Round-By-Round Review, Pats Draft 2014

Last year on BSMW, we took a close look at each New England draft round  of the Bill Belichick era. Time to take 2013’s selections into account.

As of right now, Coach Belichick has seven picks in the 2014 draft, with an extra sixth-rounder making up for the lack of a fifth-rounder (resulting from the trade for defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga). The Patriots may get an additional late-round compensatory pick due to some free agent defections in 2013.

Every one of New England’s seven 2013 choices saw the field, with some displaying strong progression throughout the year. The team also added a handful of undrafted rookies who contributed. A complete list of undrafted free agents signed right after draft weekend can be seen here.

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Your Patriots Mock Draft (Way-Wicked-Early Edition)

Welcome to what we’ll call BSMW’s rolling mock draft. We’ve listed certain positions New England should address in the 2014 NFL draft, along with Pats-compatible players who fit each ranking. These mocks should continue for the next three months (Three months? And we thought the run-up to the Super Bowl felt stalactitic). We’ll edit positions and names as trades or signings happen, noting changes and the reasons for them.

As of this week, New England has no fifth-round pick (traded for Isaac Sopoaga) and an extra sixth-rounder. More on potential compensatory picks below.

Ready? Let’s get rolling.

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Senior Bowl Standouts From A Pats Perspective

The Reese’s Senior Bowl happened in Mobile, Alabama on Saturday. Yes, Reese’s: because nothing says “elite college football” like a couple of guilt-inducing peanut butter cups in a non-biodegradable wrapper.

The South team beat the North team, 20-10, on a day where offenses looked out of synch due to strong D and apparent lack of practice.

Below, some notable players in whom the Patriots might take an interest.

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Shrine Game Notables – Because What The Heck Else Are You Doing Today?

To quote a great coach, “We’ll start working on 2014 tomorrow.” The tomorrow he’s talking about was yesterday. Let’s get going.

We present some players the Patriots may want to take a look at after solid performances in the East-West Shrine Game last Saturday, along with high school fun facts!

Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois QB (6-3, 222)

In the Shrine Game, Garoppolo completed nine of 14 passes for 100 yards and one TD. Looked smooth and comfortable on all of his passes, which comes as no surprise considering he passed for 5,050 yards and 53 scores this past season.

I don’t care if you play for Eastern Illinois or your local town rec flag football team, those are crazy numbers. Considering that – and the fact that Garoppolo has been added to the Senior Bowl roster – he’ll probably go too high in the draft for New England’s liking. Still, a guy to keep an eye on this spring.

High School Fun Fact: Garoppolo passed for 1,888 yards and 16 touchdowns his senior year at Rolling Meadows High in Illinois, earning Northwest Suburban All-Area honors. Also passed for 2,072 yards his junior year.

Chandler Jones, San Jose State WR (5-11, 175)

Jones – who would be the second Chandler Jones on the Patriots roster – had seven catches for 73 yards in the Shrine Game. This past season, he led the Spartans in receptions with 79, totaling 1,356 yards. He also set the SJSU school single-season record with 15 touchdowns. His 17.9 yards per reception this season was over four yards more than his junior year average (12.8).

High School Fun Fact: At Bishop Montgomery High in Torrance, California, Jones lettered in football and track & field, running the 100- and 200-yard dashes.

Matt Hazel, Coastal Carolina WR (6-3, 190)

Hazel scored a TD on a one-yard quick slant from Garoppolo where he used his body well to shield the defender. This past season, he had 70 receptions for 990 yards for the Chanticleers (14.1 avg), totaling 183 catches and 2,553 yards for his career.

High School/College Fun Fact: Hazel represented South Carolina in the 2009 (High School) Shrine Bowl. Had 75 grabs for 1,193 yards and 18 TDs his senior year at North Augusta High in S.C. As a sophomore at CCU, Hazel completed the only pass of his college career, a 21-yard touchdown.

Ethan Westbrooks, West Texas A&M DL (6-4, 263)

Westbrooks harassed opposing QBs all day and won the Defensive MVP for the East team (West Texas; East team. Go figure). In college, Westbrooks led the Buffaloes with seven sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. He also had five pass break-ups and a forced fumble.

