Patriots 2014 Five-Eighths Season Review

Wanted to wait until after the Colts game to file a report, and my, oh, my. This season has taken a pleasant little turn since the last time we talked, hasn’t it?

In our First Quarter Review, we showed concern (“panicked” might be a better description) after New England’s horrific outing at Kansas City. The best way to summarize that column is through the final line, where I wondered what ailed them: “But in Buffalo in two weeks – after a presumed loss to Cincinnati and a 2-3 record – they’d better figure it out.”

Yeah. Good call, me. After keelhauling the Bengals, 43-17, New England took care of the Bills (37-22), Jets (27-25), Bears (51-23), Broncos (43-21), and Colts (42-20).

That makes seven weeks, six games, and six wins later. The Pats and their fans are basking in the glow of the franchise’s latest dismantling of Indy that puts the Patriots at 8-2. During their run, the team has shown an affinity for adaptation normally reserved for generations of Galapagos finches. Oh, you like to stop the rush, Denver? Well, we’ll mix in the run for play-action, and pass for 332 yards. Ah, Indy, you want to hold down our air attack? We’ll just keep it on the ground to the tune of 244 yards.

Actually, the latter wasn’t much of a surprise, considering the Colts have a reputation for softness that makes me want to add them to my laundry’s rinse cycle. But the way New England did it – and the way they have done it these past several weeks – I didn’t see it coming.

So, my mea culpa tour, if you will…

Pride Goeth Before LaFell: Ah, yes. Brandon LaFell. You mean the guy discussed in our wide receivers review this past spring with less enthusiasm than Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins? Is this the same guy who a) converted a third down on a back-shoulder pass that looked more like a front-knee pass with a defender draped all over him? The guy who snatches footballs out of the air like a frog catching flies, to the point where we say about half the time, “Did he just catch that?”

Sure, I had doubts. Panthers fans lamented his lack of consistency snaring the ball. Some of us got a little wary of the Belichick Opponent Syndrome, where the coach obsesses over players who do well vs. New England (Wes Welker signing = good; Ochocinco = mal.) Through 10 games, LaFell has 39 reception for 536 yards (14.8 avg) and five touchdowns. And by the way, did you realize he caught 11 passes against Chicago for 124 yards? I didn’t.

Probably because, like opposing defenses, I was focused on –

I Wanna Gronk And Roll All Night (Y Fiesta Todos Los Dias): The next time I or anyone else complains about Bill Belichick’s second-round picks, just say the name Rob Gronkowski. Gronk – a risk at the time, considering he’d missed his final year at Arizona with neck issues – has helped shaped the offense into the amorphous monster it has become. You want a receiver? In 10 games, Gronk’s got 53 catches for 734 yards and nine TDs, a solid season for most tight ends. You want a blocker? Look what he did to Colts safety Sergio Brown on Jonas Gray’s fourth and final touchdown.

Just ridiculous. This year, with the benefit of solid health, he has returned as the player Patriots fans missed. And he has elevated Tom Brady’s play alongside his own.

The Price Was Wright: Yes, good, another miss by me. I was not a fan of the Logan Mankins/Tim Wright deal, just because the O-line seemed to be in a state of flux where Mankins could have helped maintain some stability. Was Dan Connolly going to stick around, or Ryan Wendell?

Yes, and yes. Along with rookie center Bryan Stork, the middle of the line has solidified, giving Brady a hell of a lot more time than he had early in the season. Wright, meanwhile, has 18 receptions and four touchdowns, adding another wrinkle for defensive coordinators to worry about.

Everything Turns Gray: I remember looking over potential late-round/undrafted rookies in 2012 and coming across Jonas Gray, a 5-10, 225-pound senior who’d missed his final season at Notre Dame due to a terrible knee injury. His only event at his pro day? The bench press: 31 reps of 225 pounds. Figured New England could take a flyer on him as a backup to Stevan Ridley.

Well, after stops in Miami and Baltimore, fans are glad that plan eventually came together. Sunday night, Gray broke out like a teenager on a chocolate binge, compiling 199 yards on 38 carries (5.2 avg) and four touchdowns at Indianapolis. He had shown signs of productivity vs. Chicago two weeks prior (17 for 86, 5.1 avg) and did enough against Denver (12 for 33, 2.8) to make play-action viable. Certainly can’t expect the same numbers when Detroit shows up, but important that the loss of Ridley for the season won’t become the giant setback some of us feared.

Holy crap: I haven’t even talked about the defense yet.

This Is My Brother Darrelle And My Other Brother Darrelle: What? Nope. Wait a minute…

The D-Backs Of Arizona: With Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, and Devin McCourty in New England’s defensive backfield, a surprisingly proficient effort from Patrick Chung and contributions from nickelback Kyle Arrington and undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler, this may prove to be the deepest, most talented backfield in Belichick’s tenure. Talk of a trip to Arizona for the Super Bowl surrounds the group. Why not? Browner can cover big receivers or tight ends. Arrington can take the slot consistently. Revis covers everyone so well, a camping gear company has started calling their one-man tents Revises (This is not true.)

It’s different. And exciting. Even when they give up yardage, they carry with them the expectation of stopping the opposition before the end zone. That’s refreshing.

Dont’a, Forget About Me: What did you think when Jerod Mayo went down? Tough, right? Difficult for the Patriots to recover/replace? So, kudos to Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins for stepping up and battening down the linebacker spots. Praise also to Belichick and Co. for going out and getting outside linebacker Akeem Ayers (two sacks, 10 tackles in three games for New England) and coverage linebacker/special teamer Jonathan Casillas (five tackles in two games for NE).

Collins’ athleticism was never in question – take a gander at his combine results if you feel like your chin needs to touch the floor (how’s a 41.5-inch vertical sound?). Now in his second year, Collins has gotten into a rhythm of how and when to react, and it’s a joy to watch. Especially alongside Hightower, whose heavier build and long-term savvy complements Collins so well.

Oh, man, I just remembered…

Behind Every Cloud There’s A Sealver Lineman: New England has two defensive linemen due to come back, run-stopper Sealver Siliga and pass-rusher Chandler Jones. As Siliga waited out his time on the injury/designated to return list, the Patriots brought in Alan Branch, a 325-pound veteran (Cards, Seahawks, Bills) who was cut by Buffalo this past August. Branch got three tackles at Indianapolis, helping shut down the Colts running game for a piddling 19 yards (four from the running backs).

