Tag Archives: D.J. Foster

Final New England Patriots 53-Man Roster Projection 4.0

Steve Balestrieri
August 28, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

As we’ve been saying all summer, the New England Patriots will have many difficult decisions to make when the final 53-man cut down is due after the Giants game. The hour glass is running out and if players are going to make a move, they have a week remaining to convince the coaches that they’re worth keeping.

With some serious injuries to Derek Rivers and Julian Edelman, that will open up two spots that we had as locks. Ditto for the release of Kony Ealy. So, despite that, we can expect that the Patriots initial 53-man roster will change rather quickly as they’ll probably pick up a player or two via the waiver wire. I wouldn’t rule out a trade for an edge player either as they are really thin there right now.

With that in mind, we’ll take our final crack at the roster here on Sunday night with time to digest and re-watch the Lions game.

First up is the offense…

OFFENSE (24)
QUARTERBACK (3): Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

Out: None
New England has traditionally kept two QBs on their roster. Last year they kept three because of the crazy Brady suspension. I didn’t expect Brissett to push Garoppolo for the #2 slot this season, but his play has been really disappointing. He holds the ball far too long and his arm, though cannon-like has the accuracy of an old smooth-bore musket and not where it should be.

But I just don’t see them cutting bait with Brissett yet. Is it possible? You betcha, but not this year. I think they will stick with three but Brissett isn’t a lock by any means.

RUNNING BACK (5): James White, Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, James Develin

Out: D.J. Foster, Brandon Bolden, Glenn Gronkowski, LeShun Daniels
No changes here, I really wanted to find a way to keep both Foster and Bolden. Foster is going to be on a roster somewhere on Opening Weekend. If it isn’t here, it will be somewhere else. I thought of keeping only two TEs and utilizing him in an RB/Slot receiver mode where Devlin and an extra tackle can help in the blocking. And they still may do that.

Bolden is a superb STs performer but with Gillislee back and looking healthy, I don’t see how they keep him without cutting from somewhere else.

TIGHT END (3): Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James O’Shaughnessy

Out: Matt Lengel, Sam Cotton, Jacob Hollister
While he’s played well the past few weeks, O’Shaughnessy’s slot is still tenuous at best. He’s a better blocker but not as good as a receiver as Hollister. The UDFA rookie from Wyoming had a big game against Jax and then was barely used after that. It is obvious the team likes O’Shaughnessy and wants to keep him. Lengel, who is banged up didn’t show enough to warrant keeping him around.

WIDE RECEIVER (5): Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, Austin Carr

Out: Julian Edelman (IR), Matthew Slater (IR), Devin Lucien, Cody Hollister, Tony Washington, K.J. Maye
Julian Edelman’s injury opens the door for the Patriots to keep Austin Carr, who to me has just barely edged out Devin Lucien for the final spot at the position. Both Edelman and Slater go to IR, Slater will return later this season, which will make for another interesting decision. The top four are locks and will be needed to step up a bit more.

INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE (4): David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, Ted Karras
Out: Jason King, James Ferentz, Chase Farris

No changes here. Center David Andrews and guards Mason and Thuney were all starters last year, are locked and have played well this summer. Karras gets the nod over Ferentz who will be a primary practice squad candidate

OFFENSIVE TACKLE (4):  Nate Solder, Antonio Garcia, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming

Out: LaAdrian Waddle, Conor McDermott, Cole Croston, Max Rich, Andrew Jelks (IR)
The good news is that Nate Solder is back at practice and although he didn’t make the trip to Detroit, he should be ready for the Chiefs game on Opening Night. Garcia has been banged up, does his injury preclude him from making the roster and going on IR? That may open the door a crack for Conor McDermott or LaAdrian Waddle (also banged up) to step in. But it appears that Solder, Cannon, and Fleming are locked in right now.

Next up in the defense.

DEFENSE (25):
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (5): Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine, Adam Butler

Out: Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo, Josh Augusta,
With the lack of enough edge players and the release of Kony Ealy, this opens the door for another player to step up inside and that is Adam Butler who has had a very solid camp. He’s shown the ability to penetrate inside and disrupt things in the running game. Branch, Brown, and Lawrence Guy are locked. Guy had a solid camp and with Butler, the team may opt for more of a 3-4 look with the bigger bodies inside.

Hamilton, Kilgo, and Augusta played well this summer and are victims of numbers more than anything else.

EDGE RUSHER (3): Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Geneo Grissom,

Out: Derek Rivers (IR), Caleb Kidder, Keionta Davis
Ealy was released early…which means that he was in no way in their plans for 2017 after an up and down training camp. Depth has become a serious issue here. Wise will be looked to now, to provide the pressure with Trey Flowers. Grissom right now is my 53rd player on the roster. He could be replaced somewhere else but sticks around for his STs play. But he’s been virtually invisible on defense and that isn’t a good sign.

Look for the linebackers to provide help in this realm. Dont’a Hightower, Van Noy, and Langi will all be utilized as edge rushers as well. This is an area they may cherry pick off of the waiver wire and/or swing a trade. I think Davis will go to the practice squad and possibly play a factor down the road sometime in the future.

