Can Pro Football Focus Stats Be Blindly Trusted?

In this age of sports analysis and analytics, it can be fascinating to see how the media picks and chooses what analysis to run with and which to mock and ignore.

One fascination that I don’t get is the lock-step acceptance of everything that comes out of the company known as Pro Football Focus.

They’re cited endlessly and their stats are treated as the end-all. Football writers seem to love their stats, using them in their articles as ironclad proof.

I did an interview with the founder of Pro Football Focus back in 2011. Even then I was a bit leery of their methods and tried to express that in the “subjective angle” question.

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last couple of days, Pro Football Focus was on your radar as one of their writers, in an ESPN Insider piece wrote the following:

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. The elite quarterback Mount Rushmore has been in place for a few years now, a comforting constant in an NFL of consistent turnover and change. But it might be time to wipe one of those four faces off our mountain of elite play. The Tom Brady of 2014 no longer belongs on that monument.

and in his concluding section, he writes:

but there is little doubt at this point that we are witnessing his decline in action. Brady is no longer an elite quarterback. He remains very good, but if the decline continues at the same rate, it won’t be long before that is no longer true.

This story took the sports media by storm, and has been easily the number one topic on sports radio, television, and on the internet. Everyone is talking about it.

The writer, Sam Monson, has made the media rounds talking about his opinion, so it’s a win-win for him, ESPN,  Pro Football Focus and the football media at large. An NFL discussion in the first week of June!

It almost – almost – feels like this piece was a response to the Peter King MMQB piece a week earlier which talked about Brady and his performance before and after the 2008 knee injury and how, in Brady’s words, “You know, you don’t have to suck when you get older.”

The point of this post however, is not to debate whether Tom Brady is on a swift decline or not. (I think that has been addressed by the likes of Tom E. Curran, Ron Borges, and Christopher Price.) It is to explore the dangers of blindly relying on data and conclusions that we have no idea if they are actually accurate and pertinent or not.

What Pro Football Focus Is (And What They Aren’t)

It is important to note what Pro Football Focus is. Actually, first we’ll define what they are NOT.  They are not taking raw numbers and data and crunching them into new and exotic formulas to provide a different sort of insight into player performance. This is not sabermetrics for football.

No, their methods are different. They are a UK-based company, who obtain games through NFL Rewind and sit and watch and grade each player on each play. Their dedication to this is admirable, as I can’t imagine sitting down and doing this kind of deep grading for every play, every game week after week.

I suppose there is some value in this data, in a big-picture sort of way. Stats on items like dropped passes, QB hits, things like that are likely extremely accurate. In my interview linked above, founder Neil Hornsby said that PFF’s value is this:

  • Who was on the field – in 2010 this was 99.83% accurate but we didn’t double hand most games then – this year we do so I’m predicting well in excess of 99.9%
  • What position they played (at a level which allows us to provide formation as well as package information)
  • What they generically did (block, pass route, cover, pass rush etc.)
  • A measure of how well they achieved what they attempted to do (obviously we don’t know their assignments so this is what we use)

The last part is the gotcha and this is where it is dangerous to put too much stock in the Pro Football Focus stats.

The Dangers In The PFF Method

Last August, Bill Belichick talked about the dangers of watching film and making conclusions based on it.

It might even look to us like somebody made a mistake but then we look at it more closely maybe somebody besides him made a mistake and he was trying to compensate. I think we need a little closer analysis a lot of times. Sometimes the play calls or what was called on the line of scrimmage might be something that we’re not aware of. That could happen in any game. You think a player did something that he shouldn’t have done but maybe he got a call, a line call or a call from a linebacker or he thought the quarterback said something so he did what he thought was the right thing or maybe it was the right thing but that call shouldn’t have been made or should have been on the other side. But yeah, I think we need to be careful about what we’re evaluating.

So sometimes even the team itself doesn’t know exactly where things broke down and who did what wrong. Belichick then went on to talk about watching opposing team’s game films and the impossibilities of knowing what happened:

But believe me, I’ve watched plenty of preseason games this time of year and you’re looking at all the other teams in the league and you try to evaluate players and you’re watching the teams that we’re going to play early in the season and there are plenty of plays where I have no idea what went wrong. Something’s wrong but I don’t…these two guys made a mistake but I don’t know which guy it was or if it was both of them. You just don’t know that. I don’t know how you can know that unless you’re really part of the team and know exactly what was supposed to happen on that play. I know there are a lot of experts out there that have it all figured out but I definitely don’t. This time of year, sometimes it’s hard to figure that out, exactly what they’re trying to do. When somebody makes a mistake, whose mistake is it?

