With the NFL Draft closing in, ESPNBoston.com is narrowing its list of prospects that it projects as the best fits for the Patriots at areas that seem likely the club could target:
Player: Jeff Baca
Listed height/weight:6-foot-3, 302 pounds
Scouts Inc. rank: 9th (scouting report here)
Draft projection: Second to fourth round
Why he’s on our list: The Patriots’ depth at center/guard has been thinned and with starting guards Logan Mankins (31) and Dan Connolly (30) the two oldest players on the line – and starting center Ryan Wendell entering the last year of his contract – adding youth and a layer of insurance would be smart.
Recommended link: Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Times writes on how Baca attended UCLA because it was his late father’s favorite school.
Key stat: Baca has played tackle, guard and center, which is the type of position flexibility the Patriots generally like (UCLA bio here).
Workout stat: He had the top 3-cone time among offensive linemen at the combine (7.26).
Steve Muench of Scouts Inc.: “Baca is on the lighter side for a guard prospect and he isn’t an overwhelming run blocker. In terms of pass protection, he’s an average athlete who struggles to sink his hips and gets caught leaning into defenders because of it. On the other hand, he had a strong week at the East West game and the more I watch the more I like him because he almost always finds a way to prevent his assignment from making the play despite his limitations. His smarts and aggressiveness play a big role in his ability to do so. In terms of the big picture, there are concerns about his durability thanks in large part to a 2012 head injury and 2011 broken ankle. However, his ability to play any position along the offensive line is impressive. He has starting experience at tackle and guard plus he showed that he can snap at the combine. While he clearly fits best on the inside and he is on the shorter side for a tackle prospect his experience on the edge and 34.2-inch arms make me think he can fill in at right tackle in a pinch. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a four-year starter either.”