In the days leading up to the NFL draft, ESPNBoston.com will identify players who project as solid fits for the Patriots:
Player: Chris Rainey
Position: Kickoff returner/running back
Listed height/weight: 5-foot-8, 183 pounds
Scouts Inc. rank: N/A as returner; 13th as running back
Draft projection: Middle rounds
Why he’s on our list: The Patriots ranked 29th in the NFL in kickoff return average last season, which meant they lost plenty of "hidden yardage" over the course of the season. Receiver Brandon Tate, the 2009 third-round pick who looked like a long-term answer as a returner, tailed off considerably and didn’t make the club in 2011 to create this void. Assuming the Patriots are comfortable with some off-field questions regarding Rainey, he could add a different dynamic at running back behind Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley and a potential fullback. Some have compared his potential impact as a Darren Sproles-type player.
Recommended link: Rainey’s contributions to Florida’s offense and how he was utilized by offensive coordinator Charlie Weis – as well as kudos from coach Will Muschamp – highlight a Gainesville Sun piece by Michael DiRocco (link here).
Key stat: Has six career blocked kicks.
Workout stat: Sub-4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash, while tying for the best 10-yard dash at 1.47, which showed his ability to accelerate quickly.
Steve Muench of Scouts Inc.: "The 5-foot-8 and 183-pound Rainey has had some problems staying healthy and his frame makes durability that much of a concern. While he runs hard and doesn’t shy away from contact he isn’t going to push the pile in short-yardage or goal line situations. In other words, he’s never going to be a team’s primary ball carrier. The other red flag when it comes to Rainey, and it’s a big one, is ball security. He simply puts the ball on the ground too much and backs that don’t protect the ball don’t usually last long in the NFL. Still he’s an intriguing mid-round prospect who could turn out to be a steal. His initial burst and second gear jump out on tape. While he ran a respectable 4.48 40-yard dash at the Combine, he ran in the high 4.3s at his Pro Day and he ran away from SEC defenders when he got a seam. In addition, he’s more than capable of lining up in the slot where he can separate from man coverage and quickly turn a catch underneath into a big play. Finally, there’s a lot to like about his ability to contribute on special teams. He’s a dangerous punt return man, he has experience returning kickoffs and he’s shown a knack for blocking kicks."