Patriots 2015 Mock Draft (Names-To-Positions Edition)

We haven’t had a ton of success predicting New England’s draft choices (Jake Bequette in 2012 the lone exception), but we’ve done a fair job figuring what positions they’ll look for in certain spots. We’ll keep that in mind for this spring as we take our shots.

For previous 2015 mocks, you can see our “Bare Bones” positional edition here and our “That Guy” tendencies edition here. For a comprehensive breakdown of past Patriots drafts, click for our “Round-By-Round” column here.

We have New England picking eight on draft weekend out of a possible nine picks, taking their tendency to trade into consideration. (Note: their third- and seventh-round compensatory picks can not be traded.)

DAY ONE, Round One: DE/OLB

Many (including myself as of a few days ago), considered a defensive lineman with this pick, and – though I can’t see anything wrong with getting Carl Davis from Iowa, for example, I can’t overlook the impact that linebacker/pass-rusher Jamie Collins has had on this defense. The free-agent addition of Jabaal Sheard shouldn’t get in the way of bringing more athletic, pass-rushing talent into New England’s front seven.

Possible Pick: Eli Harold, Virginia Defensive End (6-3, 247). The Patriots saw something beyond the rawness of linebacker Jamie Collins in 2013, and they may see a similar something in the athletic and productive Harold this year. He had 54 tackles, seven sacks and 14 tackles for loss last year. Totaled 17.5 sacks in his Cavalier career (his Cavareer? No? Okay). Has shown the ability to drop back in coverage. Ran a speedy 4.60 seconds in the 40 and 4.16 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle.

DAY TWO, Rounds Two and Three: OL, DB, DL 

A little of this and that for the next two rounds, filling out positions of need while bulking up the future of the roster.

Possible Pick: Tre Jackson, Florida State Offensive Guard (6-4, 330). If New England’s looking to bulk up along the interior of their offensive line, the massive Jackson fits the bill. The big fella started 42 games for the Seminoles, reaching All-American honors last year as a senior. Jackson earned consensus All-American honors and was named MVP of the South Team at the Senior Bowl in February. Played alongside current Patriot center Bryan Stork.

Possible Pick: Byron Jones, Connecticut Cornerback (6-1, 199). Jones failed to stand out in his combine 40-yard dash (4.57 seconds), which remained about the only unimpressive thing he did in Indianapolis. Jones put up an I-need-video-evidence-that-this-happened 12-foot-3-inch broad jump (and here’s that video evidence). Just for comparison, jump two feet along the ground. Now lay down a basketball hoop and jump 10 feet to the rim. You’re still short three inches. Jones added a 44.5-inch vertical leap (second-best at the combine), along with a super-quick 3.94 20-yard shuttle and 6.78 3-cone. Jones played in only seven games for UConn last season due to injury, but he managed 24 tackles, two interceptions (one returned for a TD) and four pass break-ups.

Possible Pick: Derrick Lott, Tennessee-Chattanooga Defensive Lineman (6-4, 314). The Patriots seem as willing as most to draft smaller-school athletes (see defensive end Zach Moore out of Concordia last year). Lott, a transfer from Georgia, ran a 4.99 40 at the combine and benched 30 reps, tied for seventh among D-linemen. In his final year for the Mocs, he made First Team All-Southern Conference, tallying 41 tackles (13.5 for loss) and six sacks. He has the size and quickness to play anywhere along the line.

DAY THREE, Rounds Four Through Seven: DB, LB, OL, WR

Considered tight end here (Rutgers’ Tyler Kroft), but Scott Chandler’s signing had us looking at other areas. Looks like the Pats will consider doubling up on a few positions, which has worked well for them in the past: they took two offensive linemen in the fourth round last year, and got a starter (Bryan Stork) and a consistent contributor (Cameron Fleming). We wouldn’t be surprised (and fans might appreciate) the Patriots using these picks to trade up, as the talent of New England’s current roster makes it tough for eight potential rookies to stick around.

Possible Pick: Craig Mager, Texas State Cornerback (5-11, 201). Well, before 2014 training camp, we’d never heard of Malcolm Butler, either. Mager had a noteworthy combine performance with a 4.44-second 40, a 6.83-second 3-cone, and a 10-foot, 10-inch broad jump – all top 10 for combine corners. Mager started 48 games for the Bobcats, finishing up as a senior with 63 tackles (two sacks), 10 pass break-ups, and three interceptions.

Possible Pick: Kevin Snyder, Rutgers Linebacker (6-2, 238). Snyder fits two all-important Patriots draft categories: the Special Teams Guy and the Rutgers Guy. He ran a nifty 4.54 40 at his pro day, which would have made him the second-fastest linebacker at the combine. Also had a 7.07 3-cone (tied for seventh fastest LB) and 23 bench press reps (top 13). The career linebacker also showed scouts his longsnapping abilities by the banks of the Raritan. In 51 games for the Scarlet Knights, Snyder had 229 tackles, including 63 in 2014 (1.5 sacks). He also broke up five passes last year.

Possible Pick: Shaq Mason, Georgia Tech Offensive Lineman (6-2, 304). Hard to ignore the photo seen here of former Patriots line coach Dante Scarnecchia taking snaps from Mason, who tried to show his versatility after playing only guard at Tech. Also hard to ignore Mason’s status as an All-American, his starting at both guard spots over his career, and the fact that his status may be affected (in a good way, from New England’s point of view) by the fact that the Yellow Jackets run an option offense. Mason ran an impressive 4.89 40, which would have made him the fastest OL at the combine. He also leapt 32 inches, and put up 20 reps on the bench.

Possible Pick: DeAndrew White, Alabama Wide Receiver (5-11, 193). Now, do the Patriots necessarily need another wide receiver in camp? Maybe not, but they’ve got a recent history of nabbing smaller pass-catchers in the seventh round (Jeremy Gallon of Michigan in 2014, Jeremy Ebert of Northwestern in 2012, some guy named Julian Edelman of Kent State in 2009). His 4.44-second 40 time would make him one of the faster receivers in Gillette, while his 6.97 3-cone drill and 4.18-second 20-yard shuttle would show his relative quickness across the middle of the field. With 40 receptions at Alabama, White trailed only Amari Cooper in 2014 (albeit by a ton: Cooper had 124). White had 504 yards receiving (12.6 avg) and four TDs.

