Patriots Thursday Observations, Bengals Review

Welcome home, Tom Brady. The longest-tenured Patriot had himself a day on Sunday, leading a second-half offensive outburst that helped get the home team past the can’t-get-out-of-their-own-way Bengals, 35-17. New England sits at 5-1 and travel to Pittsburgh next Sunday at 4:25 p.m. Eastern, which should be an interesting game given the Steelers’ roster adjustments.

Some compelling story lines vs. the Bengals, including some none-too-surprising events unfolding near the end.

Player/Game Observations

Tom Pain: Cincinnati certainly felt it in the second half. After a more human-like 12 of 16 (75 percent) for 136 yards and one touchdown in the first two quarters, Our Tom connected on 17 of 19 passes (89 percent) for 240 yards and two TDs after halftime. Overall, he completed 29 of 35 passes for 376 yards and three scores, giving him an 83 percent completion rate for the game. Now, that’s a disappointing number if you’re Larry Bird shooting free throws (lifetime .886 avg), but Larry never had to worry about getting his foul shots intercepted.

You’d think, after having a month without practice or even any contact with the team, the man would come in with some timing and/or accuracy issues. Nope. Instead, it looks like he’s been sitting back and connecting with receivers like he used to bullseye womp rats in his T-16 back home. I mean, no, he wasn’t perfect, but 83 percent is pretty close, right?

Brady just passed quarterback Steve Grogan for longest-tenured Patriot with 17 years in New England. Growing up, I loved Grogan. It wasn’t official, but I considered myself a citizen of Grogan Country. Well, Ol’ Steve had a 52.3 career completion percentage. Brady is currently at 63.7 for his career. His 76 percent after two games will get lower as the season progresses, but every Patriots fan has to remember: this is pretty good stuff we’re witnessing.

Train Rob-bery: Lookout! It’s a runaway Gronk! Tight end Rob Gronkowski got the offense locomotivated (note: not really a word) with seven receptions for a career-best 162 yards and one touchdown. With a mix of crossing patterns, sideline and seam routes, and just plain old posting up (you can see his highlights here), Gronk is fast turning into the spike machine we’ve known and loved. If teams gear up to stop him – which they have to, now – look for Martellus Bennett, Julian Edelman, James White and others to benefit.

Ghost Protocol: A couple of years ago, Bill Belichick got the idea to make the extra-point kick a less-than-sure thing, and the NFL competition committee went with it. As expected, percentages decreased last season, from 99.3 in 2014 (eight total misses) to 94.2 in 2015 (71 total misses). Belichick must have thought, hey, I’ve got the best kicker in the league, this can only be good for us, right? Yipes. So far, Stephen Gostkowski has missed three field goals (nine of 12) and one extra point.

As a Bird lover who practiced free throws for hours and never got significantly better, I can tell you: it’s in his head. Time will tell if he can get back to his old, automatic self. I’m sure we’ll all be keeping an eye on the Patriots’ tryout list.

Riding Coach: What a difference between halves. New England adjusted to the Bengals’ offense, foregoing much of their earlier zone defense for more man-based schemes. Cincy QB Andy Dalton opened up the game 10 for 10 for 93 yards; from there, he went 11 of 20. The Patriots offense got the ball out more quickly and found open pockets in Cincy’s D that allowed receivers to catch the ball and run like pronghorns out on the prairie. Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit has some strong film study in this piece elucidating how New England keyed on Cincinnati’s linebackers in the second half.

We Can Dance If We Want To: But not if you’re Andy Dalton trying to escape the clutches of Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower. The defensive captain had 13 tackles and 1.5 sacks, including the tone-changing safety in the third quarter. A well-timed, well-executed play by New England, as tackle Alan Branch, linebacker Elandon Roberts, and tackle Malcolm Brown occupied Cincinnati’s middle three O-linemen, creating a gap between the center and guard that Hightower exploited. A game-changer making the score 14-12 and giving the home team the ball back. About two minutes later, Gronkowski hauled in a worm-skimming pass for a 19-14 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Elandon Calling: How inaccurate is draft status in terms of determining a player’s worth? Seriously. New England has done a better-than-average job at selecting players – so much so that they had to cut some potential contributors at the beginning of the season (number eight in Mike Reiss’ very necessary Sunday column) –  but look at what sixth-round rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts has done. Seen initially as a special-teamer/linebacker-in-case-of-emergency-only by some (including me), Roberts has filled in nicely for Jamie Collins, playing in 50 of 68 snaps Sunday and compiling seven tackles. He had a notably nifty stop at the goal line where he raced to the running back like a kid hustling after piñata candy. He also elicited an offensive holding call on his pass rush. The Pats were smart to take Roberts when they did, but where would he go if the draft happened today?

