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Five draft prospects that keep popping up

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff  February 25, 2013 03:13 PM

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The NFL Draft Combine is still in the throes of devouring its young, with linebackers and defensive linemen going through drills today. Defensive backs will take the field Tuesday. But in the week of buildup toward the combine's conclusion, more than a few names have been tossed about with relation to the Patriots. Here's a rundown of who has been mentioned, as well as any pertinent information.

1. Florida safety Matt Elam -- The hard-hitting safety is one of the best rated defensive backs on the board, so it's no wonder his name has been connected with the Patriots after the team finished a paltry 29th in pass defense. As a Florida football player, Elam has connections with former Gators Brandon Spikes, Aaron Hernandez, Jermaine Cunningham, and Jeff Demps. But his game speaks for itself. He tallied 76 tackles, 2 sacks, and 11 tackles for a loss. He was first team All-SEC and first team AP All-American. It'll be tough if he makes it to No. 29, but he's definitely on the radar. We'll see more details on Elam when he works out on Tuesday.

2. West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin -- What's the likelihood that there are two guys named Tavon on the Patriots? After the way Austin's name was thrown around by mock drafters and media folks, you'd think it was a done deal. Austin ran a 4.34 40-yard dash Sunday. In his senior season for West Virginia, he was all over the field as a returner, receiver, and in the back field. He caught 111 passes for 1,287 yards, ran for 652 yards on 73 carries, and averaged 25.1 yards on kickoff returns. He totalled 17 touchdowns on the season. He's only 5-feet, 8-inches and weighs 174 pounds. So he fits the mold of another slot-like wide receiver. But he has the versatility to be moved around, an attribute Bill Belichick thoroughly values.

3. Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes -- A 6-2, cover cornerback will get the attention of most coaches. But the Patriots are in a more despairing need for corners than most NFL teams. Rhodes fits the bill skills-wise and has the proper dimensions, so it's no surprise his name has been floated with the Patriots. He was first team All-ACC last season and is rated as the No. 2 corner on the board by CBSSports.com. He had 39 tackles and three interceptions his junior year. With only three cornerbacks currently under contract for the 2013 season, the Patriots would be wise to covet the Miami native.

4. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o -- All hoaxing aside, Manti Te'o's stock dropped a bit after a disappointing 4.82 40-yard dash Monday. That doesn't match up well with the seven interceptions he had his senior season for Notre Dame as a Heisman runnerup. He had 113 tackles as the leader for one of the best defenses in college football, making him bonafide first rounder. But his standing could diminish because of his poor 40 and that could put him in reach of the Patriots at the 29th pick. The Patriots need a cover linebacker. It was thought that Te'o could fit that role. But that's up in the air now.

5. Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu -- The Honey Badger's name is in the air. Mathieu is a troubled young man who was kicked off LSU's squad for violating multiple team rules, was arrested, and went to rehab for drug probelms. He's in the process of rebuilding his reputation. In 2011, he was a magnificent game-changer for the Tigers football team, a dangerous returner and a phenomenal defensive back. He did not play in 2012. While he might have been a first round pick in 2012, he's now projected anywhere from the fifth round or later. Much like Alfonzo Dennard, he could be great steal for the Patriots in the later rounds.

@zuriberry

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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