The start to Patriots Training Camp is finally almost upon us as it is set to start in just under a week. One of the biggest issues the Patriots had at times last year was at defensive line, most notably in the Super Bowl where they couldn’t generate any pressure on Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, as well as being unable to stop the Eagles in the running game. The Patriots will return some of their main core on the defensive line, such as Trey Flowers, Malcolm Brown, and Deatrich Wise Jr., as welcome in a few new faces.
One of the new names that people should expect to see a lot from this season is defensive end Adrian Clayborn. Clayborn signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Patriots this offseason after spending the previous three seasons in Atlanta. In 2017 Clayborn finished with a career-high 9.5 sacks, and while that total looks good on the surface it’s worth noting that six of his sacks came in one game going against the Dallas Cowboys and backup left tackle Chaz Green. A former first-round pick Clayborn is a player who so far has not lived up to his full potential and hype around him following his career at Iowa, partly due to playing in three games or less in two of his four seasons while in Tampa Bay due to injury. If Clayborn can stay on the field and continue to build off maybe his best season as a pro in last season I would expect him to be a big contributor on the Patriots defensive line opposite Trey Flowers.
Another new face that should make a big impact on the defensive line this season is Danny Shelton, whom the he Patriots acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Browns this offseason. Shelton is a former 12th overall pick in the NFL Draft by the Browns, the same draft where the Patriots selected Malcolm Brown in the first round.
Both Brown and Shelton are true run stuffing defensive tackles and while Shelton had a down year in 2017, Brown is coming off his best year as a member of the Patriots in 2017. Having two big defensive tackles in Brown and Shelton in the middle of your line with a combination of Flowers, Wise, Clayborn, Lawrence Guy, and Derek Rivers as edge rushers, as well as having Vincent Valentine and Adam Butler to play in the middle, gives the Patriots lots of flexibility on all three downs and in all types of situations. If players are able to stay healthy and play up to their potential this Patriots defensive line is one that offers tons of flexibility and can cause problems for opposing offenses.
One of the somewhat under the radar moves that the Patriots made this offseason was signing wide receiver Jordan Matthews. Matthews reportedly had other offers worth more money but took a one-year one million dollar deal with the Patriots on a “prove it” type deal, which now looks like it is should pay off even more for both the Patriots and Mathews.
Matthews has been somewhat disappointing in his brief NFL career after being selected in the second round out of Vanderbilt by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2014 NFL Draft. Matthews best year came in 2015 where he finished with 85 receptions with 997 yards with 8 touchdown receptions. Coming out of college Matthews was best utilized as a slot receiver, where he was used primarily in 2015 before being moved to more of an outside receiver in 2016 where his numbers diminished slightly. Matthews was traded to Buffalo in the 2017 offseason in exchange for cornerback Ronald Darby, where he was plagued by injuries and finished with only 25 catches on the year.
With or without an Edelman suspension Matthews has the potential to put up big numbers for the Patriots as the teams number three receiver following the departure of Danny Amendola to Miami. Matthews is best utilized in the slot despite his size at 6’3 205 pounds and has the skill to step right in if he can learn the playbook and gain a familiarity with quarterback Tom Brady. Brady skipped the teams voluntary team workouts but reported this week for mandatory mini camp, and with the possible Edelman suspension looming it is pivotal that he gets in as much work possible with Matthews now and during training camp which is set to kick off at the end of July.
The 2018 NFL Draft is just over a week away and the Patriots still have some holes and needs on the roster that they will look to address in the draft. After a surprising trade that sent wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams, the Patriots now own two picks in the first and second rounds and own five of the first 95 picks in the draft.
This seven-round mock draft was conducted on FanSpeak.com using their mock draft simulator. I used the ‘Big Board’ rankings done by Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, with ‘NFL Mock’ for team needs, on the difficult draft setting. Some players may be ranked higher in other rankings and projections then were taken in this mock draft.
The Patriots linebacking core was terrible in 2017. The Patriots will benefit heavily from getting Dont’a Hightower back from injury in 2018, but is someone the Patriots can not rely on to stay healthy and even with Hightower returning and healthy the Pats could use an upgrade at the position. The Pats select another Alabama linebacker in Evans to pair with Hightower. Evans is extremely versatile and has the ability to play both inside and outside in the pros, as well as get after the quarterback and drop into coverage. Selecting Evans gives a great complimentary piece to Hightower, as well as gives the Patriots insurance if Hightower misses time again in the future. Evans had an official visit with the Patriots last week and is someone who is definitely on the Patriots radar.
