Tag Archives: Jabaal Sheard

An Early Projection for the Patriots Starting Lineup, Better, Stronger, Faster

Steve Balestrieri
May 8, 2017 at 9:08 am ET

The NFL Draft is in the books, free agency has been fruitful, and the Patriots have made a flurry of initial UDFA moves. Barring any late moves or last minute trades, the initial roster of the 2017 Patriots should now be set.

As it stands now on paper, the roster for this season’s team looks better than the one that just won the Super Bowl. But as Bill Belichick has frequently said, you never really know what each season’s team will be like until Thanksgiving. Lots of things can and will change, injuries occur, and some players’ production will either rise or fall inside the system. Tweaks to the roster always occur during the season.

But what we see now should constitute the bulk of this year’s team. Confidence is high as always in New England. And for a team that has won 10 or more games for 14 straight seasons, why should there be any other feeling?

So here is a quick projection for the starting lineup for the 2017 Patriots

Offense:
Quarterback:

Tom Brady: Well duh? No change from last year or the 15 years prior. While the talk remains that eventually, his play is going to fall off a cliff due to his age, at this point, it is a lot of wishful thinking for a lot of non-Patriots supporters. His play, especially in the 2nd half of Super Bowl LI shows he’s still at the top of the heap in regard to NFL QBs.

His backups remain Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett. The rumor mill for Jimmy G. had him being traded this offseason but he’s still here, at least for 2017 and should any injury occur, he’ll be ready to step in.


James White is among a crowded Patriots backfield this season.

Running Back:

James White: After a Super Bowl where he could have easily been named the MVP, White has been given a nice raise and contract extension. And with the Patriots being a passing team first, White has proven to be a trusted, capable weapon in the offense.

But the Patriots are a matchup team that uses a rotation of running backs so their roster of backs doesn’t really have a starter per se, it will depend on how they match up against an opponent. Mike Gillislee will have a big role, taking over the big back i.e. LeGarrette Blount role. Something to consider, New England runs the ball on third down much more so than most fans would believe, so Gillislee will have a big role.

Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis, who should be completely healthy now round out the RB options. James Develin remains the fullback. Brandon Bolden, D.J. Foster, and LeShun Daniels are longshots for the roster at this point.

Wide Receiver:

Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Brandin Cooks: The Patriots brought in the speedster Cooks who was very productive in New Orleans this offseason. He’ll move around from outside to the slot depending on the matchups. A look at the top three with Edelman, Hogan, and Cooks shows that all of them can do the same. That makes for a very difficult group to cover. The versatility factor makes this group even more dangerous.

Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola are the primary backups and they’ve shown that they’ve earned Brady’s circle of trust. Mitchell came on in the second half of his rookie season and should be ready for more production in Year 2.

Devin Lucien, Devin Street, and Cody Hollister are longshots for the roster.


Rob Gronkowski is once again the Patriots top TE Option heading into 2017.

Tight End:

Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen: Gronkowski returns healthy for 2017 and Allen was brought over in a rare trade with the Colts, replacing Martellus Bennett who left in free agency. Gronk, when healthy remains the gold standard for NFL tight ends. Allen is an excellent blocker that can be very productive in the passing game who can attack the seams of the defense.

There is now plenty of depth behind them with James O’Shaughnessy, Matt Lengel, Rob Housler and Jacob Hollister fighting it out for a roster slot and repetitions. Training camp competition will be interesting to watch here.

Tackle:

Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon: No changes here from 2016. Solder returned from IR and played very solid in 2016. He’s in the last year of his contract and the Patriots must decide this year if they want him to return in 2018. Cannon was the biggest pleasant surprise of 2016. He parlayed a contract extension into a very solid campaign under the able tutelage of Dante Scarnecchia.

The team drafted a potential replacement for Solder in 2018 or beyond with Antonio Garcia. They added another tackle in the late rounds of the draft with Conor McDermott. He’ll be fighting backups Michael Williams, Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle for reps and a roster slot.

Guard:

Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason: No changes here from 2016. Thuney came in and started from Day 1 at left guard. As can be expected, he struggled a bit as a rookie and needs to come back stronger for his second season. Mason is a tough, road grader in the running game and will be looking to improve as well in 2017.

Primary backups should be Jamil Douglas who was brought over in midseason from Miami who was a 4th round draft pick in 2015 and Chris Barker.

Center:

David Andrews: No change here from 2016. Andrews is a bit undersized for the position but is smart and tough. He won over Tom Brady during training camp last year because of his ability to make the line calls and seeing the field much like Brady did.

His backup remains Ted Karras, the tough but less mobile version of Andrews. Karras can also play guard as well, the versatility that the coaching staff loves.


Flowers had a strong showing in 2016.

Defense:
Defensive End:

Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy: Lots of changes here. Gone are last season’s Week 1 starters Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard via free agency. But Flowers, who came on strong in the 2nd half of the season was the team’s best defensive lineman down the stretch and should be primed for a very solid 2017. Ealy was brought over from the Panthers as well as a 3rd round pick for the Patriots 2nd rounder.

Lots of good depth here now, Rob Ninkovich will play both DE and OLB and fill in where he’s needed and may still lobby for starting duties. Top draft choice Derek Rivers gives the team the speed and athleticism from the edge. Deatrich Wise is a bigger, edge setting end who can kick inside as an interior pass rusher. Lawrence Guy is another big man who can play inside as an interior tackle or on the edge. Geneo Grissom is on the outside looking in this year.

Tackle:

Malcom Brown, Alan Branch: No changes to the starting lineup. Brown played solidly in Year 2 but could stand to improve his pocket push in 2017. Branch was excellent against the run in 2016, eating up a ton of space. He returns with a new deal and has played the best football of his career since coming to New England.

Backups include Vincent Valentine, Woodrow Hamilton, Guy, Darius Kilgo, and UDFA Josh Augusta who is one of the players to watch in training camp. He’s a huge space eater who could be one of the surprise players to stick on the roster.

Linebacker:

Dont’a Hightower, Jonathan Freeny: Wait, what? People forget Freeny, a Bill Belichick favorite was a starter for the defense a year ago until landing on IR. Hightower got a new deal after testing free agency and not finding the market he envisioned out there. He’s the glue that holds the defense together for the Pats. He calls the defense and is the guy they need in the middle. He can do it all, stuff the run, cover in the flat and blitz up the A-gaps. Hightower’s starting slot is secure, Freeny will have to re-earn his spot this summer. But for now, he’s in.

