in training camp last year, it's hard to know exactly what their plan was for him. In camp we saw him both rush the passer and play in coverage. He aligned in both two-point and three-point stances, on the ball and off.

The Rivers pick may show that the Patriots prototype is adjusting. And it may continue to adjust if the team is going to shift back to more 3-4 looks now that Matt Patricia -- who favored a 4-3 and helped change the Patriots' front in 2011, one year before he was given the coordinator's title -- is in Detroit.

Still, we generally know what a Patriots defensive end looks like. He stands between 6-2 and 6-5. He's in the 260-pound range. His arms are between 33 and 36 inches. His hands are about 10 inches. He runs the three-cone in less than 7.3 seconds. His vertical is at least 33 inches. His broad jump is about 120 inches. His 40 time is under 4.9 seconds, usually.

There's obviously much more than a list of physical benchmarks a prospect has to possess in order to be considered by the Patriots -- skill set, college production, durability and character all play a role -- but it's not a bad place to start.

Who fits that bill in this year's class? Let's take a look. They one player who likely isn't within range for the Patriots, unless he slides, would be NC State's Bradley Chubb. He's expected to go in the top-five picks and could hear his name called as early as No. 2 overall to the Giants. 

PROTOTYPES IN RANGE

MARCUS DAVENPORT, UTSA, 6-6, 264 POUNDS

There are plenty of knocks on Davenport. He's raw. He played against lower-level competition and was able dominate because of his superior physical gifts. His hands are small (9 1/8 inches). But he checks just about every other marker from a size and athletic testing perspective, and he's thought to be a hard worker with a high ceiling as a 4-3 defensive end. He may go as early as the teens. My hunch is that, while gifted, he isn't so off-the-charts special (4.58 40, 7.2-second three-cone, 124-inch broad, 33.5-inch vertical) that he'd be worth the Patriots trading up for. 

SAM HUBBARD, OHIO STATE, 6-5, 270 POUNDS

Again, let's go ahead and start with the negatives. He ran a 4.95-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, which was a full tenth of a second slower than what Trey Flowers ran in 2015. Not good. But his 10-yard time was 1.69 seconds, which was much more in range for the Patriots. Jones ran the same 10-yard time in 2012. Wise ran a 1.68. Otherwise, Hubbard is what the Patriots want. He was productive in Urban Meyer's defense, recording 13.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and two forced fumbles. A high school safety -- who was headed to Notre Dame on a lacrosse scholarship! -- Hubbard is quick and explosive for his size. He jumped 35 inches in the vertical and clocked a ridiculous 6.84-second three-cone drill. On paper, Hubbard is one of the best fits for the Patriots in this class, and he could be had at the top of the second round. If his 40 time drops him into the bottom of the second or top of the third round, he'd be a steal. 

RASHEEM GREEN, USC, 6-4, 275 POUNDS

Another physically-impressive defensive end, Green offers some versatility. He looks like a base end on first and second downs who could kick inside to generate pressure in obvious passing situations. He has nearly 34-inch arms and 10-inch hands, and if the Patriots do shift to more 3-4 looks, he could potentially play as an end in those formations -- particularly if he improves his functional strength. He's a little raw and a little less athletic than the parameters set above, but he's also heavier than many Patriots ends. His 4.73-second 40 time, 32.5-inch vertical, 118-inch broad and 7.24-second three-cone are impressive for his frame, and he could be a boom-or-bust second-rounder for New England. 

DUKE EJIOFOR, WAKE FOREST, 6-3, 265 POUNDS

Making comparisons this time of year can be a little dangerous, but when it comes to Ejiofor, it's hard not to be reminded of Flowers (6-2, 265 at the combine in 2015). Ejiofor has 35-inch arms and 10-inch hands, while Flowers had 34-inch arms and 10-inch hands. NFL.com's scouting report for Flowers three years ago? "Consistent with hand placement and is technically sound." NFL.com on Ejiofor? "Possesses a mature approach as a pass rusher." Neither player would be described as incredibly "quick-twitch," but Flowers has had great success as an interior rusher and Ejiofor projects similarly because of his length and power. One question mark about Ejiofor is his motor, but he dealt with an injury last season, and late in the second round he'd be worth a roll of the dice. The Patriots reportedly hosted Ejiofor on a pre-draft visit. 

