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10 takeaways from the 2014 scouting combine

Posted by Erik Frenz  February 25, 2014 04:36 PM

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Minnesota DT Ra'Shede Hageman (above) showed off his strength at the 2014 scouting combine. (AP Photo)

The 2014 scouting combine has come to a close, so let's take this opportunity to catch our breath and catch up on some of the things we may have missed in the frenzy of constant press conferences and bench presses over the past six days.

Here are some leftover notes that caught my attention upon further review.

1. If the Patriots are looking for a hard-hitting safety in a similar mold to Kam Chancellor, one name to watch could be Washington State safety Deone Bucannon. He measured in at 6-foot-1 and 211 pounds, giving up two inches and over 20 pounds to Chancellor, but that hasn't stopped Bucannon from emulating his game after Chancellor.

"How he plays the game: with great heart, passion, tenacity," Bucannon said. "You know, those are the things that I want. If I can get just the smallest amount of that, that'd be more than enough for this league. You know, he's a great player, and I love watching him play."

Bucannon ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash, put up 19 reps on the 225-pound bench press, and logged a vertical jump of 36.5 inches and a broad jump of 125 inches, which put him among the top five safeties in each of those four categories. He's a heady player, with the play recognition and quick reaction speed to play as a deep safety in Cover 2, but he's also highly versatile, with the ability to play man coverage on tight ends and to come down in the box to defend the run. As a strong safety, he lacks the ideal top-notch speed to play Cover 1, but he'll rarely be asked to do that at the NFL level.

Bucannon has not yet met with the Patriots, but there's still plenty of time left before the draft for that to change. With a last name that has "cannon" in it, the headlines and ledes would write themselves, so here's (selfishly) hoping.

2. Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman met with the Patriots this weekend, according to Christopher Price of WEEI.com, and there's a lot to like about his fit for the Patriots.

He is built similarly to Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, at 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds with 34 14-inch long arms. His game is also similar to Watt's.

Hageman's workout numbers weren't eye-popping — although his 32 reps on the bench press landed him in a three-way tie for third among defensive linemen — but the tape doesn't lie. He comes with a great first step, a variety of pass-rush moves, and brute strength to knock offensive linemen off the ball; he can carry out a number of assignments, which allows him to play all over the line.

"I tell coaches I play 0-technique, all the way to a 9-[technique]," he said. "Just the fact that in college, coach had me play 3-technique to everything, so I'm very versatile. I'm comfortable playing anything they want me to play. ... I feel like me getting that comfortability in college, has helped me be able to do that at the next level."

That kind of versatility would certainly serve him well in a Patriots uniform. There's a lot of uncertainty at defensive tackle this offseason: Tommy Kelly ($2,656,250 million cap hit) and Isaac Sopoaga ($3.5 million) have to both be considered candidates for either a restructured contract or an outright release, and we still don't know exactly what a 32-year-old Vince Wilfork will look like coming off a torn Achilles' tendon.

For any of those reasons, the Patriots might be forced to address the defensive tackle position this offseason, and Hageman has the upside to warrant consideration.

3. Wrote about the connection between the Patriots and Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald this weekend, but that was before he lit it up on Monday at the combine. The 288-pound beast ran a 4.68-second 40-yard dash and put up 35 reps on the bench press, both among the top five defensive linemen at the combine.

No one ever doubted his athleticism and freakish burst off the line, but his size is a red flag. At 6-foot-1, with arms measuring 32 58 inches, he may be stonewalled by bigger offensive linemen. That being said, his first step is elite, and makes him very difficult to block; he logged 28.5 tackles for loss, which led the nation in 2013, and his 11 sacks were fourth-most in the ACC.

After posting such impressive numbers during the season and at the combine, it would be a surprise if he fell to the Patriots at No. 29.

4. Bill Belichick didn't say much at the combine, but he did make mention of Tennessee's offensive line.

"It’s interesting this morning to see, almost the entire Tennessee offensive line there — I guess [Alex] Bullard wasn't there, but he could have been invited. We could have had him too. Then we would have had the whole five offensive linemen from Tennessee. It’s pretty unusual to see five guys from one school in that group. But obviously a pretty good looking group of players."