Backups include sub-package third down players Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy, run-stuffer Elandon Roberts, Ninkovich, Trevor Bates and UDFA Harvey Langi. Langi is one of my players to watch this summer.

Since the Patriots spend so much time in sub-packages, we only include two starting linebackers, therefore…


Butler’s potential return solidifies a terrific secondary.

Cornerback:

Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe: The team gave Gilmore a big money contract this spring during free agency. And after a contentious period with Butler, he signed his free-agent tender and has been in for off-season workouts. Rowe is a big matchup corner and gives the Patriots a very solid starting three. Each has the versatility to be shifted around and play outside or in the slot depending on how Belichick and Matt Patricia choose to use them.

Backups include Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Coleman, Jonathan Jones, and intriguing UDFA D.J. Killings who for now, is a long shot for the roster.

Safety:

Devin McCourty, Pat Chung: No changes here from 2016. McCourty is the QB for the secondary and always ensures that the players in are in the right position. He plays the centerfield position in the base defense and can slide up to play in the slot in the “big nickel”. Chung is the guy in the box, he plays physical against the run and he’ll cover tight ends in the short to intermediate range.

Duron Harmon was brought back with a nice deal in free agency. He plays a lot of snaps and replaces McCourty as the center fielder in big nickel coverage. Jordan Richards has been disappointing thus far. Nate Ebner and Brandon King are special teamers.

Special Teams:

Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater: The team’s specialists remain the same. Gostkowski will have training camp competition for the first time in a while from Josh Gable, known more for his trick shots. Punter Ryan Allen and LS Joe Cardona face no competition. Slater is a perennial Pro-Bowl gunner.

So, with the additions made in the draft and free agency, the Patriots look …on paper in a prime position to compete for another Super Bowl bid. Of course, injuries and other factors always weigh in but there are no holes on the roster as it currently stands. They’ve addressed their needs across the board and look even better than the team that won 14 games in the regular season and three more in the playoffs in 2016.

Is it time for mini-camp yet?

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New England Patriots Draft Profile, Missouri DE Charles Harris

Steve Balestrieri
April 10, 2017 at 6:00 am ET

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 are thin at defensive end; Jabaal Sheard has left via free agency and Chris Long has said that he isn’t coming back in 2017. The team did pick up Kony Ealy from the Carolina Panthers in a trade. Ealy has all the tools, he just needs to do it consistently. There has been talk that he didn’t take to coaching in Carolina, something he’ll have to do here to thrive.

That leaves him, Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, and Geneo Grissom. Flowers came on in his second season and was arguably their best defensive lineman down the stretch. Ninkovich seems to be closer to the end of his career now after several solid seasons. Grissom was strictly a STs guy and didn’t contribute on defense. So, they’ll need to add some depth.

Edge rushers are like cornerbacks, you can never have too many good ones and the team is expecting Flowers to continue to improve on his 2016 season. Ealy will be looked at to contribute right away. That leaves Ninkovich and whomever they can bring in. Right now, the Patriots don’t draft until Round 3. But we don’t expect that to last. They’ll try to make a move to slide up into either Round 1 or 2 of the draft. And this next profile will be there if they can.

Charles Harris from Missouri is a 6’3, 253-pound defensive end who is another in a long line of productive edge rushers to come out of Mizzou. He was All-SEC second team in both 2015 and 2016. Despite the Tigers having a down year, Harris produced good numbers 61 tackles, including 12 for loss, 9 sacks, two passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and a recovered fumble.

Harris is versatile and can play either right or left defensive end as well as play standing up as an outside linebacker. He has good explosion off the snap, with loose hips that allow him to change direction quickly with no loss of speed.

He’s got a spin move where he can turn in either direction quickly. Harris has a non-stop motor and can go sideline to sideline. He’s got the quickness and strength to beat tackles to the inside on his pass rushes. Decent in coverage, but is inconsistent against the run.

Pros:

– Very good athletically, with excellent change of direction

– Quick first step, stays low and explodes off the edge

– Very good edge rush capability, counter moves, productive

– Excellent quick, hands, can shed blockers and get to the QB

Cons

– Only adequate height for a defensive end

– Can get washed inside at times in the running game

– Ran only a 4.82 at the Combine in the 40-yard Dash

What his Role Will Be:
Harris’ role would be to initially be a part of the rotation for the Patriots on the edge as a sub-package pass rusher. He could also kick outside as an outside linebacker and has the ability to cover or blitz from the outside.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with some added lower body strength and improved against the run, he could be looking at starting reps in 2018.

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
Harris will look to earn his way on the field and he’ll play special teams as well as contribute on defense. He could replace Geneo Grissom on the roster this season.

What is his ST Value?
Good, he should see some action on the coverage units

Conclusion:
Harris is a first round talent and will be a guy that will contribute immediately as a rookie. First as a sub-package pass rusher, but I think he’ll push for starting reps right away. His numbers slipped a little bit in 2016 but the coaches asked him to try some different things and he struggled a little. But in the second half of the season, he took off and was dominant.

He’s the type of player that Bill Belichick loves, a versatile young player with a non-stop motor that can play on either side as a defensive end or stand up as an outside linebacker where he has prototypical size. He’s can also play on special teams.

He’d be a tremendous fit on a Patriots defense that can use a talented edge rusher. With his agility and footwork (former basketball player), he can get after the passer and be a very productive professional.

If the Patriots can find a way to work themselves back into the second half of the first or second round, Harris would be a guy, in our opinion, that they’d definitely take a long look at. He’d fit in seamlessly in the locker room as well as on the field.

Harris’ highlight tape can be seen here:

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New England Patriots Draft Profile Stanford DE Solomon Thomas

Steve Balestrieri
April 7, 2017 at 6:00 am ET

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 are thin at defensive end; Jabaal Sheard has left via free agency and Chris Long has said that he isn’t coming back in 2017. The team did pick up Kony Ealy from the Carolina Panthers in a trade. Ealy has all the tools, he just needs to do it consistently. There has been talk that he didn’t take to coaching in Carolina, something he’ll have to do here to thrive.

