Tag Archives: Patriots

Patriots Players Ready For the 2nd Year Jump in Performance

Steve Balestrieri
May 22, 2017 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots begin the next phase of their 2017 offseason OTAs today at Gillette Stadium and they’ll be on the field for the first time doing football drills. And while many will be focusing on the new players such as Stephon Gilmore, Brandin Cooks, and Kony Ealy, the second-year players should be of equal importance. Bill Belichick always talks of the big jump that players experience between their rookie and sophomore seasons.

There are several players that will bear watching under that scenario but we’re going to focus on just three that could play very large roles in 2017.  Guard Joe Thuney, WR Malcolm Mitchell and CB/KR Cyrus Jones.

Thuney was a Day 1 starter at left guard and had the not-so-unexpected growing pains, Mitchell got hurt in training camp but came on in the second half of the season and was a key contributor in the Super Bowl win over the Falcons. Jones was the team’s top draft choice a year ago, a talented corner and kick returner who struggled mightily and was barely a blip on the radar in 2016.

Thuney was drafted by the Patriots in the 3rd round (78th overall) in the 2016 NFL Draft out of NC State. The 6’4, 305-pound tackle turned guard was a steady, dependable interior offensive lineman last year. He fought his way thru the competition at training camp to become the Day 1 starter at left guard. He showed good communication with LT Nate Solder and C David Andrews and they did a good job of keeping the Patriots QBs upright.


Joe Thuney wants to know “What are Pink Stripes?” (SBalestrieri photo)

He certainly got a good rookie report card from Bill Belichick. “Joe is smart. Joe works hard. He’s here every day. I don’t think he’s missed a day all spring, summer,” Belichick said. “He shows up every day [and] goes to work. A lunch-pail guy. He just grinds it out. And he’s smart. Takes coaching well. He understands what we’re doing.”

He needed to get stronger this offseason and that will bear some watching. But after spending a year with his demanding OL Coach Dante Scarnecchia, he should be ready for the Year 2 jump. His technique, communication, and strength should all be better. There will be no backsliding on Coach Scar’s crew.

The Patriots drafted Mitchell in the 4th round, (112th overall) in last season’s draft. His story was well known when he wasn’t a good reader and joined a ladies’ book club in Georgia. Now he’s an author of a children’s book and a Super Bowl champion.


Malcolm Mitchell puts a move on Darrell Roberts in 2016 TC. (SBalestrieri photo)

Mitchell suffered an injury in the team’s first preseason game and that definitely slowed his progress. He barely registered on the stat sheet thru the first half of the season. But after Tom Brady’s return from suspension, Mitchell gradually worked his way onto the field and earned his way into Brady’s circle of trust. He finished the season with a modest 32 catches for 401 yards and four touchdowns in 2016. But his Super Bowl was a game that showed that his future is bright with New England, catching six passes for 70 yards and again, Brady trusted him to come thru at crunch time late in the game.

The Patriots are stacked at wide receiver this season. With Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, newcomer Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, Mitchell and newcomers Austin Carr, Cody Hollister and Devin Lucien. But while Mitchell’s numbers may not increase dramatically in 2017, he should be an integral part of the offensive plan this season.

No one could have predicted the struggles that Cyrus Jones suffered in 2016. Coming from the storied football of program of Nick Saban at Alabama, Jones was a talented corner who was thought to be in line for reps at least in the slot for 2016. He was also a dangerous, valuable kick returner, returning four for touchdowns in his final college season. None of it materialized. Right off the bat in Minicamp, he began to struggle with holding onto kicks and that carried over to the season. He never made an impression defensively and his season was about missed opportunity.


Cyrus Jones had ball security issues in 2016. (SBalestrieri photo)

Jones has a lot of work to do in 2017, the Patriots used a 2nd round draft pick (60th overall) last season on him and ball security should be at the top of his list. His judgment wasn’t great either, and that was the cause of his being inactive for five of the team’s final six games.

Bill Belichick needs to work with Jones early this year….OTAs is a prime spot and build up Jones’ confidence. That’s mainly what his problem was in 2016, a confidence issue and not an ability one. He knows how to play football and has been successful at the pinnacle of the college football world. Once his return issues are resolved, his play on defense should be markedly improved as well. He’s the guy we’re picking here as our selection as the most improved player in 2017.

Other second-year players include Elandon Roberts, Vincent Valentine, Woodrow Hamilton and Jacoby Brissett. In Brissett’s case, we may not see a big jump in play in Year 2 strictly because of logistics. With Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo under center at QB this season, there are only so many snaps to go around. And Brissett may not get a ton of work.

