Commentary

Ten possible Patriots from NFL combine

Updated: March 1, 2011, 10:02 AM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Part of the fun of attending the NFL combine is that it gives media members the opportunity to play amateur scout.

While respecting that the scouting process is much more thorough and complex than a 15-minute interview session and watching footage on NFL Network, here are 10 players who caught the eye as possible Patriots based on the way they conducted themselves with media members and/or how they performed in workouts:

Sam Acho -- It started with his interview on Saturday; the Texas defensive end/outside linebacker looked as comfortable as any prospect under the spotlight. Acho then showed up favorably in Monday's on-field workout. Acho (6-foot-1 5/8, 262 pounds) isn't as tall as the Patriots would generally like at the outside linebacker spot, but he's the type of player who could initially contribute on third down (19 sacks over the past two seasons) and he runs well enough to be a factor on special teams. He could be off the board as early as the second round.

Brandon Harris -- The University of Miami cornerback, whose workout comes Tuesday, oozed passion for football, expressed himself well and genuinely seemed to appreciate being in this position. "I was born into this game," he said. "I think my love for the game and passion separates me from a lot of people." Harris, who declared for the draft after his junior season, played outside and in the slot for the Hurricanes. Some analysts believe he is the third-best cornerback in the draft, which means he might not make it out of the first round.

Cameron Heyward -- Simply walking up to Podium B for his interview session, it was hard to miss Heyward's presence. The 6-foot-5, 294-pound defensive lineman looks like he could already be in the NFL. Heyward, who did not work out because he's still coming back from Tommy John surgery on his elbow in January, has played on a three- and four-man line and grew up around the game. His father is late running back Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, and Cameron presented himself as mature beyond his years. If he slides out of the first round, it should be only because of health questions.

Cameron Jordan -- Measuring in at 6-foot-4 and 287 pounds, he posted an unofficial time of 4.71 in the 40-yard dash on Monday. That is remarkable for a defensive lineman with his physical makeup -- reflecting his athleticism -- and might even lead some to consider the possibility of experimenting with him as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense. "Put me anywhere and I can play," said Jordan, who looks like a prospect that a creative defensive coach like Bill Belichick could have a lot of fun with. It would be a surprise if Jordan makes it out of the first round.

[+] EnlargeRyan Kerrigan
AP Photo/Darron CummingsIn addition to being polite and humble, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan is one of the most explosive pass-rushers in the draft.

Ryan Kerrigan -- Coming across as polite and humble, Kerrigan (6-foot-3 7/8, 267 pounds) showed he was willing to accept the challenge of getting out of his rush-first comfort zone as a defensive end by participating in linebacker drills. By most accounts, he performed better than he did at the Senior Bowl in that area. Kerrigan is one of the draft's most explosive pass-rushers, and he looks like the no-frills type who eats up everything about the game, starting with film study. He was a captain at Purdue and is likely to be selected in the first round.

Greg McElroy -- A later-round projection out of Alabama, he did not work out at the combine because of a hand fracture but made a favorable impression in his meeting with the press. It was easy to feel his presence and how teammates would rally around him leading the huddle at quarterback. McElroy is a shade under 6-foot-2, so he doesn't have prototypical height, but his intelligence and attention to detail came through, as did the fact that he's prepared for a jump to the pros after being part of coach Nick Saban's program.

John Moffitt -- More of an early- to mid-round possibility, the Wisconsin blocker has experience at center and guard -- versatility that figures to be attractive to the Patriots and others. He has NFL size (6-foot-4, 319 pounds) and scouts say he plays with power. He acknowledged that he can use his hands better, while embracing being a student of the game. "I enjoy the mental aspect," he said. "I like making the calls [at center] and like identifying defenses."

Mike Pouncey -- One of the most engaging prospects over four days of interviews, he was clearly comfortable in the spotlight and figures to be the first center/guard picked, most likely in the first round. He had reporters laughing when describing his goal of going within the top 17 picks, so he could one-up his brother, Maurkice, who went 18th last year to the Steelers. Mike played in a lot of big games at Florida and looks primed to make a smooth transition to the NFL.

Shane Vereen -- He doesn't have standout size (5-10, 210) or speed, but the running back from Cal was smooth all-around -- both on the field and off. Having played in a pro-style offense, he touted how he's well-versed in pass protection, which is especially valued by the Patriots. He enters the draft after his junior season, but does so with his degree, which reflects well on him. He is a mid-round projection.

J.J. Watt -- A surefire first-round draft choice, he is unlikely to make it to the Patriots at No. 17, but looks like a natural fit for them -- on the field as a defensive end and off the field as a hardworking, no-frills prospect. This draft is loaded with highly rated defensive linemen and Watt is one of them who fits a 3-4 defense particularly well.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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