That leaves him, Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, and Geneo Grissom. Flowers came on in his second season and was arguably their best defensive lineman down the stretch. Ninkovich seems to be closer to the end of his career now after several solid seasons. Grissom was strictly a STs guy and didn’t contribute on defense. So, they’ll need to add some depth.

Edge rushers are like cornerbacks, you can never have too many good ones and the team is expecting Flowers to continue to improve on his 2016 season. Ealy will be looked at to contribute right away. That leaves Ninkovich and whomever they can bring in. Right now, the Patriots don’t draft until Round 3. But we don’t expect that to last. They’ll try to make a move to slide up into either Round 1 or 2 of the draft. And this next player will be there if they can.

Solomon Thomas from Stanford is a 6’3, 273-pound defensive end that is extremely productive. He had a very good 2016 season with All-American honors and winning the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. Thomas led the team with 62 tackles, 15 for loss, with eight sacks.

Thomas comes from good genes and his mother, father and uncle were all collegiate athletes. He’s versatile and can line up in different positions, something Bill Belichick has liked his edge rushers to do is to slide inside on passing downs in a NASCAR-type package. He can do that and has hand skills and instincts to be a difference maker.

He has excellent power and excellent athleticism, he ran a 6.95 in the 3-Cone Drill and a 4.28 in the 20-Yard Shuttle. He’s very tough and competitive. His motor is always pegged into the red and goes all out on every snap. His instincts allow him to seek out and find the ball carrier and he’s got an explosive first step.

Pros:

– Excellent athletically

– Good speed and explosiveness off the edge

– Good instincts and plays sideline to sideline

– Excellent quick, hands, can shed blockers and get to the QB

Cons

– Can get too tall at times

– Considered a “tweener” by some scouts

– Guesses at the snap count, seven off-side penalties in 2016

What his Role Will Be:
Thomas’ role would be to initially be a part of the rotation for the Patriots on the edge as a sub-package pass rusher. He will also kick inside at times as an interior pass rusher.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with some added lower body strength and a bit more pop in his hands, he could easily develop into a full-time very productive player

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
Thomas will be a guy that they’ll feel that they plug him inside or on the edge

What is his ST Value?
Limited

Conclusion:
Thomas is a player who will make an immediate impact as either a sub-package interior pass rusher or on the edge. Some scouts have worried about his length to play on the edge and while that may be true for his measurables, it doesn’t show it on the field.

He already is very good with his hands and has a lightning-quick spin move to disengage himself from blockers. That, along with his athleticism, smooth, quick lateral movement and speed in pursuit will make him a playmaker on the defense.

Thomas is just the kind of player Bill Belichick loves on his defenses. He’s strong, smart, has good instincts and a non-stop motor. He’s versatile and can play multiple positions. He’d be an excellent fit for the Patriots.

If the Patriots can find a way to work themselves back into the second half of the first round, Thomas would be a guy, in our opinion, that they’d jump all over. He’d quickly earn more reps and be productive right off the bat.

Thomas’ highlight 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.

New England Patriots Draft Profile Florida Atlantic DE Trey Hendrickson

Steve Balestrieri
April 5, 2017 at 6:00 am ET

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 are thin at defensive end; Jabaal Sheard has left via free agency and Chris Long has said that he isn’t coming back in 2017. The team did pick up Kony Ealy from the Carolina Panthers in a trade. That leaves him, Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, and Geneo Grissom. Flowers came on and was fantastic down the stretch and into the playoffs. Ninkovich seems to be on the downside of a very solid career here in New England. Grissom was strictly a STs guy. So, they’ll need to add some depth.

Edge rushers are like cornerbacks, you can never have too many good ones and the team is expecting Flowers to continue to improve on his 2016 season. Ealy has flashed and had an incredible Super Bowl with Carolina but hasn’t been able to do it consistently. The Patriots will have plenty of options but as of today, they don’t pick until the third round.

Trey Hendrickson from Florida Atlantic is a 6’4, 266-pound defensive end that has shown good production despite opponents keying on him. League coaches named him first-team All-Conference-USA in 2015 – 2016. He had excellent production in his final campaign with 51 tackles, 15 for loss, 9.5 sacks.

He’s quick of the snap and shows good bend on the edge. He has strong hands and uses a club move to gain the edge and arm extension move to convert speed to power. Hendrickson has very good lateral quickness and had outstanding times in the 20-yard shuttle as well as the 60-yard shuttle as well as a good time in the 3-Cone Drill.

He’s good at jarring the ball free and forced four fumbles in his final season at Florida Atlantic. He shined at the East – West Shrine Game and was named as the game’s most outstanding defensive player.

Pros:

– Very good production with 23 sacks the past two seasons

– Quick off the snap and explosiveness off the edge

– Good hands and plays sideline to sideline

– Versatile, can play either DE or OLB

Cons

– Lean lower half of his body

– Arms a bit short for a DE, may fit best as a 3-4 OLB

– Can get too tall at times allowing blockers to get under his pads

What his Role Will Be:
Hendrickson’s role would be to be a part of the rotation for the Patriots on the edge as a sub-package pass rusher. He could be asked to drop into coverage a bit as well.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with time to get a bit stronger in the strength and conditioning program, he could develop into a premium pass rusher and become an every down player.

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
Geneo Grissom, Hendrickson will become a Special Teams standout player early. He will earn his reps there and in sub-packages. But with a strong summer, he may push for some reps defensively early

What is his ST Value?
Excellent. Blocked a punt, two field goals and an extra point in 2016.

Conclusion:
Hendrickson is a player that won’t be denied, he has the mentality that the coaches love and look for. He does a good job of setting the edge in the running game although he will need to beef up a little at the NFL level.

Scouts were focusing on his arm length and lack of dynamic pass rush ability until the East – West Shrine Game where he turned some heads with strong play all week. He has the positional versatility to play either as a defensive end with his hand in the dirt or as an outside linebacker. He hasn’t had much experience playing standing up and that may take some getting used to if the team feels he’s best suited there.

In our opinion, this kid can play defensive end and be a productive one. He’ll start out as a Special Teams and sub-package pass rusher specialist but he has the ability to become a true three-down player. His versatility to play multiple positions and be a key contributor in Special Teams will resonate with Bill Belichick.