LINEBACKER (6): Dont’a Hightower, David Harris, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, Harvey Langi, Trevor Bates

Out: Elandon Roberts (IR), Jonathan Freeny, Brooks Ellis
I had the team keeping just five linebackers all summer but with the dearth of edge players, they keep an extra LB and those guys will help out on the edge as well. David Harris is an early-down inside run stuffer who is a liability in coverage (see Roberts). But the difference is, he’s a guy who is an established, smart veteran and will be rarely out of position. Hightower is a guy who can play inside or on the edge as a rusher, as well as Van Noy.

Langi and Bates, the last addition to the linebacking crew both had a good summer and training camp. Langi was a bit overaggressive at times as a pass rusher, but he’ll learn to temper those tendencies. Bates noses out Belichick favorite and STs standout Freeny and Roberts goes to IR.

CORNERBACK (6): Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Kenny Moore, Cyrus Jones

Out: Justin Coleman, DJ Killings, William Likely
The top four are locked and ready for the season. Gilmore had, in my opinion, a terrific summer. He’s adapted extremely well to the Patriots system and should be an outstanding addition. He and Butler promise to be a dynamic pair of corners on the edge. Rowe and Jonathan Jones have split the nickel corner duties and will continue to do so, depending on the matchups. Both played well this summer. Kenny More displayed a nose for the ball all summer and just beats out the veteran Justin Coleman. Cyrus Jones, for now, is a corner in name only. He’s the primary Kick returner but the team may ultimately decide to go with Dion Lewis/Amendola, in which case he’d be expendable.

SAFETY (5): Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Brandon King, Nate Ebner

Out:  Jordan Richards, David Jones, Damarius Travis, Jason Thompson
The top three of Chung, McCourty, and Harmon have been solid and are locked. The team has depth for those two with Nate Ebner and Brandon King who are mainly special teamers, neither of whom plays much defense although Ebner has played in spots in the past.

Jordan Richards is a favorite of Belichick and the team is trying every way of keeping him around. They switched him to the linebacker position in the “Big Nickel” look, the Pat Chung role and he was as inconsistent as he’s been elsewhere. Too slow, too stiff with a penchant for taking bad angles. Jones was hurt all summer, Travis played well in spots. Both may be candidates for the practice squad.

SPECIAL TEAMS (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona,

Out: None
A good solid group who have had a good camp thus far. Gostkowski still seems to have a mental block for extra points. But is solid on his field goal attempts and his kickoffs which are outstanding at getting the team great field position on defense. Allen has had a very strong camp. We haven’t mentioned Cardona much at all….which tells you his snaps have been right on the money.

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

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Five Things to Watch For in the Patriots – Lions Preseason Game

Steve Balestrieri
August 25, 2017 at 9:23 am ET

The Patriots and Lions meet tonight in the third preseason game for both teams. This is the game that traditionally is referred to as the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. Bill Belichick has always eschewed that perception but the starters should see plenty of action tonight and probably very little if any against the Giants next week.

There are still plenty of decisions that have to be made by the Patriots coaching staff, the roster will have to go from 90 to 53 and many of those will be tough ones as the team gets to its initial 53-man limit. We say initially because the team always makes tweaks to it during the season and the roster for Week 1 will not be the same one we see in Week 17.

So here are the five things we’re looking for in this week’s preseason tilt with Detroit.

Starters Playing Into the Third Quarter: I look for the starters, especially Tom Brady, Brandin Cooks and company to play into the second half tonight. Why? Although they’ve gotten plenty of work in the joint practices, they’ve had very little time on the playing field so far in 2017. Brady attempted only one pass, a seven-yard out pattern to Cooks in Houston a week ago.

Plus this will allow the starters, on both sides of the ball to make some second half adjustments. Although the game plans are pretty vanilla in the preseason, the coaches will still attempt to make some adjustments at halftime. It is an exercise in getting on the same page more than anything. And to see if some of the newer players take to the coaching of the Patriots staff.

Look for Brady et.al. to play probably a series in the third quarter and then give way to Jimmy Garoppolo this week.

Attacking the Lions Pass Defense: Detroit’s pass defense a year ago was dreadful allowing opposing QBs to complete 72.7 percent of their throws in 2016. They didn’t rush the QB well and were 30th in sacks a year ago but so far in the preseason have gotten eight. The Patriots will look to do what they’ve been practicing all summer, spread the field, and find the mismatches using their versatile and deep receiver group.

It will be interesting to see if Brady tries to stretch the field this week using Cooks and Hogan, something they didn’t do last week against the Texans. It wasn’t surprising though since they face Houston in Week 3, but this week, they may attempt to get their timing down a bit and stretch the Lions out.

Rob Gronkowski wasn’t targeted last week, just used as a blocker in the running game, and it will be intriguing to see if they use him this week. He will no doubt sit against the Giants in the preseason finale, will the coaches get him some work this week or keep him in bubble wrap until the Chiefs come into town in two weeks?

