As the first preseason game approaches, teams are starting to get a grasp of what they have on their roster and what positions need addressing. For Bill Belichick, it seems as though he is now on the same page as his fan base in realizing that his wide receiver depth chart is paper thin. With the releases of Jordan Matthews and Malcolm Mitchell in the past week, signing one or multiple receivers needed to be a priority for Bill Belichick and he did so by signing veteran Eric Decker.
The #Patriots signed FA WR Eric Decker to a 1-year deal worth $1.9M, source said, with a chance to make up to $2.5M (based on receptions). He’s on the field today for his first practice.
I like this move a lot because it is perfect for what they need right now. They offered a long-time receiver who has had a lot of success in the league a chance to make another NFL roster.
I just say to take some precaution, because a lot of fans are taking this signing as the complete fix to the wide receiver issue. The way the contract is set up does not even guarantee Decker a spot on the 53-man roster come week one.
Eric Decker’s one-year contract with the Patriots includes just $75K in guaranteed money (his signing bonus). His base salary is $950K, with the chance to make up to $2.1M max through bonuses and incentives.
$75K guaranteed is nothing in today’s NFL. It is essentially compensation for a tryout. How long that tryout lasts is up to Bill Belichick and whether or not he believes Decker has anything left in the tank, because his stats over the past two years certainly show signs of a decline.
In 2016 Decker suffered a shoulder injury early on that caused him to miss all but three games, and last year in Tennessee he had a decent year for a number two or three receiver with 54 receptions, for 563 yards, and one touchdown. He did have a decent game against the Patriots in the divisional round racking up six receptions, for 85-yards. In Foxborough, he would need to be the number one receiver for at least the first four weeks given the lack of talent on the current roster.
Chris Hogan is not a number one receiver and should not be expected to play like one. He was signed as a third or fourth option and has had the talent around him to be that since he has been in New England.
Personally, I would love if Belichick took a flyer on Dez Bryant. Yes he is a head case, but you can get him on a cheaper contract, probably with more guaranteed dollars than Decker, and the reward would be far higher, because when he was at his best four-years ago he was the best receiver in the league.
Today was day three of Patriots training camp and the first day where players were allowed to be in full pads and make contact. While today’s session was less physical and fast paced as previous years there were several players and areas that stood out.
Defensive backs Duron Harmon and Ryan Lewis both had very good days with Lewis making several nice pass breakups in the beginning parts of the day. Harmon had a good first two days of camp and continued to build on that today picking off Brian Hoyer in the end zone, which in a game situation likely would have been a pick six, as well as intercepting a pass from Tom Brady in the back of the end zone that was intended for tight end Rob Gronkowski. These sessions were far from perfect as both the entire offense and defense ended up taking a lap for mistakes, as well as rookie running back Sony Michel taking a solo lap for a fumble down towards the goal line. All three quarterbacks were not sharp today as rookie Danny Etling struggled for the majority of practice, and Brady and Hoyer throwing the aforementioned interceptions.
One thing that really stood out to me today was the play of the Patriots wide receiving corps. This is an area where the team has a lot of questions with heading into the season, which is a problem the team hasn’t had in several years. Earlier this week I discussed how the battle at wide receiver is one that is going to be interesting to watch, and over the first three days of training camp that stands true. Devin Lucien made maybe the play of training camp so far making a tremendous catch in the end zone over a heavily contested Jason McCourty and made sure to drag both feet down before falling out of bounds. Offseason acquisitions Jordan Matthews and Cordarrelle Patterson both had very good days of camp working with both Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer. Patterson made a very nice catch in the end zone from Brady during 11 on 11 drills, and Matthews got some good work in with Brady making several sideline catches during 11 on 11 drills and seems to be looking more comfortable with Brady and the offense. Riley McCarron also had a nice day at camp making some catches and showing off his route running ability. With Julian Edelman suspended the first four games of the season the Patriots are going to be looking for guys to step up in his absence, and I’m looking forward to seeing all of these guys more throughout training camp and the preseason to see who will win out a spot on the final 53-man roster and potentially make a big impact this season.
