Category Archives: AFC

Early Patriots 53-Man Roster Projection 1.0

The Patriots are now on their third week of training camp and set to play their first preseason game later this week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The team has yet to make any roster moves outside of the retirement of veteran Rob Ninkovich. It may only be the beginning of August, but let’s take a look at what the Patriots 53-man roster could look like a month from now when the regular season begins.

 

Quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

Brady and Garoppolo are obvious locks to make the roster, there has been some talk on whether the Patriots hold onto Brissett and keep him on the 53-man roster or move on from the second year quarterback. Ultimately I think the Patriots hold onto Brissett, the team placed him on Injured Reserve with eligibility to return last year and traveled with the team during this time. There have also been reports on how much the team likes his toughness and leadership, both traits he showed last year as a rookie. Brissett still needs some time to develop and isn’t ready to be an NFL quarterback right now, but as a third round pick only a year ago shows a lot of potential and will stay on the 53 man roster, even though the team doesn’t necessarily need to carry a third quarterback.

 

Running Back: James White, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, James Develin

Gillislee and Burkhead were both signed this offseason and look to play big roles with the team, especially Gillislee who looks to take over as the feature/powerback role previously held by LaGarrette Blount. Super Bowl hero James White was also given a contract extension this offseason and is a lock to make the roster. Dion Lewis has played great for the team when healthy and is capable of playing a few different roles on offense and can contribute as a return man on special teams. Brandon Bolden misses out on the 53-man roster in this projection, Bolden plays primarily as a special teamer and contributes little to the offense throughout the season. The roster having as much depth as it does makes it hard for Bolden to make the roster as a guy who primarily contributes on just special teams, which the team already has several of.

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via Boston Herald

Wide Receiver: Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell

Probably the easiest position on the team to project for. It’s fair to say that all five of these guys are locks to make the roster. One question could be is would the team consider keeping six wide receivers? Undrafted rookie free agent Austin Carr was the very last guy who didn’t make the roster when I was putting this projection. Carr has had a very good camp so far and looks to capitalize during preseason games and fight for one of the final roster spots on the final roster and is someone the Patriots might not be able to sneak onto the practice squad.  I did not consider Matthew Slater as a wide receiver since he just plays special teams.

Cooks masslive
via masslive.com

Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Matt Lengel

Gronk is back and has looked great and healthy so far during training camp. Allen has been inconsistent so far and have been some reports that he has struggled to learn the offense, but is far too talented at a weak position outside of Gronkowski to not make the team. The third tight end spot could easily be a few different people but I give it to Lengel for now. Lengel played in limited action last year after the injury to Gronkowski and has familiarity with the offense, and was a big contributor towards the end of the season and during the playoffs last year for the Patriots. Lengel can contribute both as a blocker and a receiver, which can help add multiple dimensions to the teams offense when he is in the game. James O’Shaughnessy and Lengel are the top two guys competing for the third tight end spot, but rookie free agent Jacob Hollister could be someone who could make an impression during the preseason as he would provide the offense with more of a receiver-tight end role compared to more of a blocking tight end role like Lengel or O’Shaughnessy.

 

Offensive Line: Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Tony Garcia, Ted Karras, Cameron Fleming

The starting five from last year are locks to make the roster, as well as Joe Thuney who was the top backup interior lineman last season and rookie Tony Garcia who will be the teams primary backup tackle. The last offensive lineman spot goes to Cameron Fleming, who was last year’s top backup tackle and has proven to be inconsistent throughout his career in New England and so far, in camp. In joint practices with the Jaguars, Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue was treating Fleming like a revolving door constantly beating Fleming in the absence of Nate Solder. Fleming gets the upper hand over LaAdrian Waddle, who was on the 53-man roster last season but was not active for a single game, and rookie Connor McDermott who the Patriots could look to put on the practice squad.

Garcia getty images
via gettyimages.com

Defensive Line: Trey Flowers, Alan Branch, Malcolm Brown, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers, Vincent Valentine, Kony Ealy, Geneo Grissom

Flowers, Branch, Guy, Wise, Rivers, and Valentine are all locks to make the roster based on last year’s production, draft spot, and contract received this offseason. Wise has had a great training camp so far and could look to start at defensive end opposite Trey Flowers if he continues to impress during preseason action. Kony Ealy and Geneo Grissom are two guys who could be fighting for one roster spot on the Patriots defensive line depending on how the rest of training camp and the preseason goes. Ealy was acquired in a trade this offseason with the Carolina Panthers and was expected to play a big role in the Patriots defense this season. The start of training camp hasn’t been a good one so far for Ealy though, he missed the first day of training camp for unknown reason and when asked was told to ask coach Bill (Belichick) about why he wasn’t out there. He has also had his struggles in camp and hasn’t been able to beat offensive tackles and generate pressure on a consistent basis. Both of these factors could end up in Ealy not making the final roster.