Cameron Fleming At Left Tackle Will Be the Man This Week: Nate Solder and LaAdrian Waddle won’t play tonight and it is probably doubtful to see rookie Tony Garcia so expect to see Fleming on the field as long as Brady is, protecting his blind side. Fleming has done well in the past as the swing tackle but has a pretty inconsistent summer. In order for the Patriots offense to operate at peak efficiency, the offensive line has to give Brady time to throw. While he’s known to get the ball out quickly, he was also under a lot of pressure last week against the tough Houston front seven.

Fleming probably won’t face the Lions’ Ziggy Ansah who’s been hurt but will have to handle Anthony Zettel. Working for the detail oriented Dante Scarnecchia, look for Fleming to have a better night than a week ago.

Patriots Running Backs Look to Continue a Strong Summer: Although Mike Gillislee has missed most of the camp with a balky hamstring, the running back position for the Pats is deep and versatile. One area that they’ve thrived in is catching the ball out of the backfield.

Rex Burkhead, James White, Dion Lewis and D.J. Foster have been very good at taking advantage of the team spreading out the field and finding large gaps to operate in underneath the coverage. Look for the team to do much more of the same tonight and put pressure on the Lions’ linebackers.

With a talented group of receivers, there is only so many players an opposing team can cover, someone is going to get open and frequently this summer, that someone has been the running backs who’ve had vast amounts of real estate open. This should be a continuing trend. Look for Brandon Bolden, on the bubble right now, to get a lot of work in the running game this week.

Secondary Needs a Bounce-back Type of Effort: The Patriots defense in the first two preseason games has given up a ton of big plays, something they pride themselves on NOT doing. They pride themselves on making teams earn their points by taking away big plays and making them nibble their way down the field. However, this summer has been one big play after another. Facing Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense, they’ll look to reverse that trend tonight.

When Calvin Johnson retired, the Lions replaced him with Marvin Jones who initially had very good success but once opponents began to double him, he struggled. Detroit has a pair of good receivers in Jones and Golden Tate. The Patriots corners, Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore will have a good test tonight.

Of course the secondary will get help there if the pass rush is improved this week. Trey Flowers and Kony Ealy will play although Deatrich Wise will probably sit. They’ll have to get creative with the pass rush. Another area to watch is the safeties, Devin McCourty, Pat Chung and Duron Harmon. They’re facing Eric Ebron and the deep end of the field. Old friend Keshawn Martin will play for the Lions tonight. He had a good 2015 season for the Pats.

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

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New England Patriots Training Camp Primer – Running Backs

Steve Balestrieri
July 10, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

Unit is Much Deeper Heading into 2017

The Patriots head into training camp in just a few weeks and there should no shortage of competition at several spots, especially at the back end of the roster. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53-man roster and who is on the bubble. We start the week off at the running back position.

Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring’s OTAs and Minicamp is a learning exercise and that the real competition begins in training camp. With the new rules in play, the Patriots will start camp with 90 players and don’t have to cut down until the final 53.

So, with that in mind, we’ll start with the running backs, we know Belichick likes a running back by committee, which tends to keep those fantasy numbers down but keeps their legs fresh. The team lost last year’s leading rusher LeGarrette Blount to free agency but it seemed like they had no interest in bringing him back and just moved on.

So… who’s locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: James White, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee
James White had a very good season backed with a tremendous effort in the Super Bowl. That parlayed into a three-year, $12 million-dollar contract extension with $4 million guaranteed and a maximum value of $15 million. He’s an excellent pass-catcher out of the backfield and has earned his payday. He was sixth in the NFL with Yards after Catch (YAC) with 540.

Burkhead is a versatile guy brought over from the Bengals. He can run between the tackles, catch the ball out of the backfield and play special teams extremely well. He was the Bengals’ leading ST tackler last year. He’s a consummate professional and will fit in seamlessly here. He’s going to compete for reps, he’ll just have to show he’s consistent enough to warrant them all the time. He was given decent money on a one-year deal.

Mike Gillislee looks to be a prime candidate to replace LeGarrette Blount’s carries in the Pats offense. (SBalestrieri photo

Gillislee is the type of one-cut runner that hits the hole quickly that should bode very well in the Patriots offense. He will take over Blount’s duties and carries especially in the red zone. He’s more the size of Stevan Ridley than Blount but his quickness off the line makes him an intriguing player to watch this season. I think he’s another player that should fit very well here.

Near Roster Locks: Dion Lewis, James Develin
Belichick likes to characterize Lewis as an inside runner more than a pass catcher. But the diminutive, water bug is a very difficult man to catch in the open field. His ability to make people miss is amazing at times. He wasn’t fully healthy after suffering an ACL tear late in 2015. The only thing that could hold him back is if he isn’t fully healthy now and his knee gives him problems again during training camp.

As a lead blocker, Develin can really open some nice holes for the backs to get to the second level. They missed him in 2015 when he went on IR with a leg injury but his presence made a big difference last year. He’s a versatile guy that can line up as a fullback, H-back or a tight end. It would be hard to see him not making this roster.

