Anthony Gordon

Undrafted free agents the Patriots could target after the 2020 NFL Draft

Undrafted free agents the Patriots could target after the 2020 NFL Draft

For years, the Patriots have come out of training camp with an undrafted rookie or two no one spent all that much time thinking about on draft weekend. Some of them have been role players. Some have been even less than that. But some have made massive impacts that resulted in Lombardi Trophies being added to the display table at One Patriot Place.

Last year, Gunner Olszewski and Jakobi Meyers were UDFA roster additions. Other undrafted free agents to make the roster and go on to successful careers include Jonathan Jones, David Andrews and Malcolm Butler. You can go all the way back to Stephen Neal for an undrafted winner that the Patriots considered a foundation piece. Personnel chief Nick Caserio referenced Neal's rise from wrestler to Super Bowl champ in his question-and-answer session with reporters late Friday night -- almost a decade after Neal's retirement.

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Point is, the hustle to sign players after the draft -- the ones not deemed valuable enough to be drafted -- matters. Here are a few names worth hustling for in New England...

For an in-depth description of each player, click on the player's name.

List updated as of Saturday 7 p.m. ET.

QUARTERBACK

Anthony Gordon, Washington State. Gordon has a strong arm and was prolific at Washington State under Mike Leach. He only was a one-year starter for the Cougars but could develop into a solid QB.

Tyler Huntley, Utah. Huntley is mobile, accurate, smart, and put up good numbers at Utah. He's a bit smaller than the Patriots might like, but he could be a nice project.

Case Cookus, Northern Arizona. Cookus was a star at the FCS level and had over 12,000 career passing yards. Could the Patriots unearth a gem by targeting him?

Roland Rivers III, Slippery Rock. Another lower-level star, the Harlon Hill Trophy winner threw for 52 touchdowns last season. He may be a diamond in the rough.

RUNNING BACK

James Robinson, Illinois State. Robinson put himself on the map with a strong performance at the East-West Shrine Game and a clocked a 4.64 in the 40-yard dash at the combine. He's strong, athletic, and could find a home as a quality backup in the NFL.

Jamycal Hasty, Baylor. He's quick, can catch the ball, and was awarded the coveted single-digit jersey, representing character and toughness, as a part of Matt Rhule's Baylor program. He fits the mold the Patriots look for with their pass-catching backs.

J.J. Taylor, Arizona. Phil Perry called Taylor "a smaller version of Dion Lewis". Taylor is just 5-5, but if he has a Lewis-like impact, the Patriots would take that from an undrafted player.

TIGHT END

Thaddeus Moss, LSU. The son of Randy Moss isn't the athlete his father was, but he's good at settling into zones and was productive at LSU. He could've been a mid-Day 3 pick so getting him as an undrafted free agent would be a big win.

Jared Pinkney, Vanderbilt. Pinkney had a great 2018 season before regressing a bit in 2019. He's not fast at all but is big and physical, so maybe he could compete for a back-end roster spot.

Ben Ellefson, North Dakota State. Ellefson isn't much of an athlete but has 13 touchdowns the past two years for the always-competitive North Dakota State team. 

Nigel Kilby, Southern Illinois. Kilby is an insane athlete with a 6-8 frame and was a monster at his Pro Day. He's reminiscent of Donald Parham, an undrafted player from Stetson who found success in the XFL last season.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Gage Cervenka, Clemson. He's a strong, former wrestling champion who converted from defense to offense early during his time at Clemson. He could join the Patriots if they want to add to their three offensive line draft picks they've already made.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Darrion Daniels, Nebraska. A big run-stopper who has been a great locker room presence during his college days.

LINEBACKER

Jordan Mack, Virginia. Mack has started since his freshman season and logged 7.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for a loss last year.

Daniel Bituli, Tennessee. Bituli led the Volunteers in tackles for three consecutive seasons. He's highly productive and could be a good depth player.

Dante Olson, Montana. Olson had 179 tackles last year. Talk about production.

CORNER

Essang Bassey, Wake Forest. Bassey had a rough showing at the Senior Bowl but he's super athletic and could emerge as a slot player for the Patriots.

Javelin Guidry, Utah. Guidry was the second-fastest man at the combine behind Henry Ruggs. His 4.29 40 time should give him a chance to be a speedy special teamer, so perhaps Belichick will want to target him for that reason.

Javaris Davis, Auburn. Another likely special teams player, Davis blazed a 40 in the 4.3-range and fits the same profile that Jonathan Jones did coming out of Auburn.

SAFETY

J.R. Reed, Georgia. The final man on our Top 150 Big Board is a versatile, heady player who lacks athleticism but is smart and has good instincts. He could begin his career as a special teams player and maybe eventually find a role as a top backup.

2020 NFL Draft: Which quarterback could Patriots add alongside Jarrett Stidham?

2020 NFL Draft: Which quarterback could Patriots add alongside Jarrett Stidham?

Through two days of the NFL draft, the Patriots have taken two edge rushers, two tight ends, and one Division II safety. 

Quarterbacks? Zip. Zilch. 

For the first time in 20 years, Bill Belichick and the Patriots don’t have a surefire answer at the most important position on the roster. This weekend’s draft represented an opportunity for the rest of the football-watching world to get a sense for how Belichick and personnel chief Nick Caserio would handle the quarterback spot in their first post-Tom Brady offseason. 

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Would they take a shot on a talented-yet-unpolished player like Jordan Love in the first round, acknowledging that because the position was so important, they might as well take early risks to help improve the chances they hit? Would they wait until Day 2 to take a flier on an athlete like Jalen Hurts, who might not be a starter Year 1 but might provide some value in specialty quarterback-run-game packages as a rookie?

