Thursday, April 28, 2016

Boycotting The Boycott - Tracking The First Round And It's Impact On Patriots (Live Blog)

The team building process in the NFL starts when the games are done, and it doesn't stop until teams make their final cuts after the last preseason game - and sometimes not even then.

The annual NFL draft is an essential, albeit over-hyped, part of that process, to the point that many general managers base their entire free agency philosophy on filling holes with veterans in order to be creative with their draft picks - and a lucky few do such a good job in free agency that they have leverage in the draft to move up or down the board.

Those lucky few can make life very difficult for their contemporaries, and can throw a big board completely out of whack with one curious selection, such is the intrigue of the NFL draft.

Be this as it may, the NFL Draft is an acquired taste, and not everyone has the fortitude to watch three straight hours of Mel Kiper and Mike Mayock - that said, there are many New England Patriots' fans who have joined a boycott against the first round of the draft, refusing to tune in because NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has stripped the Patriots' first round selection for their alleged involvement in the stupid and wrong "DeflateGate" saga...

...which is neither here nor there, because the team building process will go ahead on schedule with or without them.  I feel their pain, but to me the draft is so much more than just selecting a name , it is spending draft capital on a player who will suddenly have the weight of a team's fans and expectations on his shoulders.

And no matter if the Patriots are selcting or not, what happens in the first round of the draft could have a very real impact on how the Patriots' proceed with their draft, which won't start until Friday night.

So, for the sake of those who  are boycotting the first round, what follows is a live blog, reporting on each selection and addressing what impact, if any, that player's selection will have on the Patriots in the second round...

1. Los Angeles Rams (from Tennessee Titans)

Jared Goff, QB, California

The Rams need for a long-term quarterback prompted their move up to the top spot in the draft. Their secondary needs are for receivers, safeties and/or corners, which they will have to wait until the fourth round to select.  This selection will not impact the Patriots at all.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (from Cleveland Browns)

Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State

The Eagles were a mess on offense at just about every position, but they already have a somewhat reliable quarterback.  Next in line for them is the offensive line, which needs a serious upgrade.  Again, not a big impact on the Patriots at all.


3. San Diego Chargers

Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State

The Chargers have a need for heft and quality in the trenches, on both sides of the ball.  That must be their primary concern - and the Chargers treated it as such.  Bosa brings instant pass rush skill to the strong side of San Diego's defensive line. After that, perhaps a quality tight end to mix in with veteran Antonio Gates.  While Bosa's selection doesn't carry an impact for New England, the Chargers' need for offensive linemen could, as they select 35th overall in the second round.

4. Dallas Cowboys

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

Corners and running backs were on the minds of Cowboys' fans, and defensive tackle should be as well.  The selection of Elliott seems a little rushed, because while he is a very good running back, they would have been better served to snag one of the top corners or defensive tackles. They could have found theor bell-cow in the second round, but now that they have him, the impact on New England is significant as they become natural trade partners if Belichick wants to move up in the second round to get his running back. IF. It would behoove the Cowboys to look for a serviceable quarterback to groom as Tony Romo's eventual replacement as well.

5. Jacksonville Jaguars

Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida State

The Jaguars have a lot of the right players in place, and they need to start thinking about loading up on the offensive line if they truely want an great ground game to complement their surging passing game.  To that end they really need help on the interior of the line.  The selection of Ramsey is curious, as now the Jags must look to the middle rounds for their interior linemen.  Again, not a huge impact on New England.

6. Baltimore Ravens

Ronnie Staley, OT, Notre Dame

Baltimore is starving for more playmakers, but are absolutely desperate for both offensive linemen and cornerbacks, so they had to be disappointed that Jacksonville punked them for Ramsey. But in Staley, they get their left tackle of the future.  That said, there's going to be a lot of heat on Newsome for turning his back on the top rated tackle in the draft, Laremy Tunsil, if Staley turns out to be a bust.

7. San Francisco 49ers

DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon

The Niners are a mess everywhere, so they had to be thrilled that Buckner fell to them at number 7. Now they need a quarterback and a line to protect him, though inside linebackers are in desperate need as well.  At this point in the draft, they could take anyone and it would be an upgrade.  No impact on the Patriots noted.

8. Tennessee Titans (from Cleveland through Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins)

Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State

The Titans need bookends on their offensive line, and after swapping picks with the Rams for the first pick in the draft, they move back up into the top 10 to take the nastiest tackle in the draft - again, ignoring Tunsil.  One can not argue this pick at all, however, as it fills a desperate need.  Now the Titans will look for skill position players, most notably receivers and tight ends, which could impact what New England has to choose from in the second round, should they go that direction.

9. Chicago Bears ( from Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia

The Bears traded up into the Top 10 to grab their pass rushing outside linebacker, but they get much more than that with Floyd, as they get what they thought they had in Shea McClellin as an outside linebacker, even though McClellin is clearly more suited to the inside.  Tall and long, Floyd isa sideline to sideline presence. Now they will likely seek a corner and perhaps a left tackle prospect, which could impact the Patriots in round 2.

10. New York Giants

Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State

Linebackers and wide receivers topped the list for New York coming into the draft, so it is curious that the Giants selected Apple.  They needed dual threat safety, so maybe that's what they think Apple can do for them, at least from the perspective of coverage.  Now they need a receiver to take the heat off of their depleted corps, which could dig into the pile that the Patriots have to choose from.

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (From Chicago Bears)

Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida

Cornerback was a huge need for Tampa coming in, and with New York trumping them with the selection of Apple, so the Bucs turn around and select the higher rated Hargreaves.  Safety should be next on the board for Tampa, unless the look for offensive line help, but their best bet is to solidify their secondary as much as they can.


12. New Orleans Saints

Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville

Needing a pass rusher in the worst way, with cornerback a close second, the Sainst go with a cat-quick, interior three-tech, who will be a sub-package rusher to start out with.  This is an interesting pick as it pertains to the Patriots down the road, as they could possibly be looking for three-techs and cornerbacks.  Not that Rankins was expected to drop that far, but because it was widely perceived that the Saints were seeking edge rushers. That was one that no one was counting on.

13. Miami Dolphins (from Philadelphia Eagles)

Laremy Tunsil, OT, Mississippi

How thrilled the Dolphins war room is right now.  Because despite his excessive off-field baggage, Tunsil was the top rated player in the draft class due to elite and enormous talent.  If he learned his lesson and can behave, the Dolphins have the steal of the draft thus far.  Only problem is, they need corners badly, and by taking Tunsil, they are going to miss out on the elite corners. This is also huge for New England, as it was widely speculated that they would eat up the running back pool by taking a back here.  They still have a shot in the second round, but it at least gives Belichick a legit shot at moving up to get a back.

14. Oakland Raiders

Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia

WOW! Some folks are going to claim that the Raiders reached for Joseph, but what they have is the best safety prospect to come out in the draft in years. Perfect Big Nickle safety who can drop into the box to cover and run support like Pat Chung does for New England.  Now they have to think about getting a tackle and a corner, which seems to be a trend in the NFL this draft.

15. Cleveland Browns (FromTennessee Titans through Los Angeles Rams)

Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor

Trading down time and again, then grabs a kid that could be the best wide receiver in the draft.  Coleman is a dangerous vertical threat who has blazing speed and does his best work outside the numbers.  He's smaller and isn't much for the in-cuts, but Cleveland has now moved on from their problem child.

16. Detroit Lions

Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State

The player he is most often compared to is Patriots' right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, a stiff plodder who translate best to the strong side in a run-heavy offense.  Decker is just the latest in a long line of second-round projections leaping into the first round.


17. Atlanta Falcons

Keanu Neal, SS, Florida

Another physical, big-hitting safety.  Neal was projected for the late second round, but the Falcons and their influence from their head coach, who was the architect of Seattle's Legion of Boom, takes a guy that reminds him a lot of what he had in Seattle.  Most will look at this as a reach, but it makes sense here.

18. Indianapolis Colts

Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama

Lots of muttering among Colts' fans about this kid, but he's got all the makings of an excellent interior lineman.  Perhaps the brass in Indianapolis is finally getting the fact that they can't win a Super Bowl with just skill position players and no one to protect Luck.  Excellent pick, if not excellent value.

19. Buffalo Bills

Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson

Another excellent three-tech off the board, though Lawson is also effective at the five and off the edge.  Typical Rex Ryan pick, massive run plugger who can set the hard edge and is also fluid and quick enough to both rush off the edge and cover tight ends as a stand up OLB.  Great pick and with expected value.

20. New York Jets

Darron Lee, OLB, Ohio State

The Jets found Lee exactly where he was supposed to be on their big board.  In the mold of ex-teammate Ryan Shazier, Lee is a 233 pound weakside linebacker who runs in the 4.4's, meaning that the Jets will better be able to counter the dual Patriots' running back threats in Dion Lewis and James White.

21. Houston Texans (From Washington Redskins)

Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame

Texans gamble that a one-trick pony will complement quarterback Brock Osweiller.  Fuller has world class speed, but is thin and not going to be much of a factor inside the numbers.  He will take the top off of a defense, however, which New England's corners will get a chance to experience early next season.  A deep threat only tag comes with him, so the Texans hope they hit a home run with Osweiller's arm.

22. Washington Redskins (From Houston Texans)

Josh Docton, WR, TCU

Not quite as fast as Fuller, but a better all-around receiver.  Docton is tall, runs precise routes and has a vertical function to his game.  The best thing about him is his willingness to take the intermediate routes, show the QB his numbers and climb a ladder to go get the ball.  Exactly the possession-type weapon Captain Kirk needs.

