The Patriots have many questions heading into the 2019 season at wide receiver. Julian Edelman returns, the Super Bowl LIII MVP is still at the top of his game but at 33, one has to wonder how much longer he can perform at a high level.
After him, the situation gets murkier. Phillip Dorsett has been fine whenever his number has been called but his production really could use an increase. Demaryius Thomas’s numbers have been steadily going down the past several years and now he’s coming off of an Achilles injury. Josh Gordon is suspended indefinitely and no one knows if he’ll be allowed to play this year.
The Patriots drafted N’Keal Harry in the first round of the draft this spring and expectations with him are high. But rookie wide receivers have struggled to make an impact here in the past. Braxton Berrios had a very strong spring but spent his entire rookie season on IR. Maurice Harris and Dontrelle Inman are coming on to try to carve out roles for themselves after playing for the Redskins and Colts respectively.
So, the opportunities are there for several players to carve out roles for themselves once training camp opens. There are 12 players that should be vying for reps, and possibly 13 if Thomas is ready to go. Gordon is forbidden to enter the facility or work out with the team during his suspension. Let’s take a look at who is in good shape and who has a lot of work to do at the wide receiver position
Check back with PatsFans.com as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 25.
Current roster – Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, N’Keal Harry, Matthew Slater, Demaryius Thomas, Braxton Berrios, Maurice Harris, Dontrelle Inman, Damoun Patterson, Jakobi Meyers, Ryan Davis, Gunner Olszewski, Josh Gordon (suspended)
Locks – Edelman, Dorsett, Harry, Slater
Bubble – Berrios, Thomas, Harris, Inman, Meyers
Long Shot – Patterson, Davis, Olszewski, Gordon
Discussion – Edelman, Dorsett, Slater, and Harry are all locks. Obviously, the conversation starts with Julian Edelman. Yes, Edelman is 33 but if you watched him in the Super Bowl he was uncoverable. The Rams threw several different defensive backs on him and nobody could lock him down. I watched him thru all three days of minicamp and he looks ready to go again.
Dorsett was getting plenty of reps early last year but lost those after Gordon was brought in. The hope here is that he’ll be able to replicate what he did last year, and with an additional year in the system, be able to add to it.
Slater is a WR in name only but is a Special Teams’ captain and one of the best at what he does both on and off the field. Harry is a first-round draft pick who has incredible upside but is just a rookie. With a first-round draft pedigree, he’s automatically on the 53-man roster.
This is where it gets interesting. Berrios had a very strong spring but is in no way a lock at this point. He has a long way to go but is definitely trending in the right direction. The smaller but quick slot receiver recognizes the opportunity in front of him. Mike Reiss of ESPN has written that Berrios has already reported into camp. The hope is that he could fit into that Danny Amendola role in the Patriots offense.
Harris likewise had a very strong spring, catching nearly everything thrown his way with a few nice highlight-reel catches during minicamp. Can he do it again when the secondary players are allowed contact? Inman, on the other hand, didn’t have a good week at minicamp. He didn’t catch a single pass in team drills during the three sessions. He has a lot of ground to make up.
Meyers is an interesting addition. A former QB turned WR, Meyers has good size for the position, (6’2, 203) with very good hands, tight route-running and the willingness to go into contested areas. He doesn’t have great top-end speed but could be an oversized slot receiver. What was intriguing about him was that during a side session with Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, and Josh McDaniels, during minicamp, Meyers was brought in with Harry to work on route selection. May end being nothing, but it could mean they have a plan in mind for him.
Patterson was on the practice squad a year ago but along with Davis, and Olszewski are all facing long odds of making the roster.
In a perfect world, Gordon would get reinstated and Thomas would come back better than new. But we don’t live in a perfect world and the fact is, the Patriots can’t rely on Gordon being reinstated any time soon, if at all. And Thomas may end up on PUP to begin the season. That means other players will have to step up….Questions, questions. This will make training camp and the preseason so compelling this summer.
Football is a great deal like life in that it teaches that work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness and respect for authority is the price that each and every one of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile. Vince Lombardi
Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 06-09 and AFC East notes this week.
The Patriots mandatory three-day minicamp is in the books and there was plenty of interesting things to see and take note of during the practices. Bill Belichick commented on how he believed that they accomplished a lot during the three days. With the teaching camp in the books, the evaluation will commence once training camp begins.
The 2018 Patriots – got together for the final time at Robert Kraft’s house, and in a celebration with pomp and ceremony, the team received their Super Bowl rings. The sheer size of them now lends itself to question the term “ring” and despite the over-the-top gaudiness of them, there are 31 other teams that wished that was them on Thursday night. Very impressive pieces of jewelry.
Joe Cardona – the Patriots long-snapper was promoted inside Gillette Stadium on Thursday morning to Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve prior to the minicamp practice. Tom Brady spoke about how Cardona epitomizes “commitment to our team and to our country” later in the day. And it happened on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. A very cool moment
Tom Brady – Looked in mid-season form for the three days of minicamp. His mechanics are always flawless. Every year I take pics of him throwing and compare them to the years before and you could lay them on top of one another and couldn’t tell the difference.
Brady “deuxième partie” – Brady and Josh McDaniels conducted a side session with rookies Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry on Thursday. They were trying to get their timing and chemistry down, in terms of how they want routes run, where the breaks should happen, the angle of the cuts and ball placement. Fascinating stuff to watch. The work they do in June and July pays dividends in January and February.
Ivan Fears – The Patriots running back coach is beginning his 21st consecutive year with the Patriots, he also had an earlier stint with the team. Fears is one of our favorite guys to watch and listen to during the practices. We got a chance to chat with him before practice briefly on Thursday. After mentioning that the running backs looked good so far but that we’re sure he’d find areas to critique them, Fears got a big grin and said, “Oh I’ll always find ways to critique them.” Asked about Brandon Bolden’s return, he said how Bolden brings energy to the field and his teammates every day.
