Jimmy Garoppolo’s strong play has made him into a viable NFL starter and will be starting in the 2016 season, but not for the Patriots.
Garoppolo was selected in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL draft and was thought by some to be Tom Brady’s future successor at quarterback in New England. Garoppolo had a strong preseason his rookie year in 2014 but of course was no threat to Brady. Jimmy G was then put into the game in a blowout loss against the Chiefs where he performed well at the end of the game. The media hype grew even more on Garoppolo with some people saying that Tom Brady was done and that it was Garoppolo’s time to become the starting quarterback in New England. Garoppolo then struggled in the season finale against the Buffalo Bills going up against one of the top defenses in the NFL with a cast of backup players playing for New England.
After the harsh criticism of Brady by some members of the media he went on to have a fantastic rest of 2015 season and of course went on to win his fourth Super Bowl ring. And now with the never-ending “DeflateGate” scandal, Garoppolo may be the Patriots starting quarterback for the first four weeks of the regular season. Garoppolo has played well this preseason after a very inconsistent week one against the Green Bay Packers and has led two comeback victories in the preseason, improving his game each week.
I hated the pick of Garoppolo at the time and even with his improved play still do not see Garoppolo as Brady’s successor and the future quarterback of the Patriots. Though I do not see him as the future quarterback of the Patriots I think Garoppolo could be a good quarterback in the NFL and that he is currently probably better than a few starting quarterbacks on other teams and looks better than quarterbacks such as Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel, who were selected before him in the 2014 draft. With New England losing a first round pick in the 2016 NFL draft it could make sense for the team to move Jimmy G for either an early second round pick in the 2016 draft and even potentially a first rounder in 2017. Brady and Garoppolo’s contracts both expire after the 2017 season. If Brady is still playing at a high level the Patriots would have a tough decision to make on who to re-sign if both were willing to re-sign with New England. Garoppolo may not be willing to re-sign after being a backup for four season and may look to go else where and if that’s the case why not attempt to move Garoppolo at a time when you are low on draft picks. New England may not move him during this season and don’t need to, but moving him after the season would be smart to do. They could trade him to a quarterback needy team like Houston or Cleveland who could have high second round picks which could be almost equivalent to the first rounder New England lost or a first rounder for the following year.
Garoppolo could be a starter in the NFL sooner rather than later and I think he will be a full time starter in 2016, but it won’t be for the Patriots.
At this time last year Malcolm Butler was an undrafted rookie free agent fighting to make a roster spot. This year he’s the teams number one cornerback going in to the 2015 season, and by the looks of things Butler looks to be the real deal and that he could be a starting number one cornerback in the NFL.
Everyone in the world knows about his Super Bowl winning interception, but that wasn’t Butler’s only good play he made during the season. Butler saw limited action throughout the year playing behind Revis, Browner and Arrington, who are now all playing for different teams. Butler isn’t getting the job because of the departure of the other corners, he’s getting it because he’s deserved it. He’s paid his dues playing and learning behind elite company, now he gets to exhibit his skills as a number 1 corner. This isn’t going to say that Butler is going to be an elite cornerback like a Darrelle Revis or Richard Sherman, those types of guys are once in a generation type players but Butler is going to be a very good corner in the NFL. Is it possible he could work himself into being an elite corner in the NFL? Sure, but for now its premature to say.
Butler has shown his skills in both man and zone coverage and has continued to work on getting better from last year to this year and wants to be the best player he can be. He has shown good ball skills of course with his interception in the Super Bowl and as well as making great plays so far in training camp. Then one of the biggest things he has is the confidence and the swagger of a great corner. He was on top of the world after the Super Bowl by making maybe the best play in the history of the NFL, he’s shown that he wants to cover the best by covering Edelman and Gronkowski in practice and covering them well, covering Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb against the Packers in week one of the preseason and not allowing any catches, covering Marques Colston and Brandin Cooks in week two of the preseason against the Saints. He showed his speed and hit power by leveling Brandin Cooks on a wide receiver end around by following him and making the big hit after Cooks crossed the line of scrimmage. Cooks has 4.3 speed and is one of the fastest guys in the NFL and tracking him down is no easy task. After the play Butler got up got into Cooks face a little bit and just stood there with confidence and swagger.
