Last Tuesday, CBSSports.com’s Bruce Feldman published his annual Freak List, which highlights the “10 craziest athletes in all of college football.” Feldman describes the list as “A top 10 that spotlights the top workout warriors or players who amaze their teammates and coaches with what they can do in the weight room, on the track or in some other ‘wow’ aspect of athleticism.”
Notable inclusions to previous editions of the Freak List include Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, each of whom has successfully translated his athleticism into on-field success in the NFL.
Feldman has been compiling the list for nearly a decade, and it’s no surprise that a handful of current Patriots once appeared on the list during their college careers.
Most recently, linebacker Dont’a Hightower (a Patriots 2012 first-round pick), checked in on the "Freak List" in both 2010 and 2011 amongst those who “Just Missed the Cut.” (With so many players to choose from, Feldman supplements his top 10 by pointing out several close calls).
Hightower was joined in 2010 by a pair of current Patriots teammates, offensive tackle Nate Solder (No. 5) and quarterback Ryan Mallett (just missed the cut).
Solder was a two-year fixture on the list (he was No. 4 in 2009) and Feldman offered this about the towering 24-year old in 2010.
“Solder's measurables, according to CU strength and conditioning, are awe-inspiring. At 6-foot-8, 305 pounds, he has only 6.5 percent body fat. He power-cleans 415 for three reps, hang-cleans 473 for three reps and has been clocked in the 40 in 4.91 seconds. He also has vertical-jumped 32 inches.”
The Patriots 2011 first-round pick was recruited out of high school to be a tight end, but his impressive combination of power and athleticism made the transition to offensive tackle a virtually seamless one.
One of Solder’s offensive line mates, Marcus Cannon, ranked 10th in 2009. To help demonstrate the athleticism of the then 6-foot-5, 350-pound right tackle, Feldman shared a story that was passed along by a TCU teammate of Cannon’s, defensive end Jerry Hughes, who recalls an instance when the mammoth offensive lineman executed a double front flip off of the diving board at a swimming pool.
And Bobby Carpenter, a free-agent acquisition this offseason who has long been regarded an as athletic NFL linebacker, was featured on one of Feldman’s original lists all the way back in 2005. Feldman said then that Carpenter’s workout numbers had NFL scouts “drooling.”
As the NFL continues to evolve into a league dominated by passing offenses, it would figure that teams will continue to emphasize players who can play in space, as Mike Reiss has previously articulated. During the pre-draft process, Hightower, fellow first-round pick Chandler Jones, and third-rounder Jake Bequette all showcased the type of movement skills that could make them effective players in space.
Add it all up, and the Patriots seem to be one of the teams intent on upgrading their athleticism on defense to keep up with the increasingly potent passing games around the NFL. Along the way, they've picked up a few "freaks" on offense as well.