High School Fun Fact: At Franklin High in Oakland, California, Westbrooks was named an all-conference football player. He also threw the shot put and discus for the track & field team.

Antwan Lowery, Rutgers OL (6-4, 305)

It’s hard for any offensive lineman to set himself apart in this game, so we looked at the New England roster and decided to go with the Rutgers guy. Lowery was named to the Outland Trophy watch list for best college offensive lineman. Arrived at the banks of the Raritan as a defensive tackle out of high school but switched to offense his redshirt freshman year, playing lineman and also taking on a fullback role in Wildcat packages. Played both left and right guard.

High School Fun Fact: Lowery played at Christopher Columbus High in Florida. Participated in the Under Armour High School All-America Game. Had 35 tackles and 2.5 sacks his senior year.

Justin Ellis, Louisiana Tech DL (6-2, 350)

Ellis got noticed at the Shrine Game for his surprising size/quickness combination. At La. Tech, he had 48 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss.

High School Fun Fact: At Neville High, Ellis was named a first-team all-state player by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association. He also lettered in track & field and finished third in the state in the shot put as a junior.

Ross Cockrell, Duke CB (6-0, 190) 

Cockrell had an interception and showed solid footwork in the Shrine Game. At Duke, he had three interceptions and 12 pass break-ups.

High School Fun Fact: Playing both receiver and cornerback at Charlotte Latin in North Carolina, Cockrell caught 29 passes for 459 yards and 11 TDs as a senior while notching 34 tackles and three interceptions. Had nine INTs and four defensive touchdowns his junior year. Also lettered in hoops and track & field.

Alden Darby, Arizona State S (5-11, 195)

Darby nabbed an interception in the Shrine Game. At ASU, Darby had 72 tackles, four interceptions, nine pass break-ups, and two forced fumbles. His play earned him first team all-league in the Pac-12.

High School Fun Fact: At Millikan Senior High in Long Beach, California, Darby had 38 tackles, 15 pass break-ups and four INTs his senior year. Also led the team in passing (593 yards, seven TDs) and rushing (702 yards, 11 TDs) while somehow ranking third in receiving (14 receptions for 149 yards).

Any players you noticed at the Shrine Game, please let us know in the comments section below.

Keep an eye out for the Senior Bowl, airing on the NFL Network on Saturday, January 25, at 4 p.m. ET. We will, because what the heck else would we be doing?

Chris Warner can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @cwarn89

Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad

In the next week leading up to the AFC Championship game – aka The Brady-Manning Bowl – you’ll hear a lot of numbers. But, in lieu of all that hype, we have one particular number – a fraction, actually – you should think about this week: two-thirds.

Tom Brady has started at quarterback for 12 out of his 14 years in New England (rookie in 2000, injured in 2008). In those 12 years, the Patriots have made the AFC Championship game eight times. Eight out of 12. Two out of three. Two-thirds.

Since the 2000-2001 season, the Ravens have four AFC title appearances. The Steelers have four. The Colts have three.

With eight showings, this vying-for-the-AFC-Championship thing has become normal in New England. Brady and Coach Bill Belichick in the postseason, again. The AFC East crown, again. This past week we even heard talk of something Foxboro-related called “playoff fatigue.” (Reading the piece, it seemed more like “playoff ticket price fatigue” but that’s another story.)

For those who have forgotten, or who lack the years on Earth to remember the Patsies, here’s another number: 91. That’s the point differential of the 132-41 combined score of big Pats games in the 20th Century. The Boston Patriots lost the 1963 AFL Championship to the San Diego Chargers, 51-10. They made an improbable run to Super Bowl 20, beating the Jets, Raiders and Dolphins, only to get crushed by the Bears, 46-10. They made a nice playoff run after the 1996 season, but then their coach leaked to the media THE WEEK BEFORE THE SUPER BOWL that he would leave for a division rival. They lost to Brett Favre (but mostly Desmond Howard) and the Packers, 35-21.

Other numbers? How about 1-15, aka the 1990 Rod Rust Record? Or 2-14 (we’ve got a couple of those: 1981, 1992). How about 1999 (Pete Carroll’s final, not-so-pumped season), starting out the year at 6-2, only to finish 8-8? When it comes to the pre-Belichick Pats, those types of numbers pop up a lot.

