10 possible Pats: Tony Dye

In the days leading up to the NFL draft, ESPNBoston.com will identify players who project as solid fits for the Patriots:

Player: Tony Dye

School: UCLA

Position: Safety

Listed height/weight: 5-foot-10 3/4, 208 pounds

Scouts Inc. rank: 22nd

Draft projection: Mid-to-late rounds

Why he’s on our list: While much of the media focus is on the first round of the NFL draft, the best teams do well in the middle and late rounds as well. This is where Dye, who has played strong and free safety, could come into play. He was positioned as a rising prospect prior to 2011, but an unfortunate series of events last season has him looking more like a middle to late-round pick at this time. The Patriots have a need at safety, and depending on what happens in the early part of the draft at the position, he could fall into the “versatility” and “value” category for a club that often seeks both. The Patriots fared well by going off the board with UCLA’s Matthew Slater in the fifth round of the 2008, and New England scout Trey Brown played cornerback at UCLA.

Recommended link: The Los Angeles Times details Dye’s decision to return to the field in 2011 instead of taking a redshirt season, which could have improved his stock (link here).

Key stat: Totaled 96 tackles and 1 interception in 12 starts in 2010, when his stock was rising.

Workout stat: Reportedly had a 36.5-inch vertical leap at his Pro Day, and also attended the new NFL Super Regional Combine in Detroit, where non-combine invitees have a chance to showcase themselves (Dye reportedly ran a 4.50 in the 40 there).

Steve Muench of Scouts Inc.: “The 2011 season couldn’t have gone much worse for Dye, who tried to fight through a preseason neck injury that ultimately forced him to miss six games. Then he decided to return to the lineup with two games left in the regular season instead of sitting out and applying for a medical redshirt. There’s a lot to like about the toughness and commitment to team he showed in making that decision, but unfortunately it didn’t work out for the best. He injured his ankle in the first quarter of the regular season finale against Southern Cal and as if that wasn’t enough, he was ruled academically ineligible for the Kraft Hunger Bowl. At a shade under 5-foot-11 and 208 pounds, Dye has the range (ran 4.56 40-yard dash at Pro Day) to play a centerfielder-type role and the athletic ability to match up with most tight ends in man coverage. In terms of run support, he’s an effective open field tackler that takes sound angles to the ball. However, he hasn’t made enough plays in coverage to project him as a playmaker despite his big hands and his aggressiveness in run support makes that neck injury that much more of a concern. If he can stay healthy he could prove to be a steal, but when you factor in everything at this point, he projects as late-round pick.”