The Patriots will have plenty of new faces to integrate into the system, beginning this week for the OTAs but we’ll be keeping focused on seeing how the 2nd year players perform this spring/summer. Getting off to a quick start is always a good sign for having a good regular season. For Thuney, Mitchell, and Jones that all begins today.

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 5-21, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 21, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 5-21, & AFC East Notes.

We hope that anyone out in Central Mass today will join us for the 16th Annual HMEA IncredABLE 5K to support children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. Every year about 2500 people attend for either the 5K Road Race or the family walk, run or stroll. Boston 25 news anchor Gene Lavanchy hosts it with Patriots great Steve Nelson.

It is located at the EMC/Dell Franklin campus at 50 Constitution Blvd. in Franklin, Mass. And this year it will feature American strongman Bear, who will be pulling a semi-tractor trailer or a ladder truck from the fire department…maybe both.

Belichick Popular with Military: I’ve been out of the loop for the past week, spending time in Tampa Bay at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC). It was an intriguing week as the nation’s best arms deals and equipment makers were making their pitches at selling their wares to the US Special Operations Command. Some of the new equipment out there as well as virtual reality training tools is just impressive. The joint HQs in Tampa houses the Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Delta Force, Air Force Special Operations, and the Marine Special Operations operators under one roof.

Bill Belichick 2016 minicamp (SBalestrieri photo)

It was great meeting new faces and getting reacquainted with some old friends. Of course, everyone wanted to talk football as well as Special Ops and it is amazing the level of respect that Bill Belichick gets with the military community.

His job focus, the ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment and be an effective leader that can teach and lead by example resonates with the officers and men who do the same thing in a different profession.

Latest Tomase Piece Takes a Leap at Comparing Brady to Tom Cruise:
According to the latest piece by WEEI’s John Tomase, everything that Tom Brady does off the field for the Patriots is a disgrace. He can do nothing right and surrounds himself with snake-oil salesmen, charlatans, and thieves.

As if he couldn’t seek a lower common denominator, then Tomase has to sink to the even lower road by mentioning Deflategate with the “but he destroyed his phone, in case you forgot.”

Yeah, we get it. Tomase doesn’t even try to hide his obvious bias and he goes on a rant about Donald Trump. One must wonder if any of this drivel would’ve have been posted had Brady displayed a Hillary Clinton hat in his locker instead of the Donald’s. Probably not as in his mind, Trump is already impeached.

But the kicker is when he tries to equate Brady with the Tom Cruise Scientology bit. Saying that Brady radiates the “same creepy, culty vibe” is low even for someone who has his own crosses to bear. Tomase was the one who published the false bit about the Patriots filming the Rams walkthrough at Super Bowl XXXVI, “in case you forgot.”

It is amazing that WEEI would let a talented football writer and author like Chris Price go and keep other folks around, but maybe those writers are the ones who resonate with the creepy segments of our society.

Brady Concussion Flap, Bound to Generate Mileage With Park Ave:
A lot of talks have been centered around Gisele Bundchen’s interview this week with Charlie Rose on CBS where she said her husband, Tom Brady suffered a concussion in 2016. Bundchen set the tongues wagging with this state.

“I just have to say, as a wife, I’m a little bit — as you know, it’s not the most, like — let’s say, (it’s) an aggressive sport,” Bundchen said. “Right? Football, like, he had a concussion last year. He has concussions, pretty much. I mean, we don’t talk about it,” Bundchen added.

Tom Brady’s agent says that he suffered no concussions in 2016 despite comments from his wife. (SBalestrieri photo)

“But he does have concussions. And I don’t really think it’s a healthy thing for your body to go through that kind of aggression, like, all the time. That cannot be healthy for you, right? And I’m planning on having him be healthy and do a lot of fun things we when are like 100 (years old), I hope.”

Brady’s agent Don Yee has denied that Brady ever suffered a concussion in 2016 which the NFL has confirmed…sort of.

“We have reviewed all reports relating to Tom Brady from the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultants and certified athletic trainer spotters who worked at Patriots’ home and away 2016 season games as well as club injury reports that were sent to the league office,” the league said. “There are no records that indicate that Mr. Brady suffered a head injury or concussion, or exhibited or complained of concussion symptoms.

Ah but the last statement should be interesting to Patriots fans.

“We have been in contact with the NFLPA and will work together to gather more information from the club’s medical staff and Mr. Brady. The health and safety of our players is our foremost priority and we want to ensure that all our players have and continue to receive the best care possible.”

Does this sound suspiciously like another Ted Wells fiasco? Maybe, maybe not but no one in New England wants to hear that the league is investigating anything to do with the Patriots.

Pats Add Another TE, Cut One Loose:
The Patriots released TE Rob Housler after a failed injury designation. The veteran of five NFL seasons pulled his hamstring and could be brought back once he’s healthy enough to compete this spring.