On the Bubble: D.J. Foster, Brandon Bolden
Foster is the wild card here again in 2017. The undrafted free agent running back from Arizona State possesses the type of speed and quickness that Lewis has. He’s much taller however at just around 6’0 and has special teams’ versatility. He can catch the ball and I believe he can play in this league. But if he were to stay, who goes? This will be one of those tough decisions unless someone gets a case of the Foxboro Flu. It will be difficult I believe in seeing him pass thru waivers. I think unless an injury occurs, we may be seeing him playing in a different uniform this year.

Bolden has always been a guy who was a core special teams guy and a very effective one. But this season will be a very difficult one for Bolden to be there for the final 53-man cut-down. Burkhead is another good special teams’ player and offers much more on offense than Bolden does. This could be one of those difficult decisions that Bill Belichick has to make.

Brandon Bolden (standing next to Dion Lewis) could be the other guy on the outside looking in this summer. (SBalestrieri photo)

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Glenn Gronkowski, LeShun Daniels
The Patriots signed…. and cut Gronkowski three times from the practice squad. But the good news is that they liked him well enough to keep bringing him back. But the problem is this: As long as Devlin is on the roster and healthy, it is going to be very difficult for “Baby Gronk” to carve out a role….another Practice Squad opportunity perhaps awaits.

Daniels has good size at 6’0 and 225-pounds and rushed for 1000 yards in Iowa last season, the first back at the school to do so since 2011. He has a decent jump cut and is very good between the tackles and in short yardage. But with Gillislee and Burkhead vying for 1st team reps, he has a long uphill climb for a roster spot. But he’s a prime candidate for a Practice Squad slot if he shows he’s got down-the-road potential.

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.

Daily Notebook: Tuesday Patriots News and Notes 4/25

Ian Logue
April 25, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Looks like it’s going to be another crazy Tuesday. Here’s a look at today’s top stories.

Patriots Get Gillislee – For the second straight offseason, the Patriots raided Buffalo’s roster and the Bills are left without a key player heading into the 2017 season.

One year removed from having lost Chris Hogan after the Patriots put together an offer sheet Buffalo couldn’t match, New England got the best of them yet again by doing the same thing with running back Mike Gillislee.

Monday’s 4pm deadline for Buffalo finally revealed Gillislee’s fate and despite taking the entire week to do so, the Bills ultimately decided to decline to match the Patriots’ offer sheet.

It has to be frustrating for Buffalo knowing that Bill Belichick and the Patriots front office got the best of them two years in a row, leaving them forced to watch the fourth-year standout from Florida line up behind Tom Brady this season.

The Bills’ PR department announced the decision three minutes early at 3:57pm on Monday via Twitter with two terse Tweets.

It’s a great move for the Patriots, who pick up a solid player to carry the football for the mere cost of just a 5th round pick and the $6.4 million he’ll earn over the next two seasons.

His addition fills out a backfield that now features Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, James White, Dion Lewis, D.J. Foster and Brandon Bolden.  More importantly, it likely spells the end for LeGarrette Blount, who remains a free agent and may now have to find a new team to play for after Gillislee’s signing.


It seems Butler might be back for one more year.

Butler Likely Sticking Around – One month ago it looked like Malcolm Butler’s time in New England was coming to a close and it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he’d be playing elsewhere in 2017.

Instead, it appears the likelihood of him playing at least one more year for the Patriots might be a reality and that’s good news for fans who are hoping to see New England head into the season with a formidable pair of cornerbacks in their secondary.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, it’s “highly unlikely” that Butler will be traded this offseason, which given Schefter’s similar take so far with Jimmy Garoppolo, means that Butler will still be part of the team this season.

That’s good news considering that Butler seemed to be on a collision course with the Saints after visiting with New Orleans last month.  There appeared to be a mutual interest but New Orleans never gave Butler an offer sheet, having said publicly there was no way they were going to part with their #11 selection and things appear to have cooled since.

Butler signed his restricted free agent tender last week, which put him under contract for the upcoming season and opened up the possibility for New England to trade him now that he’s officially signed.

Instead, that may no longer be a possibility, which is good news for a player who will certainly make them that much better paired with newcomer Stephon Gilmore this season.

Patriots Pick Up Cap Space With Amendola’s New Deal – The final numbers are out and according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, Danny Amendola’s new deal frees up a fair amount of cap space.

Reiss reported on Monday that Amendola’s new contract freed up $4.75 million worth of cap space, giving an already well-stacked team even more financial flexibility.

According to Reiss, Amendola received $100,000 in the form of a signing bonus, a base salary of $1.25 million, and he can earn an additional $300,000 in per-game roster bonuses at the amount of $18,750 per contest.

The even better news is it keeps one of the most consistent postseason performers on the roster at a reasonable cost, which is something every fan in New England should definitely be feeling good about.


Robert Kraft is the latest victim of a ridiculous hit piece on DeadSpin.

Another Day, Another Witch Hunt – We’ll close with this because after just coming across it, I think my head is going to explode.

