Tag Archives: NFL

Final Mock Draft 4.0 – Patriots Snag a Big Surprise at #72

Steve Balestrieri
April 26, 2017 at 9:14 am ET

The Patriots got their man with Mike Gillislee, signing the restricted free agent running back to a two-year deal and in the process, lost their 5th round draft pick to Buffalo. That effectively means that they won’t be drafting a back, we looked toward a bigger one this weekend.

There is a fascinating tool to use for doing a mock draft made possible by the guys over at Fanspeak.com that we touted last year and is, even more, fun to use in 2017.
In their “On the Clock” simulator, you are the GM for any NFL team. You can choose how many rounds you’d like to draft for (1-7), and pick one of nine different big boards to choose from.

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

For this final Mock Draft before tomorrow (4-25), I used the big board of CBS

Right now, the Patriots don’t pick until Round 3, #72 due to some of the trades that they’ve swung for Brandin Cooks and Kony Ealy. Talk is still swirling that the Pats may swing a deal involving either Malcolm Butler or Jimmy Garoppolo. I don’t see either of them going anywhere in 2017. And if they were to trade Butler, then they’d be in the market for a cornerback. And with Belichick, he prefers the known commodity. The defense with Butler, Stephon Gillmore and Eric Rowe at corner is stacked.

Here is our Patriots Mock Draft 4.0:

Round 3, Pick #72 SS Obi Melifonwu, UConn:
Bill Belichick loves to draft safeties early in the draft and after the disappointing performance by Jordan Richards, they’ll be looking for a long-term replacement for Pat Chung at the strong safety position. Melifonwu is an athletic freak at 6’4, 225. He ran a 4.40 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine, with a 44-inch vertical.

Frankly, we doubted that Melifonwu would be around in the 3rd. But the big board of CBS Sports has him falling all the way to New England at #72. He won’t be a free safety, he’ll be best in the box, where he has the size and athleticism to run with tight ends or step up in run support. The Patriots “big nickel”? He’s a perfect fit.

He has the speed and athleticism to run with the big wide receivers in certain situations as well. Huge steal for NE in the 3rd round.

Round 3, Pick #96 Edge, Tarrell Basham, Ohio:
The Patriots have scouted Basham and reportedly have a high level of interest. This would be a quintessential Belichick pick. In a draft chock full of talented edge players, taking a guy who has totally flown under the radar playing at Ohio.

He has an NFL-ready frame at 6’4, 269-pounds with long arms and big, strong hands. Basham was the Mid-American Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year 50 tackle including 16 for a loss, 11.5 sacks, 2 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

He’s got the explosion off the ball with short area burst to get to the quarterback. He’s strong and sets the edge well. He’d project to be a third down sub-package player in his rookie year and a potential starter in Year 2.

Round 4, Pick #131 TE George Kittle, Iowa:
No change from Mock 3.0. Kittle is a 6’4, 247-pound tight end that will help build the depth they need at the position. Kittle was an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick last season, in 11 starts, he produced 22 catches for 314 yards and four TDs.

He’s got good size, has very good speed with a 4:52 time in the 40-yard dash with excellent hands. He had only one drop with 48 career receptions. He’s a good and willing blocker inside. Kittle has the speed to be a vertical threat down the seam, although his route-running needs polishing.

Round 5, Pick #183 OT Erik Magnuson, Michigan:
Magnuson is a 37-game starter for the Wolverines and is a solid run blocker who can get to the second level, has very good pass protection skills. He uses his hands well and can mirror pass rushers. He’s strong, physical and tough with good athleticism at the position.

He’s 6’4, 303-pounds, he’s never played left tackle but right tackle and guard while at Michigan. He’s a versatile kid with upside but like Joe Thuney before him, the Patriots may decide to kick him inside at center.

Round 6, Pick #200 LB Connor Harris, Lindenwood:
Harris is a throwback, an extremely versatile kid who can play linebacker, running back and punt in an emergency. A three-time captain his stats speak of an era when players played for 60 minutes. In 2016, he made an incredible 138 tackles, including 8.5 for a loss, two INT, one for a TD. During his career, Harris also contributed as a running back with 50 carries for 328 yards and seven TDs. As a punter, he had a 38.8-yard average, with six downed inside the 20-yard line in 2016.

While he doesn’t have the length, you’d like at linebacker at 5’11, 242-pounds, he is a film junkie who is extremely well prepared and has tremendous production. He’s an inspirational leader on and off the field (3-year captain), who can play all three downs. Non-stop motor, and the ability to make plays all over the field.

Round 7, Pick #231 Edge Keionta Davis, Chattanooga:
Davis had his second straight FCS All-American season in 2016, tallying 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. At 6’3, 274-pounds he has the length and strength to take on offensive linemen in the trenches.

He plays low to the ground and sets the edge very well in the running game. However, he’s a bit stiff in the hips and doesn’t have the bend on the edge that you’d like to see in an edge rusher. The strength and conditioning coaches may have him bulk up another 10-15 pounds and kick him inside as a sub-package interior rusher.

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 Get Their Man Again From Buffalo, Gillislee Now a Pat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Balestrieri
at 6:23 am ET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New England Patriots News 4-23, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 23, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 4-23, & AFC East Notes.