Housler has played in 65 NFL games with 27 starts and has 109 receptions for 1,166 yards with a touchdown. He spent 2016 out of football but the Patriots signed him to a futures’ contract this winter.

Michael Williams was cut loose earlier last week leaving the team with Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James O’Shaughnessy, Matt Lengel, and Jacob Hollister on the roster. The team then added TE Sam Cotton from Nebraska.  Cotton, 6’4, 250-pounds, played in 13 games, (11 starts) as a senior in 2016 and had eight catches for 87 yards.

The team also signed free agent OL James Ferentz and 4th Round draft pick Deatrich Wise Jr. Ferentz played the last two seasons with the Broncos, appearing in 21 games before being released on May 10. Wise was selected with the 131st pick overall in the draft.  The 6’5, 271-pounder, appeared in 50 games (10 starts) at Arkansas and tallied 112 tackles, 16½ sacks, six passes defensed and four forced fumbles

Blount “Doesn’t Regret a Second” of his Pats Career:
In a not-so-surprising move, LeGarrette Blount had nothing but good things to say about his time in New England with the Patriots in his introductory press conference in Philadelphia. The Eagles signed Blount to a one-year deal this week after the Patriots placed a 2nd round FA tender on him.

LeGarrette Blount leaves on good terms with the Patriots. (SBalestrieri photo)

“I’ve done everything that I wanted to do. I won two Super Bowls with (New England) and I don’t regret a single second being there because I loved it there. They have some of the best years of football that you could ever remember . . . I’m happy that I was a part of a few of those.”

The Pats had offered Blount a deal but when he balked, they quickly went to Plan B and restricted FA RB Mike Gillislee from Buffalo. Blount joins a Philly stable of backs that have plenty of quickness but needs a big power back to carry the load.

Brady, Aston Martin Sign Partnership:
Tom Brady is bringing his brand to England and endorsing an English luxury car icon. Not just any icon, but the sports car of James Bond, Aston Martin.

Brady appeared on the hood (bonnet in blighty) of a DB-11 that features a V-12 turbo engine that cranks out a healthy 600+ horsepower. And before any of you diehard fans care to plunk down the cash for an a Aston Martin, (they sell only about 1000 cars per year in the US), please note that the DB-11’s list price for a base model is over $214,800.

Tom Brady has signed a deal to endorse Aston Martin, the car of James Bond. (Aston Martin photo)

With this partnership cemented, Barbara Broccoli, the executive producer of the Bond films should ink Mr. Brady to do a cameo in the yet unnamed Bond 25 that is still in the talking stages. “Brady, Tom Brady.”

Vollmer, to No One’s Surprise, Calls it a Career:
Patriots FA right tackle has made it official, he’s retiring from the NFL after eight productive seasons with the Pats. This doesn’t come as a surprise as the German-born offensive lineman has already dropped 75 pounds from his playing weight of 320.

Vollmer was drafted in the 2nd round, 58th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. He appeared in 88 games with 80 starts but missed the entire 2016 season with hip and shoulder injuries.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Go Up Tempo in Practice, Ragland Clears Hurdle, Taylor is the Leader:
The Buffalo Bills have a new regime in place and the first thing new coach Sean McDermott saw when reviewing tape of last year’s practices was that the team needed to pick up the tempo which they’ve been doing, so far in OTAs.

LB Reggie Ragland had reconstructive surgery on his knee last year and has been cleared by the doctors for limited action and he’s happy to be back doing football like drills again. “I feel really rusty. But as the days went on I started to get more comfortable and my knee got more comfortable.” Ragland said to the Bills media.

New Buffalo Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison spent three years with QB Tyrod Taylor in Baltimore and says he’s seen the growth of the veteran QB due to his starting experience in Buffalo. However, Dennison has already pointed out that Taylor must cut down on the number of sacks that Taylor has taken, 42 just last season alone. Dennison also mentioned that the QB must learn to trust his eyes more.

“He has started to,” Dennison says. “But even then, just yesterday, we ran a concept for the first time and he took too long staring the concept down. Now he sees that on tape and says, ‘All right, I’ve got to get off that and just take what the defense gives me.’ “

Parker Healthy and Expecting Big Year in Miami:
The Miami Dolphins’ Devante Parker has missed only three games in his first two seasons in the NFL. But he’s been banged up quite a bit and now fully healthy for seemingly the first time he’s pumped for a big 2017.

“I’m tired of being hurt and not healthy for a full season,” Parker said to the media on Friday.

“Expecting a big season this year.”

The Dolphins brass has been critical of Parker’s work ethic in the past but not anymore. “He is running probably better than I’ve seen him run since I’ve been here — and a hungry DeVante Parker,” offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said to the Miami Herald.