Let’s reflect on that for a second. Trent Richardson, former first-round pick, carried the ball seven times for a total of zero yards. Did you watch the game on your couch? Did you move from your couch at any point during the game? If so, you gained more ground than Richardson.

Now, with the possibility of Siliga and Jones returning (4.5 sacks in the first seven games), this defense has the potential to improve. From a fan’s view, that’s amazing.

You know what else is amazing? The fact that we’ve barely mentioned Brady, or Julian Edelman, or Shane Vereen. We haven’t even discussed Rob Ninkovich (five sacks, one INT).

The Patriots are 8-2, atop the AFC. Sure, they might lose a game or two. Aaron Rodgers always plays tough in Green Bay. Hell, even the Jets could play rude hosts if Rex Ryan has his squad drinking the Nothing-To-Lose-Kool-Aid (Rex-Aid?). But, with reasonable health, we have a hard time thinking this team can’t go far in early 2015.

But don’t ask me. I have no idea what I’m talking about.

You can email your agreements with Chris Warner at [email protected] or tweet him pumpkin pie recipes at @cwarn89 

Patriots 2014 First-Quarter Review

This one’s difficult to write. I began it before halftime.

New England sits at 2-2, sandwiching two wins (at Minnesota and vs. Oakland) between a grim season-opener at Miami and a listless effort in Kansas City. (And after they got one-room-schoolhouse disciplined by the Chiefs, the term “listless effort” drips with kindness compared to most descriptions we could think of.)

Monday night’s palindromic 41-14 loss in KC will send this team in one of two directions: they’ll either figure it out, come together, and get their requisite double-digit wins, or they’ll continue on this path and fail to live up to expectations. After last night, fans find it difficult to consider anything other than the latter.

Some thoughts on the season so far:

RECEIVERS. Okay, what the hell? Last year  by Game Four, then-rookie Aaron Dobson had 11 receptions for 118 yards and a touchdown. This year he has one catch for 13 yards and a growing collection of healthy scratches. In 2013, then-rookie Kenbrell Thompkins had 15 catches for 257 yards and three TDs through four games. This year, six for 53, plus a couple of healthy scratches as well.

Last year by this time, then-rookie Josh Boyce had one catch for 24 yards, a virtual career compared to his zero for zero due to his current practice squad status. Danny Amendola in 2013? Ten catches, 104 yards, all from his very first game in a New England uniform. Amendola suffered a groin injury that made a bris seem preferable, forcing him off the field for the ensuing three games. This season he has three grabs for 16 yards (and as many last night as all of the above pass-catchers, i.e., zero).

So what the hell happened to the receivers? Why did what had the potential of a bust-out season become merely a bust? Some potential reasons below.

OFFENSIVE LINE. These guys have yielded to pressure like gullible teenagers. With rookies Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming manning the center and guard spots, respectively, maybe they have the formation that will work out for the best (despite Fleming getting roundhoused like a palooka at one point).  The raw numbers from this year actually depict similar pressure on Brady as in the first few games of last year (as submitted by @PatriotsSB49 on Twitter), but – combined with some curious play-calling, the offense has seemed far more consistently feckless than they have in years.

PLAY CALLING: Hey, Josh McDaniels? Maybe run the ball. Maybe, when you travel to the loudest, or second-loudest, or however-loud-it’s-always-louder-than-Gillette-Stadium-gets stadium, maybe avoid passing on the first three downs, punting, then giving the Chiefs the ball for the rest of the quarter? Just an idea.

And, no go on those bubble screens any more? You know, the ones where Julian Edelman, your best receiver, gets the ball in space? No viability in putting Dobson out there for a pass longer than 15 yards? No sense in running your biggest back, Stevan Ridley, on third and two?

When the Patriots mix it up, they can use play-action, which seems about the only way the Patriots receivers can get open. How much yardage they gain on the ground doesn’t matter as much as the fact that they make the defense look for it. In Miami, New England passed 56 times and rushed only 20 (for 89 yards). At Minnesota, they had 37 rushes for 150 yards, actually averaging less than they did in Miami at just over four yards per carry, but with enough consistency to get the job done.

And why the hell isn’t Tim Wright getting more looks? Is he not a matchup problem for defenses? Can’t they just pull an Ochocinco and call a down-and-out for him twice a game? Seems like he should be contributing more at this point. I mean, not all new players can be Danny Woodhead and offer major contributions after one week in Foxboro, but a player who caught 54 passes for Tampa Bay last year should have more than four with his new team.

Christ, remember Danny Woodhead?

BRADY: Because of our first three topics, Brady hasn’t been himself (or, perish the thought, maybe this is what he has become START GAROPPOLO NOW Oh Heavens help us). He forces the ball to Rob Gronkowski despite Gronk getting double- and triple-teamed. He forces the ball to Edelman despite having enough field in front of him to run for a first down. His performance in KC (14 of 23, 159 yards, one TD, two INTs) shows the kind of pressure he was under.

Last year he seemed to trust Thompkins. He sure as hell trusted Amendola, at least for one game. Now, not so much.

PERSONNEL: Some iffy choices by the coaches (see receivers issues above). Plus, hard to imagine this defense performing worse with lineman Tommy Kelly aboard. Say what you want about Logan Mankins’ decline and his price tag, but he would have offered some stability to a crew that has seen more shuffling than your grandmother’s deck of cards on a rainy afternoon of Crazy Eights.

On defense (and I refuse to focus on defense, because seriously, I can’t), where are the playmakers? If Chandler Jones doesn’t sack somebody, does anything happen? Is Revis Island more like Revis Sandbar, showing up half the time and then disappearing? And can someone get Rob Ninkovich some new cleats?

HEART. Or, as we say around here, HAHT. Where is it? Why does it seem that, when they get behind, most Patriots players seem to look around, waiting, hoping someone else makes a play?

Think about it. Taking size out of the equation, if you found yourself in a vicious cockfight, which New England player would you want by your side?

I’d take Edelman. Matthew Slater. Rob Goddang Gronkowski, who – bless his soul – had the good taste and wherewithal to avoid a Gronk spike Monday night after his late TD.

Who else? Jones? I’d say so. But Vince Wilfork? Ninkovich? I have to think about them. I would not have to think about putting Mankins on this list.

Brady? In a fight? I don’t know. Maybe he’s gotten weary. Maybe too much has been put on him. The coaches can’t – or won’t – depend on the running game. The O-line can’t give him the consistent time and comfort he needs in the pocket. The defense can’t get him the ball back quickly, if Monday night’s fecal-sluice-bag of a game is any indication.