23. Minnesota Vikings

Laquan Treadwell, WR, Mississippi

Third consecutive receiver in this first round run. Like Docton, he has all the makings of a possession receiver, plus he's perhaps the best blocking wide receivers in the class, and has probably the best hands and concentration. Can be used all over the formation and is most closely compared to DeAndre Hopkins for his smooth routes and deceptive quickness.

24. Cincinnati Bengals

William Jackson III, CB, Houston

This was a "Screw the Steelers" pick, as the cornerback desperate Steelers were picking right behind them.  Jackson has the mentality that the ball is his, and hand fights until he has it - regardless, Jackson is a bit of a project.  He's neither big and physical or small and fast, he's just tall and very fast and needs some refinement to his game while the Bengals seek the nest position for him to be in.

25. Pittsburgh Steelers

Artie Burns, CB, Miami

The Steelers get a big question mark here, but it's kind of something they were forced into. Desperate for a corner, the elite market has long-since dried up, so they take a boom-or-bust prospect with Burns.  The kid has world class speed but is very raw in technique.  He will either be great or a complete dud.

26. Denver Broncos (From Seattle Seahawks)

Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis

And who didn't see this coming? Though, the Broncos probably could have had him if they'd have stayed put at #32.  At 6' 7" and 244 pounds, Lynch resembles what the Broncos allowed to leave in free agency with Osweiller.  He will be in the shotgun a lot since that's all he's ever known - and will have to do some OJT in how to handle being under center.  Excellent arm, good feet.  Guess the Broncos got their man.

27. Green Bay Packers

Kenny Clark, NT, UCLA

The Packers get a light nose tackle that is a rotational guy at best, at least for the coming season.  Built more like a three-tech and plays like one, too, so maybe that's what the Packers are thinking here.  Has elite skill when single blocked, but doesn't possess the bulk to stand up on the double gap. Reach pick.

28. San Francisco 49ers (From Kansas City Chiefs)

Joshua Garnett, OG, Stanford

Classic mauler makes the 49ers two-for-two in solving their issues in the trenches. An absolute animal in the running game, overpowering opponents. He is limited in his pass blocking and will need some work, but the Niners will take the bad with the good as his technique problems are correctable.  A bit of a reach here however, especially given that they traded back up into the first round to get him.

29. New England Patriots (Forfeited)

Yeah, well...

29. Arizona Cardinals

Robert Nkemdiche, DT, MIssissippi

Exciting three-tech in a draft class full of them.  He has elite athleticism and skill, but they didn't add up to big plays.  He doesn;t force fumbles, has very little sack production, he's just kind of...there.  He is exciting because if he ever starts making impact plays with that body, the light will click on and he'll be a beast.  If it doesn't, he's a sack of potatoes.

30. Carolina Panthers

Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech

Perhaps the best in the run on three-tech tackles in the first round.  East up double teams and sniffs out running backs.  Just what the Panthers needed, right? another elite defensive lineman who can dent the pocket and reestablish the line of scrimmage.

31. Seattle Seahawks (From Denver Broncos)

Germaine Ifedi, OG, Texas A&M

A tackle at A&M, Ifedi's style is more suited for the inside, as it will cause him to stick more with technique and not get caught lunging without backup.  Some worry that he is a holding penalty waiting to happen because of his grasping and lunging rather than trying to secure blocks with his leg drive. A project for Seattle.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Final Patriots' Mock Draft - The Song Remains The Same

When seeking to compile a mock draft for your favorite team, there are three things that you absolutely need to know.

First, you need to know your team.  This encompasses more than just the names of the players or memorizing their jersey numbers or even knowing their stat lines.  It means knowing the team philosophies, the systems that they run on offense and on defense, their special teams philosophies and having a feel for the character and skill sets of the players already on the roster.

Secondly, as the old adage goes from the Art of War, know your enemy as you know yourself. Everything that is imperative to know about your team, you need to know about your division rivals, in addition to knowing their needs from draft perspective, because what the teams ahead of your team need is going to impact your team's big board...
Eastern Michigan's Darius Jackson

...and, lastly, you need to know something about the skill sets of the players coming out of college and how head ball coach Bill Belichick could integrate their individual skill set into building a better monster.

Because Belichick doesn't draft to fit a particular need, rather, he drafts based on his intuition and imagination, perhaps in a perpetually singular trance - or daydream, if you wish - fixated on how he would use a particular player's strengths while devising schemes to mask his weaknesses.

This offseason is loaded up a little different than most, in that the NFL stripped the Patriots of their first round draft pick for the on-going, never-ending, fraud-on-its-face "DeflateGate" saga and, as the result of deals made in free agency and in trades during the course of last season, they have no fourth or fifth round selections, either.

What they do have is two second rounder picks - the extra one courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals in the Chandler Jones deal - and two third rounders, the extra a compensatory selection for the Patriots losing cornerback Darrelle Revis in free agency last offseason...

...then the middle round void gives into a ghastly number of sixth round picks - five, to be exact - and a couple of seventh rounders, and if the Patriots were to keep things just the way they are, I have a feeling the draft would feel like my initial mock draft, with players like Oklahoma speedster Sterling Shepard and Arkansas running back Jonathan Williams gracing Foxborough with their presence.

Belichick essentially destroyed my initial mock by bringing in a bunch of veterans to fill need positions - so feeling slighted by the dark master, my second mock draft attempted to take advantage of the additional second rounder by standing pat on their selections and taking a cornerback with so many red flags on his character profile to make a matador's cape in LSU's Rashard Robinson, then went after Indiana's bell-cow runner Jordan Howard.

But then it occurred to me that there was no way in hell that Belichick was going to stand pat and be forced to take talent in the second round that he could just as well find in the third and fourth rounds, so in the third mock draft I presented a scenario where Belichick traded down out of the second round to pick up an additional third rounder and to get back into the fourth, then trading up with their insane number of sixth rounders to gain some fifth-round leverage.

Along the way, the only constants in these mocks have been Tulsa wide receiver Keyarris Garrett, bad boy Robinson and Western Michigan swing tackle Willie Beavers but I liked the idea of Belichick gaining draft capital by trading down so much that I have kept things the same for my fourth - and final - mock draft.

No longer will Belickick have to worry about wasting a second round selection on borderline talent and can genuinely pick for value in the middle rounds starting on Friday evening - so for those who missed it, here are the picks from my third mock, as I am standing pat on my latest selections:

3. Phillip Wright, ILB, Arizona
    6' 0", 239

Known by the nickname "Scooby", Wright missed all but three games last season with a meniscus tear, but the previous season he put up numbers never seen on a college gridiron before: 163 tackles - an insane 29 for loss - forced six fumbles and notched 14 sacks, and this from an inside linebacker.

Wright played in a defense that aligned 3-3-5 Big Nickle, which makes him farther ahead of the game as far as being prepared to step into New England's Big Nickle than any other pure linebacker in the draft class. He has elite instincts and always seems to know where the play is going. His one drawback is in man coverage, where he has the angles and toughness to hang with a running back in the pattern, but not the requisite speed.

Combine that with the fact that he is coming out after his injury-marred Junior season, and Wright is still available in the 3rd round, and what a steal he would be.

3. Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State
6' 1", 309

Elite quickness at the snap is Hargrave's calling card.  A one-gap penetrator with exceptionally quick feet, he dominated FCS interior offensive linemen, racking up an astounding 45 tackles for loss in the past two seasons, to go along with 30 sacks.

So, as with any Belichick selection, the question looms as to how someone who is a two-time All American and MEAC 2014 Defensive Player of the Year isn't among those in the discussion for tackles in the first-round - with the answer being that Hargrave is still very raw in technique, and won in college with sheer athleticism, but there is little doubt that his versatility is an intriguing fit in Foxborough.

He is a pocket disruptor, meaning that he has the bulk and strength to push his mirror back into the pocket, but also the lateral agility to handle the five-tech on a three man line if necessary, bullying guards and tackles alike.

3. Keyarris Garrett, WR, Tulsa
    6' 3", 220

A classic long-strider and immediate deep threat, Garrett is an imposing physical mismatch for most corners and, most importantly perhaps, tracks the ball well and has shown a knack for adjusting routes to settle in under wayward throws.

He is lightning off the line and understands the leverage he possesses with his tremendous length and deep speed, which corners will have to respect, giving Garrett opportunities to work back towards the quarterback in the role of a possession-type receiver.  He's a good route runner, but played in primarily spread offenses, and often as the trailer in bunch formations, perhaps inflating his stats a bit.

But as former basketball coach Frank Layden used to say, you can't teach height and you can't coach speed, and this kid has both. He will fall to the third round primarily because of his level of competition in college will make for a major jump in class to the NFL, but also he has proven to be a bit fragile.

4. Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU  
    6' 1", 171

Robinson's draft grade is all over the place, which is to be expected with as many red flags and character concerns he carries in his baggage - but there is no denying the kid's skill.

Multiple suspensions, including a permanent ban from the LSU football team and an arrest for illegal entry into a teammate's apartment overshadow Robinson's shut-down quality athleticism and intuition. Has not played organized ball since early in 2014 - and that, plus his spindly frame and aforementioned baggage lowered his 1st or 2nd round talent into the third day of the draft initially, but it's tough for evaluators to overlook his pure talent.

Had an impressive Freshman year where he locked onto the opposition's best receiver and pinned him against the sideline, taking some gambles though his makeup speed and explosion to the ball in the air are first class. In other words, he can put on an island and will likely survive anything an opposing quarterback can throw his way. Belichick has had some luck with troubled corners in the past, and they all seemed to fall in line with the Patriot Way. If this kid does the same, the sky over Gillette Stadium will become a no-fly zone.

