With the Patriots mandatory mini-camp over, it is time to a very early look at a New England Patriots 53-man roster projection. We were fortunate enough to be there for the entire three days this season. While there was no contact and no pads, it gave a good if albeit premature look at how the 2019 roster could play out.
Later this summer, we’ll post primers for each position but here is our first crack at a workable 53-man roster.
Offense – Quarterbacks: (3)
Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
The Patriots will once again go with three quarterbacks this summer. Hoyer is entrenched as the #2 for now and in minicamp the rookie Stidham was taking all of the #3 reps, at times on the final day, he even got #2 reps before Hoyer so the coaches could get a look at what he can do in the offense. He has a long way to go, but he’s clearly got the coaches intrigued with his down-the-road potential.
Bad news for Danny Etling who was working as the personal protector during minicamp. Oh and that Brady kid from Michigan? He’ll be okay and should stick….
Running backs: (6)
Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, James Develin
Sony Michel missed all of mini-camp which raises the question if he’s hurt. With the drafting of the impressive rookie Harris, he and Burkhead can spell Michel if he’s out for a while. James White isn’t going anywhere and the team brought back Bolden for STs and to fill in if needed. Develin is invaluable as the fullback who can block and catch the odd pass here or there.
Tight ends: (3) Matt Lacosse, Ryan Izzo, Stephen Anderson **Ben Watson Suspended**
The Patriots have Lacosse as the clear #1 heading into the season with Watson suspended for the first month of the season unless they make a trade. Izzo is the blocking (read Dwayne Allen) tight end who nudges out Andrew Beck while Anderson is the “move” tight end who may be on the block once Watson is eligible to return.
The position has been totally revamped since last season and it may take some time to gel once the regular season starts. Training camp will be invaluable for this group
Wide Receivers: (5) Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris, Jakobi Meyers **Josh Gordon Suspended** ***Demaryius Thomas PUP***
Edelman, Harry, and Dorsett are roster locks…barring injury. Meyers with his size and hands makes it yet another year with a UDFA making the roster out of training camp.
Thomas and Gordon (if reinstated), give the team some intriguing options. Berrios had a good spring and looks the part in the slot, he and Meyers will battle it out for the spot. Dontrelle Inman has a lot of ground to make up. He didn’t catch a single pass in team drills during mini-camp. Ryan Davis and Gunner Olszewski are practice squad candidates.
Offensive line: (8) Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, Yodny Cajuste, Ted Karras, Hjalte Froholdt
The state of the offensive line centers around health. Wynn missed all of last year with an Achilles injury. He was at mini-camp but was held out of team drills. Cajuste who they drafted this spring had off-season surgery and it is hoped he’ll be ready to go by September.
In the meantime, Joe Thuney played left tackle this spring. Expect him to get some work there this summer, even if Wynn is a full go for training camp. Left tackle and swing tackle are the two question marks. Cole Croston heads to the practice squad. After that, the offensive line is solid.
Edge Players: (4) Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Chase Winovich
After losing Trey Flowers, the Patriots brought in Bennett. Wise is a solid if unspectacular veteran now and Simon played very well for them last season. They’re hoping Winovich can step in and play as advertised. I like his motor and relentlessness. This could be the end of the line for Derek Rivers this summer. He is going to be given an opportunity to show what he can do. He got reps with the 1st personnel grouping last week. Keionta Davis and Trent Harris may still be able to step up in case of an injury.
Interior Defensive Line: (4)
Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Danny Shelton, Adam Butler
Guy and Pennel should be the Week 1 starting combination inside. Shelton returns, as the backup big man inside. Butler is the best pass rusher of the group. David Parry and Byron Cowart are on the outside but will have to turn some heads in August.
Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Elandon Roberts, Brandon King
Linebacker is a position of strength heading into training camp this summer. Hightower has slimmed down, gotten more pliable, and is moving well. Van Noy has been a jack of all trades, but the biggest surprise (pleasant) of the spring has been the play of Collins. He has been all over the field disrupting plays at the line and playing solid coverage
Roberts, coming off of a solid postseason and Bentley who shined early in 2018 before ending on IR, gives the group really good depth.
