Tag Archives: 53 Man Roster Projection

New England Patriots News 4-22, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 22, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 4-22, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters: 

Rob Gronkowski had a bizarre press conference where he clearly was sending a message to Bill Belichick and it wasn’t a very pleasant one.

It has been said that Gronkowski wants a new deal, there are ways to get that without resorting to what transpired. It wasn’t an off-the-cuff remark, it was planned. Gronkowski’s dad was with him and laughing at his comments.  The Patriots gave him a long-term deal when his health was an issue. They backed him, and now he’s acting like the wronged party here. That could be a big miscalculation.

The weather this week for the Boston Marathon was hardly the ideal conditions for running that or any kind of race. A cold rain was falling with winds blowing right in the runners faces. Congratulations to all who participated in and finished this year’s race. The Patriots Marathon Team all finished this year and raised more than $223,000 for charity. Well done.

The 2018 NFL Schedule was released this week and of course the first thing everyone does is (and we’re all guilty of it), is to try to analyze the schedule and predict what the final outcome of the season will be. It is an exercise in futility of course. Before the draft, no one knows what the landscape across the league will look like yet.

But of course it never stops some, and the first on deck was the Washington Post to loudly proclaim that the Patriots once again have the easiest schedule in the league. Playing seven playoff teams and few others (Green Bay, Houston, and Detroit) who will no doubt again be in the mix hardly seems like a cupcake schedule, but it always seems that way. BTW the much-maligned AFC East had two playoff teams in both 2017 and 2016.

One thing that definitely stands out is the final month of the season, which is a carbon copy of the 2017 season. Road games at the Dolphins and the Steelers, followed by home games to finish the regular season versus the Bills and Jets.

James Harrison announced his retirement from the NFL this week, citing the desire to spend more time with his family. The long-time Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker was released at the end of the regular season and signed by the Patriots.

“I’ve missed way too much for way too long…and I’m done,” Harrison wrote on Instagram. “Many thanks to my family, coaches, the fans, and everyone who played a role in my football life.”

Despite having to learn the defense on the fly, Harrison played very effectively, logging nearly 90 percent of the defensive snaps in the Super Bowl, having arguably the best game of anyone on the team’s front seven.

Kudos to Johnny Manziel and his agent, with the draft upcoming, the media buzz around him has noticeably cooled from a few weeks ago. So Manziel just happened to have himself photographed wearing Patriots garb this week. No other team will garner such a visceral reaction on social media. And Bingo!, he’s news again. Well played.

Quoteworthy Belichick Tidbits:
Bill Belichick was in a presser speaking about the team-building process last week and had this gem, that puts his philosophy out there…in case anyone forgot.

“So the preseason schedule was released and I noticed that there are no games in May, June, or July. Preseason games are in August, so it doesn’t look like the regular season is going to start until September this year.”

Patriots Lose an Icon From the Booth:
Late in the week, we got the very sad news that long-time Patriots radio announcer Gil Santos had passed away on his 80th birthday and also his 57th wedding anniversary.

Santos was the final announcer from the old AFL days, having begun his stint with the Patriots as their color man during the 1966 season. In 1970, he took over as the play-by-play man for the Patriots thru the 1979 season. Working for WBZ, the station lost the rights to the Patriots games from 1980-1990 and Santos was out. However, in 1991, they regained the rights to the Patriots broadcasts and Santos would be the “Voice of the Patriots from 1991 thru the 2012 season.

His final game was the 2012 AFC Championship Game loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It was his 759th Patriots game called on the air. He is a member of the Patriots’ Team Hall of Fame as a contributor. He and partner Gino Cappelletti worked the booth from 1972-79 and again from 1990-2011 when Cappelletti retired and was replaced by Scott Zolak.

Santos rich baritone and always exquisite timing made him one of the very best in the business. From all accounts, he was a very gracious man who never made the moment about himself and had a manner of announcing that made the listener feel that they were right in the booth with them. No one who follows the Patriots can forget the final drive call of his from Super Bowl XXXVI which will remain an icon for the team and the fans.

For a guy who saw the very lean years in the late ‘60s and early ‘90s to finally see the team win their first of five Super Bowls was one of those moments that transcend just the call of a football game. Santos was one of us and you could hear the emotion in his voice as well as Cappelletti, who played in those years. “Well New England, you have the best football team in the world now.”

Growing up in that era, Boston was blessed with some of the best radio voices ever. Santos covering the Patriots, Bob Wilson with the Bruins, Ned Martin calling the Red Sox and Johnny Most covering the Celtics. There were too many school nights to recall where we’d turn an old transistor radio down way low while we were supposed to be sleeping on a school night to hear Wilson or Martin calling a game from the West Coast.

Santos was a frequent guest in the family car on fall weekends when we’d travel to see relatives who lived all over the New England area. His work never changed whether the team was very good or very bad and many times in-between. The mark of a true professional. For those who may have missed it, I’d recommend the book Santos and Cappelletti wrote, “A View from the Booth” which was a great look behind the scenes.  

RIP Gil and thanks for so many great memories. And a call I never get tired of listening to, thanks to Kliff Kingsbury:

Decisions, Decisions, Trying to Decipher What the Pats Will Do in Round 1:
The Patriots have a lot of draft capital in the upcoming draft with two picks in both the first and second rounds. Now everyone is trying to predict what the team will do with all of that capital.