4. Darius Jackson, RB, Eastern Michigan
    6' 0", 220

There are not many backs in the 2016 draft class that sport the size-speed-intangible trifecta like Jackson, and the only reasons he could still be available in the fourth round - for which the Patriots would have to trade up or down for - are that he is from a small school, and was a starter for just one season.

He wasn't invited to the combine, but he did attend Michigan's pro day, where the power back-sized runner posted a stupid-fast 4.35 in the 40 yard dash with a large contingent of Patriots' scout on hand. He has experience in a Pro-style offense, is fluid in the pattern and in the run after the catch - plus he is excellent in picking up the blitz and blocking.

Currently, Jackson is off the grid for the first two nights of the draft, but that should change as running backs start coming off the board in droves in the 2nd and 3rd rounds.  There is no physical or talent-related reasons why he's so lightly regarded, but the Patriots would be smart to trade back into the 4th round to snag this kid as their power back of the future, and maybe of the present.

4. Bronson Kaufusi, DE, Brigham Young University
    6' 6", 285

The son of BYU defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi, this is no entitled kid.  Rather, having his father as his coach on the college level put Kaufusi on a different, more deliberate pedestal where he had to work twice as hard to get where he is.

Called the "Perfect BYU player" by former coach Bronco Mendenhall, Kaufusi is desirable to the Patriots because he displays a variety of pass rush moves when lined up as a traditional defensive end, and is broad enough to anchor in the running game and bull rush in the passing game as a five-tech end.

It is this positional versatility that elevates Kaufusi above other potential prospects in the same draft range, and is the only end with true versatility in the class besides Florida's Jonathan Bullard. But it is exactly this versatility that makes him perhaps undesirable to teams search for traditional ends or five-tech tackles.

Kaufusi has a non-stop motor and sports a power forward physique, with long arms and big hands.

5. Willie Beavers, OT, Western Michigan
    6' 5", 321

Carries a 5th to 6th round draft grade because of coming from a small school and because he is still raw in his technique - but there is no denying that Beavers has all the tools to become a solid left tackle in the NFL, with proper coaching and a little patience.

Mirrors speed rushers on the outside and physically manhandles them, pushing them around the pocket or simply stymieing them. His issue is moving to his right, where he will lose his balance against strong interior moves by the pass rushers. It is a technique issue, but one that will prevent him from coming in and becoming a force right away. He is excellent in the running game and could help a team as a swing tackle while perfecting his game.

5. Thomas Duarte, TE/WR, UCLA
    6' 2", 231

Is he a receiver or a tight end? On one hand, he has great size to be a receiver, but lacks the straight line speed expected over the top of the defense. On the other hand, his size is also appropriate for a move tight end, and frequently wins on crossing routes and up the seam, but is not as physical as you would want your tight end to be.

Reliable hands and being a touchdown maker are his calling card, but he is a bit soft on the takedown, as he will go down like a sack of potatoes with a solid hit from a corner or safety, and isn't much for dragging folks - generally, he catches the ball and looks for a place to sit down, but his separation ability and speed up the seam dictates that if he is in the clear, he will aim for the end zone.

6. Justin Simmons, FS, Boston College
    6' 2", 202

With Duron Harmon coming into a contract year, the Patriots would be wise to gain some leverage by bringing in a like-safety prospect.

Simmons is a tall, fast prospect in the mold of Harmon, though not quite as speedy, and displays the proper angle awareness to minimize holes for running backs on the second level and for cutting off throws to deep receivers, often turning incompletions out of sure scores.

Simmons frame wont hold much more weight, so he is maxed out at 202, but he is a playmaker who could make the team and provide the team leverage in negotiations with Harmon.

7. Antwione Williams, OLB, Georgia Southern
    6' 3", 247

Intimidating sideline to sideline hitter who lacks burst and straight line speed, but has learned to use attack angles to become a draftable linebacker. Stout and violent against the run with some edge-setting properties - may be a better interior gap-plugging linebacker at the pro level.

7. Devon Johnson, RB, Marshall
    6' 0", 238

Nicknamed "Rockhead" due to his no-nonsense, downhill running style, Johnson doesn't try to avoid contact with linebackers - rather, he takes pride in driving through their attempt to tackle him. Recruited to Marshall as a tight end, so he shows soft hands in the pattern, though he is not a threat to run away from defenders and has limited run-after-catch ability. Could be a convert to H-Back and would have some competition in camp to gain a roster spot.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Patriots' Mock Draft 3.0 - Belichick Trades Down Into His "Wheelhouse" In Deep Draft

The 2016 offseason started out with New England Patriots' head ball coach and defacto General Manager continuing his annual manifestation of the Billy Ray Valentine character in the film Trading Places, waiting for the free agent market to weed out all of the suckers and setting a median wage for free agents before making any moves of his own.

And why not?  Any need that he was perceived to have was all depth related anyway, with the exception of running back, as he had no proven options at lead back,but even then had LeGarrette Blount on speed dial, knowing that if things went south with the free agent depth, he could always call LG and offer him a million a year to run for around 800 yards.
BYU' Defensive end Bronson Kaufusi

Besides, Bill would probably take a back anyway - in the middle rounds, as he's a tendency to do - along with a receiver or two, a tight end maybe and a weak side linebacker to make up for the loss of Jerod Mayo to retirement.  But the defensive line was not a priority at all, as it was as well stocked as any in the league.

Even when Belichick pulled the trigger on the deal that sent defensive end Chandler Jones to Arizona, most folks were cool with it because there was plenty of depth in place, starting with the surging Jabaal Sheard - but things took a turn for the surreal when it was revealed that three-tech tackle Dominique Easley was such a rotten person that even the cap-savvy Belichick would rather see another million or so lopped off of his free cap space than to deal with him any longer.

Belichick parted ways with Easley in a shocking move - shocking to you and me because none of us had any idea what went on behind closed doors, which also speaks to how tight the locker room really is and how everyone buys into Belichick's policy regarding information leaked to the press - and in the process sliced the under-tackle depth chart by a third...

...then cut it down to just veteran tackle Alan Branch by handing the injured Chris Jones his pink slip just this past Friday.  The nose tackle spot is well cared for with Malcom Brown and Terrence Knighton on the rotation, so Belichick's priority has become to seek an athletic under tackle with five-tech versatility and a solid anchor in his pants.

In addition, it should be noted that many close to the team feel that Belichick is "phasing out" the three-tech element to the line - which would mean a philosophical switch to a more 3-4 look - which is limiting in such a way that it omits the talent that New England has on the edges in Sheard, Ninkovich...

...not to mention that the players that the Patriots have picked up this offseason, defensive tackles Frank Kearse, formerly of the Redskins, and Markus Kuhn from the Giants, are both at their best as pocket collapsing interior rushers, but with five-tech versatility which speaks to the Big Nickle alignment that the team was in 80% of the time in 2015.

So, it's a little bit early to be burying the thought of a four-man line, as both have their charms in the Big Nickle, and Belichick would never limit himself like that, particularly considering the plethora of young depth he carries on the roster as defensive ends.

That said, of all of the tackles likely to still be on the board when the Patriots select at the end of the second round, South Carolina State's Javon Hargrave, Notre Dame's Sheldon Day and Ohio State's Willie Henry appear to be what the Patriots value in an under tackle, with Hargrave the clear choice due to his elite penetration and pocket collapsing skill,

Perhaps the steal of the draft could be in the offing with running back Darius Jackson out of Eastern Michigan available in the fourth round, a versatile edge defender in BYU's Bronson Kaufusi will also be in the mix in the fourth - and in between all of that the Patriots take a bad boy corner and a receiver who is compared to the Great Randy Moss.

Which is bullshit, of course, but just the thought that experts see a little of Moss's game in Tulsa's Keyarris Garrett is quite a positive indictment of the kid's skill.  The bad boy is, of course, LSU's gifted corner Rashard Robinson, who hated school but loves football.

All of this leads up to a brewing quandary.  The fact that New England doesn't have a pick until very late in the second round puts them out of the running for players deemed top shelf for their positions, but it also places them in a spot where the players that fit their system well don't necessarily grade out to the second round.

So the thought here is for Belichick to trade out of the second round to stockpile picks in what has traditionally his "wheelhouse" in the 3rd and 4th rounds, where an immense amount of talent resides in a draft where the need positions for New England are deep and plentiful - gaining an additional third rounder, a couple of fourth rounders and a fifth rounder, then turning a few of their five sixth-round selections into a fifth.

Besides, picking at 60 and 61 is almost into the third round as it is, and there are still plenty of talent available for teams to warrant moving up into the second round, positioning themselves to get a player of value for their teams, while giving up Belichick's most prized draft capital.

How much does Belichick value those middle round selections?  Well, in the past three drafts alone, nine players selected in the 3rd and 4th rounds are on the active 53 man roster, including six starters...

3. Phillip Wright, ILB, Arizona
    6' 0", 239

Known by the nickname "Scooby", Wright missed all but three games last season with a meniscus tear, but the previous season he put up numbers never seen on a college gridiron before: 163 tackles - an insane 29 for loss - forced six fumbles and notched 14 sacks, and this from an inside linebacker.

Wright played in a defense that aligned 3-3-5 Big Nickle, which makes him farther ahead of the game as far as being prepared to step into New England's Big Nickle than any other pure linebacker in the draft class. He has elite instincts and always seems to know where the play is going. His one drawback is in man coverage, where he has to angles and toughness to hang with a running back in the pattern, but not the requisite speed.

Combine that with the fact that he is coming out after his injury-marred Junior season, and Wright is still available in the 3rd round, and what a steal he would be.

3. Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State
6' 1", 309

Elite quickness at the snap is Hargrave's calling card.  A one-gap penetrator with exceptionally quick feet, he dominated FCS interior offensive linemen, racking up an astounding 45 tackles for loss in the past two seasons, to go along with 30 sacks.

So, as with any Belichick selection, the question looms as to how someone who is a two-time All American and MEAC 2014 Defensive Player of the Year isn't among those in the discussion for tackles in the first-round - with the answer being that Hargrave is still very raw in technique, and won in college with sheer athleticism, but there is little doubt that his versatility is an intriguing fit in Foxborough.

He is a pocket disruptor, meaning that he has the bulk and strength to push his mirror back into the pocket, but also the lateral agility to handle the five-tech on a three man line if necessary, bullying guards and tackles alike.

3. Keyarris Garrett, WR, Tulsa
    6' 3", 220

A classic long-strider and immediate deep threat, Garrett is an imposing physical mismatch for most corners and, most importantly perhaps, tracks the ball well and has shown a knack for adjusting routes to settle in under wayward throws.

He is lightning off the line and understands the leverage he possesses with his tremendous length and deep speed, which corners will have to respect, giving Garrett opportunities to work back towards the quarterback in the role of a possession-type receiver.  He's a good route runner, but played in primarily spread offenses, and often as the trailer in bunch formations, perhaps inflating his stats a bit.

But as former basketball coach Frank Layden used to say, you can't teach height and you can't coach speed, and this kid has both. He will fall to the third round primarily because of his level of competition in college will make for a major jump in class to the NFL, but also he has proven to be a bit fragile.

4. Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU  
    6' 1", 171

Robinson's draft grade is all over the place, which is to be expected with as many red flags and character concerns he carries in his baggage - but there is no denying the kid's skill.

Multiple suspensions, including a permanent ban from the LSU football team and an arrest for illegal entry into a teammate's apartment overshadow Robinson's shut-down quality athleticism and intuition. Has not played organized ball since early in 2014 - and that, plus his spindly frame and aforementioned baggage lowered his 1st or 2nd round talent into the third day of the draft initially, but it's tough for evaluators to overlook his pure talent.

Had an impressive Freshman year where he locked onto the opposition's best receiver and pinned him against the sideline, taking some gambles though his makeup speed and explosion to the ball in the air are first class. In other words, he can put on an island and will likely survive anything an opposing quarterback can throw his way. Belichick has had some luck with troubled corners in the past, and they all seemed to fall in line with the Patriot Way. If this kid does the same, the sky over Gillette Stadium will become a no-fly zone.

4. Darius Jackson, RB, Eastern Michigan
    6' 0", 220

There are not many backs in the 2016 draft class that sport the size-speed-intangible trifecta like Jackson, and the only reasons he could still be available in the fourth round - for which the Patriots would have to trade up or down for - are that he is from a small school, and was a starter for just one season.
Eastern Michigan Running Back Jackson

He wasn't invited to the combine, but he did attend Michigan's pro day, where the power back-sized runner posted a stupid-fast 4.35 in the 40 yard dash with a large contingent of Patriots' scout on hand. He has experience in a Pro-style offense, is fluid in the pattern and in the run after the catch - plus he is excellent in picking up the blitz and blocking.

Currently, Jackson is off the grid for the first two nights of the draft, but that should change as running backs start coming off the board in droves in the 2nd and 3rd rounds.  There is no physical or talent-related reasons why he's so lightly regarded, but the Patriots would be smart to trade back into the 4th round to snag this kid as their power back of the future, and maybe of the present.

4. Bronson Kaufusi, DE, Brigham Young University
    6' 6", 285

The son of BYU defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi, this is no entitled kid.  Rather, having his father as his coach on the college level put Kaufusi on a different, more deliberate pedestal where he had to work twice as hard to get where he is.

Called the "Perfect BYU player" by former coach Bronco Mendenhall, Kaufusi is desirable to the Patriots because he displays a variety of pass rush moves when lined up as a traditional defensive end, and is broad enough to anchor in the running game and bull rush in the passing game as a five-tech end.

It is this positional versatility that elevates Kaufusi above other potential prospects in the same draft range, and is the only end with true versatility in the class besides Florida's Jonathan Bullard. But it is exactly this versatility that makes him perhaps undesirable to teams search for traditional ends or five-tech tackles.

Kaufusi has a non-stop motor and sports a power forward physique, with long arms and big hands.
 
5. Willie Beavers, OT, Western Michigan
    6' 5", 321

Carries a 5th to 6th round draft grade because of coming from a small school and because he is still raw in his technique - but there is no denying that Beavers has all the tools to become a solid left tackle in the NFL, with proper coaching and a little patience.

Mirrors speed rushers on the outside and physically manhandles them, pushing them around the pocket or simply stymieing them. His issue is moving to his right, where he will lose his balance against strong interior moves by the pass rushers. It is a technique issue, but one that will prevent him from coming in and becoming a force right away. He is excellent in the running game and could help a team as a swing tackle while perfecting his game.

5. Thomas Duarte, TE/WR, UCLA
    6' 2", 231

Is he a receiver or a tight end? On one hand, he has great size to be a receiver, but lacks the straight line speed expected over the top of the defense. On the other hand, his size is also appropriate for a move tight end, and frequently wins on crossing routes and up the seam, but is not as physical as you would want your tight end to be.

Reliable hands and being a touchdown maker are his calling card, but he is a bit soft on the takedown, as he will go down like a sack of potatoes with a solid hit from a corner or safety, and isn't much for dragging folks - generally, he catches the ball and looks for a place to sit down, but his separation ability and speed up the seam dictates that if he is in the clear, he will aim for the end zone.

6. Justin Simmons, FS, Boston College
    6' 2", 202

With Duron Harmon coming into a contract year, the Patriots would be wise to gain some leverage by bringing in a like-safety prospect.

Simmons is a tall, fast prospect in the mold of Harmon, though not quite as speedy, and displays the proper angle awareness to minimize holes for running backs on the second level and for cutting off throws to deep receivers, often turning incompletions out of sure scores.

Simmons frame wont hold much more weight, so he is maxed out at 202, but he is a playmaker who could make the team and provide the team leverage in negotiations with Harmon.

7. Antwione Williams, OLB, Georgia Southern
    6' 3", 247

Intimidating sideline to sideline hitter who lacks burst and straight line speed, but has learned to use attack angles to become a draftable linebacker. Stout and violent against the run with some edge-setting properties - may be a better interior gap-plugging linebacker at the pro level.

7. Devon Johnson, RB, Marshall
    6' 0", 238

Nicknamed "Rockhead" due to his no-nonsense, downhill running style, Johnson doesn't try to avoid contact with linebackers - rather, he takes pride in driving through their attempt to tackle him. Recruited to Marshall as a tight end, so he shows soft hands in the pattern, though he is not a threat to run away from defenders and has limited run-after-catch ability. Could be a convert to H-Back and would have some competition in camp to gain a roster spot.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

New England Patriots Schedule - Three Of Four At Home To Start Season


Preseason

Thursday, August 11, 2016 - 7:30pm
New Orleans Saints @ New England
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

Thursday, August 18, 2016 - 8:00pm
Chicago Bears @ New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

Friday, August 6, 2016 - 7:30pm
New England Patriots @ Carolina Panthers
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina

Thursday, September 1, 2016 - 7:00pm
New England Patriots @ New York Giants
MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey

******************************

If - IF - New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady ends up serving a four-game suspension stemming from the DeflateGate madness, he will end up missing two of the Patriots' five prime-time matchups, at Arizona to open the season and then again in Week 3 when New England hosts Houston in a Thursday night game.

More importantly, he would miss two divisional games, hosting both Miami and Buffalo in weeks 2 and 4 respectively.  Whether or not that is likely to happen is not for us to decide, but it is interesting that three of the four games are at home against what would likely still be inferior opponents - and not a New York Jet logo in sight.

Once Brady were to return, hypothetically, of course, he would face three straight AFC North division opponents, sandwiching a home contest with the Bengals around road trips to Cleveland and Pittsburgh - then they catch another break with the bye week coming smack in the middle of the schedule...

...but get no favors after that as they host the Seattle Seahawks coming out of the break, then must travel to the west coast to meet the 49ers the following week.

A trip to meet the Jets follows before a showdown with the Rams in Foxborough, then a curious Monday night matchup looms against the Baltimore Ravens - perhaps the schedulers felt that either Baltimore would put up a good fight or the Patriots would be debilitated in some manner, as this game has all the makings of a smelly dog.

Which is fortunate, since the following Sunday night the Patriots travel to Denver to play the champs before finishing by hosting the Jets on Christmas Eve and then traveling to Miami to play a New Years Day bowl game.

On a side note, the Patriots finish with the same two divisional games that they played last season as they faded down the stretch...