He’s drawn praise from coaches and players for his work ethic, ability and his determination to get better and wanting to be a great player. He struggled the first day of doing practices this week against the Saints, he came back the next day and had a very good day of practice and then played well in the preseason game against New Orleans. He knows what it takes and wants to be the best and keep improving, if he struggles he’s going to do something about it and change it and showed the ability to bounce back from a bad performance. Butler is going to be the starting cornerback for the Patriots this season and he’s going to do a great job at it. With the more experience he gets the better he will get and maybe get into that Sherman and Revis category in a few years. For now he’s going to be the Patriots number one corner and hopefully do his job of stopping the opposing offenses number one threat. I wrote about Butler last summer going into the season and how well he performed in camp and had confidence in him being a contributor on defense, now I’m writing about Butler with him being “the guy” in the secondary and I still have all the confidence in him. Malcolm Butler is going to be a great player for the Patriots and can’t wait to see him in the regular season lined up against some of the best in the league and see how he performs.
With injuries tearing down the Patriots wide receiver depth chart undrafted rookie free agent Chris Harper has been working his way up the depth chart. Harper has played well so far this season not only as a receiver but also as a return man on special teams. We all know Bill Belichick loves versatility in his players and with Harper showing his ability to do multiple things on the field
Harper has been receiving a lot of snaps with injuries to Edelman, LaFell, Dobson and Tyms and so far has made the most of his opportunities. It seems very likely that Brian Tyms is going to end up on the season ending injured reserve and Brandon LaFell possibly starting the year on the physically unable to perform list and Aaron Dobson battling yet another injury the Patriots receiver depth chart would take a hit and need players to step up, and Harper could be that player. Through two preseason games Harper has tallied 12 receptions for 117 yards and one touchdown as well as averaging 10.7 yards per punt return and 23.8 yards per kickoff return.
Though it is just preseason and can never take anything into full effect Harper has gained the attention of coaches and players with his increase of snaps and production. The first preseason game third year man Josh Boyce was the main target for Jimmy Garoppolo, week two it was Harper who edged out Boyce on both offense and special teams. Boyce was not targeted at all on offense and didn’t receive any returns on special teams and I believe didn’t see a single snap in Friday’s win against the Saints. With the lack of depth the Patriots currently have at wide receiver the fact that Boyce didn’t receive a snap goes to show that New England doesn’t see him in their plans for 2015 and maybe the future. Harper seemed to have taken Boyce’s shot at the 53rd roster spot and will continue to fight for his spot over the next few weeks of practice and preseason. I would love to see Harper make the final 53 man roster with how he has played so far this preseason and wouldn’t want to risk losing him by placing him on the practice squad. I think the Patriots receiving corps should look like Edelman LaFell, Amendola, Dobson, and Harper, if all are healthy. Harper may not always be active or see a lot of playing time but keeping him on the roster would get him experience and playing time in practice as well as not risk losing him to another team by placing him on the practice squad.
The Patriots start game action tomorrow in their preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers. Though it’s preseason and it isn’t very likely to see many starters playing and getting significant time, its still better than watching the Red Sox. Lets take a look at things to watch for during the Patriots preseason opener.
Tom Brady has been receiving all of the first team reps at quarterback before Tuesday when he was preparing for his meeting with Commissioner Roger Goodell and Judge Richard Berman in an attempt to exonerate his four game suspension handed down by the league. With Brady missing yesterdays practice and being in New York today I wouldn’t expect to see Brady in the preseason opener. If Brady does not play I would expect Garoppolo play the whole first half and some of the third quarter before newly signed QB Ryan Lindley sees the field. It is important for Garoppolo to get as much playing time and experience that he can during the preseason just incase Brady ends up missing time due to his suspension. Garoppolo also knows the New England playbook with more than a year of studying under his belt, Lindley has about two days under his belt and the Patriots would likely use a lot smaller playbook focused more on the run with Lindley under center.
Health has been a big concern for the Patriots early in camp and it will be interesting to see who ends up playing in tomorrow’s game. The Patriots offensive line and wide receivers have been plagued the most by the injury bug with Julian Edelman, Nate Solder, Ryan Wendell, Sebastian Vollmer, Brandon Lafell and Matthew Slater among notable names that have missed time. LaGarrette Blount left last weeks practice with an apparent knee injury but suffered no structural damage to his knee and I wouldn’t expect to see Blount suit up against Green Bay. It will also be interesting to see if linebackers Jerod Mayo and Donta Hightower see playing time. Mayo was placed on injured reserve last season after a torn patellar tendon and Hightower an offseason shoulder surgery, have been active in training camp in both contact and non-contact drills but practiced and games are different and the Patriots could choose to hold the linebackers out or limit their playing time.
