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New England Patriots Possible Target in the 2015 NFL Draft – Devin Funchess, WR Michigan

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devin funchess
Devin Funchess from Michigan is a big target WR that could be an intriguing option for the Patriots in the 2015 NFL Draft. (USA TODAY Images)

As the 2015 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profilNew England Patriots Possible Target in the 2015 NFL Draft – Devin Funchess, WR Michigae some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar. Some of these players have already been linked to New England as possible targets others, we feel would be a great fit.

Check out our earlier 2015 NFL Draft profiles on PatsFans.com:

DE/OLB Nate Orchard from Utah
WR Tyrell Williams from Western Oregon
DT Jordan Phillips from Oklahoma
DT Carl Davis from Iowa
RB David Johnson from Northern Iowa
CB Steven Nelson from Oregon State
OLB Zack Hodges from Harvard
CB Ronald Darby from FSU

The Patriots return all three starting wide receivers from 2014 and they were productive. Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola were all solid in the Patriots Super Bowl run. Depth behind them was an issue as Aaron Dobson suffered with a  foot ailment all season before ending up on IR and 2nd yr WR Josh Boyce ended up on the practice squad. Brian Tyms played sparingly.

The team is hoping that Dobson’s healthy return will give them another reliable option outside the numbers with a big receiver that can go up and grab contested balls in space and stretch the field both vertically and horizontally. They may look to add to their depth by adding another wide receiver in the 2015 NFL Draft; several interesting prospects will be available.

Devin Funchess from Michigan is an intriguing prospect. A converted All-American tight end, Funchess moved to wide receiver as a junior, leading the Wolverines in catches and had a reception in his last 25 games.

Funchess is a big target at 6’5, 230 who excelled in using his size to box out defenders, makes the catch in tight spaces and providing nice yards after the catch. He can stretch the seams of the defense without using breakaway speed as his 4.70 time in the 40 is hardly eye-dropping, but by using height, leaping ability and physicality.

Has a big catch radius and uses his long arms to snag the ball out of the air well away from his body. Has very long arms and big hands.

He runs nice routes but can be inconsistent there at times. He is able to find soft spots in the defense and is a matchup nightmare for smaller cornerbacks and linebackers because of his size. Has an issue with concentration drops as a result from trying to transition into a runner too soon. His production suffered from being the only threat on a very inconsistent Michigan offense in 2014. Poor quarterback play didn’t help his numbers either.

Could use some extra muscle on his large frame and could easily add some beef there in the strength and conditioning program at the next level.

Pros:

– Huge target at 6’5, will be a red-zone matchup nightmare

– Versatile, can line up inside, outside or as an in-line tight end

– Can make catches in tightly contested spaces and by boxing out defenders

Cons

– Won’t beat anyone with speed, has to rely on using his height and size

– Inconsistent hands, too many concentration drops

– Needs to add some muscle on his big frame

Where Can the Patriots get him:
With so many productive wide receivers available in the draft, Funchess should be available in Round 2. Questions to his speed and strength to break the jam on the edge have some scouts questioning his ability to be a productive wide receiver at the next level.

So how would he fit in the Patriots offense? That’s the intriguing part…many compare Funchess to the Panthers Kelvin Benjamin, but Benjamin is much more of a vertical threat than Funchess is. He’s more of a Alshon Jeffrey type, a big WR who can use his size to catch the ball in tight spaces and use the short-to-intermediate part of the field to keep the chains moving.

Lined up outside, Funchess isn’t a deep threat, and the Patriots, for all the lamenting that fans do about needing one, aren’t a deep passing team. But what he can do is use the short to medium parts of the field, both outside the numbers and inside and provide matchup nightmares for opposing defenses.

A red-zone offense featuring LaFell, Funchess, Edelman, with tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler gives both offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and QB Tom Brady with a plethora of big bodied targets that they’ve never had here.

It becomes a pick your poison type of dilemma for opposing defenses as no matter who they cover, there will be a mismatch somewhere else on the field for Brady to utilize. The Patriots like to use the short to medium passing game to move the ball down the field in small chunks, wearing down opponents.

Adding a wide receiver like Funchess to the mix would give them another big-bodied option to do just that. With a player as he is, there is an element of risk-reward but they have the pieces in place to be just fine as they now stand. This would give Funchess time to develop a role for himself and more importantly allow the coaches to find a niche for him.

He’s versatile enough to provide depth in a variety of roles for the Patriots and no one is better than Bill Belichick to playing to a player’s strengths and finding a role for him in the system. That could be at wide receiver or as a move tight end…stay tuned.

Here is a highlight video of Funchess at Michigan:

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

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NCAA Football: Florida State vs Oklahoma State
Ronald Darby will be a player to watch in the 2015 NFL Draft as one of the cornerbacks who could go much earlier than expected. (USA TODAY Images)

As the 2015 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar. Some of these players have already been linked to New England as possible targets others, we feel would be a great fit.

Check out our earlier 2015 NFL Draft profiles on PatsFans.com:

DE/OLB Nate Orchard from Utah
WR Tyrell Williams from Western Oregon
DT Jordan Phillips from Oklahoma
DT Carl Davis from Iowa
RB David Johnson from Northern Iowa
CB Steven Nelson from Oregon State
OLB Zack Hodges from Harvard

In looking to replace their starting cornerbacks from 2014, the Patriots have looked to free agency; will address this in the 2015 NFL Draft and beef up the front seven and pass rush. There is no easy replacement available for Darrelle Revis nor Brandon Browner. So the defense and the secondary coverages will probably change to a degree…but we are still in March….so there remains plenty of time for Bill Belichick to build this team, specifically the secondary before Week 1 of the 2015 season begins.

Right now the current roster consists of Malcolm Butler, Bradley Fletcher, Kyle Arrington, Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan, Robert McClain, and Justin Green.