Other guys who had good practices today were Trent Brown and Deatrich Wise Jr.. Brown has been starting at left tackle the first three days of camp, but with no contact the first two days was tough to get a true read on how he and all the lineman on both sides of the ball were looking. Brown did a great job of setting the edge on both running and passing plays and looks to be fitting in to his new role at left tackle quite nicely. Wise made some nice plays throughout the day, including a play where he absolutely crushed running back Jeremy Hill. Wise has had a good three days of camp so far and looks to improve on his good rookie season and take on a bigger role in the Patriots defense.
Late during the practice session defensive end Trey Flowers left the field after a big hit during a goal line play. Flowers stayed on the ground for a few seconds before getting back on his feet. A few players grabbed him by his face mask and looked into his face, from where I was sitting looked like they were looking for possible concussion signs. Flowers went off to the sideline and took his helmet off and talked with trainers before jogging off the field, and later reported that he suffered a cut on his face and had a towel covering his eye while jogging off the field, which is a much better sign than any possible concussion symptoms if that is indeed the case.
W’re only three days into camp and will be a lot more to see and watch for as physicality and level of intensity picks up over the next few weeks.
The rain couldn’t keep Patriots Nation away today as the Patriots opened up for their first training camp session of the 2018 NFL Season. As always quarterback Tom Brady received a standing and cheering ovation as he made his way to the practice field, as well as wide receiver Julian Edelman, who missed the 2017 season due to a torn ACL, also receiving a loud ovation from the fans as he walked onto the field for the first time.
For the first two days of training camp players aren’t in full pads and there’s no contact allowed which can make it tough to truly tell how the players look, there were definitely some players who stood out more than others. Two players who looked really well today were tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Jacob Hollister. Gronkowski looking good shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone at this point as he’s the best tight end in the league when healthy. In simulated 11 on 11 drills Gronkowski was able to get free in the back of the end zone numerous times and catching everything that Brady threw to him. Hollister was someone who really impressed me today; making a tremendous catch in the back of the end zone that was contested by Eric Rowe and a perfect pass by Brady almost right in from of me. Later on in practice on the other side of the practice field he made another great catch in the back corner of the end zone from Brady which drew an applause from the crowd.
Someone who I wanted to keep an eye on today was rookie running back Sony Michel, who the Patriots selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. . Michel saw a lot of action with the first team offense during 11 on 11 drills and scored on a nice screen pass from Brady. The Patriots have a crowded backfield with Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, and Jeremy Hill; and can’t wait to see how Michel looks throughout the rest of training camp and the preseason and see if he can translate his success in college to the NFL.
While Michel was seeing some time with the first team offense today, the Patriots other first round pick Isaiah Wynn was running with the second team starting at left tackle. Like I’ve said it’s tough to tell how some players look during the first few days of training camp with no contact, this is especially true for offensive lineman. While Wynn started at left tackle with the second unit Trent Brown was the one taking reps at left tackle with the starters. The Patriots made a draft day trade to acquire Brown from the San Francisco 49ers, where he started at right tackle last season.
Something that I’m going to be paying attention to over the next couple weeks is the potential battle for a roster spot at wide receiver. With Julian Edelman suspended the first four games of the season, and the rumors of the Patriots moving on from Malcolm Mitchell look more and more true the wide receiver position could be one of need for the Patriots. After losing Danny Amendola to the Miami Dolphins this offseason the Patriots signed veteran Jordan Matthews, who on the outside looking in would seem to be a lock to make the final 53-man roster. The Patriots also re-signed Kenny Britt who spent some time with the Patriots towards the end of last season and the team likes apparently, who is starting off training camp on the PUP list. The team also has Phillip Dorsett who was with the team last season, but who I’m going to be watching are Riley McCarron and Braxton Berrios. McCarron spent time on the Houston Texans practice squad last year and has drawn some comparisons to Wes Welker, who coached him last season while in Houston. McCarron looked very quick and explosive during kickoff return drills and looks like a prototypical Patriots slot receiver. Berrios was a sixth round draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft out of Miami, and while undersized at only 5’8-5’9 was a big time playmaker during his time with the Hurricanes. Both players were rotating around with the third team offense primarily, as well as returning kicks which could be the key for one of these guys to fight for a potential roster spot.