Regular Season
.
Sunday, September 11, 2016 - 8:30pm
Sunday Night Football (NBC)
New England Patriots @ Arizona Cardinals
University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

Sunday, September 18, 2016 - 1:00pm
Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

Thursday, September 22, 2016 - 8:25pm
Thursday Night Football (CBS & NFLNetwork)
Houston Texans @ New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

Sunday, October 2, 2016 - 1:00pm
Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

Sunday, October 9, 2016 - 1:00pm
New England Patriots @ Cleveland Browns
First Energy Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio

Sunday, October 16, 2016 - 1:00pm
Cincinnati Bengals @ New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

Sunday, October 23, 2016 - 4:25pm
New England Patriots @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Sunday, October 30, 2016 - 1:00pm
New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills
Ralph Wilson Stadium, Orchard Park, New York

BYE Week

Sunday, November 13, 2016 - 8:30pm
Sunday Night Football (NBC)
Seattle Seahawks @ New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

Sunday, November 20, 2016 - 4:25pm
New England Patriots @ San Francisco 49ers
Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California

Sunday, November 27, 2016 - 8:30pm
Sunday Night Football (NBC)
New England Patriots @ New York Jets
MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey

Sunday, December 4, 2016 - 1:00pm
Los Angeles Rams @ New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

Monday, December 12, 2016 - 8:30pm
Monday Night Football (ESPN)
Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

Sunday, December 18, 2016 - 4:25pm
New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos
Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colorado

Saturday, December 24, 2016 - 1:00pm
New York Jets @ New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

Sunday, January 1, 2017 - 1:00pm
New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins
Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida

















Blount Off Belichick's Speed Dial, Re-signs With Patriots

Submitted for your approval:  You are sitting in a favorite New England diner in the company of a friend or two, sipping coffee and making small talk between you and avoiding topics of any consequence until your breakfast arrives, for fear of a bout of hypoglycemia tinging your words with venom.

The waitress is passive-aggressive, but you are used to that from living in the six weird little states that comprise the region, and she assures your quizzical look that your food should be along shortly, refills your coffee cup with a gracefulness that comes with many years on her feet, then saunters along to lie to the people at the next table.

Five minutes later, you are staring at a tall stack of pancakes adorned on top with a glob of whipped butter that is melting down into the cakes, forming a divot that will soon consume the entire melting glob like a Florida sink hole unless you spread it evenly in quick order - which you do, and then set your sites on the fresh, locally produced maple syrup and start to pour.

The substance is thick, far more dense than you would find in store-bought syrup, and it spreads like a thick tidal wave , pushing the still unmelted butter to the edges of the stack, then slowly cascades over and dribbles down the side...

The site is vaguely familiar to you, but not in a culinary sense.  You've seen this slow-flow before, and after half of the tall stack resides in your stomach and the waves of hot flashes and incoherent rambling subside as your body's sugar levels reach normal, the conversation at the table becomes more lucid and less vulgar...

...and inevitably turns to football - then it hits you.  You remember where you've seen that slowly flowing syrup before, that thick tidal wave that meticulously makes it's way to the edges, gravity then taking full effect as the New England delicacy quickly goes south to the waiting plate.

The New England Patriots re-signed running back LeGarrette Blount and his syrup on pancakes running style on Tuesday, causing a slow burn on social media sites as those in the know celebrated his return while other lamented his signing as a return to 2015, when the Patriots had the third-worst rushing attack in the National Football League,

That's thirtieth out of thirty-two teams for those keeping score at home, escaping the bottom only because the lowly Chargers and the equally abysmal Lions were usually so far behind in their weekly contests that they had no choice but to turn to the passing game to try to catch up.

Funny how that works, actually.  Usually with the Patriots, they have the lead late in ball games and are able to turn to their four-minute offense for three yards and a cloud of dust, moving the sticks and eating the clock - hardly ever to my satisfaction, as anyone who follows this blog will vouch for the fact that I don't think offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels uses the running game to it's full potential...

...but that's beside the point, and hardly fair when considering the skeleton crew that he had to work with at every level except quarterback, the depth along the line, out in the pattern and in the backfield not able to pull things together in time to avoid a dismal 2-4 finish to the regular season and an early exit from the post-season.

Up until December, the Patriots actually did have a rushing attack - led by Blount, whose 703 yards on 165 carries made him an effective between-the-tackles runner, as manifested by the resultant 4.3 yards per carry.  In fact, Blount had exactly half of the Patriots rushing yards for the season, with Brandon Bolden and the electric Dion Lewis accounting for most of the rest.

But Bolden is a really a special teams' guy who was good for a few carries per game, and Lewis snapped his ACL midway through the season, leaving the late season carries to a clearly washed up veteran mercenary named Steven Jackson - and in the end, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels just abandoned the running game entirely for lack of a better option.

That was evidenced by how little the Patriots offense ran the ball in the second half of games down the stretch after Blount went down with a bum hip in week 14, and after the curious experimentation with Joey Iosefa as the lead back, especially in the last three games that ended with the Patriots' narrow - and avoidable - loss to the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game.

In the season-ending loss to Miami, Patriots' backs toted the rock just seven times in the second half, and four times each in the playoff games against the Chiefs and Broncos.  Those are totals that defy logic and lend credence to the argument that Blount's injury crippled an offense that was already working through so many injuries that they literally could not afford just one more...

...because without a running game, the opposition could feel comfortable in coming after quarterback Tom Brady, leaving their corners one-on-one with Brady's depth receivers and overwhelming an offensive line that was missing key components on the edges and had rookies and a second year player manning the inside.

The results were predictable.

Blount comes back aboard being somewhat enigmatic in the eyes of Patriots' constituency, as some see him as an all or nothing entity - meaning he either rips off big gainers or gets bogged down at the line of scrimmage, while others take the stance that agrees with his high ranking on several sites as a better-than-average early down back who can get you into favorable yardage positions on third down.

And while that's not necessarily a ringing endorsement for the 7th year pro out of Oregon, it's not exactly a eulogy either.  Blount has plenty left in his 30 year old legs, but not so much that the team won't select a running back in the draft, one with some power and with some explosiveness, because truth be told, Blount has all of the explosiveness of maple syrup.

He is, however, a good complementary back when passing backs Dion Lewis and James White are mixed into the equation. White wasn't productive between the tackles, but was pure smooth hell in the pattern and put forth a yeoman's effort in picking up the blitz, while Lewis is everything a running back should be, and then some.

Unfortunately, Lewis is also fragile and thus the Patriots may look to limit his touches, splitting time with White who filled in admirably when Lewis went down in Week 7, and who gained a measure of respect and reliability from Brady and the coaching staff in his opportunities down the stretch.

Needless to say, health is a concern of paramount importance - not just in the backfield, but also along the offensive line and with the pass catchers, and the myriad of debilitating injuries suffered on all three levels of the offense last season left Brady as a sitting duck who took a monumental beating and the Patriots' offense a shell of it's normal capacity.

The stupid part - the really stupid part - is that New England still came within two points of reaching their seventh Super Bowl in 15 years under Belichick, and with better decision making among the play callers on the sidelines, they probably would have beaten the Broncos and had the opportunity to defend their title against the Panthers.

Belichick isn't taking any chances of that happening this season, because it's Super Bowl or bust for his Patriots,as it is every season.  He will draft a back, he will make sure that the depth along the line is adequate and he has already turned the pass catching corps into a potential juggernaut - so there's not that much left to be done from a team-building standpoint...

...and re-signing Blount helps that process even more.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

With Jones, Easley Out Of Picture, Patriots Philosophy Coming Into Focus

The New England Patriots on Wednesday handed three-tech defensive tackle Dominique Easley his walking papers, putting an end to two seasons of anxiety over whether the Patriots' top pick in 2014 would ever be the player he was before injuries to both knees ended his college career.

It was a calculated gamble on the part of Patriots' defacto General Manager Bill Belichick, selecting the massively talented yet incredibly fragile pass rushing tackle out of Florida, a decision that had it's share of detractors, what with several big names in positions of need for New England still on the board - and now Belichick is facing even more questions for letting Easley go, costing the Patriots $3.6 million against their already tight cap.
Sheard checks on the injured Easley

Whatever compelled Belichick to cut Easley loose is a matter of great conjecture - a blatant sense of entitlement and rampant immaturity seem to be universal indictments - though irrelevant to the question as to what do the Patriots do now with their tackle depth, but the reasoning behind the pink slip must have been very compelling indeed to take such a cap hit and dead money hit when training camp is still three months away.

The timing isn't all that curious, actually, as it comes a couple of weeks before the draft, and it comes on the heels of the high-profile signing of nose tackle Terrence Knighton, and explains the signings of five-tech linemen in ex-Redskin Frank Kearse and former-Giant Markus Kuhn.

The Easley release, when combined with the team moving Chandler Jones to Arizona in exchange for a potential starting offensive lineman and a second-round pick, may appear on the surface to leave the line a bit void of elite pass rushers, but the players that remain are effective at generating pressure and have some statistics to back them up.

With the trade Jones a few weeks back, New England turns over their blind side pass rushing duties to a group of smaller defensive ends who could also function as outside linebackers, defending and setting the edge in the running game an obvious priority, as well it should be as the Patriots surrendered over five yards per carry to the weakside in 2015.

All are like-sized, with veterans Jabaal Sheard (6' 3" and 260 pounds) and Chris Long (6' 3", 268) and youngsters Geneo Grissom (6' 4", 265) and Trey Flowers (6' 2", 265) joining 6' 2", 260 pound strong side end Rob Ninkovich as run-stuffing, edge-setting ends with the ability to pressure the quarterback when called upon to do so...

...just a collection of linebacker-sized lunch pail types who happened to be very successful in a Swiss Army Knife sort of way, which actually works well in tandem with the Big Nickle approach, and gives the team the ability to switch between three and four man fronts as needed.

Jones may have led the team in sacks, but he lacked the ability to set the solid edge in the running game, which Ninkovich and Sheard specialize in, while racking up 6.5 and 8 sacks, respectively.  The bulk of the remaining sacks came from the second level as linebackers Jamie Collins (6' 3", 250, 5.5 sacks) and Dont'a Hightower (6' 3", 265, 3.5 sacks) blitzed effectively when the opportunity would arise.