The 2013 Patriots made it all the way to the AFC Championship with an injury-depleted roster. With many of those injured players back playing, the 2014 Patriots suffered their worst loss since 2005 on their way to a .500 record through the season’s first quarter. I don’t know exactly what’s happening. Maybe they don’t, either. But in Buffalo in two weeks – after a presumed loss to Cincinnati and a 2-3 record – they’d better figure it out.

Chris Warner can be consoled at [email protected] and on Twitter at @cwarn89

Meet The New New England Patriots

As we head into the week after Labor Day and hunker down for fall and football, why not pick up some chat fodder to avoid awkward water-cooler moments by learning about some of the newest Patriots?

Also on tap – after dozens and dozens of requests (read: none whatsoever), the return of high school fun facts!

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Patriots Receivers Trying To Catch On In 2014

We figured you might need a handy guide to New England’s pass-catching corps during camp. Here, according to the crack team over at Patriots.com, is a list of receivers currently on the roster (with uniform numbers), along with our take on their chances of fitting it at Foxboro. Plus: Fun Facts!

VETERANS

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Who’s The FA? UDFA! (2014 Version)

New England always seems to find at least one hidden gem in the undrafted free-agent ranks. UDFAs who made the squad in 2013 include wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (32 rec, 466 yds, four TDs), defensive tackle Joe Vellano (54 tackles, two sacks), offensive guard Josh Kline (seven games played, one start), and punter Ryan Allen (16 starts). You can link to last year’s column here.

The Patriots went into the draft with plenty of roster room for rookies, opening the door to more UDFAs than we’ve seen in Foxboro in a long time. Here are the ones we know of (NEPatriotsdraft.com deserves credit for their annual diligence on this topic), and – back by popular demand (not true) – High School Fun Facts!

Below we list the UDFAs who have been linked to New England over the past week. Asterisks note the first nine rookie free agents officially signed by the club.*

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Patriots Draft Review Panel, 2014

When we hear the NFL Draft get compared to Christmas, it’s not just about receiving shiny new toys to play with: it also involves a post-hype letdown with much discussion of choices. We’re here to review New England’s hits and disappointments during America’s ever-expanding “holiday” weekend.

Just like in 2013, Bruce Allen and Chris Warner of BSMW invite ESPNBoston’s Mike Reiss (from his Patriots blog), Chad Finn from The Boston Globe and Boston.com (from Touching All The Bases) and WEEI.com’s Chris Price (from It Is What It Is).

For a review of last year’s panel, click this link. (You can have a pretty good laugh at our collective dismissal of the LeGarrette Blount trade.)

In case you went away for the weekend (to see Mom, for example), here’s a look at the Patriots’ moves:

THE TRADE

New England traded their third-round pick (93rd overall) to Jacksonville for a fourth-rounder (105) and sixth-rounder (179).

THE PICKS

Round One (29): Dominique Easley, Florida DL

Round Two (62): Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois QB

Round Four (105): Bryan Stork, Florida State OL

Round Four (130): James White, Wisconsin RB

Round Four (140): Cameron Fleming, Stanford OL

Round Six (179): John Halapio, Florida State OL

Round Six (198): Zach Moore, Concordia DE

Round Six (206): Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech DB

Round Seven (244): Jeremy Gallon, Michigan WR

EXCELLENT

Mike Reiss: Triple-dipping along the offensive line. Time will tell if the picks are the right ones, but this is an area the Patriots hadn’t drafted in 2012 and 2013 and it’s important from a team-building and salary-cap standpoint to feed that pipeline. Going three years without a pick on the offensive line would have been risky. Furthermore, up-the-middle pressure is one of the main things that can slow down the Patriots’ offense, and if the Patriots hit on their picks, they should be better equipped to handle it.

Chris Price: The offensive linemen appear to be the most NFL-ready group. Bryan Stork could conceivably be a contributor in 2014 – he has the sort of positional versatility where he could serve as a backup to Ryan Wendell, or could step in in case of emergency. He also has enough of a background where he could play either guard spot. Cameron Fleming is a bonafide rocket scientist who could already be one of the smartest dudes in the locker room, and while it’s unlikely he’ll unseat either Nate Solder at left tackle or Sebastian Vollmer on the right side, he gives New England a backup swing tackle and impact playing time for a handful of people, including Marcus Cannon (who initially tried to recruit him to TCU when the two were collegians). And while Jon Halapio probably won’t be able to unseat Logan Mankins at left guard, he could create a nice positional battle at right guard involving Dan Connolly. (Halapio started 36 games at right guard the last three years for Florida.) The offensive line is a position that certainly bears watching for a few reasons, not the least of which is that there’s now a couple of possible position battles brewing at a spot where the Patriots were thought to be able to have some pretty good stability. At the end of the 2013 season, it certainly looked like New England would simply run the same five offensive linemen out there in 2014 without missing a beat. Now, it looks like there could be some movement up front for the Patriots.

Chris Warner: New England’s Round Four stood out to me in how it addressed need while getting value. Stork won the Rimington Trophy for best college center in the country. White averaged over six yards per carry and showed the ability to add a pass-catching element the Pats missed for half the season while Shane Vereen was out. Fleming’s a smarty-pants who also happens to be 6-5, 323. Getting three potentially steady contributors on Day Three looks like B.B. and Co.’s strongest move of the draft.

Chad Finn: My favorite pick of this Patriots draft was the first one – I love the Dominique Easley selection. I get the concern about the two ACL injuries, but it’s hardly a kiss of death. He came back from one better than before, and had he not suffered a second one last season, there’s zero chance he would have been available at No. 29. He may not be ready at the beginning of the season, but I’ll bet he’s an impact player by the end of it. Bonus effect: It caused Mel Kiper Jr. begin twitching and sniffling in that “I-had-him-in-Round-3-but-Belichick-knows-better-than-I-do-dammit-all-I-should-have-just-become-a-nurse-like-mom-wanted” manner. Double-bonus effect: Pete Carroll apparently coveted Easley. I like it when Pete Carroll loses things he covets, like his favorite comfortable pair of khakis, and I’m not apologizing for it.

Bruce Allen: The beginning and the end. I’m big on Easley, and while the twin ACL surgeries are concerning, I’m confident that the team did its due diligence with the medicals and these days its seems like ACL injuries are becoming what Tommy John surgeries are to baseball – commonplace, and sometimes even beneficial overall for the structure of the joint. Who knows? That’s definitely with my Patriots-blue glasses on. The fact that the Seahawks were visibly disappointed when the Patriots picked him is encouraging. I also really like the UDFA class. Stephen Houston could make people forget LeGarrette Blount. Justin Jones is a physical freak – 6-8, 277 pounds as a tight end. He might have Scott Chandler-style potential. Worst case he’s the new Zach Sudfeld.