Will they trade up for an elite prospect or one of the quarterbacks, stay put at 23 and 31 and draft some impact players that will immediately help the team or trade back to acquire more draft capital for the middle-to-late rounds. One thing does appear certain, that the team will at one point trade back since they don’t have any picks in the fourth or fifth rounds.

Just some history here, this will be the 14th time in the Patriots history, (if they keep the picks) that they’ll use two or more picks in the first round. Back in the 1970s, the team under Chuck Fairbanks drafted exceptionally well. He had two (2), three pick first rounds taking John Hannah, Sam Cunningham and Darryl Stingley in 1973, And Mike Haynes, Pete Brock and Tim Fox in 1976. Fairbanks then drafted Raymond Clayborn and Stanley Morgan in the first round of 1977.

Bill Belichick has dipped twice in the first round on two different occasions. He took Vince Wilfork and Benjamin Watson in 2004 and Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower in the 2012 NFL Draft. How he decides to proceed on April 26, will depend on how the board plays out. But if he does decide to move up, two slots to keep an eye on are #9 currently held by the 49ers and # 14 held by the Packers. It should be quite an interesting night this week.

Team Hall of Fame Finalists Announced:
The Patriots announced their finalists for the 2018 Team Hall of Fame. All three were teammates on the early 2000’s three-time Super Bowl winning teams. Matt Light, Richard Seymour, and Mike Vrabel are this year’s finalists.

This is the first time for Light to be named a finalist while Seymour is a finalist for the second straight year, while Vrabel is a finalist for the third straight year.

Fans can vote at patriots.com/2018hof through May 14. The Pats will announce the 2018 Patriots Hall of Fame selection that week.  

One interesting footnote is that if Vrabel were to get selected, he’d be the first former player, who also happened to be a head coach of a team the Patriots would play later in the season.

The Patriots have the only team Hall of Fame that is elected by the fan base, which is both a positive and a negative in the process. However, this year’s selection will be the 27th player or contributor to enter the team’s Hall. From the Pats’ website, the following greats are listed in alphabetical order and the year that they were inducted.

Houston Antwine (2015)
Bruce Armstrong (2001)
Raymond Clayborn (2017)
Drew Bledsoe (2011)
Troy Brown (2012)
Tedy Bruschi (2013)
Nick Buoniconti (1992)
Gino Cappelletti (1992)
Ben Coates (2008)
Sam Cunningham (2010)
Bob Dee (1993)
Kevin Faulk (2016)
Steve Grogan (1995)
John Hannah (1991)
Mike Haynes (1994)
Jim Lee Hunt (1993)
Ty Law (2014)
Willie McGinest (2015)
Stanley Morgan (2007)
Jon Morris (2011)
Jim Nance (2009)
Steve Nelson (1993)
Vito “Babe” Parilli (1993)
Andre Tippett (1999)

Contributors:
William H. “Billy” Sullivan, Jr. (2009)
Gil Santos (2013)

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Who Comes Up With This Stuff? Bills Already Picked to Be Worst:
The Buffalo Bills were a playoff team in 2017 but according to ESPN’s Mike Clay, they should stay home in 2018 because according to him, the Bills will own the #1 pick as the NFL’s worst team this season. This is before the draft takes place.

Buffalo made great strides in 2017 and own five draft picks in the first 65 of the upcoming draft…but that didn’t let stop him from predicting the bottom to fall out. Clay didn’t stop there, he picked Buffalo to finish 2-14 along with Miami. And the Jets? Clay gives them a whopping four wins at 4-12. So the Bills and Jets will have the top two picks in 2019 with the Jets picking fourth. Wow.

And for anyone keeping score at home, Clay last year reported that Bills’ secondary was the fifth worst positional grouping in the NFL.

Dolphins Fans Remain Optimistic Despite Lackluster Predictions:
The Miami Dolphins as referenced above by ESPN’s Clay were picked to finish 2-14, they were considerably better in ESPN’s Mike Rodak prediction going 8-8 improving from last year’s 6-10.

The Palm Beach Post’s Jason Lieser also went thru the Dolphins’ slate also going with a 8-8 record, predicting a New England Patriots sweep this season while predicting a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Meanwhile, Dolphins fans were feeling much more confident than Clay, (they may not want to see his piece). Going thru each game, Dolphins fans picked how they saw the season playing out and gave the Fins a very respectable 10-6 record. A couple of surprises there as 79 percent feel that the Fins will beat the Titans in Week 1. In a close pick they mainly feel confident against the Jaguars 51-49, but much so against the Patriots at home, 64 percent predict a win.

Mayfield to the Jets Gaining Momentum:
The New York Jets with less than a week to go before the draft are still looking for that elusive franchise quarterback. And the rumors that they are going to go for Baker Mayfield over Josh Allen, who they just had in for a visit. We’re not going to lie, Mayfield would be a fun fit in New York and with his fiery demeanor would immediately put the Patriots – Jets rivalry right back where it should be. Thursday night can’t get here fast enough.