Cornerback: (6) Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson
Gilmore and Jackson are the starters for Week 1. But this group is really deep and very talented. Jones and Dawson (who beats out Crossen) can play in the slot and McCourty can play safety, outside or inside. Williams is a big corner (6’4) that allows him to play against the bigger WRs or even tight ends. The versatility of this group provides them with the matchups they can roll against nearly every opponent.
Safety: (4) Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner
Ebner beats out Terrence Brooks …on paper for now. Brooks has superior defensive skills but Ebner is a Belichick favorite on Special Teams. Obi Melifonwu played STs and has the size and athleticism but seems far back on the depth chart right now. He’ll need a big summer to push Ebner and Brooks off the roster. Malik Grant is a candidate for the practice squad.
Specialists: (4) Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Jake Bailey, long-snapper Joe Cardona, Gunner Matthew Slater
Gostkowski returns and has no camp competition. He and long snapper Joe Cardona are both locks for the 53-man roster. The big competition is at punter. The team brought back the steady Ryan Allen on a one-year deal but they moved up to draft Jake Bailey, the big-legged punter and kick off specialist from Stanford. By now you’ve no doubt heard about the charge he puts into the ball. If he gets his consistency down, he’ll make the roster.
Slater isn’t going anywhere. Watching him race up and down the field this spring, practicing his moves on his own shows the fire still burns very bright for him.
At the stroke of midnight, all remaining free agents will no longer count against the compensatory pick formula for the 2020 season. So one can expect a minor flurry of free agent signings to occur.
The Patriots are reportedly going to sign OT JaredVeldheer according to the NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport. The one-year deal is said to be worth up to $6.5 million dollars and will add the needed depth the Patriots lack at the tackle position.
The 6-foot-8, 321-pound Veldheer who turns 32 in June has played in 118 career games with 113 starts. His nine-year career has been spent with the Oakland Raiders (2010-13), Arizona Cardinals (2014-17) and Denver Broncos (2018). He brings along a ton of versatility as well; Veldheer can play either tackle position, center or guard.
After losing LT Trent Brown and swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle in free agency, the team is expected to get back last year’s top draft pick Isaiah Wynn who missed the season due to injury as well as this year’s draft pick Yodny Cajuste. Marcus Cannon remains at right tackle. With the tackle position now seemingly in good shape entering OTAs, where else would the Patriots like to shore up their depth in free agency?
There are a couple of names still out there that could be intriguing to the team, depending on the amount of money that they’re looking for.
Allen Bailey – Bailey is an eight-year veteran with the Chiefs and was a defensive end in their 3-4 defense. With the Patriots he could bring that inside/outside versatility that Bill Belichick likes where he can play on the edge or kick inside as an interior pass rusher.
Bailey, 30, is listed at 6’3, 288 but was up to as much as 300 pounds at times last season according to media reports. With the Chiefs last year, he posted a career high 6.0 sacks along with 38 tackles and 2 forced fumbles.
Corey Liuget – Liuget spent the first eight years of his career with the Chargers and has been a very solid player. He missed the first four games of the 2018 season with a PED suspension. And only played in six games during the season after tearing a quariceps during a game against Denver in November. He was limited to just 14 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
In case anyone was keeping score at home former Patriots Ricky Jean-Francois, Danny Shelton and Dominque Easley are still available as well. But the biggest name out there is DT Ndamukong Suh. I just don’t think the Patriots are interested in Suh, despite his talent. He doesn’t seem like a Belichick-type player.He’s never played for less than $10 million APY according to SI, so he won’t come cheap. But never say never.
The Patriots have Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Matt Lacosse, Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo, Jakob Johnson and the recently signed UDFA Andrew Beck on the roster. Potential trade candidates are Kyle Rudolph from the Vikings and the Bucs Cameron Brate if they cut their ties with him.
