New England Patriots Undrafted Free Agents: Need-to-Know Info for Every Signee
The 2014 NFL draft represents the final major roster construction phase of the offseason, but that does not mean that every team's current roster is set in stone.
The New England Patriots have extracted tremendous value from undrafted free agents in recent years. Just last season, the Pats received big snaps from past undrafted players such as Kyle Arrington, Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly.
With an especially deep 2014 draft class, the undrafted free-agent crop figures to produce more talent than in most years. At the draft's conclusion, the Pats still had 15 roster spots open on the 90-man preseason roster, and filling out the bottom end with cheap upside is always good practice.
Thus, even though many of the names on this list will be relatively anonymous, several will not only make the team, but play important roles on the 2014 roster. For Pats fans seeking to identify the next young sleeper, check out vital scouting information, measurables and statistics for every undrafted signing.
*All measurables and combine stats via NFL.com.
Tyler Beck, TE, Bowling Green
The Patriots may not have drafted a tight end, but they immediately supplemented the position following the draft with Bowling Green's Tyler Beck, according to Mark Daniels of The Providence Journal.
Beck (6'3", 252 lbs) is a hybrid tight end H-back type, whose value will primarily come in his blocking. Beck ran a 4.82 40-yard dash at his pro day, according to NFL Draft Scout, so any receiving value figures to arrive down the seam and in the red zone, where Beck can use his size to his advantage.
Indeed, Beck had just 25 catches for 348 yards and three touchdowns in his four-year collegiate career. It's conceivable that Beck could have the fullback role that Michael Hoomanawanui played throughout the 2012 season, potentially putting James Develin's roster spot in jeopardy with a good camp.
Beck is not the receiving tight end that many envisioned the Patriots drafting at some point. However, with just 10 drafted tight ends, the undrafted free-agent crop is quite plentiful.
Roy Finch, RB, Oklahoma
The Patriots add to their backfield depth with Oklahoma's Roy Finch, according to draft analyst Shane Hallam. The 5'6" Finch faces long odds because of his size, but his collegiate pedigree gives some hope that he could overcome those limitations.
Finch's best season came in his 2011 sophomore campaign, when he took over the starting job midway through the year and compiled 605 yards on 111 carries, good for 5.5 yards per carry. Finch also added 34 receptions for 296 yards, illustrating good hands and tremendous elusiveness.
Finch subsequently fell out of favor his junior year, receiving just nine touches in 13 games and largely being relegated to special teams duty. He rebounded a bit his senior year, compiling a 5.9-yards-per-carry average on 59 rushes and catching 12 passes.
Though Finch was not invited to the combine, he impressed at the Oklahoma pro day, running a 4.44 40-yard dash, per Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman. Finch was an explosive dynamo in the open field throughout his college career, and though he may not hold up when facing the violent explosiveness of NFL defenders, his open-field ability at least warrants a look this spring.
James Morris, ILB, Iowa
Going into the draft, linebacker looked like an area where the Patriots needed extra depth. Despite a solid starting trio of Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins, the Pats had little besides core special teamers in the event of an injury.
While New England came away with none in the draft, Iowa's James Morris (reported by The Gazette's Scott Dochterman) is an intriguing fit who could be a 53-man roster possibility. A tough and durable run-stuffer, Morris compiled 399 total tackles over four seasons as a Hawkeye. Morris is also a high-character team leader in the same mold of the prospects the Patriots drafted.
Unfortunately, Morris' value is almost entirely limited to early downs, as his stiff hips make him a poor matchup with the various uber-athletic tight ends around the league. More critically, Morris also did not play on special teams at Iowa, which greatly hampers his potential value to the Patriots.
If Morris can learn a special teams role (perhaps blocking for kicks and punts), his leadership and downhill run instincts could lead to a 53-man roster spot. However, if his value lies exclusively on the defensive side of the ball, he will have a much tougher time cracking the regular-season roster, though the practice squad could be a possibility.
Travis Hawkins, CB, Delaware
Delaware cornerback Travis Hawkins adds more young depth to one of the deeper units on the Patriots roster. Hawkins, whose signing was reported by NEPatriotsDraft.com's Mike Loyko, initially enrolled to play at Maryland. Following the firing of Terrapins coach Ralph Friedgen, Hawkins subsequently transferred to Delaware, where he received more playing time and made a significant impact.