We saw a lot of talk this week about the death of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez and much of it had the word ‘tragic’ built into it. That story was anything but tragic unless the conversation has to do with his daughter, who will grow up never knowing her father, Odin Lloyd, who Hernandez was found guilty of murdering, or the other two young men who he was acquitted of shooting and killing outside a Boston nightclub just last week.

But even if he wasn’t convicted of their murders, he was most certainly there and don’t forget, he shot his own friend in the eye in Florida and left him on the side of the road.

Hernandez had the world as his oyster with a $40 million-dollar contract, of which he’d probably have seen every dime of and would still be young enough to see another big money deal. He was set for life. Instead, he pissed it all away and was doing life in prison because he’d rather be a street hood than catch touchdowns from Tom Brady.

Tragic? No, his actions, for which he was responsible for were stupid.

Blount Very Visible for a Free Agent Who May Not Be Back:
One of the more curious sights this weekend? LeGarrette Blount, the Patriots free agent running back who is rumored to not be returning, was out doing charity work with the team.

Case in point, Blount was in Grafton, Mass on Friday night for a charity basketball game between the Grafton Police against the Patriots All-Stars featuring the past and current members of the team. On Friday night, Blount joined current Patriots Brandon King, Justin Coleman, and Devin Lucien as well as alumni Patrick Pass, Mark Levoir, Vernon Crawford and Steve DeOssie.

Patriots free agent RB LeGarrette Blount signs autographs at halftime of a charity basketball game in Grafton on Friday. (SBalestrieri/Grafton News photo)

Patriots Add New Podcast to their Website, Featuring Price, and Banks:
Congrats to former WEEI Patriots beat writer and all-around great guy Chris Price. He and Don Banks will be hosting a podcast on Patriots.com “Cover 2 with Banks and Price” which will run on Tuesdays. Price has also authored his fourth book, “Drive For Five: The Remarkable Run of the 2016 Patriots” and it details the Pats run to the Super Bowl in the 2016 season.

Patriots Name Three Hall of Fame Finalists This Week:
This week the Patriots announced the three finalists for their team Hall of Fame induction in the Hall at Patriots Place.

This year’s finalists include CB Raymond Clayborn, DL Richard Seymour, and LB Mike Vrabel.  2017 will be Clayborn’s fourth straight as a finalist, Vrabel’s second, while Seymour is a finalist for the first time.

While all three are deserving, Clayborn is saddled with playing in an era before most of the fans who will vote, were even born. He was incredibly durable, playing in 161 straight games, still a team record. And he’s tied with Ty Law with 36 career interceptions. He was a member of the Patriots All-1970s and ALL -1980s teams.

Seymour was one of the best if underrated defensive linemen of his era earning five straight Pro Bowls and four straight All-Pro seasons, including three Super Bowls. Seymour was one of the most dominant defensive linemen of the time but never had the sexy stats because of the system the Patriots played.

Vrabel was also an integral member of the team’s first three Super Bowl seasons being a versatile defender who could also play offense in goal line situations. He caught touchdown passes from Tom Brady in Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX. In 2007 Vrabel had an All-Pro season garnering 12.5 sacks.

Fans can vote online at the Patriots website here:

Patriots Schedule Has Some Intriguing Twists:
The NFL announced the league’s schedule on Thursday night, but as is typical when discussing the goings on at Park Avenue, it was leaked out much earlier. In regards to the Patriots schedule, they have some interesting factors that will play into their season.

The team opens the second half of the season by playing five out of six games on the road, including two in a row in high altitude cities. First in Denver, then the following week in Mexico City against the Raiders. The Patriots always seem to have trouble in Denver, and Mexico City’s stadium is about 2000 feet higher in elevation than Mile High.

The Pats bye week is located smack in the middle of the season after Week 8. And they open the 2017 campaign at home against the Chiefs on the league’s Kickoff Thursday Night Football game. Their Super Bowl rematch against the Falcons won’t be until Week 7, as Atlanta is celebrating the grand opening of their new stadium Week 1.

James White’s Deal A Win-win:
Once the details of the three-year contract extension for running back James White emerged, it was obvious that this is a deal that will work for both parties. White, who would have been a free agent at the end of the 2017 season, could have waited and possibly made more money, but he opted for the chance to stay in New England.

White’s three-year $12.69 million-dollar deal, which included a $4 million dollar signing bonus, works for both parties as it gives him an excellent chance of seeing every dime and for the Patriots.

It is a bargain signing, and it ensures White will be with New England in his prime years for a player who is a perfect fit for the team in New England’s offense.

Gillislee Deadline is Monday:
The other news on the running back front is that Buffalo Bills restricted free agent Mike Gillislee will have to wait until Monday to find out if he’s playing for New England this fall or heading back to Buffalo. The Patriots signed him to an offer sheet for a two-year deal with most of the money being front-loaded into the first season.

Buffalo is strapped a bit under the salary cap and the Bills are pondering the decision on whether to match New England’s offer. They quickly declined to match on Chris Hogan’s offer sheet a year ago and already lost CB Stephon Gilmore to New England in free agency. Those situations may factor into their decision.

But by placing (some say foolishly) only a fifth-round tender on Gillislee, they opened the door for a team to come in and make him an offer. If the Bills do decline, they’d get the Patriots fifth-round draft choice

NFL Draft Begins Thursday Night but When Will NE Pick?
As things stand right now, the NFL Draft may be a pretty boring one for New England fans for the first two rounds because the Patriots probably won’t be picking in either one. We say probably because although New England doesn’t have a pick in either of the first two rounds, they can still wheel and deal right up to the final moment if they really covet a player.