THE ONE UNDRAFTED GUY WE HAVE TO CONSIDER

Joe Cardona, Navy LS (6-2, 242). Will the Annapolis product get to play in the NFL next year? Nope. He has at least a two-year, full-time commitment to the military. Will Bill Belichick invite him to camp and keep him on military reserve? It wouldn’t be the first time. Cardona stood out as the only long snapper invited to the combine. He ran a 4.91 40 and put up 30 bench presses. Another fact to consider: Cardona was the conference MVP for his high school lacrosse team (Granite HIlls in El Cajon, CA), which can only endear him to the lax-loving Belichick. One free trip to Foxboro, coming up!

THREE UNDRAFTED PLAYERS TO KEEP IN MIND

Looking for versatility at various positions, and underdog labels to go with them.

Kristjan Sokoli, Buffalo DL (6-5, 290). Described as “relentless,” Sokoli had a heck of a pro day for the Bulls, running a 4.84 40, leaping 38 inches, putting up 31 bench reps and completing a 7.19 3-cone. He had 32 tackles last year as a D-tackle (three for loss) and six pass breakups. Sokoli moved to the U.S. from Albania at nine years old and played football in high school, manning all sorts of positions: defensive end, tight end, offensive tackle – even punter and kicker.

John Lowdermilk, Iowa SS (6-1, 210). As much as we talk up the relationship between Belichick and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, Coach Bill has never drafted a player out of Iowa. We don’t expect that to change this year, but Lowdermilk could get some rookie camp consideration. His 103 tackles led the Hawkeyes last year. He also had three interceptions, six pass breakups, and two forced fumbles.

Jamon Brown, Louisville OL (6-4, 323). The monolithic Brown first gained our attention at the East-West Shrine Game. He was an All-AAC First-Team left tackle (with experience at right tackle) who reminds us a bit of current Patriot lineman Marcus Cannon in his size and position flexibility. The Cardinal ran a 5.09-second 40 at his pro day, which for a man  his size is flabbergasting, and completed the 3-cone drill in 7.36 seconds. Might end up as a guard but could get a look at the right tackle spot.

As usual, we’ll go back to our board in a few weeks. What’s the one move or player you’ll be looking for at the end of April? Let us know below.

Chris Warner tweets about sports, television, and the complexities of life at @cwarn89 

2015 Combine Snubs Who Showed ‘Em, Part I

As hundreds of NFL combine invitees demonstrated their abilities at Indianapolis this past February, hundreds more prepared to show what they could do at their respective schools’ pro days. These snubs have a tougher road ahead in terms of making themselves visible, but many have the types of days that help them go pro.

Some snubs we’ve mentioned in past years currently work at Gillette. Practice squad receiver Jonathan Krause got written up here for his 4.35-second 40, while practice squad linebacker Eric Martin got noticed for, among other things, his 6.63-second 3-cone drill, which would have qualified him for third best overall at the 2013 combine.

Special teamer Don Jones, who played nine games for New England in 2014, showed up in our notes for his 42-inch vertical. Other pro-day proponents who got a cup of Patriots Place DD-to-go include cornerback Stephon Morris, running back Stephen Houston and returner Reggie Dunn (spring 2013’s fastest 40 at 4.25 seconds).

For an overview of combine and pro day testing events (40-yard dash, 3-cone drill, etc.), you can view the NFL’s page here.)

Kudos, as always, to Gil Brandt, whose diligence this time of year on his pro day blog deserves a ton of credit.

Some performances of note over the past couple of weeks: [Read more…]

Patriots Draft Preview (The “That Guy” Edition)

Before we begin our draft preview, a quick note on a tweet by Chad Finn about how Seattle giving New England five free yards at the end of the Super Bowl demonstrated their coach’s inability to prep them for the big moment.

Something about that comment stuck with me, and not just the fact that I agreed with it. Then it hit me: I’d heard Bill Belichick discuss this before. [Read more…]

Round-By-Round Review, Pats Draft 2015

As of right now, Coach Bill Belichick has nine picks in the 2015 draft, including a potential third-round compensatory pick from letting free agent Aquib Talib walk: First, Second, two Thirds, two Fourths, Sixth, and two Sevenths.

Last year’s draft had some ups and downs. Early yet to see what first-rounder Dominique Easley can add to the defense, or what second round pick Jimmy Garoppolo can bring at quarterback (either at Gillette or as trade bait – not sure even William Hill has odds on which it will be). That said, any 2014 pick still on the roster will be treated as a success until further notice.

First Round –

2000: None (pick went to NYJ for BB)

2001: Richard Seymour, DL, Georgia

2002: Dan Graham, TE, Colorado

2003: Ty Warren, DL, Texas A&M

2004: Vince Wilfork, DL, Miami; Benjamin Watson, TE, Georgia

2005: Logan Mankins, OL, Fresno State

2006: Laurence Maroney, RB, Minnesota

2007: Brandon Meriweather, DB, Miami

2008: Jerod Mayo, LB, Tennessee

2009: (No Pick – traded down)

2010: Devin McCourty, DB, Rutgers

2011: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado

2012: Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse; Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama

2013: (No Pick – traded down)

2014: Dominique Easley, DL, Florida

Total Picks: 14

Successful Picks: 12 (sans Maroney, Meriweather)

Most Successful Pick: Seymour

Percentage: 86

Every Patriots First-Round pick has started for the Patriots; though neither Maroney nor Meriweather could be considered a true bust, each went by the wayside too quickly for us to deem a success. The noteworthy impact that Jones and Hightower have had in Foxboro has helped improve the defense to their championship level.

If you take out 2005-2007 (Mankins, Maroney, and Meriweather – again, all starters), every other pick has at least one Super Bowl win. New England’s top picks tend to a) stick around, and b) play.

Second Round –

2000: Adrian Klemm, OT, Hawaii

2001: Matt Light, OT, Purdue

2002: Deion Branch, WR, Louisville

2003: Eugene Wilson, DB, Illinois; Bethel Johnson, WR, Texas A&M

2004: Marquise Hill, DE, LSU

2005: (No pick)

2006: Chad Jackson, WR, Florida

2007: (No pick – traded for Wes Welker)

2008: Terrence Wheatley, DB, Colorado

2009: Patrick Chung, DB, Oregon; Ron Brace, DT, BC; Darius Butler, DB, UConn; Sebastian Vollmer, OT, Houston

2010: Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona; Jermaine Cunningham, DE, Florida; Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida.