But now? Double-digit wins, again. During a season with 11 players on injured reserve, including six starters.

Two-thirds. Something to think about among all the other stats you’ll be reading this week.

Some other stuff we’re thinking of heading into the AFC Championship… [Read more...]

Forethoughts On The Playoffs: Fifth Quarter 2013

On the cusp of 2014, time to take a look back at another year of double-digit wins for New England, another first-round bye, and another year as AFC East Champs. Considering all that happened in 2013, 12-4’s not too shabby.

To review the fourth quarter of the regular season, the Patriots had a near-impossible 27-26 comeback win vs. Cleveland (including their first recovered on-sides kick since the Clinton administration), a disappointing (and, in retrospect, hard-to-understand) 24-20 loss down at Miami, a thorough 41-7 dismantling of the Super Bowl champs in Baltimore, and a wet-dog-ugly 34-20 win vs. Buffalo in the season-ender to secure their first-round bye.

Here are a few of the things we’re thinking of during a much-deserved – and much-needed – week off. [Read more...]

With A Little Bit Of Luck: Super Bowl Bounces

Due to today’s parity in the NFL, every team needs a certain amount of good fortune to win the Super Bowl.

For examples of what luck can bring, look no further than this current Patriots season. Down in Carolina, the Patriots lost a game where the home team got the benefit of the doubt on what appeared to be pass interference on Rob Gronkowski in the end zone. This past week in Foxboro, the home team got a pass interference call in their favor in the end zone (a touch foul on Josh Boyce), setting up the game-winning TD vs. the Browns.

With season-ending injuries to defensive stalwarts Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, plus Sunday’s terrible knee injury to Gronk, the Patriots will need a run of good luck to get to the podium.

For a look at how every team – no matter how deserving or how talented overall – needs the ball to bounce its way, see below, starting with the Patriots’ first Super Bowl run in early 2002.
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Forethoughts On Four Games: Fourth Quarter 2013

Just imagine how good the Patriots would look if they played a full sixty minutes.

A quick review of the previous four: In Game Nine, New England ran away from Pittsburgh, 55-31, after allowing the Steelers to tie it at 24 in the third quarter. Down in Carolina, Luke Kuechly and the Panthers held on for a 24-20 win (you know what we’re saying). The number 24 came up again vs. Denver, as New England proved overly hospitable in spotting the Broncos a 24-0 lead at halftime, then scored 31 unanswered points to squeeze out a 34-31 heart-stopper in overtime.

(I have a dear college friend named Chuck. He’s a Colorado native and lifelong Broncos fan. Let’s just say the tenor of our game-time tweets took a drastic turn midway through the third quarter, so much so that one would think Tom Brady’s first name was an expletive.) [Read more...]

Patriots Media Prediction Panel, Bye Week 2013

What with the bye week finally here, New England at 7-2, and myriad Patriots taking their leave of Foxboro (note to Kenbrell Thompkins: next time you’re in Miami, take me with you), we at Boston Sports Media Watch figured we’d ask some local pundits their thoughts on what to expect for the next several games. Thanks to all of them for contributing.

What improvements do the Patriots need to make to stay competitive in the second half? Do you think they can make those improvements?

Shalise Manza Young, The Boston Globe: I think they’ll be competitive in the second half even if they stay just as they are right now, but it isn’t the regular season they need to improve for, in my opinion. I think the offense needs to find more consistency, particularly in red zone and on third down, which we are starting to see now that Gronk is healthy, and the defense needs to find a way to fix its problem against the run (we know why that problem has cropped up, but it can’t continue). Sopoaga will help; stopping the run is his speciality, and it isn’t for Chris Jones.

Chris Price, WEEI.com: They need to improve their offensive consistency – that third-quarter dip (with the exception of the game against the Dolphins) is an odd statistical quirk that I can never remember a New England team having. Weird thing is that for the most part, it’s on both sides of the ball – offense and defense have both stumbled in the third quarter. Most of the time they have been able to right the ship in the fourth and it doesn’t come back to haunt them, but it undoubtedly cost them that Jets game. They can get by if they’re playing a lesser team, but they can’t afford not to be able to play four quarters of football against teams like the Broncos and into the postseason if they want to go deep into January. Not sure how you go about fixing that – they have to make a point of bringing energy on a consistent basis for all 60 minutes maybe. But it needs to be remedied.

