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: DeAndre Hopkins
Position: Wide receiver
Listed height/weight: 6-foot-1, 214 pounds
Scouts Inc. rank: 6th (scouting report)
Draft projection: Late first round/second round
Why he's on our list: The Patriots project to select a receiver at some point of the draft, and Hopkins was one of the most productive in this year's class. He isn't a burner, but has solid ball skills and big hands to catch the ball consistently. He enters the draft after his junior season. (school bio).
Recommended link: Robert Klemko of USA Today writes about Hopkins overcoming the odds as he's on the cusp of being drafted.
Key stat: Receptions improved in each of the last three seasons -- 52, 71 and 82, respectively.
Workout stat: Timed in the 4.5s in the 40-yard dash.
Steve Muench of Scouts Inc.: "A three-year starter, Hopkins is coming off a breakout junior season that saw him lead the ACC in receiving yards and touchdown catches with 18. In fact, the only FBS player who caught more touchdowns last year was West Virginia's Stedman Bailey. His greatest strength is arguably his 10-inch hands. He consistently extends and snatches the ball out of the air instead of letting it get to his frame and risking it ricocheting off his chest. Even though he has just average height there's a lot to like about his catching radius thanks to his 36-inch vertical jump and above average body control. In terms of his ability to get open underneath, he's not a crisp route runner at this point and his footwork is an issue. He wastes too much motion at the top of his stem and he'll have a tougher time separating from man coverage in the NFL until or unless he improves in that area. The good news is he has the foot speed to get better in that area plus he's already a zone buster that reads coverage well and isn't afraid to work the middle off the field. Finally, there's his big-play ability to consider. Don't be misled by his 17.1-yard per catch average last year. He does not project as an elite vertical threat. He ran in the 4.5s at his Pro Day and the Combine, which supports what you see on tape. While he's fast and athletic enough to challenge downfield in certain matchups, he doesn't have the second gear to consistently take the top off the coverage. In terms of his ability to produce after the catch, he shows good burst and vision but he isn't the most elusive runner and again he doesn't have breakaway speed."