Hendrickson is slated to go somewhere between Rounds 3 and 4 in the 2017 NFL Draft. The Patriots will be looking to add a couple of edge rushers this spring and if he’s on the board when they are on the clock, he’d be a nice fit for the Patriots defense. He has the mentality, the drive to succeed at the next level.

Hendrickson’s highlight 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: Illinois DE Dawuane Smoot

Steve Balestrieri
March 30, 2017 at 6:00 am ET

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 are thin at defensive end; Jabaal Sheard has left via free agency for the Colts and Chris Long has signed with the Eagles this week. The team did pick up Kony Ealy from the Carolina Panthers in a trade. That leaves him, Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, and Geneo Grissom. Flowers came on and played fantastic down the stretch and into the playoffs. Ninkovich seems to be closer to the end of his career rather than the beginning. Grissom was strictly a Special Team’s guy. So, they’ll need to add some depth.

Edge rushers are like cornerbacks, you can never have too many good ones and the team is expecting Flowers to continue to improve on his 2016 season. Ealy has flashed at times and had an incredible Super Bowl with Carolina but hasn’t been able to do it consistently. His former coach Ron Rivera has said that being around Bill Belichick will be good for him and that he needs to take to his coaching. The Patriots will have plenty of options in the draft but right now don’t pick until the third round (#72 overall).

Dawuane Smoot from Illinois is a 6’3, 264-pound defensive end from Illinois and seems like he’s a Patriots kind of guy. He’s got very good explosiveness off the snap and shows good bend and flexibility when turning the corner. He changes direction very well with excellent athleticism. He was a very good high school hurdler.

In 2015 he was named honorable mention in the All-Big Ten, starting 12 games and logged 40 tackles, 15 for loss, eight sacks, and three forced fumbles for the Illini. Smoot was a team captain and a third team all-conference pick in his senior season, being credited with 56 stops, 15 for loss, and five sacks. The team had him play lighter in his senior year which no doubt hurt his strength and may be part of the reason his production diminished in his final season.

Smoot showed the quickness to shoot thru gaps and find the ball carrier for a loss in the running game and has a good rip move when rushing off the edge. He played for defensive guru and former Bears coach Lovie Smith. He is extremely well conditioned and will play sideline to sideline and doesn’t give up on plays.

Pros:

– Very good athletically

– Good speed and explosiveness off the edge

– Good instincts and plays sideline to sideline

– Versatile, can play either DE or OLB

Cons

– Needs more moves in his repertoire as a pass rusher

– Sometimes gets swallowed up in the running game

– Needs to get bigger and stronger at the NFL level

What his Role Will Be:
Smoot’s role would be to be a part of the rotation for the Patriots on the edge as a sub-package pass rusher. He could be asked to drop into coverage a bit as well.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with some added strength and weight in the Patriots strength and conditioning program, he could vie for a bigger role and push for starting reps

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
Geneo Grissom, Smoot will have to show that he’s able to contribute on Special Teams. But with a strong training camp, may push for some reps defensively early

What is his ST Value?
Limited, but that will change.

Conclusion:
Smoot is a guy that will put some weight on in the NFL which should help his functional strength. He has the ability to get under the pads of pass blockers and has good pass rushing moves. He uses his hands well but at times inconsistently. He can convert his quickness to power and can collapse the pocket. He has a knack of smacking the ball away from running backs or QBs when turning the corner and forced four fumbles in the past two seasons.

He’s a guy with very good upside, he has a tremendous motor that doesn’t quit, he can develop into a very solid pass rusher that can set the edge in the running game. He can also drop into coverage and change direction due with loose hips and very good agility.

Smoot is another player that should around in the 4th round of the draft. If he’s there, the Patriots would have the option of picking him up. He could become part of the rotation on the edge and provide a sub-package pass rusher on obvious passing downs. Eventually, with some added strength and power, he could become an every down solid, pass rusher.

Smoot’s highlight 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: Villanova DE Tanoh Kpassagnon

Steve Balestrieri
March 29, 2017 at 6:06 am ET

Big, Freaky Athletic Player is a Project But an Intriguing One

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 are thin at defensive end; Jabaal Sheard has left via free agency and Chris Long has said that he isn’t coming back in 2017. The team did pick up Kony Ealy from the Carolina Panthers in a trade. That leaves him, Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, and Geneo Grissom. Flowers came on and was fantastic down the stretch and into the playoffs. Ninkovich seems to be on the downside of a very solid career here in New England. Grissom was strictly a STs guy. So, they’ll need to add some depth.

Edge rushers are like cornerbacks, you can never have too many good ones and the team is expecting Flowers to continue to improve on his 2016 season. Ealy has flashed and had an incredible Super Bowl with Carolina but hasn’t been able to do it consistently. The Patriots have plenty of options but as of today, they don’t pick until the third round.

Tanoh Kpassagnon from Villanova is a fantastic athlete with tremendous size and very long arms that can play on the edge. He may be the most intriguing ‘Nova prospect since Brian Westbrook to come out of All-Colonial Athletic Conference.

He was an All-American in 2016 with 21.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks, 1 pass defensed, 1 forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. He shows on his tape that he has a very good short area burst, he changes direction well for a man his size and can block kicks in the STs.

Kpassagnon measured out a 6’7, 289 pounds at the Combine and has 35 5/8 arms which helps keep opposing offensive linemen away. His large frame can handle getting even larger, he could easily measure out at 300-305 with no loss of athleticism.

He showed that he could two-gap albeit at a lesser level of competition. He’s still a bit raw with his pass rush moves but flashes his potential with his freaky athleticism. He’s very intelligent and mature and is set to graduate with a double major of accounting and economics.

Pros:

– Tremendous size, and length on the edge

– Impressive burst off the snap

– Smart, very coachable player

– ST’s factor in the kick blocking game

Cons

– At times plays too upright

– Played at a lesser level of competition

– Needs to get stronger at the NFL level

What his Role Will Be:
Kpassagnon’s role would be to be a part of the rotation outside for the Patriots defensive line. He’d project initially as a sub-package pass rusher to add depth and fresh legs to the Patriots pressure on the QB. But with some coaching, he could find himself pushing for more reps and possibly kick inside as an interior pass rusher.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with improved ability to set the edge in the running game, some strength added in the weight room and being coached up, he could develop into an impressive pass rusher.