Bill Belichick doesn’t have it figured out. But Pro Football Focus does? They can provide a grade on every play?

Another problem is that the NFL just recently added the coaches film to Game Rewind, so before that, the PFF graders could not even see the entire field. I don’t know if they currently even utilize the overhead game film, or just rely on the standard HD game telecasts. If it is the latter, they cannot see every player on the field for every play…so how can they grade what they can’t see? (And actually, the All-22 film doesn’t come out until mid-week, which is after PFF has posted their initial grades- so they’re not using it, at least in their first gradings.)

There HAS to be a subjective element in the grading process. They have to be making conclusions based on conjecture and assumption or what they “think” the player was attempting to do or was assigned to do on any given play.

On their own grading page, they explain their “rules” for making their grades:

• DON’T GUESS — If you’re not 95 percent sure what’s gone on then don’t grade the player for that play. The grades must stand up to scrutiny and criticism, and it’s far better to say you’re not sure than be wrong.

It is, however, crucial that this is not seen as an excuse to shy away from making a judgement. What we definitely do not do is raise or lower the grading because we’re not sure. Giving a grade of -0.5 rather than -1.5 for a player on an individual play because you’re unsure is the wrong grade to give. If the grader is 95 percent sure of the severe fault on the play, the grade is -1.5. If, however, the grader is unsure of his judgment, the correct grade is 0.

A couple things I don’t like here. How does the grader know whether they are 95% certain or just 90%? How many plays per game are going ungraded because a determination cannot be made?

Later, in the section which asks How subjective is the Grading?

Just like with the more mainstream statistics, there are occasions when the choice is difficult. But the difference on our site is this: If a guy is going to be upgraded or downgraded on a judgment call, we let it ride. We simply make the comment and then put in a 0.

Again, how often is this happening? It seems like it wouldn’t take many “0″ grades to skew the data.

Lastly, I hesitate to bring this part up, but part of me wonders the qualifications for doing this work. It feels like me taking a job to to play-by-play film breakdown on the Premier League.  What are the football coaching or scouting backgrounds for these UK analysts making these grades? Is there anyone on staff with an NFL background?

Why Such Devotion?

From all of this, the national media are using PFF stats as gospel? Why? Are the simple +1.2, -0.7 ratings so damn attractive that they are accepted without question? Is it just an easy way for the media to rate players without doing a lot of work themselves?

Honestly, I don’t know. As mentioned above, I do feel there is some merit and value to the work that Pro Football Focus is putting in. I just don’t get the slavish devotion to their grades that I see when I read many NFL articles.

Again, this is not taking actual numbers and using them to come up with new stats to use in analytics. This is not taking passes complete and passes attempted and breaking it down into the various lengths of throws and spots on the field. This is sitting down in front of the monitor, forming an opinion and making up their own stats and advanced formulas based on stats garnered from what they think is happening on each play.

I believe the NFL media as a whole needs to be a little more judicious in how they use these stats instead of blindly accepting what comes out of the PFF factory.


 

Some worthwhile sites with NFL stats and analytics include:

Advanced Football Analytics

TeamRankings.com

Football Outsiders

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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The Minihane Reminder – The Boston Media Is Not Very Tough (skinned)

Only in Boston could we have a ceremony celebrating the 10-year anniversary of a Championship that broke an 86-year drought and then spend the next day listening to the media bitch endlessly about it.

Then we have Kirk Minihane’s column today. (The Manny Ramirez reminder: Boston is not a tough sports town)

Holy crap.

I understand the points he’s trying to make. I really do. I’m going to try my best not to be a total fraud on this one.

First, I’m on the anti-Manny side of this. A serial steroid abuser, a guy who quit on his team, skipping Jimmy Fund after Jimmy Fund event, blowing off Walter Reed, beating up old guys and his own wife — we all know the greatest hits. He’s personified everything that’s been wrong with baseball the last 15 years, and the Red Sox decide to give him above-the-title billing for the 10th anniversary celebration of the 2004 World Series champions Wednesday? A stunningly tone-deaf move by the Red Sox, basically endorsing all the many transgressions of Ramirez.

I think we’re all well aware of Manny’s history. I also think appreciating what he did on the field does not signify condoning what he did off of it, nor does it mean that the Red Sox are complicit in his acts by giving him the role they did the other night.

That would be like saying Kirk Minihane, by showing up for work every day endorses the acts that got his co-hosts suspended for racist remarks. That when they skipped the Jimmy Fund event themselves because they were in a contract dispute, that it was OK. Their own interests were more important. That sending out numerous bullying voicemails and Tweets that would get others in hot water is just fine and dandy, thank you. We all know the greatest hits of D&C. By working there, Kirk endorses all the many transgressions of John Dennis and Gerry Callahan.