Day one is in the books and there will be plenty more to look for and see over the next couple weeks of training camp and preseason. But one thing thats clear is that the best time of the year is upon us as Patriots football is back!
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.
The Patriots have lost some key contributors from their 2017 team in the early stages of the NFL offseason so far in players such as Nate Solder, Dion Lewis, Malcolm Butler and Danny Amendola; and could still lose several other contributors as the offseason goes on.
This seven round mock draft was conducted on FanSpeak.com using their mock draft simulator. Some players may be ranked higher in some rankings and projections then were taken in this mock draft.
Following the departure of left tackle Nate Solder tackle immediately becomes one of the biggest needs for the Patriots, as they could still also lose both LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming to free agency. 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. The Patriots added tackle Matt Tobin in free agency who as part of an abysmal Seattle Seahawks offensive line last season, and drafted Tony Garcia last year in the third round who missed his whole rookie season due to blood clots. Garcia’s status and health is currently unknown and Miller can step in and start right away.
Round 2 pick 43: Leighton Vander Esch, linebacker, Boise State
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. Vander Esch has very good size at 6’4 250lbs which will allow him to play both inside and outside in the NFL, but projects best as in inside linebacker in the NFL. Vander Esch can be a great compliment to Hightower and also gives the Patriots insurance at linebacker if Hightower misses time again in the future and is a big improvement over guys like Elandon Roberts, Marquis Flowers and Kyle Van Noy.
Round 2 pick 62: Mark Andrews, tight end, Oklahoma
While I believe that Rob Gronkowski will return to the Patriots for 2018 his status is currently unknown. Even if Andrews returns he is an improvement from Jacob Hollister and Dwayne Allen, 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, Andrews has great size and was a big red zone threat during his time at Oklahoma. Andrews weakness is that he isn’t a great blocker and is primarily just a pass catcher on offense. Because of this the Patriots could look to keep Allen even if they draft Andrews, who is a great blocking tight end but was practically invisible in the passing game last season.
Round 3 pick 95: Lorenzo Carter, edge rusher, Georgia
Carter has great size at 6’6 250lbs for an edge rusher and had a very good showing at the NFL Combine running a 4.50 40 yard dash. Edge Rusher is a need for the Patriots but I don’t put it at the top of lists for things they need. Trey Flowers had a good season last year and rookie Deatrich Wise showed signs of promise. The Patriots will also get back Derek Rivers who missed his entire rookie season last year after tearing his ACL in training camp, and I expect the team to bring back James Harrison on a veterans minimum deal. The team has also signed defensive end Adrian Clayborne to a two-year deal. Carter will have time to learn and fill out his frame more as well as be able to contribute as a pass rusher on third downs for the Patriots and give the team another nice piece to have for the future.
Round 4 pick 136: Tarvarus McFadden, cornerback, Florida 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 before the team released him. McFadden has good size at 6’2 and has very good ball skills. McFadden could use more time to develop and cornerback isn’t a big need for the Patriots right now with Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones on the roster but could look to add another corner in the draft.
Round 6 pick 185: Jaylen Samuels, North Carolina State
Samuels seems like a player that the Patriots would value and love. During his time at N.C. State Samuels spent time at running back, fullback, wide receiver and tight end. His versatility on offense is something that Bill Belichick would fall in love with. These rankings had him listed as a running back, but other rankings have him listed as a tight end so it’s tough to project what position he will play in the NFL, if he’d even have a true defined position. With the losses of Amendola and Lewis someone like Samuels could have value and step into numerous roles in the Patriots offense, or spend time on the practice squad and work on developing a defined position rather than being a Swiss army knife on offense.
It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if the Patriots didn’t address the Quarterback position at all in this years draft. It also wouldn’t surprise me at all if they took someone they liked earlier on in the draft. Right now you have to think that Tom Brady has at least three more years left and Brian Hoyer is a more than capable backup QB. The Patriots met with Litton at the NFL Combine and seems to be someone they could have some interest in if they do want to address the quarterback position in the draft, but as of right now they have other holes and needs to fill.
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