Hawkins ended up starting 19 of 21 games played during his Blue Hens career, compiling 102 tackles, 12 pass breakups and four interceptions. National Football Post's Aaron Wilson interviewed Hawkins before the draft, and the Delaware product promoted his special teams ability as a ticket onto a roster:
From a skill standpoint, I'm all about special teams. That's something teams have focused on with me because I'm a guy who flies under the radar right now. If it's special teams my first year, that's something I'm coll with. I just want to get in and compete and hopefully earn a job. I feel like I'm a great return specialist. I can focus on that and cover kicks and be a gunner, too.
Hawkins does have kick returning experience, having accrued a 25.1-yard-per-return average and a touchdown on 30 returns. With LeGarrette Blount signing with the Steelers this offseason, there will be an open competition this camp for the kick returner role.
Hawkins likely has no chance of seeing the field on defense, considering how deep the Patriots are at cornerback. However, if he becomes a "Core Four" special teamer, Hawkins could earn a long look from the coaching staff.
Justin Jones, TE, East Carolina
Perhaps no undrafted free agent will generate more intrigue than tight end Justin Jones. A towering 6'8" and 274-pound presence, Jones' signing was first reported by ESPN Boston's Field Yates.
Jones played three years at East Carolina before being declared academically ineligible for the 2013 season, per NFL.com's Mike Huguenin. In three seasons, Jones compiled 52 receptions for 598 yards and 12 touchdowns.
That's a high touchdown-to-catch ratio, and illustrates how the massive Jones could make a living as a red-zone target. Moreover, as NESN's Doug Kyed observed, Jones' 38-inch vertical creates a massive catch radius that compensates for below-average quickness.
With Rob Gronkowski unlikely to participate in spring practices or training camp due to ACL recovery, Jones figures to receive his fair share of reps to showcase his talents. The Pats have a proven blocking "Y" tight end in Michael Hoomananwanui, and may use the preseason to see if any third tight end is worth a roster spot.
Given Gronkowski's spotty injury history, the Patriots would be wise to provide an insurance plan behind their top red-zone target. Jones is certainly capable of turning into a scoring machine, and he's an name to watch during the preseason.
Deylan Buntyn, DT, N.C. State
The Patriots addressed the defensive tackle position in the first round with Dominique Easley, adding a uber-talented 3-technique to the roster. However, the Pats did not draft a two-gapping nose tackle to succeed Vince Wilfork as many thought, leaving them dependent on Wilfork's recovery from his Achilles' injury to shore up 2013's 30th-ranked run defense.
One depth possibility could be NC State's Deylan Buntyn (6'3", 323 lbs). Buntyn himself reported his signing on Twitter. With Sealver Siliga as the only true two-gapping run-stuffer behind Wilfork, Buntyn at least faces little competition on the roster.
Buntyn initially spent two years at the JUCO level, playing at New Mexico Military Institute before transferring to NC State ahead of the 2012 season. Buntyn only played two games that year, but he was on the roster for all 13 games in 2013, though he recorded just four total tackles.
Thus, the expectations for Buntyn are low. He could simply be a camp body, especially since Wilfork and Tommy Kelly will likely receive plenty of rest coming off major injuries. Buntyn faces an uphill climb to earn a roster spot, and the largely anonymous prospect would do well to survive the initial cutdown.
Asa Watson, TE, N.C. State
The Patriots may not have addressed tight end in the draft, but they've now added three in its immediate wake with the signing of NC State's Asa Watson. NEPatriotsDraft.com's Oliver Thomas reported Watson's signing.
The younger brother of ex-Patriot Ben Watson, Asa (6'3", 239 lbs) is a bit undersized compared to today's behemoth tight ends. However, Watson did have a solid pro day workout, showcasing his speed with 4.69 40-yard dash, per NFL Draft Scout. Moreover, Watson's 7.00-second time in the three-cone drill would have been the best among tight ends at the combine if he had been invited.
However, Watson is also an extremely raw prospect, with just 27 career catches over four collegiate seasons. Moreover, according to the Associated Press (via Fox News), Watson has a heart condition which requires regular medication. Watson says it is more of an nuisance than a long-term hindrance, though it's a scary condition nonetheless.