Some would say that Dennis and Callahan (and Minihane) personify everything that’s been wrong with sports media for the last 15 years.

I wasn’t surprised the Red Sox elected to have Ramirez announced last and throw out the first pitch — this is an ownership group that hungers to be liked by players, turning into 12-year-olds around these guys. That’s OK, I guess, it’s their money and they’ve been extraordinarily successful. No, what surprised me was this idea that there was ever a chance the fans would react negatively toward Ramirez. That was never going to happen.

I wasn’t surprised that Kirk and his co-workers as well as just about every other on-air personality in town elected to spend yesterday howling at the moon on his topic. This is a group that hungers to have the edgiest hot sportz take, and to attempt to make following sports miserable. That’s OK, I guess. They’ve been extraordinarily successful. Well, some more than others, anyway. What surprised me was this idea that there was ever a chance that the media would actually just let fans enjoy something that meant a lot to many of them instead of trying to ruin it with their own misery. That was never going to happen.

Again, cheer or boo — it’s your buck — but can we all get together and drop the notion that Boston is a tough town? That’s over, it’s been over for years. Who, exactly, is having a tough time in Boston these days? What athlete? Ramirez treated fans, media and his own organization like a six-pound turd for the better part of a decade and all is forgiven … why? Because he’s been gone for a while? Because he’s using the ultimate mulligan, the Jesus card, to kick off an image rehabilitation tour?

That’s right, Clay Buchholz is NOT being called a giant pussy a dozen times an hour all day on sports radio. Rajon Rondo is NOT being deemed a punk and an arrogant s.o.b. who isn’t a leader whenever the subject of the Celtics comes up. Dont’a Hightower is NOT being called the biggest draft bust in the Bill Belichick era and having his every miscue in coverage screamed about. Brad Marchand is NOT catching any heat for his playoff antics and lack of performance. Danny Amendola is NOT being mocked at every turn for being a fragile as Wedgwood china. David Ortiz is NOT being called greedy and having his every achievement asterisked. Bill Belichick, despite having the best record in the NFL since 2001 does NOT have his every move, draft pick and decision picked apart, criticized and questioned.

These things are NOT happening. It’s a piece of cake to be an athlete in Boston.

Please tell me why it is necessary for athletes to have “a tough time” in Boston. Some in the media seem to think if they’re not being “tough” they’re not doing their jobs. They’re the only ones who think this. Eight championships in twelve years tells me that things are going pretty well.

Is the Jesus card the ultimate mulligan, or is using kids with cancer a better way to rehabilitate an image? As long as it is publicized, I guess. If you’re putting your name and image to a cause like that, you can get away with pretty much anything. And if someone dares question your motivation in doing this, you can just scream at how your accuser hates kids with cancer, and your lackeys will rush to your defense and smother the dissenter. John Dennis, when the whole METCO thing happened said that people did not know what was in his heart.

Apparently, though, Manny is just “using” the Jesus card, because Kirk and everyone else can actually see into his heart and know that this is fraudulent, just an act to try and con people into thinking he’s changed.

You know who is having a tough time in Boston these days? The D&C Show, for one. Damn those ratings.

Here’s the truth: You don’t care if Ramirez is a different person or not. Down deep, you’re thinking what I’m thinking — once a jerk, always a jerk. That doesn’t change. But he helped you win two World Series and was a great (though juiced off the charts) hitter. And that’s what matters. He could get arrested six times over the next 10 years and tear Boston to shreds in interviews, and guess what would happen in 2024? He’d get a standing ovation at the 20th reunion.

Here’s the truth: I’m over it. Is Manny Ramirez the only athlete in history to be a jerk? Was he the only player juicing it up? So, none of the competition were doing these things? There were no jerks or juicers prior to Manny?  The Yankees had many more players be exposed over the years as having used substances. Is there any effort by the local media to diminish their accomplishments? No. Only with the locals. Does it bother me that Manny did these? Yeah. It does. But I’m over it. Why is it such a horrible thing that someone cares mostly about just what happens on the field? When did this change? Athletes in the past did horrible things, but no one heard about it. Should older fans now look back at teams of their childhood and renounce them now knowing what we know about some of them? It’s a slippery slope. We need to hold all grudges against Manny forever, but what about when we find out about things others have done?

Just like Kirk is apparently over his co-worker’s antics. Kirk is open about the troubles in his own personal life in the past. Should we also hold them against him? Once a jerk always a jerk?

I’m over it. The 2004 World Series was a historic moment in local sports. The efforts to make us miserable over it are just pathetic.