I had the Patriots selecting Miller here in the first version of my mock draft and stick with him again here. Following the departure of left tackle Nate Solder tackle immediately becomes one of the biggest needs for the Patriots, despite the team re-signing LaAdrian Waddle in free agency. Waddle filled in nicely last year at right tackle for Marcus Cannon, but is not a full-time starter. Miller can step in right away and protect the blindside of quarterback Tom Brady. Miller has good size and arm length similar to Solder which will help him defend speed rushers off the edge. 2017 third-round pick Tony Garcia is reported to be getting healthier after missing all of the 2017 season due to having blood clots in his lungs and the Patriots could defer to take a tackle later on in the draft if they believe in Garcia, but I have them taking Miller here who can step in and start right away. Miller visited with the Patriots last week and wouldn’t be surprising to see his name called by the Patriots on Day One of the NFL Draft.
Round 2 Pick 43: Maurice Hurst, Defensive Line, Michigan
Let me start off by saying that I do not think Hurst will be available at this pick, hell I don’t even think Hurst be around at 23 if were being honest but it’s the way the simulator goes and if for some reason Hurst was available here the Patriots should run up the stage with the draft card with his name on it. As a Michigan fan I’ve watched a lot of Hurst over the past few years and he is an absolute monster on the defensive line. His speed and explosiveness allows him to go through an offensive line with ease and disrupt plays in the backfield. Hurst also has the ability to play inside or outside due to his combination of size and speed. Would be small for a true interior defensive lineman listed at 6’2 282 pounds, but has size flexibility to gain weight to his frame to become more of an interior player or stay where he’s at or slim down and play primarily on the outside and move inside on third down and passing situations. Hurst did have a medical condition for an irregular heartbeat at the NFL Combine but was cleared medically prior to his pro day.
Round 2 Pick 63: Mike Gesicki, Tight End, Penn State
While I believe that Rob Gronkowski will return to the Patriots for 2018 his status is currently unknown. Even if Gronkowski returns, Gesicki is an improvement from Jacob Hollister and Dwayne Allen, the latter who still could be released from the Patriots and save the team $5 million in cap space, as well as be a nice compliment to Gronkowski in the passing game. Gesicki has good size listed at 6’5 247 pounds, and had a great combine running a 4.54 40-yard dash. While Gesicki isn’t polished as a blocker he has great hands and route running ability, which could allow the Patriots to draft Gesicki and still keep Allen, who was used primarily as a blocker last season.
The big question of who is going to be Tom Brady’s successor has finally been answered in Richmond quarterback Kyle Lauletta. Lauletta could end up going earlier than this due to the need of quarterbacks around the league, and the reported Patriots interest in Lauletta earlier in the draft process and offseason. Lauletta was the MVP of the Senior Bowl and has drawn comparisons to Jimmy Garoppolo, primarily due to the two both being quarterbacks from the FCS and some similarities in their play style. If Belichick sees Lauletta as a similar player to Garoppolo you could see the Patriots, and other teams attempt to move up earlier in the draft to select him. There were reports that the Patriots were the team most interested in Lamar Jackson, and while I think Jackson is a great player do not want the Patriots selecting a quarterback too early in the draft, especially with the team likely having to move up in the first round to select Jackson.
Round 6 Pick 198: Taron Johnson, Cornerback, Weber State
Cornerback looked to be a big need for the Patriots after Malcolm Butler signed with the Tennessee Titans and the Patriots missed out on top guys on the market such as Aqib Talib and Richard Sherman. The Patriots then made a call to their farm system the Cleveland Browns to acquire Jason McCourty, which doesn’t make corner as big an area of need for the Patriots. Johnson player both outside and in the slot during his time at Weber State, but projects as more of an inside corner in the pros due to his size. Johnson has good ball skills having 42 passes broken up during his time at Weber State and could push Cyrus Jones for a roster spot if the former second-round pick doesn’t show signs of improvement.
Round 6 Pick 210: Christian Sam, Linebacker, Arizona State
Patriots go linebacker again in the sixth round taking Christian Sam, who is a slightly undersized linebacker but has the ability to play inside and outside linebacker. Sam is a good coverage linebacker which is something the Patriots lacked last season and can help fill a role on defense and is someone who always seems to be around the ball. Sam is another player who has had an official visit with the Patriots prior to the draft.