GOOD

Chris Price: The pickup of the two offensive skill position players represents some good Day 3 value. White is a third-down type of back who figures to sit behind the group of incumbents, but in a perfect world, would follow the Vereen path – sit for a year and fundamentally take a redshirt season. Then, if the Patriots aren’t able to retain one of the backs currently on the roster (Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden are all going into the last year of their contracts), White could be poised to make the leap in 2015. (Of course, if the occasionally brittle Vereen isn’t able to stay healthy, chances are good that White could get that shot this year.) Gallon was a yardage machine as a receiver and return man at Michigan, and is a very good seventh-round pickup who could have his chance to make an impact on special teams, at least initially.

Chris Warner: You could argue for putting the Easley pick under any of these categories. A game-changing D-lineman at 29? Excellent! A training room denizen with knee ligaments made out of frozen Charleston Chews? Poor! I’m calling the Pats’ first pick a good one because he fills a need, yet should have time to grow into an expanding role. If Easley can deliver on his potential as a disruptive force on passing downs in 2014 (and I’ll bet he does), then well done. I also enjoyed the Gallon pick – would have liked him even if he’d been taken earlier, but in the seventh he seems like a hidden gem. He spoke of his potential ability to fit in at Foxboro as a smaller pass-catcher, and he displayed the athleticism to make an impact. At the very least, good idea to have another talented slot receiver in camp to rest the veterans.

Bruce Allen Guys, I’m onboard with the QB pick. If this is the guy they wanted all along and they chose him here before Houston (who reportedly was hot on him) could get him at the top of the third, then I’m OK with it. I really don’t get the people out there screaming on radio and TV that THIS TEAM HAS SO MANY HOLES and this was a wasted pick. Was this team 4-12 last year? Are there really that many holes? The crowd that repeatedly tells us how rapidly Brady’s window is closing is opposed to planning for life after Brady? Stocking up the offensive line with big fatties is always a plus too. Grabbing perhaps the best center in the draft was a nice pick.

Chad Finn: I understand why fans aren’t particularly interested right now in considering a future in which someone other than Tom Brady is the Patriots’ quarterback. He’s still close to the top of his game, still among the select few elite passers in the league. And in pursuit of that elusive fourth Lombardi Trophy, the natural instinct is to covet a player who may help immediately. But Bill Belichick has to consider the position now, especially since it has become apparent that Ryan Mallett isn’t the long-term successor. It seems that there is a lot to like about second-rounder Jimmy Garoppolo, and while none of us wants to see him play until he’s on the verge of that second contract, if the Patriots believe he is suited to be The One Who Follows Brady after the appropriate adjustment to the NFL, I’m fine with them taking him now. Also really liked the selection of James White from Wisconsin in Round Four. A versatile running back without many miles on the odometer? Could be a steal.

Mike Reiss: I liked the Zach Moore pick at the end of the sixth round (198th overall). Before the draft, I listed him as a fifth-round possibility for the team. So when they get him in the sixth, it would be hypocritical to say anything other than it being a solid pick. We might not see much of Moore until 2015, but a player with those physical traits and upside should be intriguing to watch from a developmental standpoint.

FAIR

Bruce Allen I did think they’d grab a Tight End somewhere along the line in the draft, and I believe they intended to, but the draft just didn’t fall that way. Should they have been a bit more aggressive in moving up to take one of them? Perhaps. Everything comes down to value down there, and they must’ve just not deemed the available players worth the move up to grab. Do they end up signing Dustin Keller, who came in before the draft? I’d like to have seen another defensive tackle somewhere in there. Hopefully we actually get to see Armstead this year on the field. I’m somewhat intrigued by this Zach Moore kid. Seems like a worthwhile project, but how much room for projects does this roster have?

Mike Reiss: I’d put Dominique Easley in this category, and it’s more of a personal preference to go with a safer, less risky pick in the first round. I also feel like that’s when the Patriots have been at their best, going for more of the sure thing. Easley is a big-time talent and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a star if he stays healthy, but the combination of ACL tears on both knees at Florida with him being an undersized defensive lineman would make me uneasy if I was making the pick. I think it’s the riskiest pick of Bill Belichick’s 15-year tenure, very bold, and serves as another reminder that just when you think you might be able to pin Belichick down (“he usually leans toward the safe pick”), he does something you don’t expect.

Chad Finn: It’s not so much about what they did do, but what they didn’t. I would have liked to see them draft a tight end who could play right away. I wonder if Jace Amaro might have been their second-round target rather than Garoppolo had he not been selected earlier in the round by the Jets. (I also have severe Eric Ebron envy, though there was no chance they were getting him without trading way up.) It was also a little disappointing that they dealt away their third-round pick, but Belichick explained that they had similar grades and values on about 20 players in that range. I like the collection of offensive lineman they drafted in the middle rounds – especially Jon Halapio from Florida in the sixth round. I just wish Dante Scarnecchia was still here to coach them up.

Chris Price: In the past, the Patriots went for the safe, no-brainer pick with their first-round selection (Devin McCourty, Nate Solder, Jerod Mayo and Chandler Jones to name a few), and then tried to hit home runs with their second, third and later picks, some of whom carried an injury history with them when they reached the NFL (Rob Gronkowski). Sometimes those guys were hits, and sometimes, they were misses. This year, the selection of Easley kind of turns that formula on its ear. In Easley, they went for a guy who could conceivably have the greatest boom-bust potential of any first-round pick they’ve ever acquired. Penetrating, disruptive and quick, Easley – like Gronkowski – could be the sort of risk that pays off if the knees are OK. If not? New England could regret making such a sizable investment in a player who has struggled with injury to this point in his career.

Chris Warner: While we can all understand the “why” of the Garoppolo pick, it’s difficult to comprehend the “when.” Hard to gauge the timing of finding a Hall-of-Famer’s replacement – and Garoppolo could become a fine QB – but I felt like the Patriots should have gotten more of a right-now player here. And, yes, I get that the tight ends may have come off the board sooner than New England had ranked them, but if a certain other player with a spellcheck-crippling name (Iowa tight end C. J. Fiedorowicz) has a solid year in Houston, Jimmy G. will become another lamentable Round Two choice. In contrast to Round Four, Round Six ends up in this category. Halapio seemed like an extraneous selection after two previous O-linemen. Right now I’m pegging Moore as another Justin Rogers (from 2007): an athletic sixth-rounder who will flash this summer but ultimately not make the team. Thought Thomas looked a little too short and a little too jack-of-all-trades-like, though it’s understandable that New England appreciated his flexibility on defense. Ragging on sixth-rounders seems harsh, but it ties into my most severe criticism below: why were the Pats making those picks in the first place?

