When it comes to the third day of the NFL Draft, when much of the top talent has already been selected, teams are often looking for players with plus traits that might be moldable and translatable to a different level in the pros. That's certainly the case with Patriots sixth-round pick Ameer Speed, who not only lives up to his name in the running department but also possesses the kind of length and every-down experience that gives him a strong chance to carve out a role in the league.
A native of Jacksonville, Florida, Speed was a three-star recruit after leading Sandalwood High to an undefeated regular season and the 2016 district title. He headed to Georgia in 2017 and appeared in 11 games as a true freshman. He'd redshirt the following season after appearing in two games and then go on to appear in 22 total games in 2019 and 2020, waiting until his fifth season to get three starts in 13 games as the Bulldogs captured the National Championship.
Ultimately, Speed never became a full-time, full-season starter for Georgia's defense, instead carving out a primary role on special teams where he played 518 career snaps compared to just 336 career snaps on defense. He capped off his career with Georgia, winning the top special teams player award.
"It was just most outstanding special teams player award, basically just the person that's most locked in and when their name was called, whether it was first quarter, second quarter, blowout, down, tied game, being there, being able to help the team any means necessary," Speed told reporters following his selection by the Patriots. "Special teams is a one-play series, and a part of the game and being able to take that series and try to be your best on that play. I believe I executed. I did well that year, that's why I got the award."
Shortly after Georiga won the 2021 championship, Speed entered the transfer portal for his final year of eligibility and followed former Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker to Michigan State where he finally found that starting role on defense, making 11 starts in 12 games and easily eclipsing his five years of statistics at Georgia in the single season with 62 tackles and five passes defensed.
"His attitude was always about what can I do to get better?," said Michigan State Special Teams Coordinator Ross Els. "He had a great relationship with Mel Tucker, who is regarded as one of the best special teams coaches in the country and he knew he needed to follow him because he knew the guys Coach Tucker was going to hire would be the best for preparing him for those roles. He needed to get better."
"My decision to transfer to Michigan State had a lot to deal with Coach Tucker," said Speed. "Coach Tucker and Coach [Harlon] Barnett, those were the two coaches I was deciding between coming out of high school. So the fact that those two guys were together, it felt like the perfect opportunity for me to come in, be able to help them on special teams and defense, just have a chance to play DB. They gave me an opportunity to do that and be a player. I'm thankful for that and I'm very blessed to be where I am today."
But even with a significant role on defense, Speed remained a core special teams contributor.
"He was never a guy who felt he was above special teams," continued Els. "Never the type to say I'm a cornerback and I don't have time for that. He knew his future was going to involve his roles in the kicking game and he really worked hard at it."
That skill and attitude are likely Speed's avenue for success in the NFL, where those measurables could have unique new implications at the next level.
"He was by far our best jammer on our punt team. Guys who can do that job without the help of a double team are invaluable," said Els. "Ameer was also one of our gunners on the punt team. Those guys are worth their weight in gold in National Football League because the rules are so different. In college you can release everybody on the snap and in the NFL it's just the gunners so they have to be excellent. He's very strong and long with great speed. Not too many guys with his type of measurables. I think that's what attracted him to New England."
After a down year for the Patriots special teams group, the team has made a concerted effort this offseason to remake that part of their team, which included the drafting of kicker Chad Ryland as well as Speed's Michigan State teammate, punter Bryce Baringer.
"Bryce is my guy," said Speed. "He was one of the people when I first came in that took me in and was just being a kind and true friend... He wanted to be the best person he could be, and it showed throughout the season. What you saw in games, he was probably even crazier ones in practice. He's a true team player. He's going to be ready to work and kick some great balls. He's a great guy though, definitely a great guy."
With six years of college football under his belt and a challenging road that led through the SEC and Big 10, things finally came together for Speed after his season with the Spartans caught the Patriots' eye.
"I've always felt like I was an NFL talent player," said Speed. "I knew I could get to the NFL. So to finally have a chance to just go out there and be a player, it was a blessing. Like I said, I'm very thankful for it because it gave me a chance and opportunity. Transferring over gave me the opportunity just to get comfortable. Practicing all the time, it's not always going to make you a better player. Of course, you get better during practice but being able to have real game experience I think is helpful. I believe it helped me. So just having that chance to actually go out there and just play and be a leader and just help my team out, I had fun. It was awesome."
Now, Speed will look to keep the fun rolling in Foxborough.
Patriots Draft Pick Profile
Strengths: Rare size/speed combination... has exceptional make-up speed down the field... has long arms that should help him with press coverage at the line... Team-first attitude, embraces roles on special teams and is a plus performer.
Weaknesses: Just three starts in five seasons at Georgia... Needs better route recognition skills... Zero career interceptions and five of six career passes defensed came in final season at Michigan State.
By the numbers
|2017 - Georgia
|2018 - Georgia
|2019 - Georgia
|2020 - Georgia
|2021 - Georgia
|2022 - Michigan State
|Combine Position Average
|40 Yards: 4.33
|Bench (225): 14
|Vertical Jump: 32 1/2"
|Long Jump: 10'3"
What they're saying …
Chad Reuter/NFL.com: Speed's tape and production don't stand out. However, his rare size and speed, along with his potential to star on special teams, could give him a chance to find an NFL home.
View photos of Patriots sixth round pick, defensive back Ameer Speed in action at Michigan State.