Ronald Darby from FSU is an interesting prospect at corner who may be just scratching the surface of his potential. Playing for the Seminoles, Darby was considered the #2 corner behind P.J. Williams. Being a tad shorter than ideal at 5’10 and a half but solidly built at 193, Darby has the chiseled look of a sprinter which is what he is.

A former member of the 2011 USA World Youth Relay team that won Gold in France, Darby won both the 100 and 200 yard dashes. He possesses outstanding straight line speed and blistered to a 4.38 time in the 40 at the NFL Combine.

He has a quick, low and backpedal and can turn and run with any wide receiver with ease. He has that extra gear and then some so that he can recover and catch the most explosive wide outs that get by him.

Was not regarded as a great press man coverage corner but in games I watched, he seemed to do it quite well. Darby can play press man, off-man coverage as well and shows good patience and play recognition.

The knock on him prior to last season was that he wasn’t physical enough, and that still shows itself from time to time. But it was also an area that he improved upon a lot in 2014. He is decent but not great in run support, something that he’ll no doubt be expected to improve on at the next level.

His technique at times is sloppy, more relying on his speed to recover than he should and will guess wrong from time to time (see Miami tape), but his upside is very tantalizing for teams looking for a Day 2 corner.

Pros:

– Blistering World Class speed, 4.38 in the 40, excellent closing speed with extra gear

– Good press man and off-man coverage skills

– Hasn’t reached his full potential, only 21 years old

Cons

– Lacks ideal height for the position, physicality needs to improve

– Technique can be sloppy at times, relying too much on speed

– Some off field red flags need investigating

Where Can the Patriots get him: Darby will be a guy to watch on Day 2 of the 2015 NFL Draft. He was originally slotted to go somewhere in Rounds 3-4 but after a performance in the NFL Combine with his speed, don’t be surprised if he goes higher.

With the Patriots seemingly set to address the big men in the middle at both the DL and OL early in the draft, a lot will depend on how the board plays out in front of them. Don’t be shocked if they go against the grain, (like every season) and reach for a corner early in this season’s draft.

The first thing that jumps off the page about Darby is the sheer athleticism, the 4.38 speed, the 41.5 inch vertical leap and the 10’9 broad jump all point to outstanding explosiveness. But he isn’t just a track star, he’s an accomplished corner.

One knock on Darby was the fact that he had only two interceptions for the Seminoles…but watch the tape, he was very rarely targeted in the passing game. He has some very good coverage skills that will only get better with time and coaching.

While it is true his height isn’t the ideal for what NFL teams want from their corners, his closing speed and leaping ability should more than compensate for that. Paired with Belichick, Darby could be a very nice addition to the Patriots secondary.

One thing that will need to be investigated further however was the off-field red flag that Darby has, having been involved somehow with the Jameis Winston incident.

Here are some of Darby’s highlights from the Football Man175’s page on YouTube:

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

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.

New England Patriots News 3-29 and Notes Around the AFC East


Tom Brady must have raised a few eyebrows and pulses in Foxboro with his cliff diving stunt this week while on vacation with his family. (USA TODAY Images)

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news notes and what’s happening around the division:

Brady’s Daredevil Stunt: On a slow news day for Saturday, Tom Brady stole the show somewhat. The QB has been emerging from his social media shell all season with some of the funnier posts with his Facebook account.

I can’t imagine there were too many smiles in Foxboro when they saw the 3-Time Super Bowl MVP Cliff diving into a deep pool of water somewhere in Costa Rica where Brady has been vacationing with his family.

Brady posted pictures this week of his kids burying him in the sand on the beach, but this one was just a tad different. Brady seemed a bit apprehensive but leapt off of what seemed like about a 75-80 foot cliff into the water below a waterfall.

New England Patriots News 3-29 and Notes Around the AFC East
Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news notes and what’s happening around the division:
Brady’s Daredevil Stunt: On a slow news day for Saturday, Tom Brady stole the show somewhat. The QB has been emerging from his social media shell all season with some of the funnier posts with his Facebook account.

Luckily Brady emerged unscathed and put on his Facebook page, “Never Doing That Again”….I’m sure Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft were uttering the same phrases as well on Saturday.

Local Harvard Prospect Hodges, a Great Story: On Saturday we ran a draft profile on Harvard DE/OLB Zack Hodges who could be a nice addition to the Patriots. It is rare to see Ivy Leaguers getting a lot of looks as a productive edge rusher, but Hodges has the tools to make a name for himself in the NFL.

But his story is a compelling one. Martin Kessler wrote a fantastic piece for WBUR back in 2013 that tells a great story on who Zack Hodges is and what kind of young man someone will have the fortune of drafting.

After losing his father at age six, his mother worked three jobs to support them. He didn’t start playing football until age ten, got recruited to Harvard but she never got to see him there, passing away herself when Hodges was 16. He had to put in a year at Exeter Academy to get his grades up.

While in a class on existentialism, his teacher learned he was an athlete recruited to Harvard (a sore spot) and ripped the young man. His advisors quickly pulled him from the class but Hodges went back and after sitting down with the teacher, ended up meeting with the teacher up to three times a week for up to 90 minutes at a time, talking about everything from government to religion. Hodges eventually took three classes from this teacher.

He’s a double major in government and philosophy so learning the Patriots defense shouldn’t be a big stretch for the young man. But he has just the kind of story that the team always likes and he has the maturity and the work ethic that Bill Belichick just loves. Hopefully we’ll see his name called to New England early in May.

Prosecution Calls Hernandez’s fiancé Jenkins to testify: The murder trial of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez took a dramatic turn last week with the calling of Hernandez’s fiancé Shayanna Jenkins to testify against him. Jenkins, also the mother of Hernandez’s daughter was granted immunity in the state’s case. Hernandez is accused of murdering Odin Lloyd.