Troy Brown/Deion Branch – Excellent seeing the two of them work so closely with Joe Judge the Patriots STs Coordinator/WRs Coach and the players this week. Both of them know what it takes to be successful in the Patriots passing game and the two former players lending themselves to teaching the young players was intriguing to watch.
Mini-camp Wrap, Final Thoughts:
In their quest for “Knockin on Seven’s Door” that begins in September, the Patriots started the process with OTAs and their mandatory minicamp. Watching it all for three days, albeit without pads or contact was interesting as the coaches try to mold the 2019 version of the team. Here are some of the things that were intriguing to watch and will bear further consideration moving forward.
Left Tackle Status – Without Isaiah Wynn and Yodny Cajuste taking part in team drills this week, the Patriots moved left guard Joe Thuney into the left tackle position. He was getting nearly all of the first personnel grouping’s reps. And he was practicing with the tackles as well.
The good news, however, is that Wynn was on the field and taking part in individual drills and exhibits no sign of being limited at all after his Achilles surgery. Which lends itself to believe that he should be ready to go by training camp.
Tight End Production – With the release of Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Ben Watson suspended for the first four games of the season, it puts the ball squarely in the corner of Matt Lacosse. Lacosse looked good in the workouts this week, moving well and displaying nice hands, catching everything thrown his way.
We were on hand when Lacosse spoke to the media after Wednesday’s practice session. Which can be seen here:
Ryan Izzo, Andrew Beck seem to be both competing for the blocking tight end role while Stephen Anderson is looking to carve out a role as the “move” tight end.
Brady nixed suggestions that the Patriots are going to diminish the tight end role in the offense. “That has to be a position of strength, even if it’s not one player but multiple players doing different roles,” Brady said. “There were times in my career before that where we’ve had similar approaches.” He finished his thoughts on an upbeat note.
“The tight end position is a big part of our offense and those guys are going to have to do a great job for us.”
Jamie Collins Return, Seems Like a Bigger Development…for Now – We were against the addition of Collins this spring on these pages, remembering the reasons why they jettisoned him in the first place. However, if minicamp is any indication, the Patriots coaches, especially LBs coach Jerod Mayo have bigger plans for Collins.
This week, at least Collins wearing #8, for now, was playing a big role for the defense in their alignments. And, again without pads on, he was asserting his will against the offense during team drills.
Even Mike Reiss was on-board with this train of thought calling Collins “active and looking like key cog” in the defense. Surprising. Another thing to watch for in training camp when that kicks off in about 5-6 weeks.
Maurice Harris Looking Good – Another mild surprise here. Harris was given little chance to make the roster when he was picked up this spring. Well…after the three-day mini-camp, Harris did nothing to hurt his chances of not only making the roster but carving out a role for himself.
We’ve gotten DMs, phone calls, and e-mails about Harris, “He’s a JAG!”, “He’s not going to make the rostah!” Well…you have to report on what you see. And for three days, Harris caught everything thrown his way. On the flip side, I didn’t see Dontrelle Inman catch a single pass in team drills…maybe I missed some or even one. But we’ve seen this film before. One is trending up, the other down.
Cornerbacks are Looking Deep and Talented – The Patriots have a plethora of corners on this team and every one of them can play. That isn’t hype or hyperbole but a fact. This is arguably the team’s biggest strength heading into training camp.
Stephon Gilmore blanketed everyone thrown at him all week. J.C. Jackson looked very solid for the first two days before missing Thursday’s practice session. Those two are the two starters, that we expect to see in Week 1. Some people feel Jackson may someday supplant Gilmore as the #1 corner on the team…
However, behind them are several more talented players. Jonathan Jones has already been a starting slot corner. Jason McCourty has started both outside and in the slot. Rounding out this talented group is Duke Dawson, Joejuan Williams, Ken Webster, and D’Angelo Ross. The cornerback group can mix and match with just about everyone and it is going to be intriguing to see how the defense aligns this year depending on the opponent.
The Punting Competition Will Be a Key One to Watch – Once again this summer, Ryan Allen will be battling for his job. Last year, he bested Corey Bojorquez and then was arguably one of the players that could have won the MVP of the Super Bowl with the way he pinned the Rams deep all game long.
This year, Allen will take on rookie Jake Bailey from Stanford who possesses a massive leg. Bailey was putting the ball into the ozone all week, getting some tremendous height and hang time on his punts.
It will be a battle of consistency over strength. Allen was his usual consistent self all week, while Bailey, even when booming most of his punts all week, had a few that were off the mark. Stay tuned.
Edelman Turns In Solid Week Performance-wise and Mentoring:
The Patriots drafted N’Keal Harry with the #32 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and he’s sure to feel the heat of fans and the media’s expectations this fall. The Patriots drafted Braxton Berrios in the 6th round in 2018. But he didn’t see the field in 2018. Two different players with different backgrounds. But they have a constant voice that is always there for them.
Julian Edelman was the Super Bowl MVP last year who came to the Patriots via Kent State and was a college QB who made the transition to NFL WR who, after Tom Brady is arguably the most valuable Patriot on the offense. In his 11th season, Edelman is not only Brady’s most trusted receiver, but he’s also now taking on the role as a mentor for these younger players on the roster. It is something he feels strongly about.
“I had teammates that help you, and then you had teammates that didn’t,” Edelman said after practice on Wednesday. “I like to be known as a guy that helped you. I like to give little pointers here and there, because the better we all are, the better the team is going to be. I like going out and trying to give information if they want information from me and go from there. It’s part of my job, I guess.”
Edelman recalled Fred Taylor in his rookie season as a veteran who helped him out immensely and he said that he would try to do the same with Harry. Berrios, also after practice on Tuesday, mentioned that Edelman has been a constant source of mentoring for him. He’s looked quick and skilled thus far in minicamp.