Rivers Ealy pats.com
via patriots.com

Linebacker: Dont’a Hightower, David Harris, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Harvey Langi

Hightower is an obvious lock and so is former Jet David Harris, everyone else there could be a case why they should make the team and a case why they couldn’t make it. Van Noy, McClellin and Roberts all saw a good amount of playing time last season, they all had their ups and downs and were inconsistent at times but have shown enough to make the roster again in 2017. Langi is an undrafted free agent who the Patriots were high on during the draft process partly due to his versatility of being able to play both inside and outside linebacker as well as being able to rush the passer as a defensive end. Langi has had a good camp so far and should be able to build on it during preseason games and earn a spot on the final roster.

Harris ESPN
via espn.com

Cornerback: Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones

Butler, Gilmore and Rowe are all locks to make the team and be part of a Patriots defense and secondary that should be one of the top in the league. Jonathan Jones played well in the slot late last season and so far, has the upper hand to be the teams nickel and slot corner and also contributes on special teams. Cyrus Jones had his struggles last season as a rookie and is looking to bounce back in his second season. Jones has a lot of talent and potential and was evident that his special teams struggles last season affected him mentally and on the defensive side of the ball. If the Patriots hold Cyrus off of special teams he could look to contribute in a positive way defensively.

Corners Pats.com

Safety: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Jordan Richards, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Brandon King

The only real question out of this group is Jordan Richards, who hasn’t played too much over his first few seasons in New England after being selected in the second round. Richards has looked good so far early into training camp before having some struggles during joint practices with the Jaguars. Ebner and King and mostly special teams players who occasionally play and contribute on defense, but will make the roster due to their special teams excellence. Six safeties seem like it could be too many to carry but Ebner and King being primarily special teamers could earn Richards a spot on the final roster in case of any injury that occurs.

Richards sacbee
via sacbee.com

Special Teams: Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Matthew Slater, Joe Cardona

The only real surprise when it comes to special teams is that the Patriots don’t have any one in to compete with Gostkowski who struggled drastically last season and missed two field goals during yesterday’s first joint practice with the Jaguars.

 

The Patriots take on the Jaguars Thursday night for their first preseason action of the year. As preseason and training camp goes by I’ll continue to update my 53-man projection based on players performances and team needs going forward.

2017 Patriots Training Camp First Day Thoughts and Observations

The Super Bowl champion New England Patriots kicked off training camp today in front of a massive crowd of fans that showed up to welcome back their beloved team. Quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady was one of the first on the field for the Patriots and was welcomed by a loud uproar of screams and chants from the fans. Fans were also excited to see the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who missed the second half of the regular season and the playoffs after undergoing back surgery during the season.

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With the first few days of camp being non-contact the team went through a lot of individual position drills, as well as 7-on-7s, 11-on-11s and special teams drills. The team started off with kickoff and kickoff returns, where Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, and Cyrus Jones were fielding and receiving kicks. Cyrus Jones picked up the same spot he ended last season, dropping one of his first few attempts catching the kickoff and then fielded everyone cleanly after that. If Jones continues to have issues on special teams his job and roster spot could be in jeopardy.

 

All three quarterbacks participated in 7-on7 and 11-on-11 drills with Tom Brady primarily working with the first team offense, Jimmy Garoppolo working with all three units and Jacoby Brissett working with the third team offense and some snaps with the second team offense. Brady looked like his normal self; spreading the ball around to his many offensive weapons, connecting with offseason addition Brandin Cooks several times deep down the sideline. During these drills Rob Gronkowski looked like he was completely healthy and happy to be back on the field and was even trying to create contact with defenders and did his famous “Gronk Spike” after catching a pass in the end zone from Brady. Jimmy Garoppolo was inconsistent during these scrimmages, making some good passes including a deep ball to tight end Dwayne Allen. Garoppolo also made some bad passes and decisions, including back to back interceptions in the end zone by Eric Rowe and Jordan Richards. Jacoby Brissett looked good with the third team offense and had a good chemistry with second year receiver Devin Lucien, who made a great catch on a back shoulder fade in the back of the end zone, and undrafted rookie Austin Carr. Brissett showed improvement on the quickness of his decision making and getting rid of the ball, both of which were areas he struggled in last year.

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Austin Carr is someone who stood out to me and had a great practice working as a slot receiver with the third team offense and was constantly finding a way to get open. Carr was a Biletnikoff award finalist during his senior season in 2016 and led the Big Ten in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns before going undrafted in the 2017 NFL Draft. With the Patriots depth at receiver it will be tough for him to earn a spot on the final 53-man roster and would be a great addition to the teams practice squad and continue to learn from slot receivers like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, if he is not signed by another team.