After a Monday full of debates surrounding Tom Brady’s philanthropic practices, it appears there’s one writer who has reappeared after falling off the face of the earth and this time, he seems to be looking for vengeance.

Prime Patriots hater, former New York Post writer Bart Hubbuch, the man who was fired from the newspaper for an inappropriate Tweet during campaign, has landed with Deadspin and resumed his obsession with taking down the franchise he clearly doesn’t like.

Hubbuch wrote an article Monday night about Robert Kraft’s apparent affiliation with a corporation he claims puts him in violation of the NFL’s policy surrounding gambling.  Hubbuch’s story focuses on the fact that Kraft is a board member of private-equity firm Appolo Global Management, which in 2008 teamed up with TPG Capital to buy a controlling 60 percent interest in Caesars Entertainment.

According to Hubbuch, while Appolo’s stake dropped to 16 percent during an ongoing bankruptcy fight, they still hold an interest in the company.  Kraft reportedly joined their board of directors back in May of 2014 as one of just eight directories of the company.

As Hubbuch points out, Kraft is “profiting off of casino gambling and sports betting” and that the NFL “knows all about it” but hasn’t done a thing to shut it down.

Hubbuch cites what he believes to be a “notable example” of why Kraft should be punished after the NFL forced Tim Rooney — the son of Steelers’ founder Art J. Rooney — to sell his entire stake in the team in 2008 because Yonkers Raceway, which he owned, received a gaming license.

That seems to be what Hubbuch is trying to force here with Kraft.

Hubbuch later cited the league’s policy where he was told by NFL spokesperson, Brian McCarthy, that the diversity of the company and the small percentage of the overall related to gaming wasn’t enough to violate their rule.

He disagrees, citing one sentence he feels puts Kraft in violation with his emphasis in bold.

“NFL Personnel may own interests in publicly-traded enterprises where less than one-third of the enterprise’s gross revenues or operating profit in any of the last three years is attributable to gambling-related operations, so long as the NFL Personnel does not own more than 5 percent of the company’s stock and does not serve as an officer or director of the company.”

A league spokesman told Hubbuch that Kraft is not in violation of the policy because “the NFL didn’t consider Kraft’s Apollo stake a violation of the casino ban because Caesars Entertainment is one of more than 100 businesses in Apollo’s portfolio.”

Hubbuch disagrees and went on from there to complain about how he originally wrote this story a long time ago and voiced his frustration about how he was shut down after approaching Patriots spokesperson Stacey James and the story never ran.  From there, he went on a bizarre rant to complain about his frustration with losing his job with the Post and the unfair treatment he believes Kraft and the team receives from the league.

Honestly, as the piece turns into Hubbuch’s vehicle to vent, it just really becomes strange to read. When he was a reporter for the Post it all seemed like an act and a persona he was putting out there for the sake of getting followers.  Reading this now, it appears to be just how he is, and his obsession and comments are alarming to say the least.

It’s a strange twist considering two months ago he was suing the Post for firing him, one month ago he dropped the lawsuit and on Monday, he drops this.  It’s definitely a strange turn of events and whatever Hubbuch is trying to ultimately accomplish, all he’s managed to prove is that he’s still a, really, really disturbing individual.

Patriots Get Their Man Again From Buffalo, Gillislee Now a Pat

Steve Balestrieri
April 24, 2017 at 6:32 pm ET

The Patriots added another nice piece to their roster when the Buffalo Bills decided not to match New England’s offer sheet and Mike Gillislee is now a member of the Patriots.

The cost? A fifth-round draft pick. But this is another case where with Brandin Cooks and Kony Ealy the Patriots and Bill Belichick decided to go with a known commodity. New England gave up their first rounder for Cooks who has been very productive for New Orleans and their second-round pick for Ealy and Carolina’s third rounder, a difference of eight slots.

Gillislee had 577 yards on 101 carries for a 5.7 yard per carry average with eight touchdowns in 2016 backing up LeSean McCoy. The 27-year old added nine receptions out of the backfield. Against the Patriots last year, he had 12 carries for 85 yards and a score in the game in Buffalo.

He’ll join a stable of running backs including James White, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, D.J. Foster and Brandon Bolden. While Gillislee has never had to stand up for a whole season as a starter, with the Patriots, they have plenty of depth to carry them thru, plus he can contribute in the passing game.

This signing probably means the end of the line for LeGarrette Blount in New England as Gillislee’s role will undoubtedly be that of the “big back” in the Patriots offense. He had a stellar 2016 season with over 1100 yards and 18 touchdowns. Blount was never a fan favorite here in New England but in his seasons here, in all fairness, he was a model citizen, a great teammate and being paid around the veteran minimum, a tremendous value.

So the Patriots raid Buffalo again, Chris Hogan was a restricted free agent last season and Stephon Gilmore was an unrestricted free agent this spring. Gillislee won’t have to worry about knowing many players in the locker room in his first few days.

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.