ADE ARUNA, TULANE, 6-5, 262 POUNDS

It'll require some time, but if a team can find a roster spot for Aruna on special teams, and if he takes to the coaching he receivers, he could end up being a late-round find. Classic height/weight/speed prospect since he ran a 4.6-second 40 and has 34-inch arms and 10 5/8-inch hands. His three-cone was lacking (7.53 seconds), but he's explosive as all get out (38.5-inch vertical, 128-inch broad) and worth a shot some time on Day 3 since he's relatively new to the sport. From Nigeria, Aruna only found his way onto a football field as a senior in high school.

TYQUAN LEWIS, OHIO STATE, 6-3, 269 POUNDS

After playing under Urban Meyer and Greg Schiano, and after winning first-team all-conference honors, Lewis probably got Belichick's attention. A captain last season, he actually saw his sack production go from eight in 2016 down to five in 2017. Still, he has good length (almost 34-inch arms) and pro-caliber explosiveness (35.5-inch vert, 122-inch broad). He could end up as a base end with the ability to rush from the interior in New England. Day 2 may be a little rich for Lewis, but if he's available early on Day 3 (and if the Patriots have a pick there), he'd be worth a shot.

IMPERFECT BUT INTRIGUING

HAROLD LANDRY, BOSTON COLLEGE, 6-2, 252 POUNDS

Landry is one of the best pass-rush prospects in this draft class. He might be the best, which could compel a team to call his name inside the top 10. He's undersized by Patriots standards, but an exception could be made if Belichick believes Landry is athletic enough to play a variety of different roles. The question is, would the Patriots be willing to trade way up in the first round to make an exception?

JOSH SWEAT, FLORIDA STATE, 6-5, 251 POUNDS

Sweat is a little light compared to other top-100 edge picks for Belichick, but he's not all that far off from Rivers. Undersized. Great athlete. Sweat ran a 4.53-second 40 and jumped 39.5 inches in the vertical. His broad was 124 inches. There are reportedly some concerns about Sweat's durability, but he could be a second-round gamble.  

UCHENNA NWOSU, USC, 6-2, 251 POUNDS

One evaluator told me that Nwosu looks like a Patriot because he offers the kind of on-the-ball, off-the-ball versatility that Belichick appreciates. Athletically, he tested in the same range as bigger players the Patriots have taken in the past (32-inch vertical, 119-inch broad). That may not help his chances. But he's long (almost 34-inch arms) and a smooth athlete. Would the Patriots view Nwosu's instincts in the passing game -- he flashed an ability to cover on tape, and he's a good enough athlete to do it -- and make him an off-the-line type? Some may see "tweener." The Patriots may see "hybrid." And if they move to more of a 3-4 defense, he'd be an ideal outside linebacker. 

KEMEKO TURAY, RUTGERS, 6-5, 253 POUNDS

Another great athlete (4.65-second 40) with long enough arms (33 3/8 inches) and big enough hands (9 5/8 inches), Turay shows good explosiveness on tape. The Rutgers connection doesn't mean what it once did for the Patriots now that Greg Schiano has moved on, but the school fit doesn't matter much in this instance. This is a relatively rare athlete who needs some polish, but if he's athletic enough to rush and cover on the outside, he could be an outside 'backer for Belichick. 

DORANCE ARMSTRONG, KANSAS, 6-4, 257 POUNDS

Size-wise, Armstrong is right there. He has almost 35-inch arms and 10-inch hands, and his height-weight combination is within the desirable range for the Patriots. Armstrong would be even more of a fit if he was just a bit more powerful and a bit more athletic. His 40 time was fine (4.87 seconds), but his explosiveness (30-inch vertical, 118-inch broad) left a little to be desired. And he plays more like a 3-4 outside linebacker than a true end (like the majority of the players listed as "Prototypes in Range"). But on Day 3? He could be worthy of a choice and given an opportunity to make the roster this summer. 