The Patriots traditionally under Belichick have a much smaller draft board than other teams. They’ll scout extensively but then break it down to players who they feel will fit their system.

Someone DM’d us this week as to why they’re bringing in players for pre-draft visits that are slotted to go early in the first round when they don’t pick until #72?

Sometimes, I think it is a situation where they like this player and they want to see what makes him tick and could they risk moving up for him, or it is information they’ll store for attempting to bring in the player later? We’ve seen this with free agents Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo, both of whom the Patriots liked in the draft.

Sometimes they just want to see a player they feel they may face in the future and get a feel for him. It would come in handy when game-planning against some of those.

The Patriots had a private meeting with UConn safety Obi Melifonwu on Thursday. He’s slated to go either in the late first or early second round. With Belichick’s penchant for drafting safeties early, he’d be a tremendous addition to the strong safety position and an eventual replacement for Pat Chung but the team would have to move up to get him.

Amendola Restructures Contract for the Third Straight Season:
Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola, to no one’s surprise, has restructured his deal with the Patriots, re-doing his deal for the third time since signing with the team four years ago.

He was scheduled to make $6 million and instead will make $1.6 million, a modest pay increase from what he made in 2016 for the veteran wide receiver. While Amendola is arguably the fourth option in the passing game, his production is nearly always at crunch time and comes in clutch situations. While it seems like a minor move, considering the other weapons in the Patriots WR arsenal, his signing is indeed a big move.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills’ Lineman Kouandjio Found Wandering in a Field With No Pants:
The Buffalo Bills had a bizarre incident on Wednesday morning when Erie County deputies got a call about a person acting strangely and found OL Cyrus Kouandjio wandering in a field with no pants just a few minutes from the Bills facility.

His vehicle was found abandoned on the highway a short distance away and deputies stated he was cooperative and answered their questions. Although according to some reports when asked what he was doing there, he responded to the Deputies, “Shoot me!” He was taken to the hospital for observation. However, no charges were filed.

Kouandjio was taken by the Bills in the 2nd round (44th overall) in the 2014 NFL Draft. He was not present for the Bills voluntary strength and conditioning program on Thursday. The Bills have reported that they are monitoring his situation.

Miami Adds In-game Strategist to Bolster Analytics Staff:
The Miami Dolphins are continuing to buy into the value of analytics, hiring Matt Sheldon as their director of football research and strategy. He had the Bears job as the director of analytics and football research for the past two years.

Sheldon will work on in-game strategy with the coaching staff. Miami has already added a couple of coaches in the sports science and analytics department, with Wayne Diesel, the Dolphins’ sports performance director, and Dennis Lock, the team’s director of analytics.

Jets Limiting Media Access? Some Writers Think So:
The New York Jets had their share of off-field and on-field problems in 2016. There were altercations in the locker room, players missing or late for meetings, holdouts, unneeded drama and the team flat out stunk after being on the cusp of the playoffs the year before.

Now they’re taking steps to avoid at least some of the issues that plagued them a year ago. According to ESPN’s Rich Cimini, the Jets aren’t allowing the media to speak with newly signed free agents and were not allowed to speak with any players after they began their off-season conditioning program this week.

“While it’s unclear if this is a directive from [head coach Todd] Bowles, it sends a message,” Cimini said. “The team wants to eliminate potential distractions in the early, team-building stages of the offseason.”

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.

Mock Draft 3.0 – Patriots Get Depth, Fill Needs

Steve Balestrieri
April 21, 2017 at 8:13 am ET

After the flurry of activity this week, the Patriots are primed to enter the season with all the pieces they need for a serious bid to repeat in the Super Bowl. Malcolm Butler has signed his tender, Danny Amendola has re-done his deal for the third year in a row and the team made an offer for free agent RB Mike Gillislee who would be a great fit.

Of course, if the Bills decline to match the Patriots offer, New England will have to turn over their 5th round draft pick to Buffalo. But for now, until that is settled, we’re moving on under the assumption that they’ll choose in Round 5.

There is a fascinating tool to use for doing a mock draft made possible by the guys over at Fanspeak.com that we touted last year and it is even more, fun to use in 2017.
In their “On the Clock” simulator, you are the GM for any NFL team. You can choose how many rounds you’d like to draft for (1-7), and pick one of nine different big boards to choose from.

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

For this second mock draft (4-20), I used the big board of Composite Big Board

Right now, the Patriots don’t pick until Round 3, #72 due to some of the trades that they’ve swung for Brandin Cooks and Kony Ealy. While they may still swing a deal to move up into the first two rounds, right now we’re going with what they have. In this mock, we’re going under the assumption that Malcolm Butler’s signing of his tender means that he will play in NE for at least the 2017 season so that changes our outlook considerably.

Here is our Patriots Mock Draft 3.0:

Round 3, Pick #72 Linebacker/Edge Tim Williams, Alabama:
Williams is a steal at #72. He’s a 6’4, 250-pound edge player with the frame to get bigger. He can play OLB or DE and fell in this mock down to the 3rd round over character concerns. He’s an outstanding athlete, with excellent explosion, long arms and a very consistent playmaker.