POOR/INCOMPLETE

Chad Finn: As I said, I’m fine with the Garoppolo pick in Round Two if they truly believe he is going to be a capable backup sooner and an eventual high-quality starter when Brady retires in 2033 or so. But I’ll admit to wondering whether they should have taken a safety either in that round or sometime on the second day. I know they haven’t made the most inspiring decisions with defensive backs on Day 2 (the 2012 Tavon Wilson pick still makes no sense to me). But the wish here is that they could have found someone immediately promising enough to convince Belichick to keep Logan Ryan at cornerback, where he flashed genuine ability as a rookie at a difficult position. Otherwise, it wasn’t a flashy draft, but if Easley is as good as his advocates think he can be, it could prove a fulfilling one as soon as this season.

Chris Warner: Day Two. New England had two picks on Friday and took a QB who, if all goes according to plan, won’t play a down in 2014. They then traded out of the third, netting two picks they used on Stork and Halapio. Ten O-linemen got selected in the third round – did the Patriots like none of them better than Stork? Did New England see no talent worthy of using their Day Three picks to trade up? Will we watch them make another playoff run yet come up short for lack of one or two playmakers? Does this roster really have room for all nine draft picks? Lots of questions here: just prepping my fellow panelists for what should be a doozy of a mailbag week.

Chris Price: Regardless of what you think of Jimmy Garoppolo as a potential successor to Brady, the decision to use a second-round pick on a quarterback – and then trade out of the third round when there were real needs still to be addressed – is a questionable move at best. Even though there aren’t many positional battles brewing, and the entire rookie class is going to have an uphill climb when it comes to playing time in 2014, a safety, coverage linebacker and some depth at tight end all would have been legitimate third-round possibilities.

Bruce Allen I wish they made that 3rd round pick. Do I have a rational reason for it? No. They only moved down 12 slots and picked up another 6th rounder, but I’d have liked to have made that pick at 93. We should be used to the Patriots not following form when it comes to the draft, but it seemed going in that the needs would be defensive tackle, which they picked in the 1st round, tight end, linebacker and safety. They didn’t draft that TE and they picked a small safety in the 6th round. Who am I to say what they did well and poorly?

Mike Reiss: Local reaction to the Jimmy Garoppolo pick. I understand the line of thinking that the Patriots should be surrounding Tom Brady with as much talent as possible, not necessarily considering a possible succession plan. If someone like C. J. Fiedorowicz (selected three picks later at No. 65) becomes a star, it will indeed look bad. But at the same time, I think many are underestimating the importance of the quarterback position in general and how if you don’t have that spot layered accordingly, you put the entire team at risk because of the value of the position and how it touches every part of a team. It’s not so much a succession plan for Brady (that’s a smaller part of it) as it is having someone ready should he sustain an in-season injury like Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers did in 2013 and you need a bridge to get you through a few games, or perhaps more. Would we ever accept it if the Patriots didn’t layer the running back spot accordingly? Or cornerback? So if Vereen was injured, Bill Belichick might just say, “We’re not going with any running backs today.” Never. I also think perception is a big part of this. We hear “second-round quarterback” and it makes it sound especially rich but if we look beyond the perception and consider that Garoppolo as a late second-rounder was picked just 12 slots ahead of third-rounder Ryan Mallett in 2011, it’s really no different to me. For what it’s worth, I’ve talked to two scouts who absolutely loved the Garoppolo pick – both for the player himself and the value it represented.

Your BSMW Patriots Mock Draft (May Edition) 

Here’s our final New England mock draft, with the actual NFL draft due to begin May 8. If you like comparing the NFL draft to Christmas, this year it takes place in January.

As mentioned in our previous mock, instead of deleting past potential picks, we decided to show our work. For our final attempt, we’ve kept most of our previous picks and added some last gasp comments on each selection, including other potential picks to consider.

Round One: The Versatile Defensive Lineman

Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame (6-6, 312). (Actually 6-5, 304.) (Actually, 299.) Tuitt was diagnosed with a foot injury at the combine and had surgery to correct it. Though unable to participate in his pro day on March 20, he spoke with reporters and mentioned that his weight was down to 299. At the combine, he did put up 31 reps in the 225-pound bench press.

Tuitt played all along the defensive line at South Bend, with 49 stops and 7.5 sacks on the year. He would add a dynamic, versatile pass-rusher to New England’s front seven. Coach Bill Belichick has a friendly relationship with Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, a potential window into Tuitt’s abilities and tendencies.

Final Word: Aw, hell. They’re going to trade down, aren’t they? They got Will Smith as veteran insurance, so now they’re going to look at their board and figure they can get Tuitt or somebody similar in the early second round; they’re going to trade this pick and take someone in the second round who needs a year to develop.

Are we over thinking this? Maybe we’re over thinking this. Is it June yet?

Round Two: The Long-limbed Cornerback The Overlooked Defender

Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska, (6-3, 215). (Weighed in at 218 pounds.) With the additions of Revis and Browner, we assume the Pats will seek to bolster other parts of the roster.

Their history of picking defenders in the second round has been about as secure as one of those rope bridges in an Indiana Jones movie, with such names as Terence Wheatley, Patrick Chung (yup, that Patrick Chung), Darius Butler, Ras-I Dowling, Tavon Wilson, Ron Brace and Jermaine Cunningham coming to mind. They seem to covet players that other teams may not, which brings us to…

Brock Coyle, Montana LB (6-1, 235). Looking for another athlete who could move around a defense? Someone with the speed of 2013 second-rounder Jamie Collins crossed with the relative anonymity of 2012’s Tavon Wilson? Look no further than Coyle, a combine snub who turned heads at his pro day with a 4.60-second 40 and a 6.74-second 3-cone drill. (For comparison, Shane Vereen had a 6.95 3-cone.)

In 2013, Coyle led the Grizzlies with 125 tackles, including four sacks. He added two interceptions and five forced fumbles. His work on defense earned him Montana’s Co-MVP award with QB Jordan Johnson. Considering the Patriots play sub defense most of the time, this gives Coyle chances to display his positional versatility.