“I think he has been around a lot more than last year. He is practicing hard.”

“I really think he’ll have a great year — a gigantic year for us. That would be huge,” Christensen added.

Jets Improving Locker Room Issues That “Didn’t Exist” in 2016:  New York Jets Head Coach Todd Bowles has said that the team didn’t have locker room issues in 2016 despite the fight between Brandon Marshall and Sheldon Richardson.  But his actions speak differently.

And now running back Matt Forte has come out publicly stating that they team needs to start acting more as a group than individuals.

“There’s a difference between playing next to somebody and (playing) for them,” Forte said to ESPN’s Rich Cimini. “I always say that to guys, like last year, when we were in the middle of the season and things weren’t going well. We were at practice and I was like, ‘Guys, everybody is out here as an individual and we’re just playing next to the guy. Do you really know that guy?’ If I’m playing next to you instead of for you, I really don’t trust you.”

Whether or not he keeps the job, QB Josh McCown has been doing the job that leaders do, building a trust factor with the offensive players and that is a big change from 2016 where incumbent starting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick was unsigned during the offseason and going thru a prolonged contract battle with the front office.

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

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

New England Patriots News 5-14, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 14, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 5-14, & AFC East Notes.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the great Moms out there. We hope you all enjoy a great family day and that it is a safe and happy one.

While the weather thus far this spring hasn’t been great, the rain we’ve got so far is making things nice and green and the fruit and vegetable gardens are getting plenty of irrigation. But the grapes are still pretty sour this time of year, right Bill Polian?

Brady “I don’t believe in curses” on the Cover of Madden 18:
A lot of people will wring their hands at just about anything these days. Now the (gasp!) “Madden Curse”? Gimme a break. Tom Brady tried to allay those irrational fears by poking fun at all those superstitions and posted a pretty funny video after being selected for the cover of the new EA Sports Madden 18.

Let’s just hope they don’t dust off an old horror genre this fall with “Hollywood 19 ½ Jason Takes Foxboro”. Seriously folks? Of course, the division rivals in the AFC East, eager for any straw to grasp at, were posting silly curse-related tweets in reaction to the news. It really begs the question to how far we’ve evolved as an educated people from the “world is flat” era of curses and silly superstitions.

Michael Williams’ Release, a Numbers Game Victim:
The Patriots release of TE Michael Williams after he missed all of 2016 after tearing his ACL last spring wasn’t really a big surprise. He didn’t fit into their plans in 2017 and this will give him a chance to catch on with a new club.

Williams, 6’6, and 305 pounds, appeared in 15 games in the 2015 season with nine starts. He was competing for the third tight end spot a year ago before being injured. He is more of a blocking tight end and extra tackle than a receiving threat.

He was just a victim of the numbers game as the Patriots will enter OTAs and mini-camp with six tight ends on the roster. Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James O’Shaughnessy, Matt Lengel, Rob Housler, and Jacob Hollister.

Brandin Cooks on Pats, “A New Journey”:
In an interview with the media this week, new Patriots wide receiver Brandin Cooks showed that he’s focusing on looking forward not backward with his new team. Cooks was asked about not asking Jimmy Garoppolo for the #10, what Cooks wore in New Orleans. Cooks claimed he didn’t even ask for it.

No, I didn’t even try,” Cooks told reporters. “I didn’t even think about asking him. (It’s) a new journey, new opportunity, so I wanted something different.”

Cooks wore #7 at Oregon State and said he’s going a throwback look …kind of. “I was (No.) 7 in college,” said Cooks, “So the way that I like to think about it is double-7.”

After a couple of solid seasons with over 1100 yards receiving in New Orleans, expectations are high for the 23-year old WR. He’ll join an eclectic group of receivers including Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen, and running backs James White and Dion Lewis.

Gillette Stadium, Upgrades to the Most Technologically Advanced Field Turf:
The Patriots have upgraded the Gillette Stadium surface with the most up-to-date field turf. The synthetic turf surface upgrade has been completed and will make its debut when the New England Revolution play Real Salt Lake on May 13.

From the Patriots website:

Gillette Stadium’s new field will feature FieldTurf’s revolutionary new premium system, featuring the industry’s highest-performing monofilament fiber that makes the surface player-friendly, resilient and durable. Along with the most innovative fiber technology in the industry, this state-of-the-art turf system features FieldTurf’s proprietary heavy infill system, which is critical to performance and playability. The result is a surface that plays soft, feels real, looks great and hangs tough.

“We are excited to upgrade our game field to the latest FieldTurf technology” said Jim Nolan, Senior Vice President of Gillette Stadium. “It is our goal each year to provide the highest quality surface for the both the New England Patriots and New England Revolution, and we were eager to take advantage of FieldTurf’s latest innovations for the 2017 season.”