Williams played for Nick Saban at Alabama so Bill Belichick will have all the info he’d need on him. He’s a tremendous pass-rusher with excellent counter moves to get to the QB. The Patriots would use him as a DE primarily

Round 3, Pick #96 Tackle, Julie’n Davenport, Bucknell:
The Patriots have scouted Davenport and worked him out, so Dante Scarnecchia would have the final say if they can work with him. He has great size at 6’7, 318 pounds and a four-year starter. He was a team captain his final two years at Bucknell.

Has tremendous arm length and strength in his hands where he can disrupt pass rushers, has enough athleticism to get out to the second level in the running game. His balance and foot placement.

Davenport will be a developmental prospect that could be the long-term replacement for Nate Solder

Round 4, Pick #141 TE George Kittle, Iowa:
Kittle is a 6’4, 247-pound tight end that will help build the depth they need at the position. Kittle was an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick last season, in 11 starts, he produced 22 catches for 314 yards and four TDs.

He’s got good size, has very good speed with a 4:52 time in the 40-yard dash with excellent hands. He had only one drop with 48 career receptions. He’s a good and willing blocker inside. Kittle has the speed to be a vertical threat down the seam, although his route-running needs polishing.

Round 5, Pick #163 S Josh Harvey-Clemons, Louisville:
Clemons has tremendous size at 6’4, 217-pounds and would be the heir apparent to Pat Chung as the box safety. He has rare size, length, and athleticism for a man his dimensions. He’s a physical, tough tackler and will be the in-the-box safety and be able to play the hybrid linebacker role, the “Big Nickel” for the Patriots.

He’s not a deep cover safety and at times takes poor angles to the runner. Was dismissed from Georgia after three failed tests for marijuana.

Round 5, Pick #183 LB Matt Milano, Boston College:
Boston College has been churning out very good linebackers from their program from Mark Herzlich and Luke Kuechly and now Milano, who stepped up big for the Eagles the past two seasons. He turned in a very solid 2016 season with 58 tackles, 11 for a loss, 6.5 sacks, one interception, and a blocked punt.

The undersized (6’0, 233-pounds) Milano plays “like a heat-seeking missile” on the defensive side of the ball, flying around the field looking for contact. He played 94 percent of the Eagles snaps in 2016 and has speed toughness with very good instincts in pass coverage as a converted safety.

Special teams’ standout in Chestnut Hill with three blocked punts and 24 STs tackles. We took him in our Mock 1.0 draft and he’s here again in the third and will be a great value pickup

Round 6, Pick #200 Edge Keionta Davis, Chattanooga:
Davis had his second straight FCS All-American season in 2016, tallying 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. At 6’3, 274-pounds he has the length and strength to take on offensive linemen in the trenches.

He plays low to the ground and sets the edge very well in the running game. However, he’s a bit stiff in the hips and doesn’t have the bend on the edge that you’d like to see in an edge rusher. The strength and conditioning coaches may have him bulk up another 10-15 pounds and kick him inside as a sub-package interior rusher.

Round 7, Pick #231 LB Riley Bullough, Michigan State:
Bullough comes from a football family devoted to the Spartans. His father (Rose Bowl 1982), uncle and brother all played at Michigan State. He’s very athletic, plays downhill and flies all over the field. He was named the team’s “Most Inspirational Player” for the past two seasons.

But at 6’2, 226, he’s not big enough to stand up to the physicality of the NFL as an inside linebacker. His path to the league will be as a special teams’ standout and his mentality, and athleticism will be a perfect fit.

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.

Full Patriots, NFL 2017 Schedule released today

John Morgan
April 20, 2017 at 1:00 pm ET

The NFL will publish the full 2017 schedule of games tonight.

In their never-ending quest to be the 12-month focus for sports fans, the league will go further than that. The NFL will make this announcement as part of a special broadcast on their own television network. This is all in accordance with their recent marketing strategy.

On April 7th the league announced that in three days they would announce who each team’s preseason opponents would be. We still don’t know those exact dates yet, that is saved for another sports news cycle. Maybe that will be part of tonight’s festivities, like a warm-up band for the main act. But don’t be surprised if that breaking news will instead be saved for another day, when the league would otherwise be ignored. Next up, an announcement of when the NFL will announce the date of their next announcement. Roger that, 4/20.

All this fanfare and suspense is produced despite the public knowledge of who every team’s 2017 opponents would be back on New Year’s Day when the 2016 regular season ended. Every team plays their division opponents twice, home and away. Teams from one division play each team from another division within their conference on a rotating basis. Four more games are played against a non-conference division, also on a defined rotation. That makes fourteen out of sixteen opponents set for years to come in upcoming schedules. The last two games are determined by division standings. A first place team in one division plays the two remaining division winners within their conference. Then the second place teams play each other, etc.

Every season the Patriots will have six division games: two each, home and away versus the Jets, Dolphins and Bills. This year the AFC East will play the AFC West; the Pats will host the Chiefs and Chargers and be on the road against the Broncos and Raiders. As part of the NFL’s global expansion the Patriots-Raiders game will take place in Mexico City, one of five international games this season. Sorry Vegas, you will have to wait until 2023 to watch the Patriots live. You can however go ahead and place your bets now on whether or not Tom Brady will still be New England’s starting quarterback by then.