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
He’ll try to challenge Ninkovich and Ealy for reps in the sub packages. But he will look to replace Geneo Grissom on the roster

What is his ST Value?
Limited to field goal and extra point blocking units for now.

Conclusion:
Kpassagnon is an intriguing project. He has tremendous size and length coming off of the edge. But he’s still raw and will take some time to develop to reach his full potential. He’d primarily be a third down specialist and play STs in his rookie year and gradually work his way into the rotation.

He’ll need to get a bit stronger and could possibly pack on another 10-15 pounds of muscle on his frame before he can take on the tackles in the NFL. But his arrow is moving upward, this is a guy who is just scratching the surface of his potential.

Once he works out his issues with his balance and plays under control, Kpassagnon could be this classes version of Jason Pierre-Paul. He has good lateral quickness and has shown the ability to be a disruptor in the backfield. He got off to a slow start in his college career and he’s not yet reached his ceiling.

Kpassagnon should around in the 4th round of the draft. If he’s there, the Patriots would have the option of picking him up. He could become part of the rotation on the edge and even provide a big interior pass rusher on obvious passing downs. Whatever team drafts him will have to be patient, however, it will some time to see what he can really do.

Kpassagnon’s highlight tape can be seen here:

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Patriots Draft Profile, Edge Rusher Tyus Bowser

Steve Balestrieri
March 25, 2017 at 8:24 am ET

Ascending Edge Rusher May Be a Hidden Gem

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 added Kony Ealy early in free agency in a trade with the Carolina Panthers. They swapped pick #64 for Carolina’s #72 and got the talented by inconsistent DE from Missouri. But the team needs at least one other edge rusher, possibly two to round out the depth and help the team get the pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

The draft has several talented and well-known edge rushers, but unless the Patriots swing a trade to move up into either Round 1 or 2 in the draft, they’ll be picking no earlier than Round 3. So, with that in mind, we’re looking at prospective players that may be around in Round 3 or below.

Tyus Bowser from Houston is a name to keep an eye on. Although he’s a bit of tweener, he has the explosiveness off the edge to warrant moving up in the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft. The Patriots dipped into the draft with the revitalized Houston program last season with Elandon Roberts and could be tempted to do it again with Bowser.

In a very deep class of edge rushers, he is a player that isn’t being talked about too much but is a very intriguing prospect. Bowser shows very good bend and shoulder dip when rushing off the edge. He’s got an excellent change of direction skills and his 3-Cone Drill time of 6.75 is excellent for a man of his size.

He improved against the run in 2016 and with further coaching at the next level there’s no reason to expect that not to continue. The one caveat with him is his size, would he be able to hold up physically and set the edge in the running game.

Bowser is versatile, and rush off the edge as a DE with his hand in the dirt or stand up as an OLB. He can drop and cover TEs or RBs in the flat. His pass rush repertoire needs some work. He relies too much on his speed and athleticism and can use some work with the coaches. But his ceiling is high and probably hasn’t scratched the surface of his potential yet.

Pros:

– Explosive, Quick twitch athlete

– Versatile can play multiple positions

– Excellent change of direction, 3-Cone Time

– Just coming into his own, hasn’t scratched potential

Cons

– Undersized for the edge as 4-3 DE

– Needs to keep improving at defending the run and setting the edge

– Pass rush technique still needs work

What his Role Will Be:
Bowser would be initially, a sub-package pass rusher. With his athleticism, he could get after the QB and create some pressure. He can also cover tight ends and running backs as a standup linebacker in subs.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with improved play at setting the edge he could push for starting reps. Working with the coaches on his pass rush moves, the potential is there for Bowser to become a dominating type pass rusher.

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard. Both have left via free agency

What is his ST Value?
Good, the Patriots will look to use him much like they did Barkevious Mingo a year ago. Bowser will quickly find himself on the coverage units that can utilize his athleticism.

Conclusion:
Bowser was a four-year player and a two-year starter for the Cougars. He has the versatility to play either as a 4-3 defensive end or as an outside linebacker. He dropped in coverage on about a third of his defensive snaps and can run with tight ends or running backs but he isn’t a deep coverage guy.

He missed five games with a broken orbital bone in his eye socket after an altercation with a teammate. It should be noted that he didn’t throw any punches in the incident so the off-field concerns aren’t a big concern.

Despite playing in just eight games as a senior, Bowser racked up some impressive numbers. He garnered 12 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He measured 6’3, 247 at the Combine and playing around 250 pounds at the next level, he would be an intriguing target to play either as a sub-rusher at DE or as SAM with the Patriots.

He was generally considered to be a 3rd to 4th round talent as he’s still emerging and a bit of a tweener at his position. But after an impressive showing at the Combine where he flashed his athleticism, many now have Bowser going much earlier as teams love players who show quick twitch tendencies.

So, if he remains where he was envisioned, I could see New England taking a look at him in Round 3. A movable piece, Bowser can be moved around to take advantage of personnel matchups. He’d be a nice fit for the defense and has the versatility to play multiple positions and special teams, something Bill Belichick loves in his defenders.

Bowser’s highlight film can be seen here:

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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: Jordan Willis

Steve Balestrieri
March 22, 2017 at 6:05 am ET

Willis Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year

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 are thin at defensive end; Jabaal Sheard has left via free agency and Chris Long has said that he isn’t coming back in 2017. The team did pick up Kony Ealy from the Carolina Panthers in a trade. That leaves him, Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, and Geneo Grissom. Flowers came on and was fantastic down the stretch and into the playoffs. Ninkovich seems to be on the downside of a very solid career here in New England. Grissom was strictly a STs guy. So, they’ll need to add some depth.

Edge rushers are like cornerbacks, you can never have too many good ones and the team is expecting Flowers to continue to improve on his 2016 season. Ealy has flashed and had an incredible Super Bowl with Carolina but hasn’t been able to do it consistently. The Patriots still have plenty of options in the draft but as of today, they don’t pick until the third round….don’t expect that to last.

Jordan Willis from Kansas State isn’t the biggest guy at 6’3, 255-pounds but he is certainly a player to keep an eye on. His production in 2016 was very impressive as he racked up 17.5 tackles for a loss as well as 11.5 sacks.