RICHARDS AND ROBERTS
Two guys who have been making a name for themselves so far in training camp have been second round pick Jordan Richards and seventh round pick Darryl Roberts. To be honest I didn’t like the pick of Richards in the second round, I thought he was a good player and was a good fit for the team but thought the team reached for Richards and could have taken him later in the draft and wasn’t even watching the draft in the seventh round when the team drafted Roberts. Throughout offseason mini camps and OTAs Roberts was making plays and getting strong recognition from coaches and media. Richards could only learn the teams playbook and couldn’t participate in OTAs due to Stanford’s late graduation. Once training camp kicked off, Richards made up for his lost time and Roberts continued to shine, both looking like they could be big contributors to the Patriots defense this season. Tomorrow will be the first NFL game action the two see, and though they likely wont be going against Aaron Rodgers or either of the Packers star receivers in Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, one thing I will be looking to see is how the two perform in real game action. Last year, a player I was high on during camp and had high hopes for was Malcolm Butler and wrote about it in articles at this time last year, if these guys can contribute and play as well as Butler did his rookie year and continues to do so during camp, the Patriots again may have found a few diamonds in the rough. The only reason I’m not mentioning Butler as someone to watch is I’m not sure how much playing time the Packers receivers and Rodgers will see, I’m confident in Butler against any of the backups, the real test would be him matched up against Nelson or Cobb with Rodgers at quarterback.
These are things that I will be watching for when the Patriots take the field tomorrow night. It’s only the preseason but Patriots football is back and that is something we can all be happy about.
Now former San Fransisco 49ers star linebacker Aldon Smith was yet again arrested, this time for a DUI, the third DUI he has gotten since entering the league. As I’m writing this I just got the alert on my phone that the 49ers have released Smith, this makes me question how dumb some of these NFL players and athletes could be in general. You have guys like Aldon Smith, Josh Gordon, Justin Blackmon and of course Aaron Hernandez who are throwing away millions of dollars because of the stupid decisions they’re making. These guys are living the dream, making millions of dollars to play football, what could possibly be better than that? Well apparently to some of these guys going out getting high, shooting people as well as other dumb things there doing, has a higher priority.
Makes you also question how these guys made it this far and if they were just kept being passed on because of their talent and never disciplined for issues before the NFL. Did everyone just turn their backs when these guys were in high school and let them do as they pleased because of their talent? Could some of these guys have been changed and not made the mistakes they did had they been punished and had tighter rules when they were younger? A good thought, but something we’ll never know.
Aldon Smith was the 7th overall pick and finished second in defensive rookie of the year voting, he looked like he was gonna be a pro bowler year after year and could have been a force in the league. He was then arrested for now three separate DUIs, and for joking about having a bomb at an airport, another just purely stupid move. After his second DUI, Smith entered a rehab facility which seems clear he didn’t take very seriously. When you’re given an opportunity to get help when you need it, you take it and hope you can not only save your career, but also save yourself from going down an even worse path. After his release from the 49ers, his career is almost sure to be over at the age of 25.
Another guy throwing his career away is Josh Gordon. Gordon bounced around college because of suspensions due to substance abuse problems and hardly played. Gordon was still selected by the Browns in the second round of the supplemental draft and ended up missing time in his rookie season because of his drug use in college. Gordon also missed time during his second season for a substance abuse violation, and again was suspended. When Gordon returned he went on to be the best receiver in the NFL even with missing 14 games. Entering his third season Gordon was suspended yet again for substance abuse, this time originally for the season, which ended up being reduced to 10 games. You think that maybe, just maybe, Gordon would learn from this, nope. Gordon was suspended for at least one year after testing positive for drinking alcohol, which he could not do after being placed in the leagues substance abuse program. Gordon was a complete stud during his very brief NFL career and is now in question if he will ever play again. I loved Gordon on the field and was pulling for him to change his ways off the field. Even with my fandom of Gordon I don’t feel bad for him at all, he could have changed his off-field ways, he was in the leagues substance abuse program after three different substance abuse incidents, and after constant suspensions he just didn’t learn. Apparently weed is more important than playing football and making millions to Gordon. Have fun selling cars again in Cleveland Josh, hope you were good at it because it looks like that is going to be your future, not the NFL.