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Bill Belichick says one of the best players on the Patriots is a guard

Bill Belichick says one of the best players on the Patriots is a guard

FOXBORO -- After watching the Monday night game between the Chiefs and the Rams, the takeaways from football fans on Twitter and elsewhere weren't exactly defensive-related. But two plays from defensive tackle Aaron Donald, both strip-sacks, helped the Rams come away with a 54-51 win.

Donald has been one of the best players in football -- on either side of the ball -- for years. But he's far from a novelty act. Teams around the league have coveted quickness and power on the interior of the defensive line to help their defenses make the shortest possible bee-line to quarterbacks on a week-in-week-out basis.

JJ Watt. Ndamukong Suh. Fletcher Cox. Geno Atkins. They all provide real value to the teams that employ them. And because those talents can have such a significant impact on a game, interior linemen who can block them -- or do so occasionally -- has become a much more lucrative gig.

Look at how the Patriots have built along the interior. They just made Shaq Mason one of the most highly-paid interior offensive linemen in the league. And when asked about Joe Thuney on Wednesday, Bill Belichick heaped praise upon him.

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"Joe's done a great job for us," Belichick said. "One of our best players. One of our most consistent players."

Thuney hasn't allowed a sack all season, according to Pro Football Focus. His 11 total quarterback hits and hurries allowed is a minuscule number, and PFF ranks him fifth in football among all guards, third among left guards.

After recovering from foot surgery this offseason, Thuney has played 100 percent of the team's offensive snaps (689).

"Joe didn't really have much of a spring," Belichick said. "I would say it took a little while to get back to football levels of conditioning strength, technique and so forth."

But now?

"Really solid guy for us," Belichick said.

Thuney and the rest of the Patriots interior offensive line will have a challenge on their hands as they take on the Jets this weekend. Leonard Williams, Nathan Shepherd and 330-pound nose tackle Mike Pennel are all having strong seasons for the Jets.

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AFC Playoff Picture: Patriots' path to No. 1 seed becoming more clear

AFC Playoff Picture: Patriots' path to No. 1 seed becoming more clear

The New England Patriots didn't play this past weekend, but they still managed to pick up a win.

That's because the Kansas City Chiefs -- one of two teams ahead of the Patriots in the AFC -- lost an epic shootout to the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night to drop to 9-2. The defeat means Kansas City technically has just a one-game lead on New England, who owns the tiebreaker by virtue of its head-to-head win in Week 6.

Of course, the Patriots still will need help from both the Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers to secure the AFC's No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. But if they win out (which admittedly is a big "if"), they need Kansas City to lose just one more game to capture the AFC's top spot.

Let's reset the AFC playoff picture entering Week 12.

AFC Overall Standings

1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-2)*

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2-1)*

3. New England Patriots (7-3)*

4. Houston Texans (7-3)*

5. Los Angeles Chargers (7-3)

6. Baltimore Ravens (5-5)

In the hunt: Cincinnati Bengals (5-5), Miami Dolphins (5-5), Indianapolis Colts (5-5), Tennessee Titans (5-5) 

AFC Wild-Card Round Matchups (as of Nov. 20)

No. 3 Patriots vs. No. 6 Ravens

No. 4 Texans vs. No. 5 Chargers

Key Week 12 Matchups

- Patriots at New York Jets

- Steelers at Denver Broncos

- Texans at Titans

With the Chiefs on a bye this week, the Patriots must take care of business on the road against New York if they want to remain in striking distance. Kansas City returns from the bye with an easy matchup against the Oakland Raiders, so the pressure will be on Bill Belcihick and Co. to take care of business.

Pittsburgh will be favored against Denver, but it is a late afternoon road game with a three-hour time difference, so there's a slight chance of a Broncos upset. New England also should keep an eye on Houston, which boasts an identical record after winning seven straight. The Patriots do own the tiebreaker over the Texans, though.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

 

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