Edelman will be looked to for a lot of production this season in the Patriots offense. If the contributions of Harry and Berrios this season are any indication, then Edelman can chalk up mentoring among his accomplishments this year as well.
Gunner Olszewski Is a Player to Watch For This Summer:
The Patriots brought in the undrafted cornerback from tiny Division II Bemidji State and are trying to convert him to a wide receiver. That alone should put him in the long-shot category for making the roster. But not so fast…Julian Edelman, who knows a thing or two about converting to wide receiver at the pro level is high on the youngster.
“I love that guy,” Edelman said. “If he’s got a question, I’m here to help try to answer it to the best of my ability. I feel that’s part of my role on the team, being here so long. He’s working hard. He’s definitely a tough kid. I love the chip on his shoulder, and I like working with him, that’s for sure. He definitely works his tail off, and I like having him around.”
One of the things going for Olszewski, who is generously listed as 6’0, 170, is the fact that he can return kicks and punts. But make no mistake, he doesn’t appear lost out there or like a duck out of water. While the path won’t be an easy one, he can do it.
The Patriots always seem to have undrafted free agents make the roster. With a name like Gunner Olszewski, you can’t help but root for him.
No AFC East Notes This Week:
With the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion this week, it is important that we remember the American, British, Canadian and Free French soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy not to conquer but to free the world of Nazism.
“At the core, the American citizen soldiers knew the difference between right and wrong, and they didn’t want to live in a world in which wrong prevailed. So they fought, and won, and we all of us, living and yet to be born, must be forever profoundly grateful.”
–Author Stephen Ambrose
Can’t end the piece without another look at the entire ring ceremony once more.
Tuesday morning was the Patriots first mandatory mini-camp practice. And the weather gods smiled on the team as there was plenty of sunshine with temps around 70 degrees.
Sony Michel was the most notable absence. It was reported that he was there on Monday for the individual photo day but we don’t know the reason he was missing. Pat Chung, Nate Ebner, Demaryius Thomas, Deatrich Wise, Yodny Cajuste and Nick Brosette were also missing.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins was released today. It has been widely reported that he’s been suffering thru some personal issues. It isn’t known whether the door will be open for him if he decides to return at a later date.
Kyle Van Noy worked out on the lower practice field and returned to the main field later in practice. Isaiah Wynn was present for the warmups and then retreated to the lower fields for work with the training staff.
Brady Looks Sharp:
It is funny how at times Tom Brady, who always looks focused and sharp is questioned. I received several DM’s on Twitter asking “How does Tom look?” As soon as he bounded up the steps to the practice field, walking with James Develin, there was a air of anticipation. He looked over at the assembled media and smiled. “How’s it going guys…and gals,” he said.
Wearing a blue hoodie under his uniform, Brady was sharp, mid-season sharp and was putting some zip on the passes. His mechanics are always flawless. Both he and Brian Hoyer seemed to be trying to get the ball to N’Keal Harry on some short crossers and some out routes.
Brady connected twice on deep balls down the field to Maurice Harris. On the second one, however, backup safety Terrance Brooks could have had a play on the ball in a game situation. At a minimum, he’d have laid a big hit on Harris.
After practice, Bill Belichick was asked: “How did Tom look?” In typical Belichick deadpan, he answered, “there were 90 guys out here, I can’t watch them all.”
During a Special Teams period, Brady worked on the side with James White, Ben Watson, and N’Keal Harry… Interesting stuff there.
Jarrett Stidman is the clear #3, or at least was on the first day of minicamp. We’ll see what Wednesday’s practice brings. Stidman and David Andrews botched a snap on a miscommunication and both had to run a penalty lap.
Danny Etling got very little play with 11-on-11. Stidman’s release needs to get worked on. He has a longer, looping release, but much like he was advertised, he throws a nice tight spiral. Brian Hoyer had an okay day. He had a few passes batted at the line, including one by Van Noy that was picked off by Ja’Whaun Bentley. But he also zipped a few nice passes into tight coverage during the 11-on-11 drills. That being said…
Play of the Day:
Hoyer connected with Braxton Berrios on a deep pass down the right sideline on the far practice field. Berrios had to dive for it and came up with a fantastic catch. The players on the field roared and Berrios just beat rookie corner Joejuan Williams to the pylon. He then spiked the ball.
Other offensive impressions included:
Berrios had an impressive day. While it is hard to get a true read on performances like these in shorts and shirts with no hitting, contact or jamming at the line. He didn’t hurt his chances moving forward. He exhibited quickness off the line and out of his breaks. He got snaps with both Brady and Hoyer, although Brady never targeted him. He made another nice touchdown catch from Hoyer when he cut across the back of the end zone and Hoyer zipped a laser (I can’t believe I just wrote that) in tight coverage.
Maurice Harris had a nice practice, hauling in some contested catches. I like his length, route running, and hands. He’ll be a guy to watch more of as camp wears on. Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett were the first guys in every WR and team drill. Edelman looks like vintage #11.
N’Keal Harry had plenty of good moments but struggled at times. He lined up wrong once and had a drop along the sideline. But he also went up against Stephon Gilmore too, which will only make him better moving forward.
With Michel out, Brandon Bolden got quite a few snaps during the running back drills and 11-on-11s. It is good to see him back, and he’s a popular teammate.
Damien Harris had a nice day. I like the way he hits the hole quickly in the running game and runs low. He’s a solid looking back and looks quick. He got some reps in the passing game and did well.
Ben Watson still moves well for a 38-year old tight end. He was working on his chemistry and timing with Brady. But I was pretty impressed with Matt LaCosse. He moves well and has very good hands. I’d say he was the best TE of the group on the day. Stephen Anderson was active with both Brady and Hoyer.
