There’s a running back in the 2018 NFL Draft who has position flexibility, doesn’t fumble, can protect a quarterback, runs a quick 3-cone time and has versatility to play special teams.

So, it’s probably not a coincidence that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick had a close eye on Nyheim Hines at North Carolina State’s pro day. And Hines is a Patriots fan, to boot.

Hines is one of two running backs from N.C. State who undoubtedly are on the Patriots’ radar, the other being Jaylen Samuels.

In 2017, Hines carried the ball 197 times for 1,113 yards with 12 touchdowns and caught 26 passes for 152 yards. He also returned 21 kicks for 469 yards and returned 12 punts for 135 yards with a touchdown. That came after his first two seasons with the Wolfpack, as a slot wide receiver, when he combined for 61 carries for 243 yards with a touchdown, caught 63 passes for 781 yards with a touchdown and returned 67 kicks for 1,702 yards with two touchdowns.

He fumbled just twice during his college career and didn’t put the ball on the ground in 2017. He gave up just one pressure on 41 pass-block snaps and is a fantastic athlete. He ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash with a 1.52-second 10-yard split, 35.5-inch vertical leap, 10-foot, 1-inch broad jump, 6.90-second 3-cone and 4.27-second short shuttle during pre-draft testing. He also ranked high in Pro Football Focus’ elusive rating, forcing 45 missed tackles on 222 touches and gaining 3.76 yards after contact.

Hines had a classic encounter with Belichick last month.

“I heard Coach Belichick was there, then I saw him and he told me I had to run a route,” Hines told in a phone interview Friday. “I was like, ‘Holy crap, that’s Coach Belichick.’ Then by the time I put it together that it was actually him, he walked away into the distance.”

The Patriots were ahead of the curve, employing third-down backs as far back as Kevin Faulk. Now they’re all the rage and continuing to gain in popularity around the NFL. Throw in Hines’ experience splitting out at receiver, and it’s easy to see why he’s been popular in the pre-draft process.

“Those guys like Warrick Dunn, Brian Westbrook, guys like that, they can catch the ball out of the backfield,” Hines said. “The game’s really getting into that now. People like Alvin Kamara, Tyreek Kill, Christian McCaffrey, all those people who I’m similar to, they’re really a hot commodity. Every team is trying to find that scat back who’s a mismatch for the linebacker. I think the game’s turning to that, and it’s the perfect time to have the unique skill set that I carry, because I think a lot of teams find that valuable now. Maybe seven, 10 years ago they may have not.”

The Garner, N.C., native is regarded as a second- or third-round draft prospect and had official visits with the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys. He views himself as more than just a third-down or change-of-pace back, and there are even teams that could move him to receiver.

“I know the Chiefs like me as a receiver, and I know there’s some other teams,” Hines said. “But every team has talked about the versatility to play running back, playing receiver. When I was at my visit with the Cowboys, the Vikings, they actually showed me catching the ball. They showed me guys who are similar like Lance Dunbar and Jerick McKinnon. They showed them doing the option routes and being the mismatch guy. They showed me that first, then they showed me the runs. I know I think wherever I go, I’ll catch a lot of passes.”

The Patriots could be looking for another small, shifty, speedy versatile weapon after letting Dion Lewis walk in free agency. Among Patriots running backs, only Rex Burkhead and James White are locks to make the 53-man roster. The Patriots also have Mike Gillislee, Jeremy Hill and Brandon Bolden to compete for roles. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them throw another player like Hines, who could also contribute at receiver and on returns, into the mix.

Thumbnail photo via Rob Kinnan/USA TODAY Sports Images