Like Gordon, Justin Blackmon has faced many suspensions due to substance abuse problems. Blackmon was suspended 8 games in 2013 because of failed drug tests and after not learning was suspended the whole season in 2014 for substance abuse and currently faces an indefinite suspension. The Jaguars general manager recently said he doesn’t expect Blackmon to play in the NFL again. 25 years old, and out of the NFL because of weed, not talent which Blackmon had all the talent in the world, not injuries which tend to happen to players, but for smoking weed. Go back a few years and say Blackmon and Gordon would be among the top receivers in the NFL at this point in their careers and almost on one would disagree, tell someone the two would be out of the league and people would be shocked. I don’t feel bad for Blackmon just like I don’t feel bad for other players I mention, he didn’t love the game and rather would live the way he wanted, smoking weed and doing whatever else he wanted to do which didn’t involve football. The last that was seen of Blackmon he was not nearly in the playing shape he was and by the looks of it he has no desire to play in the NFL again.
And of course the most well-known idiot on this list, Aaron Hernandez. All us Patriots fans as well as the rest of the country know his story and his legal trouble. Hernandez was convicted and given a life sentence for the murder of Odin Lloyd and still faces a double homicide charge stemming from a 2012 incident. After news of Hernandez’ arrest in the Odin Lloyd incident, Hernandez was released by the Patriots and then other news and incidents from his past began to slowly come out. From him taking a selfie with a gun during his time at Florida, to bar fights, to gang related activities from his time in high school combined with drug use, Hernandez was a thug off the field with all his issues. Hernandez had all the talent in the world on the field and had all the problems in the world off of it. After just having a baby and a new $40 million contract, you would think Hernandez would give up his old ways and change his life, apparently not. Hernandez is a sociopath and all he knew was his street mentality and was apparent he didn’t wanna change for anything and its who he was, giving up his family, football career, a $40 million contract at the age of 23 and his life.
No one will ever know the reasoning these guys have to do what they do, act how they act, and know whats important to them in life. The are all guys who were given many opportunities to change their lives and change who they are. Rehab through the league or separate rehab are and were all options to these guys. Johnny Manziel entered rehab after the end of last season because he knew his drinking and parting would have led to a quick end of his career. Johnny now seems to be on the right path, only focused on football and competing to be the Browns starting quarterback for the 2015 season. I hope Manziel has that all behind him and is focused solely on football, though I loved Johnny Football and the college party boy swagger he brought to the field being a college kid myself, I hope and would rather see Manziel as a successful NFL player.
These guys gave up the American dream, just about everyone including myself will never understand why and what is important to these guys, and they now have to live with their decisions which have changed all their lives for the worse.
News broke this morning that NFL Executive and former longtime Jets employee Mike Kensil was the reported main source for who leaked out false information to Chris Mortensen about 11 of the 12 Patriots footballs that were used in the AFC Championship against the Colts were two pounds under the legal limit the balls could be at.
Kensil is the same guy that told the Patriots equipment manager “we weighed the balls and you’re in big f***ing trouble.” If all this information is true it makes it out to look like the league is out to setup the Patriots, which some people already believed. Per reports, Kensil leaked out information to Mortensen who then reported the information which ended up being false and ended up starting this whole BS “DeflateGate” debacle were in now. Reporting false information like this was sure to make all the headlines and attempt to ruin the reputation of the Patriots and Tom Brady, which the league is trying to do it appears.
Setup the Patriots and make them look bad and then have no supporting evidence or actual evidence information to backup what is being reported, sounds smart NFL. The NFL has gone back and forth about things they have said and done and this is another example of the bias the NFL has shown against the Patriots and how they are in a way out to get the Patriots. The NFL and ESPN refused to let Chris Mortensen talk on WEEI about the information that was reported and this whole debacle that has occurred since. Mortensen has not confirmed that Kensil is the one who gave him the information regarding the footballs in the AFC Championship game. (Although several sources have speculated that Kensil was the leak) The league doesn’t want any information coming out from their side about how they were wrong or any talks behind closed doors that they have had to be known by the public but are fine leaking out anything they possibly can that can go against the Patriots in this case and make it look like they are doing so many things wrong. They want phone records from Brady, Jastremski and McNally and anything they can try to get to make it look like their reports and accusations are correct, but wont even let the man who they gave information to, who they let “report” what has turned into the biggest sports story of the year and most nonsense of all-time, to talk to other media outlets about the situation. To me it sounds like the NFL are the ones who have something to hide and not Brady or the NFLPA.