Joe Thuney was taking the majority of left tackle reps with Cole Croston getting some work, Ted Karras took Thuney’s slot at left guard.
Secondary Looks Strong:
The Patriots have a plethora of cornerbacks, very good cornerbacks and all of these guys can play. They are a fun group to watch.
Defensive observations included:
Gilmore is an All-Pro, J.C. Jackson has the look of a guy who is going to start…and excel. He broke up a pass. Although Jason McCourty got a lot of reps with the first group. Duke Dawson and Keion Crossen also broke up passes.
With Chung missing, Duron Harmon was filling in but Terrance Brooks was getting more reps than Obi Melifonwu and looked better in coverage on the day.
With no pads, it is tough to gauge the offensive and defensive line play. But it does matter how they match up and Michael Bennett, Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, and John Simon got first reps… Chase Winovich, as advertised went all out on every rep.
Jamie Collins was getting a lot of first reps with the defense (wearing #8)
Jerod Mayo was calling the defensive signals again.
Jake Bailey can put a charge into the ball. He launched a few punts into the ozone. He just needs to be more consistent. However, Ryan Allen had a few excellent punts as well. It will be an interesting competition this summer.
Punt returners included Berrios, Harry, Edelman, Harris, Dorsett, and Gunner Olszewski. No kickoffs were conducted, no field goals or extra points either.
Robert Kraft was there for nearly the entire practice. Troy Brown and Deion Branch were again helping out at practice again.
Wednesday’s practice again kicks off at 11:15 a.m. We’ll be there again. On a personal note, I was asked to be an in-studio guest on the Patriots Unfiltered Podcast as soon as practice was over. Fred Kirsch, Paul Perillo, Megan O’Brien from Patriots.com and I spoke about our observations from practice. It can be heard here:
As we count down the days until the 2019 NFL Draft is upon us, we’re going to look at some of the positions that the Patriots need to address to restock, reload and prepare to defend their Super Bowl title. As everyone knows, winning back-to-back titles is never easy.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at several positions that the team needs to address. And next up is the wide receiver position. They finished the 2018 season thin at the position. Josh Gordon was suspended indefinitely and may not play this season if ever again. Chris Hogan is a free agent and not expected to return. Phillip Dorsett was resigned to a one-year prove it. Deal. Julian Edelman and Braxton Berrios return, but Berrios didn’t play a snap last year, going on IR at the end of training camp.
During the initial phase of free agency, the team missed out on several big name free agents but signed Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris. But those two are more depth than anything else. So along with tight end, the WR position is currently one of the thinnest on the roster.
With a plethora of draft picks, the Patriots could swing a trade for an established veteran, which we assume, they’ll try to do. Or add thru the draft….preferably both.
So, with that in mind here are a few prospects (BUT NOT ALL) that may be around for the Patriots to select from. We’ll list a couple of early rounds, mid-round and then late-round prospects who we feel would be a good fit in New England. This list isn’t meant to be all-encompassing, there are other players out there who would fit, this is just a few that we like here.
Deebo Samuel, South Carolina:
Samuel in our opinion, wouldn’t be a good fit in New England, he’d be a great fit. Samuel was the go-to guy for the Gamecocks and he can turn any pass on the field into a threat to score. With the ball in his hands, he’s more running back than wide receiver.
Can separate right off the line of scrimmage
Plays inside in the slot or outside
He is a dangerous kick returner, returning four for TDs
Very productive, 2076 yards receiving, 23 TDs
Doesn’t have ideal height (5’11)
Has injury history
Sometimes struggles against press coverage
What his Role Will Be: Samuel can compete for starting reps on Day 1. The Patriots can move him around with Julian Edelman to create mismatches.
Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? As he gains experience in the offense, he’ll have more and more put on his plate
How Many Downs Can He Play? Four
What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
He is a speedier version of Danny Amendola and I could see him fitting seamlessly into that role
What is his ST Value? He will immediately be a threat to return kicks and had four return TDs for the Gamecocks
Samuel went down to Mobile and turned heads all week during practice and then in the game. He’ll be a fan favorite immediately here in New England and he should enjoy an immediate rapport with Tom Brady. I really doubt however, he’ll last until pick #56, the Patriots may have to move up in Round 2 to get this guy.
Riley Ridley, Georgia:
Ridley is the younger brother of Calvin, the Falcons first-round pick from last year. He is a consistent chain mover and has good production in the red zone. Ridley is a very tough, possession receiver that runs very good routes with good body control.
Very strong hands
Can win those contested catches
Very good at finding soft spots on the defense
Plays his best against the best competition
Has occasional concentration drops
Run blocking needs work
Release off the line of scrimmage needs improvement
What his Role Will Be: Ridley will look initially to be a chain mover and red zone target
Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? Ridley can expect to see his role and looks in the passing game to expand with a year of experience
How Many Downs Can He Play? three
What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
He can look to replace Chris Hogan’s role on the team
What is his ST Value? None, no return experience
Ridley is one of those guys who, in the right situation and system become a better pro receiver than he was in college. He’s not a burner by any stretch of the imagination, running a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash, but has enough speed for corners to respect. His ability to win contested catches and physicality should make him a starter really early. He is a late Round 2 or early Round 3 prospect.
Terry McLaurin, Ohio State:
McLaurin is a mid-round prospect with good size, excellent straight-line speed (4.38 in the 40), and a player who is just coming into his own. He’s got good physicality, is a very hard worker and a leader, he was voted as a two-time captain.
Thickly built, physically strong
Very good blocker
Good, strong hands, route running is crisp
Special teams gunner
Long strider, has to build up speed
Is a bit of a body catcher at times
Doesn’t have a huge catch radius
What his Role Will Be: McLaurin is a guy who can come in and compete for the #3-4 WR and immediately be a factor on STs as a gunner
Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? With experience, he can solidify the role as a #3 or even vie for #2 reps
How Many Downs Can He Play? Four
What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
He can challenge Ellington and Harris for a roster spot and reps.