2011: Ras-I Dowling, DB, Virginia; Shane Vereen, RB, California

2012: Tavon Wilson, DB, Illinois

2013: Jamie Collins, OLB, Southern Miss; Aaron Dobson, WR, Marshall

2014: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois

Total Picks: 20

Successful Picks: 11 (Light, Branch, E. Wilson, Vollmer, Gronkowski, Spikes, Vereen, T. Wilson, Collins, Garoppolo, Chung*)

Most Successful Pick: Light

Percentage: 55

*Chung returns to the successful list after getting left off last year. Dobson stays off for now, but he could find himself back on the list if he contributes to the 2015 squad.

When you start out grading at a B-plus, it’s tough to get down to what your teacher would considered an F. But this is statistics class, and the professor grades on a curve. The Patriots tend to take some chances here (i.e., ignore common knowledge) in terms of rankings, resulting in lesser-known players sometimes failing to reach Round Two expectations (Tavon Wilson) or exceeding them (Vollmer). They look past college injuries, which got them Dowling and Wheatley, but it also got them Gronk. So maybe that ends that debate right there.

The best argument for bucking convention? On the one hand, you have Jamie Collins, a college defensive end from a winless Southern Miss squad; on the other hand, trading up to get the consensus best receiver of the 2006 draft resulted in Chad Jackson.

And the Pats don’t win this year without Collins, Vereen, and Gronk.

Third Round –

2000: J. R. Redmond, RB, Arizona State

2001: Brock Williams, DB, Notre Dame

2002: (No pick)

2003: (No pick)

2004: Guss Scott, DB, Florida

2005: Ellis Hobbs III, CB, Iowa State; Nick Kaczur, OL, Toledo

2006: David Thomas, TE, Texas

2007: (No pick)

2008: Shawn Crable, OLB, Michigan; Kevin O’Connell, QB, San Diego State

2009: Brandon Tate, WR, North Carolina; Tyrone McKenzie, LB, South Florida

2010: Taylor Price, WR, Ohio

2011: Stevan Ridley, RB, LSU; Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas

2012: Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas

2013: Logan Ryan, DB, Rutgers; Duron Harmon, DB, Rutgers

2014: (No pick)

Total Picks: 16

Successful Picks: 6 (Hobbs, Kaczur, Ridley, Mallett, Ryan, Harmon)

Most Successful Pick: Ridley

Percentage: 38

Ryan and Harmon help keep this round respectable after some expectedly inconsistent picks. (We still think keeping Brandon Tate in favor of Chad Ochocinco in 2011 would have worked out better for the team.) Price didn’t work out, adding to the idea of playing Roulette Receiver in Foxboro: some guys get it, some don’t.

Quick Third Round snapshot? Defensive back and running back, sure. Wide receiver? If you’re feeling lucky, Bill Belichick.

Fourth Round –

2000: Greg Robinson-Randall, OT, Michigan State

2001: Kenyatta Jones, OT, South Florida; Jabari Holloway, TE, Notre Dame

2002: Rohan Davey, QB, LSU; Jarvis Green, DE, LSU

2003: Dan Klecko, DL, Temple; Asante Samuel, CB, Central Florida

2004: Dexter Reid, DB, North Carolina; Cedric Cobbs, RB, Arkansas

2005: James Sanders, DB, Fresno State

2006: Garrett Mills, FB, Tulsa; Stephen Gostkowski, K, Memphis

2007: Kareem Brown, DL, Miami

2008: Jonathan Wilhite, DB, Auburn

2009: Rich Ohrnberger, OL, Penn State

2010: The Tight End Who Shan’t Be Named, Florida

2011: (No Pick)

2012: (No Pick)

2013: Josh Boyce, WR, TCU

2014: Bryan Stork, OL, Florida State; James White, RB, Wisconsin; Cameron Fleming, OL, Stanford

Total Picks: 20

Successful Picks: 8 (Green, Samuel, Sanders, Gostkowski, Boyce, Stork, White, Fleming)

Most Successful Pick: Gostkowski

Percentage: 40

Gostkowski took Samuel’s place last year, but we’re going with Stork now. Worth an argument, but Stork’s ability to settle down the O-line on one of the Patriots’ most versatile squads puts him on top.

After trading away picks for two straight years, then Boyce, the Pats crushed it in 2014, bringing their Round Four percentage up from 29 percent to 40. We’re keeping Boyce on the list due to lesser expectations that those on Dobson (second-rounder); plus, Boyce’s athleticism could still get him a spot. Interesting to see what White can do next year.

Fifth Round – 

2000: Dave Stachelski, TE, Boise State; Jeff Marriott, DT, Missouri

2001: Hakim Akbar, DB, Washington

2002: (No pick)

2003: Dan Koppen, OL, Boston College

2004: P. K. Sam, WR, Florida State

2005: Ryan Claridge, OLB, UNLV

2006: Ryan O’Callaghan, OL, California

2007: Clint Oldenburg, OL, Colorado State

2008: Matthew Slater, WR, UCLA

2009: George Bussey, OL, Louisville

2010: Zoltan Mesko, P, Michigan

2011: Marcus Cannon, OL, TCU; Lee Smith, TE, Marshall

2012: (No pick)

2013: (No pick)

2014: (No pick)

Total Picks: 13

Successful Picks: 4 (Koppen, Slater, Mesko, Cannon)

Most Successful Pick: Koppen

Percentage: 31

As we say every year: We used to call Round Five “Koppen or Bust.” Now, with Slater and Mesko, we can name it “The Special Teams Round.” Cannon ended a rough streak of failed O-linemen. A middling success rate for a middling round; however, hard to overlook the impact of the solid selections.

Once again, the Patriots have no fifth-rounder this year (traded away for Jonathan “Confetti Man” Casillas). Considering how well they’ve done recently in other rounds, they may want to maintain their status and avoid the Fifth.

Sixth Round –

2000: Antwan Harris, CB, Virginia; Tom Brady, QB, Michigan; David Nugent, DT, Purdue.