Patriots Learn Today If They Get Gillislee, Close Door on Blount

Steve Balestrieri
at 6:23 am ET

 The Patriots will know no later than 4 p.m. if restricted free agent running back Mike Gillislee will be suiting up for them this season. The Patriots signed the Bills running back to a 2-year $6.4 million dollar offer sheet with $4 million of it front-loaded into the first year. Buffalo has until the 4 p.m. deadline to either match the Patriots offer or decline it.

If the Bills decline, Gillislee becomes part of the Patriots stable of running backs which includes James White, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, D.J. Foster and Brandon Bolden under contract. The Patriots would also have to give up one of their fifth-round draft picks, as the Bills placed a fifth-round tender on Gillislee this offseason.

Gillislee would inherit the “big back” reps in the Patriots offense. With a slew of pass-catchers and the New England offense being a pass-first unit, he wouldn’t be consistently asked to carry a heavy load. But he’s a physical, downhill runner who can also be a factor in the passing game.

Gillislee earned the praise of Bill Belichick last year and in the second meeting between the two teams in Buffalo had a very solid outing. He carried the ball 12 times for 85 yards and a touchdown. He also added three catches out of the backfield.

The Bills are tight under the salary cap and also have been rumored to be looking to add some picks in this week’s upcoming draft. Part of the reason the Patriots front loaded the deal for Gillislee is to make it harder for the Bills to match. They’d have to do some shifting around of monies under the cap but could make it work if they feel it is in their best interests to do so.

If the Bills match the Patriots offer, then Gillislee returns to them for the next two years and the Patriots will probably use one of their draft picks on a running back. They currently have seven picks. Two 3rd -round picks, a 4th, two 5th-round picks, a 6th and a 7th.

One player who will be watching the events of today unfold will be free agent RB LeGarrette Blount. If the Patriots sign Gillislee, then that would probably end the run of Blount in New England. But if the Bills decide to match, it would open the door for Blount to return for at least one more season, although it would still be expected that they’d entertain drafting a big running back this weekend.

Blount was visible over the weekend and is still making personal appearances for the team. He appeared at a charity basketball game with the Patriots in Grafton on Friday night. So there is plenty of reason to believe, that the door is not closed yet.

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.

Marshawn Lynch to the Patriots? Don’t Buy It

Steve Balestrieri
April 11, 2017 at 8:08 am ET

Marshawn Lynch to the Patriots? Sorry, that dog won’t hunt.

Yesterday reports surfaced from Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald tweeted out that the Skittles-loving, non-media talking bruiser of a running back said that if his talks with the Raiders fall through, that he’d be interested in going to New England.

Lynch retired after the 2015 season where he played in just seven games and rushed for 417 yards on 111 carries. It seemed like time had caught up to talented running back who had rushed for 1200 yards and 10+ plus touchdowns in the previous four seasons with the Seahawks.

Asked about his status last season, Lynch was adamant.

“I’m retired,” Lynch said in an interview with 60 Minutes. “Is that good enough? Which camera do you want me to look into? This one? I’m done. I’m not playing football anymore.”

But apparently, he’s had a change of heart. The Raiders need a bruising, power back and Lynch, if a year off from football had stoked his desire to play again as well as healed him up enough would be a great fit.

Seattle still owns his rights however GM John Schneider has stated that the Seahawks will not stand in his way should he opt to return. The Raiders’ need trumps Lynch’s desire to play football and that is where things get interesting.

Apparently, the talks between the two sides have hit a snag. So Lynch did what any good salesman does, he threw another hook in the water. He said that if the talks with Oakland break down, that he’d be interested in playing for New England if that happens.

The Patriots, not-so-coincidentally need a power running back too. And nothing would put the fear of God in the Raiders more than a re-energized, revitalized Lynch being part of the Patriots offense. LeGarrette Blount is a free agent and has reportedly turned down the Patriots offer to return.

The team has five running backs on the roster right now. Rex Burkhead, James White, Dion Lewis, D.J. Foster and Brandon Bolden but the power back position is one of need.

This little bit of leaked information will serve as a wakeup call to Blount and his agent as well. If you don’t sign with the Patriots with what they offered, they’ll move on quickly to someone else. Except Lynch did their dirty work for them.

Lynch never expressed interest in playing for the Patriots in the past, and I doubt that he has any now. This is just a leverage game he’s playing with the Raiders, the team that made him discuss coming out of retirement in the first place. It wouldn’t be shocking if Blount in the next few days decides that the offer by New England is good enough and he returns for the 2017 season.

But regardless of whether Blount or Lynch (very unlikely) signs with New England, look for the Patriots to add a youthful power back this spring. The draft has plenty of prospects and the team will be looking there.

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.

New England Patriots Draft Profile Pitt RB James Conner

Steve Balestrieri
April 3, 2017 at 6:00 am ET

Inspirational Player Can’t Be Held Down

As the 2017 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’ offense needs a big bodied power running back to replace free agent LeGarrette Blount. He was terrific in 2016 rushing for over 1100 yards and a league leading 18 touchdowns but he’s 30 years old now, a time when big backs begin to break down. He slowed considerably down the stretch.