What is his ST Value? Excellent, he should get reps right away as a gunner
McLaurin had only so-so numbers at Ohio State, with 35 catches but he averaged 20 yards per catch and had 11 touchdowns for the Buckeyes. He was considered below average as a receiver and then went and put on an excellent showing during the Senior Bowl week. He looks like he’s beginning to come into his own. He’s a mid-round guy who will have an immediate impact on STs.
Miles Boykin, Notre Dame:
Boykin has tremendous size and length at 6’4 and 230 pounds who is a very good route runner with soft hands. He ran a 4.42 at the Combine and turned in a fantastic 6.77 time in the 3-Cone Drill.
Height and length off the charts
Quick release for a big man
Huge catch radius
Can high point the ball over most defenders easily
Has occasional concentration drops
Only one year of big production
Can sometimes let corners get into his chest and slow him down
What his Role Will Be: Boykin will try to earn reps as the Patriots “X” receiver
Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? Boykin can expect to see a huge uptick in passing game production to expand with a year of experience under his belt.
How Many Downs Can He Play? three
What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
He can look to replace some of the production that Josh Gordon had outside
What is his ST Value? Minimal
Boykin is a very intriguing guy. With his size, he reminds one of a young Calvin Johnson. But we’re not saying he’s going to have that kind of impact but that’s how big and physical he is in the passing game. He’s a size mismatch kind of player who can high point balls, win in contested areas with very strong hands. Boykin is another mid-round player who could immediately pay dividends for the Patriots.
Now for a couple of later round players…
Hunter Renfrow, Clemson:
Renfrow is… let’s see, too small, too slow, isn’t athletic enough, where have we heard this before? Yet, all he does is catch the ball at crunch time and move the chains. Every time Clemson was in a crunch situation, they looked Renfrow’s way and he delivered.
Very clutch receiver
Excellent awareness when he’s the hot read
Outstanding at finding soft spots on the defense
Plays his best against the best competition
Undersized, isn’t explosive
Quicker than fast
Obvious smaller catch radius
What his Role Will Be: Renfrow will immediately vie for reps in the slot
Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? Julian Edelman is beginning to get up there in years, Renfrow is the type of player that can be eased into the same type of role
How Many Downs Can He Play? three
What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
No one, he’ll be battling with Braxton Berrios for a roster spot.
What is his ST Value? Minimal
Renfrow is a quintessential Patriots kind of guy, that people spend too much time telling you what he can’t do while they find ways of taking advantage of the things he does well. He’s a gifted route runner and always finds ways to get open. Production? In 53 college games, he caught 186 passes for 2133 yards and 15 touchdowns. Clutch? In two National Championship games against Alabama, Renfrow caught 17 passes for 180 yards and 4 touchdowns. Yeah, I’ll take that.
Penny Hart, Georgia State:
Hart is another small, even smaller than Renfrow, wide receiver at 5’8, 180 pounds. He played at a lower level of competition at Georgia State, but got an invite to the Senior Bowl and turned heads there. He was too quick, too fast and too twitchy for the corners there to get their hands on.
Smaller catch radius and doesn’t win many contested catches
What his Role Will Be: Hart can vie for reps in the slot while carving out a role as a kick and punt returner
Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? If he shows he can step it up against the pros, he could definitely see an uptick in targets in Year 2.
How Many Downs Can He Play? Four
What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
No one, he’ll be battling with Braxton Berrios, Bruce Ellington, and Maurice Harris for a roster spot.
What is his ST Value? Very good value as a kick or punt returner
Hart is a potential steal in the late rounds or even as an UDFA. He has had very good production and is a very versatile kind of player, he can run, catch and return kicks. He’s a natural slot receiver with outstanding change of direction. He’s going to land somewhere.
The Patriots have to address the wide receiver position in the draft or possibly decide to make a trade with one of their 12 draft picks for an established veteran as well. The cupboard as it stands right now is too bare for the team to enter the 2019 season. However, it IS only March and like the TE position, they have plenty of time to rectify the situation. These players are some of the ones we feel would fit what they do. Obviously there are others.
The Patriots are just in the infancy stages of building their roster and regardless of the big fish that got away in the hours and days before free agency even actually began, it is rarely if ever the way this team builds its roster.
The roster, as it currently stands will in no way resemble that which will take the field in Week 1 of the regular season nor at the end of the season. That especially will hold true for the Wide Receiver position.
We have seen the angst that many fans and media members have been feeling about the group of players that Tom Brady will be throwing to and rest assured, the team is not done addressing those issues. The team signed Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris after bringing back Phillip Dorsett and while those two players aren’t the names that people were looking for, they will add depth to the roster and in the case of Ellington, he’s a guy who has had some degree of success against the Patriots a few times with the Texans. Bill Belichick loves to bring in guys like that.
So, with 12 picks, including six in the first 101 of the upcoming NFL Draft, the Patriots approach to building up more production and depth at wide receiver will probably be two-fold. They will most assuredly draft a wide receiver …or two in April. But they probably will try to swing a trade with a team that has a wide receiver on the final year of his contract, much like how they got Brandin Cooks two years ago.
So who is out there in the final year of their contracts? Let’s look:
A.J. Green, Bengals: With Cincinnati in the rebuild mode, Green who is now 30, is the name you’ve seen most circled as a “Patriots target” for a trade. It makes sense on a couple of points. Green is 30 and probably isn’t circled by the Bengals as being part of their longterm plans. He’s also been very productive in his career but has never tasted a playoff victory.
But Green to New England isn’t happening. Why? I can give you 15 million reasons why. That’s what his salary is for 2019. With the Patriots already strapped for cash, they need to re-do a couple of contracts anyway to get themselves prepared for the rest of 2019 and the draft. Bringing in Green without the Bengals eating a significant amount of his contract would put them in a huge bind… That’s a non-starter.