The other part of the schedule rotation has the AFC East facing the NFC South in 2017. Because the last Buccaneer ‘home game’ against the Patriots was played in London, this makes the first time that the Patriots have played a regular season game in Tampa since before the NFL went to the current eight division alignment – and with it the current schedule rotation. It has been twenty years since the Pats played a real game off Dale Mabry Highway.

Tampa area fans will finally get a chance to see the Patriots live in a real game without having to drive several hours to Miami or Jacksonville. Expect Raymond James Stadium to look and sound like a home game for the Patriots. The other NFC South games are at New Orleans and home versus two previous Superbowl opponents, Atlanta and Carolina. The Superbowl 51 rematch with the Falcons will presumably be a prime time event. I am expecting this game to occur in November since that is television ratings sweep month.

As noted above the other two games are determined by final regular season standings. Since the AFC East is already playing the AFC West, those last two opponents will come from the AFC North and AFC South. Both of these games will be rematches from last season’s playoffs. The Patriots will play the Steelers at Heinz Field in what will likely be another prime time game, and face off against the Texans at Gillette Stadium.

The full schedule will be announced at 8:00 pm eastern time on the NFL Network, though we should know more before then. Like anxious kids on Christmas Day, teams can’t contain themselves and typically leak some schedule information over the course of the day. Unless of course that is actually part of the NFL’s whole marketing strategy to keep you focused 24/7 on their sport.

Back to the Future

For those looking even further ahead, here are future Patriot opponents. The final two games are against the team from that division that finishes in the same spot in the previous year’s standings.

2018: AFC South, NFC North
Home: Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Texans, Colts, Packers, Vikings, AFC West.
Away: Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Jaguars, Titans, Bears, Lions, AFC North.

2019: AFC North, NFC East
Home: Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Browns, Steelers, Cowboys, Giants, AFC West
Away: Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Ravens, Bengals, Eagles, Redskins, AFC South

2020: AFC West, NFC West
Home: Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Broncos, Raiders, Cardinals, 49ers, AFC North
Away: Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Chiefs, Chargers, Rams, Seahawks, AFC South

2021: AFC South, NFC South
Home: Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Jaguars, Titans, Saints, Buccaneers, AFC North
Away: Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Texans, Colts, Falcons, Panthers, AFC West

 

Updates

2:00 pm edit: Thus far three Patriot games have been leaked:
Week One on Thursday night (September 7) will be the home opener versus the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Patriots will play the Raiders on Sunday night in Week 11 (November 19) in Mexico City per an NFL Network and ESPN broadcaster.
Atlanta sports talk radio host Mike Bell claims to have the entire Falcons’ schedule, which includes a week seven (Oct 22) game against the Patriots.

3:00 pm edit: Earlier today the Patriots announced the specific dates and times for their four preseason games.

3:30 pm edit: Mike Bell has deleted his tweet, so cross off Week 7 as being against the Falcons.

From what looks to be somebody at nfl.com, the Patriots will host the Jets in Week 17 (December 31).

4:20 pm edit: per Saints beat reporter Nick Underhill, the Patriots will be in New Orleans in Week 2. Brandin Cooks versus his old team.

Rumored 2017 Schedule

4:20 pm edit: If a variety of sources are to be believed, this will be the 2017 schedule:

Wk1 on NBC, 8:30 pm Thursday September 7: home vs Kansas City Chiefs (TNF)
Wk2 on CBS, 1:00 pm Sunday September 17: at New Orleans Saints
Wk3 on CBS, 1:00 pm Sunday September 24: home vs Houston Texans
Wk4 on Fox, 1:00 pm Sunday October 1: home vs Carolina Panthers
Wk5 on CBS, 8:25 pm Thursday October 5: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (TNF)
Wk6 on CBS, 1:00 pm Sunday October 15: at New York Jets
Wk7 on NBC, 8:30 pm Sunday October 22: home vs Atlanta Falcons (SNF)
Wk8 on CBS, 1:00 pm Sunday October 29: home vs Los Angeles Chargers

Week 9: bye
Wk10 on NBC, 8:30 pm Sunday November 12: at Denver Broncos (SNF)
Wk11 on CBS, 4:25 pm Sunday November 19: at Las Vegas Raiders (Mexico City)
Wk12 on CBS, 1:00 pm Sunday November 26: home vs Miami Dolphins
Wk13 on CBS, 1:00 pm Sunday December 3: at Buffalo Bills
Wk14 on BSPN, 8:30 pm Monday December 11: at Miami Dolphins (MNF)
Wk15 on CBS, 4:25 pm Sunday December 17: at Pittsburgh Steelers
Wk16 on CBS, 1:00 pm Sunday December 24: home vs Buffalo Bills
Wk17 on CBS, 1:00 pm Sunday December 31: home vs New York Jets

Any stretch of three consecutive road games is brutal and schedule makers should really avoid them if at all possible. This one is particularly egregious because the third road game (a) comes after a short week, (b) is also the fifth road game in 36 days, and (c) is against the next best team in the conference.

The Week 10 and 11 games are poorly planned as well. Often on a long trip such as that the team would stay out west, but spending a week in Mexico may be ill advised, wanting to avoid Montezuma’s Revenge. That means a long late flight out of Denver, then another long flight a few days later to Mexico City. No bueno.