“Keeping in line with our commitment to ensure that the Patriots and Revolution consistently have the latest in synthetic field technology, we are pleased to have been selected once again by Gillette Stadium,” said Eric Daliere, President of Tarkett Sports. “It is an honor and a testimony to the quality of our products that such prestigious organizations continue to put their trust in our company. We look forward to continuing this longstanding relationship with the Patriots, Revolution and Gillette Stadium for many years to come.”

Now that the FieldTurf is complete, can they do something to fix the awful WiFi Connection in the stadium and Patriots’ Place?

Trying to Make Sense of the Blount Situation:
Patriots FA running back LeGarrette Blount’s free agency status took a very weird twist on Tuesday as the Patriots made the rarely used tactic of placing a tender at 110 percent of his 2016 salary ($1.1 million dollars) on him.

The timing of this bizarro twist means that the Patriots could still receive compensation in the form of a compensatory pick in the 2018 draft if Blount signs elsewhere. He’s been rumored to be in talks with both the Giants and Ravens.

The timing also means that if Blount doesn’t sign with another team by July 22, his only hope of playing this season is signing his tender with New England. In order to receive a compensatory pick, Blount would have to produce with his new team.

The tender, with a $1.1 million base salary, $110,000 signing bonus and $1 million in incentives could add up to a $2.2 million-dollar payday for Blount if he signs his tender, returns and plays well.

But with the signing of Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead this offseason, the writing was on the wall that the Patriots were moving on from Blount. That’s why Tuesday’s move was a pretty ruthless business decision by the Patriots.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Hire Brandon Beane as new GM:
The Buffalo Bills finally have a new regime in place for 2017. New GM Brandon Beane met with the media on Friday morning. He’ll join new coach Sean McDermott in an attempt to bring the Bills back to the postseason, something they haven’t done since 1999.

Both worked together in Carolina and have a built-in trust factor. They will share personnel responsibilities but Beane has the final say on the 53-man roster. Beane also stated that he is a big believer in the running game so the Bills offense will be sure to feature a lot of LeSean McCoy next season.

Miami’s Revamped Offensive Line Structure a Key to Watch for in 2017:
The Miami Dolphins made some moves in the offseason to bring more stability to their offensive line, which was a key point in their turnaround in 2016. The Dolphins running game was much improved as was their pass protection for the quarterbacks. But rather than standing pat, the Fins are making some changes to their OL in 2017.

Brandon Albert was dealt to Jacksonville for a 2018 7th round draft pick. They signed free agents Ted Larsen and Avery Young to offseason deals and then drafted Isaac Asiata in the 5th round of the NFL draft two weeks ago.

With last year’s first-round pick Laremy Tunsil moving from left guard to left tackle, there will be some growing pains associated with this unit but the coaching staff believes that they can be much better.

One area they’ll have to cut down on is penalties. That was an issue that plagued the offense as a whole all season. The Dolphins were in the middle of the pack in terms of yards rushing and passing but Miami’s offense had the least amount of snaps of any unit in the NFL in 2016 averaging just 57.6 snaps per game.

One reason? Penalties. It is an issue that they’ll have to cut down on, which is why it is curious that they brought in the solid but penalty prone Larsen in this spring. The key for the offense was third down where the Dolphins clicked at just 36.7 percent, the eighth-worst mark in the NFL last season.

Journey for Jets Adams Starts with Father’s Injury:
The New York Jets drafted the safety Jamal Adams with the 6th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and he’s one of the top safeties in his class. But a weird twist of fate may have changed his path to the NFL.

His father George was a first-round pick of the Giants back in 1986 and was thought to be the next big back in the Giants’ offense that won the Super Bowl that season. But a broken pelvis changed everything for his dad, who was never the same.

So when his son was in high school, George changed Jamal’s position to safety and everything changed for the young star. Now he’s a first-round pick.

Check out the excellent piece by ESPN’s Rich Cimini 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 myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offense:
Quarterback:

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

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


James White is among a crowded Patriots backfield this season.

Running Back:

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

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

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

Wide Receiver:

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

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

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


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

Tight End:

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

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

Tackle:

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

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

Guard:

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

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

Center:

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

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


Flowers had a strong showing in 2016.

Defense:
Defensive End:

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

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

Tackle:

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

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

Linebacker:

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

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

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


Butler’s potential return solidifies a terrific secondary.

Cornerback:

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

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

Safety:

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

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

Special Teams:

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

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

Is it time for mini-camp yet?

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 5-7, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 7, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 5-7, & AFC East Notes.