They also have to find some way to cobble together a more sustainable run defense. Not saying it’s going to ultimately be its Achilles’ heel, especially in a pass-first league, but good teams are still going to be able to run the ball down the stretch and into the playoffs, and the Patriots have to find a way to cobble together some sort of defensive package that can at least slow down some of that against some of the better offensive teams in the league that aren’t one dimensional. I believe they have quality parts, but it’s just a matter of finding the proper rotation, personnel and scheme. Whether or not Isaac Sopoaga is a big part of that, I’m not sure. (He certainly looked impressive in his first outing against the Steelers, but it remains to be seen if he can hold up at that spot over the rest of the season.) Maybe you find an expanded role for Brandon Spikes. And Chris Jones and Joe Vellano will continue to be key parts of the defensive front, along with Andre Carter, Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones.

Mike Reiss, ESPN Patriots blog: More consistency on offense, run defense and tightening up penalties (7 over the last 3 games) and coverage units on special teams are the three things that come to mind. I think they’ll be fine on offense, as the return of running back Shane Vereen will be a boost, and wouldn’t expect the struggles to continue on special teams. I’m a little less confident on the run defense, but perhaps the trade-deadline acquisition of Isaac Sopoaga is the difference for them.

Chad Finn, Boston.com: Losing Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo has affected the run defense just as tangibly as anyone who respected their abilities would have expected. The Patriots now have the fourth-worst run defense in the league in terms of yardage allowed (128.2 ypg). Only Pittsburgh (131.2) and Jacksonville (161.8) are worse, and the Jaguars are so brutal Roger Goodell is trying to relegate them to the Canadian Football League. (True story.) Isaac Sopoaga should help as he gets more acclimated, and we know what Brandon Spikes can do. It would help if Dont’a Hightower became more instinctive and consistent. Otherwise, there’s not much to worry about other than overall health and the continued progress of the young receivers.

Chris Warner, BSMW: The returns of Gronk and Danny Amendola accentuated the importance of a healthy roster. As more players come back (Vereen, Aqib Talib, now Steve Gregory) and new players get experience in lieu of those on IR (Jerod Mayo, Tommy Kelly, Vince Wilfork), this team might end up more balanced than they have yet this season. On defense, I’d look for more aggressive schemes and fewer one-on-one battles where the newbies might falter. On offense, keep in mind that, in Game One at Buffalo this year, Vereen caught seven passes for 58 yards. In eight games since, Stevan Ridley (9 for 50) and Brandon Bolden (17 for 107) have combined for 26 catches for 157 yards. Bringing Vereen into the picture will provide an option that the Patriots have lacked since his injury.

How do you see the next seven games panning out? 

Shalise Manza Young: As things are right now, December looks a lot easier for the Patriots than it did in the preseason. Baltimore is a mess, Houston is having problems – heading into the season, those looked like pivotal road games and would likely impact AFC playoff seeding. Now? Not so much. I predicted an 11-5 record for them in our season preview, but it could be 12-4. Again – and I know I’ve gotten grief for this in the past – as nice as 12-4 is, it doesn’t mean a thing if they’re one-and-done in the postseason. Of course you need to have a good enough regular season to get into the playoffs, but after that, it doesn’t really matter. That’s why I say they need to tighten up the run defense and get that offensive consistency for the postseason, because that’s when they’ll need it most.

Chris Price: I think they lose two or three more games, which would put them at 12-4 at best and 11-5 at worst, and likely have them in the conversation for either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed. There are some potential potholes over the final seven games, including the Broncos (I think that has the potential to be a fantastic contest), as well as the Panthers (that’s a sneaky good team where Carolina could take advantage of New England if the Patriots pull that third-quarter check-out). The other two that could be a problem are the road games in Baltimore and Houston. These two teams are nowhere near where they last season, but potential for danger is still there.

(For what it’s worth, I think the return of Shane Vereen is not being discussed enough – he’s a dynamic offensive presence with an ability to put pressure on opposing defense in a way that no other skill position player on the roster can. I know that Sunday represented the first time that Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and Stevan Ridley were all on the field as close to 100 percent healthwise as possible, but I’m really interested to see what they can do as a group when Vereen gets back on the field.)