New England Patriots Draft Profile: Washington Edge Player Joe Matthis

Steve Balestrieri
at 6:19 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 certainly going to be looking at players on the edge with the picks that they have left in the NFL Draft.  Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, and Rob Ninkovich are the guys we look to at providing the edge pressure but they still have DL Lawrence Guy who can play on the edge as well as kick inside as an interior pass rusher. Geneo Grissom is a STs player.

As we’ve repeated here many times, edge rushers are like cornerbacks, you can never have too many good ones. Many experts are looking for the Patriots to double dip in the draft next week, taking a DE and an OLB that can provide pressure as well. And this next guy maybe a bit of a sleeper.

I was watching a few games of Washington looking for tape on Sidney Jones and this next player began to jump off the screen in the early games of the season. So much so, that we grabbed him in our Mock Draft a week ago.

Joe Matthis from Washington is a 6’2, 266-pound defensive end/outside linebacker who is a well-rounded edge player. He shows good leverage in the running game and an ability to get to the passer despite not being a “quick twitch” athlete. He’s a guy that is versatile and can play with his hand in the dirt or stand up as an outside linebacker. That is always a plus in the Bill Belichick book with the Patriots.

He has good, heavy hands and uses them well to shed blockers at the line of scrimmage. Matthis is a very physical player who goes non-stop and all out on every down. He’s a sleeper because he was injured after just six games in 2016 and there was very limited tape on him.

At the time of his injury, he led the team with five sacks thru six games. A look at how their defense faded after his injury may provide a good look at how valuable he was to the team.

Pros:

– Good frame and strength on the edge

– Excellent, heavy hands with a violent punch

– Good football I.Q., very good against the run

– Shows good bend around the edge, non-stop motor

Cons

– Only average athletically

– Needs to refine pass rush moves

– Injury history, limited body of production on tape

What his Role Will Be:
Matthis’ role would be to initially be a part of the rotation outside as an outside linebacker and drop into coverage for the Patriots. He can also move on to the defensive line and play with his hand in the dirt as a defensive end and rush the passer.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with some added lower body strength and more work on his pass rush moves, 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?
Grissom, Matthis will be a guy that they’ll feel that they plug on the edge and get to play special teams.

What is his ST Value?
Good

Conclusion:
Matthis is a guy who will be intriguing to see where he ends up in the draft. The Washington coaches moved him around and after a productive start of 2016, he suffered an injury that sidelined him for the rest of the year.

He has very good, heavy hands and has a violent punch that will keep defenders off of him and allow him to get some separation. He has a good bull rush with good bend coming around the edge. He’s very good at setting the edge in the running game, a must in the Patriots system.

Matthis is a Patriots kind of player. He’s versatile, can play standing up as an outside linebacker or with his hand in the dirt, has good instincts and a high football I.Q. He plays with a violent streak, never stops working and will make plays all over the field with a non-stop motor.

Matthis is a guy who won’t be in high demand because of his injury, his lack of taped production and the fact that he’s isn’t an athlete that will blow people away with his measurables. But if he’s on the board in the fourth round, the Patriots could land one of the sleepers of this draft.

Matthis’ 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.

How Lawrence Guy Fits In Patriots’ Defense May Influence the Draft

Steve Balestrieri
April 18, 2017 at 7:09 am ET

The Patriots, many are predicting will double-dip at the edge rusher position which may indeed be the case.  We’ve had multiple conversations on the podcasts about the edge and how they’ll approach it in the draft. But how they plan to use Lawrence Guy may have a bearing on those draft plans as well.

Guy has been kind of the under-the-radar signing that Bill Belichick has traditionally made during free agency. While the news of his signing wasn’t met with a ton of fanfare at the time in March, the four-year, $13.4 million-dollar contract certainly shows that they’re planning on using him in their system for the next several years.

The 6-foot-5, 300-pound defensive lineman has played in 67 games in his career, with 20 starts. He played in all 16 games for the Ravens in 2016 with 10 starts and played in 46 percent of the defensive snaps. He had a quarterback hit against Tom Brady on Monday Night Football last season. Guy had his most productive season in 2015 when he recorded 4.5 sacks and 46 tackles.

Guy’s most natural position is at the five-technique defensive end and he’d be a big body on the outside although he has the versatility to kick inside on passing downs and be a three-technique defensive tackle and provide an interior pass rush.

Unlike other players the Patriots have used in a kind of NASCAR-like package, Guy at 300 pounds isn’t an undersized guy but still has the athleticism to get after the quarterback. He’d provide them with plenty of versatility to play inside or outside. He’s not a space eater like Alan Branch but should be strong enough to hold up in the running game inside as well as push the pocket. At the age of 27, he’s just entering his prime as a player.

Guy’s former coach John Harbaugh thinks that the Patriots got a good player, and spoke highly of him at the league meetings last month.

“I just think they’re getting a great guy, and they’re going to love him because he’s a really good football player,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a very under-rated, under-valued player. I thought it was very Patriot-like to recognize his value and to pay him the way they did. I think they paid him very well and in a way that’s going to change his life forever so I’m really happy for him.”

“They’re going to get a guy that plays equally well against the run and the pass, plays super hard, will be excellent in the locker room and in the meeting room,” Harbaugh added.

So where will Guy play, on the edge or inside? Both probably and special teams as well. Because since the league has ruled that Shea McClellin’s leaping over the line is a [gasp!] safety issue, they’ll need more of an interior push to block field goals and extra points.