The remaining interior linemen are a collection of run-stuffing nose tackles and three-to-five-techs, suggesting that changes along the defensive line are imminent in Foxborough.  Not the entire defensive philosophy, mind you, as the Big Nickle will remain the team's bread and butter and Belichick's vast collection of safeties will continue to be intregal pieces to the overall puzzle...

...but the remaining talent indicates that there could be more opportunity to switch between even and odd man fronts - not necessarily a true 3-4 or 4-3, but more of a 3-3-5 or a 4-2-5 - which was their primary alignment last season - where Pat Chung reduces down into the box to take on backs or tight ends, and making linebacker depth suddenly not as important than it was when we all got out of bed this morning, particularly when combined with the recent Shea McClellin (6' 3", 260) signing.

Thankfully, the Patriots have at least five linebacker-sized defensive ends that together with the team philosophy will make the Big Nickle even more difficult for the opposing offenses to deal with, particularly if Knighton works out well, as a three-man tandem of him at the nose with athletic tackle Malcom Brown and long five-tech Alan Branch could occupy linemen on the other side, allowing for these hybrids to set the edge and hunt down the ball carrier.

Or they could line up in a four-man front and rotate their abundance of depth in and out depending on the circumstance, allowing Ninkovich and Sheard to get their fingers in the dirt, rotating in Long, Grissom and Flowers as need be...

That pondered, could the Patriots target a long defensive end in the draft, or do they wait and see if someone like journeyman Rufus Johnson shows well in camp?  How about an athletic three or five-tech? They sure could, and maybe they will - after all, Belichick has shocked the football world more than once this offseason, so drafting defensive line help now doesn't seem as far fetched as it did when the team-building period started.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Big Nickle Offers Patriots Versatility in Team Building Process

Shea McClellin is an enigma.

At least to Patriots fans he is.  But to the fans of his former team, he's a first-round bust with a capital "B".

The Chicago Bears are in the midst of their annual task of dumping talented, miscast players so that they can bring up the rear of the NFC North once again, and Patriots' head ball coach Bill Belichick has felt compelled to oblige them twice this offseason, first by trading a fourth-round draft pick to Chicago for tight end Martellus Bennett, then following it up on the same day by signing free agent linebacker McClellin.

The Bears refused to pick up the Boise State alum's fifth-year option, and McClellin took visits with the Jets and Seahawks before landing in Foxborough with a contract that pretty much guarantees he will be on the 53 man roster come September - but why would Belichick sign a guy being called a "typical Bears' draft bust"?

Well, we all know that the Dark Master is a different cat from most in his position of authority in that he doesn't just select a player and then try to jam him into a scheme like a square peg in a round hole as most other coaches do, instead he takes that round hole and bores it out so that the square peg fits.

It's been the not-so-secret of his success as a general manager - not to mention the success of the product on the field - his ability to see a player for what he is and adapt his scheme to take advantage of his strengths and minimize or even mask his deficiencies. It has been this ability that has gotten the most out of castoffs like Rob Ninkovich and Alan Branch, as well as the rabbits that he pulls out in the secondary each season.

So regardless of the barbs aimed at McClellin from Bears' fans, there still may be some hope for him - especially since the Patriots run a scheme where their linebackers are left free to flow to the ball.

This is due, of course, to the Big Nickle alignment that was a staple of the Patriots' defense last season, an alignment that employed an extra safety in nickle situations who essentially became a weakside linebacker, allowing for Belichick to run with just two linebackers who worked in tandem as a disruptive force.

Of course, that wouldn't have been possible without the defensive line plugging gaps and setting the edges, or without the superb group of safeties that Belichick has assembled - nor without the freakish athleticism of linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins.

Linebacker has been both a strength and a weakness for Belichick - a strength because his starters have always been top shelf, but also a weakness because the depth behind them have always been a crap shoot that most times, leaving Belichick scrambling to make mid-season deals to shore up the second level - and the past couple of seasons it's been to replace weakside linebacker Jerod Mayo, who has ended the past three years on the IR.

The sudden, but not-so-unexpected retirement of linebacker Jerod Mayo made the probability of the Patriots going after a linebacker in the offseason a foregone conclusion - but acute injuries to both Hightower and Collins last season outlines the need for quality depth. At the start of the league year, the questions was, would it be through the draft or in free agency?

Is it too much to ask for both?

McClellin is a versatile player in that he has the bulk (6' 3", 260 pounds) to play both inside on the second level as well as putting his hand in the dirt as a situational strong side defensive end, and also employs the requisite speed and proper pursuit angles to be a sideline-to-sideline edge-setter to provide a stop-gap in the event Hightower or Collins are forced to miss time with injury or illness...

...which happened in five games during the second half of 2015, and the Patriots' run defense suffered.  How much?  Well in those five games, the opposition averaged 113 yards per contest, while in the games where they were both present, that number dropped to 90.  Try as they might, New England's depth players just couldn't recreate what those two players bring to the defense.

Now, the Patriots have that insurance in the four-year veteran linebacker McClellin, who will also man the middle if the Patriots ever find the occasion to do something weird, like actually lining up in a 4-3...

Selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, then-Bears' General Manager Phil Emery stated that McClellin was drafted to play with his hand in the dirt as a defensive end, even though his natural position, and the position he played in college, was middle linebacker. Two disappointing seasons later, new Bears' coach Marc Trestman switched McClellin to strong side linebacker...

...then last season coach John Fox moved him inside to man the middle, and he responded with his best season as a pro - but the fans could never get over Emery "wasting" a first round pick on McClellin, and Fox, despite being quoted as saying that McClellin was the "quarterback" of his defense, left him unprotected by declining his fifth-year option, hoping to bring him back under a far more reasonable number.

But Belichick saw an opportunity to make this square peg fit without forcing him into a position to fail, and scooped him up as important depth and a capable part-time starter.

*********************************

Last season, the Patriots ran a 4-2-5 "Big Nickle" as their primary alignment, meaning that they deployed four defensive linemen, two linebackers, two cornerbacks and three safeties. The result was success beyond the wildest dreams of Big Nickle enthusiasts, as New England finished the season surrendering just 18 points per game and held the team together through the second half of the season, when the offense seemed to have lost their way.

The Big Nickle is tough to attack for two reasons: first, the extra safety drops into the box and will act as a weak side linebacker, keying on the opponent's running back, taking him in the pattern or plugging a gap in run support. Secondly, the team plays with a single high safety in this alignment, meaning that they could employ both a run-support strong safety and a cover corner-type free safety at the same time.

As a result, the offense will have a difficult time ascertaining who has whom in pass coverage as well as who will be bringing pressure and where that pressure is coming from.

The Patriots are perhaps the only team in the league with the personnel to run such an alignment on a full time basis, and it is the primary reason why New England kept seven safeties on their roster last season in contrast to just four cornerbacks and five linebackers for the majority of the year.

And there are even solutions to the much-maligned linebacker depth already on the roster, as weaksider Jon Bostic - McClellin's former teammate at Chicago - is still under contract as well as run stuffing former Dolphin Jonathan Freeny - but the one player on currently on the roster who could make the biggest impact as a linebacker in the Big Nickle isn't a linebacker at all.

In college at Auburn, Brandon King played what is known as the "Star" linebacker position which, in the pro lexicon means a hybrid strong safety / linebacker - or, simply put, the Big Nickle - despite tipping the scales at a light 215 pounds, and even found himself playing defensive end in the Tigers' 3-2-6 dime alignment due to his exceptional speed and pass rushing skill.

King was brought aboard the Patriots' bandwagon as a priority free agent after the 2015 draft, and was impressive enough in his special teams play to be signed to the practice squad after being one of the final cuts as the Patriots trimmed their roster to 53 on final cut down day - elevated from the practice squad just three games into the season, King proved to be a menace to the oppositions' punt and kick return teams, finishing second to All Pro special teamer Matthew Slater in tackles.

It isn't often that one comes across a kid who is 6' 2", 225 pounds (he has added 10 points of bulk since joining the team) and can run in the 4.4 range, and who finishes play with jarring, finite hits, but if last season is any indication, the team values him more for his special teams stardom than as being the "Star" linebacker.

King is just one of the aforementioned seven safeties kept by New England last season, a group led by team captain and free safety Devin McCourty, veteran strong safety Patrick Chung and hybrid centerfielder Duron Harmon. McCourty, a former corner with blazing speed, helped in coverages underneath (usually on tight ends) while Chung proved to be a violent striker in run support and an able tag-a-long on backs curling into the pattern...

...with Harmon patrolling the deep end like a soccer goalie and with second year kid Jordan Richards backing up Chung.  Joining King as special teamers-only is Nate Ebner, who was re-signed by Belichick this offseason and is currently on loan to the United States Olympic Rugby team slated to compete in Rio De Janerio this summer before resuming his football career.

It was be a huge shock if Belichick decided to draft another safety, especially early in the process, given the incredible depth he has, but what would not be a shocker is if he saw a cornerback fall to him in the second or third round and he pounced, given the deep draft class at the position.

Currently, Pro Bowl corner Malcolm Butler headlines the corner, with Logan Ryan the only other veteran corner of note on the roster, though second year players Justin Coleman and Daryl Roberts hold significant promise as young blankets. The team has said that they are interested in bringing back nine-year veteran Tarell Brown, who is currently scheduled for free agency.

Brown was a starting corner for the San Francisco 49ers during their recent peak, when they lost to the Giants in the 2011 NFC Championship and to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl 47 the following year before hitting the skids with knee problems, the same knee problems which forced him to the Patriots' IR last season.

If Brown's knee has now sufficiently healed, he could bring a wealth of experience opposite Butler and relegate Ryan to the slot, where he has shown to be a worthy performer, and also give Coleman and Roberts time to grow.  Belichick also made another under-the-radar move recently, bringing in big corner E.J. Biggers, formerly of Philadelphia.