The team could use a younger, upgrade at the big, physical back position, someone that can move the chains on third down. Get the tough yards in goal line situations and act as a closer late in contests when the game is in hand.

The Patriots have a slew of pass receiving backs, James White, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, and D.J. Foster. While all of them can catch the ball out of the backfield, they are not the big, physical downhill style runners they need to move the chains.

James Conner from Pitt is exactly the kind of player that would fit the bill in a matter of speaking. Bill Belichick loves players like him, he’s an inspiration to his teammates. He injured his ACL in 2015, and while doctors were treating that, they came across cancer, specifically Hodgkins Lymphoma which he took on at the same time.

As a result, he won the Disney Spirit Award and ACC Brian Piccolo Award as well as first team all-conference honors in 2016. He rushed 216 times for 1092 yards (5.1-yard average) with 16 touchdowns for the Panthers. He added 21 receptions for 302 yards for four more scores.

Conner has tremendous size at 6’1, 233-pounds and is extremely tough and will not be brought down with arm tackles. He lowers his head and punishes would-be tacklers on contact. He is extremely strong on the lower half of his body and when running between the tackles, especially in short yardage or the goal line, he doesn’t need a hole, he’ll make one.

However, he doesn’t have great top-end speed and will struggle at times turning the corner when running to the outside. He has good balance and can make the first man miss while possessing an excellent stiff arm to jolt tacklers and break free. He’s a good, willing pass blocker and shows decent production coming out of the backfield in the passing game with good hands.

Pros:

– Tremendous size, extremely strong

– Very good vision, instincts

– Runs hard, low and gets yards after contact

– Punishing runner, outstanding in short yardage

Cons

– Medical questions will follow him after ACL, cancer treatment

– Not a breakaway threat and doesn’t possess great top end speed

– Runs a little stiff in his hips

What his Role Will Be:
Conner’s role will be as the Patriots big, physical, move-the-pile back. He’d take over the Blount role, especially as a red zone, goal line back. He’ll be part of the rotation on early downs and as situations dictate.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with improved production as he becomes more familiar with the offense, and in the passing game, he could see his role increase.

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
LaGarrette Blount, and/or Brandon Bolden.

What is his ST Value?
None

Conclusion:
Conner, if he can keep a clean bill of health is going to be a very productive, physical back in the NFL. He’s the type of guy who may not wow you for three-quarters but in the fourth quarter, he can wear down teams and punish them with a battering ram style of running. He’ll be the designated closer when the team is ahead.

He has decent but not great lateral movement but will be an excellent inside runner between the tackles showing great size, strength, and power. He has a tremendous heart with a work ethic to match that will make him a favorite of his coaches.

For a big man, he’s more quick than fast but running the ball inside, if he gets to the line untouched, he’s going to bull his way for yardage. Conner has shown the ability to protect the quarterback in pass blocking and is an underrated receiver out of the backfield. It is something that he can improve upon as he gets more familiar with the offense.

Conner is a punisher while running inside between the tackles, he would be a tremendous fit for the Patriots offense. With a large stable of pass receiving backs, he’d be the bell cow at when the game needs to be closed out.

Conner can come in and contribute in a big way on Day1 as the “big back” with their offense. He’s slated to be available in second and third round range. If he is available when the Patriots are on the clock with the 72nd pick, then he’d be a great choice to bolster the running game. With the plethora of weapons already in place in the passing game, Conner would be an ideal choice to be the move-the-chains and to punch it in from inside the five-yard line. He’s a Patriots type of player, an inspirational, team captain that will fit seamlessly into the locker room with his teammates.

Conner’s highlight reel tape can be seen here:

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.

Patriots Draft Profile: Texas RB D’Onta Foreman

Steve Balestrieri
March 28, 2017 at 6:00 am ET

Foreman is a Big, Fast Athletic Back With Upside

As the 2017 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’ offense needs a big bodied running back to replace LeGarrette Blount. Blount is a free agent and is unlikely to return at this point. He was terrific in 2016 rushing for over 1100 yards and a league leading 18 touchdowns but he’s 30 years old now, a time when big backs begin to break down. He slowed considerably down the stretch.

The Patriots have a slew of pass receiving backs, James White, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, and D.J. Foster. While all of them can catch the ball out of the backfield, they are not the big, physical downhill style runners they need to move the chains.

D’Onta Foreman from Texas is just what the doctor ordered. He’s got tremendous size and is deceptively athletic for a big man. He measured 6’0, 233 pounds at the Combine and has a 10 1/8 size hands. He was a consensus All-American and won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best back.

He passed up his final year of eligibility and posted excellent numbers for the Longhorns with 323 carries for 2028 yards with a 6.3 yards average per attempt. And 15 touchdowns in 2016.  He also caught seven passes out of the backfield for 75 yards.

Foreman has the size and physicality to move the chains and in short yardage had a fantastic conversion rate. Can either hurdle would-be tacklers who go too low or run over safeties when he lowers his head. Has very good yards after contact.