But in regards to the draft, while they’re about set in the interior with Branch, Malcom Brown, Vincent Valentine, Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo, and Guy, they will still be looking to add speed on the edge.

The Patriots have Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, Kony Ealy and Geneo Grissom on the edge. Flowers will have big expectations this year after a strong second half of the 2016 season. Ninkovich has always been a solid big-play contributor but at 33, is starting to slow down. Grissom was a special teamer. Ealy has the size and versatility to also play inside or outside on passing downs.

This gives Belichick and Matt Patricia plenty of options on the defense as they’ll be able to mix and match with a variety of fronts. At the end of April, they’ll look for a speed rusher in the draft. Of course, if the opportunity avails itself, another would be even better. One can never have enough talented ‘guys’ on the edge.

But as for Lawrence Guy, he’ll be one player to watch this spring/summer. He may be the ‘guy’ no one talks about in the spring, then will rave about what a great signing it was in December.

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 News 4-16, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 16, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 4-16, & AFC East Notes.

We hope everyone is enjoying their Easter Sunday with their families and from all of us here, stay safe, happy, and healthy.

Belichick’s Four Keys to Success:
Everyone is always trying to pin down what is the secret to the success of the Patriots.  In an interview with CNBC’s Suzy Welch, Belichick handed down the four tenets of his leadership style. While these won’t jump off the page, to those who have followed Belichick and the Pats closely thru the years, it is all perfectly simple.

Bill Belichick opened up on CNBC about his leadership style this week in a very interesting interview. (SBalestrieri photo)

  1. Do your job.
  2. Be attentive.
  3. Pay attention to details.
  4. Put the team first.

“Ultimately, the team has to come first even though we all have individual goals and preferences,” Belichick said. “It’s one day at a time,” he added. “We don’t talk about last year. We don’t talk about next week. We don’t talk about next year.”

“We talk about today, and we talk about the next game,” Belichick says. “And that’s all we can really control. The rest of it will take care of itself.”

A Pair of McCourtys in the Secondary? Good Chance of that Happening:
With the news that Jason McCourty was released by the Tennessee Titans last week, an immediate destination was earmarked for the twin brother of Devin as New England. This is one rumor that we’ll buy into. Because it makes sense and is a fit for both the team and individual.

The Patriots targeted McCourty a few seasons ago but they couldn’t come to an agreement with Tennessee. It makes sense on a couple of different scenarios. If the Patriots trade Malcolm Butler, McCourty would share the duties of the #2-3 CB with Eric Rowe beside Stephon Gilmore. If they keep Butler, it would give the Patriots a secondary unlike they’ve had here in many, many seasons.

Gilmore and Butler would work outside and McCourty would work the slot. At 29, he’s still an effective player and he was due $7 million this season. Tennessee brought in Logan Ryan and also have Jonathan Cyprien, so they asked McCourty to take a pay cut. His refusal opened a possible door to New England. Speaking of Devin…

Devin McCourty is sticking to his guns about not going to the White House this week. (SBalestrieri Photo)

McCourty Explains Why He Won’t Go to the White House:
Appearing at an event at BU this week, the media quoted Devin McCourty, explaining his decision to skip the White House invitation by President Trump. The team will visit the White House on April 21.

“For me, it was just the different things that come out of the White House or the administration just didn’t agree or align with some of my views,” McCourty said.

“And you look at it now, I’m a new dad. And my daughter is growing up in this country…How will I explain to her why is there a photo op of me shaking someone’s hand if I didn’t agree with him? … I think it’s an individual decision. I think everyone on our team has the right to go or not go. But I think you should do what’s best for you. Do what you think is right.”

Being a long-time soldier, we always went by the adage, “you salute the rank and not the man”, so in that line of reasoning I think they should go and respect the office. But I’m not going to put myself in another man’s shoes. If he feels that strongly then I respect his right to stay home. That’s one of the beauties of living in this country. And what we’ve sacrificed so much for.

Patriots Host Bills Free Agent RB Mike Gillislee:
Another shot across the Bills’ bow? Possibly. The Patriots signed CB Stephon Gilmore away from the Bills this spring and WR Chris Hogan in 2016. This could be another former Bills player ending up in New England.

Gillislee, 26, is coming off of a breakout type of season in Buffalo as LeSean McCoy’s backup running back. The 5’11, 219-pounder is a north-south runner who carries the ball very effectively inside and in the red zone. He had 101 carries for 577 yards (5.7 YPC) and eight touchdowns in 2016. He added nine catches for 50 yards in the passing game.

The question would be, is the Patriots interest real or is it leverage against LeGarrette Blount (see below) to sign his offer with the team. The Bills placed a 5th round tender against Gillislee which in our opinion here would be a bargain. Stay tuned.

Marshawn Lynch Signs with the Raiders:
Mark this one down as a non-surprise. Lynch who was coming out of retirement to play for his hometown Raiders hit a snag in negotiations last week. He then leveraged Oakland by saying he’d welcome a deal with New England. We tried to tell everyone it was only a smokescreen, but the thought of adding “Beast Mode” to the backfield was too much for people to see through.

And presto! Oakland after hearing he’d be willing to go to New England quickly signs him to a deal. Lynch never had any intention of playing here but it was a brilliant ploy on his part.