Final Word: We like Jean-Baptiste here, but the team’s history with Round Two picks forces our hand into less familiar territory. Depending on their Round One decision, a D-lineman like Penn State’s DaQuan Jones might fit their needs. Utah cornerback Keith McGill, like Jean-Baptiste, also comes in at a bigger size (6-3, 211) and could get the call here. In any case, we look for them to bolster the defense.

Round Three: The (Other) Big Tight End

C. J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa (6-6, 262) (Actually 6-5, 265). Due to numerous ailments in the past year, tight end Rob Gronkowski has been sliced up more than an Easter ham. Matthew Mulligan left New England for Chicago in free agency, depleting the team of a butcher-block end, albeit with limited catching ability (two receptions, one TD in 2013). In a limited TE draft class, Fiedorowicz looks like one of the most complete, with a notable ability to block and a size-speed combination (4.76-second 40, 7.10-second 3-cone drill) that makes him a tough match-up. Fiedorowicz caught 23 passes for five touchdowns in 2013. The former Hawkeye made the Senior Bowl and was lauded as the best tight end in attendance. For what it’s worth, two Patriots representatives attended Iowa’s pro day.

Final Word: We assume Troy Niklas from Notre Dame will be gone. Do the Pats trade down again and settle on a plugger like Arthur Lynch out of Georgia (and Dartmouth, Mass.) or an overlooked athlete like Blake Annen out of Cincinnati (he of the 4.41-second 40)? Is their necessity for a faux Gronk overrated, meaning they’ll settle on having an O-lineman block and using in-house personnel as a “move” tight end? (I feel like we should accompany the preceding with soap-opera organ music.) Fun to watch for these developments.

Round Four: The Solid Interior Lineman

Tyler Larsen, Utah State (6-4, 317). (Weighed in at 313 pounds.) Worth repeating that Larsen started 51 consecutive games at Utah State, making the All-Mountain West Conference team three times and qualifying as a Rimington Trophy finalist (for best center) his senior season. He’s an experienced, sturdy pivot who bench-pressed 225 pounds 36 times at the combine, tied for second-best overall. The Aggies’ offense scored 32.6 points per game.

Final Word: New England may also seek a tackle here, such as Justin Britt out of Missouri. Still, despite the presence of 2013 starter Eric Wendell and second-year player Braxston Cave on their roster, we see them adding depth in the middle of the line with Larsen.

Round Four (Compensatory): The Hard-hitting Linebacker

Max Bullough, Michigan State (6-4, 250). With both Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher gone to Buffalo and Tampa Bay, respectively, New England could use their extra pick to bulk up a bit in the middle. Bullough quarterbacked the Spartans defense (his coach’s words, not ours). The feisty Spartan made All-Big Ten First Team with 76 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss (1.5 sacks) and a forced fumble. He ran a 4.78 40 and benched 225 pounds 30 times at the combine (top bench for all linebackers at Indy), then ran a 7.08 in the 3-cone at MSU’s pro day.

Bullough missed MSU’s bowl game due to undisclosed reasons (only a vague “violating team rules” was offered). If New England checks him out – and, oh, they will – he could add important depth to the position and contribute right away on special teams.

Final Word: We would still love to know the “undisclosed reasons” but figure the Patriots will get a handle on that. Bullough looks like the kind of nail-spitter the Pats need to take reps in the middle. They could go for Avery Williamson out of Kentucky if they seek better athleticism at the position, or even take their time converting a college defensive end in the Fletcher mode like Aaron Lynch from South Florida.

Round Six: Doubling Down On Round Four

Marcus Martin, USC (6-3, 310). Would be nice, but …

John Urschel, Penn State (6-3, 313). We let Martin go here because the junior has risen up draft boards. We go with two offensive linemen because it seems that the Pats have doubled up each year, nabbing two receivers in 2013 (Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce), two defenders in 2012 (Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower) and two running backs in 2011 (Vereen, Stevan Ridley). Urschel played at Penn State under Bill O’Brien, who coached New England’s offense for years. Urschel earned a 4.0 average both as an undergrad and grad student in math.

The former Nittany Lion ran a less-than-spectacular 40 in 5.31 seconds, but he showed good strength (30 reps in the bench press), and agility (7.55-second 3-cone drill, top 10 for all O-linemen). Most importantly, he has experience in a New-England-style offense, and he looks more and more like a Foxboro candidate.

Final Word: We’re sticking with Urschel here. Too much good stuff (brains, brawn, be knowing the Pats’ system – and yes, that last “B” was a stretch), and only a mediocre 40 time against him. Maybe Urschel knows the statistical probability of landing in Foxboro, but we’ll just say it’s pretty good.

Round Six: The Complementary Receiver

Kevin Norwood, Alabama (6-2, 198). We crossed off Norwood after his successful combine – coupled with his SEC pedigree – made him unobtainable in the sixth round.

Cody Hoffman, BYU (6-4, 223). Hoffman’s 4.65-second 40 time should keep him on the board, along with his senior year nagged by injuries. He caught 57 balls for 894 yards and five touchdowns in his last season at Provo after a 100-catch effort with 11 TDs as a junior. This pick would add more variety to a multi-pronged passing attack.

Final Word: In a draft where slot guys seem about as plentiful as fleas on a beach dog, we see New England hunting for larger game here. (You like your metaphors neat, or mixed?) They could take a look at Bennie Fowler (6-1, 217) who left Michigan State early, ran a disappointing 4.52-second 40 at the combine, improved that to 4.35 at his pro day, and showed potential as a pass-catcher. If Rutgers alum Brandon Coleman remains available here, New England will take a long look at him, despite his physical similarity to current Patriot receiver (and Rutgers alum) Mark Harrison.

Round Six (Compensatory Pick?): The Special-Teamer/Quality Backup

Tyler Starr, South Dakota (6-4, 250). Nope. As previously noted, the Pats get their compensatory pick earlier than anticipated. If Starr remains available after the draft, we imagine they’ll give the linebacker a call, especially considering his 6.64-second 3-cone drill and 4.15-second 20-yard shuttle.

Final Word: If the first-round trade goes down as predicted, the Pats could pick up Starr in this area of the draft after all. Someone call former Patriot linebacker/South Dakota alum Matt Chatham and see if he can help this happen.