Another benefit of the Big Nickle, as mentioned earlier, is that the quarterback won't have an easy time figuring out where the pass rush is coming from or where to deploy his backfield help, but it goes without saying that despite New England dumping Chandler Jones and his annual late-season disappearing act, they have improved their ability to get to the quarterback...

...which sounds like crazy talk considering Jones just made the Pro Bowl, but when you can take Jones exorbitant salary and split it up to sign edge rusher Chris Long, late of the Rams, meaty nose tackle Terrence Knighton, and massive three-techs Frank Kearse and Markus Kuhn - not to mention getting a 2016 second round pick and a former first-round selection in guard Jonathan Cooper from Arizona in a swap for Jones - the pattern becomes clear.

This is not to discount Jones' contribution, but the six-to-one ratio that Belichick built from dealing Jones made the team better on the edges - with Jabaal Sheard taking over opposite the ageless Rob Ninkovich at ends with Long and a plethora of second year talent chomping at the bit for playing time - and better on the interior with Knighton beefing up the rotation at nose tackle while Kearse and Kuhn offer competition to Alan Branch and Dominique Easley at the under-tackle.

Combine that with the already more-than-impressive back seven in the Big Nickle, and the Patriots have given offensive coordinators many reasons to be up nights.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Patriots' Offense - From Finesse To Physical

Bill Belichick is a child of the 70's.

Many intellectuals born in the 1950's found themselves against the establishment created by the war mongers during their formative high school and college years smack in the middle of the 1970's. That didn't necessarily include Belichick, whose mind was already settled on what he wanted to do with his life and had no time to protest said establishment.

He saved that for this moment in time.

The Dark Master has always been a loose cannon. Most innovative minds tend to work in a sidewinding motion, and frequently drift at angles away from center at a distance where only megalomaniacs, kangaroos and adrenalin junkies feel comfortable.

And, perhaps twisted football coaches as well, but the body of evidence to satiate inclusion includes a list of men so exclusive that not even the greatest of the great to ever roam the sidelines did so with the absolute detest that Belichick holds in his heart for the people who run professional football - so that list includes just one, which hardly constitutes a list at all.

Belichick's anger towards the folks that run the National Football League is an emotion shared by millions, but his is singular in that he is in the position to do something about it, and every move that he has made thus far in his offseason team building process smacks of giving the league a metaphoric middle finger.

And by "The League", it is meant that no one is immune - either you are with the Patriots, or you are going to incur the wrath of Belichick, scorned.  For some, that means seeing their best-laid game plans laid waste. For others, it means taking a colossal stomping on the field of battle, but for those who wear the suits and ties and work at the NFL's posh Manhattan digs, it means getting the finger from Belichick at every turn.

It's not like he was part of the league's big, happy family prior to commissioner Roger Goodell and his minions setting him and his team up for an epic fall over air pressure in footballs, as he consistently refuses to join the NFL coaches association, his injury reports to the league offices fall just shy of novel length and his sideline attire smacks of thug life...

...so it doesn't take much to trigger his Machiavellian personality when it comes to the league hierarchy - and one can just imagine what's going through his mind as he contemplates how to handle his revenge upon Goodell, et al., for taking away his first round draft pick and suspending his franchise quarterback for what turned out to be a sting operation gone awry.

Actually, it doesn't take much of an imagination at all to figure out what he's doing, as he's loading up with some serious beef, threatening to build his team like the antiquated 1970's squads whose hallmark was being physical and bullying the other team into submission.

*****************************

The 1978 New England Patriots still hold the NFL single-season record for most rushing yards in a season by calling 671 rushing plays.

Wrap your brains around that for a second, 671 rushing plays. But if you want to get technical, quarterback Steve Grogan turned and handed the ball to one of his four rugged backs only 590 times, while he kept the ball 81 times for an astounding 6.7 yards per carry. In fact, Grogan was one of four Patriots at ran for at least 500 yards that season...

...with the others, Sam Cunningham (768 yards, 3.9ypc), Andy Johnson (675, 4.6) and Horace Ivory (693, 4.9) all running behind one of the greatest run blocking offensive lines in NFL history, featuring Leon Gray and John Hannah at left tackle and guard, respectively, Sam Adams at right guard, Shelby Jordan and right tackle and Dr. Bill Lenkatis at the pivot.

Players were smaller back in the day - for example, Hog Hannah was considered a huge specimen at 6'2" and 265 pounds, but would be considered too small for the position today. Running backs were proportionately smaller as well, with Cunningham, a fullback, tipping the scales at 226 pounds and everyone else at least 20 pounds lighter.

There were no "passing backs" per se, because all of the running backs were adept at catching the football. In fact, nearly half of all of the completions in the passing game went to the running backs, and the leading actual pass catcher on the Patriots that season was tight end Russ Francis, with a whopping 39 receptions.

For comparison's sake, consider that on the 2015 edition of the Patriots, tight end Rob Gronkowski nearly doubled Francis' production, and that the Patriots' offense as a whole more than doubled the number of completed passes of that 11-5, 1978 team.

That said, the 2016 edition of the Patriots isn't going to set any rushing records. They may, however, be forever remembered as the team whose offense shattered every record there is for efficiency.

You know, things like first downs made, time of possession, third down efficiency, fourth down efficiency, red zone efficiency and so forth, because if you thought the Patriots' offense was a methodical, boring, chain-moving entity before, his moves in free agency pretty much guarantee that they will become the preeminent methodical, boring, chain-moving offense.

At least, it will boring to the fans of their opponents, but that is not our concern.

For the past decade, the Patriots have de-evolved into a finesse team, particularly on offense, where the reliance was on under-sized interior linemen who could move laterally in unison for a zone blocking scheme that featured smallish backs who could slash against the grain through cutback lanes. The drawbacks to the scheme, however, were that the interior linemen would get manhandled at the point of attack and most of the time were not able to fight through to the second level...

...while in pass protection they would be pushed back by the initial punch of the defensive pass rush, causing the pocket to collapse around Brady and, most importantly. did not give him room to step into his throws. The pass rush didn't even have to get to Brady to be effective, which gave defensive coordinators carte blanche to run exotic coverage packages.

Even so, the Patriots would always be able to fly through the regular season with 12, 13 or 14 wins and secure a first round bye - most of the time the top seed in the conference as well - but once they faced superior defenses in the post season, the results were mixed and several opportunities for titles were missed.

So Belichick is going about the dark business this offseason to ensure that his team will not get pushed around in the trenches ever again.

Belichick made two acquisitions in particular on offense that feed this notion - both of them via trades - while also taking the opportunity to beef up his defensive interior, literally.

Four days after the free agency period began, Belichick dumped a huge salary by shipping defensive end Chandler Jones to Arizona in exchange for a second round draft pick and guard Jonathan Cooper, a former first-round pick - then two days later trading a fourth-round pick to Chicago in exchange for Pro Bowl tight end Martellus Bennett and a sixth-round pick.

It could be argued a win for both side in each endeavor, as Arizona gets much-needed pass rush help and unload a former-seventh overall draft pick in Cooper, who struggled with injuries and was considered a bust by most experts, while Chicago gets a mid-round pick for a disgruntled pass catcher who didn't like some of his red zone touches going to someone else...

...but the real winners are the Patriots, who add an experienced right guard to a mix that includes Tre Jackson and Josh Kline, and who team up Bennett with the preeminent tight end in all of football in Rob Gronkowski to form a tight end tandem the likes of which the National Football League has never seen.

Throw in massively underused H-back Clay Harbor, whom Belichick signed last week, and 305 pound hybrid tackle/tight end Michael Williams, and the Patriots may well have the largest offensive front in the National Football League - because in addition to the 6' 6", 265 pound Gronkowski bookended by the 6' 7", 270 pound Bennett, New England boasts identically-sized tackles in 6' 8",325 pound Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer,,,

...replacing girth with sheer power on the interior with 6' 1", 310 pound left guard Shaq Mason and 6' 4". 325 pound Tre Jackson and Cooper slugging it out for top dog at right guard, flanking 6' 4", 325 pound Bryan Stork at the pivot.

The only thing missing is a powerful, bell-cow running back, which New England will likely be addressing on Day 2 of the NFL draft coming up in three weeks and, barring that, they could always fall back on the back that is perfectly suited to run behind a wall-blocking entity that Belichick has built, in the person of veteran LeGarrette Blount.

Blount has had zero interest from other teams on the free agent market - most likely stemming from his less-than-amicable release from the Pittsburgh Steelers midway through the 2014 season, not to mention a hip injury that landed him on the injured reserved list late last season, an event that effectively ruined the Patriots' offense for the post-season because they had no running game to balance the unit.

So with Blount on Belichick's speed dial, the Patriots have a ready-made bell-cow at 6' 0" and 250 pounds just in case whomever they draft needs some time to acclimate, or just because Belichick remembers that the Oregon bad boy averaged 4.3 yards per carry last season despite the injuries along the line and offensive coordiantor Josh McDaniels' penchant for forgetting that he has a running game.

In fact, it may come as a surprise to some that for his career, Blount has averaged a stout 4.6 yards per carry and found paydirt 31 times - and like any power back worth his salt, Blount gets better when the games count the most, averaging 4.9 yards per carry in the post season, not a bad Plan B, as it were.

Regardless of who is taking the handoffs from Brady, the Patriots are stacked with a massive, wall-blocking offensive line to go along with undoubtedly the deadliest passing attack in the league, and the running game will be much more effective because of the change in philosophy from finesse to physical.