Not that it will have any effect on the Patriots LS Joe Cardona, but the military did an about face on the issue on whether to allow US military service academies to pursue a professional sports career right out of school.

The Defense Department released a memo that states: “The Military Service Academies or Senior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) programs exist to develop future officers who enhance the readiness and lethality of our military services,” the memo says.

This is the second change that the Pentagon has enacted in the past two years and now the athletes graduating cannot defer their service obligations and will have to spend a minimum of two years as a military officer before heading off to the professional athletic career. This mostly affected Air Force WR Jalen Robinette who was expected to be a mid-round draft choice last weekend. Instead, he went undrafted.

Last year Cardona and Keenan Reynolds were allowed to enter the Ready Reserve or in Cardona’s case, he was assigned to the Naval Preparatory Academy in Newport, RI. Unfortunately, in Robinette’s case, he found out just hours before the NFL Draft began that he’d no longer be eligible for the deferment.

Butler Desperate to Get Paid, Not Traded:
A lot of people took a comment by CSNNE’s Mike Giardi and ran with it, in a case of 1+1 =4. Giardi, in a report on the Malcolm Butler developments this week, stated that Butler “desperately wanted to get traded to New Orleans.”

That set off a social media storm that drew the ire of a lot of fans and some of the sites that cover the team. Pump the brakes on that one folks. Butler desperately “wants to get paid” and if that is in New Orleans, New England or Timbuktu, so be it. He feels like he’s earned it and realizes that his career is as short as one play away.

Butler did the “good soldier” routine this week, [he’s been that for his entire career] and showed up for the “voluntary” off-season workouts at Gillette. It is hard to find fault with Butler and his feelings on this. Now the question is, with a lot of cap space left, do the Patriots extend him for 3-4 years and bump his pay into the $7-8 million range? It won’t be Gilmore money but could go a long way in mending fences.

Lifting the Veil on Tom Brady’s Personal Trainer, Alex Guerrero:
Julian Edelman calls him Mr. Miyagi, Danny Amendola calls him a wizard but Alex Guerrero is Tom Brady’s personal fitness guru and as much as many in the media would love to portray him as some kind of charlatan, many professional athletes have trusted their livelihoods to Guerrero including Brady, Wes Welker, and LaDainian Tomlinson.

His methods are unconventional but since Brady tore his ACL in the 2008 season opener, he’s been sold. Guerrero got him back in game shape in record time and he’s part of the TB12 clinic in Foxboro next to Gillette Stadium.

In this piece for Men’s Journal, the author who had crushed his heel in a rock climbing fall, seeks out Guerrero for treatment. It is an intriguing behind-the-scenes look at both Guerrero and the TB12 clinic. To read the entire article from Men’s Journal, click here:

Turning Tragedy into a Positive:
In a terrible, heartbreaking accident, former Ravens’ TE Todd Heap lost his daughter when he accidentally struck and killed his daughter, who would have turned 4 last week when moving his truck in their driveway.

He started the Hugs From Holly Day and the support from around the country and the NFL began. A total of 28 of the 32 NFL teams tweeted out their support for the Heap Family in their hour of need, including many of Heap’s former teammates.

Patriots “Three Games to Glory V” Released on DVD:
The Patriots are Super Bowl champions for the fifth time and their fifth in a series of behind the scenes videos “Three Games to Glory V” is now available for immediate purchase.

From the Patriots website, “fans can purchase “3 Games to Glory V” at the Patriots ProShop at Patriot Place in Foxborough, Mass. or online here. Blu-ray discs will be sold for $49.99 while DVDs are available for $39.99. It will also be sold via digital download.”

Digital downloads straight from I-Tunes cost $12.99. And they are the must-see films for any Patriots fan. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gift idea? Free advertising from us to the Patriots…LOL. But seriously, you won’t be sorry.

Kraft Unloads on Other Owners ‘Envy and Jealously’ in Deflategate Rant:
Patriots owner Robert Kraft ire was directed at his fellow owners this week rather than Roger Goodell.  He called the Deflategate investigation and punishment “nonsense and foolishness” and vowed to never forget, calling out his fellow owners.

“Envy and jealousy are incurable diseases”, Kraft said via an interview on “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” in an interview with Andrea Kremer via USA TODAY. “I’m going into my 24th season as an owner. I’m passionate about owning a football team in my hometown.”

“If I hadn’t won, I would be so angry at our folks and thinking about what we’d have to do [to win a title]. So, our competitors, I understand how they brought pressure on the league office to be very strong and [lobbied] not to compromise on an issue that was nonsense and foolishness.”

CBS Sports, “Patriots Won Draft Before It Even Began”:
An interesting piece concerning the Patriots was written by Will Brinson this week as to their approach to the 2017 NFL Draft. Brinson thought that Bill Belichick had done a great job before the draft had even begun.