In other news, longtime Jets standout offensive lineman Nick Mangold announced his retirement. And the team announced that they have picked up the fifth-year option on defensive tackle Leonard Williams.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots News 4-15, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 15, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 4-15, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters: Some interesting NFL news this week, the league waves goodbye to those hideously awful “color rush” uniforms for Thursday night contests. Perhaps the only thing worse than the uniforms were the awful slate of games that fans were subjected to. Here’s hoping for a much better 2018 slate.

The league wants an independent investigator to look into the concussion settlement with the players, claiming that there is rampant fraud on-going isn’t a good look for the league or the players association.

And the Dez Bryant release by the Cowboys and reports that wants to play in the NFC East to play Dallas twice a year, makes for some interesting times ahead. Greg Bedard of Boston Sports Journal penned a piece earlier this week stating he’d be a great one-year rental for the Patriots. But now, that probably won’t happen.

The Patriots conducted a pre-draft press conference on Friday morning and Bill Belichick talked about how the team would prepare for the draft by conducting some in-house mock drafts to prepare themselves for the volatility of the draft boards.

He also spoke about trying to draft for need. “You can’t manufacture a guy. It’s a name on the board right now. Until that player gets on the field and performs, then you never really know for sure what that’s going to be.”

“You start talking about the third guard and the second corner, the third guard and the eighth corner, or however those grades will line up,” Belichick said. “Or, you talk about players that are specialty-type players, role players that are maybe very good at a certain role but they’re not three-down players. What are their values relative to other players who may be three-down players with a lesser skillset?”

The Patriots always move around the draft board with trades up and down and this year with two picks in each of the first two rounds promises to be an interesting time to watch how they approach those rounds.

Martellus Bennett had an interesting story on Belichick and his meticulous approach to game planning. Appearing on Fox Sports, Bennett spoke about a game against Buffalo.

“We’re getting ready to play against the Buffalo Bills. The scouting report on the Buffalo Bills punter is he doesn’t have the best hands, and it’s going to be raining,” Bennett said.

“So at practice we practice the punter dropping the ball, scooping and scoring because Bill’s like ‘it’s going to happen in the game.’ And I’m like ‘yeah, well, it might happen.’ You know how coaches say something, everyone’s doing it, right? Well, sure enough on Sunday, it’s drizzling and he drops the ball.”

Bennett was then asked if the Patriots scored.  “No, we didn’t do what (Belichick) said. But on the sideline, I looked at him like, ‘who is this guy?’ All the little things like that he prepares us. I don’t think there’s another team better at situational football.”

Garcia and Rivers are Kind of Hidden Draft Picks in 2018:
Last year the Patriots top two draft picks (taken at #83 and #85 overall) Edge Player Derek Rivers and Tackle Tony Garcia were both lost for the season during training camp and if not for Deatrich Wise, their 2017 draft would’ve been of zero help.

Tony Garcia blocks Kony Ealy during Patriots minicamp 2017. (SBalestrieri photo)

Now they both Garcia and Rivers are slated to return and ready to compete. While they didn’t play any meaningful snaps in 2017, both were able to sit in the meetings and probably have a much better idea of the Patriots system this year.

Garcia spoke with Greg Bedard last week and said he’s feeling the best, he’s ever felt, and his weight is back up to 290 (his playing weight at Troy). He and LaAdrian Waddle will no doubt be competing for the starting role this summer of the Patriots left tackle position vacated by Nate Solder.

Derek Rivers returns ready to go in 2018. SBalestrieri photo

Rivers, who came from Division 2 Youngstown State, seemed a bit overwhelmed in the first few days of training camp. But once he got used to the speed of the NFL game, you could see the light gradually coming on and just as he was starting to flash a bit, was injured during a joint practice against the Texans.

This year I could see Rivers in kind of a hybrid OLB/DE role on the edge in the sub-packages, at least initially and see if he can maybe vie for a starting role later during the season.

Rivers doing an interview after an early TC practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

Nate Solder’s Letter to New England Perfectly Stated:
Former Patriots left tackle Nate Solder and now New York Giant penned a large thank you letter to the Patriots coaches, front office and fans this week and it was a poignant, heart-wrenching account of his son’s struggles with cancer and what he and his wife were going thru behind the scenes.

The characterization of the Patriots of this cold, hard-hearted organization takes a backseat to how he describes how Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels allowed him to miss team meetings to be with his son during his cancer treatments.

It is a must-read piece by Solder and gives the reader a real up-close look at the man behind the number. The Giants are getting a very good player and Solder. They are getting an even better man.

Patriots Offer to Amendola, Wasn’t Close to Miami’s:  
Danny Amendola returned to New England this week and he was the featured guest of the American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life” event at Merrimack College, where ESPN’s Mike Reiss rode with him to the event.

Danny Amendola at training camp 2017. SBalestrieri photo

Amendola was very forthcoming in the piece, talking about his contract, “When free agency broke, I came to the realization that he wasn’t going to really come close to any of the other offers I had,” he said. “I had to make a decision for my family and go down to Miami and continue my career there.”

