New England Patriots News 4-21, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 21, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 04-21 and AFC East Notes.

We would like to wish everyone a Happy Easter today.

The Patriots began their offseason conditioning work this week in Gillette. While no one gets a look at what they do, the Patriots always put a premium on being one of the fittest teams in the league. The endurance that begins now and goes thru the July/August sprints up the hills carries the team to wins in December and January.

Keep this in mind; In 2016, 72 of the 256 NFL regular season games were won by a team that trailed in the 4th quarter. That doesn’t include the Super Bowl (28-3).

ICYMI: Our third attempt at predicting how the Patriots will draft, Mock Draft 3.0 was conducted last week with some trades thrown into the mix. You can recap it again here:  Mock Draft 2.0 an attempt on beefing up the weaker parts of the roster was our previous attempt. You can recap it here: I believe we all expect the Patriots to be very active in this one, possibly packing some picks for a trade or perhaps moving around the board as they are very used to doing.

Derek Havens and I have been doing a special podcast highlighting the upcoming NFL Draft in addition to the regular one we do with host Russ Goldman. This week, we had ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates with us to discuss the draft, what the Patriots may do, especially in the early rounds and about the NFL in general. That can be heard here:

We will do one more pre-draft podcast where we’ll take a stab at predicting the entire first round of the draft and then see who the Patriots may target.

Quick Hitters:

Rob Gronkowski was back in the news and the Patriots released a video of the behind the scenes look at the Fenway Park celebration. Several players were warming up for the ceremonial first pitch and Gronk decided to stand in the batter’s box against Julian Edelman. He went farther though and used a Lombardi Trophy for bat and bunted a pitch, putting a huge dent in the back of the football of the trophy.

That video can be seen here: Classic Gronkowski…BTW the Patriots have no intentions of fixing the dent…It now has personality….Going out with a bang.

Benjamin Watson who was thought to be retiring is said to be considering a return to the NFL this season. After the birth of the twins he’s expecting, Watson may return to playing “in the right situation” according to Adam Schefter. While that probably means a return to the Saints, seeing Watson play one more season with the Patriots wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen.

Ben Watson catches a TD against the Bills on MNF in 2009.

Brandon Bolden signed a one-year deal to return to the Patriots and it is like coming home again for the veteran STs standout and backup RB. Bolden has always been one of the most popular players in the locker room and last year, the Patriots players made it clear to him when they saw him that his locker remained untouched.

Bolden remarked that his year in Miami was like “going away to college” but is happy to be back. “For some strange reason, every time I did something, I could hear Bill (Belichick) cussing me out like, ‘No, that’s not how we do it,’” Bolden said. “And I was like, ‘You’re right. I’ve got to do it the right way.’ I had great coaching… and it just carried me all through last year. Like, the entire time. I’m happy to be back, excited to get back to work. I missed this place.” And you were missed…especially on STs.

D’Qwell Jackson just wants his football back. The Colts linebacker who inadvertently started the entire Deflategate fiasco by intercepting a Brady pass in the AFC Championship Game and giving it to an equipment manager to keep, and then having this equipment guy turn the ball over to the NFL. Now Jackson has sent a letter to Tom Brady asking for his help getting his football back…. A hilarious bit here and definitely worth another watch.

Allen Bailey is a name to keep an eye on this spring. The former Chiefs DL is a free agent and came in to New England for a visit. Bailey is probably waiting to sign anywhere until after the draft to see where he’ll be asked to be a bigger piece of the puzzle. If the Patriots don’t get one of the top tier defensive linemen in the draft, don’t be shocked to see Bailey get an offer from New England.

Daniel Jones is reportedly getting a longer look by the Patriots??? CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora wrote in his column this bit about New England allegedly liking Daniel Jones the more they think about it:

This could become a spot for Daniel Jones. The Duke QB is a polarizing prospect who hasn’t exactly wowed everyone he’s been around… I continue to hear the Patriots have taken a shine to him. Is he their pick at 32? I’m not so sure. Maybe the Patriots would move up a bit for him.” While they did have him in for a visit, moving up to pick Jones? Not buying into that.

