New England Patriots: 5 draft sleepers to know on offense

I’m a hipster. Sigur Ros is blaring out of my retro stereo. I just finished ranting about how good Ridley Scott was before he went all mainstream and started exploiting the zeitgeist. In my lifetime, I’ve worn glasses for decoration and not to help my eyesight. I’m actually the worst.

And this all stretches to the NFL Draft too. The main tenet of being a hipster is priding yourself on finding things before they become popular, to find that next big thing before it becomes a next big thing.

So here are five players who you should start babbling about at the water cooler, because as soon as the Combine has come and gone, they’ll be shooting up draft boards and everyone will know their name. The focus will obviously be centered around the New England Patriots, and, for the most part, players that could be found late Day 2/Day 3.

Let’s get to it.

 

Jordan Najvar, TE, Baylor

Jordan Najvar is the Modest Mouse of this draft, and the East-West Shrine Game was his The Moon & Antarctica. Over his college career, Najvar (prounced like “diver” with an “N”) only had 35 receptions for 311 yards and 4 TD, counted on mostly as a blocker in Baylor’s high-powered spread offense. But at the Shrine Game practices, Najvar flaunted his catching skills for scouts, showing soft hands and great athleticism for his 6-6, 260-pound frame.

In the game itself, he had one 31-yard reception, but his mixture of blocking prowess and athleticism makes him an intriguing option, especially if the Pats end up taking a more traditional tight end in Austin-Seferian Jenkins or CJ Fiedorowicz earlier.

In any other year, Najvar would probably be taken in Day 2, but because of the (strangely) tremendous depth at the position this year, and the lack of college-game tape as a receiver makes him more of a question mark, and an underrated one at that. Of course, if Najvar is Modest Mouse, then the combine could very well be his “Float On”, which means everyone will know him, he’ll soar up draft boards, and I’ll be grumbling about him for years afterwards. Remember the name.

 

Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana

Think of Cody Latimer as a similar to Penn State’s Allen Robinson, who comps favorably to Anquan Boldin. Which makes Anquan Boldin Cody Latimer’s grand-comp.

Like those two receivers, Cody Latimer is a solidly built (6-3, 215) receiver, who plays physical, and has good hands and sharp route-running. Like those two receivers, he doesn’t have top-line, blazing speed. The junior had a great season in Indiana with 72 receptions, 1,096 yards, and 9 TD. He’s flown under-the-radar thus far because of a strong draft class (topped by super-athletic, high-potential prospects) and because he hasn’t shown that tremendous acceleration in vertical routes. If he impresses at the combine, he’ll be taken by the third round. If he still shows that speed won’t be a strength, he could be a huge steal for a team like the Patriots. Tom Brady needs sure-handed receivers, especially if Julian Edelman leaves, just as much as he needs high-flying X-receivers. Speaking of Edelman…

 

Michael Campanaro, WR, Wake Forest

Of these five, Campanaro is probably the name you’ve heard, and his record-breaking career at Wake Forest definitely drew quite a bit of attention to him. But he’s still labeled as a Day 3 pick. Why? Because of his height (5-10) and his lack of top-flight speed.

But Campanaro plays a lot stronger than his build suggests, and has some of the surest hands in this draft class. He is a crisp route runner and is definitely agile. As a slot receiver, as Dane Brugler of CBSSports puts it, he could be “a quarterback’s best friend.” Sound familiar? If the Patriots don’t feel like Edelman will be brought back, Campanaro could help quite a bit as a slot receiver, even as a late-round pickup.

Campanaro, in only eight games, had 67 receptions for 803 yards and 6 TDs, consistently Wake Forest’s top target on offense. Put him against a defense that’s not always worried about locking him down? Who knows what the Wake Forest grad could do.

 

Jerome Smith, RB, Syracuse

Like Campanaro, running back Smith was the offensive player most counted upon to carry his team, and therefore, the figure that defenses focused on the most. Still, even with an inconsistent passing offense, the Syracuse junior had 840 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns.

Smith doesn’t have a lot of athleticism or speed, but he is a big, physical runner. At 6-0, 217, Smith is a true bruiser and could jump into LeGarrette Blount’s role on the team as a counter to Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. Like Blount, Smith loves to knock around defenders in that second level, but also has the burst to get to the end zone if he finds separation. Smith may never be a starter in the NFL, but, in a league that’s going more and more to backfield rotations, he could be a more than useful low-cost pickup late in the draft.

 

Tyler Larsen, C, Utah State

Ryan Wendell is a free agent. Dan Connolly’s contract of $4.1mil will make him the seventh highest paid player on the team, making him, if not certainly a candidate for restructuring his deal, a possible cap casualty. Either way, the Patriots could do with some high-upside depth on the interior of their offensive line.

Enter Tyler Larsen. The 6-4, 317 Utah State product was one of the six finalists for the 2013 Rimington Trophy, given to the best center in college football this past season, and was one of the leaders of the team. His size well definitely help him in the NFL (he’s got a lot of power in the run-game) but he also has impressive agility for someone his size. His smaller-school pedigree could hurt his draft stock, but he seems like your typical Belichickian offensive lineman. In the post-Scarnecchia era (still crying), the Patriots will be looking for disciplined, game-ready linemen, something Larsen provides. He’s played almost exclusively center his college career, but he has the size and footwork to play guard if needed.

 

 

Look out for the Draft Sleepers: Defense edition on Monday, and follow me on twitter @isportspeters or get at me at isportspeters@gmail.com for any questions, suggestions, or whatever else is on your mind.