Here are my takeaways from the Patriots' second and third rounds of the NFL draft.
1. Aaron Dobson fits the bill – First of all, I like his intangibles. I think when folks look at his ability to catch the ball in the air, they'll be as enamored with him as the Patriots obviously are. At Marshall he caught 57 passes for 679 yards and three touchdowns his senior year and was second-team All-Conference USA. At 6-3 and 211 pounds, he has the frame. And then there is the speed. He ran a 4.35 40-yard dash and pumped out 16 reps on the bench press. But again, it comes back to making catches down field and over defenders. So I present to you Exhibit A:
Are you excited yet? You should be.
Also, I love his comment about getting a chance to work with Tom Brady:
"That right there, you can't beat that. The best quarterback in the league. It's amazing because I've been watching him for so long, now that I get a chance to go play with him, it's a blessing."
Is that intimidating?
"No, not intimidating at all. I'm excited just to get to know him and start catching balls and try to help the situation out. "
2. Duron Harmon is this year's mystery Patriot – Apparently Harmon had some increased interest over the past few weeks from the Patriots and others. But no one knew that the Rutgers defensive back was so coveted at the NFL Network. When his name was called in the third round, there were no highlights to show. It led to this funny exchange Harmon had with his mother, Dawn.
"My mother, she was very excited. She was like ‘Oh my baby. Where’s your clips at?’ I was like, ‘Mommy, I don't think they knew I was going today, so I don't think they had any clips ready for me.’ She was a little upset about me not having clips, but I think me getting drafted just overtook her sadness about my clips."
Harmon started all 13 games for the Scarlet Knights at safety in 2012, recording 50 tackles and seven pass breakups. His Rutgers teammate and fellow Patriots draft pick, Logan Ryan, said it wasn't surprising to see Harmon selected so high while being rated so low.
"It didn't surprise me one bit," Ryan said. "He is a great football player and I’m with him and he’s my workout partner. He works extremely hard and he believes in himself, and I believe in him. He has all of the measurables and the speed and anything that you look for. He was a two-time All Big East defender and I think if you were best in the conference two straight years then you’re worthy of being a third-round pick."
3. As suspected, a cover linebacker was taken – We were sure after evaluating the Patriots linebacker corps that the team needed someone other than Jerod Mayo who could cover tight ends and bigger receivers (think Anquan Boldin) in nickel situations. Linebacker Jamie Collins will fill that role nicely as a converted safety. He ran a 4.59 40-yard dash and has an amazing leaping ability (41 1/2 vertical jump). As long as he doesn't have to cover Rob Gronkowski, I think he can contribute right away. What was surprising, if anything, was that the Patriots reached for a linebacker first. The team is stocked with them, including: Mayo, Dont'a Hightower, Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher, Niko Koutouvides, Mike Rivera, and Jeff Tarpinan.
4. For Rutgers players, a support system in place – Logan Ryan, the Patriots' third pick of the NFL draft, and Harmon, the team's fourth pick so far, join a growing contingent of former New Jerseyans. The Scarlet Knights can now boast three players in the Patriots secondary, including Devin McCourty. But there's also Justin Francis, who went undrafted last year before making the team. And before that there was Alex Silvestro and Tiquan Underwood, making a strong presence of Rutgers players in New England. Steve Belichick, Bill Belichick's son, went to the university. But with so many on the team now – and picked so close together – the benefits of the Jersey connection will be apparent for NFL grooming, providing a strong support system.
"The relationship that Devin and I have goes beyond words," said Ryan. "He’s a guy that helped me make the transition coming from being a talented high school player to becoming a college corner, and now for him to be there for this next step – I’ve grown up over the years – I’m not that 18-year-old boy anymore. To have the opportunity to compete alongside him in practice every day and the work ethic that he brings and the great leader that he is – I’m just honored to be able to play alongside him and [be in] the Patriots organization."
Neither Ryan or Harmon are expected to come in and start. But the support system in place will get them ready for when they're needed.
5. And why is it that Rutgers players are so highly valued? – Duron Harmon answers that question best:
"To tell you the truth, I think it all has to start with [former Rutgers] coach Greg Schiano. He’s instilled in his players a great football mindset. We know how to prepare for games. We prepare like professionals at Rutgers University – that’s something that he’s instilled in all of us. I think a lot of players when they get to the NFL, they don’t know how to watch film, they don’t know how to practice, they don’t know how to do the certain things that you have to do to be a great football player. I think coach Schiano instilled that in us and I think coach Belichick saw those characteristics from Rutgers football players. He knows what he’s going to get from the Rutgers football players. I think he has gotten that consistently over the years. I think that’s why he has seriously taken great looks at Rutgers football players."