1. Mike Reiss’s piece on ESPN Boston about under-the-radar Patriots free agents this offseason is one of the best pieces I’ve read in the young year of 2013, because there is just so much of it that I agree with.
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Reiss writes that Donald Thomas has proven that he can be a capable starter in this league, and that’s a sentiment I’m sure most Patriots fans fully agree with. There was no drop-off with Thomas in as a backup, and he is solid in both pass protection and run blocking. I never get why people say he struggled in Week 2 against the Arizona Cardinals with Logan Mankins out, because he actually played very well outside of a couple of pressures allowed. Thomas is at his best as a run blocker, and I think the numbers and scouting data support that Thomas even deserves to start over Dan Connolly. Even if he is still a backup, Thomas is easily one of the best backup guards in the NFL and deserves to be locked up by the Patriots.
2. Patrick Chung was listed among the four by Reiss, as was Danny Woodhead who doesn’t exactly qualify as “under-the-radar” in my book. But no matter, the second Patriots player named by Reiss that I want to look at is defensive end Trevor Scott. I believed in this guy in training camp, just because he had such a great track record with the Oakland Raiders before going cold. The versatile veteran situational pass rusher will always be successful in that role, and he is a high character guy with plenty of work ethic.
Beyond that, he rose to the occasion with Jermaine Cunningham suspended and Chandler Jones injured later on in the year. Scott is horrendous against the run, but he’s a very good pass rusher and, here’s the most underrated aspect about him, he’s also athletic enough to cover less athletic tight ends like Anthony Fasano of the Miami Dolphins. Now that’s pretty impressive. I hope we see Scott back on the team in 2013, because he will most likely come very cheap for the Patriots.
3. West Virginia Mountaineers wide receiver Tavon Austin is getting plenty of love as a top target for the New England Patriots in the first-round. With Wes Welker and Julian Edelman set to hit free agency, wide receiver is one of the areas of uncertainty for the Patriots. Austin is a slot guy who has plenty of big play ability to fit the Pats needs, but he’s not the only WVU receiver worth watching.
Stedman Bailey was also a standout for the Mountaineers whilst catching passes from most people’s top-rated quarterback, Geno Smith. Bailey has seemingly flown under the radar, especially since he had such great production in college. SI’s Tony Pauline was quick to praise Bailey and said that he is being compared to former USC Trojans and New York Giants standout wide receiver Steve Smith. He believes that Bailey could be “the surprise at receiver during the combine” due to his route-running ability, speed, and raw pass-catching ability as well. Pauline thinks Bailey could end up being selected in the second-round, so he’s definitely a name to at least keep an eye on.
4. Alabama defensive tackle Jesse Williams is being mentioned as a possible New England Patriots target, but I don’t see the fit. I love Williams’s run-stopping ability and motor, but he doesn’t fit the Pats needs or scheme. Here’s an excellent scouting report from NE Patriots Draft on Williams that is, as always, well-worth reading.
5. Former Texas A&M standout Ryan Swope is a solid prospect in the 2013 NFL Draft, and Tony Pauline also gave him some high praise heading into the combine (same piece as No. 3). Pauline writes that Swope is faster than people think, and he lauded his speed and athleticism. Swope is also another name to watch as a potential second-round choice in this draft.
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