The Patriots lost Dion Lewis in free agency but retained Rex Burkhead as well as signed Jeremy Hill in the offseason which doesn’t make running back a huge need. Edmonds was an extremely productive four year starter at the FCS level but dealt with some injuries during his time in college. The Patriots could take a flyer on him late to see how he translates from the FCS.
Butler states that he did not violate any curfew, or any other actions that have been rumored to have happened. This strengthens my argument and belief even more that Belichick made a personal decision to not play Butler other than one snap on the punt team. Belichick sat back and saw guys like Eric Rowe, Johnson Bademosi and Jordan Richards struggle, but Belichick wouldn’t put his pride or ego away for the betterment of the team, and played a huge factor in why the Patriots ultimately lost the game. Belichick is known for “not putting one player above the team” but this is exactly what he did, but with himself. He put himself and what he wanted to do over what was best for the team, which was playing Malcolm Butler. And the most notable person to like this post so far, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, which is notable especially following the Seth Wickersham ESPN article that came out stating that Brady and Belichick had problems with one another.
Butler put out this statement so that his name would not be damaged due to the rumors that have been coming out about him, and this statement makes me believe even more that this as a personal decision made by Bill Belichick and his decision is why the Patriots lost the Super Bowl.
I’m sure there will be more to come out with this story, as well as several others over the upcoming weeks, and this will be a Patriots offseason like one we have never seen before.
Listen to @WIckedLitRadio Super Bowl Reaction Podcast for a full recap and thoughts on the Malcolm Butler situation and the game itself.
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been suspended for one game for his late hit on Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White in Sunday’s victory.
The controversial hit has been discussed over the past 24 hours and has been a big debate on whether Gronkowski should be suspended or not, personally I do not think that Gronkowski should be suspended I also don’t think that Gronkowski should appeal the decision. Following the game Gronkowski delivered an apology to White, saying that he was frustrated with the officiating, which was absolutely terrible, and said that he isn’t a dirty player and doesn’t try playing like a dirty player. Gronkowski has no previous history of being a cheap player or making dirty hits on the field, unlike someone like Vontaze Burfict who has a history of being a cheap and dirty player and has been suspended games before for his play. Gronkowski retaliated to both the referees and to White in a way that he shouldn’t have after White should have been called for defensive holding and pass interference on that play and for calls that Gronkowski wasn’t getting all day as well as a terrible pass interference call against Gronkowski earlier on in the game, Gronkowski shouldn’t have done what he had, no doubts about it but a one game suspension for a player with no history of being a cheap player seems a bit excessive.
I compare this situation to the AJ Green-Jalen Ramsey fight that happened several weeks ago; where after the play was dead Green had picked up Ramsey from behind in a choke hold and slammed him to the ground and proceeded to throw punches at Ramsey. Both Green and Ramsey were ejected for the incident, Green was later fined for the incident and Ramsey was not. While the situations are similar they are also different; but to me it seems like because Green was ejected from the game he was not suspended, Gronkowski was not ejected from the game so he is being suspended. Like Gronkowski, Green is a player who does not have a history of cheap plays and was given a large fine for his actions, like he should have been. That fact that the refs didn’t eject Gronkowski should be on them and not taken out on Gronkowski and force him to miss a separate game, the suspension makes it seem like it is a make-up call for something the refs missed.
With all this being said why I don’t think Gronkowski should be suspended for a game, I don’t think he should appeal the suspension either. The game that Gronkowski will miss is a Monday night game against Miami in Miami, the same team the Patriots beat 35-17 just one week ago and won with ease. While the Patriots offense is obviously better with Gronkowski in it, they should still be able to beat Miami without much problems without Gronkowski. Following Miami, the Patriots travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers for a game which will likely determine who the number one seed in the AFC will be and who will get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The game in Pittsburgh is a far more valuable game for the Patriots and Gronkowski, especially since Pittsburgh is a team that Gronkowski has absolutely destroyed throughout his career. In five games against the Steelers Gronkowski has piled up 30 receptions for 496 yards and eight touchdowns, including two separate three touchdown games.
Gronkowski has three days to file the appeal of his suspension, and is Gronkowski does appeal it is unknown when the decision on his appeal would be made. If the appeal decision isn’t made before the weekend and pushed into the following week and it’s lost Gronkowski would then be forced to miss the game against Pittsburgh. Gronkowski could very well win his appeal or even hear news before this weeks game, but is it worth the risk? I don’t think it is and if I’m Gronkowski and the Patriots though I don’t think I should be suspended, I take it to make sure that once the matchup with Pittsburgh comes the team will be at their best with Gronkowski on the field.