And then about the Malcolm Butler benching,  “I have my thoughts about it because I was out there putting my blood, sweat, and tears out on the field that night, and one of our best players wasn’t on the field,” he told Reiss.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t know why. I did ask, but I didn’t get any answers. I can’t make decisions like that, so I don’t necessarily worry about it, but I know Malcolm is a great player and he could have helped us win. For whatever reason, he wasn’t out there. He’s going to play more football in his career, and he’s going to be a great player for a long time.”

But at the event, Amendola called Belichick, “the best coach to ever coach in the game” and even said that he respected the hard work that went into getting to the Super Bowl. “I didn’t like practicing in the snow, I didn’t like practicing in the rain, but that was going to make us a better football team and that was going to make me a better football player. It wasn’t easy, and he’d be the first to admit, at the [Super Bowl] ring ceremony, that it wasn’t easy playing for him. The silver lining was that we were at the ring ceremony.”

Jordan Matthews Signing Keeps Looking Better:
The signing of former Bills and Eagles WR Jordan Matthews continues to look better and better on paper as we wait for the off-season workouts to start. Matthews bet on himself, knowing how tough a place New England is to play, and with the Patriots already having a slew of wide receivers on the roster, he picked the Patriots.

He spoke AL.com about his decision this week and said, “I don’t feel like I’m called to be comfortable, and I knew this would be a great place for me to grow, not only as a player, but as a man in general.”

“When I walked into the building I could feel that there was an aura of ‘Let’s get better every day,'” Matthews said. “I think sometimes in the offseason it’s easy to kind of slip into that kind of monotonous mindset and just saying, ‘OK, we’re just bringing people in,’ or whatever. But there was a lot of intentionality during the visit. They were very detailed. They were very specific with me on what they thought about me and areas that they thought I could grow in. I appreciated that more than anything. I appreciated that type of honesty.”

Matthews knows how tough the Patriots’ offense can be to pick up, but having played at Vanderbilt, considered the “Harvard of the South” he should be plenty smart enough. He also knows that with a solid 2018 season, he’s setting himself up for a nice payday.

Matthews was a very productive receiver for the Eagles, averaging 75 catches a year for three years before being traded to Buffalo last year. He was injured three times and his production plummeted. But it takes two to tango. A receiver has to have an innovative system and a good QB to be productive. Buffalo had neither last year. He can play outside the numbers or in the slot so, he’s a guy we’ll be looking at closely this summer.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

McCoy Wants the Bills to Sign Dez Bryant
The Buffalo Bills definitely need help at wide receiver, right now having only Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones and Andre Holmes on the roster. With A.J. McCarron and no doubt a rookie QB on the roster this summer, adding a veteran WR would definitely help whoever is under center. This is why RB LeSean McCoy is stepping up.

McCoy tweeted out asking Bills management to sign recently released Dallas Cowboys’ WR Dez Bryant. He doesn’t seem to be a fit, either in the Buffalo offense or in the city but he does make things intriguing if the Bills would throw their hat into the ring.

Richie Incognito had stated earlier this week that due to physical ailments that he was retiring. “I’m done. That’s it. It’s been a long career. Went to the doctor. My liver and kidneys are shutting down. The stress is killing me. It’s just about doing what’s right. I just want to be in the Hall of Fame.”

Now he’s saying that he’ll be at the Bills off-season workouts starting on Monday. This too will bear watching tomorrow.

Dolphins Bringing in Kenny Vaccaro for an FA Visit:
There are still some quality free agents out there despite the draft being right around the corner. The  Miami Dolphins are bringing in former Saints first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro for a free agent visit. The Fins are pretty much set at safety with Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald and courting Vaccaro, while a high impact player, doesn’t really have a position to fill unless they envision him in a role that the Patriots characterize as the “big nickel” in a linebacker kind of slot.

Vaccaro, 6’0, 214 pounds, had played that type of role as well as nickel, strong safety, and free safety while with the New Orleans Saints.  

Even more intriguing is that ESPN’s Mel Kiper has the Dolphins drafting another safety, FSU’s Kerwin James in the first round. That would be a surprise. However, what isn’t a surprise is that the Dolphins struggle covering tight ends, especially Rob Gronkowski.

But Vaccaro was smoked for a pair of touchdowns last year during Week 2 by Gronkowski, hardly the only one that has happened to, however.

Latest Kiper Mock Has Jets Taking Rosen:
The New York Jets moved up in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft to the #3 spot in a trade with the Indianapolis Colts and now the only question is, which QB will they draft. And Mel Kiper is sticking with Josh Rosen.

Kiper has stuck with his guns all winter long and has been touting Rosen as the next franchise QB for the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets. Many draft pundits have been touting Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield for Gang Green.

Each has their strong points, and Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy winner makes some people pause with his offbeat persona but he’s a tremendous talent. The first round of the draft is shaping up to be a very intriguing night. In our humble opinion, Mayfield would be a great fit in New York and has the persona to handle the rough times.  

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots Mock Draft 3.0, Building Depth on Defense

Steve Balestrieri
April 13, 2018 at 9:25 am ET

 

Most Draft Boards Are Starting To Stabilize

The Patriots have several options for the first two rounds in the upcoming draft that begins on April 26. They may opt to move up to take a quarterback to eventually succeed Tom Brady, stand pat with their picks or slide back, something they’ve done quite often.