Belichick has been quoted on numerous occasions as stating that those mid-to-late 1970's teams were the best New England has ever served up - physical and violent, those teams bullied their opponants in an era when being physical and violent was commonplace and came within one Ben Dreith flag and Billy Sullivan's interference from having two more Lombardi's in the trophy case.

But those teams have served as a blueprint for what a Patriots' team should be about, and now Belichick is loading up with physical, violent and super-sized players for his offensive juggernaut. As mentioned before, they probably won't set any rushing records, but they are about to unleash the most proficient and deadly efficient offense in the history of the NFL...


Friday, April 1, 2016

Post-Belichick Free Agent Feeding Frenzy Mock Draft Has Different Feel

Thanks, Bill.  Just thanks.

I had a perfectly good initial mock draft going a couple of weeks back, secure in the knowledge that Patriots defacto General Manager Bill Belichick had been his typically dormant self in the wee hours of free agency, waiting for the high-priced talent to weed out the suckers playing with house money to set the ceiling on veteran mercs, and the more reasonable suckers with limited incomes to set the floor before adjusting his template and joining the fracas.

But a funny thing happened. Belichick didn't just join the fracas, he jumped in and punked every other general manager in the pit, and in the process changed the offensive dynamic of the team by trading for a potential starting interior lineman, a monstrously athletic and complete tight end, then added a possession receiver and a complementary back in free agency...

...while bolstering the defense by signing a starting interior linebacker and signing both a celebrated strong-side pass rusher and a mammoth defensive tackle named after meat - and while that may not sound like a hell of a big booty, when names are put to the positions, they solve the few questions that the Patriots had coming into their team-building process.

And destroyed my mock draft.  Right, never lose sight of the primary focus.
Howard was a man among boys rushing for the Hoosiers

So, remember the past three seasons when Belichick shocked everyone by signing players that were known only to their mothers and a few college students? Patriots' fans should not be surprised to see Belichick go with the old "Best athelete available" ploy, even though that term has a different meaning in Foxborough.

In Foxborough, a free agent fits in the system if he has a skill set that Belichick can game plan with, rather than display a skill set that the team game plans around. There are no egos, just a brimming confidence that comes with being put in a position to succeed - and then actually succeeding.

Rookies, on the other hand, fit in the system if they take to coaching, have brains and flash versatile athleticism, because Belichick needs to know what he has in a player before he knows how to game plan with him - which would also explain why the Dark Master seems to prefer bringing veterans in if he needs immediate production...

...like he does now.  In my previous mock, I had the Patriots selecting Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard in the second round, but signing Chris Hogan and Nate Washington made drafting a receiver a depth priority, not an immediate need. The trade for former Bears' tight end Martellus Bennett also shifted the philosophy of the offense, and has me wondering how many receivers Belichick is likely to keep when all he's going to ever need is two or three on the field at any given time.

Bennett also superceded the need for the Patriots to take a tight end in the draft, blowing up my fourth round selection of Western Kentucky's Tyler Higbee, and perhaps one of my sixth-round picks, UCLA's wide receiver / tight end Thomas Duarte.

Belichick also ruined my third-round choice of interior linebacker Scooby Wright out of Arizona by signing another former Bear, linebacker Shea McClellin, a versatile former first-round draft pick who was moved around all over the second level in Chicago as they tried to find a place for him to fit in the scheme, but with Belichick he will find his niche, probably as the middle linebacker.

So my precious mock is a smoldering ruin thanks to Belichick's aggressiveness in free agency, as the priorities have changed.  Where before the need for a receiver, a tight end and interior linebacking - not to mention some solid depth along the offensive line - were paramount, Belichick addressed them all in a short, intense burst of free agent lunacy...

...leaving only the pressing needs for a bell-cow running back and a number two cornerback, both of which I have addressed in the second round of my latest mock draft:

2. Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU  
    6' 1", 171

Robinson's draft grade is all over the place, which is to be expected with as many red flags and character concerns he carries in his baggage - but there is no denying the kid's skill.

Multiple suspensions, including a permanent ban from the LSU football team and an arrest for illegal entry into a teammate's apartment overshadow Robinson's shut-down quality athleticism and intuition. Has not played organized ball since early in 2014 - and that, plus his spindly frame and aforementioned baggage lowered his 1st or 2nd round talent into the third day of the draft initially, but it's tough for evaluators to overlook his pure talent.

Had an impressive Freshman year where he locked onto the opposition's best receiver and pinned him against the sideline, taking some gambles though his makeup speed and explosion to the ball in the air are first class. In other words, he can put on an island and will likely survive anything an opposing quarterback can throw his way. Belichick has had some luck with troubled corners in the past, and they all seemed to fall in line with the Patriot Way. If this kid does the same, the sky over Gillette Stadium will become a no-fly zone.

2. Jordan Howard, RB, Indiana
    6'0", 230

The question for the Patriots is not whether they need a power back, rather, the question is what flavor do they need?

In Howard, they would get a one-speed, north-south downhill runner who would just rather lower his pads and cream the linebacker or defensive back, and avoid all of that ellusiveness crap, though he does possess some lateral agility and will cut to follow blocks, but he's no Barry Sanders. He understands angles, however, and will adjust his line so as to not allow the defender to line up a clean shot.

His pass protection needs some coaching up, which makes him a bit of a project in this offense, but there is no doubt that Howard is a bell-cow, capable of carrying a heavy workload.  However, if the Patriots prefer a back with a bit more shiftiness on the second level, they could go with Arkansas' power back Jonathan Williams.

3. Matt Judon, DE, Grand Valley State
    6' 3", 275

Don't let the small school label fool you, Judon possesses an NFL quality burst to rush the quarterback and the lateral agility and balance to set the edge in the running game. The one thing that he has going against him is the small school label.
Judon at Grand Valley

A bit of a project as far as refined technique is concerned, but Judon didn't need much refinement at Grand Valley State, where he simply ran over or around helpless offensive tackles, leading the nation in sacks last season with 20. Not just Division II football, but all of college football, regardless of level.

3. Keyarris Garrett, WR, Tulsa
    6' 3", 220

A classic long-strider and immediate deep threat, Garrett is an imposing physical mismatch for most corners and, most importantly perhaps, tracks the ball well and has shown a knack for adjusting routes to settle in under wayward throws.

He is lightning off the line and understands the leverage he possesses with his tremendous length and deep speed, which corners will have to respect, giving Garrett opportunities to work back towards the quarterback in the role of a possession-type receiver.  He's a good route runner, but played in primarily spread offenses, and often as the trailer in bunch formations, perhaps inflating his stats a bit.

But as former basketball coach Frank Layden used to say, you can't teach height and you can't coach speed, and this kid has both. He will fall to the third round primarily because of his level of competition in college will make for a major jump in class to the NFL, but also he has proven to be a bit fragile.
Garrett against Zack Sanchez


5. Willie Beavers, OT, Western Michigan (trade up)
    6' 5", 321

Carries a 5th to 6th round draft grade because of coming from a small school and because he is still raw in his technique - but there is no denying that Beavers has all the tools to become a solid left tackle in the NFL, with proper coaching and a little patience.

Mirrors speed rushers on the outside and physically manhandles them, pushing them around the pocket or simply stymieing them. His issue is moving to his right, where he will lose his balance against strong interior moves by the pass rushers. It is a technique issue, but one that will prevent him from coming in and becoming a force right away. He is excellent in the running game and could help a team as a swing tackle while perfecting his game.

Without a fourth or a fifth round selection, the Patriots would have to use their ridiculous number of sixth round draft picks to move up to snag Beavers - and I have them giving up three of the five to move up enough to do so.

6. Thomas Duarte, TE/WR, UCLA
    6' 2", 231

Is he a receiver or a tight end? On one hand, he has great size to be a receiver, but lacks the straight line speed expected over the top of the defense. On the other hand, his size is also appropriate for a move tight end, and frequently wins on crossing routes and up the seam, but is not as physical as you would want your tight end to be.

Reliable hands and being a touchdown maker are his calling card, but he is a bit soft on the takedown, as he will go down like a sack of potatoes with a solid hit from a corner or safety, and isn't much for dragging folks - generally, he catches the ball and looks for a place to sit down, but his separation ability and speed up the seam dictates that if he is in the clear, he will aim for the end zone.

6. Nick Kwiatkoski, ILB, West Virginia
    6' 2, 245

A former safety who made the transformation to inside linebacker, becoming all Big 12 in the process, Kwiatkoski is the type of player you want to have manning the middle zones in the big nickle, as his coverage skills are top notch for a linebacker and he lives to deliver a shot to the ball carrier or pass catcher crossing into his area.

Interestingly, he compares favorably to new Patriot Shea McClellin, which could provide dividends as the rookie could be taken on by the coaching staff and worked into the equation slowly, with McClellin's manic style serving as the template for what New England would expect him to be.

7. Antwione Williams, OLB, Georgia Southern
    6' 3", 247

Intimidating sideline to sideline hitter who lacks burst and straight line speed, but has learned to use attack angles to become a draftable linebacker. Stout and violent against the run with some edge-setting properties - may be a better interior gap-plugging linebacker at the pro level.

7. Devon Johnson, RB, Marshall
    6' 0", 238

Nicknamed "Rockhead" due to his no-nonsense, downhill running style, Johnson doesn't try to avoid contact with linebackers - rather, he takes pride in driving through their attempt to tackle him. Recruited to Marshall as a tight end, so he shows soft hands in the pattern, though he is not a threat to run away from defenders and has limited run-after-catch ability. Could be a convert to H-Back and would have some competition in camp to gain a roster spot.