 

Defensively the cornerback duo of Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore looked very sharp. Early on in the beginning of drills Butler had played great coverage on Brandin Cooks and had a pass breakup in the end zone on cooks. One area of question this offseason was who is going to be the Patriots slot and nickel corner, and on the first day of camp that went to Jonathan Jones. Jones was a primary special teams player last season who played some slot corner on defense and appears as of now to be the team’s starting slot corner, with Butler and Gilmore on the outside, as well as Eric Rowe who can line up on the outside or on the inside against some tight ends because of his size.

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There were several players who did not attend of participate in todays practice including; Dont’a Hightower and Alan Branch who were both placed on the PUP list earlier this week, as well as Rob Ninkovich, Kony Ealy and Joe Cardona. According to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston Cardona’s absence is due to a commitment that Cardona has with the Navy. The absences of Ealy and Ninkovich have yet to be given a reason for. Ninkovich has been a name that has been discussed this offseason as a potential surprise cut or someone who will not make the final 53-man roster and his absence could be related to possible thoughts of retirement as he is set to enter his 12th year in the league.

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The Patriots will continue to practice over the weekend with only partial contact before moving to full padded practices next week. Patriots football is back and ready to defend their title and be on the quest for their sixth Super Bowl championship.

Patriots 2017 7-Round Mock Draft

The start of the NFL Draft is just under a week away. Currently the Patriots will not pick until the third round with the 72nd pick overall after trading their first round pick to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for wide receiver Brandin Cooks and their second round pick to the Carolina Panthers for defensive end Kony Ealy and the Panthers third round pick which is 72.

 

I did a seven round mock draft using the draft simulator on FanSpeak.com. While some players may not be around in the actual draft while they were in the simulation I selected the players who I thought helped fit the biggest needs for the Patriots.

anderson bleeding green nation

Round 3, pick 72: Ryan Anderson, Edge Rusher, Alabama

Edge Rusher remains the biggest need for the Patriots after the offseason, even with the addition of Kony Ealy. The team lost Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard to free agency and have little depth at the position. Anderson is a very good pass rusher and can get after the passer standing up and with his hand in the dirt. One down side with Anderson is his size, only standing at 6’2 253 pounds he could face problems against bigger tackles. Given the relationship between Bill Belichick and Alabama head coach Nick Saban, Anderson is someone who the Patriots could definitely look to draft to help their issues at the defensive end/ outside linebacker position.

jones cbs sports

Round 3, pick 96: Sidney Jones, cornerback, Washington

While I don’t expect Jones to last near this long the Patriots should draft him immediately if he does. Jones would have been a first round pick if it wasn’t for the torn Achillies injury he suffered at his pro day. Jones is a very physical corner who possesses good speed, and also has a knack for finding the ball with his nine career interceptions during his time at Washington.  Jones insisted that he would be ready in time for training camp, and even if he isn’t would still be a great pick at this point in the draft with the talent he possesses. If the Patriots do part ways with Malcolm Butler either this year or next, Jones could be a great replacement in the secondary.

Jake Butt detroit news

Round 4, pick 131: Jake Butt, tight end, Michigan

Like Jones, Jake Butt saw his draft stock slide due to injury. Butt suffered a torn ACL in the Orange Bowl against Florida State and is currently rehabbing the injury. Butt wont burn you defenders with his speed but is a consistent, reliable pass catches and a very good blocker for the tight end position. When you watch Butt you can see flashes of Cowboys tight end Jason Witten in his game. The Patriots lost Martellus Bennett in free agency but acquired Dwayne Allen in a trade from the Colts to pair up with Rob Gronkowski. The issue? Both Gronkowski and Allen have had their share of injury problems since entering the league. Adding another tight end into the mix would be a wise move for the Patriots in the draft; and because of the deep tight end class and injury that he suffered Butt could be a potential steal for the Patriots in the fourth round.

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Round 5, pick 163: James Conner, running back, Pittsburgh

Running back is not a huge position of need for the Patriots, especially if Buffalo does not match the offer sheet that the Patriots gave restricted free-agent Mike Gillislee earlier this week. But as of now Gillislee isn’t a member of the Patriots so James Conner is the pick here. Conner is a big physical back with a powerful running style, similar of LaGarrette Blount, who still remains a free agent. Conner could give the Patriots the big, physical back that the team is currently missing and has been a key piece to the offense over the past several seasons. Even with the addition of Gillislee, Conner could be someone who could find a place on the Patriots practice squad.

magnuson cleveland.com

Round 5, pick 183: Erik Magnuson, tackle, Michigan

Magnuson has experience playing both guard and tackle while at Michigan. He has pretty good size at 6’6 305 pounds, but could bulk up a little bit if his full-time position is at tackle. Magnuson was named to the first-team All-Big Ten team this past season with the Wolverines and played well against good competition such as Ohio State and Wisconsin. Magnuson would be an upgrade over LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming as a backup tackle.