Jenkins’ was asked about removing a garbage bag from their shared home with what appeared to be a box inside. Prosecutors said before the trial that they believe the box contained the alleged murder weapon.

Jenkins stated that Hernandez told her that he was innocent. The trial and Jenkins testimony resumes on Monday.

Hightower’s Injury Expected to Sideline Him for 6 Months: Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower had labrum surgery after the season which is expected to hold him out for 6-7 months.  This was widely reported the day after the Super Bowl but the story has resurfaced again and bears mentioning.

Hightower suffered a torn labrum and played thru pain down the stretch and into the playoffs. Now he’ll miss at least all of the OTAs, mini-camps and much if not all of training camp. So it seems a trip to the PUP will be in line for the Patriots linebacker.

Hightower was outstanding in 2014, with a rating of #2 among ILBs according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he also was tied for second on the team with six sacks. He made a game-saving tackle of Marshawn Lynch in the Super Bowl on the play before the Malcolm Butler interception that sealed the Patriots come-from-behind win.

His absence will test the depth of the Patriots linebacker core.

Eastbound and Down…..News from around the AFC East

The Jets Send Six Key Members To Scout Mariota: The Jets scheduled a private workout with Oregon QB Marcus Mariota on Saturday to do an evaluation prior to the NFL Draft on April 30.

General Manager Mike Maccagnan, head coach Todd Bowles, offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, quarterbacks coach Kevin Patullo, director of college scouting Rex Hogan and director of player personnel Brian Heimerdinger were slated to run Mariota through an assessment that will include on-field drills and classroom work designed to test his football IQ.

We’ll see how this plays out on April 30…. If the Duck’s QB is still on the board at #6, then we’ll truly see what the Jets think of him. For now, the brass is stating that Geno Smith is the reigning incumbent as the starting QB. But they aren’t sending the entire brain trust to see Mariota if they truly believe that. Time will tell…

Rodney Harrison Blasts Jets…Smith: Former Chargers and Patriots safety Harrison who now works for NBC was on the station’s “Under Center” show and slammed the Jets’ off-season thus far.

“You can say whatever you want about Darrelle Revis – and I do believe he’s the best cornerback in the league – but Darrelle Revis has not thrown a touchdown pass,” Harrison said.

“He’s not your quarterback. Yes, he can shut down a No. 1 receiver, but they need a quarterback. The Jets are, all of a sudden, on a high, thinking they’re going to win a championship. You’re not going to win a championship. You’re not even going to make the playoffs… because you don’t have a quarterback.”

“If you go into the season and you’re expecting Geno Smith to improve, it’s not going to happen,” he added. “He might get a little better, but when times get tough, when adversity hits, guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to fold just like the last couple years.”

“I don’t believe in Geno Smith. I think this is a huge mistake. Hopefully in this draft, they try to address this quarterback situation, because if they go into the season with Geno Smith, they might win five or six games.”

Bills to erect a statue for Ralph C. Wilson: On the one year anniversary of his passing, the Bills new owners, Kim and Terry Pegula have announced that the team will build a statue honoring former owner Ralph C. Wilson.

The bronze statue will be placed in the northwest corner of Ralph Wilson stadium just behind the team’s Pro Shop.

“Mr. Wilson was an icon in both the professional football world and the Western New York community,” Kim Pegula said. “This is our opportunity to honor his legacy and to allow our fans to share their gameday experience with the man who brought professional football to Buffalo.”

Well done Bills…and well deserved for one of the icons of the National Football League.

Dolphins Targeting Eagles Boykin?: Rumors were swirling during the NFL’s Annual Meeting that the Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles were discussing a trade. And that the Dolphins were asking about a certain player.

That player is probably slot corner Brandon Boykin. Although Chip Kelly’s crew is short depth wise in the secondary, Boykin is in the final year of his contract and will probably bolt at the end of 2015 in an attempt to find a starting job.

The 5’10 corner has been unable to crack Philly’s starting lineup and may be deemed expendable. Miami may try to swing a late deal for him prior to the draft.

Who Will the Dolphins Target in the 1st Round?: As with all 32 teams, rumors are swirling over who Miami will target with their first pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Mel Kiper, ESPN Draft Analyst believes Miami will target one of the speedy wide receivers in the draft, specifically, DeVante Parker from Louisville. They are also supposedly looking at Phillip Dorsett from the University of Miami and Breshad Perriman from the University of Central Florida.

Other mock analysts have Miami taking Georgia’s RB Todd Gurley with their top pick. Kiper believes it would be a mistake, even before Gurley tore his ACL last season. Miami only owns two picks in the first 113, so they’ll have to choose wisely or trade back for more picks in the middle rounds.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

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.

New England Patriots Possible Target in the 2015 NFL Draft – Zack Hodges, OLB Harvard

OLB-Zack-Hodges
Zack Hodges, here at the Senior Bowl could be an intriguing option as an edge rusher in the mid-to-later rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft. (USA TODAY Images)

As the 2015 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar. Some of these players have already been linked to New England as possible targets others, we feel would be a great fit.

Check out our earlier 2015 NFL Draft profiles on PatsFans.com:

DE/OLB Nate Orchard from Utah
WR Tyrell Williams from Western Oregon
DT Jordan Phillips from Oklahoma
DT Carl Davis from Iowa
RB David Johnson from Northern Iowa
CB Steven Nelson from Oregon State

The Patriots are trying to deal with losing their starting corners in free agency. The biggest problem is, there is no way to replace a Darrelle Revis. So, they’ll search for the best pieces available to the secondary and more importantly in 2015; beef up the front seven to improve their pass rush.

The Patriots pass rush was inconsistent in 2014; they frequently registered sacks because of the blanket coverage as much as the QB pressure. They’ll like to get some pressure from the interior DL to help out the edge rushers. Dominique Easley, the teams’ top draft choice from 2014 should be healthier this season from the knee woes that limited him in his rookie campaign. The Pats will look to add another piece thru the draft to go with Easley and Chris Jones to bring pressure inside.

