10 Prospects on the Patriots' radar who improved their draft stock at the combine

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

The Patriots, like every other team, had their eyes on numerous prospects last week at the NFL Combine. And some of them performed well enough to balloon their price tags.

If Bill Belichick and the Patriots end up selecting any of the below players at the 2020 NFL Draft, it's likely they'll have more competition than they did pre-combine. While all of these drills and measurements never paint a complete picture, teams inevitably eye high performers in certain drills with traits that interest them. Or I don't know maybe they just like playing with the numbers and the rest doesn't matter.

In the case of the Patriots, the three-cone drill remains a popular indicator of who they end up drafting. Chase Winovich was one of the best at his position at the drill in 2019. Three of Belichick's first six picks a year ago - N'Keal Harry, Yodny Cajuste, and Hjalte Froholdt - excelled in the bench press.

Standout combine performances in at least an area or two often improve prospects' stock, whether in the eyes of New England or across the league. Some from the 2020 class are likely to be drafted too high to be in the Patriots' range, but you can rule nothing out with Belichick. Here's who met with the Patriots before changing their draft fortunes for the better.

QB Justin Herbert, Oregon

Notable position ranks:

-- 1st in three-cone drill (7.06 seconds)
-- T-2nd in vertical jump (35.5 inches)
-- 3rd in 40-yard dash (4.68 seconds)
-- 3rd in broad jump (123.0 inches)

Would the Patriots actually move up to the top half of the first round to snag Herbert? It's likely what needs to happen. Quarterbacks inevitably slide up the board every year, particularly after the combine. Herbert was already one of the better QB prospects in the 2020 class, but solidified himself as a potential top choice for teams like the Dolphins, Chargers, Jaguars, Colts, Bucs, or Broncos. But if Josh McDaniels was excited enough about his meeting with Herbert...

NFL on Twitter

Size ☑️ Athleticism ☑️ Arm talent ☑️ @OregonFootball's Justin Herbert checked every box in Indy. ????: 2020 #NFLCombine continues 4PM ET on @nflnetwork https://t.co/flBvrdYH08

QB Jordan Love, Utah

Notable position ranks:

-- T-2nd in vertical jump (35.5)
-- 5th in broad jump (118.0 inches)

Love impressed more with the way he threw the ball than his raw numbers. And he does have an impressive arm - which obviously drew immediate comparisons to Patrick Mahomes. I mean why the hell would you go anywhere else with your evaluation. Either he's the next Mahomes or he sucks!!! Well, if the Patriots feel Mahomes-y after meeting with Love at the combine and evaluating him in drills, it's going to take a major move up the board to get him because other teams have that vibe.

Chris Rosvoglou on Twitter

Jordan Love's ceiling might be higher than any QB in this draft. Imagine him sitting a year behind Brees ???? https://t.co/SAjIw6yD69

WR Denzel Mims, Baylor

Notable position ranks:

-- 1st in three-cone drill (6.66)
-- 3rd in 40-yard dash (4.38)
-- 4th in broad jump (131.0 inches)

Mims may have improved his stock enough to sneak into the first round, even in a deep class of talented receivers such as this one. He's got size (6-foot-3, 207 pounds), and has now demonstrated the speed to go with it with his third-ranked 40 time. Perhaps more notably, he showed top-end agility with the best three-cone time out of everyone. We'll see if Mims can develop and polish himself as a route-runner at the NFL level, but his obvious athleticism should send him shooting up teams' boards.

PFF Draft on Twitter

Baylor WR Denzel Mims with a 4.39!???? Second time is a charm. https://t.co/6AnZHje16O

WR James Proche, SMU

Notable position ranks:

-- 4th in bench press (20)

Proche finished outside the top-10 in each other drill he participated in (40-yard dash, vertical jump, 20-yard shuttle). But he was a top performer in the bench press, which ostensibly helped Harry get himself drafted to New England a year ago. The Patriots have reportedly gushed over Proche already and met him at the combine. Perhaps his impressive strength for a 5-foot-11 receiver gives Proche a physical edge over other prospects the Pats might have their eyes on.

IG: @SleeperAthletes on Twitter

My #1 Sleeper WR for the 2020 #NFLDraft #SMU #Mustangs WR James Proche II (@jamesproche3) put up 20 reps at 225lbs #WakeUp #DontSleep https://t.co/eGNi65YbXL

RB Joshua Kelley, UCLA

Notable position ranks:

-- 1st in three-cone drill (6.95)
-- 7th in 40-yard dash (4.49)
-- 7th in bench press (23)

Kelley entered the combine as another prospect on the borderline of a day 3 pick and undrafted free-agent signing. He left as another prospect who greatly improved his chances of having his name called at some point. His short-area quickness demonstrated in the three-cone should have been a pleasant surprise. Finishing top-10 at his position in the 40 is a plus for a player who wasn't a lock to be drafted higher than rounds 5-7. Kelly is the only RB known to have met with the Patriots specifically at the combine.