2001: Arther Love, TE, South Carolina State; Leonard Myers, DB, Miami

2002: (No pick)

2003: Kliff Kingsbury, QB, Texas Tech

2004: (No pick)

2005: (No pick)

2006: Jeremy Mincey, OLB, Florida; Dan Stevenson, OL, Notre Dame; LeKevin Smith, DL, Nebraska

2007: Justin Rogers, OLB, SMU; Justise Hairston, RB, Central Connecticut; Corey Hilliard, OL, Oklahoma State

2008: Bo Ruud, OLB, Nebraska

2009: Jake Ingram, LS, Hawaii; Myron Pryor, DT, Kentucky

2010: Ted Larsen, C, NC State

2011: Markell Carter, DE, Central Arkansas

2012: Nate Ebner, DB, Ohio State

2013: (No Pick)

2014: John Halapio, OL, Florida; Zach Moore, DE, Concordia

Total Picks: 20

Successful Picks: 4 (Brady, Pryor, Ebner, Moore)

Most Successful Pick: One guess

Percentage: 20

Ladies and Gentlemen: The Brady Round. (Do you hear harps and angels? I think I hear harps and angels.)

Ebner continues to contribute on special teams, while Moore showed some promise as a pass-rusher. After several years of consistent meh, New England has hit on two out of three, with a pair of sixth-rounders this year. Can’t ask for much more from this late in the draft.

I mean, Tom Freaking Brady, for God’s sake.

Seventh Round – 

2000: Casey Tisdale, OLB, New Mexico; Patrick Pass, RB, Georgia

2001: Owen Pochman, K, BYU; T. J. Turner, LB, Michigan State

2002: Antwoine Womack, RB, Virginia; David Givens, WR, Notre Dame

2003: Spencer Nead, TE, BYU; Tully Banta-Cain, LB, California; Ethan Kelley, NT, Baylor

2004: Christian Morton, CB, Florida State

2005: Matt Cassel, QB, Southern California; Andy Stokes, TE, William Penn

2006: Willie Andrews, DB, Baylor

2007: Oscar Lua, LB, Southern California; Mike Elgin, OL, Iowa

2008: (No pick)

2009: Julian Edelman, WR, Kent State; Darryl Richardson, DT, Georgia Tech

2010: Thomas Welch, OT, Vanderbilt; Brandon Deaderick, DL, Alabama; Kade Weston, DL, Georgia; Zac Robinson, QB, Oklahoma State

2011: Malcolm Williams, CB, TCU

2012: Alfonso Dennard, DB, Nebraska; Jeremy Ebert, WR, Northwestern

2013: Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois; Steve Beauharnais, LB, Rutgers

2014: Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan

Total Picks: 27 (or almost two per year)

Successful Picks: 9 (Pass, Givens, Banta-Cain, Cassel, Edelman, Deaderick, Williams, Dennard, Buchanan)

Most Successful Pick: Edelman

Percentage: 33

I remember when New England drafted Julian Edelman. I had never heard of him. Ever since then, I scour NFLDraftScout.com for college QBs who could convert to wide receiver. Haven’t found one quite like him yet.

Hey now: 27 picks in 15 years? Why not? It’s a low-risk pick with potential, where some players who failed to rate as successes here still contributed in the short term (Beauharnais, Richardson, Andrews).

UDFAs

The Patriots seem to have a knack for finding roster-worthy prospects after the last name gets called on draft weekend. Some past undrafted free agents who contributed: Stephen Neal, OL; Tom Ashworth, OL; Eric Alexander, LB; Randall Gay, DB; Wesley Britt, OL; Antwain Spann, CB; Kyle Eckel, RB; Santonio Thomas, DL: Mike Wright, DL; Corey Mays, LB; Pierre Woods, OLB; BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB; Vince Redd, OLB, Tyson Devree, TE; Gary Guyton, LB; Brian Hoyer, QB; Ray Ventrone, DB.

Some UDFAs on the roster now: Ryan Allen, P, Louisiana Tech; Brandon Bolden, RB, Ole Miss; Josh Kline, OL, Kent State; Joe Vellano, DL, Maryland; some guy named Malcolm Butler, CB, West Alabama.

Our advice on watching the Patriot’s draft? Skip Round One the evening of April 30 (or tune in at the very end to potentially watch the Patriots trade down), check out the beginning of Day Two (Round Two), then wait until Saturday evening to see whom they select with their seventh-round pick. And by all means, keep track of undrafted free agents. There might be a Butler somewhere among them.

Chris Warner wastes time on Twitter @cwarn89

Super Bowl MVP Had Impact On The Field, Even When Off It

After multiple viewings of “Sound FX” and “NFL Replay” on the NFL Network, as well as “Turning Point” on NBC Sports, we’re putting a different focus on Seattle’s final offensive play.

As everyone reading this knows, the Seahawks passed the ball from the one-yard line with 26 seconds left and one timeout. Patriots rookie Malcolm Butler intercepted the pass, reversing the fortunes of two sports regions.

So, the question remains, why? Why, when you have Marshawn Lynch, the most brutish runner in the game, one yard away from glory, would you try anything else?

Tom Brady, that’s why. Brady did amazing things on the field, but he also did something remarkable off the field: he scared the bejeezus out of Seattle.

Take what Seahawks offensive coordinator Darell Bevell said to QB Russell Wilson before the penultimate play (on both “Turning Point” and “Sound FX”): “We still have a timeout. We’ll use every minute of this clock here.” Coach Pete Carroll, pacing the sideline, says, “Take your time. We have plenty of time to do this.”

You have to believe that – despite what Carroll would say later about matching up with New England’s goal-line defense – the coaches (along with everyone else) figured running Lynch would result in a touchdown. If Seattle had faced a fourth-and-goal at the one, then no question, Lynch would have gotten that football in his hands.

In the “Turing Point” broadcast, Carroll said during his post-game interview that maybe they should have run the ball, “But we had plenty of time to win the game, and we were playing for third and fourth down.”

We were playing for third and fourth down.

Now, back to the opposing QB: Brady had just accomplished what no other Super Bowl passer ever had: overcome a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter. His offense had scored 14 points against the defense that had not allowed such a thing in years. No wonder Pats fans got depressed in the third quarter.