Mike Reiss: It’s easy to appreciate the mental toughness and resiliency this team has shown. I think the thing I look forward to over the final seven games is seeing how the return of cornerback Aqib Talib impacts the defense, and how the coaches strategize specifically with him in mind. The first five-and-a-half games he played were as impressive as I’ve seen a Patriots cornerback play. Steve Smith … Wes Welker … Andre Johnson … the first three games coming off the bye feature some big-time receivers. Can Talib do the same thing he did against Jimmy Graham? They’ll be in most every game and I expect them to be in the championship hunt.

Chad Finn: I think most Patriots fans are of the same mind-set right now. They’re looking ahead to the Denver game – it’s impossible not to, for all of the story lines that need no rehash (pre-hash?) here, while also being aware that Carolina is playing too well to look past coming out of the bye. Overall, though, it looks like a pretty tolerable schedule. It would be nice if they had the Texans or Ravens at home – neither team is what it was last year, obviously. The Browns are improving, but they’re not beating a Patriots offense that even faintly resembles the one we saw against the Steelers. The Dolphins franchise may have folded by the time they meet again. The Bills will be the 12th win and the final warmup before the Patriots host a game in the Divisional Round.

Chris Warner: Denver scares me, though the way their defense is playing I feel like certain teams have a shot against them. I can see Carolina ending up as rude hosts, especially given the efficacy of their running game – plus, the Pats have had their issues with running QBs, and Cam Newton fits that bill all too well. The thing is, as long as the Patriots make the playoffs, I’m not all that concerned about their regular-season record. If they can get into the post-season with good health and enough experience amongst the youngsters to instill some confidence and consistency, then who cares if they’re 14-2 or 11-5? I said it before and I’ll repeat: I think they go 2-2 over their next four games, then finish the season strong.

Any wacky predictions for the second half?

Chris Price: I think that with the amount of injuries this team has suffered, we could be headed for one of those goofy switches before the end of the season, like when Julian Edelman or Troy Brown shows up as a defensive back. I also believe that LeGarrette Blount is going to break off a great kick return before the end of the season. Not saying he’s going to take it all the way back, but it’s going to be one of those “Holy crap” moments we recall a few years from now.

Mike Reiss: Maybe a deja vu of this? LOL.

Chad Finn: Besides the upcoming trade for Richie Incognito AND Jonathan Martin, you mean? The weirdest thing – or at least unexpected – has already happened: Belichick absolved Stevan Ridley of a fumble. I think he got a mulligan from the coach on that one because Belichick was surprised Troy Polamalu was within 20 yards of the ball, and assumed Ridley was equally stunned.

Chris Warner: After reading the list of 83 receivers he has thrown to in his career, Brady starts to hassle Coach Josh McDaniels to put in trick plays in an attempt to reach 90 by the end of the season. So look out, Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Isaac Sopoaga (as Mike alluded to above), and Nate Solder (a previous, unsuccessful target this season); keep your eyes and ears open, LaQuan Williams, Mark Harrison and Cierre Wood: your number might get called.

Predictions for November, December and beyond? Let us know in the comments section below.

Forethoughts On Four Games: Third Quarter 2013

Bruce is out today. Check RedSoxLinks.com for all the coverage of the Red Sox 3-1 win in game five of the World Series last night. The Sox  now have a chance to close out the Series tomorrow night at Fenway Park. 

Well, the past month sure has had its interesting moments.

After a punch-in-the-head experience at Cincinnati resulting in their first loss, the Pats rebounded with a full 60-minute effort vs. New Orleans, scoring the winning touchdown with only five seconds on the clock. A painful, car-crash-in-slow-motion overtime loss at New York brought the Jets within one game in the standings. After spotting Miami a 17-3 lead at home, the Patriots rode a second-half resurgence to go 2-2 this month and 6-2 on the year, good enough for a two-game lead within the division after the Jets’ loss to the Bengals.

Despite the .750 record, fans have cited many reasons for trepidation. One, injuries: New England currently has as many Hurts as a 1980s film festival. With Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo on season-ending IR, the Patriots’ front seven has looked more like a front 5.5. Two, offense: or lack of it. Quarterback Tom Brady has worked hard just to look mediocre in the first half of this season. [Read more...]