NFL Schedule Release Means Super Overreaction Day:

With the NFL releasing the schedule on Wednesday night, we were once again reminded what an absolute sieve Park Avenue is, as their celebrated release show was rendered moot by an avalanche of schedule teasers, who took the thunder out of the NFL’s release. Operational Security is not high there. Hmmm, didn’t we mention that about 4 years ago? But we digress…

It is always fascinating to gauge fans’ reaction when the schedule is released, even though they’ve already known who the opponents are, just not how they play out. For Patriots fans, the mantra has gone from a worrisome lack of offensive weapons to many proclamations of the team running the table on the first 7-8 weeks of the schedule. What changed? Shouldn’t we wait for those predictions until at least the draft is over?

Even more predictable is the reaction from the fans from other teams, especially those fan bases from rivals (you know who they are). With the perpetual lament about how the Patriots make the playoffs every year only because the AFC East is so weak. Ugh.

It was refreshing to see a national NFL reporter Field Yates, put that ridiculous and overblown take in proper perspective. However, you can set your clock by these overreactions and depending upon the area code how it means completely different things, again depending on your point of view.

Tweet by Field Yates on AFC East

But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. There was a report released by the Attorney General this week and depending upon which side of the aisle one sits on, the takes on that were so different, you would’ve thought they were two totally different reports. Signs of the times.  

Chris Hogan Now A Panther and Still a Misunderstood Player:

Not surprisingly Chris Hogan has moved on in free agency after three seasons with the Patriots. He signed a one-year deal with the Panthers that is worth up to $2 million, a pretty modest figure, which highlights that the Patriots were ready to move on and try to get younger and more athletic at the position (we’ll see).

Hogan wasn’t brought here to be a #1 receiver, that isn’t who he is and never will be. He’s a complementary guy who can and has provided solid production if he’s part of a solid rotation of players on offense.  

And while no one will argue that Hogan had a frustrating year, his numbers were nearly the same in all three seasons with the Patriots.

Chris Hogan during 2018 mini-camp (SBalestrieri photo)

2016 – 15 games, 58 targets, 38 receptions, 680 yards 17.9 avg. 4 TDs

2016 had the Patriots loaded offensively. Julian Edelman had nearly 100 catches (98) and 1106 yards, Danny Amendola, Martellus Bennett, Gronkowski, Malcolm Mitchell, with James White and Dion Lewis out of the backfield. Teams could pick their poison and Hogan often drew the lesser of the opposing team’s corners and feasted (see Pittsburgh AFCCG) with his stellar yards per reception.

2017 – 9 games, 59 targets, 34 receptions, 439 yards, 12.9 avg. 5 TDs

Hogan got off to a hot start in 2017 then was hurt and was never quite the same which made his yards per reception average drop by a large margin, although the one from the year before was unsustainable. Again, the Patriots had a plethora of pass catchers beginning with Brandin Cooks with 65 for over 1000 yards, Gronk returned healthy with a 69 catch 1000 yard season. Danny Amendola had 61 catches and the trio of Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, and James White out of the backfield had 118 catches.

2018 – 16 games, 55 targets, 35 receptions, 532 yards, 15.2 avg. 3 TDs

What a difference a year makes. Edelman was suspended for the first four games of the year. Gronkowski was hobbling all season, Cooks was gone and replaced by Josh Gordon who chipped in 40 catches. Amendola, Mitchell, and Cooks were gone, Phillip Dorsett chipped in with 32 catches. A mess of injuries in the summer decimated the WR position.

Despite struggling to gain separation, and often ignored, Hogan’s targets and catches remained almost identical to his first two years. But with the offense clicking at a much lower rate than the standard that we’ve become accustomed to, he was singled out often for criticism. Fair or not, it is what it is.