All four of them could find a home on an NFL roster next season. The Patriots could be looking to stockpile some depth on the offensive line this offseason; center Ryan Wendell is a free agent and right guard Dan Connolly is a potential salary cap casualty; the Patriots could recoup nearly $3 million in cap space by cutting him.

Tennessee center James Stone has versatility to play guard as well; Zach Fulton has been a right guard throughout his career at Tennessee. If the Patriots are looking to bolster the interior of the offensive line, those two could be on the radar.

This is smokescreen season, though, so let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, especially with Belichick involved.

5. Boston College defensive end Kasim Edebali may have won the award for brightest, funniest interview of the week. Too bad only four people were in on it.

Just call it east coast anti-bias.

"There's so many challenges that put a chip on my shoulder. It's not just only that. It's the fact that I want to be better, I want to put BC on the map again, I just want to be successful, go to a Bowl game. and this year, you know, myself, had a big [season], really motivated us and helped Boston College get back to a Bowl game."

The anti-ACC stigma is just one more knock on Edebali, but he picked a good time to start knocking that chip off his shoulder. He led the team with 14 tackles for loss; his 8.5 sacks were the team-high and tied for ninth in the conference.

At 6-foot-2 and 253 pounds, Edebali projects as a 3-4 outside linebacker or a small 4-3 defensive end in the NFL. He was at the combine as a defensive end.

The 24-year-old from Hamburg, Germany spent two years at Kimball Union Academy in N.H. as part of a program that allows international students to learn American football. Growing up in Germany made it hard to keep track of the NFL, but he learned very quickly what team he was going to root for when he arrived.

"I didn't really know a lot about American football like that, but when I came over here and I moved to the Northeast, I knew that if you do like the Patriots, everybody does not like you."

His upbeat personality shone through, and he did not seem overwhelmed by the process.

He has been in touch with Colts defensive end and fellow German Bjoern Werner for some pointers on that process, and he also models his game after Werner.

"You know, even though he didn't run the fastest 40, he said it's all about the get-off," he said. "Get on your get-off. I really took that to heart coming into my senior year, and it's really my trademark."

He could become the first BC player drafted since linebacker Luke Kuechly was taken ninth overall by the Carolina Panthers in 2012.

6. Jets cornerback Dee Milliner has been a busy guy over the past few months, according to several Alabama players at the combine. Both cornerback Deion Belue and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix have reached out to Milliner, their former teammate, for advice on this process.

"[Milliner] gave me a few tips [on the process]," Belue said, "but the main thing he said was to just take it one day at a time. Don't look ahead, just handle the moment, right then.

Clinton-Dix additionally listed Buccaneers safety Mark Barron (Alabama) and Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro (Texas) as players he's spoken to about the pre-draft process and getting ready for the NFL.

(AP Photo)

7. Speaking of those Alabama defensive backs, the consensus is that their players are the most prepared for the NFL because of their years in what players consider comparable to a professional program.

"No doubt about it," Belue said. "From the playbook, to the system, to the practice schedules, to the way he handles his meetings, it's like a business there, you know. It's like a mini pro team."

Alabama's program under head coach Nick Saban is as close to a professional program as it gets in college, but their opponents have also helped them get prepared for life in the NFL.

"I feel like a lot of [SEC] teams use a pro style offense," he said. "Like I said, playing for coach Saban's defense, we did a lot of things. We played nickel, dime, cover 2, we played a lot of different defenses."

8. You can include Broncos executive vice president John Elway among those in the chorus of the Broncos organization that say Wes Welker "is under contract" for next season. Never mind the fact that he's going to count for $8 million against the cap, and that the Broncos could save $6 million of that by cutting him. Also never mind the ginormous helmet he was wearing at the end of the season after suffering two concussions. Also never mind the fact that Welker will be 33 years old headed into next season.

