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Perry: These projected NFL Combine stars should be on Pats' radar

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INDIANAPOLIS -- If the Patriots want to get faster and more dynamic this offseason, they'll have their share of opportunities to do so in this year's NFL Draft.

It's not the deepest class in recent memory in terms of top-end talent. Far from it, in fact. But there are quality players -- and quality athletes -- who will be available on Days 2 and 3.

"I think this is a really good depth draft," NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah told reporters Friday. "Especially when you get into the second, third, fourth round. There's a lot of quality there, a lot of starters."

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Where the Patriots sit at No. 21 overall in the first round, they could be encouraged to trade down, stockpile picks, and try to find some speed and fill myriad roster holes with rookies on inexpensive contracts. 

Given that there is a small batch of consensus high-end players who will be taken on Day 1, that strategy may be one that Patriots fans should embrace.

In a similarly-built class in 2020 -- which at least had three surefire first-round picks at quarterback; this class does not -- the Patriots traded down and took Kyle Dugger with their first choice in the second round. In 2013, a down year in terms of first-round "hits," the Patriots traded out and took Jamie Collins in the second round with their first selection.

 

"I've said similar things in years past, but this year especially," Jeremiah said. "The difference between the 15th player and the 60th player in this draft is very small, and teams are going to have these guys in all different orders."

Whether the Patriots stick and pick or maneuver down the board, they'll have their chance to add some athleticism this spring. After some early discussions with NFL evaluators, here are some potential Patriots names to watch at this week's NFL Scouting Combine since they're expected to light up their workouts. 

Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington

Scouts are eager to see what Gordon will be able to do this week in Indy. At 6 feet and about 200 pounds, he has the ability to play outside as well as in the slot because his athleticism is off the charts.

He's expected to be an elite tester with a 40 time that could come in under 4.4 seconds, a vertical jump over 40 inches and a blazing short-shuttle (which highlights the change-of-direction ability the Patriots value) under 4.0 seconds. He could very well be available to the Patriots late in the first round. 

Kyler Gordon
USA TODAY Sports
Gordon could clock in at under 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash at this year's combine.

Cincinnati's Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner looks like a prototypical Patriots boundary corner with good length and the kind of speed that could open eyes in Indy and bump him into top-10 consideration.

Auburn's Roger McCreary looks like more of a slot option for the Patriots and could be available later, but he's expected to clock an impressive time in the 40 as well.

Quay Walker, LB, Georgia

In today's NFL, if you can check in with an old-school frame and still move like a modern-day linebacker, that'll garner some attention. That's what evaluators are expecting to be the case for Walker at this year's combine.

He's a 6-foot-4, 240-pound thumper who can track ball-carriers sideline-to-sideline thanks to speed that should help him run his 40 in the low 4.6-second range. We slotted Walker to the Patriots in our most recent Patriots-specific seven-round mock draft.

Quay Walker
USA TODAY Sports
Walker has the size and speed to be a potential defensive game-changer in the NFL.

Another 'backer who could be similarly impressive in Indy thanks to his combination of size and explosiveness is Wisconsin's Leo Chenal.

Perhaps the best stylistic fit for the Patriots among linebackers in this year's draft class, Chenal is a wrecking ball when coming downhill to blitz or destroy opposing rushing attacks. But at 6-2, 260 pounds, he can move. The expectation is he'll broad jump over 10 feet and potentially exceed 35 inches in the vertical.

The Athletic's Bruce Feldman reported prior to last season that he posted a ridiculous 4.00-second short shuttle time, too. That's moving for someone Chenal's size.

Calvin Austin III, WR, Memphis

If any player is a threat to go under 4.3 seconds in the 40, it may be Austin.

He's only going to measure in at 5-foot-7 and below 180 pounds, in all likelihood, but he's going to tear it up when it comes time to put in his spikes. He won nine Tennessee state titles in track in high school, joined Memphis as a track athlete, and helped the school set three school records in the 4x400 meter and 4x100 meter races.

 

Projected to be a vertical threat from the slot and gadget weapon at the next level, Austin could have one of this year's most memorable combine performances.

Calvin Austin III
USA TODAY Sports
A former high school track star, Austin could flirt with the combine record in the 40-yard dash.

Other wideouts expected to turn heads in Indy with how they test? Ohio State's Chris Olave (6-foot-1, 190) -- whom we sent to the Patriots in our latest mock -- since he could run in the 4.3s in the 40 and put together some impressive agility times as well.

Penn State's Jahan Dotson (5-foot-11, 184) is another undersized burner who should ace just about every combine test. And Arkansas' Treylon Burks is among the names to watch as well. At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, he may not be the quickest change-of-direction athlete here. But in a straight line, he should fly.