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Round 6, pick 200: Bryan Cox Jr., edge rusher, Florida

The son of former Patriot Bryan Cox, Cox Jr. has the size to play defensive end and outside linebacker in the NFL at 6’3 265 pounds. Cox Jr. had a productive first three seasons at Florida before battling injuries during his senior year. Cox Jr. isn’t a very polished pass rusher and only ran a 4.89 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, but is a good run defender. During his best season as a junior, Cox Jr. had 10 tackles for a loss with 3.5 sacks. Adding Cox could give the Patriots another big body on the outside that the team currently does not have much depth in.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Mississippi State
Nov 14, 2015; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs wide receiver Fred Ross (8) runs the ball during the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Davis Wade Stadium. Alabama won 31-6. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

 

Round 7, pick 239: Fred Ross, wide receiver, Mississippi State

Wide receiver is not an area of need for the Patriots this season but could be later on down the road and drafting Ross could give the Patriots someone they could hold onto and develop more and maybe keep on the practice squad. Ross possesses good size and speed for the position, standing at 6’2 and running a 4.5 40-yard dash. Ross had a breakout junior season with Dak Prescott at quarterback, setting a school record with 88 receptions and surpassing over 1,000 yards receiving. His numbers slipped a little during his senior season without Presott, but had 12 receiving touchdowns. Ross also contributed on special teams for Mississippi State and could help the Patriots in that department as they struggled with Cyrus Jones returning kicks and punts last year.

Patriots Schedule Released; Complete 2017 Patriots Preview

The Patriots schedule has been released for the 2017 regular season and the Super Bowl champs will take on the Kansas City Chiefs to start off the season. Let’s take a look at the rest of the schedule and see what we could prepare for from the reigning Super Bowl champs this season.

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The Pats will raise banner number five against the Chiefs on Thursday Night September 7th and can fully expect the Patriots and the Gillette Stadium crowd to be as fired up as ever and come out with a win over the Chiefs. The Patriots will follow up by traveling down to New Orleans to take on Brandin Cooks now former team the Saints. As of now the Saints have only taken a step backwards with trading Cooks to New England and still has a lackluster defense that the Patriots offense should carve up. There’s still some chance that cornerback Malcolm Butler could be traded to the Saints before next week’s NFL Draft and even so I would fully expect the Patriots to come out with a win against the Saints.

Pats Chiefs LA Times

The Patriots will then travel back to Foxboro for back to back home games with the Houston Texans and Carolina Panthers. New England has had Houston’s number over the past several years and it hasn’t been close. The Patriots will come out and win this game easily. Carolina suffered a Super Bowl hangover last season following their embarrassing loss to the Denver Broncos and had a down season. Carolina struggled on both sides of the ball last season following the departure of cornerback Josh Norman and average play by quarterback Cam Newton. Carolina was fairly quiet this offseason, even trading defensive end Kony Ealy to the patriots for relatively nothing. New cornerback Stephon Gilmore’s big frame and physical style of play should be a good matchup against Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and the Patriots should come out this game with a win.

The Patriots then travel down to Tampa Bay for a Thursday Night matchup against the Buccaneers. This could be a game the Patriots struggle in for a few different reasons and one that may be overlooked by some. Thursday Night games are always tough with it being a short week, especially for the away teams who have to travel. The Buccaneers also made a big signing this offseason in wide receiver DeSean Jackson who should pair up nicely with one of the best wide receivers in the league in Mike Evans and give quarterback Jameis Winston another deep threat.  This could give New England’s defense some problems trying to cover the two wide receivers all game. Tampa Bay’s defense though still isn’t very good and shouldn’t be able to stop the Patriots high powered offense. This should be a very good, close game and give the Patriots their first real test early on in the season.

Mike Evans yahoo

The Patriots then travel to New York to take on the Jets. With how good this Patriots team should be and how bad the Jets are going to be the Pats could drop 50 on the Jets and win this game easily.

Then the matchup were all going to be waiting for, the Super Bowl rematch. The Patriots will take on the Atlanta Falcons as a rematch of the greatest Super Bowl of all-time. I don’t see the Pats losing 28-3 at one point but do expect a truly great game as both teams have only gotten better since the end of the season. This could be a potential game the Patriots could lose going up against another great team in the Falcons, but with it being at Gillette and what the atmosphere is going to be like the Patriots should win this game.