Hogan would be the first to say that he didn’t have a good year in 2018. That is who he is. But let’s not do the normal thing here and kick the guy on his way out the door. He was a key part of three Super Bowl teams in his three years here, winning two. And in the only one they lost he logged six catches for 128 yards and a touchdown.

While a lot of people are excited about the signing of Demaryius Thomas, let us remind ourselves the Patriots are not getting the guy from five years ago. His numbers from last year combined with Denver and Houston: Now with the albeit unscientific method of giving Hogan 89 targets, the same as Thomas based on his 2018 numbers?
89 targets, 59 catches, 677 yards, 11.5 avg. 5 TDs
89 targets, 57 catches, 875 yards, 15.2 avg. 5 TDs. The bottom line, the Thomas from five years ago is a vastly better WR than Hogan. In 2019, I think Hogan is. Moving on.

Offensive Tackle, Not Defensive May Be the First Patriot Selection:

The Patriots have been rumored to be taking a DT early in the draft by several draft experts in many of the Mock Drafts over the internet. Including here…although we’d stop well short of declaring us here as “Draft Experts”, but the plethora of excellent prospects make that an attractive option.

But… after losing both starting left tackle Trent Brown and swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle to free agency and having last season’s top draft pick Isaiah Wynn still recovering from an Achilles injury suffered in training camp last summer, (those counting on DThomas, who suffered his in December should take note) the position is one of need.

There are several out there that warrant early round consideration, and while it may not be the sexy pick that we’re all wanting…and expecting, the Patriots have made it a habit to zig while everyone else zags… Trading up may involve a tackle but not the one we’re all expecting …just saying Stay tuned

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Poised to be Players at the Draft:

The Buffalo Bills are finally in an enviable position in the NFL Draft. Last season they found their franchise QB and still have the #9 pick as well as 10 picks in the draft. This draft is loaded with talent at exactly the places the Bills need to address the depth and holes in their roster. Tight End, wide receiver and the defensive line are all positions of need for Buffalo.

Holding the #9 pick, the Bills can scan the board and move down if desperate teams behind them are itching to move up for their own prospect. This is unchartered territory for the Bills and they should be in a great position to have themselves a great draft.

In other developments, the Bills will be planning a trip to Dallas for Thanksgiving. The Cowboys have traditionally been involved in Thanksgiving and this year the Bills will be on the nationally televised game from the Big D. That promises to be an intriguing matchup…at least in April.

Dolphins May Be Looking To Trade Back in Round 1:

The Miami Dolphins have the 13th pick in the upcoming draft and if the QB they want, if any of them are on the board that they like, they may move back to accumulate more draft capital and roll the dice with Ryan Fitzpatrick for 2019.

Therein lies the rub, there may be a QB that they like but are not enamored with, so the temptation is to settle. But history is an unkind barometer of teams who did just that. It will be intriguing to see who GM Chris Grier and new coach Brian Flores select.

One thing is for sure, there will be plenty of suitors to move up in the draft, there always are. And the Dolphins could be the beneficiaries of some nice draft capital because of it.

Jets Bell Has Week 16 Tilt Against the Steelers Circled:

File this one under “Be Careful What You Ask For…You may get it. The New York Jets new running back Le’Veon Bell who the Jets signed to a big four-year deal with the Jets worth $52.5 million with $35 million guaranteed after sitting out last season with Pittsburgh over a salary dispute. Bell wasted no time once the schedule was released to circle a Week 16 date with the Steelers.

Bell took to Twitter and posted a picture of himself running against the Jets. He did keep things light by posting “Jets Steelers, Sunday December 22nd. I got a feeling something miiight be a little different this time around…” While that is innocuous enough considering that in the picture he was running against the Jets, some people will take as something else and it immediately becomes bulletin board material.

That is usually the time of the year where Pittsburgh is trying to solidify playoff position and the Jets are hoping to find themselves in a familiar position. We’ll see.

________________

“Is it time for the Draft yet? So, how was your week?”

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.



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