Matt Joye on Twitter

@UCLAFootball running back prospect Joshua Kelley runs an unofficial 4.50 on his first 40-yard dash at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine. https://t.co/A2mZPOzJd6

TE Adam Trautman, Dayton

Notable position ranks:

-- 1st in three-cone drill (6.78)
-- 3rd in 20-yard shuttle (4.27)
-- 6th in vertical jump (34.5)

Trautman may not have vaulted himself into the first round or at the top of the draft rankings at tight end. But he's most certainly going to become the first Dayton player to be drafted since 1977 and shouldn't last beyond the third round at this point. He met with the Patriots and did extremely well in drills that they like, such as the three-cone and 20-yard shuttle. He will be able to contribute early on as a pass-catcher and has the physical tools and the willingness to get better as a blocker. So if the Patriots want to aggressively target a tight end in this year's draft, Trautman could be their guy.

The D Zone on Twitter

Elk Rapids TE grad Adam Trautman with a 4.79 40-yard dash at the #NFLCombine #ElkRapids #Dayton https://t.co/NSLWF6uDEl

C Jake Hanson, Oregon

Notable position ranks:

-- 4th in bench press (33)

Center is rapidly becoming a position of need for the long term, with 2019 starter Ted Karras sounding like a possible departure in free agency. David Andrews' 2020 outlook hasn't risen beyond "optimism" that he'll be back to business as usual at the starting center spot, and his long-term outlook is much less certain. So it makes sense that the Patriots have met with at least three prospects who have played center - Hanson, Michigan's Cesar Ruiz, and LSU's Lloyd Cushenberry. Hanson excelled in the bench press, a drill where the Patriots targeted two O-linemen last year. He likely wouldn't cost an early pick, but Hanson may have done enough to ensure he goes on day 2 or 3.

Oregon Football on Twitter

You knew he was ready when you heard the intro. ALL BUSINESS. The 3️⃣3️⃣ reps by @J_Hanson55 is the second most by an Oregon offensive lineman at the #NFLCombine. https://t.co/AzShgtIZSY

DE Derrek Tuszka, North Dakota State

Notable position ranks:

-- 1st in three-cone drill (6.87)
-- 4th in 20-yard shuttle (4.34)
-- 5th in vertical jump (33.5)
-- 7th in broad jump (120.0)
-- 8th in 40-yard dash (4.79)

It's important for Patriots fans to pay attention to defensive linemen in the three-cone. The Patriots have invested top draft picks in the past with Chandler Jones, Trey Flowers, and Derek Rivers. Mixed results there, obviously. But Tuszka is already on the Patriots' watch list and the list likely grew immensely after a surprisingly good combine. Tuszka appears to have risen from borderline draft-able to a day 2-3 pick, so if Belichick really wants him he'll have more company than he did before.

NDSU Football on Twitter

No. 5 all-time in sacks at NDSU, Derrek Tuszka can get to the quarterback. #NFLCombine https://t.co/QS76YVUURs

LB Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma

Notable position ranks:

-- 3rd in broad jump (129.0)
-- T-5th in bench press (21)
-- 6th in 40-yard dash (4.52)
-- 6th in vertical jump (38.0)

Welp, we'll see how much Murray's draft stock really improved because he pulled up with a hamstring injury during his second 40-yard dash attempt. But the sense from Murray's meetings with teams at the combine is that he's left a strong impression with his confidence and leadership qualities alone. Those are good things to pair with his athletic abilities as a rangy, playmaking middle linebacker. If the Patriots want him, it'll probably have to be at 23 or maybe even higher.

RJ Young on Twitter

Kenneth Murray ran 4.52u in the 40 at 241 pounds. That's solid as hell. https://t.co/oRzIccd4iY

S Jalen Elliott, Notre Dame

Notable position ranks:

-- 4th in three-cone drill (6.87)

The Patriots have already shown preliminary interest in Elliott, who overall actually did not have a great combine. But his strong three-cone should pique their interest. His size alone (6 feet, 205 pounds) and experience at a top football program in Notre Dame should at least get him on a 90-man roster at some point in the spring. But despite the up-and-down combine, pair it with an impressive Senior Bowl and Elliott is a prospect who should remain in view of Belichick and the Patriots in their evaluations.

PFF Draft on Twitter

Some NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl said Notre Dame's Jalen Elliott was the biggest riser of any prospect in Mobile. https://t.co/no5JLmqzH9

The Future of Foxboro

The prospects on the Patriots' radar are coming into focus after a busy week in Indianapolis. Get to know the above players and everyone else they've met with before the draft, because there's a possibility that one or more of them actually end up here.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].