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The Patriots will stay at home for a matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers. Whenever I watched the Chargers last year my respect for Phillip Rivers only got higher as he made that Chargers team average with not much around him. Should be a fairly easy win for the Patriots heading into the bye week.

Following the bye week things will get interesting as the Patriots will travel to Denver to take on the Broncos and then Mexico City to take on the Raiders. These will both be tough games for the Pats traveling to the west coast. While Denver isn’t quite the team they were a few years ago they always play the patriots well, and the Patriots always struggle in Denver. Last year Marcus Cannon was the complete opposite of what he was again Denver in the AFC Championship game from the year before when Von Miller kept blowing by him like he was a revolving door. With a new coach in Vance Joseph and no more Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator the Patriots should be able to pull out a win in Denver where they tend to struggle. The Patriots then head down to Mexico City to take on the Raiders in what could be an AFC Championship game preview. The Raiders are one of the best young teams in the league with a great young quarterback in Derek Carr, who I love as a player. The Raiders have a great offensive line and two very good receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and could be getting Marshawn Lynch to come out of retirement to handle the teams running back duties. Oakland’s defense was average last year even with the great play of Khalil Mack. The Raiders will have to look to address their secondary in the draft to get better. The Patriots offense shouldn’t have too much of a problem against this Raiders defense and should be a great game. Due to the travel and tough competition the Patriots going 1-1 in this stretch isn’t out of the question.

Brady spike proplayerinsiders

The Patriots will then head back home for a game against the Miami Dolphins, who made the playoffs last year for the first time since 2008. The Dolphins have a pretty good, young talented roster with wide receivers Davante Parker and Jarvis Landry, who said the Dolphins would sweep the Patriots, and running back Jay Ajayi who had a big emergence in the second half of the season last year. Should be a good, tough AFC East matchup that I expect the Patriots to win at home.

The Patriots then have a three game stretch of away games against Buffalo, Miami and Pittsburgh. The Patriots have tended to struggle some against Tyrod Taylor and his mobility over the past several seasons but always come out with a win. The Patriots then travel to Miami to take on the Dolphins for the second time in as many weeks. The Patriots have had a history of struggling against the Dolphins in Miami and seeing the teams in as many weeks the teams should be prepared for each other’s game plans. This game could mean more for Miami fighting for a wild card spot than it does the Patriots at this point in the season. After that the Patriots travel back up the east coast to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in an AFC Championship game rematch, where the Patriots just completely dominated the Steelers. I don’t expect the Steelers to come out as flat as they did in January and make this an actual game against the Pats. Pittsburgh has a very talented offense with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback and Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, who are some of the top guys at their positions. The past few years the Steelers have seemed to come out flat against the Pats and the Pats have gotten the better of the Steelers. Possible AFC Championship game preview in what should be a good game. The Patriots going 2-1 on a three game road stretch could definitely happen, I think that loss could come against Miami as the game could be the difference if making the playoffs or not for the Dolphins.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots

The Patriots then wrap up the regular season at home with back to back games against AFC East opponents Bills and Jets. These should both be two easy wins for the Pats to finish the season off with headed into the playoffs. It wouldn’t be a surprise to me though if the Patriots rest everyone week 17 against the Jets and the Jets win and screw up their spot in the draft in classic Jets fashion.

Overall, I think the Pats will finish the regular season at 13-3 and the number one seed in the AFC. Of course I want to say 16-0 but outside of the 2007 season it just something that doesn’t happen and I would rather be realistic. I expect the Patriots to drop one of the two tough road games on the west coast against good opponents and tough places to play. The three game road stretch at the end of the season is also tough and a lot of travel which could affect the team. There will then be one game where the patriots come out flat against a team they shouldn’t, it happens every year. Ultimately the Patriots finish up as the number one seed in the AFC and Super Bowl favorites.

The Patriots Defense Will Fix Offensive Injuries/Problems in 2016

The Patriots have been the kings of the AFC and the NFL for the past 15 years and will need this young defense to become elite to continue that in 2016.

 

It’s only August and the Patriots already have two major long-term injuries on the offensive side of the ball with news of running back Dion Lewis needing a second knee surgery to clean up his knee after a season-ending torn ACL last season and will stay on the Physically Unable to Perform list to start the season, and with offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer likely going to be placed on the season-ending Injured Reserve list. Both Lewis and Vollmer have been on the PUP list and yet to participate in training camp with the team prior to both these reports that surfaced Sunday.

 

Running back and offensive line were the two biggest issues the Patriots had last season and were still the two biggest issues the team faced heading into training camp, now these issues just got a lot worse before the season has even started. We all remember Marcus Cannon’s disasterous performance in Denver in the AFC Championship game and now it appears that Cannon will be the full-time starter at right tackle for the Patriots with the news of Vollmer likely going to be placed on IR.

