Hannable: Final NFL combine thoughts, including why Patriots may look to trade up in first round

Ryan Hannable
March 04, 2019 - 10:54 pm
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The NFL combine officially wrapped up on Monday with the cornerbacks and safeties going through on-field workouts, but much of the action occurred last week.

With the entire league — executives, coaches, general managers, agents, and even players — in Indianapolis for several days, it was a great time to gather some information not only about the 2019 draft class, but other league matters as well.

Here are some of our overall thoughts from the week in Indy, mostly relating to the Patriots.

— One of the more impressive prospects over the course of the week was Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson. The 21-year-old can both block and catch passes extremely well, which make him one of the best tight ends in the class. If not for his teammate Noah Fant, he likely would be the best. Fant is a little smaller and therefore more athletic, so tested a little better than Hockenson. With that being said, in any other year Hockenson would undoubtedly test out the best and likely be the top tight end, as well. 

Hockenson comes across as the perfect Patriot — a talented player who genuinely cares and loves the game of football. Kirk and Brian Ferentz were his coaches at Iowa, and with the connection to Bill Belichick, it’s likely they will give their pitch to the Patriots head coach. Hockenson probably won't be around at No. 32, but like we’ve seen in past years, if the Patriots have a player they really like, they are not afraid to move up to get him. So, if he’s around in the early 20s, don’t be surprised to see the Patriots swing a deal to move up a few spots. After all, they do have 12 selections and certainly won’t use all of them. Oakland’s pick at No. 24 stands out as one to watch, or maybe even Tennessee's at No. 19.

— Quarterback talk will always be there with the Patriots as long as Tom Brady is still around, and from this viewpoint it’s unlikely the team selects one this year. The 2019 QB class isn’t viewed as being super talented and there’s only likely two franchise quarterbacks within it. At pick No. 32, it’s likely two, three, or even more quarterbacks go off the board by then. 

Given the current situation (Brady, Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling), it just doesn’t make sense to select a quarterback unless they are confident that player has the chance to replace Brady — and there doesn’t appear to be that player in this year’s draft. 

— As expected, there was a little more clarity with the coaching staff for next year. Special teams coach Joe Judge was spotted in the Patriots’ box inside Lucas Oil Stadium during the offensive workouts on Saturday, and then Sunday ESPN’s Mike Reiss reported he potentially could be the wide receivers coach next year. It’s worth wondering if he keeps the special teams title, too. Assistant special teams coach Cameron Achord will be in his second season in that role and Nick Caserio has experience coaching wide receivers, so perhaps those two get their roles expanded allowing Judge to do both.

— Keep an eye on Brian Belichick potentially getting promoted. The youngest son of Belichick was spotted heading into Lucas Oil Stadium for defensive workouts over the weekend. While this doesn’t necessarily mean he’s getting a job on staff as a defensive coach, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if he does, even if it is as a coaching assistant. Last year was Brian’s second full season working for the team.

— Trey Flowers is in a very good spot. Unlike some other Patriots players going into free agency in the past, there really isn’t much question of his talent despite his below average numbers for his position. The Patriots are going to need to pay him probably more than they would ideally want if they want to retain his services.

— On a league-wide level, there was a lot of talk of the combine moving out of Indianapolis and to Los Angeles at the Rams’ headquarters where NFL Network is based. This would also likely pave the way for some of the workouts to be held in primetime and not in the morning and afternoon like now. It would be tough to leave Indy because of the perfect setup where everything is so close and within walking distance. And it goes beyond just hotels, restaurants, the convention center and Lucas Oil Stadium — it’s the medical things as well. No one city can have 15 or so MRI machines all so close to each other. This is a big component of the combine that doesn't get much attention.

Indianapolis is also centrally located for everyone. Having it be in LA wouldn’t be great for the majority of the teams on the East Coast. It just feels like moving everything to LA would be more about the league’s network instead of the people who actually matter, like the teams. Why change something that works, and works really well?

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