Willis has a very quick first step and explodes off the ball very well. He has a non-stop motor and gives his all on every down. He’s played nearly all of his snaps from the left side and has very strong hands although he can definitely use some coaching on his hand usage.

He does a very good job of setting the edge in the running game. He’s a very instinctive player and is rarely out of position. He’s a dedicated film junkie and is known to game plan for each opponent, something that will resonate quite well with Bill Belichick.

Willis had a very impressive Combine and flashed athleticism that he wasn’t thought to have. He ran a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash while doing 24 reps on the bench press, a 39-inch effort in the vertical jump, a 4.28 time in the 20-yard shuffle and a 6.85 time in the 3-cone drill. Overall it was a very good day for the senior in Indy.

Pros:

– Very strong for his size and explosive

– Quick first step and good straight-line speed off the edge

– Smart instinctive player, never out of position

– Non-stop motor, all out on every down

Cons

– Tight in the hips and doesn’t have the consistent bend on the edge

– Needs to use counter moves in his pass rush repertoire

– Not a big guy, and may be maxed out for his frame

What his Role Will Be:
Willis’ role would be part of the rotation outside for the Patriots defensive line. He’d project initially as a sub-package pass rusher to add depth and fresh legs to the Patriots pressure on the QB. But with some coaching, he could find himself pushing for more reps

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with his ability to set the edge in the running game and an improved hand usage in the passing game, he could push for being a starter in 2018.

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
He’ll challenge Ninkovich and Ealy for sub-package pass rush reps right away.

What is his ST Value?
None

Conclusion:
Willis was thought to be a bit too stiff off the edge in his film but after an impressive showing in Indianapolis, he may be a late riser on several teams’ draft boards. He shows very good production in diagnosing the play in the backfield and setting the edge in the running game.

His motor and ability to finish is excellent. He’s already a good pass rusher and with some coaching has the ability to be even better. He was originally thought to be a third rounder but with his performance and his show of increased athleticism at the Combine could move up into Round 2.

Willis’ coach long-time Kansas State coach Bill Snyder called the linebacker the “Epitome of Kansas State football.” He’d be a good fit with the Patriots defense and could immediately be an impact player as a rookie with his ability to rush the quarterback.

Willis’ tape against Stanford 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.

NFL Combine, Patriots Have Plenty of Options at Edge Rusher

Steve Balestrieri
March 6, 2017 at 5:37 am ET

 The NFL is a passing league and the quarterbacks are the driving force in it. Some of the most important players on each team are the quarterbacks and those players trying to sack them.

The Patriots will have some work to do to replenish their players on the edge in 2017. Prior to the 2016 season, they traded away Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals. And now Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard are free agents and neither is likely to return. That leaves them with Trey Flowers who shined down the stretch for the team and steady, reliable veteran Rob Ninkovich, who is closer to the end of his run than the beginning.

But the good news is, despite free agency starting this week, the NFL Draft will be chock full of talented edge rushers. There are several players available that may be of interest to the Patriots as either a defensive end or as an outside linebacker. We’ll list a few here, some have already been linked to the Patriots.

While Miles Garrett is far above everyone else with his combine showing, forget about him coming to New England. His performance solidified what we already knew, he’s going to be the #1 pick and is heading to the Cleveland Browns. Ditto for Solomon Thomas from Stanford and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett. They should all be gone before New England is on the clock. And Malik McDowell who had a very good day at the Combine on Sunday? I think the Patriots pass on him, he doesn’t seem like their type of player with his lack of effort at times at MSU.

So. who may be around for the Pats to select? Here are some intriguing players to do some thinking about:

Taco Charlton from Michigan is an athletic big man at 6’6, 277-pounds and can play on the outside or kick in to be an interior pass rusher. He had 9.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss for a stout Michigan defense in 2016 and would be a great fit for what the Patriots love to do.

“I play a little bit of every position, inside, outside. I’ve played heavy, I’ve played light,” Charlton said at the Combine. “Look at my pass-rush moves, I’ve done a little of everything. My arsenal is wide, I can stab, I can bull, I can spin, I can speed rush. So, the arsenal I have and the combination of all the positions I’ve played: three-tech, four-tech, five-tech, weak-side end, all of those things kind of add up to separate me a little bit.”

Charlton is still filling out his massive frame and has possibly not even scratched the surface on his potential. Has the prototypical size, length, athleticism, to be a dominant pass rusher in the league.

Carl Lawson from Auburn looks the part as an edge rusher in the NFL. He’s 6’2, 253-pounds with a chiseled upper body and had the most bench presses for defensive linemen at the Combine with 35. He also had the fastest time in the 20-Yard Shuttle Run with a time of 4:19. The shuttle run measures lateral quickness and agility.

Lawson had issues with injuries in 2014-15 but he put it together for War Eagles this past season. He logged 13.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. He has very good power off the edge and is aggressive.

With his injury history, Lawson may drop into the 2nd round which would be a nice pickup for a team looking for an explosive edge rusher.

Charles Harris from Missouri is a hybrid edge rusher who can be a DE/OLB at the next level. He ran a 1.65 split which is a good indicator of burst and explosion at the line. Harris is 6’2, 253, and has excellent agility and footwork.

He was arguably the smoothest dropping into coverage and changing direction at the Combine on Sunday. Missouri has a history of producing very good edge rushers and Harris in 2015-16 showed what he can do. With 30.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks in those two seasons, Harris is another intriguing prospect.

He’s versatile can play defensive end on either side or stand up as an outside linebacker. Harris plays with a high motor and is very athletic.

Kansas State’s Jordan Willis had a tremendous showing at the Combine and seemed to put to rest the concerns that he was too stiff and sluggish to be an effective edge rusher. Willis finished second among defensive linemen only to Myles Garrett in the vertical jump with a leap of 39 inches. He finished second to Hasson Reddick in the 40-yard dash at 4.53 seconds. He won the all-important (especially to the Patriots), three-cone drill at 6.85 seconds and tied for third in the 20-yard shuttle at 4.28 seconds.

When looking at his game tape Willis appeared to be a nice complimentary sub-rusher. But with his dedication to improving himself this spring, he’s shown that with some more time in a strength and conditioning program, and his impressive showing in the agility drills, he could become an impact pass rusher.

