In anticipation of the start of free agency on March 12, CBSSports.com Senior NFL columnist Pete Prisco puts together his top 10 list of under-the-radar free agents. Along the same lines, Adam Schein does the same on NFL.com.
No Patriots showed up on either list, but it got us thinking: Among the Patriots’ 18 free agents, who might qualify to be part of the mix? Here are four who stand out, connecting them with a former player with New England ties somewhat aligned with the player’s situation:
DE Trevor Scott (6th season)
Why he fits: He opened 2012 training camp as the first-unit left defensive end, which reflected how the coaching staff viewed him upon signing him as an unrestricted free agent from Oakland. But the quicker-than-anticipated emergence of first-round draft choice Chandler Jones bumped Scott down the depth chart and he ended up playing just 22 percent of the defensive snaps. When Scott was called upon, such as the Dec. 2 game in Miami, he showed quickness off the edge as a rusher. In a league where finding pass-rushers seems like a never-ending pursuit, Scott (3 sacks in 2012) could be an undervalued asset on the market as a nickel rusher.
Past comparison: Mark Anderson/Tully Banta-Cain
G Donald Thomas (6th season)
Why he fits: Thomas was the team's top backup guard in 2012, but he ended up playing 48.9 percent of the offensive snaps because of injuries to left guard Logan Mankins and right guard Dan Connolly. There wasn’t a big drop-off, if any at all, when Thomas was in the lineup. Thomas has shown he’s capable of being a starter, but that opportunity might not be available in New England. So it opens up a scenario where another team could target him for a top spot on the depth chart while upping the bidding to an area the Patriots wouldn’t feel comfortable going given his role.
Past comparison: Dan Connolly/Mackenzy Bernadeau (Bentley)
S Patrick Chung (5th season)
Why he fits: The 2009 second-round draft choice (34th overall) almost completely fell off the radar in the second half of the 2012 season, with the coaching staff essentially passing over him in the AFC Championship Game in place of special teamer Marquice Cole. That’s a strong indication that Chung’s days in New England are over. Perhaps Chung reunites with his former coach at Oregon, Chip Kelly, with the Eagles. Given the physical talent that made him a borderline first-round draft choice four years ago, Chung should generate some interest with teams projecting a fresh start brings out the best in him.
Past comparison: Darius Butler/Brandon Meriweather
RB Danny Woodhead (6th season)
Why he fits: Woodhead was one of the most consistent Patriots skill-position players in 2012, serving as the team’s third-down back while playing 34 percent of the offensive snaps. The Patriots should want him back, but it comes down to the key question with any free agent, “at what cost?” With Shane Vereen and Jeff Demps already on the roster – and with similar but not exactly the same skill set at Woodhead – it could affect how far the Patriots are willing to go to keep Woodhead. It’s somewhat similar to last year in that the Patriots could have found a place on the roster for BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but once the Bengals upped the bidding, they felt it was too rich to match.
Past comparison: Kevin Faulk/BenJarvus Green-Ellis