While most people had the Patriots taking a tackle early if not in the first round of the draft, we felt that was not going to be the case. After investing in Tony Garcia last year and bringing back LaAdrian Waddle, our take is that they may draft one, but more for depth. Now with the news that Garcia is fully ready to go, we’ll double down with that.

For our third mock draft, we didn’t do any trading to move up or down the draft board, however, the feeling is that the Patriots will be moving around the board. They currently have no 4th or 5th round draft picks, and that will undoubtedly change. But we went with building the depth especially on defense with two linebackers, two edge players and a corner. Future concerns at QB and TE were addressed, and the latter is ready to produce immediately.

We have been using the draft tool that the folks at Fanspeak.com that we’ve been touting for awhile and it is really good and highly recommended.

In their “On the Clock” simulator, you are the GM for any NFL team. You can choose how many rounds you’d like to draft for (1-7), and pick one of several big boards to choose from. The boards are all updated every Tuesday.

The big boards for each site differ and the site has a random selection process that picks for the other 31 teams based upon the best player available and team needs that are constantly updated until it is your time to pick.

For this third mock draft (4-12), I used the big board of NFL Draft Scout.

Here is our third mock draft attempt this year: PatsFans Mock 3.0

Round 1, Pick #23 Linebacker Rashaan Evans, Alabama:

Once again Evans was still on the board at #23 and was too good a prospect to pass up. He has tremendous speed, range, and agility. Evans was the Alabama team leader in tackles, flies around the field from sideline to sideline, can cover, blitz off the edge and stuff the run. A Day 1 starter and the kind of sure-hit player the Patriots like to take in Round 1. Subsequent rounds are for reaches Read our draft profile on him here:

Round 1, Pick #31 CB, Mike Hughes, Central Florida:

Hughes is a very good press man, lock-down corner, despite not having great size, (5’10, 195-pounds) has the mentality and skill to be a very good corner at the next level. He is a physical corner that is adept at throwing receivers off their timing and is a very good tackler and run defender. He’s a versatile player with special teams value, returning a kickoff, punt and interception for touchdowns in 2017.

Round 2, Pick #43 TE, Mark Andrews, Oklahoma:
The Patriots could use an eventual replacement for Rob Gronkowski and Andrews has the same qualities as a receiver, with excellent hands, the ability to stretch the field and attack the seams and is an absolute mismatch against linebackers and most safeties.  Andrews has good size at 6’4, 254 pounds, who won the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end catching 62 passes for 958 yards and eight touchdowns for the Sooners. He’s not a great blocker…yet, but with some coaching can improve there.

Round 2 Pick # 63 QB, Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State:
Rudolph has the boxes checked with the prototypical size of NFL QBs at 6’4, 230 pounds and was a four-year starter for the Cowboys in their spread, up-tempo passing game. He throws an excellent deep ball with very nice touch and ball placement. The knock on him is that he played in a very simplified system and had a tendency to stare down his receivers. He’ll have to learn to process faster in the NFL and go thru his progressions, something he’ll have time to learn behind Brady.

Round 3, Pick #95 OT, Jamarco Jones, Ohio State:

Jones was a two-year starter for the Buckeyes who have developed quite a pipeline for tackles in the NFL. Jones has good size at 6’5, 310 and is a very good pass blocker, and has shown the quick feet and agility to rarely get beat by speed rushers on the edge. He’ll need to get stronger and become more physical, especially in the running game at the next level but under the tutelage of Dante Scarnecchia, he’ll get there. With the Garcia news that he’s healthy and ready to go, Jones won’t be hard-pressed to produce as a rookie.

Round 6, Pick #198 Edge, Dorance Armstrong Jr., Kansas:

Armstrong had a tremendous 2016, with 20 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks as his coaches had him pinning his ears back. In 2017, going to a more read-and-react style, those numbers dropped to 9.5 TFL and just two sacks. But he has very good speed and a quick first step. Armstrong has dropped into coverage at times, something the Patriots ask their edge players to do occasionally. He’s a good, athletic player who tackles well but needs to add some bulk at the next level.

Round 6, Pick #210 LB, Kenny Young, UCLA:

Young is an undersized, speedy, athletic linebacker who may be a candidate for the “big nickel” linebacker role the Patriots like to run in their sub-packages. He’s got plenty of speed and athleticism to play sideline-to-sideline and cover backs and tight ends in the passing game. However, he lacks the bulk and strength (6’1,236) to play on every down. He may be a Special Teams player first and work his way into a subpackage role.

Round 7, Pick #219 Edge, Joe Ostman, Central Michigan:

Ostman is a guy who’s draft profile is all over the place. While most have him as a 6th-7th round draft pick, others have him as high as a 3rd-4th round selection. He’s a high-motor, slightly undersized edge player at 6’2, 250 pounds that wins with second effort. He uses his hands well and possesses a nice spin move. He was very productive in the MAC but will have to get stronger at the next level.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Podcast: Offensive Draft Preview For The Patriots

Russ Goldman
April 11, 2018 at 12:16 pm ET

In this episode, we discussed the recent signings for the Patriots. After that, we did our Offensive Draft Preview, as we shared our top three propsects at several offensive positions for the Patriots. Later on, we did our Patriots Mock Draft.

Patriots Draft Profile, Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise St.