Right or wrong, the fanboys have won. The cynics have been pushed aside, they are now very much a minority in the fan base and the media. If you introduce a negative opinion, or a suggestion an athlete should be traded or not re-signed, or if the athlete or coach isn’t as great as the current perception, you are either miserable or just a troll looking for page views. Maybe you think that’s a good thing. Maybe you’re right. But I’m not comfortable with it. I don’t like beat writers as PR guys or radio talk show hosts as cheerleaders, and I don’t want adults with some influence pushing for players to be on the cover of video games. I see all this — just go on Twitter during games and tell me some beat guys aren’t rooting for teams — and wonder what’s next, where exactly does it end? Will John Henry own everything and everyone will just shrug and move on?

Ah yes. The fanboys. There are no lower forms of life than the fanboy.

There are no cynics anymore. I just wish that the likes of John Dennis, Gerry Callahan, Kirk Minihane, Lou Merloni, Andy Gresh, Michael Felger, Tony Massarotti, Adam Jones, Dan Shaughnessy, Ron Borges, Kevin Paul Dupont, Gary Tanguay, Eric Wilbur, Adam Kaufman, Jim Donaldson, Hector Longo, Steve Buckley…I just wish these poor, repressed souls had SOME outlet or platform to express their anti-fanboy views. To set us all straight. It’s too bad, really. There just are no cynics anymore.

I have never once looked on Twitter during a game and gotten the impression that the beat writers were rooting for the local teams. Ever. Where does this come from? Radio talk show hosts as cheerleaders? Who is he talking about here? Dale Arnold on the Bruins? Scott Zolak on the Patriots? It sure seems to me like those guys are the minority.

Beat writers are cheerleaders? Who? I don’t see it. Is it because they’re not cynical and negative? Does everyone involved in covering sports have to be cynical and negative or they’re not up to the standards that Kirk is demanding? Where does the line come down?

One thing we know for sure – unlike these fan boys, athletes and team management, the sports media embraces criticism of themselves and uses it to better themselves and their product. That’s without question. They would never insult someone who is critical of them and their work.

In the minds of the media, do you know what a fanboy really is? It’s someone who pushes back against them. Email Dan Shaughnessy sometime and knock his latest column. You’ll be called a fanboy. Push back on Twitter against someone in the media. They’ll call you a fanboy.

Fans are always going to be suckers, I suppose, weak in the knees for a 4.3 40-yard time or a .440 OBP. I get it, I really do. I don’t agree with it, but I even understand why they cheered for Ramirez. They don’t care about the bad stuff, it’s irrelevant. They want to win and they want to treat the people who actually win like they are more than the rest of us. If Aaron Hernandez were somehow released from prison today, and signed by the Patriots tomorrow (clearly impossible, of course), most fans would be thrilled. And if he caught three touchdown passes against the Broncos, virtually all would be forgotten. Now, would some people give up their season tickets or stop watching? Sure. But those tickets would be snatched in three seconds and the TV ratings wouldn’t move an inch.

If you’re a fan of sports, you’re also a sucker. Remember that.

Also remember that when a guy keeps telling you repeatedly that he gets it, he really does – he doesn’t. Not at all.

Let’s run through Kirk’s hypothetical strawman scenario involving Hernandez.

If Aaron Hernandez were somehow released from prison today – The only way that could somehow happen would be if the charges were dropped, probably following the confession of another, so Hernandez would be innocent.

and signed by the Patriots tomorrow (clearly impossible, of course), most fans would be thrilled. – Yes, given that he was innocent of all charges in this strawman argument, then I would hope fans would welcome the resigning of a quality player who was wrongfully charged.

And if he caught three touchdown passes against the Broncos, virtually all would be forgotten. - Well, hopefully it wouldn’t be forgotten, people shouldn’t let the state brush those false charges under the rug so easily.

Wait, what was the point again?

Cheer or boo, do whatever you want. But let’s stop with the charade that Boston is a tough sports town. It’s a pushover, a place for athletes to be protected, coddled and worshipped by fans and media. This is San Diego, Kansas City, fill in whichever former punchline city you’d use. Boston is no different, most of the media and fans just want to believe it is to feel different about themselves, to build up some false credibility. It’s a fanboy haven now, for better or worse.

Oh right. The whole point of this column is that the Boston media (and fans) aren’t TOUGH. Or tough enough anyway. In order to have credibility, apparently Boston fans and media need to be TOUGH on players and teams.

This paragraph (well, the whole column actually) makes no sense to me whatsoever. Questions I need answered:

Who is portraying the “charade” that Boston is a tough sports town?

Why is it important whether it is true or not?