The Pats strolled into the NFL Draft late in the second day, not even making a pick until the third round. But don’t let that fool you into believing that Belichick and Co. weren’t active. They just took a different approach to “drafting” players, which might become a more common thing in a copycat league. It might be Moneyball, if indeed acquiring talented young veterans for upcoming draft choices is an inefficiency.

That contrasts sharply with the way that some media members from Boston lambasted Belichick’s approach. But that isn’t anything new there. Brinson’s entire piece can be read here:

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Decline 5th Year Option on Watkins, Interview Brown for GM:
The Buffalo Bills have declined the 5th year option on talented but oft-injured Sammy Watkins which may open the door for him to play his way right out of Buffalo.

The Bills gave up a lot to draft Watkins, but he’s battled injuries his entire career. Now they’re basically daring him to stay healthy and have the kind of monster season that was forecast for him since he entered the league. He could still conceivably return to Buffalo in 2018, but the cost will be much higher.

The Bills are also interviewing former Patriots scouting assistant Trey Brown for the vacant GM job. Brown spent four years with New England and Philly as a scout before becoming the Eagles Director of College Scouting in 2016.

Gase Believes Miami is Better Now, In the 2nd Year of his System:
The Miami Dolphins made some nice moves in the draft and during free agency but as for Adam Gase, his belief that the Dolphins are better now than a year ago stems from a different reason.

In a piece by Armando Salguero for the Miami Herald Gase spelled it out for the media.

“But I think the different feel for myself and a lot of the guys in the building — even the players — is you know our routine a little bit. And there’s a little different swagger about what our guys have right now in a positive way. There’s no indecision about what they’re supposed to do, how they’re supposed to do it, what they’re responsible for. Guys can get from Point A to Point B kind of quick. There’s no issue with gray in our building right now. Guys are wired in to what we want to do. That’s not what you want to hear, but there’s a different feel with what we’ve got going on right now, day in and day out.”

This is just the kind of small, under the radar reason why it makes you think that the Dolphins got it right this time.

ArDarius Stewart Brings “Awesomeness” to the Jets:
The New York Jets drafted the talented ArDarius Stewart from Alabama with the 82nd pick in the 3rd Round of the NFL Draft last weekend. And the rookie certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of confidence. When he conducted a conference call with the Jets media, he didn’t hold back.

“I’m bringing a load of, you know, awesomeness,” Stewart said. “That’s all I can tell you.”

Coach Todd Bowles gushed about Stewart as well. “When I went to see him work out, his route running was a lot better than it showed on film because they only did certain things,” Bowles said. “He’s tough, he brings a lot of attitude to the game and he plays it the right way. We really thought he could help us.”

The Jets will be looking for Stewart to take a big role this season. With Brandon Marshall gone and Eric Decker trying to come back from two serious injuries, the opportunities will be there for Stewart to have a big impact in 2017.

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

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

Will Any UDFA Players Make the Patriots? Hollister, Langi Good Candidates

Steve Balestrieri
May 6, 2017 at 9:06 am ET

There always seems to be at least one undrafted free agent [UDFA] that makes the Patriots 53-man roster out of training camp. Bill Belichick has never been one to care where a player was drafted only that he can play, is coachable and one that football is very important to.

This year’s undrafted rookie free agent crop has [for now], 19 names on it. While these players are yet to take the field with the veterans in any kind of workout yet, there are a few names that jump off the page. Among them are tight end Jacob Hollister and LB Harvey Langi.

Hollister is a tight end but at 6’4, 239-pounds he’s more of a “move” or a “U” type tight end than the inline or “Y” tight end like Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen. While a willing blocker in the run game, he doesn’t have the strength or the punch to drive defensive linemen back. He won’t line up inline much in short yardage.

Hollister, as one would expect of move tight end has good speed and athleticism. He logged a 4.64-second time in the 40-yard dash with a 36 1/2-inch vertical leap, a 10-foot, 1-inch broad jump, a 4.34-second short shuttle and a 7.12-second time in the all-important 3-cone drill that the Patriots really like to evaluate their receivers.

Hollister caught 32 passes for Wyoming in his senior season, good for 515 yards and seven touchdowns. He showed an ability to stretch the seams of the defense. Hollister was targeted 11 times in 2016 where the ball was 20 yards or more in the air. He caught seven of those for 189 yards and three touchdowns.

He runs nice fluid routes, can move around the formation to create mismatches against linebackers and is a threat to stretch the field attacking the seams. He can create some separation and has good ball skills. Wyoming at times lined him up in the backfield as an H-Back. His value will lie in that the Patriots when they go with a two-tight end set with him and Gronkowski, is that they’ll be dictating to the defense. If they play a base look, he’d be isolated on a linebacker. In a sub-package look, Hollister would have single coverage on a safety.