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via bleacherreport.com

On the surface many people will look to James White, LaGarrette Blount, Marcus Cannon or Cameron Fleming to try fixing these losses, but where you need to look is the defense. The Patriots have one of the youngest defenses in the league with loads of talent and loads of potential, and rather than a Marcus Cannon or James White, they are going to be what carries and powers New England through these injuries and to the top of the NFL yet again.

 

This Patriots defense has now drawn a lot of hype going into the season and is one that people don’t think of when discussing the top defenses in the NFL, and this year that will change. The Patriots have atlas five guys on this defense who could potentially make the Pro Bowl in Malcolm Butler, Jabaal Sheard, Jamie Collins, Donta’ Hightower, and Devin McCourty, the first four who are all in contract years which will give them a little something extra to prove. This is the core of the New England defense and should turn New England into one of the top defenses in the league, then you add second-year man Malcolm Brown who had a very good rookie season, corner Logan Ryan who is also in a contract year and played very well last season as the teams number two corner, Patrick Chung, Rob Ninkovich, Terrance Knighton, Duron Harmon and Cyrus Jones just to name a few guys and this is one of the best and talented defenses in the league with a lot of depth. This is a defense that shouldn’t allow more than 20 points per game at most and that is what will help and allow this offense to be successful, especially the first four weeks with Garoppolo under center.

Jamie Collins
via csnne.com

The Broncos proved it last year, defenses win championships and had in my opinion, one of the best defenses of all-time. I don’t think the Patriots defense will be as good as Denver’s from last season and they don’t need to be. The defense has some questions as well at corner after Butler and Ryan but in my opinion are one of the most complete defenses in the whole NFl. They still have one of the top offenses in the league with Brady under center with Gronkowski, Bennett, Edelman and Amendola, but the losses of Vollmer and Lewis are huge and the way the Patriots will overcome these injuries and issues they face, as well as others that will come throughout the season is through the defense.

 

Do you trust Jimmy Garoppolo?

“He is going to go 4-0, no question about it.”

“My guess is he will go at least 3-1; all the other games are at home against beatable teams. “

“He will probably break even at 2-2, what more can you ask of a fist time starter?”

“1-3, God I hope not but I wouldn’t be that surprised.”

“If he goes 0-4 we will be lucky to get a bag of footballs for that.”

           With New England’s star quarterback Tom Brady suspended due to the farce known as Deflategate, its seems everybody has an opinion about  the chances of their favorite back up turned four week starting Quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo. While some may longingly wish for a more seasoned replacement for Brady, the Patriots head coach seems to trust his drafting skills. Coach Belichick does not usually take a backup quarterback in the 2nd round, in fact former Patriot, Ryan Mallett was previously the highest quarterback chosen by Belichick in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft.

Perhaps it’s the fact that 3-time Super Bowl MVP Quarterback Tom Brady is far closer to the end of his career than the magical beginning which occurred a little over 15 years ago. It could be that Bill saw something in Jimmy while playing in Eastern Illinois which compelled him to leave his comfort zone and seemingly prepare for the heir apparent.  No matter the reason, Jimmy Garoppolo is the chosen individual to lead the 2016 New England Patriots into their first four games.

From a spectators point of view, given the amount of time that Brady’s suspension has been in play, the choice to gamble the first four games (two being division games) on a relative unknown commodity seems a little unusual for a team that prides itself on preparation.  Granted, Tom Brady will be returning in week five’s match up against the Browns but if he walks into a 0-4 deficit, he will have to play near perfect to not only make it to the playoffs but possibly win the AFC East. Garoppolo has almost three pre-seasons under his belt and a few quarters of “garbage time” in the regular season but can all that training and practice really prepare this young man to not only run Bill Belichick’s complicated and vast playbook but also replace the greatest Quarterback to ever put on a pair of shoulder pads?

To put it bluntly, no, Jimmy Garoppolo was never intended to replace Tom Brady, the reason being that no one ever really could.  Tom Brady was a diamond in the rough, which nobody ever expected to turn into the greatest quarterback in the history of football. To look at Garoppolo and expect him to replace a player the caliber of Tom Brady is not only insane but grossly unfair. New England Patriot fans have been spoiled during Brady’s tenure and deservedly so. After years of being the laughing stock of the NFL, Tom Brady took the Patriots to a height that such impressive quarterbacks as Steve Grogan and Drew Bledsoe could only ever hope to do.

