The Patriots were one of many teams on hand for Florida's Pro Day last week and were obviously impressed with what they saw. Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli scheduled a private workout a day later with a number of Florida draft hopefuls, including Nelson to take a closer look.
After disappointing results at the combine, Nelson lit it up during his Pro Day workout, running almost two-tenths faster in his 40, clocking in the low 4.3-second range. He also looked spectacular in drills and will now battle to be the second safety chosen in April after LaRon Landry. Scout.com currently ranks Nelson as the No. 2 safety and the No. 19 overall player for the 2007 NFL Draft.
Nelson would be an immediate upgrade to the Patriots secondary. After both starting safeties were sidelined by injury in 2006, the Patriots used former fourth round pick (2005) James Sanders and the well-traveled journeyman, veteran Artrell Hawkins.
At 5-foot-11.5, 198-pounds, Nelson possesses decent size, excellent speed and terrific cover skills. His competition in the SEC prepared Nelson for the rigors of life in the NFL. The former Florida Gator would be an upgrade over Hawkins, and could free up the oft-injured Eugene Wilson to compete for a spot with the cornerbacks.
The Patriots have trouble slowing down teams that run the multiple receiver sets, which attack the deep secondary - teams like the Colts. Even with pressure up the middle, the secondary has given up the big play at inopportune times. Many of those breakdowns were by design from the opponent's schemes, but an unnerving amount came from the Patriots defenders not making plays.
The Patriots have not completely ignored their needs in the secondary via the Draft, but they haven't done enough recently to upgrade the position. In 2006 the Patriots waited until the seventh round to select defensive back Willie Andrews, and he was chosen for his kick return ability as much as his experience as a defender. In 2005 the team selected Ellis Hobbs in the third round, and James Sanders in the fifth round. Hobbs has battled for a starting role at corner, while Sanders had been invisible until last season when injuries forced the Patriots to put him in the starting lineup.
Aside from New England, the Dallas Cowboys and the Jacksonville Jaguars have also displayed considerable interest in Nelson. The Patriots have two first round picks in the 2007 Draft, and do not have a second round choice. They will need to use one of those first round selections if they want Nelson, as he'll be off the board by the time their turn comes in the third round.
Nelson finished his junior season with the Gators by recording 51 total tackles, including two for loss, six interceptions and two blocked kicks.
Florida DB Reggie Nelson