Some news and notes on this Monday morning:
1) It’s finally NFL Draft week, which sets up what should be an interesting weekend for a New England Patriots team that is heading into what’s arguably one of the more important drafts in recent memory.
For a team that is in need of getting younger and faster on the defensive side of the football, the Patriots are going to need to have similar success to what we saw last April when they landed defensive lineman Christian Barmore, who became an impact player in 2021. The question now is what position they’ll target, with how round one plays out likely deciding what direction they’ll take.
Defensive back and linebacker feel like the two most glaring needs, with New England facing plenty of uncertainty at both positions heading into 2022.
The former feels like the bigger priority, as the Patriots secondary is extremely thin and that’s where the club definitely can’t afford to miss. Given the cost of the position in free agency, it’s obvious that teams understand the significance of having impact players in their secondary since the top teams in both Conferences are a reminder of what a pass-dominated league the NFL has evolved into.
Being able to draft someone at cornerback who can immediately contribute would be remarkable, as the Patriots haven’t been that fortunate since they selected Devin McCourty in round one back in 2010.
The only issue was his success outside was short-lived. McCourty had a phenomenal rookie season, leading the club with 7 interceptions, which tied him for 2nd in the NFL that season with Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu and had him just one behind the league leader, which was Baltimore’s Ed Reed.
But issues in his sophomore season saw him take a step back, as he struggled to repeat the success he saw in year one, finishing with two interceptions while enduring some frustrating moments. Fortunately, the club utilized his skills and moved him to safety, where he obviously went on to become an impact player. He’s now heading into his 13th season with the club, which could be his final one.
Most of the big-name defensive backs appear to be likely gone long before the Patriots have an opportunity to make a selection, with Cincinnati’s Ahmad Gardner, Washington’s Trent McDuffie, and LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. all showing up in various mocks as players who could be taken in the top 15. Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr. has been a frequent name that has appeared on quite a few mocks going to New England, with most experts feeling like he’ll be a good player in the league who could be among the guys available in their draft slot.
Patriots fans likely would love to see Stingley Jr. end up here, with Mel Kiper Jr. recently speculating on a podcast with Phil Perry that should he fall out of the top 10, depending on if/how far he drops, we could see Bill Belichick potentially move up to get him.
That would certainly be poetic, to a certain extent. Stingley Jr. is the grandson of former Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley, who was paralyzed and became a quadriplegic following a vicious hit to the head by Jack Tatum during the 1978 preseason.
Stingley’s son – and Derek’s father – Derek Sr. said in a recent interview that the former Patriots player had a hard time adjusting to paralysis, with his Derek Sr. once having a heart-to-heart as his father explained the frustration he dealt with.
“I asked him, ‘Dad, why are you yelling so much?’ he said ‘Derek just imagine you want to get up and walk away from a situation if something bothers you, to take a ride, take a walk, clear your head. I can’t do that anymore. So I’m more frustrated than I’ve ever been in life, that I can’t do that anymore. I don’t mean to be that way toward any of you, it’s just how I’m feeling.’” Derek Sr. said. “I think after that, but much later, he accepted the body he had to live in.”
Stingley passed away in 2007, when Derek Jr. was just five years old.
For him to land in New England would be pretty incredible, albeit it feels like a longshot. Injuries had seemed to see his stock drop, but whether or not it would be far enough to put him within reach of the Patriots will be the one side notes to watch on night one.
2) From there, linebacker seems to be the other most likely option. I’ve lost count of how many mocks have Utah’s Devin Lloyd as the candidate many believe the Patriots might target, but that seems to be the consensus among the majority of them.
The Patriots reportedly met with Lloyd back at the Combine and it sounds like they didn’t pull any punches as they tried to get a feel for how he might fit into their defense. Lloyd said via the Boston Herald’s Andrew Callahan that during the meeting, the club was “very intentional with the questions they ask[ed]”, which tells you that there is interest and New England clearly did some significant due diligence on him.
Georgia’s Nakobe Dean remains the other name that could be interesting to watch, as Dean has been a late-round pick in several mocks. The highly athletic linebacker has been someone who seems like he could potentially fit in whatever scheme the Patriots are beginning to adapt to, with speed seemingly being a key attribute given what’s beginning to happen in the AFC with opposing offenses.
Dean’s size (he’s only 5’11, 229lbs) might be the only potential issue, but he’s a guy who doesn’t shy away from contact and is extremely intelligent, both of which are traits Belichick tends to look for.
Another player who could end up being on their radar appears to be Dean’s teammate, defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt. CBS Sports’ Ryan Wilson has the Patriots taking him with the 21st overall pick in his latest mock, adding another big body to compliment Barmore. Building a formidable group upfront to disrupt offenses would be another great way to go, and at 6’3″, 307lbs, Wyatt was dominant in that role during what was a terrific season for his club in 2021.