With the whole aftermath of the “Deflategate” scandal there is only one thing that is safe to say, Tom Brady is pissed and the NFL should be worried. Brady is one of the most competitive players in the NFL and in all sports as a whole and giving him more fuel to add to the fire won’t be good for the Patriots opposing teams in 2015 and maybe even beyond.
The league is trying to tarnish Brady’s name and legacy, something he has worked hard for since coming into the NFL and even before during his college days at Michigan. Brady has set numerous records as well as four Super Bowl Championships and other accolades and accomplishments throughout his career.
Going into last season Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus stated that Tom Brady was no longer a top five quarterback, which was widely viewed by people as a bit of an over statement. With the statement from Monson and after a rough first month of the season including a 41-14 blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs where the now famous words from Trent Dilfer, “The New England Patriots, lets face it there not good anymore”, you could tell Brady was determined and pissed. The next week Brady and the Patriots went on to put a beat down on the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals which set the tone for the rest of the season and made Dilfer eat his words on the way to the teams fourth Super Bowl title. No one was second-guessing Brady’s ability to continue to play at a high level and to continue to be the best quarterback in the game.
This isn’t the first time Brady has been pissed off regarding people talking about him or the Patriots. How about in 2007 when Steelers safety Anthony Smith guaranteed a victory against the Patriots. Brady heard, and made Smith amongst the rest of the Steelers look foolish. Brady scored on a rushing touchdown where he proceeded to spike the ball and chirp at Anthony Smith while doing so. Brady also was targeting Smith all game throwing at him and Smith could do nothing about it, most notably the famous Brady to Moss to Brady to Gaffney touchdown pass (one of my all-time favorite plays). Another example of if you make Brady mad you’re going to pay for it. We’ve seen Brady’s intensity and passion on the sidelines many times before and I expect him to play with that even more than usual during the 2015 season.
Former teammate Rodney Harrison and current teammate Julian Edelman have talked about Brady being mad about this whole situation and how the NFL is adding fuel to the fire, giving Brady more of a reason to be great and excel on the field and to show the league that he is the best quarterback to play the game and a true winner.
So once Brady’s suspension is exonerated and he is allowed to play in all 16 games of the regular season and he is going to be out to make a point and to quiet the league and its fans. Brady is going to be shattering records this year, Brady could be so mad the Patriots may not run the ball this year. LaGarrette Blount is suspended the first game of the year and it may not even matter Brady could throw the ball 50 times per game just to make a statement to the sports world. So a quick little thank you to the NFL, once this whole mess with Brady is fixed and cleared up and he is out there on opening night it wont be a pretty sight for the Steelers and every other opponent the Patriots play in 2015 and is giving Tom even more of a reason to get ring number five this season.
With still no news on Tom Brady’s appeal lets take a look at why Brady shouldn’t have handed over his phone and phone records to the NFL.
As we know Brady didn’t hand over his cell phone or phone records when requested by the NFL during the investigation of the Wells Report. Some people say that Brady had something to hide and that’s the reason why he didn’t hand over his cell phone, here’s an argument against that.
Any contact between Brady and Jastremski or Brady and McNally would have been on the phone records of the other two, which the NFL had. Though nothing has been said by the NFL it is believed that 2 games of Brady’s current 4 game suspension is due to “lack of cooperation” for not handing over his phone. Anything the league needed to see they could see with the phone records they had of the other two men. With the celebrity status of Tom Brady I don’t blame him for not handing over his phone to the league, he’s married to the worlds most well known super model, as well as being friends with many celebrities and athletes and may not want the league looking into his personal messages, which no one can blame him for.
