While the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady were putting the finishing touches on his new contract, the NFL combine was continuing along, and the defensive backs took center stage on Tuesday for the final day of festivities.
This is a group that the Patriots likely have a close eye on, as cornerback is an area of need this offseason, and depth at safety could be considered as well.
A number of players ran impressive 40 times, led by Mississippi State's Darius Slay, whose 4.36 time turned some heads. Alabama's Dee Milliner ran a 4.37, just behind Slay, and is firmly entrenched as the top cornerback in the draft. He'll undergo surgery for a torn labrum soon, but it's not expected to dramatically reduce his draft value.
Xavier Rhodes, the big, physical cornerback out of Florida State, checked in at 4.43, and Washington's Desmond Trufant ran a 4.38. That could help the two land in the first-round discussion. LSU cornerback Tyran Mathieu, a Heisman finalist in 2011, ran a 4.50. Johnthan Banks of Mississippi State ran what many are considering a disappointing 4.61.
At safety, top-rated Kenny Vaccaro of Texas ran just a 4.63 40, but his game film doesn't suggest a player who has a major speed deficiency. Fellow top safety prospect Matt Elam out of Florida ran a 4.54, a sufficient time for the position.
It's naive to look simply at 40 times for players to determine their ability to play in the NFL, as the 40 is just one piece of the puzzle. The defensive backs also took part in other drills today, including the three-cone drill, the 20-yard shuttle and on-field ball skill drills. The 40 is the test that draws the most attention, and the cornerback class is considered to have run well overall.
With the combine in the books, the Patriots will take all the information they gathered over the nearly week long event and continue their preparation towards the April 25 draft. They spent hours meeting with players on an individual basis, now have extensive medical records on the prospects, and had a chance to watch them perform a litany of physical tests.
Almost two months, and plenty more prospect evaluation, remain before the draft.