Steve Balestrieri
March 26, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

Vander Esch, Big, Sideline-to-Sideline LB That Can Cover

As the 2018 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar or that we feel would be a great fit.

The Patriots really need more depth and a dose of athleticism and speed at the Linebacker position. They were thin at the beginning of the 2017 season and injuries to key players set them back to where it became a glaring weakness in the Super Bowl loss.

We wrote that the team needs a big dose of speed and athleticism at the linebacker position. Earlier we profiled Rashaan Evans from the Crimson Tide, one of those newer breeds of NFL linebackers, a bit smaller than previous players but incredibly athletic and very fast.

We felt like to nab Evans, the Patriots are going to have to move up in the draft, well this guy is not going to be any different. He’s another player that, if they’re interested, they will no doubt have to trade up to draft him, but we feel is well-worth the price.  

Leighton Vander Esch from Boise State, is, in our opinion a tremendous fit for the Patriots defense. Bill Belichick has traditionally liked his linebackers big, (see Hightower, Dont’a) for an example. Evans who we profiled earlier isn’t that kind of player. Vander Esch is. Despite being much bigger than the majority of inside linebackers slotted to go early in the draft, Vander Esch is another sideline-to-sideline player who can change direction easily and is very good in coverage.

While he’s not as blistering fast as some players at the position, running a 4.65 in the 40 for a guy who is 6’4, 256 pounds is pretty darned fast. He ran an excellent 6.88 in the all-important 3-Cone Drill which is an excellent tool for measuring quickness and the ability to change direction.

He produced 141 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, four passes defensed, four sacks, four forced fumbles, and two interceptions in 13 games last season. The team captain was the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year.

Vander Esch had another year of eligibility left but decided to forego his redshirt senior season and enter the draft, despite some pundits calling for him to have one more go at the college game. But many of those same pundits are now calling that he’ll be drafted in Round 1 in April.

He didn’t wait to do what he already knew. He was told that in the NFL, that he’d have to put some weight and strength on to be effective at the next level Many have him listed at 240, that was the weight he played at in Boise State. But prior to the NFL Combine, he gained 16 pounds and came in at 256. And he still moved as smoothly in coverage during the drills and covered a lot of ground. That shows maturity and the mindset to put the work in.

Pros:

– Tremendous agility and change of direction

– Tough, physical and a sure tackler

– Smooth in pass coverage, especially for a big man

– Great nose for the football, very instinctive

Cons

– Can sometimes overrun plays

– Can still get stronger still and can improve at taking on blocks

– Only a full-time starter for one season

What his Role Will Be:

Vander Esch despite being much bigger than Roberts will supplant him in the Patriots middle of the defense and become a Day 1 starter. He can move well and cover much better and won’t be a liability with tight ends and backs that they have right now.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?

Yes, after limiting his role a bit and allowing him to get a bit stronger in the weight room, they can expand his role more in Year 2 and allow him to use his speed to blitz up the A-Gaps a little bit more

How Many Downs Can He Play?

Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

With David Harris gone and Elandon Roberts a liability in coverage, he should move ahead of Roberts on the depth chart early.

What is his ST Value?

Very good, he can be an immediate contributor on the coverage units due to his athleticism and size.

Conclusion:
NFL.com’s Lance Zeirlein in his profile wrote about his potential and talent. “Vander Esch might benefit from a reduced role his rookie season while he improves his play strength and becomes more skilled at taking on blocks. He’s an every-down linebacker with very good starting potential and the talent to fill up a stat sheet.”

He is a 1st round talent with still some rough edges to work thru. He is prone to occasionally over pursuing the ball carriers and he will have to work on his play strength when taking on some of the bigger inside blockers in the running game.

But with a large frame that he can still grow into, he’s got a good motor, excellent football I.Q. and has the ability to be a stalwart in the middle of the defense. He’d be an excellent fit with the Patriots defense and fills an immediate need. With him inside it will give the Patriots a big, linebacker that can roam from sideline to sideline and offer good coverage to the backs and tight ends. That will allow Hightower to remain on the outside with Van Noy and possibly Derek Rivers.

However, like Evans, the chances of Vander Esch being around at #31 are slim. Reportedly the Steelers have a big interest in him and are picking at #28. If the Patriots do indeed covet him, they’ll probably have to move up in the draft to select him.

Vander Esch has a nice highlight reel tape from Devo Highlight Productions and can be seen here: 

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

After Initial Free Agent Frenzy, What’s Next For the Patriots?

Steve Balestrieri
March 22, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

The initial burst of signings is over in free agency, the Patriots lost four key players and brought in four of their own new players while resigning a few of their own free agents. So, now the question is, where are they at this point in free agency and what are their needs right now with still plenty of free agents still out there before the NFL Draft starts.

They’ve already addressed some of their needs early in free agency. That doesn’t mean that they’re done at any position per se, we would still expect them to double down on some positions in the draft.

With that said, after the initial free agency period what the are the Patriots biggest needs moving forward that can be addressed in free agency, the draft or both?

Left Tackle: No one wants to downplay the losses of Danny Amendola, Malcolm Butler or Dion Lewis, but the loss of Nate Solder arguably hurts the most because the team, at least initially has no replacement in place. With Marcus Cannon on the right side, the Patriots need a left tackle. Their two backup swing tackles, LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming are free agents. Ideally, the team would like to get both back.

