Elmore could fit in New England

In the getting-more-popular-every-year NFL draft, more than 250 prospects will hear their names called from April 28-30. Each player has an interesting tale to tell, some of which hit closer to home in New England.

Count Arizona defensive end Ricky Elmore in that category.

There are the daily phone calls that Elmore's stepfather, Kenny Dion, makes to Elmore's grandmother in Southbridge, Mass. The response is usually the same from 86-year-old Meme. "I keep praying every day that Ricky will be drafted by the Patriots."

There is the tie-in with one of the all-time Patriots greats, Tedy Bruschi, who starred as a defensive end at Arizona in the 1990s. Bruschi is first on Arizona's all-time sacks list with 52. Elmore is second, albeit quite a ways behind, with 25.5.

And then there is Elmore's brother, Cory, who like Bruschi discovered he had an atrial septal defect (a hole in his heart) but hasn't let it slow him down. Cory Elmore is now a top bodybuilder.

At a time when NFL teams are studying prospects, and a growing sports media profiles them as possibilities for the hometown team, Elmore registers on the Patriots' radar for the aforementioned reasons; most of all for his production as a pass-rusher, something that all teams looking to generate more heat have already taken note of.

"Watching Ricky on film, I love his hustle," said Bruschi, who works as an ESPN analyst. "One of the biggest compliments I can give him is that he's self-made. He might not overwhelm you with his testing numbers, but he plays hard and is productive."

Those are usually two "must-haves" for the Patriots in the scouting process. Add in that the Patriots and Arizona have been a winning combination -- first with Bruschi as a third-round pick in 1996 and last year with second-round tight end Rob Gronkowski (10 touchdowns as a rookie) -- and perhaps the team looks Elmore's way once the early rounds of the draft have passed.

That is, if the Pats haven't already tapped Arizona with defensive end/outside linebacker Brooks Reed, a highly touted prospect who some analysts believe could sneak into the back end of the first round because of his own explosive pass-rush skills.

The 6-foot-4, 257-pound Elmore went through his Pro Day recently, has had a private workout with the Dolphins, and has a few more scheduled. In Arizona's 4-3 defense, he played end, but he'd project to outside linebacker in the Patriots' 3-4 alignment.

He views himself as a classic "tweener" in that regard.

"I have the height and a frame that could add 10 pounds [to play in the 3-4] or lose 10 pounds while keeping the strength and the speed," he said. "I think that can be attractive to teams that run both defenses."

The Patriots seldom tip their hand when it comes to interest in prospects, but Elmore already knows plenty about the franchise, mainly through Bruschi and his father's Patriots Football Weekly subscription. When Elmore's brother learned of his heart condition, the family reached out to Bruschi.

"My whole family is die-hard Patriots fans, and they got in touch with him and he called us and spoke to us," said Elmore, who appeared in 51 games (34 starts) over his college career from 2007-10. "Being at U of A, you can't help but know what a great football player he was and what he did for the program. His name is big here. I tried to take after what he did."

Elmore also has a connection to Gronkowski, his former Arizona teammate.

"I knew he would do well, he's a beast," Elmore said. "He did the same thing here, tearing it up. I'm glad I got to practice against him. I never played against anybody as good as him."

Maybe Elmore has the chance to do so again in New England.

In the NFL draft, where all possibilities are considered at this time of year, Elmore's story has more Patriots' red, white and blue in it than most.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.