His 10-yard split, which measures explosion off the snap at 1.54 was better than Jadaveon Clowney, Bruce Irvin, and Ziggy Ansah, via Mike Loyko NEPatriotsDraft.com. He really helped his own case on Sunday.

Haason Reddick from Temple is truly a jack of all trades, he walked on at Temple as a defensive back, bulked up and moved to defensive end, and now will probably play linebacker in the NFL. He’s got the straight-line speed, he ran a 4.52 in the 40 on Sunday.

He dropped into coverage for the first time at the Senior Bowl and turned scouts’ heads with how seasoned he appeared in coverage.  He may play outside or inside linebacker in the NFL or possibly both. He could be an inside backer on early downs and slow outside as an edge rusher on passing downs.

“Some want me at outside linebacker. Some want me inside. Some are willing to let me play both: inside on first and second down, and outside on third down.”

“I’m hoping to do both. I’m looking to take on a challenge. I want to dominate two positions.” He’s another guy that’s been linked to the Patriots and it is easy to see why.

One dark horse player to take a second look at is Trey Hendrickson from Florida Atlantic. He’s another hybrid DE/OLB who turned some heads at the Shrine Game. He ran very well with a 4.65 time in the 40 with a blistering 1.59 10-yard split.

He’s got good size at 6’4, 266 and showed his agility with a 4:20 time in the 20-yard shuttle and a top time of 11:43 in the 60-yard shuttle. He seems like a Patriots type of player, with nine sacks, 15 tackles for loss and four blocked kicks in 2016.

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

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New England Patriots News 3-5, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
March 5, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 3-5, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots released RT Sebastian Vollmer on Friday which wasn’t a surprise as he missed all of 2016 and was on the PUP List under the designation of a failed physical. The move will free up about $1.7 million dollars in salary cap space for the team.

Vollmer went from a 7th round “reach” in the 2nd Round of the 2009 NFL Draft to be a solid right tackle for the Patriots until injuries took their toll on the 6’8, 320-pounder.

All eyes are on Indy and the 2017 NFL Combine this weekend and as we watch the Under-Armor Olympics unfold, there are several players that will bear watching, especially from a Patriots perspective and we’ll get to those below. But the Combine has become a huge fan event as well as a media circus and it is an important part of the evaluation process.

Teams have the tape on these players, but now they get to check out their medicals, interview the players and find out what makes them tick and see how they perform in a pressure packed environment.

While most people salivate over the players’ times in the 40-yard dash, the Patriots have always favored the 3-Cone Drill. The 3-Cone is used to evaluate the agility, quickness, and fluidity of movement of players. It measures power and agility and closely mirrors football type movements on the field.

Free Agency No Clearer Just Yet:
The Patriots are reported to be in deep discussions with LB Dont’a Hightower in working out a long-term deal, but the veteran LB may not do anything until he sees what he can bring in free agency.

The team also has made an offer to DL Alan Branch and they’re waiting to see if he accepts it or opts for the open market. CB Logan Ryan and S Duron Harmon have informed the Patriots that they will test free agency and give the Patriots the right of matching those. But I’d consider both gone at this point.

FB James Develin is rumored to be re-signed in the upcoming days and as of Saturday, there has been no word of any kind of movement in Malcolm Butler’s contract. The team did host free agent DE Jared Odrick last week and it was reported that he passed his physical but no contracts were being reported.

While the rumors persist about Brandon Marshall, Jamaal Charles, and Adrian Peterson, don’t hold your breath there. WR isn’t a position of need and if they do, they’d no doubt opt for a younger player. And just as a reminder, in 2009 when Josh McDaniels was the Broncos head coach, Marshall refused to catch passes in practice and forced a trade to Miami because he couldn’t get along with McDaniels. Mutual interest? I doubt McDaniels wants him around. Time heals all wounds, but this one?

Charles and Peterson are intriguing but will likely price themselves far out of range. The Patriots haven’t paid a RB $2 million dollars or more since Fred Taylor. Doubt either will come at a bargain.

Some Names to Watch for the Patriots in the Draft:
The Patriots are slated to pick (right now), at #32 in the upcoming NFL Draft. That could easily change and many times does but here are a few players that IMHO would fit for the Patriots.

RB Jamaal Williams, BYU –  With LeGarrette Blount a free agent, the Pats could use a dose of youth injected into the running game. Williams will probably be a late Day 2 (3rd Round) pick and is a physical downhill runner between the tackles. He’d fit well in the rotation with James White and Dion Lewis. He’s 6’1, 215, and is tough to bring down.

RB D’Onta Foreman, Texas – Foreman had an outstanding 2016 for the Longhorns rushing for 2,028 yards with a 6.3 yard per carry average and 15 touchdowns. He’s big, 6’1, 245 pounds and can run between the tackles. He’s not much of a pass receiver, though.

TE Adam Shaheen, Ashland – Who you say? The Patriots met with Shaheen on Friday night with the big, 6’7, 277-pound tight end from Division 2 Ashland. He’s surprisingly athletic for a big man and although he played against lesser competition in Division 2, he dominated. Check out some of his highlight tape.

TE David Njoku, Miami – While most people agree that O.J. Howard is the best TE in the draft, he’ll be long gone by the time New England picks. Njoku is very athletic, has great burst off the line and runs tight, precise routes. Still a work in progress, especially blocking but has tremendous YAC potential.

DE DeMarcus Walker, FSU – Walker has the versatility that Bill Belichick salivates over. He’s big for a DE, 6’4, 285 pounds and can play on the edge or kick inside as an interior pass rusher. Had 16 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss in 2016.

DE Takarist McKinney, UCLA – McKinney needs surgery after the combine so he may drop into the mid rounds if NE wants to take a chance on him. He has a great motor, is strong at 6’3, 265 with a very good burst off the line. Still raw and doesn’t have great bend coming off the edge.

LB Tim Williams, Alabama – Williams is a very talented player with some off-field red flags that may fall in the draft. Has tremendous burst off the edge with the necessary bend to get around tackles when blitzing. Has good lateral quickness and can drop into coverage although was used primarily as a pass rusher.