Ben Watson – The aging but still viable 38-year old retired in January but after the birth of his twins recently has said that he’d like to return to the NFL for one last season. Watson began his career with the Patriots as a first round draft pick in the 2004 season. ESPN’s Adam Schefter believes Watson may end up his career back in Foxboro.
Other free agents include Lance Kendrick and Jermaine Gresham.
The Patriots aren’t as needy depth wise after drafting N’Keal Harry in the 1st round and signing three UDFAs but adding another veteran wide receiver may not be the worst decision they ever make.
Michael Crabtree – Crabtree is being linked to the Packers by CBS Sports so we’ll have to see how this development plays out. However, Crabtree had decent production with a Ravens team that wasn’t great at throwing the football in 2018.
Crabtree caught 54 passes for 607 yards 3 TDs with Baltimore and has been very durable, missing just two games total in the past five years.
Other notable players include Pierre Garcon, Seth Roberts, Jermaine Kearse, and Rishard Matthews.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
The Patriots attempt to virtually sign every free agent wide receiver on the market this spring has finally borne fruit. The team has signed free agent Demaryius Thomas to a one-year deal worth up to $6 million dollars according to ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates.
The Patriots tried to bring Thomas in at the trade deadline last season but he was traded to the Houston Texans instead. It certainly appeared last season that Thomas, who has averaged about 15 yards per reception had lost a step. Of course, the subpar play of the Denver QBs may have played into that.
He played in seven games with the Texans before tearing an Achilles tendon ending his season. Therein lies the risk. Thomas will turn 32 late in the 2019 season and is coming off of a serious injury. His game is built on being able to gain separation and is not a physical receiver, despite his excellent size at 6’3, 229.
Back in 2010, Josh McDaniels, then-head coach of the Broncos had a lot to do with Denver taking him in the first round of the draft. So, he has had at least some experience with Thomas, albeit nearly a decade ago.
So what are the Patriots getting with this signing?
With any wide receiver signing, the first thing we always wonder is “will he be able to learn the Patriots playbook?” That is a legitimate question as we’ve seen several established wide receivers flame out here in New England as they had issues learning the route tree of the Patriots offense.
That shouldn’t be a big issue with Thomas. He played in the Houston Texans system, which was put in place by Bill O’Brien after he spent several years here in New England and is considered very similar. So, in that aspect, he should already be ahead of the game with his couple of months with Houston.
Is he going to be ready to go in training camp? Achilles injuries aren’t the easiest to recover from and at 31, it is not going to be a given that he’s going to be ready. However, the Patriots had him in for a visit last week and had to be encouraged enough to offer him a deal.
Thomas suffered an Achilles injury earlier in his career and was able to recover from that one in just six months, so that is in his favor.
Thomas’ game was always built around the elite athleticism that allowed him to gain tremendous yards after the catch. With an aging athlete, an Achilles injury could seriously impact that.
The Patriots are very thin at wide receiver with Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, Bruce Ellington, Maurice Harris, Braxton Berrios, Damoun Patterson, and STs ace Matthew Slater to round out the depth chart. Josh Gordon is suspended indefinitely and shouldn’t be counted upon for any production this season.
To say that there will be plenty of opportunities for a WR to carve out a role opposite Edelman is a more than just a bit of understating things. Thomas, if he’s healthy could certainly be a key player in the offense in 2019. The wide receivers, however, will find the going much tougher this year with no Rob Gronkowski drawing so much attention from opposing defenses as he’s had in the past.
Thomas had five straight 1000 yard seasons between 2012-2016 but has had his numbers dropping off for the past several years. While some of that can definitely be attributed to QB play, (Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch, Trevor Siemian) he definitely appeared to be losing a step on tape and that YAC wasn’t as big as before.