If Watson shows enough potential during camp as a move tight end or H-back, he could warrant a practice squad spot. However, he is far too raw to beat out D.J. Williams or even fellow undrafted rookie Justin Jones for a roster spot.
Tyler Ott, LS, Harvard
The Patriots dipped into the Ivy League pool to add competition to the long-snapping position. Harvard's Tyler Ott, whose signing was first reported by ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss, joins incumbent starter Danny Aiken and Charley Hughlett in the long-snapping competition.
Ott was the Crimson's primary long snapper for three seasons, and actually has offensive experience. He caught 15 receptions for 188 yards and four touchdowns as a tight end in 2013, though his easiest avenue to the roster is likely through special teams.
Range and blocking strength are important qualities to look for in a long snapper, and Ott is simply marginal in that area. He will not cover too much space, and though his accuracy is top-notch, Ott is unlikely to contribute on too many tackles downfield.
Aiken's one-year contract is worth next to nothing on the Patriots' salary cap. The 25-year-old will count for just $725,000 against the cap, and will only inflict $55,00 in dead money if cut, per Spotrac.com. If Ott distinguishes himself in spring practices, he could very well represent a cheaper alternative.
Cameron Gordon, LB, Michigan
After drafting Tiny Gallon in the seventh round, the Patriots added another ex-Michigan Wolverine to the end of their roster, signing linebacker Cameron Gordon. NEPatriotsDraft.com's Mike Loyko first reported Gordon's signing.
Gordon is a relatively raw linebacker, as he initially arrived at Ann Arbor as a tight end before switching to safety for his freshman season. Gordon (6'3", 237 lbs) then became an outside linebacker before 2011 spring practices when it became clear he was too big to play in the secondary.
Gordon struggled with the transition initially, receiving scarce playing time. However, as a fifth-year senior, Gordon led the Wolverines with five sacks and and recorded 40 tackles, including 8.5 for a loss. When All-American Jake Ryan went down with a torn ACL, Gordon was the player who stepped into the starting lineup.
At his pro day, Gordon recorded an excellent 6.74-second time in the three-cone drill. For reference, that would have ranked second among linebackers who tested at the combine, per NFL.com. The Patriots are always looking for fluid movement linebackers to play in sub packages, and Gordon could certainly earn his way onto the roster if he excels on passing downs this preseason.
Jeremy Deering, S, Rutgers
No Patriots draft class would be complete without a Rutgers product. Sure enough, the Pats inked their first Scarlet Knight in safety Jeremy Deering, per NJ.com's Dan Duggan.
Duggan compared the speedy Deering to current Pats' special teams standout Matthew Slater. Deering played three years as a receiver in college before switching to defensive back his senior year, where he recorded no stats in five games.
However, Deering did make an impact in the kick return game, as he returned 41 kickoffs in his career for a 26.8 yard average and one touchdown. For the sake of reference, that mark would have ranked 11th out of 41 NFL players with at least 10 kickoff returns in 2013, per Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Deering's signing adds more kickoff return candidates to the mix, as the Pats will need to replace primary 2013 returner LeGarrette Blount. In Deering, James White, Jeremy Gallon and Jemea Thomas, the Patriots have now added four rookies with kick return experience to compete with favorite Josh Boyce for the job.
As a jack-of-all-trades in college, Deering is unlikely to make a significant impact on either side of the ball in the pros. His avenue onto the roster will arrive in the third phase, where his excellent speed could make him an ideal gunner as well as a returner.
Deontae Skinner, LB, Mississippi State
After inking Cameron Gordon and James Morris, the Patriots continued to supplement their linebacking corps with Mississippi State's Deontae Skinner. Michael Bonner of The Clarion-Ledger first reported Skinner's signing.
Skinner was one of the leaders on the Bulldogs defense, playing in 37 out of 38 possible games during his final three seasons in Starkville. Skinner compiled 202 total tackles, including 18.5 for a loss, during his collegiate career, making his mark as a downhill run-stuffer.
Skinner is not much of a pass-rusher, as confirmed by his grand total of one sack in four years. Moreover, at 6'2" and 250 lbs, he is a rather large linebacker by today's standards, which could potentially limit him to early-down duty in the pros.
If Skinner does not make any contributions on special teams, he might essentially be an inferior version of what the Patriots already signed in Morris. Thus, Skinner will need to stick out in the third phase to hang around the Pats roster.