Outside the team has a good pair of bookend defensive ends in Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. They’ve played too many snaps and have worn down. In free agency the team brought in the talented Jabaal Sheard from Cleveland. They’re also hoping to see more from third year DE Michael Buchanan and Zach Moore.  Adding some more versatile pieces to the pass rush remains a priority.

Zack Hodges from Harvard is a small school stud who could be a sleeper in the draft this season and be a guy who can make an impact. When one considers Harvard and the Ivy League, the vision of churning out doctors and lawyers comes to mind rather than NFL edge rushers. But this young man may be the exception.

Trying to judge an edge rusher from the college ranks and predicting how he’ll make the jump to the pros is never an easy one. It gets harder when the player plays in a small school conference.

In Hodges case, you have to look for a mix of tape and measurables.  The tape shows that while playing against lesser competition in the Ivy League, Hodges dominated the opposition. That is what the tape shows and what you’d expect. The Crimson moved him all over the formation as an OLB, ILB, DE and even into the interior of the line in a type of NASCAR package to disrupt the flow of the opposing offenses and bring pressure on the QB.

But the interesting thing about him was the fact that he didn’t rely on his superior speed and athleticism to win one-on-one battles but a variety of different pass rush moves including a nice spin move to the inside.

Hodges lacks the ideal length for a 4-3 DE at 6’2 but does have long arms which helped his swim move. He played for the Crimson at around 235 which at the next level would limit him to being a 4-3 OLB. But he beefed up for the NFL Combine and weighed in at 250 pounds. He ran a 4.68 in the 40 at the combine which was eighth among the edge rushers, while getting a nice 33.5 vertical.

He has a nice burst with quick acceleration off the line, not elite level speed but fast enough if he refines his technique at the next level. Has good knee bend and hip flexibility that is required to turn the edge. Plays with a non-stop motor and is relentless when getting after the quarterback. His hand use needs coaching up but his vision on the field is very good. And he keeps his pad level low. Admittedly said he needs to work on double-teams and chips.

He is a good but not a great run defender, sets the edge well and shows excellent tackling technique, wrapping up the ball carrier. When operating in space as a linebacker, he’s clearly a work in progress and is still a tad stiff in coverage.

In 2014 for Harvard, Hodges played in all 10 games and logged in 8.5 sacks, with 10 tackles for loss. In 2013 he was the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year.

Pros:

– Versatile, can line up anywhere, DE, OLB or ILB

– Nice burst at the snap, one step to instant top speed

– Relentless motor, never stops

Cons

– Lacks ideal length and bulk for the NFL, needs to spend some time in the weight room

– Can be over-aggressive at times and wear himself down

– Still a developmental guy may need a year or two before hitting his ceiling

Where Can the Patriots get him: Hodges will probably still be in the board in the 4th round of the draft and if the Patriots are interested he’d be an interesting selection.

The question would be where Hodges would fit in the Patriots defense. As we’ve frequently stated, Bill Belichick loves players who are versatile and can do different things. In the Patriots sub-packages he could be an extra DE with his hand down or line up as an OLB and bring pressure off the edge.

He’ll need to work on his coverage skills, but he’s certainly athletic enough to be able to handle it when called upon. In the Patriots 4-2-5 looks he could be an interesting option to bring the A-gap blitz with his burst and acceleration.

Here’s a look at some of Hodge’s highlight films:


Interesting fact: A double major at Harvard taking Government and Philosophy, not many sack masters in the NFL were philosophers as well…perhaps it is time.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

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.

Steven Nelson
CB Steven Nelson could be a Patriots target in the middle rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft. (USA TODAY Images)

As the 2015 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar. Some of these players have already been linked to New England as possible targets others, we feel would be a great fit.

Check out our earlier 2015 NFL Draft profiles on PatsFans.com:

DE/OLB Nate Orchard from Utah
WR Tyrell Williams from Western Oregon
DT Jordan Phillips from Oklahoma
DT Carl Davis from Iowa
RB David Johnson from Northern Iowa

The Patriots are dealing with the loss of their two starting corners Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner who spearheaded the defense to a Super Bowl victory and then both left via free agency. Both brought a different element to the team and were very effective in 2014.

There is no replacing Revis, who still ranks as one of if not the top cornerback in the league. The plan will be to beef up the front seven, improve the team’s pass rush and find some younger talent to take their place.

The Patriots have Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Kyle Arrington, Alfonzo Dennard and Justin Green on the roster at cornerback. During free agency, the team signed former Eagle Bradley Fletcher and former Falcon Robert McClain during free agency. So they will probably still address this position in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Steven Nelson from Oregon State will be an attractive target for the Patriots in the mid rounds (3-4) that could boost the depth of the unit and enter in the competition to start for the Patriots in 2015. He recently ran a 4.49 at Oregon State’s Pro Day.

Nelson’s stock rose with an impressive Senior Bowl performance. Not ideal height but solidly built for a corner at 5’10, 200, Nelson is an aggressive, physical corner who is very good in run support and has that extra gear when the ball is in the air to close and swat it away. A two-year starter, he registered 14 passes defensed as a junior. He was credited with eight more as a senior as teams stayed away from him more.

Very confident, with a more than a bit of swagger, will undercut routes to either breakup or intercept passes underneath. In one Senior Bowl practice he broke up four passes alone. He will have to refine his technique at the pro level however, as he tends to grab receivers a lot in man coverage.

Pros:

– Aggressive, physical corner who can jam receivers at the line

– Very good ball awareness, and hand-eye coordination to knock passes away

–  Willing and able in run support, not shy about making tackles of bigger backs

Cons

– Lacks ideal height, straight line speed

–  Can be too grabby with his hands which could land him into penalty trouble

Where Can the Patriots get him:

Nelson should be around during Rounds 3 or 4 depending upon how the board plays out. In our Mock Draft 2.0 we had the Patriots selecting both Nelson in Round 4 but P.J. Williams in Round 1.