There are also some players on the roster that they’ve stashed from 2017 Cole Croston and Andrew Jelks. They just signed Matt Tobin, who was a backup swing tackle from Seattle. Last season the Patriots moved up in the draft to snag Antonio Garcia in the 3rd round of the draft. But Garcia missed the season with an illness where he lost 40 pounds. He’s now cleared to resume his football career but will he be ready?

This year’s draft isn’t a great one for tackles and the one most associated with New England seems to be UCLA’s, Kolton Miller. And I’m not a fan of this if that is who they are targeting. He tends to play too upright and to me is too much of a finesse player which reminds me of last year’s pick also from UCLA Connor McDermott. Croston beat him out for a roster spot.

How they approach the next few weeks and the draft will tell a lot of how they feel about their current situation. If they resign Waddle or Fleming and then don’t draft a tackle high, then they believe that Garcia will be their guy and Waddle is insurance. If they go for a tackle early in the draft, then that answers that question.

Linebacker: The Patriots front seven needed a big upgrade this offseason. They will be getting back Dont’a Hightower, Vincent Valentine, Derek Rivers, and Harvey Langi off of IR so that already increases the depth. But then they added a big defensive lineman in Danny Shelton, a two-gapping space eater who can take on the double teams and allow the linebackers to stuff the run. And they added Adrian Clayborn, a 280-pound defensive end that can set the edge in the running game and get pressure on the quarterback.

Now they need a linebacker inside with better athleticism than they have. The two guys in free agency that we liked, Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown were quickly signed elsewhere.There are some very intriguing names in the draft. The Patriots usually like their linebackers big, although the trend is going smaller, faster and more athletic. One big guy who is intriguing is Leighton Vander Esch. Bill Belichick was just at Alabama and they have a very impressive backer in Rashaan Evans but he’ll probably be gone before they pick at #31.

Belichick also scouted South Carolina’s Skai Moore, an undersized, smaller type player who led his team in tackles for four years. He’d be a mid-to-late round guy. Some others in that vein are Joe Ostman a DE/OLB from Central Michigan and Jack Cichy from Wisconsin.

Quarterback: So, do the Patriots like any of these quarterbacks in this season’s draft? Everyone is assuming that they’re going to draft one early and look for the successor to Tom Brady but would I be shocked if they pass? No. They always seem to do the opposite of what everyone is predicting for them.

Trying to predict which quarterback the Patriots will pick is another difficult proposition.  The ones who seem to fit what they do are Kyle Lauletta from Richmond who was a mid/late round prospect until his Senior Bowl performance turned some heads.

Other guys rumored to be on the Patriots radar are Luke Falk and Logan Woodside. But something to keep in mind if he’s still around when the Patriots pick is Louisville QB, Lamar Jackson. The Cardinals play in the same system, the Erhardt-Perkins system that New England uses.

Tight End: Rob Gronkowski is still slated to return this season. But we haven’t heard any confirmation on that. His agent had said that he was contemplating retirement. Regardless, the Patriots need to begin planning for his replacement, as crazy as that sounds with a 28-year old tight end who is still at the top of his game.

Dwayne Allen remains as does Jacob Hollister. Allen has a $5 million dollar contract and was a terrific blocker but offered very little in the passing game. Hollister flashed the ability to make some tough catches and to attack the seams but will need to make a big second-year step up in his play.

There are some good tight ends in the draft. The Patriots have met twice now with South Carolina TE Hayden Hurst. The former professional baseball pitcher is already 24 and maxed out physically but is an impressive player. He has excellent hands and above average speed. His production suffered from poor QB play on many occasions, having watched most of SC games.

Other excellent options in the draft include Dallas Goedert from S.Dakota St., Mike Gesicki, from Penn State, and Mark Andrews from Oklahoma among others.

And of course, Martellus Bennett may reappear on the scene. He hinted on social media that he may return to the Patriots at a lesser amount. But they should look to get younger at the position but it never hurts to have a player of his ability on the roster either.

Running Back: The Patriots resigned Rex Burkhead and added Jeremy Hill to a very team friendly contract and seem like they are well stocked. Hill and Mike Gillislee will battle it out for the big back, short-yardage role. James White is the passing back, strictly third down option while Burkhead can do a bit of both. Brandon Bolden is the depth piece who plays special teams.

I’d still believe that the Patriots need a younger back to add to the puzzle to build for the future. And this draft is chock full of them. Some running backs slotted for the 2nd round or later include, Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson, Georgia’s Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, North Carolina State’s Nyheim Hines, and Notre Dame’s Josh Adams.

The Patriots met with Hines at the Combine and then recently attended NC State’s Pro Day and have been speaking about how he feels he fits with New England as others have told him also…which usually means the team won’t touch him.

The team will probably also dip into the draft for an edge player as well. With Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Adam Butler coupled with the return of Hightower and Derek Rivers, they have much better depth than the team that went to the Super Bowl just in February.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Podcast: The Recent Subtractions And Additions To The Patriots Roster

Russ Goldman
March 20, 2018 at 12:25 pm ET

In this episode, we talked about the Patriots players who have recently left, and the addtitions to the 2018 Patriots roster so far.