Why would Boston fans and media need to make something up to feel different from other cities?

What credibility is needed beyond eight championships in twelve years?

When did being a fanboy become such an awful thing?

I like Kirk Minihane. I enjoy many of his columns, he oftentimes takes a stand that runs against what much of the media groupthink seems to be. I’m disappointed that with this one, he seems to be in lockstep with his colleagues at WEEI, as well as the likes of Felger and Mazz and Dan Shaughnessy.

When all the biggest voices in town are the cynics, how can it be said that the “fanboys” have won?  I’ve actually had a column started and it’s been sitting in my drafts folder about how “Felger Has Won.” I believe it is a more accurate representation of what the current fan/media climate is here in Boston at the moment. The “fanboys” get mocked, shouted down and hung up on, while the cynics get all the space and airtime they want.

If you listened to the radio at all yesterday, you know I’m right.

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...]

Celtics Close Out Season of Change

The Celtics wrapped up the regular season last night with a loss to the playoff-bound Washington Wizards at TD Garden.

As with much of the season the Celtics had moments of competitiveness, but faded and eventually fell at the end.

They did what most people wanted them to do this season – lose – but perhaps didn’t even do enough of that. It was an odd season in many aspects. You had many fans and talk show hosts and columnists outright rooting (are they supposed to do that???) for the team to lose. Then had others in the media who were critical of the team for its effort and execution at times.

If you’re looking big picture, things look pretty good for this franchise. The stockpile of first round picks is well documented, they have a good shot at a top player this June should they choose to use their pick, have assets to trade if an opportunity presents itself (unlike many others, I’m not big on the Kevin Love bandwagon) and have some decent talent on the present roster to build around. They’ve also got a young coach who is already drawing praise from around the league, and who will no doubt use his first NBA season as a learning experience. They have a $10.3 million trade exception which can be used in a sign-and-trade or straight trade, but needs to be used before July 12.

In Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk they have two young players who at a minimum can be serviceable big men in the NBA. In his second season and coming off back surgery Sullinger averaged 13.3 ppg and 8.1 rpg. Olynyk had his ups and downs throughout the season, but in the last three games of the season he scored 25, 28 and 24 points.

They’ve got Rondo – whether they choose to keep him or use him as a trade asset. They have a decision to make on Avery Bradley, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, and who suffered through another injury-plagued season, but averaged 14.9 ppg in 60 games. Jeff Green remains maddeningly inconsistent, but he played all 82 games and led the team in scoring at 16.9 ppg. We’ve seen that he’s probably best suited to being a 3rd or 4th option on a club where he doesn’t have to be The Man, but can be a complementary piece. He could be used in a trade. Many of the other contracts on the team are designed to be flexible enough to use in a trade (non-guaranteed, year to year, etc).

It’s setting up to be a very interesting offseason, and while ownership promises “fireworks”, Danny Ainge just sees it as an offseason where there is a lot of work to be done.

I’m just glad that the games have been played, and we don’t have to hear about tanking and all the cute phrases that go along with it from the local sports radio and television wags.

While the season on the floor was tough, we got some great writing and coverage of the team this season. Baxter Holmes has done a terrific job with both features and the game-to-game coverage. He and Gary Washburn make a great duo for the Globe. At the Herald, Steve Bulpett and Mark Murphy did their usual outstanding job, with Bulpett remaining one of my favorite media personalities in town, and I consider him still somewhat underrated despite 30 years on the job. Jay King at MassLive.com is part of a tremendous young team at that website. Others on the beat – Ben Rohrbach of WEEI.com, A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE, and Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com all added insight and information to the season.

I think the Celtics beat overall is the best and most professionally covered of any of the four major sports in town. Very little bombast or “look at me” types here. The Celtics blogging community is passionate and strong as well, with sites like CelticsBlog and RedsArmy leading the way.

The broadcast teams – Mike Gorman remains the gold standard in town. He makes whomever is with him sound great. For some reason Tommy Heinsohn has detractors and critics who cringe at his enthusiasm and support of the franchise that he has been a part of for almost 60 years. I’ll defend him to the death. The guest analysts – P.J. Carlesimo, Jackie MacMullan, even Danny Ainge and Chris Herren each brought something to the telecasts. On the radio side, Sean Grande also had many partners thoughout the season as Cedric Maxwell at times also moved over to the television side. If there was a weak spot, this might be it. Bringing in the likes of Rich Keefe and Adam Jones to sit beside Grande was curious – though it was likely a cost-saving move to bring on someone already on the station payroll.

Overall it was a rough season on the court, but we can look forward to better times ahead, and for an eventful offseason.

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...]