With the Patriots looking for answers for their defense, they will look to the draft, and may dip twice into the cornerback pool to try to find the right mix of size, aggressiveness and ability to beef up the position.

In the middle rounds Nelson, who also sports the same name as a Patriots team HOFer LB, would be a nice choice. He has the ability to jam receivers at the line and play man coverage or play off-coverage. When he keeps the play in front of him, he’s very effective at limiting yards after catch.  With the Patriots probably playing more zone this season, he may be an inviting target.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

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.

Possible Patriot Target in the 2015 NFL Draft – David Johnson, RB Northern Iowa

david-johnson
David Johnson is a three-down RB and could be a nice addition to the Patriots offense via the 2015 NFL Draft. (USA TODAY Images)

As the 2015 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar. Some of these players have already been linked to New England as possible targets others, we feel would be a great fit.

Check out our earlier 2015 NFL Draft profiles on PatsFans.com:

DE/OLB Nate Orchard from Utah
WR Tyrell Williams from Western Oregon
DT Jordan Phillips from Oklahoma
DT Carl Davis from Iowa

The Patriots may still target a running back in the 2015 NFL Draft, although they have LaGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden, James White, Tyler Gaffney and Dion Lewis on the roster.  A big loss was the signing of Shane Vereen by the New York Giants. Vereen was the team’s pass catching third down option and will be missed.The team recently brought in pass catching Travaris Cadet from the New Orleans Saints. Stevan Ridley is a free agent and may not return as well.

But in the middle rounds of the draft, they could still add a quality running back and not only help ease the loss of Vereen on passing downs but add some good production with carrying the ball as well.

David Johnson from Northern Iowa would be a perfect fit for the Patriots offense. Johnson, bigger than most pass catching running backs at 6’1, 224, turned in a very nice performance at the Senior Bowl and followed it up with a solid showing at the NFL Combine, logging in a 4.50 time in the 40, a 41.5 leap in the vertical as well as a 6.82 time in the three-cone drill.

Johnson has the build of a linebacker and can run with power as well as catch the ball out of the backfield. He ran for a school record three straight 1000 yard seasons as well as catching 141 passes.

With his pass catching ability and size, he has the versatility to line up as an H-back as well at the next level. As we all know, Bill Belichick loves versatile players. In fact Johnson embraced the concept of playing there. When interviewed by NFLDraftScout.com he said, “I would be open to anything to get me on the field,” he said.

“If they want me to play a different position, I’d be more than happy. I just want to get on the field and help the offense to be efficient. I do want to play running back, but if the coach wants me in the slot or at H-back, I’ll do it.”

Johnson is a tough runner to bring down with his powerful stride and hits the line with decisiveness. But his best ability is catching the ball out of the backfield. He has great, soft hands, vision and a smooth transition into a runner after the catch.

Pros:

– Perfect size and build for running between the tackles, stout, tough to bring down

– Great hands and vision for catching the ball out of the backfield

–  Versatile, can be a three-down back or slide over to H-back

Cons

– Has good but not breakaway speed, isn’t very elusive

– Runs upright at times, a common trait among taller backs.

Where Can the Patriots get him: Johnson made a big splash at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine but in a deep class of running backs, he should still be available for the Patriots in the 3rd round of the draft.

Johnson would be a nice addition to the Patriots offense, he’s stout enough to carry the ball inside or outside, has nice hands and ability to be a mismatch in the passing game out of the backfield and is big enough to handle pass blocking duties.

With the Patriots running back by committee approach, Johnson would fit right in. Blount, Gray, Bolden, Gaffney and he all offer a plethora of backs with size that can run with power. He along with Cadet, Gaffney, James White and Lewis can also catch the ball out of the backfield.

The competition should be fierce for reps with this group once the spring workouts start. By training camp things should be still up in the air, but the Patriots will have plenty of options this season.

If they choose Johnson in the draft, he’ll add to the mix and his versatility will be a nice addition to the team…especially on third down.

Johnson’s highlight film can be found here:

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New England Patriots Mock Draft 2.0 – Pats Address Needs Add Depth

PJ Williams
PJ Williams would be a huge upgrade for the Patriots secondary if he’s still available in the first round. (USA TODAY Images)

Will the Patriots reverse their curse with Cornerbacks?

Now that the Annual League Meeting is in full swing, the Patriots were awarded two compensatory picks in the 2015 NFL Draft. They get the # 97 pick at the end of the third round and # 253 in the seventh. They’ll make good use of both in this mock draft.

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 2015.
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.

All of the big boards 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 opening mock draft, I used the big board of Optimum Scouting

Here is our Patriots Mock Draft 2.0:

Round 1, Pick #32 – P.J Williams, CB Florida State:
Williams has an impressive combination of size (6’0,190), speed and physicality that makes him an ideal outside corner prospect. Very aggressive in coverage and will jump routes to make plays. He’s also very good in run support with 74 tackles including 6.5 for a loss in 2014.

Williams is very smooth in his backpedal and is versatile enough to play man coverage or zone. His technique can use some polishing and at times his aggressive nature can get the better of him. Watching tape of him, one is reminded of Jason McCourty a bit, he’s a nice pickup for the defense and is one of the most NFL ready corners in the draft.

Round 2, Pick #64 – A.J. Cann, OG South Carolina:
The Patriots need an upgrade in the interior offensive line, Dan Connolly is a free agent and will be 33 in September. Ryan Wendell played well after moving over from center but the Patriots can use an upgrade in both youth and physicality inside.

Cann has good size (6’4, 311) for the position, is reliable, coachable and was a team captain while being a four-year starter for the Gamecocks. Cann is a mauler, an absolute road grader in the run game and consistently drives opponents backwards in the running game.