Forget it all, because Elway even insinuated that the Broncos are eyeing an extension or re-signing Welker after his original two-year, $12 million deal expires.

"I think they have to hit the market, the market sets those," Elway said of wide receiver Eric Decker and the top contract he desires, "especially where you look where we are and what we have coming up. Both Thomases are up next year. And Wes is, too. So all that plays into it."

9. The Jets drafted wide receiver Stephen Hill in the second round in 2012, and so far, the selection has not panned out as hoped. Hill has plenty of athleticism, but has yet to polish off other areas of his game. Head coach Rex Ryan says there's still some potential for growth.

"Coming from the offense that he was in at [Georgia Tech], we knew that it was going to take some developing and things like that, but certainly he's got the raw, physical tools that you look for — I think he might have been the fastest receiver in the draft at the time he came out; he's 6-foot-5, that's some impressive things. His development was hindered this year, we were expecting big things from him, he had an outstanding training camp for us, and then out of the gates, I think he had 13 catches and [233] yards in the first three weeks of the season ... but then he sustained some injuries, and it got to where we had to place him on injured reserve. But again, he's a guy we're excited about. I know he's rehabbing, doing a tremendous job and he wants it in the worst way to get back and to finally showcase what he can really be when he's healthy and starting to really come into his own, so hopefully he has a big year for us."

As I've written in the past, it would help if they would send him on a wider variety of routes, rather than constantly sending him straight down the field. He hasn't given them a reason to believe that he can run routes effectively yet, and it's perpetuated itself into an ineffective deep ball receiver ultimately being sent on way too many deep routes.

"I don't personally know his work ethic," says a former scout, "but it's not uncommon for a guy to really become a pro in his third year — but only Rex and [general manger John] Idzik along with the wide receiver coach [Sanjay Lal] know where Stephen's pro development is right now. So either Rex believes it or is encouraging Stephen, or possibly trying to make him part of a trade on draft day. But I was impressed with what I saw at training camp, and along with his good blocking, that his hands and ability to separate were starting to improve."

It would also help if he had a good quarterback throwing to him, so Geno Smith is going to have to step up his game for the benefit of everyone. The Jets have been eyeing Bears free-agent quarterback Josh McCown, according to the New York Daily News, and they are considered a legitimate possible landing spot for Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, according to NFL Network.

Regardless, Hill may get a fire lit under him sooner than later; Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins and USC wide receiver Marqise Lee both announced they met with the Jets this weekend, and both are projected as first-round draft choices.

10. Missouri defensive end Michael Sam delivered a great press conference in the wake of becoming the first openly gay NFL player to enter the NFL draft, and it didn't take long for a reporter to ask how he would handle being in the Miami Dolphins' locker room.

"If the Miami Dolphins drafted me I would be excited to be a part of that organization," he said. "But I'm not afraid of going into that environment. I know how to handle myself. I know how to communicate with my teammates. I know how to communicate with the coaches and other staff I need to communicate with."

The Dolphins don't particularly need a defensive end, with depth at the position in Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon and Dion Jordan, but if they were to draft Sam, he probably would not have to deal with controversial guard Richie Incognito, who is a free agent this offseason.

Even if Incognito is somehow in a Dolphins uniform next year, and even if he continues to harass his teammates with foul language — particularly homophobic language directed at Sam — Sam knows how he'd deal with it, and he'd be a lot more forthright with his feelings than Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin was.

"If someone wants to call me a name I’ll have a conversation with that guy and hopefully it won’t lead to anything else."

His transition to the NFL will be about more than just fitting into the NFL locker room, though — he'll also have to fit into an NFL defense. As former Boston Globe football writer Greg Bedard points out in his breakdown of Sam's game over at TheMMQB.com, it may not be that easy for him.

Sam's performance at the combine was unspectacular, with average finishes across the board — particularly in the 40 (4.91 seconds) and bench press (17 reps) — further solidifying his status as a fourth- to seventh-round pick.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »


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