LB Jayon Brown, UCLA – Brown is an undersized Will linebacker but can make plays from sideline to sideline and has good coverage and special teams’ skills. He may be an intriguing option in the middle rounds and is an active downhill player against RBs.

S Jabril Peppers, Michigan – Many draft pundits have Peppers going to NE and his versatility is a big reason why. He can play SS or as a nickel linebacker and as a corner. He was used on offense as well, can run the ball, catch out of the backfield and return kicks. He’s a Belichick dream player, but he’ll probably go early.

S Obi Melifonwu, UConn – Been harping on this guy since last fall. If Duron Harmon leaves in free agency, the Patriots will need another safety and Melifonwu would be a great pickup. Tremendous size (6’4,220) and athleticism. Would be best served as a Pat Chung type role close to the box and covering tight ends.

Garoppolo Circus Won’t Die Soon:
The Jimmy G. “will they or won’t they” trade him carousel continues to spin at a furious rate. Adam Schefter of ESPN stated that the Patriots weren’t going to trade him anywhere this season which instead of putting the rumors to bed, simply accelerated them.

Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Jeff Howe among many others put out pieces that the dealing for Garoppolo may not be dead yet, while guys like Tom E. Curran have been adamant since the fall that he’s not going anywhere.

Either way, until Bill Belichick says publicly that he’s off the market, (not likely), or they announce a deal for him, this story won’t die until the first night of the NFL Draft. Garoppolo may have inadvertently thrown gas on the fire with an Instagram post on Friday where he (again depending on your view), may have been waving goodbye to the Patriots fan base… May you live in interesting times.

Patriots Must Have a Super Bowl, the Rules they are a-changing:
Does it seem a coincidence that every time New England wins a Super Bowl, the NFL tries to change a rule that the Patriots took advantage of during the season?

Back in 2003-2004, Colts GM Bill Polian used his position as the head of the NFL Rules committee to change how the referees were calling illegal contact after Ty Law and the Patriots beat up the Colts WRs in the playoffs. That is another reason Law belongs in the HOF but that is a story for another time.

In 2014, the Patriots used their personnel packages to thoroughly confuse the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Playoff game. Even to the point where the referees told the Ravens’ defenders, “Don’t cover 34”, But John Harbaugh got the league to change the rules on that, even though Baltimore used a similar tactic in 2015…hmm.

Now the league wants to change the field goal block that the Patriots used twice to great effect in 2016. Shea McClellin timed a leap perfectly against the Ravens on Monday Night Football and blocked an attempt by Justin Tucker that was his first miss of the season. McClellin had another in the Super Bowl that should have been a block but the referees mistakenly blew the play dead and penalized McClellin for illegally vaulting over the center when it clear, he vaulted over the guard.

Now the NFLPA and the league want to outlaw the play in the name of player safety. Which seems rather ludicrous with a number of other issues that both sides could work on to make the game safer….say Thursday Night Football?

Bell says the Steelers Win the AFCCG if He was Healthy:
It seems the Steelers never miss an opportunity to complain about their losses to the Patriots. This one was no exception. Pittsburgh RB Le’Veon Bell said this week, that if he was healthy in the AFC Championship Game in New England that the Steelers would have won. Ah, I’d pump the brakes on that one Mr. Bell.

While it is widely acknowledged that Bell is one of the best RBs in the league, his absence would have made no difference to the outcome on this one, unless he planned on playing in the secondary.

Tom Brady did what he always does to Pittsburgh’s defense, he eviscerated them to the tune of 32-42 for 384 yards, three TDs and zero interceptions without Rob Gronkowski and put up 36 points on the Steelers. Pittsburgh had nine points until a garbage time touchdown with 3 minutes left. Was Bell going to make that big a difference? No.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Reportedly are Targeting QB Trevor Siemian, if Romo Goes to Denver:
The QB carousel game continues, at least in the talking stage as the latest has Buffalo reportedly being interested in QB Trevor Siemian if Tony Romo ends up in the Mile High City this spring.

Siemian, 25, started 14 games for Denver in 2016, throwing for 3,401 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. New Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison held the same position for Denver in 2016 so Siemian would know the offense already and his integration would be seamless.

However, the Bills still have to decide whether or not to pick up incumbent starting QB Tyrod Taylor’s contract option this spring. Buffalo has until March 11 to decide whether to exercise the option, which would trigger nearly $31 million in guaranteed money. Siemian, with cap hits of $650,000 in 2017 and $720,000 in 2018, would be a much more affordable, if a less dependable option.

Miami Looking for “Players Who Love Football”:
The Miami Dolphins GM is at the NFL Combine and his focus this spring is finding players that fit the team and have a love for the game.

“We get to spend time with people face-to-face, the players, trying to get to know the core — do they love football, and the football intelligence and stuff,” Grier said to the Miami Sun Sentinel in Indianapolis.

“The workout stuff is fine, but as [Bill Parcells] calls it, the combine is the Underwear Olympics. The tape is really who the player is. This part is just getting to know the player.”

“Nowadays, with the money and what the kids are getting paid, you see a lot of these juniors leaving school early,” Grier said. “A lot of times now you’re not sure if it’s the right reason why they’re leaving. They all want to get to that second contract first.

“But for us, that’s not important. We want to hear, ‘I love football. This is what I want to do.’” Miami has swung and missed on a few players recently and Grier is looking to rectify that situation by drafting football junkies, something Bill Belichick has long advocated with the Pats.

 

Jets Release Marshall, and Will Deal “In Every Round” of the Draft:
The New York Jets have released veteran wide receiver Brandon Marshall, purging the bloated contracts of several veterans including Nick Mangold, Darrelle Revis, Nick Folk and Breno Giacomini, the Jets have plenty of gaps to fill.

Appearing in 15 games, Marshall logged 59 receptions and 788 receiving yards led the Jets and had three receiving TDs. The moves so far have cleared $46 million dollars in salary cap space but with the draft upcoming, the Jets are willing to deal any pick.

“We’re open for business in every round,” GM Mike Maccagnan told the media in Indianapolis. “If somebody wants to move up in any round and we have a pick in that round, call us up.”

One area that the Jets have a big hole is at quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith are free agents and that leaves them with Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty. Will they either reach for a QB early or try to sign a veteran free agent? Time will tell but it seems they’re doing a total house cleaning.

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.