What direction they decide to go is obviously the big question and it’s going to be fascinating to see how they approach it. Seeing them trade out also wouldn’t be a surprise, since most believe this year’s draft is somewhat deep with talent defensively in round two and beyond.
As has been written here recently, it sort of feels like if they don’t move up, they could move back into early round two. While Wilson didn’t propose a trade, he does have the Patriots selecting Auburn cornerback, Roger McCreary with the 54th overall pick in round two.
Somewhere within Gillette Stadium there’s a map of how it will go. Thankfully, we’re only a few days away from finally finding out what that plan might be.
2b) Interesting nugget from Ben Volin of the Boston Globe on the Patriots having the 21st overall pick in round one.
Volin points out that it’s the seventh time in franchise history the Patriots are slated to pick from that spot, with the last time happening in 2012 when they selected Chandler Jones.
Other players they’ve taken there are Laurence Maroney, Vince Wilfork, Daniel Graham, Tim Fox and John Charles.
3) Some sad news over the weekend as former Patriots linebacker Clayton Weishkuhn was reportedly killed in an automobile accident on Friday.
According to reports, Weishkuhn died in an accident in his hometown of Wall, Texas after he rolled his 2001 Dodge 2500 truck, which appeared to have occurred after he drifted and then over-corrected.
Weishkuhn, who was reportedly not wearing his seatbelt, was ejected from the vehicle and was pronounced dead at the scene.
The former New England linebacker was a former 3rd-round pick back in the 1982 NFL Draft and set the franchise record for most tackles in a season with 229, which came during the 1983 season.
That record still currently stands today.
Best wishes to Weishkuhn and his family, as it’s definitely a tragic loss as he was just 62-years old.
Here’s a video from the Patriots’ Week 4 match-up against Pittsburgh, which saw Weishkuhn (#53) make several plays. He actually burst through the line on the second offensive play from scrimmage by the Steelers and made a tackle. That was a pretty talented group he was a part of which included Weishkuhn, Andre Tippett, Steve Nelson, and Don Blackmon.
4) With the uncertainty surrounding the Patriots’ offensive coaching staff, 2022 is definitely shaping up to have its other storylines given the transition going on with who will be handling things on the offensive side of the football.
Patriots reporter Tom Curran recalled a story this past week about how Joe Judge ran into issues during the 2019 season where receivers questioned his knowledge of the position, but it sounds like there might have been another player of note who wasn’t overly confident in Judge’s ability.
According to Boston Sports Journal writer, Greg Bedard, Tom Brady reportedly also fell into that category. Bedard was asked about the incident in his Q&A and revealed that additional little bit of information.
“I said it multiple times, including toward the end of the 2019 season, that people thought Judge was a joke as a WR coach – including Tom Brady,” said Bedard.
That’s going to remain one of the areas to watch in the coming months. The fact Brady thought little of him is notable given his stature, and is certainly cause for concern.
With Judge and Matt Patricia expected to carry a lot of the load this season, it’s definitely going to be interesting to see exactly how all that will work as Belichick continues trying to rebuild his staff that certainly has some voids following Josh McDaniel’s offseason departure to Las Vegas.
5) Count the Panthers as a club that appears to be off the board as a landing spot for Cleveland Browns quarterback, Baker Mayfied.
According to reports, the Panthers aren’t expected to make a run at Mayfield prior to the draft and appear set to use their #6th overall pick on a quarterback, which could include names such as Liberty QB Malik Willis, Pitt’s Kenny Pickett or possibly Ole Miss’ Matt Corral.
The Panthers should have their pick of whoever they want at that spot, with only the New York Giants (#5) as the other potential club who seemingly might go there. Jacksonville (#1 overall), Detroit (#2) likely won’t venture there, and Houston (#3 overall) seems relatively comfortable with moving forward with Davis Millls.
After that, it’s the Jets (#4 overall), who made their big move last year when they selected Zach Wison.
Should Carolina shut that door, Mayfield’s options look pretty limited. That relationship seems pretty fractured and it would be hard to imagine the disgruntled QB playing out the year there and handling things the way that Jimmy Garoppolo did with the 49ers.
What would be pretty crazy would be seeing him stay there and actually play early in the season if the Browns end up with Deshaun Watson suspended for four games, if that’s how it plays out.
Imagine Mayfield, who obviously has plenty to prove, going out and running off four straight wins in impressive fashion, only to see Watson struggle badly moving forward after having been out of the league for all of 2021. That would be ideal for Mayfield, who could then write his ticket out of town and get whatever he wants.
Then again, he could just sit home and force Cleveland’s hand and let them start Jacoby Brissett. Either way, the way things appear to be going, it’s looking more and more that he’ll either have to pick between holding out or swallowing his pride and playing in 2022.
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