During the whole “DeflateGate” scandal there was a lot of information that has been leaked by the NFL while the investigation was going on. With all the leaked information coming out from the NFL who knows what the NFL could have done with Brady’s phone. Anything could have been released by the NFL from Brady’s phone, Brady may have photos of him, his wife and his family on his phone that he may not want the public eye to see because Brady is a family man. There also could be personal conversations with numerous amounts of people on his cell phone; no one needs to see whom Brady is talking to and what is being talked about and his personal life doesn’t need to be put out to the public eye. The NFL allows people and its fans to see what the NFL wants them so see, I believe that the NFL and Roger Goodell saw footage of the Ray Rice incident before it was leaked by TMZ and they wanted to hide the video from being put out to the public. The NFL could have put anything out on Brady’s phone with it in their control and could try potentially ruining his public image if they felt like doing so, which they are trying to do with this whole “DeflateGate” joke.
Because the NFL isn’t the law and the investigation that was being conducted by the NFL wasn’t done through a court room and had nothing to do with legal proceedings, Brady didn’t have to hand over his phone, it wasn’t mandatory for him to do so. This means the whole “lack of cooperation” line people use can quickly be diminished. Just because someone asked him to hand over his phone doesn’t mean he has to do so. I guarantee 99% of you that are reading this wouldn’t just hand over your cell phones if you don’t need to and it isn’t illegal for you not to do so. I’m 20 years old I know there’s no chance I’m just gonna hand over my phone to anybody just because they want it and to look through my messages and the content on my phone. Think about it, this is exactly what the NFL is trying to get from Brady. The only real similar NFL case where a cell phone was needed during an investigation was the Brett Favre “picture sending” scandal we’ll call it. Favre refused to hand over his phone to the league and was given a $50 thousand fine. The differences between these two circumstances? Favre’s phone had all the evidence needed on it, Brady’s didn’t and all records with the other people being investigated by the NFL, the NFL already had. So Favre receives a fine for not handing over his phone to the league which had all evidence the league needed and Brady doesn’t hand his phone over to the league when he doesn’t need to, and the league already had records of contact between Brady, Jastremski and McNally and receives a suspension because of it.. Seems legit doesn’t it? No not at all? Oh that’s right because it doesn’t, just Roger Goodell and the NFL looking to target the Patriots yet again.
Another way to view the situation is that Brady needs to give this info to prove to the league that he did nothing wrong. Brady knows he did nothing wrong and if this is the evidence that the NFL needs to try convicting him of any wrong doings he knows he has the upper hand on the NFL if the case goes to court. The league has no evidence that Brady has any knowledge about balls being deflated or anything about this matter and with the league already acknowledging they feel Brady is guilty with no evidence they are looking to him to try hurting his own case. Brady was told by his legal team to not hand over the phone because they felt he did not need to do so and Brady listened to his team knowing they had what was in his best interest, opposite of the NFL.
Rob Ninkovich has been the model of consistency since becoming a starter in New England. With consistency and improvement every year does Ninkovich get the recognition and respect he deserves?
When Ninkovich became a starter at outside linebacker during his second year with the patriots he proved that he should be a starter collecting 62 tackles with 4 sacks and 2 interceptions. The next year he improved with 74 tackles, 6.5 sacks and two interceptions. Two good seasons from a prior special teams player. He was then switched to defensive end where he has really excelled. His first year at defensive end Ninkovich recorded 58 tackles with 8 sacks, a very respectable number. His next season was even more of an improvement where he recorded 91 tackles and 8 sacks. Defensive ends typically don’t record that high of an amount of tackles, which really goes to show Ninkovich’s motor as well as his versatility being able to be moved around the field. This past season Ninkovich again played well, his tackle amount decreased to 53 tackles but again collected 8 sacks, which lead the Patriots.
Ninkovich is a leader on the defense and does even more than what the numbers show. He has played the role of a QB spy against mobile quarterbacks containing the outside edge, most notably against Russell Wilson in this years Super Bowl victory where he had a clutch sack on Russell Wilson which forced Seattle to punt and New England ended up scoring the game winning touchdown the following drive.