He’ll be limited in third down production initially as he’s not good at all in pass protection and that is something Ivan Fears and the Pats coaches will insist upon him improving.

Pros:

– Tremendous size, very athletic

– Very good cut-back ability and can change direction easily

– Runs hard, low and gets yards after contact

– Punishing runner when he wants to be

Cons

– Put the ball on the ground seven times in 2016 (six fumbles lost)

– Not a breakaway threat and is impatient at times with his reads

– Pass protection needs lots of work

What his Role Will Be:
Williams role will be as the Patriots big, physical, move-the-pile back. He’d take over the Blount role, especially as a red zone, goal line running back that will pound the ball between the tackles.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with improved pass protection and ball security, he could see his snaps definitely increase in Year 2.

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
LaGarrette Blount, and/or Brandon Bolden.

What is his ST Value?
None

Conclusion:
Foreman is a tough physical runner that has proven that he can shoulder a tremendous workload as a featured back. In the Patriots offense, he won’t be asked to do as much of that, but as a role player with the responsibilities in short-yardage, goal line and as a closer late in games, he’d be terrific.

He has very good lateral movement and can cut into open lanes without any loss of speed. He’s outstanding at running between the tackles and has the size to create his own hole when need be. He makes very good yards after contact (YAC).

For a big man, he has excellent foot quickness. At times, however, he showed a tendency to choose the finesse route rather than bull his way thru the line. He needs lots of work on his pass protection skills where at times he just throws a shoulder up rather than square up on a pass rusher.

Foreman had some issues with fumbling last season and that will also have to be worked on with the coaching staff. But as a punishing runner inside between the tackles, he would be a tremendous fit.

He can come in and contribute in a big way on Day1 as the “big back” with their offense. Foreman is slated to be available in Round 2-3. If he is available when the Patriots are on the clock, then he’d be a great choice to bolster the running game. With the weapons in the passing game, Foreman in the running offense would make this team a very difficult one to stop.

Foreman’s highlight reel tape 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.

Patriots Draft Profile: RB Jamaal Williams BYU

Steve Balestrieri
March 24, 2017 at 6:00 am ET

Big, Physical Running Back Can Be the Replacement for LG

As the 2017 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’ offense needs a big bodied running back to replace LeGarrette Blount. Blount is a free agent and is unlikely to return at this point. He was terrific in 2016 rushing for over 1100 yards and a league leading 18 touchdowns but he’s 30 years old now, a time when big backs begin to break down. He slowed considerably down the stretch.

The Patriots have a slew of pass receiving backs, James White, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, and D.J. Foster. While all of them can catch the ball out of the backfield, they are not the big, physical downhill style runners they need to move the chains.

Jamaal Williams from BYU would fit that description nicely. He’s got good size at 6’0, 220 pounds and is physical, productive back who can carry the ball between the tackles and churn out the yardage when the game has to be closed out.

When healthy (he’s had injury issues), he runs quick to the hole and with solid instincts and vision to see where the play will develop. He is not a dancer at the line, he’ll lower his head, runs with a low pad level and gets good yardage after contact. He carried the ball 234 times for 1375 yards  (5.9 yd avg) and 12 touchdowns in 2016 and added seven receptions for 80 yards.

Williams rarely gets knocked backward, always keeps his feet moving and has excellent ball security. He fumbles once for every 140 touches which is good news for Bill Belichick as his pet peeve for running backs is turning the ball over.

Pros:

– Good, NFL sized running back

– Played in a Pro-style Offense

– Runs hard, low and smart and gets yards after contact

– Good hands although not used much in the passing game

Cons

– Injury history

– Not a breakaway threat

– Pass protection needs work

What his Role Will Be:
Williams role will be as the Patriots big, physical, move-the-pile back. He’d take over the Blount role, especially as red zone, goal line back

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with his good hands, and work with the coaches on his pass blocking skills he could find himself as a bigger target in the passing game.

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
LaGarrette Blount, and Brandon Bolden. Tyler Gaffney was already released.

What is his ST Value?
Minimal, but that may change once he gets into training camp.

Conclusion:
Williams is an impressive, physical back when he’s healthy. While he’s had some injury concerns and off-field issues, he is a tough runner inside between the tackles, that will make yards after contact and keeps the pile moving.

His vision and lack of dancing at the line will be a boost to the Patriots short-yardage and goal line packages. He’s been used in a rotation at BYU and doing so with the Pats won’t be an issue at all for him. The Patriots are a pass first team especially with the backs in the system already but Williams will definitely have a chance to carve out a nice role for himself.

He’ll need to work on his pass protection, something that is prevalent with most of the big backs coming out of the draft this year. But he has good hands and could be used a bit in the passing game but those opportunities will have to be earned.

Williams isn’t the whole package yet, and with his injury history will no doubt fall to the mid rounds of the draft. That should place him in a perfect spot to be targeted by Belichick and the Patriots. I see him as a 4th round prospect that will have the ability to become a solid, contributor in the NFL. He’d be a tremendous fit for the Patriots offense.

William’s highlight reel tape 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.