Now Jimmy does have a list of positives that instantly create a bit of buzz about him. As a Walter Peyton Award winner and a Division 1-AA Heisman award winner, it’s easy to see that Garoppolo has some raw talent. The big question is what about Jimmy causes need for concern? Garoppolo’s draft analysis made it clear that his decision making isn’t always acute. While playing at Eastern Illinois, Jimmy showed a tendency to throw the ball under pressure to heavily covered receivers. A great pass rush has been known to cause Garoppolo fits and with the Patriot’s uncertainty on the offensive line, New England fans could be in for a long four games. Jimmy has had a few years with the Patriot coaching staff so; it is possible that these tendencies may have receded significantly.

To ask for and expect Jimmy Garoppolo to be the second coming of Brady may be unrealistic, but that doesn’t mean he will be a bust either. Garoppolo has shown that when paired with the New England Patriot’s dominating roster talents such as tight end Rob Gronkowski and slot receiver Julian Edelman, that he is more than capable of taking advantage of their talents. To the joy of fans, who have watched Garoppolo during the first two 2016 pre-season games, he seems to have built a significant rapport with New England’s recently acquired  star tight end, Martellus Bennett, which only increases his potential weapons. Ultimately, Garoppolo has shown that he can in fact chuck the pigskin fairly accurately which may place some fans initial fears of disaster to rest. With the devastating news that last year’s surprise star running back, Dion Lewis will be on the shelf for an undetermined amount of time, and it’s a relief to know that when called upon Jimmy Garoppolo is more than capable of rushing in for a touchdown. Jimmy may not be Tom Brady but much to the reprieve of Patriot fans, he does have some decent legs and offensive weapons that he knows how to take advantage of.

Fans looking for a bit of perspective on the entire Jimmy Garoppolo situation should circle back no further than to Head Coach Bill Belichick. During New England’s 2008 campaign, many thought the loss of Brady to injury would spell the end of the season. Belichick was able to take back up Matt Cassel and make him look like a perfectly competent quarterback, even with a defense that was headed for a steep decline. Had it not been an unusual year, the 11-5 record the 2008 Patriot squad had procured would have been more than enough to get them to the playoffs.

Bill has a proven track record of evaluating players and hates to lose football games. If Belichick honestly feels that Jimmy Garoppolo fits his system well, then the real question isn’t do we trust Jimmy Garoppolo, its do we trust Bill Belichick?

 

New England Patriots 53-man roster projection

The regular season is fastly approaching and with that comes roster cuts. Over the next few weeks the Patriots have to cut their roster down from 90 to 53, which won’t be easy with this being the most talented and complete 90-man roster the team has had during the Bill Belichick era.  With only one preseason game played and a few weeks of practices here is how my Patriots roster projection looks

 

Quarterback: Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett.  (Brady suspended first 4 games) (2)      This ones pretty obvious, Garoppolo will be starting the first four games of the season while Brady is suspended and once Brady’s back he’s taking over. There was talk about the Patriots possibly bringing in a veteran QB with rookie Jacoby Brissett in the backup role but Bill Belichick shot those rumors down this week and the two QBs on the roster will be Garoppolo and Brissett.

 

patriots-garoppolo-brissett-081516
via @csnne.com

Running Back: LaGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, James Develin, James White, Tyler Gaffney. (5)                                                                                                                                                          Let me start off by saying no Dion Lewis is not getting cut. Lewis is currently on the PUP list and has yet to practice after his season-ending torn ACL last season and I think the team leaves him on the PUP to start the season. There has been speculation that Blount could be cut but I don’t think that’ll happen, running back is probably the weakest position on the team right now and I don’t see them cutting the veteran and going into the year with a bunch of backs with not much if any NFL experience. White did a pretty good job after the Lewis injury last season and looked good in the teams first preseason game and can be the pass catching back out of the backfield until Lewis returns. Gaffney is finally healthy and looked pretty good in the first preseason game, breaking off a 44-yard touchdown run. If he can continue to look good in games and practice he could find a spot on the roster.

 

Wide Receiver: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Aaron Dobson. (5)                                                                                                                                       The first four guys listed are obvious, Edelman and Amendola are your starters, Hogan signed a big contract this offseason and Mitchell was taken in the 4th round this year and has looked like a stud prior to his elbow injury, which thankfully he’ll only miss up to four weeks with and has been practicing with the team already in non-contact drills. Not listing Matthew Slater as a receiver because he never plays on offense and is a special teamer. Aaron Dobson is the luckiest man in the world and will somehow find a way to make the 53-man roster again. Dobson always shines in camp and the preseason but can never get it together in the regular season. Keyshawn Martin is still not practicing with the team due to an injury and though I’m a fan of Martin don’t think he’ll make the final roster if he can’t get healthy. Rookie Devin Lucien and Chris Harper I think will find their way to the practice squad.

malcolm mitchell
via bostonherald.com

Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, A.J. Derby. (3)                                                             Gronk and Bennett are two of the best in their position in the entire league and are obvious roster locks. The third tight end spot will come down to either A.J. Derby or Bear Pascoe. The two are completely different players, with Derby being a receiving tight end and Pascoe being a blocker. Derby made a few nice plays in the first preseason game against the Saints which could help him earn a spot on the roster. Pascoe could take over the Michael Williams role from last year as pretty much being an extra lineman on the field. It depends which route the team chooses to go but right now I give Derby the slight edge. 