With some work on his run blocking and gaining the trust of Tom Brady in the passing game, Hollister could be a steal. The Patriots gave him $90,000 in guaranteed money. Which is high for an UDFA.

His highlight film can be seen here:

Langi was a Swiss Army knife for BYU where he transferred from Utah after taking two years off to complete his two-year mission to fulfill his Mormon LDS obligation. So he’s an older [25] prospect. Part of his versatility was possibly the reason that he fell in the draft right out of the seven rounds.

He was effective at inside linebacker but the team switched their defense up and tried him as a 4-3 edge rusher, something he wasn’t particularly suited for. He is listed at 6’2, 251 pounds but he’ll probably ditch 5-10 pounds and lineup full-time as a linebacker in the Patriots scheme which should help his mobility.

He’s at his best when he’s playing a downhill, physical style of football and plays the run extremely well. The Patriots will probably play him inside or on the strong side. While not great in coverage, he shows good depth in his drops. He can easily play in the short-to-intermediate parts of the field.

Langi moves well and has good athleticism running a 7:00 in the 3-cone drill. He’s a guy that can back up Hightower at the Mike or line up at the SAM. He’s a good blitzer up the A-gaps and that is a better look for him than on the edge.

The Patriots gave him the most guaranteed money of their UDFAs with $115,000 fully insured so they obviously think he can contribute this season. He’ll be an immediate contributor on Special Teams and become part of the rotation at linebacker.

His highlight film can be seen here:

Hollister and Langi aren’t the only two who could land on the roster this season. One never knows how things play out and how many injuries occur in minicamp and training camp. But in looking for a couple of guys who can crack the 53-man roster in early May? These two should be at the head of the list.

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’ Defense on the Edge Will Have a Different Look in 2017

Steve Balestrieri
May 3, 2017 at 10:50 am ET

 The Patriots didn’t have to make too many changes for a roster that had just won Super Bowl LI but one of the areas that underwent pretty dramatic change was at defensive end on the edge. With Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long leaving via free agency, it was considered the Patriots biggest area of need.

And the Patriots have addressed it, bringing in Kony Ealy in a trade with the Carolina Panthers and then drafting a pair of edge players Derek Rivers from Youngstown State and Deatrich Wise from Arkansas. Those three players will join Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich for the Patriots this season. The team signed UDFA linebacker Harvey Langi as well and he played the edge for BYU somewhat last year, but his best fit is at outside linebacker.

Flowers was arguably the best Patriots defensive lineman down the stretch last season. He’s guaranteed to be starting at RDE when the season starts. Ninkovich and Ealy will compete for the LDE spot. With Rivers and Wise providing rotational depth.

But this year’s unit has a much different feel to it because they have more versatility. Ealy is a bigger guy at 6’4, 275 pounds. He can set the edge in the running game, has the athleticism to get after the passer and is big and physical enough to kick inside as an interior pass rusher on third down. Flowers already does that frequently.

The Patriots brought in another free agent, Lawrence Guy who can be a sub-package interior pass rusher. That’s what they’ll get in Wise as well. He’s a big kid, at 6’5, 275 pounds with insanely long arms that he needs to learn to use better. When he extends his arms, with his upper body strength, he can push through tackles and get to the quarterback. He’s frequently been compared to Chandler Jones but isn’t nearly as athletic. He’s more of a big edge setter. But Wise can also kick inside and provide interior pass rush…Seeing a trend here?

Which brings us to the team’s first draft pick Derek Rivers. If there was one element the Patriots front seven lacked on the edge last season was speed. Rivers will bring that speed to the pass rush with an athleticism that should serve the team very well.

Rivers isn’t as big at 6’4, 250 pounds at the defensive end position but ran a 4:61 in the 40-Yard Dash, with a 1:61 10-Yard Split. His time in the 3-Cone Drill was third best at the position with 6:94. That shows he has the quick twitch athleticism, loose hips and the ability to change direction as well as bend off the edge to get to the QB. He showed his strength with 30 reps at the Bench Press.

He may need some time to find his feet in the NFL, similar to how Flowers progressed in his first campaign, but he has the potential to be a very good player in the league. The good part is, with the depth of the team, he won’t be pushed too hard too soon. They can let him develop and learn the nuances of the position at the NFL level.

With the added depth, the Patriots can move Ninkovich around and possibly let him take some snaps at OLB with Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy, and Langhi.

However, the edge will look quite different in 2017. How effective will it be? No one knows right now but I’d bet on Belichick having it figured out as the season winds along.

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

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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.

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