Tyler Boyd, Bengals: If there is a guy on Cincinnati, I’d rather have its Boyd. When he came out in the draft a few years ago, our 4th & 2 podcast member Derek Havens and I both really liked Boyd and thought he’d be a great fit in the Patriots offense.
Boyd had a terrific 2018 catching 76 passes for 1028 yards and 7 TDs, even better, his contract for 2019, his last on a rookie deal pays him just $1,064,742. Which is peanuts for a player of his ability. However, if I am the Bengals, why would I want to trade him? He’s just 26, and unless I felt there was no way, he returns in 2020.
Allen Hurns, Cowboys: Most people remember the gruesome injury Hurns suffered in the playoffs when his ankle was dislocated in the Seahawks game. Hurns is considered a very good teammate and a popular one in the locker room. He is expected to be fully healthy to take part in training camp and the regular season.
He had 1000 yard season a few years ago in Jacksonville and can play all three receiver positions including the slot. He’s got good size at 6’3, 201 and will turn 28 in November. He’s due $6.000,000 in 2019.
He didn’t have a great first season in Dallas with just 20 catches as he saw his playing time take a nose dive after the team acquired Amani Cooper. The Patriots could possibly pry him away as Dallas may opt for a slot receiver in the draft.
Laquon Treadwell, Vikings: Treadwell was thought to be the next great one when the Vikings drafted him in the first round #23 in the 2016 NFL Draft. But it has never materialized for him, he struggled to get production and was a healthy scratch in late December when the Vikes were fighting for a playoff spot. He had just 35 catches for 302 yards and a TD in 2018.
His cap hit is just $3,161,132 in 2019 with a team option for a fifth season. He’s not going to be picked up by Minnesota who have to deal with Stefon Diggs and Adam Theilen at the position. The question is, can Treadwell, who is just 23, turn his career around with a fresh start?
Sterling Shepard, Giants: Shepard plays both primarily in the slot and outside, and was thought to be possibly expendable with the Giants picking up Golden Tate recently. He caught 66 passes for 872 yards and four touchdowns in 2018. He’s in the final year of his rookie deal where he’s making just $1,891,464 in 2019.
Would the Giants let him go in a trade? It seems like the answer is no to that. Dave Gettleman, the Giants GM who has made some head scratching moves this spring, first by trading Odell Beckham Jr. and releasing Landon Collins, then signing Tate to a big money contract is saying their keeping both.
“Sterling played outside last year and did fine,” he said on a recent radio interview.” Will work well together with Tate.”
Shepard or Boyd remain the best case scenarios for the Patriots. Others like Emanuel Sanders of the Broncos is a very long shot. John Elway won’t trade him to New England. Another name to consider may be Josh Doctson of the Redskins. He’s another 1st round draft pick who thus far has been a bust in Washington. He’s never had more than six passes caught or gained more than 84 yards in any game thru his first three seasons.
Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 03-17 and AFC East Notes. We hope everyone has a great, happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day.
Favorite St. Patrick’s Day memory? Taking the train into North Station in a blizzard and my Dad taking me, my brother and two cousins to my first Bruins game. Against the Montreal Canadiens.
Adrian Clayborn – the veteran pass rusher will only complete one season as a Patriots and was released on Friday as per his wishes. His release gives the team an extra almost $3.5 million dollars in salary cap room.
Clayborn wrote on Twitter a thank-you note to the Patriots.
“Thank you Patriots for my time with the organization. gained so much respect for how you do things and win championships. It’s done the right way through hard work. Thank you for granting my release. I’m ready for this next chapter.”
He garnered 2.5 sacks, 13 QB hits, and a forced fumble after signing a two-year free-agent deal last spring. He added a sack and five QB hits during the Patriots Super Bowl run. With Trey Flowers a member of the Detroit Lions and Clayborn released, the Patriots depth chart on the edge consists of Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise Jr., John Simon, Ufomba Kamalu, Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, and Trent “Toolbox” Harris.
Michael Bennett – Speaking of the latest addition, Bennett spoke with Patriots.com
“I used to hate the Patriots,” he said. “I hated it because they would win so much. I hated it because Tom Brady’s hair was long. I hated that Belichick would wear sweaters. But now that I’m here, I love it. I love Tom Brady’s hair. I love being a Patriot obviously because it is all about winning. I think everything about the organization is being team-first, and just about doing what we need to do to get to where we want to go as a group. I love that.”
KC’s Hill Under Investigation For Child Abuse – Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill is under scrutiny by law enforcement personnel for battery against a minor. This is the second brush with the law in 10 days. Police were called to his home for a child abuse/neglect call on March 5 but closed the case without any charges being filed.
Again on March 14 police officers received a call at the same address and Hill’s three-year-old son was reportedly the victim with a broken arm. Hill has not been charged with any crime at this point.
Law enforcement officials won’t comment on an on-going investigation. Hill back in 2015 pleaded guilty of domestic assault and battery by strangulation in August 2015. He received three years probation.
He reportedly punched and choked Espinal, who was then eight weeks pregnant with their son, on Dec. 11, 2014. She is now pregnant with twins. Hill has been in negotiations with the Chiefs on a new deal that would make him among the highest players at his position. But for now, those negotiations are probably on hold. Both the Chiefs and the NFL said that they are aware of the incident.
“The club is aware of the investigation involving Tyreek Hill,” the Chiefs said in a statement. “We’re in the process of gathering information and have been in contact with the league and local authorities. We’ll have no further comment at this time.”
This isn’t good news for Hill, the Chiefs or the NFL. The league just suspended former Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt for eight games in 2019 for violation of the league’s Personal Conduct Policy. After he was captured on video kicking and shoving a woman in the hallway of a Cleveland hotel.