 

Offensive Line: Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Joe Thuney, Josh Kline, Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Ted Karras, LaAdrian Waddle, Marcus Cannon. (9)                          Jonathan Cooper was a tough cut here but with him being injured and his injury history it could be tough for him to make the team. Joe Thuney has looked like the teams best offensive lineman and like a steal selecting him in the third round of this years draft. Bryan Stork was a tough cut but with his concussion problems and inconsistent play it shouldn’t be a total surprise if he doesn’t make the team. With versatile players such as Kline, Karras and Thuney able to move to center and backup David Andrews, Bryan Stork could be replaceable on the line. I HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE Marcus Cannon but it doesn’t look like the team will be cutting him, even though he couldn’t block my 12-year old cousin. Tackle is really weak with Solder, Vollmer, Waddle and Cannon and the team could look to make a move. From what I’ve seen and heard I really like Ted Karras, he’s a guy who can play a few positions on the line and adds a toughness to the line. I think Tre’ Jackson starts the season on the PUP list to get  completely healthy and see what they have Karras, if he struggles they could move him down to the practice squad when Jackson is healthy.

thuney
via bostonherald.com

Defensive Line: Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, Malcolm Brown, Alan Branch, Terrance Knighton, Trey Flowers, Geneo Grissom, Vincent Valentine, Chris Long. (9)                                     The most complete area on the roster. No debates on who makes the team out of this group. Markus Kuhn is someone who Bill Belichick likes but I don’t see him beating out any of these guys for a roster spot. Ninkovich is already practicing after tearing his triceps and is unknown if he’ll be able to play week 1 but he’ll be on the roster. Heard is gonna replace Chandler Jones with the help of Trey Flowers who was electric against the Saints and was all over the place making plays. Brown, Branch, Knighton and Valentine will add some beef to this line that will be hard to run against.

Trey Flowers, Luke McCown
via wwlp.com

Linebacker: Jamie Collins, Donta’ Hightower, Jonathan Freeny, Shea McClellin, Kamu Grugier-Hill. (5)                                                                                                                                                Not too much depth at linebacker but Collins and Hightower are two of the best linebackers in the league and are obviously locks. Jonathan Freeny played well last year and should also be a roster lock. McClellin is a similar player to Ninkovich and can play both linebacker and defensive end, he doesn’t do anything great but can do a few things well. Grugier-Hill is a smaller linebacker and played defensive back in college and played well in pass coverage against the Saints. He could have a big role covering tight ends and backs out of the backfield. I expect to see a lot of two linebacker sets featuring Collins and Hightower if both can stay healthy.

 

Cornerback: Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc. (5)                                                                                                                                                             A very inexperienced group outside of Butler and Ryan. Cyrus Jones was the teams top draft pick taken in the second round this year and is a lock to make the team and looks like he will be the teams starting slot corner. Jonathan Jones generated a lot of buzz during OTAs and at the beginning of training camp. He got beat a few times against the Saints but also made a few nice plays and pass deflections. Cre’Von LeBlanc has also been generating some buzz in Foxborough after his amazing interception against the Saints. He had good, tight coverage throughout the game and performed well in joint practices this week against the Chicago Bears. Was tough to not include Justin Coleman because of experience over Jones and LeBlanc but he has not had a very good camp up to this point. Got beat a couple times against the Saints in the first preseason game and struggled this week in joint practices with the Bears. This is a young unit with a lot of potential, but also a lot of question marks.

leblanc interception
via twitter.com @CL7_ENT

Safety:  Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards. (4)                           A very strong safety unit that could hopefully help out the young corners. McCourty and  Chung are two of the best in the league with McCourty providing help to corners over the top and Chung playing down in the box and covering tight ends. Harmon is similar to McCourty providing help and creates a lot of plays in the secondary. Jordan Richards was very limited last year and will be interesting to see how he does this year and the different roles they could use him in. 

 

Special Teams: Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Brandon King. (6)                                                                                                                                  The best special teams unit in the entire NFL. Gostkowski is by far the best kicker in the league in my opinion, Matthew Slater might be the best special teams player of all-time, Ebner is back from the Olympics and who is another great special teams player, as well as Brandon King. Another big contributor to special teams is Brandon Bolden who I have listed with the running back group.