But Brady hit five of seven passes on one drive, then eight of eight on the next, leading his offense to two TDs in ten minutes.

Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column offered a thorough breakdown of those final two drives from interviews with Brady and OC Josh McDaniels, seen here.

Remember also: in the NFC Championship, Seattle had come back to take a 3-point lead with 1:25 showing on the clock, only to watch Aaron Rodgers complete two 15-yard passes and limp-scramble for 12 more, getting into field goal range with 19 seconds left. And, efficient as Rodgers was, he had two incompletions on that possession. Brady had two incompletions on two successive TD drives. (For a play-by-play rundown, see this link to NFL.com. Even more impressive to see it in writing.)

Carroll had that in mind when he didn’t call timeout. He had that in mind when the clock wound down. He definitely had it on the brain when he said he did not want to “waste a run play” at the one.

So, again, why not run the ball there? As Brady said in his post-game interview, “I’m glad they didn’t.”

Chris Warner tweets things at people on a regular basis. Follow him at @cwarn89

Patriots 2015 Draft Preview (Bare Bones Edition)

Note: With Bruce down and out with the flu, as well as buried under 6 feet of snow, Chris Warner is stepping in today.

By Chris Warner

This week, I’ve resolved to start restricting my views of Super Bowl highlights, though I reserve the right to occasionally blurt out, “Intercepted!” in my best Al Michaels voice.

After watching (and re-watching) New England’s final defensive play, the involvement of certain players sticks out to me.

Cornerback Malcolm Butler picks off the pass, jumps forward, and falls to the ground. Cornerback Brandon Browner, whose aggressive jam of Jermaine Kearse freed up Butler, raises his hand in the air and sprints toward the Patriots’ bench. Dont’a Hightower, who tackled Lynch the play before, rushes to Butler as defensive lineman Sealver Siliga envelops the cornerback in a protective, appreciative bear hug.

As we approach the 2015 draft, remember that each of these players came to New England in a different way. Butler answered the call as an undrafted rookie. Browner arrived as a free agent in March. Hightower came to Foxboro after getting selected in the first round of 2012. Siliga was signed to New England’s practice squad after getting released by Seattle in 2013.

So, as much emphasis as we place on the draft every year, we need to remember that teams get built in myriad ways.

For now, though, a look at this year’s picks. (Plenty of solid sources online, with NEPatriotsDraft.com as one of our current go-to’s):

Round One (32nd overall)

Round Two (64)

Round Three (96)

Round Three (Projected compensatory pick)

Round Four (from Tampa Bay via Logan Mankins trade)

Round Four (128)

Round Six (From Tampa Bay w/ Jonathan Casillas trade)

Round Seven (From Tennessee, w/ Akeem Ayers trade)

Round Seven (From Houston via Ryan Mallett trade)

That makes nine picks, which seems like an awful lot of rookies to add to a championship roster. For now, though, we’ll take a round-by-round look at the types of players the Patriots need and players they’ve selected for that position in previous drafts.

Round One: Lineman (Either Side Of The Line)

With depth issues nibbling at their heels (and knees, and ankles) on the offensive line this year, the Pats will want to add some talent on the interior OL. Securing depth on the DL should help, too.

Past First-Round Picks: Richard Seymour, 2001; Ty Warren, 2003; Vince Wilfork, 2004; Logan Mankins, 2005; Nate Solder, 2011; Chandler Jones, 2012; Dominique Easley, 2014.

Easley has battled injuries, but the Pats’ overall record with first-round linemen shows that they’ll get a contributor at least or a potential starter here.

Round Two: Backup Quarterback (Ha! Just kidding.)

Round Two: Lineman (The Other Side Of The Line)

If they get offense in the first, they get defense in the second, and vice-versa.

Past Second-Round Picks: Adrian Klemm, 2000; Matt Light, 2001; Marquise Hill, 2004; Ron Brace, Sebastian Vollmer, 2009; Jermaine Cunningham, 2010.

Remember that Vollmer pick? I recall having seen his name in some draft magazine ranked as a late-rounder/undrafted free agent who might be worth a look. New England tends to take chances here, and doing so on a lineman seems worth it.

Round Three: Pass Rusher

Yes, it was part of the game plan, and – save for The Juggle Catch and Some Guy Named Chris Matthews – the plan worked, but rushing four defenders made it seem as though Russell Wilson had enough time in the pocket to scan the field, make a chicken salad sandwich, eat it, and complete a pass.

As for the current roster, Rob Ninkovich celebrated his 31st birthday on Super Bowl Sunday (and what a way to celebrate). Chandler Jones wore down a bit and could use a young, dynamic bookend.

Past Third-Round Picks: Shawn Crable, 2008; Jake Bequette, 2012.

Not a perfect record here, but 2015 promises a great deal of rookie depth at this position, making it the right spot to find a solid pick.

Round Three: Defensive Back

Every team would have a drop off after Darrelle Revis, but Logan Ryan and, at times, Kyle Arrington helped raise the region’s consumption of booze and/or Lipitor on opponents’ long passes. Malcolm Butler paid off, big time, and the team should be able to find more talent on Day Two.

Past Third-Round Picks: Brock Williams, 2001; Guss Scott, 2004; Ellis Hobbs, 2005; Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon, 2013.

Ryan showed up in spurts this season, while Harmon got the interception that sealed the divisional win vs. Baltimore. He has shown solid range and awareness.

Round Four: Linebacker

As athletic as Jamie Collins is, watching Marshawn Lynch haul in the same wheel route pass that helped doom Green Bay was a difficult way to go into the two-minute warning. New England could look for another speedy, quick linebacker here.

Past Fourth-Round Picks: None.

If Jerod Mayo comes back, and if Casillas continues to contribute on defense, the Pats might look at other positions; however, this seems like a sweet spot to seek out linebacker help.

Round Four: Offensive Lineman

So many injuries at this position. Soo many.

Past Fourth-Round Picks: Greg Robinson-Randall, 2000; Kenyatta Jones, 2001; Rich Ohrnberger, 2009; Bryan Stork, Cameron Fleming, 2014.

New England’s riding a bit of a hot streak with last year’s selections. Stork starting at center settled down the offense and Fleming filling in as an extra lineman haunted the Colts rushing defense. The club will look to repeat this type of feat on Day Two.