Bolden and McCourty Return – After a year in Miami, Patriots special teams ace and backup running back Brandon Bolden is returning to Foxboro on a two-year deal. The popular locker room presence spent the first six years of his career in Foxboro. Tom Brady responded to Bolden’s Instagram post about his return with an “F**k Yeah!”
Jason McCourty is also returning on a 2-year deal. The 31-year old, came on board with the team last year and played very well, giving the cornerback position another veteran presence along with Stephon Gilmore.
Dorsett and Simon Back – The Patriots also brought back two more of their own free agents by re-signing WR Phillip Dorsett and DE John Simon. Dorsett seemed primed for a big role in the offense after a solid training camp but he never really had a big impact, catching 32 passes for 290 yards and three TDs. Once the team brought in Josh Gordon, Dorsett lost most of his reps. He has a one-year, prove-it type deal in 2019. The one strange thing in this, however, was whenever his number was called, he generally came thru, with a 76 percent catch rate. Will the third season be a charm?
Simon was signed in late September after being released by the Colts. He was a valuable role player both defensively and on STs, where his role increased down the stretch last season and into the playoffs. He was one of the players who found a nice role when the team used their “Amoeba Defense.” The deal was for two years and $7.2 million dollars.
Melifonwu Surprised by Grafton High School Honor – Patriots reserve safety Obi Melifonwu was asked by his old high school in Grafton, Mass. to come in and speak with the students. I was covering it for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette and the Grafton News.
He did and spoke about the importance of schoolwork and how it helped a freshman struggling to fit in find his way into a college where he not only starred in football but graduated with two degrees in 2017. But the school surprised Melifonwu by presenting him with his high school jersey which will be permanently displayed at the school. He was a star both offensively and defensively in CMass football before moving on to UConn and then the NFL.
He admitted he was shocked by the gesture and very appreciative. Afterward, he spoke about preparing for this upcoming season, he’s working with a trainer in Foxboro, outside the facility to prepare himself. He also spoke about learning how to better prepare his body, something he learned the hard way, after being injured for the first time and the resultant therapy.
“Sometimes you train a certain way thru high school and into college that you believe is preparing your body correctly,” he said. “But you learn that certain body parts have been neglected which can lead to overcompensating in certain areas, which ultimately lead to injuries.”
Asked about his Super Bowl experiences, he said, although he didn’t play, his focus was on helping his teammates. “I knew early in the week that I wasn’t going to play, so your focus is completely different,” he said. “Then, your entire mindset is to help the offense, by trying to emulate the Rams defense the best that you can in practice.”
While CMass Division III football isn’t exactly a hotbed for NFL players, the Indians have had a few make their mark. Beside Melifonwu, another former Grafton alum, Steve Spagnuolo is now the Defensive Coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs.
The draft and spring workouts will be an interesting one for Melifonwu. When the Patriots signed him it was for two years, with 2019 in mind. How they feel about the ridiculously athletic safety will be put to the test in April. They normally target a safety early in the draft. If they do or don’t take a strong safety early will probably tell you how they feel about his long-term viability in their system.
Patriots Add Five Free Agents But No Sexy Names…Surprised? Shouldn’t Be:
We knew this was coming…right? While teams were overpaying for the premium name free agents in a feeding frenzy before the actual free agency period even began, the Patriots stood pat. They did bid on a couple of free agent wide receivers, especially Adam Humphries and to a lesser extent Cole Beasley. But if you really expecting OBJ or Golden Tate, you were bound to be disappointed, just like nearly every other spring.
The team did add five free agents, but they weren’t any of the sexy names fans were clamoring for. The Patriots signed wide receivers Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris, tight end Matt LaCosse, special teams safety Terrence Brooks and defensive tackle Mike Pennel.
Fans shouldn’t be worried at this point in just mid-March about the state of the wide receiver position. Team building is just in the infantile stages here. Trades are still available and with 12 draft picks, there will be some deals to be made. And with 12 picks in the upcoming draft, they have the capital to move around or make a deal
Of all the players the biggest impact player may just be Mike Pennel. If you listen to our Patriots 4th & 2 podcasts, you’d have heard me say, I believe the Patriots were going to add Pennel as a free agent. He’s a big, 6’4, 330-pound space eater who will be the nose tackle in 2019. With Malcom Brown a Saint and Danny Shelton a free agent, the team needed a big body to anchor the middle of the field, something they needed a year ago.
As Bill Belichick said a year ago before the Patriots played the Jets, guys who are 330 pounds don’t grow on trees. He’s big, very strong and will be a very good addition against the run. He’ll be a starter on Day 1.
Bruce Ellington is a small, 5’9 WR who has had trouble staying healthy and on the field. He has excellent speed and had 31 catches in just seven games a year ago. He has KR and PR ability and this may be why the team brought him in to replace Corrdarrelle Patterson this season. In 2017, he had a good game against the Patriots in Foxboro, catching four passes for 59 yards including a 29-yard touchdown from Deshaun Watson. Bill Belichick loves bringing in players who have done well against his team in the past.
Maurice Harris is a former Redskins WR who has never really put things together. He has very good size at 6’3, 200 pounds with some return ability as well. An UDFA in 2016, he seemed destined to break out last year after a big training camp. But he never did and gets a fresh start with New England. He had 28 catches for 304 yards a year ago, however, over half of those receptions (15) came in two back-to-back games.
Matt Lacosse from the Broncos has boom or bust written all over him. He signed a two-year deal worth $4.8 million dollars and has the frame (6’6, 255) to be a very good blocker in the running game.
He caught 24 passes for 250 yards and a TD last year after working his way from the #3 TE to being the starter after injuries hurt the position. He too will be getting a fresh start in New England. He’ll get the chance to be the #2 or #3 TE here in 2019.