Cann isn’t perfect in pass protection and his hand placement needs work. He tends to be slow off the snap in the passing game. But these are issues that are easily corrected with good coaching and he’ll flourish here under the tutelage of Dave De Guglielmo.

Round 3, Pick #96 – David Johnson, RB Northern Iowa:
With the loss of Shane Vereen in free agency to the Giants and Stevan Ridley a free agent, the Patriots could use another running back and specifically one who can catch the ball out of the backfield.

Johnson is a big back at 6’0, 225 who can be a three-down player with good production in the running game but especially in the passing game. A soft-handed receiver, he caught 141 passes in college and has good body control and vision. He’ll find space to create plays.

Johnson doesn’t have great speed and won’t make people miss but can run the ball between the tackles and be effective in the passing game. Good size to be solid in pass protection. He’s a perfect running back by committee member.

*Round 3, Pick #97 – Gabe Wright, DT Auburn: **Compensatory Pick
Wright isn’t a big bodied run stuffer in the Wilfork/Siliga/Branch mold but rather a slightly undersized (6’3,300) penetrator. Wright plays the three-technique and could be a nice addition to the sub-packages as a pass rusher.

Wright has excellent initial step and can shoot gaps and disrupt things quickly. Is agile and moves well for a big man. His motor against the run could use a jumpstart as he’s a tad more inconsistent there.

He and Dominique Easley inside on passing downs would give the Patriots a nice upgrade to the interior pass rush. With Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard outside, the Patriots now have multiple guys who can get after the passer.

Round 4, Pick #101 – Jermiah Poutasi, OT Utah
Poutasi has the size (6’6, 322), to be a tackle but has been used as a guard in Utah so he can line up anywhere. He is excellent in the running game, another big bodied mauler who moves well for a big man.

He started at left tackle but struggles against speed rushers and was moved to the right side as well as at guard. With Sebastian Vollmer having another off-season surgery, the Patriots may try both Poutasi and Cameron Fleming out there or as a swing tackle. But if they decide to slide him in to right guard would be a great addition to the running game.

Round 4, Pick #131 – Steven Nelson, CB Oregon State:
A little bit of a steal for Nelson to still be on the board at this point, he was too tough to pass up. Nelson is another aggressive corner who has a broad build (5’10,200), and uses his aggression and physicality to jam receivers at the point of attack. Has the extra gear to close when the ball is in the air.

Nelson lacks the size most NFL teams are looking for and like many aggressive corners can tend to be grabby. He’ll need to work on his technique at the next level.

Let the competition begin…Nelson has great confidence and won’t back down from anyone. This tenacity will get him so quick looks in training camp as the Patriots look to find their two corners in 2015.

Round 6, Pick #177– Ben Heeny, ILB Kansas:
Heeny doesn’t have the great size the Patriots like with their linebackers at 6’1, 226, but has outstanding instincts and goes all out, playing much bigger than his size. He’s smart, rarely makes mistakes and has an endless motor. Good in man coverage and is a good blitzer up the A-gap.

With a maxed out build, he won’t be able to pack on much more weight. And at the next level, given his violent nature will his body be able to hold up? Heeny may be a consideration for the Patriots as a sub-package coverage LB and blitzer.

Round 7, Pick #219 – Norkeithus Otis, OLB UNC:
Otis is a bit of a tweener and is undersized in what the Patriots like in OLBs at 6’1 but has long arms, which allows him to appear bigger on the field and is a nice blitzer off the edge. Played in 30 games for the Tar Heels, in 2013 he notched 49 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, nine QB hurries, two forced fumbles, three passes defensed and an interception. He was limited in 2014 with a hamstring injury.

He has a nice burst at the line of scrimmage and is agile with nice hand placement to get pressure on the QB. Is still a work in progress in coverage and is a bit raw there. May be suspect in setting the edge in the running game, given his lack of size.

*Round 7, Pick #253 – Adam Shead, G Oklahoma:** Compensatory Pick
Shead was a 40 game starter for the Sooners and is a mauler in the run game. Has tremendous power and can be effective teeing off using his big body (6’4, 340).

Shead needs to trim down a bit and has heavy feet which could limit him in pass blocking and while a good blocker, can over-extend and reach at the second level.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

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.

Possible Patriot Target in the 2015 NFL Draft – Jordan Phillips NT Oklahoma

Jordan Phillips
Jordan Phillips can be a big body NT to help replace Vince Wilfork if he falls to the Patriots in the 2015 NFL Draft (USA TODAY Images)

As the 2015 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar. Some of these players have already been linked to New England as possible targets others, we feel would be a great fit.

Check out our earlier profiles on DE/OLB Nate Orchard from Utah, Carl Davis, DT Iowa and Tyrell Williams, WR Western Oregon.

The Patriots are still looking to build some depth at the interior defensive line position. Vince Wilfork, a stalwart for 11 years is gone, as he signed a free agent contract with Houston. The team has Sealver Siliga, Alan Branch, Chris Jones, Joe Vellano and last season’s top pick Dominique Easley who suffered with knee woes and was placed on IR.

Jordan Phillips is a big (6’6, 334), nose tackle with a massive frame similar to Terrance Knighton the former Denver Bronco. Phillips is strong, can defeat double-teams playing at the nose tackle and is a perfect player to play the two-gap, read and react defense in the run game.

Phillips a red-shirt sophomore, is surprisingly athletic and nimble for a man of his size.  He can chase down runners and has very good straight-line speed. He can play either in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense with ease making his versatility a plus, something that always resonates with Bill Belichick.

Phillips started all 12 games for the Sooners in 2014, and true to form, he stuffed plays at the point of attack, allowing the linebackers to make plays. He recorded 32 tackles, seven tackles for loss and two sacks in his final season in Norman.

Pros:

–  Naturally large man with long arms and thick legs make him difficult to move.