Round Six: Special Teamer

In recent years, the Patriots have picked players in this area of the draft specifically as special teamers. In 2014, New England’s special teams made a serious impact (just ask the Jets’ field goal unit).

Past Sixth-Round Picks: Jake Ingram, 2009; Nate Ebner, 2012.

Ingram couldn’t stick around as a long snapper, but it shows the seriousness with which Belichick takes the position. The team could consider another receiver/returner type like Matthew Slater (a Round Five selection). Or they could wait until Round Seven…

Round Seven: Wide Receiver

Remember back in October when Tom Brady lacked weapons? Four touchdown passes to four different receivers? Sure. I guess we’ll take it.

Past Seventh-Round Picks: David Givens, 2002; Julian Edelman, 2009, Jeremy Ebert, 2012, Jeremy Gallon, 2014.

Not too shabby, considering the contributions of Givens and Edelman to New England’s Super Bowl runs. While the Pats look set at the position, it seems like a good idea to bring in competition for younger receivers like Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. The latter’s greatest contribution to New England’s cause may have been catching a slant pass in front of Malcolm Butler during practice.

Round Seven: Running Back

Pats look loaded here. It remains to be seen if they hang on to Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. They’ll have trouble trying to duplicate the latter.

Past Seventh-Round Picks: Patrick Pass, 2000; Antwoine Womack, 2002.

Pass, much like Brandon Bolden now, played a little bit of everything during his time in Foxboro, from special teamer to pass-catcher to blocking fullback for Corey Dillon (no mean feat at 215 pounds). If New England can find a versatile back here – say, a Bolden with better receiving ability – they should jump on him.

Any thoughts on what position the Pats should look to draft where, let us know below.

You can follow Chris Warner on Twitter at @cwarn89 

Why Sport Journalism Is Ailing (And How I Helped Make It Sick)

By Chris Warner

Before I prattle on about sports writing, please go online and buy Touching All The Bases, a collection of columns by the late, great Ray Fitzgerald. It’s four bucks. Go now.

Did you go? Good. Now, a few thoughts while my DVR plays back the last minute of the Super Bowl, again …

Sports are about the possible. Coaches, teammates, mentors, and (we hope) our own brains tell us, You can do this. You can make this happen. Rudy can get the sack. Team USA can beat the Soviet Union. New England can score 14 in the fourth quarter against the league’s best defense, then stop Seattle on the one-yard line.

You. Can. Do. This.

On the other hand, sports discussion is about the impossible: What if the 2007 Patriots played the 2003 Patriots? Could the winner of that game beat 2014’s team? Could Jimmy Foxx hit Pedro? What about Satchel Paige? Could a young Satchel Paige, drunk, shut down the 1975 Red Sox? 

What if the 2006 Patriots had paid Deion Branch?

See? Every single one: impossible to answer. When you have that kind of conflict: a medium of the possible described in terms of unattainable scenarios, you’re bound to get conflict. And conflict, as we know, sells.

(Speaking of conflict – and impossible to answer – what do you think the national reaction would have been if the Patriots had lost on a heartbreaking play and started a brawl in the final 20 seconds? Maybe some negativity there, one would think.)

But let’s back up a bit. Here are the main sticking points with journalism today, and my various levels of participation in them:

Be First

Back in November of 2009, I reported that NFL free agent quarterback Jeff Garcia was flying to Boston.  At the time, New England had only one backup QB on the roster (Brian Hoyer), and it made sense that they would try out a veteran.

Here’s the story behind that piece: A college friend of mine took a business flight to Boston and ended up next to Garcia. As I wrote in the story, Garcia said he was visiting friends. When my “source” (funny to call him that) asked Garcia if those friends were in Foxboro, he said “Yeah.” He didn’t elaborate, but the connection seemed obvious.

Within hours of posting that piece, two separate sources said the Patriots had not tried out – nor were they trying out – Garcia. The story got shot down before getting a chance to get any traction.

I still wonder what the heck happened. I could not have had a more believable source: I trust this friend with my life. Garcia implied he was headed to Foxboro. Was he messing with my buddy? Did the Pats get a whiff of the story that evening and put the kibosh on the tryout?

Maybe I should have waited, but then what? The Pats bring in Garcia for a tryout, and the next day I write something like, “I totally knew it!” Should I have written a coy piece instead, something about New England bringing in a veteran player for a look-see – details to come? I don’t know. I’d still like to find out what went on there.

Now, think about the consequences of posting greater gossip fodder. Commenting on a potential tryout pales in comparison to bringing up locker-room grumbling, or impending firings, or a league-wide investigation into whether or not rudimentary physics of air pressure apply to footballs.

That’s the trick of the Internet. Someone tells you something. You know you’re among the first to have the information. Do you wait for a second source, or do you go with it and, if you’re wrong, work out the details later? I hate to say it, but I understand the tendency for the latter. After all, if you’re info’s incorrect, you can move on to the next thing. A story can stop; the business of sports never does.

Besides, we all know we can’t believe everything we read on the Internet. Sometimes we who write count on that, because submitting stories online can resemble trying to paint a landscape on a Shrinky Dink: The final product often lacks the initial necessary detail.

Speaking of which…

Don’t Believe Everything You Read On The Internet. Unless You Want To

On the premiere of “The Colbert Report” several years ago, Stephen Colbert introduced us to the word “truthiness,” which he defined as “truth that comes from the gut, not books.” Since then, Mirriam-Webster has come to define truthiness (yup, it’s in the dictionary now) as “the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.”

Did Bill Belichick order the deflation of footballs? Of course he did. Or, wait: no, he didn’t.

The correct answer? Even if we throw common sense aside, even if we want to believe the story, it seems highly implausible. Early reports on the topic used the terms “deflate” and/or “under-inflated,” both pointing to human activity and not weather effects on pressure. Also, 11 of 12 footballs were allegedly “as much as” two pounds under pressure. That term obfuscated specific numbers and downplayed a huge variance. Coffee can cost “as much as” 10 bucks in some fancy restaurants, but no one’s shelling out big clams for a medium hazelnut at DD.

