Performance on the field ultimately is the most important factor in the New England Patriots’ evaluation of an NFL draft prospect. But on-field testing can open the Patriots’ eyes to a player.
Those diamonds in the rough will be more difficult to find after the cancellation of pro days due to understandable concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. The NFL announced Monday the draft will proceed from April 23 to 25, but it won’t take place in front of an audience in Las Vegas.
Back in 2018, Western Carolina cornerback Keion Crossen put on a show at Wake Forest’s pro day, running a 4.33-second 40-yard dash with a 6.67-second 3-cone, 4.01-second short shuttle, 39.5-inch vertical leap and 10-foot, 11-inch broad jump. He was an FCS cornerback who might not have received a glimpse from the Patriots without that workout. Instead, he was selected in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
“The way this guy kind of got on the radar screen initially was he worked out at the Wake Forest Pro Day, so that’s where he showed up and tested extremely well, so a lower level of competition, obviously, at Western Carolina,” Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said two years ago. “He showed up on a big stage just from a workout perspective. It really blew it out of the water. He’s undersized, just from a size standpoint, but he’s athletic. He runs well, he’s explosive, he’s real competitive, probably more of a perimeter corner. He played more on the perimeter at Western Carolina. We saw him work out there at Wake Forest, did a little more follow up work with him, had him in here to Foxboro to visit with him. He’s a player. He’s young, he’s athletic, he runs well, great attitude. When you guys talk to him, this guy’s got a lot of energy. He’s real positive, really upbeat, so hopefully he brings that mentality and that mindset here to New England when he shows up here in a couple weeks.”
Crossen was a special teams standout as a rookie before the Patriots flipped him to the Houston Texans for a sixth-round pick in a trade on cutdown day last year. The Patriots excel at finding late-round or undrafted steals, and those could be harder to come by this year. That could lead to fewer small-school prospects and players who were not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine or college all-star games receiving shots.
It’s unfortunate for those players, but safety is at the utmost importance as COVID-19 spreads across the world.
Teams will have to guess on player measurables, in general, more this year. The Patriots seem to value the 3-cone drill as it relates to running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, cornerbacks and safeties. Only 24 of 55 receivers, 11 of 30 running backs, 13 of 20 tight ends, 15 of 35 cornerbacks and five of 26 safeties ran the 3-cone at this year’s combine.