– Excellent initial burst, can knock centers backwards

– Nice swim move and when cut loose can penetrate into the backfield

–  Two-gap capable, excellent fit for the Patriots defense

Cons

– Only started the equivalent of one season (17 games) while at Oklahoma

– Plays too upright when tired, losing leverage

– Had back surgery that derailed his 2013 season

Phillips, with limited starts as a collegian, is widely thought to have just scratched the surface of his potential. He could use some more consistency with his motor as he has disappeared for stretches, but when he’s on, he can be a dominant interior player.

His pass rush is something that can be improved upon, as we noted above, he displays a nice swim move but could use a more effective bull rush, at times getting too upright, a common problem with much taller players. Does get his hands into the passing lanes and can be effective in knocking down balls at the line of scrimmage.

Fit with New England: While he possesses a different body type than Wilfork, Phillips could be groomed to take over the role that big Vince held down for so many years. For now the Patriots have Siliga and Branch to hold down the fort. If they were to draft Phillips, the Patriots could ease him in without Phillips having to play the majority of the snaps from jump street.

His versatility makes him extremely valuable. A big, big man who can play either the nose in a 3-4 or slide to a traditional DT in a 4-3. But he’s a perfect fit for the NT and with an improved pass rush repertoire, he could be great addition to the Patriots defense.

The only big red flag is his injury history; he had a back issue that bothered him for a few years before having surgery in 2013 to alleviate that. He did seem healthy for all of 2014.  The injury concern is the most concerning and not having a ton of starts at the college level.

Phillips has been mocked to the Patriots by a couple of different Draft analysts with pick #32. Although many have Green Bay taking him with the # 30 pick. He’s definitely someone to keep an eye on in the Draft if he falls to the Patriots at the end of the first round.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

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

Patriots Add Two Compensatory Picks, Now With Five in Top 101


Bill Belichick will own five draft picks in the top 101 of the 2015 NFL Draft. (USA TODAY Images)

**Updated**

The New England Patriots were awarded two compensatory draft picks in the third and seventh rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft on Monday during the NFL Annual Meeting.

The third-round pick (#97) was given for the loss of Aqib Talib to the Denver Broncos in free agency in 2014. The Patriots also received a seventh-round pick (#253), for losing Dane Fletcher to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

With five picks in the first 101 selections, the team is in excellent shape to build some depth that is sorely needed. The Patriots now own picks in Rd 1 #32, Rd 2 #64, Rd 3 #96, #97 and Rd 4 #101.

They currently have no picks in the 5th round but own a single pick in the sixth-round and two in the seventh and final round.

Just for the trivia lovers out there, QB Tom Brady was selected with a compensatory pick #199 in the sixth-round of the 2000 NFL Draft. Bill Belichick who actually sat for the Coaches Photo this season at the league’s meeting, will have plenty of fodder to wheel and deal and build up the depth of the 2015 version of the Pats.

New England Patriots News 3-22 and Notes Around the AFC East


Rob Ninkovich got a nice pay increase from the Patriots in 2015. (USA TODAY Images)

Spring has finally arrived, (sort of) and with the first flurry of free agency in the books, the talk now starts to build around the upcoming April 30 start of the 2015 NFL Draft.

The Patriots made a couple of depth moves and passed on some other more high priced players which is more in-line with their business model.

So here are Sunday’s Patriots news notes and what’s happening around the division:

Winning atmosphere draws Chandler/Sheard: Scott Chandler and Jabaal Sheard are different players who play on different sides of the ball but they share in common a trait that drew them both to New England…the desire to play for a winning franchise. Something to keep in mind is that these two players have been a combined 51-93 before joining New England.

“It’s been a top-flight organization since I’ve been playing,” Chandler told the Patriots.com.  “For sure, and longer than that. That was a big factor.” Chandler spoke about being looking forward to being paired with Rob Gronkowski stating, “I’m sure we’ll get to know each other and get along well,” Chandler said. “He seems like a fun guy to be around. Obviously, (he’s) a great player. I’m looking forward to watching him do his thing. He’s fun to watch.”

Sheard was blunt in an assessment of his own play the past two years, “My career has been shaky, it’s been up and down,” he said. And about getting a fresh start in New England he stated, “I’m more focused and hungry than I’ve ever been. I just have to learn how to finish. Hopefully, getting with the new coaches over here, I’ll be able to work on that and get that accomplished.”

It is encouraging to see two guys that have had personal success on other teams that haven’t had the team success be already into the “Patriots Way” right off the bat. Speaks well of both players and the organization. They’ve obviously made the right choice in recruiting these two players.

Well Earned Raise For Ninkovich: Patriots DE Rob Ninkovich was slated to earn a total of $2.45 million in 2015 with a $2.1 million base salary and the remainder in bonuses for workouts and the roster. But the 31 year-old Ninkovich, a clutch player for the past several years, now has a nice new payday.

Ninkovich’s new 2015 salary will be a total of $5 million, with $4.5 million of that completely guaranteed and the remaining $500,000 being tied to workout and roster bonuses.

With the addition of Sheard, Ninkovich will now be able to get a breather now and again. It means both Ninkovich and Chandler Jones will be fresher late in games and it should boost their production. No one in the NFL on the DL played more than Ninkovich last season. Think this bothers him? Not a chance. Amidst Sheard’s press conference welcoming him to the team, he stated he’s already spoken with both players.

“I definitely look forward to working with Chandler (Jones) and Rob (Ninkovich),” Sheard said. “Those guys are definitely excited, just talking to them a little bit. I think we’ll make a nice three-man tandem. We’ll get after guys and create a lot in the backfield and on quarterbacks.”

No one has been more clutch than Ninkovich the past several seasons on the defensive line. Whenever there is a big play being made in a big spot, it is usually #50 making it. So he’s earned his payday.