That’s where the web becomes a light-speed version of telephone. Writers go with the “Be First” rule but can’t confirm; they send out teasers (tweets, posts, etc.) on upcoming reports in order to maintain their position at the “front” of the story while allowing time to suss it out. People believe what they want to believe. “As much as two pounds” becomes “two pounds each.” Our own Bruce Allen called out one tweeting nitwit who confused pounds per square inch (psi) with pounds (lbs). This Bumbling Bernoulli questioned the believability of Tom Brady being unable to tell if a football weighed two pounds under regulation, as if the air inside a ball actually had that much gravitational pull.

A well-put, insulting-yet-pointed piece on medium.com called “Deflategate And The Softness Of The American Mind” focuses on how the story got out of hand partly due to our ignorance regarding the science of air pressure. Worth a read. Combine a dearth of knowledge with a specific bias, and you get a rumor-based scandal. Easy.

The Patriots cheated? Pats fans (and science) say no; many others say yes. That has become an aspect of sports, or, better said, it has become the sports aspect. Most items of interest possess a sports aspect. Whether a defendant on trial should be found guilty or not, whether a singer in a contest should win or not: those are the conflicts. Those get attention.

As readers, we need to look for question marks, literally. If I’d posted “Garcia To New England?” then I would have gotten more hits. Seems like more people would’ve believed it more quickly. But as a journalist, why am I asking that question? Shouldn’t I confirm it and take the role as one telling you?

Last week I posted a piece on Bill Belichick, and I called him a cheater. Though I did so with a sense of admiration and even loyalty, I didn’t word it right, and my voice just melted in with the cacophony of those calling him out. I apologize for that. I have always admired Coach Belichick’s attention to detail, and much to my regret, I put football air pressure into the same category as scouting, personnel, and planning.

I believed initial reports. I believed what I wrote when I wrote it without waiting for more information. Bad call. But, these days, believing is not all that important.

You Don’t Have To Believe It To Write It

I have a hard time admitting this, but here goes: I used to write for Bleacher Report. This was before that site found its current format, when they’re going for legitimacy with experienced writers. This was when hits meant everything.

So here’s my most-read article. Ready?

Christ, this is embarrassing.

NFL Predictions 2011: Why the New England Patriots Won’t Make The Playoffs. 

Hoo, boy. In my defense, my first two reasons are Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth, but after that it devolves into the hit-seeking missal it really is. Not sure if it still works the same, but BR made it easy for writers to set up slideshows. First, think up your headline (e.g., “Is Tom Brady Unhappy In New England?”). Next, pick out photos from their extensive library. Last, write a few sentences for each caption.

From the aforementioned article:

Sure, Haynesworth has shown flashes of greatness, but only flashes. The big man might do some good things, but if he fails to bring any consistency, the Patriots defense will fail to live up to expectations.

Ugh. Again, I apologize.

Now, compare that “effort” with one of my most difficult pieces, “NFL Draft Predictions 2011: One Prospect Each Team Should Target on Day 3.” For this, I had to come up with a potential late-round draft pick for all 32 teams. There I sat on Day Two, clacking away on the computer as the ESPN draft ticker rushed along the bottom of the TV, hoping my candidates wouldn’t get picked by some other team that night. It felt like trying to build a card table on a Lazy Susan: if one fell, many others would follow. The fun I’d had leisurely picking out photos for the previous slideshow had devolved into scrambling to find any likeness of the candidates that could accompany two or three relevant factoids.

And after all that effort? Fewer than half as many readers as the “Pats Won’t Make The Playoffs” bumblefart. Plus, the draft piece got zero comments, as opposed to 73 for the negative take.

So, if you had a choice between toiling away with fact-based, well-thought-out pieces or doubling your audience with a quick, irreverent, possibly offensive sportstake, what would you do?

You might appeal to a broader audience.

People Aren’t Dumb; They Just Don’t Pay Attention 

Let’s look at this game review I wrote after the Pats beat the Raiders back in 2008. Due to injuries, Bill Belichick had coaxed Junior Seau and Rosevelt Colvin out of retirement, prompting this comment from me:

This is hard to say, but someone must: the Patriots as currently constructed would have a hard time beating Boston University’s football team, much less a bunch of professionals. (For those of you who don’t know much about B. U. football, here’s some history. You see my point.)

The joke here is that Boston University had cancelled their football program over 10 years before. Get it? Hilarious. In any case, here are a couple of reader comments:

“…it is extreme hyperbole that has no bearing on reality.”

“It’s a lot more than Boston U could manage, (were) they to play in the NFL.”

Now, most of the readers got the gist of what I was saying, but it’s difficult to discount the two comments above. I use hyperbole to make a point; it’s just some ha-ha-jokey-fun to elucidate their lack of depth on defense. But the joke gets lost, people take offense, and you end up admitting (for lack of a better word) that, yeah, the Patriots could definitely beat a non-existent college football team.

People don’t pay attention, and they believe what they want to believe, evidence be damned. It’s a pick-and-choose Internet. Ignore that piece from the “established” media. I read the real story elsewhere!

Think of that mindset as the so-called news broke about flat footballs. Think of the leaps in the minds of millions of fans who dislike the Patriots.

Think of the temptation for reporters to get in on that action. That, as much as anything, is hurting journalism.

Reporting has been a business for a long time. Papers – the so-called established ones – used to get readers because they told the whole story, and quickly. Now, with speed-of-light exchanges of information, accuracy and clarity might not provide the catalysts for proper business models. Besides, it’s football: we’ve really only got so-called news once a week, summarized in one game story and a webpage of stats. With fans hungry for material, something has to get put out there.

I could write a column with the headline “The 2014 Patriots Are The Best Ever And Are Destined To Repeat,” or I could write “The 2014 Patriots: Overrated,” and have that lede read something like, “I don’t mean to deflate your mood right now.”

We all know which one would get more hits.

Chris Warner’s on Twitter: @cwarn89

With A Little Bit Of Luck (2015 Edition)

(Editor’s Note: In December of 2013, BSMW presented this column on the role of luck in the NFL, and how all championship teams need it at some point. We thought it timely enough to run it again, with some parenthetical updates in the intro and a nice little addendum at the end. By the way, was anyone else hoping for Bill Belichick to “squeeze” the football atop the Lombardi Trophy and say, “Yup. That feels about right.”? Would have been fun.) [Read more…]

College All-Stars From A Pats Perspective

We’ll have more on the media coverage of the Patriots a bit later, but for now, a quick detour onto some actual football talk.