Terrence Brooks is a safety but is more known for his special teams’ acumen. He was one of the standout players on one of the better STs units in the league last year. The Patriots struggled in the kicking game especially kickoff and punt coverage early last season. Once they brought in Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber, both free agents, things solidified. Bringing back Bolden and signing Brooks should be a boost overall for the ST units in 2019.
Patriots ST’s Kickers Remain Unsigned:
The Patriots are getting a lot of air time with the usual hot take hosts about their lack of depth at wide receiver. But right now, they have no players in the kicking game with the exception of long-snapper Joe Cardona.
Both kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Ryan Allen remain unsigned. Gostkowski has been with the team for longer than Adam Vinatieri was and is one of the top kickers in the league. Allen, while in the middle of the road in terms of gross punting average is outstanding at directional punting and could have been a legitimate Super Bowl MVP candidate by pinning the Rams back deep in their zone all game long.
Bottom line here is there isn’t a better kicker on the market than Gostkowski. We still expect both to return at some point, but it remains an area to monitor.
Patriots Still “Tentatively Planning” on Having Gronk Back in 2019:
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski still hasn’t announced his decision on whether to return to the team in 2019 or retire. He’s openly talked retirement in the past but the opportunity to have one last shot at the team’s seventh Super Bowl championship may be a big draw for him.
Of course, Gronkowski can also point to the cash he’s due, he’ll count for $11,859,375 against the salary cap in 2019. If he retires, the team will have an additional $9,859,375 to spend this year.
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported, “My understanding is when you talk to people close to him, they think there is a better chance that he comes back again than he doesn’t. And I do believe that the Patriots are at least tentatively planning as if they will have Gronk for the 2019 season.”
With the release of Dwayne Allen, the Patriots depth chart at tight end consists of the newly signed Matt Lacosse, Jacob Hollister, Stephen Anderson, and Ryan Izzo.
Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:
Bills Bring In Weapons for Josh Allen:
The Buffalo Bills signed some very needed receivers for their offense in free agency inking WRs John Brown and Cole Beasley, tight end Tyler Kroft as well as offensive line help in Mitch Morse and Ty Nsekhe. This should aid in helping QB Josh Allen in helping transform what was a moribund offense in 2018.
The team also inked the ageless Frank Gore at running back on a one-year deal, giving Buffalo the oldest RB group with Gore who will be 36 along with Chris Ivory (30) and LeSean McCoy (30). It should be noted, however, that Gore averaged 4.7 yards per carry last year with the Dolphins.
Brown gives the Bills the deep speed they lack and he had his best season last year in Baltimore catching 65 passes for 1003 yards. Beasley is a Julian Edelman clone, who the Bills hope will transform their short passing game, where Allen was 32nd in the league a year ago. Kroft had a breakout season with 42 catches in 2017 but broke his foot and played in only five games a year ago.
This will be an interesting year to see how much Allen can progress, the Bills spent a lot of cash to upgrade their weapons for him and added two WRs and a badly needed TE. With the draft upcoming, the Bills will probably still address WR and RB to get a bit younger there.
Dolphins Trade QB Tannehill to the Titans:
The Miami Dolphins have traded their seven-year starter at QB, Ryan Tannehill to the Tennessee Titans on Friday. The Dolphins packaged a 6th round draft pick in 2019 along with Tannehill for the Titans 7th round pick in 2019 and a 4th round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Tannehill had his moments but could never put it all together for Miami who paid him a few years ago as their franchise QB. He completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 1,979 yards with 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 11 games last year. Now he’ll serve as the backup to Marcus Mariota. Tannehill is playing on a one-year deal with $7 million guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The one-year deal goes to $12 million+ with playtime and other incentives. The Dolphins are on the hook for $5 million of the $7 million guaranteed in the form of a signing bonus.
Miami, which tried to bring in QB Teddy Bridgewater, now has only Jake Rudock and Luke Falk at QB. They’ll either try to swing a trade for an established QB, or draft a young one in the NFL Draft, perhaps both.
Jets Go All in On Free Agency:
The New York Jets were expected to make a splash in free agency with a ton of cap space to spend it on and they didn’t disappoint. The laid out big money for RB Le’Veon Bell, ILB C.J. Mosely, slot receiver Jamison Crowder and then added slot corner Brian Poole who came over after spending three years with the Falcons.
Bell, is the most notable free agent having sat out 2018 in a contract dispute with the Steelers, and the money he signed for is actually less than the Steelers offer of five-years and $70 million. Bell signed for four years and $52 million with $25 million guaranteed. He has a ton of wear on his tires but after taking a year off, he may go into the season refreshed. But the Jets offensive line scarcely resembles the Steelers unit that helped Bell launch in his career. The Jets did make a move in that direction by trading for LG Kelechi Osemele from Oakland.
Mosely is one of the best interior linebackers in the league, a true leader for the defense and a smart, physical player who will be on the field for all three downs. He’s an instant upgrade for them at the position, but the Jets ponied up a ton of money, guaranteeing a whopping $51 million. They also had Anthony Barr agree to a deal but he ended up getting cold feet and ultimately left the Jets at the altar.
Crowder gives the Jets a big play option in the slot with the speed to make a ton of YAC. This should allow them to move Quincy Enunwa to the outside. But the question with Crowder is can he stay healthy? He missed seven games a year ago.
The Jets made a big splash, but will these moves pay off? We’ll see, but it never stops Manish Mehta from making one of his patented silly predictions. In Manish’s latest “look at me” moment, he made his prediction for the top QBs for the AFC East in 2019.
Current starting QBs in the AFC East… from projected best to worst in 2019:
1) Sam Darnold 2) Tom Brady 3) Josh Allen 4) Luke Falk
But before you get too hard on Manish, he got exactly what he was looking for as Boston sports radio couldn’t wait to get him on to defend his position…hmm