Round Seven: The Big Defensive Lineman With Potential

Zack Kerr, Delaware (6-2, 334). (Actually 6-1, 326.) Yes, Vince Wilfork is back, but we figured the Pats would look for backup at the end of the draft. Kerr was voted All-Colonial Athletic Association First Team. As much as we liked him, we remembered that the Patriots tend to stick with FBS schools when drafting. So, we’re going with…

Beau Allen, Wisconsin (6-3, 330). Allen makes our list for so many reasons, from size to experience. He played in 54 games for the Badgers, switching to nose guard in a three-man front his senior year after playing tackle in a 4-3 defense most of his career. The change in position accounts for his decreased stats, totaling 20 tackles (1.5 for loss) as a senior after tallying 37 tackles (7.5 for loss) as a junior. In the East-West Shrine Game, Allen played in a 4-3 for former Pats defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.

Final Word: This position becomes one of quantity over, well, quantity, in the sense that 300-pound youngsters Chris Jones and Joe Vellano could have some more gravity-enhanced mates. We like Allen a lot, considering his size and consistency. Also, though not a ton (right?!?) of heavy D-linemen will remain available this late, Arkansas State’s Ryan Carrethers qualifies. At 6-1, 337 pounds, he may or may not be related to the Raiders of the Lost Ark boulder, but he rolled over opponents on his way to making the All Sun-Belt Conference First Team.

ROOKIE FREE AGENTS

Under Coach Belichick, the Patriots have signed at least one undrafted free agent almost every fall (receiver Kenbrell Thompkins and punter Ryan Allen are two recent examples). Below, we feature several athletes who may get bypassed during the draft but could easily find their way to Foxboro the following week.

Only one three of these players got invited to the NFL combine (receiver Corey Brown out of Ohio State, Lorenzo Taliaferro out of Coastal Carolina* and Maurice Alexander from Utah State*). We’ve kept our original stats-based comments about each and added combine results or pro day dates.

*recent additions

The Productive Small-School Running Back (Big Version)

Lorenzo Taliaferro, Coastal Carolina (6-0, 229). We’ve added Lorenzo in light of Blount heading over to Pittsburgh, as well as the fact the Pats have done well finding bigger backs after the draft (BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Brandon Bolden). Taliaferro rushed for 1,729 yards (6.3 avg.) with 27 touchdowns for the Chanticleers while catching 23 passes for 153 yards and two TDs. The Big South Offensive Player of the Year had a solid combine, running a 4.58 40 with a 6.88 3-cone drill. As mentioned in our Senior Bowl review, Taliaferro complemented tough running with solid pass-blocking skills.

Final Word: Taliaferro has done well in his post-season campaign and could get picked up late on Day Three. For your consideration, Stephen Houston out of Indiana (5-11, 225) wowed pro day scouts with a 40-inch vertical and 11-foot broad jump. Both measurements would have made top three for running backs at the NFL combine. Houston averaged 6.7 yards per carry for the Hoosiers (112 for 753).

The Productive Small-School Running Back (Pocket Version)

Branden Oliver, Buffalo (5-7, 208). (Actually 5-6.) After Vereen went on the temporary disabled list thingy (or whatever the hell it’s called) for over half of last season, the Patriots found themselves without a prototypical third-down back. Oliver fits that bill, making the All-MAC First Team with 1,535 yards rushing with (5.0-yard avg.) and a head-shaking 15 touchdowns. He also caught 25 passes for 173 yards and one TD. The bullish Bull ran a 4.62 40, which will keep him undrafted but won’t affect his overall effectiveness: he also ran a 7.04 3-cone and benched 225 pounds 26 times.

Final Word: We love Oliver but came across a Bill Belichick connection at this position worth mentioning. Kansas’ James Sims (5-10, 207) rushed for over 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons under Jayhawks coach Charlie Weis (former Patriots offensive coordinator – but you probably knew that already). Sims made the AP All Big-12 First Team in 2013.

The Underrated Middle Linebacker

Greg Blair, Cincinnati (6-1, 252). (Actually 244.) Even after the hypothetical Bullough pick, Blair could contribute in New England. He led the Bearcats with 106 tackles with seven for loss (one sack). He also broke up three passes and forced one fumble.

The Patriots made a productive Cincinnati selection by picking up undrafted rookie Thompkins at receiver last year. Wouldn’t be surprised to see them return to that source in some capacity.

Final Word: Blair showing up at his pro day under 250 pounds makes us turn our attention to a local product with an idyllic football name. Steele Divitto led Boston College with 107 tackles. The 6-2, 241-pounder from Ridgefield, Connecticut made the switch from strong side to middle ‘backer this season. He ran a respectable 4.72 40 and a noteworthy 6.91 3-cone at his pro day.

The Pass-catching Fullback/Tight End Hybrid

Gator Hoskins, Marshall (6-1, 244). (Actually 6-2, 253.) Hoskins made our Senior Bowl review, and he stays on this list as a potential “move” tight end with the ability to line up anywhere on the field. He should go undrafted after a pro day that included a disappointing 4.73-second 40 and a so-so 7.22-second 3-cone. Hoskins led all tight ends in the country with 13 touchdown passes. In 2013, he had 44 catches and averaged almost 17 yards per grab.

Final Word: Though not a pass-catcher (in fact, he’s not really a fullback), Wake Forest defensive lineman Nikita Whitlock could get some consideration. Playing nose guard in the ACC at 5-10, 250 pounds was a tall task (Ha! Tall. Get it?) and Whitlock nailed it, finishing the season with 82 tackles, including 19 for loss (nine sacks). Whitlock got some notice in our Combine Snubs series by benching 225 pounds 43 times, which bested the top combine number this year. He could join former Foxboro denizen Dan Klecko and current Patriot James Develin as another D-lineman converted to fullback.

The Small-School ‘Tweener Defender

Jerry “BooBoo” Gates, Bowling Green (5-10, 227). (Actually 5-11, 203.) BooBoo had a noteworthy pro day, but perhaps most noteworthy was the discrepancy between his previously listed weight and what the scale read. Bye-bye, BooBoo old pal.

Maurice Alexander, Utah State (6-1, 220). We made the switch to Alexander here, who had a 38-inch vertical at the combine, along with a 7.05-second 3-cone drill and a respectable 4.54 40. An All-Mountain West Honorable Mention, Alexander had 80 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and nine tackles for loss.

Final Word: Lots to like about Alexander, but we have another submission in this category (even though Georgia Tech fails to qualify as a small school). Outside linebacker Brandon Watts (6-2, 225) ran a 4.41 40 and a 6.89 3-cone at the Yellowjackets’ pro day. Watts’ performance, along with his 66 tackles and one interception in 2013, should ease any skepticism about a potential switch to NFL strong safety.