By Chris Warner.

After checking out three college All-Star games over the past three weekends, we’re reviewing some players who may fit in at Foxboro. Because what else is there to write about this week?

Except basic physics, I mean. (Hat-tip to Matt Chatham – @chatham58 )

One reminder about our at-times-disheveled notes below: Kentucky pass-rusher Za’Darius Smith and Auburn tight end C. J. Uzomah both made the Senior Bowl, but they are written up below for their previous appearances.

[Read more…]

Understanding Belichick (Or Not, Really)

So, at what point did you start believing this deflated football controversy? Were you home from an early Monday morning walk, expecting an easy MLK Day full of NFL highlights and entertaining Internet memes featuring various Patriots beating dead horses in Colts uniforms? Did you see the telltale question mark on the sports ticker, something like, “Pats Under Investigation?” when you first felt the elation of their AFC conquest sag a bit?

Did you not want to believe it? Do you yet?

Coach Bill Belichick’s subsequent meeting with the press offered no reassurance. He bookended answers with “We’ll do whatever the league asks us to do,” giving two separate “The first I heard of it was this morning,” responses. Nary a straightforward denial among them.

He did it. Of course he did. Because Bill Belichick – like most NFL coaches, to an extreme – is different from you and me.

Some with only a cursory understanding of these topics would say that Belichick ignores the rules. On the contrary, he obsesses over them. Think about his most consistent teacher over the years, his father. The man played professional football in 1941. Can you imagine the stories he could tell? Can you imagine what was thought of as “legal” for the 1940s Detroit Lions? Back then, considering the lack of protection, “helmet-to-helmet” resembled a head butt. Water breaks were for the weak. Just a completely different mindset of what was considered fair.

The younger Belichick knows the rules so well that he ensured quarterback/living B.C. statue Doug Flutie’s final play was a history-making drop kick for an extra point back in January 2006. At the time, very few knew whether a drop kick was still legal. Hell, not a lot of people knew what a drop kick was. Flutie became the first player to score a point by that method since Scooter McLean kicked for the Bears’ championship win in – surprise – 1941. (A fact Belichick knew, by the way: just read his post-game interview here.)

Imagine an SAT-type test involving NFL rules. Some multiple choice, some true/false, a couple of essays (haven’t taken the SAT in about 30 years, so apologies if it’s completely different now). He’d come out doing pretty well, right? Now imagine Roger Goodell taking the same test. Unless there’s a section on what cocktails to serve while sitting at the club waiting for the staff to service an owner’s yacht, hard to say ol’ Rog nails it.

That’s Belichick. He knows more than you. He knows he knows more than you. It seems he wants people to just leave him alone and let him do what he has been groomed to do since he watched game film with his dad as boy: to try to understand and prepare that much better than his opponent. And, in a sense, the rules makers and enforcers have become his opponents, too.

I mean, press conferences must feel like agony for this guy. The same questions, over and over, to people who don’t understand or have failed to put in the work to understand the game on the same level. At times, especially with the out-of-town media who show up week-to-week, it’s got to seem like he’s trying to explain Memento to someone who started watching near the end. It’s why, when he gets a question with specific historical context, he puts on his metaphorical suspenders and lectures about the history of the great game of football. It’s why, except at outdoor practices, he rarely sees sunlight during the season.

He wouldn’t have it any other way. His work is his fun. He’s not like you and me.

Make no mistake; these don’t qualify as excuses, just potential reasons. Belichick cheated. He knew the proper inflation for footballs, and – after watching his team put the ball on the ground three times the week before – he decided to soften the spheroids to make them easier to hold during a driving rainstorm.

“But you don’t know that,” you are saying. “You weren’t there. Maybe he knew nothing about it.” Do you actually believe Bill Belichick knew nothing about 11 footballs inflated two pounds less than required? Come on. You have to give him more credit than that.

So now fans must either turn a blind eye or, as WEEI.com’s Jerry Thornton does well in this piece regarding Eli Manning’s ball ritual (yup, sticking with that phrase), start playing the “everyone does it” card. It’s a strong card to play here: more and more examples have arisen of doctoring footballs, including a jocular on-air exchange between announcers Phil Simms and Jim Nantz regarding Aaron Rodgers’ preference for overinflated footballs and a piece on Super Bowl winner Brad Johnson having footballs doctored before the big game vs. Oakland.

(On that last one: Raiders fans get all up in arms over the Tuck Rule – an actual, albeit silly, rule – but they don’t go totally bat-guano over this? Pick your battles, Oakland fans!)

I can’t argue against the accusations of rampant hypocrisy in the NFL. Linebacker Ray Lewis used a banned substance to help him recover from a triceps injury during Baltimore’s championship run. The Seahawks had several players suspended due to PED use leading up to last year’s Super Bowl season. Were they cheating? Sure seems like it. Do we care? Not much, apparently.

Why should we? Goodell didn’t seem to care about taping defensive signals until he heard numerous complaints. He didn’t seem to care about brain injuries until it became a money issue via lawsuit. He didn’t seem to care about domestic abuse until video of a violent assault made its way onto the Internet for all to see. He made up punishments as he went along. Now he’ll have to do the same.

I’ll skip the joke about inflating the balls of NFL owners and head straight for the obvious: this was not an issue Goodell expected to deal with this week. That’s part of what gets Belichick into trouble: his understanding of the rules and his efforts at circumventing them make Goodell and the league higher-ups look bad. After all, what is the punishment? There’s mention of a minimum $25,000 fine. Goodell will increase that, because he’ll want to send a message. But by how much, and why? More work for him. More to hammer out and nail down before the Super holiday.

In any case, it doesn’t seem like Belichick will get the message Goodell wants to send. The coach will go back to the rule book, studying, deconstructing, looking for language that could potentially give him an advantage. The coach does this as well as anyone else in the league. It’s a fan’s choice whether to embrace this line of thinking or not. We know he didn’t need to tinker with air pressure to beat the Colts. We know he preps his players for on-field situations with awesome meticulousness. We can’t ignore his greatness. We can’t ignore his faults, either.

We know this about Bill Belichick: he has cheated; he will probably figure out a way to cheat again.

And, Heaven help me, I’ll be rooting for him.