Stephen Houston, RB, Indiana
With their top three running backs set for free agency next offseason, the Patriots could use more depth in case they lose one or more of Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen or Brandon Bolden. Indiana's Stephen Houston, whose signing was first reported by NEPatriotsDraft.com's Mike Loyko, could be an intriguing developmental prospect.
Loyko noted the mutual interest between Houston and the Pats in the pre-draft process, and it's not hard to understand why. Houston has outstanding measurables, with a 40-inch vertical jump and 11-foot broad jump, per NFL Draft Scout. Houston's explosiveness translates into quick upfield cuts, which make him a nice fit for New England's one-cut zone-blocking scheme.
Those natural tools translated into some impressive numbers at Bloomington. In 489 career touches, Houston averaged 6.1 yards per touch, including 29 touchdowns. His production waned a bit his senior season, but his big-play ability in both the rushing and receiving game are clearly evident.
Houston does not run with much strength, and flaws in pass protection make him a less ideal third-down back than his skill set would suggest. The Pats already have a crowded backfield after drafting James White, but if Houston demonstrates enough potential in the preseason, he could stick around on the practice squad.
Ja-Mes Logan, WR, Ole Miss
The Patriots added their first wide receiver of the undrafted crop, signing Ole Miss' Ja-Mes Logan. Logan himself reported his signing on Twitter.
Based on his 6'3", 183-pound frame, Logan looks like he would project to the perimeter. He appears a bit skinny to combat some of the more physical press-man corners in this league, however, which might force him to make the transition inside.
Logan was fairly productive his final two seasons in Oxford, and he compiled a total of 136 catches, 1,734 yards and six touchdowns over four seasons. Unlike many of the skill position prospects, Logan does not have much special teams experience, so it appears the Patriots are bringing him in for offensive depth.
The Patriots' receiver chart is fairly well-stocked after last season's infusion of youth. New England figures to give its second-year trio of Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins plenty of developmental time with Tom Brady, which could squeeze fringe players like Logan out of reps.
Nevertheless, Logan, who played in the East-West Shrine Game, showed he could play against quality competition in the SEC. He'll most likely be competing for a practice squad slot this summer.
Seali'i Epenesa, DT, UCLA
The Patriots continued to fortify the middle of their defensive line with camp bodies, adding UCLA defensive tackle Seali'i Epenesa. Bruins head coach Jim Mora, Jr. first reported Epenesa's pact with the Pats.
At 6'1", 310 lbs., Epenesa has sufficient size to play the 1-technique position behind Sealver Siliga in minicamp. In four seasons, Epenesa compiled 45 total tackles with one sack, illustrating his role as a run-stuffing anchor.
Epenesa ascended to the Bruins' starting lineup his final two seasons, and also has some experience on special teams. Though his pro day testing numbers weren't particularly impressive, per NFL Draft Scout, he should at least compete for a few reps this spring in an area where the Pats are particularly thin as they wait for Vince Wilfork to recover from his Achilles' injury.
Shamiel Gary, S, Oklahoma State
The Patriots filled out their 90-man roster with some secondary depth, inking Oklahoma State's Shamiel Gary. NEPatriotsDraft.com's Mike Loyko reported the signing.
Gary initially enrolled at Wyoming before transferring to Stillwater following his sophomore season. As a Cowboy, Gary compiled 119 total tackles, 15 pass deflections and two interceptions. Though listed as a strong safety, Gary's 4.50 40-yard dash time suggests a ranginess that could allow him to play the deep half at the next level.
The Pats do not have very much safety depth, especially with undrafted safety Jeremy Deering primarily being a kick returner. Gary could take a few defensive reps, and with an impressive preseason, he stands a realistic chance at at least the practice squad.
Jordan Love, CB, Towson
Kyle Harbridge, RB, Saint Francis (Penn.)
Tevin Hood, DT, Arizona
Calvin Tonga, NT, Colorado State
Taylor McCuller, ILB, West Texas A&M
Malcolm Butler, CB, West Alabama
According to NEPatriotsDraft.com, the above players have been invited to the Patriots rookie minicamp for tryouts. Because none of them signed a contract, they will not count against New England's preseason 90-man roster limit. All are longshots to make the training camp roster, as teams around the league will bring in depth to provide rest for injured and/or recovering veterans.