Coming off of a serious injury, that athleticism could be even more affected. As to his contract, the devil will lie in the details. Much of that cash may be tied up in performance-related bonuses. So, we will have to wait and see how that looks once the contract details are posted. As for on-field expectations, if fans are expecting the monster years of 2012-2014, they are going to be very disappointed. His career numbers have steadily dropped in the last 5 years, as has his yards after the catch.
Put expectations with Thomas as minimal and hope that he can provide a solid role player’s production at this point of his career. This signing shouldn’t impact at all the need for the team to select one of the better wide receivers in the upcoming draft.
The Patriots have been linked to several WRs including A.J. Brown(Ole Miss), Deebo Samuel (South Carolina) who said in an interview “C-ya next month Bill”, Hakeem Butler (Iowa State), and others, including UMass’ Andy Isabella.
In other news, the Patriots announced the re-signing of CB Jonathan Jones who signed his one-year tender.
In our first two mocks, we went with the basic assumption that the Patriots would keep all 12 of their draft picks. But we all know, they’re not going to do that. So we’ll go with a commonly believed scenario that they try to trade up to get a playmaker that they sorely need.
I used the outstanding Fanspeak Your On the Clock draft simulator again this year. And once again depending upon the Big Board that you use (when it comes to draft prospects)…your results will differ enormously. So Let’s Go Drafting…
Patriots Mock Draft 3.0:
**** Trade**** New England packages #32 and #73 to Seattle for Pick #21
Round 1, Pick 21 – Noah Fant, TE, Iowa: Fant was still around on the board and he may not have lasted until #32. T.J. Hockenson, the most complete tight end in the draft was taken at #12 by the Packers in this mock.
Fant is a very athletic 6’4, 249 tight end from Iowa who excels open spaces. His yards after contact and ability to stretch the seams will immediately make him a very coveted receiver in the offense.
He is a versatile player that can be moved around the formation outside, in the slot or as an H-back. Despite playing in a run-heavy Iowa offense, scored 18 touchdowns in his last two seasons. A standout basketball player, Fant has excellent jumping ability and agility (6.81 3-Cone Drill).
He needs to get bigger and stronger to become a better blocker in the running game but with Austin Seferian-Jenkins on the other side, he’ll have time to develop in that area. However, as a receiving threat, he should be an immediate impact player.
Round 2, Pick 56 – J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford: Arcega-Whiteside comes from an athletic family. He was born in Spain and both of his parents were basketball players. He brings very good size, 6’2, 225 to the WR position. He’s got a quick release off the line, very good hands and a large catch radius.
He had excellent production in 2018 with 63 catches, for 1059 yards (16.8-yard average) with 14 touchdowns. He posts up like a basketball forward in the red zone and is a very good target there, (28 TDs in three seasons).
He has good but not blinding speed at 4.48 but he’s best utilized in the possession game. He can move the sticks and gets better the closer the team gets to the red zone. He’s gotten better every year and should be a very nice pro receiver who can occasionally stretch the field.
Round 2, Pick 64 – Christian Miller, Edge, Alabama: Miller was just a one-year starter but nevertheless had a very productive final season for the Tide. He made 36 tackles with 11.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He tips the scale at 6’3, 247 and is a very athletic edge player.
He has the long arms and above-average athleticism that coaches look for in edge players. He’s versatile and has a quick step off the snap either standing or with his hand on the ground. He has above average pursuit and can drop into coverage and cover backs in the flat.
He’ll need to get stronger at the NFL level to be a three-down edge player but he should immediately see snaps as a sub-package edge rusher with the Patriots defense.
Round 3, Pick 97 – Bobby Evans, T, Oklahoma: Another surprise to still see him on the board at #97, Evans was a three-year starter for the Sooners, two at RT and then at LT in his final season. Evans plays with a bit of a mean, nasty streak and should immediately reap the benefits of playing for Dante Scarnecchia.
He’s considered a bit short at 6’4 for the position but has long arms and can solidly punch the chest of pass rushers to fend them off. While not considered overly athletic, he has the agility to get outside and pull on running plays.
