An under the radar undrafted free agency signing by the Patriots, V'Angelo Bentley hails from the University of Illinois. He is a cornerback with a lot of experience in the kick and punt return game. Let's take a closer look at Bentley and how he made his way to New England.
Bentley grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and went to Glenville Academy. He was a three star prospect according to Rivals and had a good amount of college scholarship offers. He received offers from Air Force, Akron, Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, Iowa, Kansas, Kent State, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Toledo, and Illinois. Bentley would eventually choose Illinois and even made an impact in his true freshman season for the Fighting Illini.
As a true freshman, Bentley played in all 12 games for Illinois with 11 total tackles, three pass break-ups, one forced fumble, and a blocked kick. As a sophomore, Bentley appeared in 10 games for the Illini, starting eight games at cornerback while also being the team's primary returner. Bentley led the Big Ten and ranked seventh nationally in punt return average (15.8) while also being the first player in Illinois history to return both a punt and kickoff for a touchdown in the same season. Bentley accumulated 22 tackles, one interception, four tackles for loss, two pass break-ups, and one quarterback hurry. He was also an Academic All Big Ten honoree.
In his junior season, Bentley would be named to the Paul Hornung Award (most versatile player in college football) Preseason Watch List while starting in 12 out of 13 games at cornerback, missing one game due to an injury. He recorded 46 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one interception, two pass break-ups, and two forced fumbles while also having an interception and fumble return for a touchdown. He became the only player in Illinois history with a kick-off, punt, interception, and fumble return touchdowns. He was also honorable mention for All-Big Ten that season as well.
In his senior season, Bentley would again be named to the Paul Hornung Award Preseason Watch list along with being named All-Big Ten honorable mention as a return specialist. Bentley started all 12 games at cornerback and produced 52 tackles, three tackles for a loss, one sack and six pass break-ups to go with a 22 yards per return (YPR) on kickoffs and a 9.2 YPR on punts.
Bentley left Illinois as the career kick return yardage record holder (1,860) and was known for his great work ethic along with his experience at both cornerback and return specialist. Because of Bentley's terrific tackling (only one broken tackle in his senior season) and his return experience, Bentley was ranked by NFL.com's Lance Zierlein as a seventh round prospect/priority free agent. At his size, Bentley is a little small for outside work (5'10, 190 lbs) but could potentially fit well in a slot cornerback role with some work on his mechanics.
In terms of his fit on the Patriots, the team added four cornerbacks during the draft/free agency in Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, Cre'Von LeBlanc, along with Bentley. He projects long-term as an average slot cornerback and potentially above-average kick/punt returner. But with the Patriots having both cornerback and return men secure, Bentley faces an uphill battle for a spot on the 53 man roster. Bentley could get some work in the preseason if he makes it out of training camp with the team, but would most likely be slotted on the practice squad if anywhere for the team in 2016.