Riley McCarron is one Option to Replace Amendola in the Slot in 2018

Steve Balestrieri
March 19, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

The loss of Danny Amendola will hurt the Patriots offense in 2018. You just can’t plug and play a guy who has the clutch production he’s had in the Patriots offense. Especially a guy who had the absolute confidence of Tom Brady. So with the veterans on the roster, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt and running back, Rex Burkhead could join Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and the returning Julian Edelman as well as Malcolm Mitchell at the wide receiver position this season. If everyone is healthy, it will be a tough position to crack.

There is another player, a guy who is a dark horse to make the team that could be a guy to watch this spring and that is Riley McCarron.

McCarron is a 5’9’’, 185-lb slot receiver from Iowa who will draw comparisons to Wes Welker as soon as he catches a pass in training camp. That is bound to happen with just a look at him because he appears to be the prototypical slot receiver. And it isn’t fair nor right to compare him to Welker who had crazy production with the Patriots while here in Foxboro.

But the Texans who signed him as an undrafted free agent last season did exactly that. Texans head coach Bill O’Brien called McCarron “the spitting image of Welker” in training camp. O’Brien would know a bit about that. Not only did he coach Welker as a member of the Patriots. He hired Welker as an assistant coach on the Texans staff.

McCarron made the Texans’ practice squad out of training camp before being released. The Patriots picked him up in late September and signed him to the practice squad. The Patriots kept him on the practice squad all season, so they think enough of him to give him a shot.

He is built like Amendola and tried to learn from him and pick his brain with every chance he got last season. When speaking to the media last fall, he spoke about the learning curve at the position.

“Obviously, Danny and I have kind of the same build,” McCarron said. “He’s in the slot, too. Any chance I can, I’ll try to pick his brain, ask him why he does one thing instead of another. I keep learning, and he always has an answer for something. … Trying to learn any way I can, especially guys who have done it and proven themselves for a long period of time.”

Unlike the perception of most white slot receivers, McCarron isn’t slow. In fact, his measurables were outstanding. He ran a 4.41 in the 40 at his Pro Day, some had it as low as a 4.36. He had a 40.5-inch vertical leap, a 10’4 in the Broad Jump and his 3-Cone Drill time was an outstanding 6.47.

McCarron was a walk-on at Iowa who saw very little playing time his first three years. In his senior year, he was the leading receiver and caught 42 passes for 517 yards and four touchdowns in Iowa’s run-first offense. He excelled in the Hawkeye offense at getting open. And with his speed and athleticism, he could separate.

Look, McCarron like fellow WR Cody Hollister on the practice squad is a long shot to make the roster. But the Patriots just lost a guy who carved out a valuable niche in the slot and that position is still wide open. And he has the skill set to make it work.

His best chance is to turn heads during the spring OTAs, where even if Edelman and Mitchell are ready to go, will still be on a pitch-count where they’ll be reps to be had. There are a lot of veterans vying for the roster and he’ll face an uphill battle. But the rookie has another ace up his sleeve.

One of the other things Amendola did was return punts. With Edelman and Cyrus Jones on IR, he and Dion Lewis returned the kicks last season. Both are now gone. McCarron did return punts in a limited role at Iowa but had a 21.1-yard average and a 55-yard return for a touchdown. It all comes down to “the more you can do.”

The Patriots coaches, like Houston’s, are high on the kid, and it isn’t like we haven’t seen this before. With an opportunity, even among a crowded field at wide receiver, there is a chance to carve out a role and make the roster.

Check out some of McCarron’s highlight film from college:

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Podcast: Can We Turn The Page Yet To The Next Patriots Season?

Russ Goldman
February 22, 2018 at 11:17 am ET

In this episode, we looked forward to the next Patriots season by discussing the biggest positional needs for the team and sharing our thoughts on which Patriots free agents we would want back. However, we started the show by once again discussing Malcom Butler.

James Harrison Signing With the Patriots Re: Field Yates

Steve Balestrieri
December 26, 2017 at 4:56 pm ET

Field Yates of ESPN broke the news on Tuesday afternoon that the Patriots were signing former Steelers linebacker James Harrison.

Harrison, 39, has only played 40 snaps this season after leading the Steelers in sacks in 2016 as they’ve gone with younger players such as Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt. He didn’t play in Week 15 against the Patriots.

With the signing, the Patriots will now have the oldest offensive player in the league, Tom Brady (40) and the oldest defensive player (39) with Harrison.

Where Does He Play: The Patriots could opt to play him at his natural outside linebacker position, but he would probably be a bit of a liability in coverage. Or they could decide to move him to defensive end in more of a pass rushing mold. Harrison can still do that and he can still set the edge in the running game. Those are two of the Patriots defenses weaker spots this season especially since Dont’a Hightower went on IR and Kyle Van Noy is hurt. Could Harrison help there even at 39? Absolutely. Rookie Eric Lee has played well but has been targeted somewhat in the running game.

It will be intriguing to see how the Patriots use him. They have just one regular season game remaining against the Jets and then a week off before the playoffs start. Harrison joins a long line of older veterans who’ll make a pit stop in New England.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.