Just when the Patriots defense starts to take a step forward in their play, they just took two steps backwards with the news that linebacker Dont’a Hightower will miss the rest of the season due to a torn pectoral muscle. Hightower is not only the leader on defense, but also the team’s top player at their weakest position which is linebacker. The team will have some decisions to make on how they go about replacing their star linebacker, whether it be through inside the organization or outside of it through a trade or signing someone off the streets.
The productivity and level of play that Hightower gives, the Patriots likely won’t be able to replace with just one player and might have to make several roster moves going forward. One move that the team is almost certain to make is removing linebacker Shea McClellin off of the injured reserve list when he is eligible to be taken off. The first game McClellin would be eligible to play in is on November 12th against the Denver Broncos following the team’s bye week. McClellin’s presence should help the Patriots linebackers in coverage against backs and tight ends, an area where the team has struggled mightily this season. Given the lack of depth at the linebacker position McClellin should be able to step in and contribute right away.
One thing that might be overlooked with the Hightower injury is his pass rushing ability and how this affects the defensive line. The Patriots really only have two true defensive ends and pass rushers in Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise Jr., as well as Cassius Marsh who has goes into the game in certain third down situations but is primarily a special team’s player. Kyle Van Noy has the ability to rush the passer but doesn’t quite have the consistency and skill of Hightower of getting after the quarterback. The Patriots could turn to a couple of familiar faces to help in this aspect of the defense including Rob Ninkovich, who announced his retirement this summer but didn’t 100 percent rule out a possible comeback, and free agent Akeem Ayers who was a member of the Patriots 2014 Super Bowl team and is someone the team worked out at the beginning of the season. It is unknown what either guy has left in the tank and what they would be able to contribute, but their knowledge of the defense would allow them to be able to step in and contribute right away.
While its unknown what players could be on the trade block, someone who the Patriots could be interested in is also another familiar face in Jonathan Casillas. Like Ayers, Casillas was acquired by the Patriots mid-season in 2014 and was part of the Super Bowl Champion team and has familiarity with the defense. Following the 2014 Casillas signed with the New York Giants, with whom he still plays for, but with their 1-6 record they could look to trade some players and rebuild in the offseason. If available Casillas is someone I would expect the Patriots to look into before the trade deadline October 31st.
We are now through the first month of the NFL season, and so far it’s fair to say that the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots have disappointed so far. The Patriots stand at 2-2 and second in the AFC East behind the Buffalo Bills.
The biggest disappointment so far for the Patriots has been the play of the secondary, most noticeably big offseason addition Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore has struggled in coverage and with penalties early this season, including a hands to the face penalty late in the 4th quarter against the Carolina Panthers which helped play a role in the Patriots loss.
The Patriots other big offseason acquisition in wide receiver Brandin Cooks hasn’t played as big of a role as most expected, but has shown signs of promise. Cooks played a huge role in the Patriots win over the Houston Texans where he had five catches and racked up 131 yards with two touchdowns, including the game winner with twenty-three seconds left in regulation.
While the Patriots offense hasn’t looked as smooth as it has in years past, they are still performing at a high level with Tom Brady maybe playing his best football yet at age 40. The Patriots struggles so far is solely on the defense and coaching. Through four games the Patriots are allowing 32.8 points per game, which is last in the NFL, a big difference from the 15 points per game the defense let up last year, which led the entire league.
The Patriots defense will be tested yet again this week when they face off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday Night. If the Patriots don’t want to move to 2-3 on the season the biggest change they need to make is their defensive scheme and play a tight man defense, rather than the zone they have been playing. Malcolm Butler is one of the most physical and scrappy cornerbacks in the entire league and Stephon Gilmore is one of the bigger corners in the league standing at 6’3. The Patriots need to play to their strengths; which is being physical off the line of scrimmage. Playing a tight man coverage won’t allow quarterbacks to throw underneath and in the middle of the field, and will also allow the Patriots to send extra pressure after the quarterback. The scheme and game plan that defensive coordinator Matt Patricia has been running so far this year hasn’t been working and it’s time to make a change to best fit the strengths of your players, if not Buccaneers’ Jameis Winston and Mike Evans will light up the Patriots secondary this week and opposing offenses will continue to do so throughout the season.
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