He has excellent core strength and is very tough and will immediately vie for the swing tackle position with the ability to become a starter in short order.
Round 3, Pick 101 – Will Grier, QB, West Virginia: Grier is a developmental QB prospect for the Patriots offense. While he has marginal size, (6’2, 217, similar to Jimmy Garoppolo), and arm strength, he has a kind of “it factor” where he can galvanize the rest of his team. See the Oklahoma and Texas games where he led late comebacks.
Had very good numbers in 2018, 266-397 (67.0%), for 3864 yards with 37 TDs and 8 INTs in 11 games. He’s very accurate in the short-to-intermediate areas of the field. He reads defenses well and is a good leader in the huddle and the locker room.
His mechanics can improve but he has a good body of work to work off of. He’ll immediately step into the #3 position and vie for the backup job in Year 1.
****Trade**** Patriots Trade Picks #134, #205, to the Seahawks for Pick #124
Round 4, Pick 124 – Kaden Smith, TE, Stanford: Smith is a big 6’5, 255 “Y” tight end from “Tight End U” who is good as an in-line blocker, played in a pro-style offense and can serve as a safety blanket underneath.
Smith will be able to step in and contribute in the running game right away as his blocking is good but will improve over time with improved technique and a bit more core strength. He has a wide catch radius with very good hands, but won’t be a threat to attack the seams. He’s more of a short, safety valve, ball control guy with the upside to improve.
Round 7, Pick 239 – Renell Wren, DL, Arizona State: Wren is an intriguing prospect with good size, 6’5, 318. In college, they played him over the nose but he may be a better fit as a pure defensive tackle.
He possesses freaky athleticism for a big man but he’s a project and may require a lot of work with Joe Kim who helped Patriots DL work on their hand usage. Has a lot of upside but may take a year or two to blossom.
Round 7, Pick 243 – Kendall Joseph, LB, Clemson: Joseph is an undersized but productive inside linebacker who may have benefitted from playing in a loaded defensive front seven. He’s just 6’0, 233 but had 84 tackles, five TFL, and four sacks during the Tigers National Championship run.
He does have good instincts and showed good coverage, but he may have to carve out a role on STs to make the roster in 2019.
Round 7, Pick 246 – Penny Hart, WR, Georgia State: Hart is a small, very small (5’8, 180) wide receiver who had excellent production at a lower level of competition. But got an invite to the Senior Bowl and looked uncoverable. He’s a very twitchy slot receiver who can return punts and kickoffs.
Round 7, Pick 252 – Saquon Hampton, S, Rutgers: Hampton is our requisite Rutgers pick as the Patriots address the safety position late in the game. He’s a natural leader and a team captain, something the Patriots look for, with good size at 6’1, 206. Said during an interview, he tries to emulate Patriots safety Devin McCourty. Sold. Welcome to New England.
While not shocking at all, it was nevertheless a blow to the Patriots as they waved goodbye and good luck to starting left tackle Trent Brown, who after one year is moving back to the Bay Area after agreeing to a big money deal with the Oakland Raiders.
It was more difficult, however, to part with Trey Flowers, the Patriots best defensive player on their front seven for the past several years and a consummate pro who spoke softly but led by his example on the field.
There is no way that the Patriots were going to match either offer. Call Brown and Flowers victims of the “Patriot Way”, where the team will not become enamored with any particular player. They’ll place a value on each player and will rarely if ever go over that amount when it comes to compensation.
It is why year after year, we watch players who came to Foxboro leave for big money contracts, much more than they would have received here. And it is also why, most of the big name, high-dollar free agents don’t sign here. So, every spring Patriots fans gnash their teeth in frustration over “the big fish that got away.”
It is also why, because the team won’t overspend for free agents that Patriots fans are glued to their television sets in late January and February every season. Because of their fiscal responsibility, they’ve been able to compete every year. The Patriots have been in the AFC Championship Game nine years in a row and have been in four of the past five Super Bowls. That isn’t a fluke. The Patriots build a complete team of 53 players every year. Because they won’t overspend and get into a bidding war over individual players, they’re able to sustain their success over the long haul.