The Raw Receiver

Corey “Philly” Brown, Ohio State (5-11, 190). (Actually 178 pounds.) We liked Brown because he led all Buckeyes with 63 catches, as well as because of Belichick’s  connection to OSU coach Urban Meyer, but really: what the hell are the Pats going to do with another slot guy?

Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (6-0, 210). Not unlike Julian Edelman, this college QB should make a switch to pass-catcher in the pros; he displayed the potential to do so at his pro day, running a 4.44 40, a 3.83-second 20-yard shuttle, a 39-inch vertical and a 10-foot, 9-inch broad jump. All of those scores would have been top six for combine receivers. As the Husker head honcho, Martinez rushed for 117 yards in four games before missing the rest of the season with an injury. As a junior, he compiled 1,019 yards rushing (10 TDs) and 2,871 yards passing (62 percent completion rate).

Final Word: Sure, Martinez seems raw, but the guy we have in mind has the perfect surname for this category. USC’s Kevin Greene caught zero passes in his college career, working mainly as a special-teamer and backup defensive end. He finished his four years as a Trojan with eight career tackles. Now, after an impressive pro day that included a 4.40 40 and a 6.94 3-cone, Greene has shown his willingness to take on any position available, working out as both pass-rusher and tight end. So why not big, raw receiver? New England does have some history with taking a chance on an untested Trojan product (um… let’s just move on). They took QB Matt Cassel – he of the 19-of-33 college passing career – in the seventh round.

The Backup QB For Grooming

Tommy Rees, Notre Dame (6-2, 214). Seemed like a good idea at the time. However …

Garrett Gilbert, SMU (6-3, 225). Oof. We move away from Gilbert after discovering he had a great pro day on March 28, good enough to get this productive signal-caller (3,528 yards and 21 touchdowns) into the thick of the draft’s Day Three. Seriously: if he ends up as a rookie free agent, New England needs to get this guy.

Brendon Kay, Cincinnati (6-3, 226). Kay completed 66 percent of his passes for 3,302 yards, 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also had a great pro day, running a 4.63-second 40, traveling 10 feet, one inch in the broad jump, and completing the 3-cone drill in 6.99 seconds.

Two Belichickian connections: Kay was recruited by current Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, who was at Cincinnati until 2009. Also, aforementioned Bearcat and current Pats receiver Thompkins played with Kay in 2012.

Final Word: Lots to like here, as either Gilbert (if undrafted) or Kay could come into camp and provide solid summer back-up with potential to stick. One other name to watch? Casey Pachall out of TCU, who has had a shall-we-say-interesting couple of years. Pachall left campus in the fall of 2012 to enter rehab after a DUI arrest; he came back to school and fought for the starting job in 2013, only to break his left arm last September and miss over five games. As a sophomore (his final full season), he completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,921 yards (25 TDs, 7 INTs). If New England can provide him with the right support, he has potential to produce at the NFL level.

The Rutgers Guy

Antwan Lowery, Offensive Guard (6-3, 310). (Actually 329 at his March pro day.) Rutgers rookies to Foxboro = swallows to Capistrano. Lowery had an injury-riddled senior year but was honored as a First Team All-Big East offensive lineman as a junior. He was invited to the East-West Shrine Game. Went from a defensive lineman as a redshirt freshman to the offensive line. Has battled weight issues but plans on getting down to about 320 before the draft.

Final Word: Of all the Rutgers players picked up by Coach Belichick over the past few years, it’s rare to find offensive linemen. That’s why we’ll offer outside linebacker Jamal Merrell (not to be confused with twin brother Jamil, a defensive end). Jamal had 38 tackles, two interceptions, and two blocked kicks in 2014. At 6-4, 230 pounds, he projects to special teams and an occasional sub defender.

The Other Rutgers Guy/Utility Player/Special Teamer 

Jeremy Deering, Free Safety (6-1, 200). We felt we had to add this category after the Scarlet Knight ran a reported 4.33-second 40 at his pro day. Deering did a little of everything at Piscataway, including run the Wildcat as a QB his freshman year (averaging 4.6 yards per carry). After switching to safety full-time as a senior, he tallied 39 tackles and one interception. Over his career, he averaged 26.8 yards per kick return, including a 99-yard take-back his sophomore year. Also caught 16 passes for 338 yards as a freshman (21.1 avg).

Final Word: We feel tempted to put Jamil Merrell here, but, seriously, we would find it difficult to construct a more perfect potential Patriot than Deering. Looking forward to seeing him and a half-dozen of his classmates in July.

Any college players we didn’t mention whom you think the Gillette jefes will bring in, please give us your thoughts below.

Chris Warner can be reached via email at chris. [email protected] or through Twitter at @cwarn89

 

 

Combine Snubs’ Pro Daze, Part III

Here’s our wrap-up of the best performances from those NFL hopefuls who didn’t get invited to the February combine at Indianapolis. You can link to Part I from March here and Part II from early April here.

From what we could tell (with lots of help from Gil Brandt’s pro day blog on NFL.com), four non-invitees did the best nationwide in combine events, as you’ll see below. Lots of depth in this draft, athletically speaking.

First, a pair of brief updates on late top performances: [Read more…]

Your Patriots Mock Draft (Free-Agent Edition)

Hammering away at this mock draft, making changes where we feel necessary, wondering how many picks the Pats will trade away this spring.

For a review of how we got here, first came our Way-Wicked-Early Edition in February followed by an amended post-combine edition in March. Since then, the Patriots have maneuvered their way through free agency, losing cornerback Aqib Talib (Denver), running back LeGarrette Blount (Pittsburgh) and linebacker Brandon Spikes (Twitter) while adding wide receiver Brandon LeFell and – in case you hadn’t heard – cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. New England has a compensatory fourth-rounder. They traded their fifth-rounder and got an extra sixth-rounder as part of the Isaac Sopoaga trade.

Instead of deleting past potential picks, we decided to show our work. It’s been a long time coming, but stay focused, people: the draft begins May 8. [Read more…]

Combine Snubs’ Pro Daze, Part II

We know the act of inviting college football players to the combine falls short of an exact science, but Heavens to Brady, those guys seem to have missed a lot of worthy athletes. Below we’ve listed those who deserve some attention after combine-worthy performances at their pro days. (We posted Part I last month.) Don’t be too surprised to see one or two of them at your favorite team’s training camp this summer.

A special mention here of Gil Brandt’s pro day blog, the most comprehensive breakdown of workouts we could find.

[Read more…]