Ninkovich is seemed to never be talked about, especially outside of New England. I’m not saying he is one of the best defensive ends in the NFL and at the elite level such as guys like JJ Watt and Robert Quinn, but he is and should be closer to the top of the league ranks than he is the bottom and one of the best defensive players the Patriots have. Ninkovich provides the Patriots to run different defensive schemes with his versatility and the effect he has to change games. In my opinion, Rob Ninkovich is THE MOST UNDERRATED PLAYER IN THE NFL. Everybody has those players that they love and think is underrated and doesn’t get the praise and respect they deserve, Rob Ninkovich is one of mine. He is a difference maker, he plays well against the run, can get after the quarterback in the pocket and force him outside the pocket, and can drop back in coverage against the pass and do all three things at a high level.
Like he has in years past, I expect Rob Ninkovich to have a very good 2015 season and be one of the top defenders for the Patriots.
Previously I had written about the Patriots secondary during Belichick’s tenure, now lets take a look at the best linebackers of the Belichick era. Some of these players were in New England prior to Belichick’s arrival and continued to play well after Belichick taking the reins, and others were either drafted or brought in by Bill via trade or free agency. The players listed are in no specific order or ranking.
Mayo was drafted 10th overall in the 2008 NFL Draft by the Patriots. Mayo was a key contributor to the Patriots defense right away starting all 16 regular season games and leading the team in tackles with 98. Mayo went on to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Mayo suffered a sprained MCL injury during week one of the 2009 season against the Buffalo Bills. Mayo returned quicker than he was expected, returning week 5 against the Denver Broncos. Even with the missed time due to injury Mayo went on to lead the team in tackles again recording 103 tackles on the season.
The 2010 NFL season was Mayo’s best season as a pro. He was named a captain prior to the season and backed it up in his play, recording a league high 175 tackles on the season. Mayo was named to his first Pro Bowl and was also named a member of the 2010 All Pro team. Mayo cashed in on his amazing year signing a 5-year extension with the Patriots towards the end of the year.
Mayo again surpassed the 100-tackle mark in both 2011 and 2012 and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2012 for the second time in his career. Mayo then went on to have two injury riddled seasons in both 2013 and 2014 and though he wasn’t able to play won his first Super Bowl championship in 2014. The Patriots still think Mayo can get back to his pre-injury form and restructured his contract in order for him to stay on the team for 2015. With Mayo’s on-field play making and leadership he for sure is one of the top linebackers of the Belichick era.
Mike Vrabel signed with the New England Patriots prior to the 2001 season and was a member of the team’s first three Super Bowl championships, remaining with the team until being traded to the Kansas City Chiefs after the 2008 season.
Vrabel was the face of versatility being able to play both inside and outside linebacker, as well as being able to put his hand in the dirt and play defensive end and even some tight end on occasions. Vrabel was clutch and loved the big games and wasn’t afraid of the moment. He caught a touchdown pass on offense and recorded two sacks in the Super Bowl victory against the Carolina Panthers. Vrabel was named to the Pro Bowl for the first and only time in his career in 2007 as well as being selected to the All Pro team for his first and only time in 2007 after recording 12.5 sacks on the year. Vrabel was a great player for the Patriots during his tenure with the team from 2001 to 2008.
Like Vrabel, Ninkovich has been an extremely versatile player for the Patriots since joining the team. Though he now plays defensive end Ninkovich played at linebacker for a few years at the beginning of his tenure in New England I’m adding him to the list based on how well he has played in New England and the fact that I love Ninkovich and have often said it the past few years that in my opinion he is the most underrated player in the NFL.
Ninkovich signed with the Patriots in August of 2009 and made the team’s 53-man roster. During his first year in New England Ninkovich finished with 23 tackles and a sack playing limited snaps. Ninkovich became a starter at outside linebacker prior to the 2010 season. With an increase in snaps Ninks production increased as well, finishing the season with 6s tackles, 4 sacks and 2 interceptions. Ninkovich continued to improve in 2011 and finished the season with 74 tackles, 6.5 sacks and two interceptions and started all 16 games of the regular season for the first time in his career.
Ninkovich moved to defensive end for the 2012 season where he has played since. During his first year at defensive end Ninkovich shined, recording 58 tackles, 8 sacks, 5 forced fumbles and 4 fumble recoveries, again starting all 16 games. With Ninkovich moving to the line he was replaced at linebacker with rookie first round pick Dont’a Hightower. Ninkovich continued to play well at defensive end during the 2013 season collecting 91 tackles and 8 sacks. Ninkovich was towards the top of the league in snaps played during the 2013 season. The 2014 season was nothing different for Ninkovich who finished the year with 53 tackles and 8 sacks, yet again starting all 16 games of the regular season. Ninkovich was a leader of the 2014 defense and went on to win the first Super Bowl championship of his career.