It is why March is usually not fun to be a Patriots fan but February can be glorious. Which would you rather have?
Brown came to the Patriots with plenty of questions a year ago. Nobody…but the coaches were sure that he could play left tackle. But he hooked up OL coach Dante Scarnecchia and he parlayed that into a terrific 2018 season. Now he’s rewarded with a four-year deal worth $66 million dollars with $36.75 million guaranteed. He’s now the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL. Take a bow Dante…you’ve done it again.
Flowers came to the Patriots in the 2015 NFL Draft in the 4th round with the 101st pick that year. But he impressed right from the start and even when the Patriots had him tucked away in the far left corner of the locker room when they expand for training camp, one could sense that he wasn’t going to be tucked away for long.
Flowers cashed in and has agreed to a four-year deal that is reportedly paying him between $16-17 million per year with the Detroit Lions and will join former NE defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who also signed former Pats WR Danny Amendola as well.
The Tennessee Titans supposedly outbid the Patriots for the services of free agent wide receiver Adam Humphries to the tune of a four-year deal worth $36 million. Humphries is a guy we said on these pages would have been a great fit in the Patriots offense. But he opted for the bigger payday with the Titans. It is the nature of the beast.
With the contracts of NFL players largely not guaranteed with their career spans in many cases woefully short, one should never fault the players for taking care of their future. In Brown and Flowers’ cases, the money they got was far beyond what the Patriots were going to offer. Nobody is going to argue that. How many of us would turn down millions of dollars? Not many I’d bet.
So what’s next for the Pats? Free agency in reality hasn’t even begun yet, because the league with their ridiculous “legal tampering period” has deemed that none of the deals are binding until 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday when the league year officially begins.
So, with free agency beginning and the draft around the corner, the team will try to address these as well as other holes to fill. In Brown’s case, his replacement is already here. Isaiah Wynn was the Patriots top draft choice a year ago and he’ll team up with Scarnecchia and get to work on becoming the new left tackle. He tore an Achilles tendon in preseason last year, but is expected to be ready to go once training camp begins this summer.
Brown’s departure will also impact on how the Patriots may value swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle, who is also a free agent. A valuable, versatile, tough player, Waddle was re-signed a year ago but played little due to the offensive line remaining healthy in 2018. But now bringing him back makes a lot more sense. He can play on either side, is an established, solid veteran and now will be one of the team’s priorities.
Replacing Flowers is more problematic. His greatest gift was his versatility. He was very good at rushing from and setting the edge. But he really made hay by rushing from the interior when they’d slide him inside on passing downs. He was tailor-made for the Patriots defense and their style of playing.
The blow was lessened a bit by the trade for Michael Bennett who came over from the Philadelphia Eagles with a 7th round pick in 2020 for the Patriots fifth rounder next year. Bennett is more productive from a pure pass rusher perspective but will he be able to do all of the things Flowers was tasked? We’ll see. But at 33, while still very productive, his shelf life will probably be a year or two at the most here.
At least for now, Deatrich Wise will be looked at to provide more in terms of every down production. He played just under 60 percent of the snaps last year. The team also has Adrian Clayborn, Keionta Davis, Ufomba Kamalu, Trent Harris, and 2017 top draft choice Derek Rivers. Rivers tore his ACL in his rookie training camp and missed all of that year. Last year he came back but flashed very little. The 2019 season will be a very big year for him moving forward.
There are still some intriguing names in free agency in terms of pass rushing edge players including Justin Houston, Cameron Wake and Ezekiel Ansah. Although the prices for each of them may preclude any from coming to New England. The Patriots will no doubt be looking at the draft to find the next Flowers.
It is a fact of life, that when the team has success in February, others will try to poach your best players and coaches from your roster. It is the way of the league in March. And it is just beginning.