Teen Who Helped Find Brady’s Stolen Jersey, Gets Invited to the Home Opener:
19-year old Dylan Wagner from Seattle got a phone call from Robert Kraft and was invited to go down on the field when the Patriots raise the banner on Opening Night. It was Wagner who tipped off the FBI through a friend in the ATF where Brady’s stolen Super Bowl jersey was.

He had dealt with Martin Mauricio Ortega in Mexico a year ago and as the two corresponded, they shared pictures of their NFL memorabilia collections. Wagner spotted Brady’s jersey and alerted authorities.

Kraft will fly him out for the Thursday opener and Wagner who hopes to meet Tom Brady will be on the field. Something tells me that an invite isn’t all he’s going to get.

Brandon King Signs Tender, Will Return in 2017:
The Patriots announced this week that S/LB/ST 3rd year player Brandon King had signed his free agent tender and will be re-joining the team in 2017.

King, 23, 6’2, 220-pounds was signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent out of Auburn in the spring of 2015. He was second on the team with 9 special teams’ tackles in 2016.

Brandon King has been a standout Special Teams player since joining the Patriots. (SBalestrieri photo)

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Undecided on Fifth-Year Option For Sammy Watkins:
The Buffalo Bills have a decision to make on wide receiver Sammy Watkins for the 2018 season. On May 2, the Bills will either pick up the fifth-year option for the talented but injury prone wide out or let him test free agency.

On the surface it is a no-brainer, Watkins is slated to make only $3.1 million dollars in 2018. For a talented WR who is just 23, it would seem to be an open and shut case. But he’s missed 11 games in the past two years and has had surgery twice on the same foot.

With his season shortened with the foot surgery, Watkins caught just 28 passes for 430 yards and two touchdowns in 2016.

Miami Re-signs Two Exclusive Rights Free Agents:
The Miami Dolphins re-signed two of their own free agents this week, tight end Thomas Duarte and cornerback LaFayette Pitts. A seventh-round pick from UCLA a year ago, Duarte began the season on the practice squad before being activated to the 53-man roster. He appeared in one game.

Pitts went undrafted out of Pitt before signing with Miami. He was cut in September, signed to the practice squad and finally signed the active roster in November. He made three tackles

The Dolphins also hosted UConn safety Obi Melifonwu this week. Melifonwu was a first-team All-American Athletic Conference selection and his team’s top tackler in 2016, making 118 hits, 2.5 for loss, leading the team with four interceptions and with three passes defensed. He ran a 4.40 in the 40 and shined in positional drills at the NFL Combine.

Jets’ Marshall Suspended Four Games For PED Use: 

The New York Jets suffered their third suspension in the past two months when CB Nick Marshall was suspended for the first four games of the 2018 season violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Along with Marshall, wide receiver Jalin Marshall and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins will begin the regular season on the suspended list. Seferian-Jenkins was arrested for a DUI in Tampa last season and will miss the first two games for violation of the league’s personal conduct policy.

Jalin Marshall will serve a four-game suspension for also violating the PED rules. He claimed that he mistakenly took a medication one time without receiving an exemption.

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.

Steelers owner Dan Rooney dies at age 84

John Morgan
April 13, 2017 at 7:00 pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers owner and chairman Dan Rooney passed away today. He was 84.

Consider this: from their inception in 1933 through 1971 the Steelers made the playoffs only once. Pittsburgh had a total of only seven winning seasons, and managed only four years where they were two or more games above .500.

Then Dan Rooney took a bigger role in the organization, running the football operations in 1969 and finally formally being announced team president in 1975. He hired Chuck Noll and the team quickly went from annual cellar dwellers to perennial contenders. For those that lament the dark days of the Patriots, where the Steelers were prior to Dan Rooney taking on his role was was far worse. They went 25 years between playoff appearances. 25 years! From 1965-69 Pittsburgh’s record was 14-53-3, finishing in last place in four out of five of those seasons.

Chuck Noll, Dan Rooney, Pete Rozelle

A quote from a 1979 Sports Illustrated article shares words of Rooney’s wisdom that certain high profile owners would be wise to heed today.

The Steelers’ chief executive is 46-year-old President Dan Rooney, the oldest son of the team’s founder, 77-year-old Art Rooney. There is no biographical sketch for Dan Rooney in the club’s media guide. “I stay in the background,” he says. “A lot of owners in football think they have to say something profound, particularly to explain a win or a loss. I think the less you say, the better off you are. My job here is to make everyone else’s job easier. The Steeler players get the recognition, and that’s the way it should be. That’s better than having Chuck Noll or Dan Rooney get it. The players are the characters, if you look at football in the entertainment sense.”

While he was growing into his current job in the ’60s, Dan and his brother Art Rooney Jr., who is in charge of the team’s personnel department, determined that the Steelers, who had a history of trading away draft choices, should build through the draft. Only three of the Steelers on the roster for last Sunday’s game—placekicker Gerela, reserve Defensive Back Ray Oldham and reserve Tight End Jim Mandich—started their careers with other franchises.

In 1975 Pittsburgh went 12-2 and won their second consecutive Super Bowl. Rooney remained team president until 2002; during those years the Steelers were the class of the AFC and the best franchise in pro football over the last three decades of the 20th century.

More than anyone else, Dan Rooney was the reason for that turnaround. The Steelers’ long term success was due to the leadership at the top of the organization. Rooney earned his place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

 

Rest in peace. Condolences to the Rooney family and Steelers Nation.