The soon to be Patriots Hall of Famer is arguably the best linebacker during the Belichick era and one of the best defensive players in the teams franchise. McGinest was drafted by the team in 1994 but for the sake of this article am just going to look at his time in New England under coach Bill Belichick. Like both Vrabel and Ninkovich, McGinest played both outside linebacker and defensive end in New England and under Belichick.
Belichick’s first year as head coach in New England was the 2000 season. During that season McGinest played in 14 games, recording 63 tackles and 6 sacks. To be honest I cant write too much about McGinest for this season due to the fact that I was only 5 at the time and though I was watching football regularly, don’t remember too much. The 2001 season McGinest missed 5 games due to injury and his production diminished only recording 33 tackles on the year with 6 sacks. The injuries didn’t stop McGinest from playing in Super Bowl 36 and playing a key role in the team’s defense. McGinest was back to being fully healthy during the 2002 season and saw his production jump back up recording 62 tackles with 5.5 sacks. 2003 was a similar one production wise for McGinest with 67 tackles and 5.5 sacks, as well as another Super Bowl championship and being named to the Pro Bowl team. During the 2004 season McGinest collected 9.5 sacks, tied second highest in a season of his career and went on to get his third Super Bowl championship. The 2005 season was McGinest’s last as a member of the Patriots, during which he recorded 56 tackles with 6 sacks. McGinest went on to set two NFL playoff records during the 2005 playoffs. One record was most career playoff sacks, 78, and the other for most sacks in a playoff game, 4.5 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
McGinest was a great player for the Patriots and was a great leader of the defense. McGinest was putting up good sack numbers when the league was still a run focused league and teams weren’t passing as much. McGinest was also clutch and lived for the big moments. My favorite McGinest moment was his game saving tackle at the goal line on fourth down against the Colts, stuffing Colts running back Edgerrin James at the one-yard line.
Last but not least Tedy Bruschi. Bruschi was the leader and the face of the Patriots defense for years. Bruschi played his heart out and was a winner and was an example of a perfect Patriot, he would do whatever needed of him to win and always got the best out of the guys he was playing with. Bruschi was a seven-time team captain and was often overlooked throughout the league only making one Pro Bowl during his career. Bruschi was in New England prior to the arrival of coach Bill Belichick, and was a contributor the New England ever since his time as a rookie when he was primarily a special teams player.
During his first season under Belichick in 2000 Bruschi recorded 105 tackles. The 2001 season saw Bruschi’s production decrease only recording 75 tackles, as well as recording his first of three Super Bowl Championships. The 2002 season was diminished by injury for Bruschi appearing in only 11 games on the season. In those 11 games Bruschi recorded 66 tackles. Coming back from injury in 2003 Bruschi had his best statistical season as a pro, playing in all 16 games and recording 131 tackles as well as 2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 3 interceptions. Bruschi went on to win his second Super Bowl Championship, as well as being named an All Pro for the 2003 season. The 2004 season was another strong one for Bruschi, recording 122 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 3 interceptions. Bruschi won his third Super Bowl championship, was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career and was again named an All Pro.
Bruschi then suffered a stroke just days after playing in the 2005 Pro Bowl. It was unclear is Bruschi would make a full healthy recovery, never mind play football again. Bruschi remarkably made a speedy recovery and even came back to play in the 2005 season, just months after suffering the stroke. Bruschi appeared in 9 games and was back to his old form picking up 62 tackles during those 9 games, and was named the Comeback Player of the Year. With being fully recovered medically from his stroke Bruschi appeared in 15 games in 2006 and was again back to his old ways, recording 112 tackles. During Bruschi’s last two seasons in the league in 2007 and 2008 he collected 92 and 75 tackles.
Bruschi is arguably the best linebacker and defensive player of the Belichick era. Bruschi was named to the Patriots Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2013 and I believe that he should and one day will be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
All of the players listed above have played great in New England and under coach Bill Belichick. With the emergences of young star linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them on this list somewhere down the line if they can continue and improve on the early success both have displayed in the NFL.
Your NFL news. A few laughs and hard nosed opinions and facts. What more could you want? It's a one stop shop.