The NFL Scouting Combine officially closed up shop Sunday night.
As the New England Patriots prepare for the next step in the pre-draft process, here are eight under-the-radar prospects — players who weren’t household names entering combine week — whose performances in Indianapolis piqued our interest:
Derrek Tuszka, edge rusher, North Dakota State
There are shades of Chase Winovich in Tuszka’s game, and not just because they both sport long blonde hair. Winovich excelled in agility drills at the 2019 combine, and Tuszka did the same this year, posting by far the fastest three-cone time of any edge defender (6.87 seconds) ranking fourth in the short shuttle (4.34 seconds). He was well above average in the 40-yard dash and both jumps, too. Tuszka dominated for the Football Championship Subdivision’s premier program, racking up 104 tackles, 13 1/2 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and five pass breakups as a senior in 2019.
Alex Highsmith, edge rusher, Charlotte
How’s this for a well-rounded workout: first in the short shuttle (4.31 seconds), third in the broad jump (125 inches), fourth in the 40 (4.7 seconds), fourth in the three-cone drill (7.32), sixth in the vertical jump (33 inches). And that came after a season in which Highsmith ranked third in FBS in sacks with 15 and tied for second in tackles for loss with 21 1/2. The only player to tally more total tackles behind the line of scrimmage (sacks plus tackles for loss) was Chase Young, the Ohio State phenom who likely will be the No. 2 overall pick.
Kyle Dugger, safety, Lenoir-Rhyne
Dugger began gaining national recognition when he earned an invite to the Senior Bowl, and his stock will continue to rise after a strong combine showing. The Division II product led all defensive backs with a 42-inch vertical jump and ranked second among safeties with a 134-inch broad jump after measuring in at 6-foot-1, 217 pounds with longest-in-class 32 7/8-inch arms. At that size, Dugger is a safety/linebacker hybrid who could play the Patrick Chung role in New England’s defense. He also returned punts in college.
Jeremy Chinn, safety, Southern Illinois
Chinn had the best broad jump (138 inches), second-best vertical jump (41 inches) and third-best 40 (4.45 seconds) among safeties. Oh, and he’s 6-3, 221, making him the tallest and second-heaviest safety at the combine. Another intriguingly versatile prospect.
Ezra Cleveland, offensive tackle, Boise State
The 6-foot-6, 311-pound Cleveland showed some freaky athleticism, smoking his fellow O-linemen in the three-cone (7.26 seconds) and short shuttle (4.46 seconds) and running the 40 in 4.93 seconds. He tested well in explosiveness drills, as well, jumping 111 inches in the broad jump and 30 inches in the vert. Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs and Louisville’s Mekhi Becton were the most impressive offensive tackles in Indianapolis, but Cleveland wasn’t far behind.
Matt Peart, offensive tackle, UConn
Peart didn’t display the same elite agility (8.01 three-cone; 4.92 shuttle), but he ranked near the top of the class in the 40 (5.06 seconds) and broad jump (113 inches) with a 30-inch vertical. His 36 5/8-inch arms also were the longest of any combine participant, and he was one of the tallest at 6-foot-7, 318 pounds. Evaluators say the former basketball player must get stronger to hold up against NFL pass rushers, but those are some enviable physical tools. Peart started every game over his four-year career at UConn, playing both tackle spots.
Aaron Parker, wide receiver, Rhode Island
URI far from a football powerhouse, but it sent three draft prospects to the combine this year. That group included Parker, whose agility numbers (6.94-second three-cone, 4.23-second short shuttle at 6-2, 209) caught our eye. Both ranked in the top five among wideouts. His jumps, through, were not good. He placed dead last in the vertical (26.5 inches) and broad (112 inches). Parker was highly productive for Rhody, amassing 216 receptions for 3,460 yards and 30 touchdowns over four seasons, including an 81-1,224-9 line in 2019.
Charlie Taumoepeau, tight end, Portland State
Dayton’s Adam Trautman had a fantastic combine — his 6.78-second three-cone was the third-fastest by any player in Indy — but he very well could be the first tight end drafted this year. That disqualifies him for “under the radar” status. Plus, we’ve already written at length about Trautman, whom we view as an obvious Patriots target. So, we’re singling out Taumoepeau instead. He posted the second-best three-cone (7.00 seconds) and short shuttle (4.27 seconds), the third-best vertical jump (36.5 inches) and the fourth-best broad jump (121 inches) in his position group. Taumoepeau is smaller than most Patriots tight ends (6-2, 240), but scouting reports praise his blocking ability. NFL Media draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah mentioned him as a potential Day 3 option for New England.