Would they go for a big arm? A quick-footed passer with a big brain? Was it critical to nab someone with big-game experience?

But the football world is still waiting to see what the Patriots valued at that position in this year’s draft. As it turns out, what they valued was what they already had in Jarrett Stidham. 

That’s the implication, at least. Because unless Brian Hoyer beats out Stidham as the best man for the job in New England next season, it’s going to be hard for a player taken on Day 3 of the draft — even early on Day 3, like Stidham — to join the team after a shortened (if not non-existent) offseason program and challenge a player with good physical skills who has the benefit of a full season under his belt. 

Not impossible. But hard. 

I asked Caserio on Friday night if leaving quarterbacks alone through two days of drafting should tell us anything about the club’s affinity for Stidham. 

”There's still some players I think that have a possibility ending up on this team,” Caserio said. ”We have the picks sort of spread out [Saturday]. There's different ways that you can get the players on your team. 

“We're going to have a third quarterback on our roster, pair them up with Jarrett and Brian. These guys are working hard at the start of the off-season program. We're going to have another player here at this position. Where he comes from and how he gets here is sort of yet to be determined. There's a few guys I think that we like and we feel comfortable with. Now it's just a matter of how we get them on the team.“

That could mean Day 3 of the draft. It could mean something else. After all, the current free agents at that position feature big names like Cam Newton and Jameis Winston. Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton could be available via trade soon. Miami’s Josh Rosen should be as well. 

If it is the draft, though, there are some options who’d make sense at One Patriot Place. Here are some of the best available Prototypical Patriots in Day 3 at the quarterback spot. 

Anthony Gordon, Washington State

It took Gordon — who began his career at City College of San Francisco and then sat for three years — a long time to see the field for coach Mike Leach. But when he did, he tore it up. He completed 71.8 percent of his passes and had a 3-to-1 (48-to-16) touchdown to interception ratio. A baseball player first growing up, Gordon has a strong arm that's quick to strike. He explained at the combine that he watches Jimmy Garoppolo's compact delivery to polish his own mechanics.

Though Gordon made some bad calls to force passes into places they shouldn't have been, he was extremely efficient in the Cougars Air Raid offense in his first and only year as a starter. Still a young player in terms of game experience, his arm and tight delivery might make him the first quarterback off the board on Day 3.

Jake Fromm, Georgia

Smaller hand size than the typical Patriots quarterbacks, which is worthy of consideration given where and when (December, January) the team’s most important home games are played.  

Fromm has also only spent three years in college, is a below-average athlete, and possesses what is by all accounts a below-average arm. There are still a number of things to like about Fromm. A three-year starter for a Patriots-preferred program, he reads the field, he's taken snaps from under center, he covets possession (only 28 turnover-worthy plays in three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus), and he's accurate (63.3 percent completions for his career). He's just not the "prototype."

Jacob Eason, Washington

Eason is another big-bodied passer who has no problem meeting the size thresholds for the prototypical Patriots quarterbacks. He played one year at Washington after transferring from Georgia, where he lost the starting gig to Fromm in 2017. Though he has just two years of real college-playing experience, he's been in the collegiate ranks for four.

Eason completed just a hair under 60 percent of his throws (59.8) for his career and had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 2.4-to-1. He owns a cannon for a right arm and might be a fit for Belichick if mobility isn't high on the list of preferred attributes for The Next Guy.

Jake Luton, Oregon State

Plenty of size. Plenty of arm. So why isn't Luton more highly regarded? His accuracy might not be considered to be on the level of some of the best in this class, but it's just fine. He completed 62.2 percent of his career attempts (played six games in 2015 at Idaho before transferring), but his 7.1 yards-per-attempt number is a tad low. Unafraid of a good checkdown — evident in that YPA figure — Luton could be a little quick to get rid of the football. But does that sound like something that would interest the Patriots?

Luton's 28 touchdowns to just three interceptions in 2019 will be sure to catch Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio's attention. (Ohio State's Justin Fields and Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa were the only quarterbacks last year with at least 25 touchdown passes and three picks or fewer.) Low interception numbers helped get LSU's Danny Etling picked by the Patriots on Day 3 a few years ago. The same could be true for Luton this year. He's already earned a pair of degrees (sociology and innovation management) and had a 3.43 GPA. He suffered a thoracic spine fracture in 2017, saw five starts in 2018, and came back last season as the full-time starter for the Beavers.

Tyler Huntley, Utah

Though only 6-1, shorter than the prototypical Patriot quarterback, Huntley had a helluva college career. A first-team All-Pac 12 selection and Shrine Game invitee, Huntley was a three-year starter. He completed over 67 percent of his passes in his career — including a whopping 73 percent last season — and he took care of the football with 19 touchdowns to just four interceptions in 2019. Huntley also scored 16 rushing touchdowns in his career.

Huntley is a Pro Football Focus darling, with the eighth-best quarterback grade in the country last season, the lowest turnover-worthy play rate among Power 5 quarterbacks, and the second-best accurate-pass rate in the country (behind only Joe Burrow) on passes of 10 yards or more down the field. On Day 3, he'll be an intriguing option.

Cole McDonald, Hawaii

With his frame and hands that measured over 9.5 inches, McDonald checks most of the boxes the Patriots have typically drafted when it comes to stature. He also came in as one of the most athletic passers at the combine this year (4.58-second 40, 36-inch vertical, 7.13 three-cone).

Though he's not a Power Five conference player, his statistical production was very good (61.4 percent completions for his career, over 8,000 yards passing, 70 touchdowns against 24 picks as a two-and-a-half-year starter), and he looks like he could be a late-round flier for Belichick if the head coach can get over McDonald's wonky throwing motion.