Cadet Salary Breakdown: New running back Travaris Cadet who is in the running to replace Shane Vereen as the Patriots third-down back in the passing game signed his deal this week. His entire salary cap hit is an affordable $1.72 million for two years. His cap charge for 2015 is $742,000 and for 2016 it is $760,000.

The entire breakdown can be found on PatsFans.com very own Miguel Benzan’s page, PatsCap.com. Miguel does a phenomenal job with the cap and this time of year is a regular on PFW in Progress as well as widely being quoted by most of the beat writers.

Patriots Sign CBs Fletcher and McClain: In two separate moves the Patriots added two new cornerbacks to the mix in an attempt to replace the departed Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Former Eagle Bradley Fletcher and former Falcon Robert McClain were signed to contracts this week.

Fletcher signed a one-year, prove-it type deal worth a maximum value of $2.5 million, with most of that cash tied up with incentives and roster bonuses. Only $500,000 of that money is guaranteed. Fletcher suffered through a terrible 2014 that saw him allow the most yardage (1072) of any CB in the NFL and the second most touchdowns, (nine). It is hoped that like Pat Chung last year, a new atmosphere and a clean slate will propel Fletcher back on the right track.

McClain was mainly a slot corner for the Falcons but did get a few starts outside and was serviceable in Atlanta. He signed another prove-it type contract with only $300,000 guaranteed. It is a one-year deal worth a maximum of $1.24 million.

The cornerback roster now consists of Malcolm Butler, Kyle Arrington, Alfonzo Dennard, Chimdi Chekwa, Dax Swanson, Justin Green as well as Fletcher and McClain. Competition will be fierce this summer.

Where’s the Beef?…DT/OG Positions Still Need Depth: After a few signings during free agency, including bringing back DL Alan Branch, the Patriots are still in need in of both interior DL and OL depth at this point. The team really needs an influx of youth at both positions.

They still have guard Dan Connolly out there as a free agent and he’s starting to get some interest from other teams. Expect the Patriots to address both positions in the draft. There are still some intriguing players out there in free agency but it appears that at least for now…they’re awaiting April 30th.

Eastbound and Down…..News from around the AFC East

Rivers in the Green…It May Happen: With the news that QB Philip Rivers intends on playing out his contract in San Diego to see if the Chargers will move to Los Angeles, he may end up on the trading block.

If that is the case, the Chargers may trade Rivers for the #6 pick which may turn into Marcus Mariota on April 30. Rivers still has some pretty good productive years left at age 33 and if the Jets swap the sixth pick…assuming Mariota is still on the board, it would immediately upgrade the Jets tremendously at the position.

There’s even been talk of Drew Brees being on the block, but right now Rivers makes the most sense. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that the Bolts scheduled a private workout with Mariota… Stay tuned.

Mehta Calls the Pats Petty, Adding More Fuel to the Rivalry: Jets beat writer Manish Mehta wrote a provocative column on Thursday concerning the tampering charges against the Jets that is being investigated by the league. In it, he called the Patriots charges that the Jets tampered with Darrelle Revis, “petty” and going further, he added, “The NFL’s attempt to uncover any dirt was an exercise in futility, a witch hunt driven by nonsense from a hypocritical organization with no reason to feel threatened by its competitor.” Shots fired.

And of course what column coming out of NY concerning the Patriots doesn’t have a mention of “SpyGate”? That saw Tom E. Curran of CSNNE write a scathing rebuttal to Mehta’s column and it further inflamed passions on both sides. Bottom line on this one is what Curran wrote, which was that Woody didn’t “allegedly” tamper with Darrelle Revis.  He did, into a microphone, at a press conference. His comments were the text book definition of tampering. Whether or not it was ‘intentional’ matters little.

So the intensity of the Patriots – Jets rivalry just got ratcheted up a notch further and if the Jets get penalized for this, will get even more so.

Bills Get Their Tight End…Clay Hits the Jackpot: The Buffalo Bills have been extremely active in free agency; bringing in guard Richie Icognito, QB Matt Cassel, RB LeSean McCoy, WR Percy Harvin as well as re-signing DE/OLB Jerry Hughes and now have TE Charles Clay in the fold.

Clay signed a five-year $38 million dollar contract and will bring a nice touch to the tight end position as he’s an athletic option in the passing game. With the Dolphins going to their WRs in the short passing game, Clay’s numbers fell to 58 receptions for 605 yards and just three touchdowns in 2014, down from the year before.

Under Greg Roman, his role should increase in the short passing game. However, $38 million for a one-dimensional tight end is a bit of a stretch. Clay isn’t an in-line blocker and rated 16th of 19 tight ends in the blocking efficiency by Pro Football Focus (PFF).

As we’ve seen in games against New England, Clay is a talented pass catcher. But is this an example of wanting a player so bad that you overpay too much for him? We’ll see, but the question for Buffalo’s remade offense remains, who will be under center?

Dolphins Need to Find Help At LB/RB: The Dolphins made the big splash this off-season with the signing of Ndamukong Suh, but had to jettison some other players to make room for the big DT.

While no one in Miami will be missing Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler anytime soon, their departure leaves the Dolphins thin there with Koa Misi as the only returning starter.

Miami’s situation at running back is similar with only Lamar Miller, Damien Williams and Mike Gillislee in the backfield after losing Knowshon Moreno. They need a big, bruiser of a back that can run between the tackles. The draft will be an interesting one for Miami.

Miami made the wise choice to not match the offer for transition free agent tight end Charles Clay, instead replacing him with the talented but oft-injured Jordan Cameron and backup Dion Sims. But they’re rolling the dice with Cameron, banking on him staying healthy next season.

Bringing in WR Kenny Stills, and Cameron will give the Dolphins a much different look in 2015. They’re replacing four of their top five receivers in terms of yardage from 2014. These new players will have to get in a comfort zone early with QB Ryan Tannehill.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

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