One Nice Stand: The Patriots’ red zone defense has had its issues, forgotten for a few minutes during their impressive goal-line stand around the 10-minute mark of the second quarter. Giovanni Bernard gained five yards from the six, but from the one-yard line, the Bengals’ attempts to dance in the end zone were met with the Patriots playing the minister from Footloose. On second down, Roberts started a good six yards from the line of scrimmage and came careening toward the offensive left side, undercutting the attempted block of D-lineman/ersatz fullback Domata Peko (aka The Dude With The Hair) and smacking Bernard at the two, getting help from Brown and Hightower to pig-pile at the one. (Roberts got dinged up on the play and had to leave the game temporarily.)

Third down, a fade route to the left, A. J. Green vs. Malcolm Butler. Butler did enough hand-checking to stay on top of Green, with the ball bouncing off the receiver’s gloves.

Fourth down, and it wasn’t even close. Bernard headed toward the line and hit a torrent of humanity, as Woodrow Hamilton and Anthony Johnson shimmied past their blockers while Branch and Chris Long stood their guys up, allowing everyone in a Patriots uniform – possibly including a few fans wearing Tedi Bruschi jerseys – to stop the play at the one. Just good, solid, old-fashioned football. The end result didn’t show it, but this was a close game. This play kept it that way.

Random Observations

He’ll Pass: When I lived in New York, I used to go to Professor Thom’s, a Boston sports bar on the Lower East Side. Watched some historical stuff there, both coincidentally involving Kansas City in 2008: Jon Lester’s no-hitter vs. the Royals (“Honey, I’ll head home soon, but, ah, let’s just say Lester’s having a REALLY good game“) and Brady’s debut vs. the Chiefs (“God DAMNIT”). Every once in a while, I’d come across a Patriots fan who was also a Yankees fan, or a Red Sox fan who also rooted for the Giants. As someone born in Boston who spent my childhood pretty close to that area, rooting for two different cities’ teams always seemed odd to me. I know it happens, but sometimes sports don’t mix with other sports. So, if that’s true, then sports sure as heck don’t mix with politics. recently posted a Sound FX video of Brady highlights that I’ve watched several times already. I think he should be mic’d up for every game for the rest of his career; seriously, I’d run that loop 24/7. That said, I don’t need to know much else about Brady. I don’t really need to sit down to dinner with him (I like pizza, and ice cream not necessarily high in healthy fats). I don’t need to know his politics. As long as he keeps contributing to charities and playing as hard as he can, I’m not asking for anything else.

Mission To Marvin: This column by Ian Logue of covered the Bengals disciplinary issues well, but I thought it was worth mentioning here.

Here’s a section of my notes from the fourth quarter, verbatim: Pac-Man lost it after pen. (holding Hogan), then Burfict in Gronk’s face after catch. (And yes, I now understand he spells it Pacman.)

Okay, the call on PacmanJones was questionable. So, what do you do? Play football, right? But Jones got so riled up that, it appeared, the Bengals were not lined up on defense for the ensuing play and had to call a timeout. Does Jones, a 33-year-old man in his 10th season, seem like a calming veteran presence? Is linebacker Vontaze Burfict worth the trouble? Coach Marvin Lewis seems to think so.

Watch the fourth quarter again and pay attention to the post-whistle stuff (including when Burfict appears to intentionally step on LeGarrette Blount’s leg). After Burfict was fined $75,000 for said stomp, Lewis said, “I don’t think he did anything wrong.” Not sure what Lewis was looking at, but the real kicker is that Lewis complained that the fine stemmed from Burfict’s reputation due to past indiscretions.

Umm … yes. Yes, Marv, it did. Your linebacker has been fined for groin-punching (2013), ankle-twisting (2014), and ankle-targeting (2015), and those don’t even include his illegal hit to the head that helped the Steelers to victory in the AFC Wild Card game. He’s an issue, so let’s hope no one needs to get seriously hurt before his coach takes him to task.

The Imagination Agency: If you’re tired of troll journalism where opinion is everything, I’d advise a look at this piece by Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal. In it, Daniels follows up on how tight end Martellus Bennett got to know his teammates by hitching rides with them to get to practice. Ten people are quoted in the piece, a testament to Daniels’ persistence and his imagination in how to frame the story. He sets himself apart, not by ranting or offering up counterpoints to common thought, but by asking specific questions of people who have specific, yet thoughtful, answers. Solid piece that deserves attention.

We Can Leave Your Friends Behind: Was anyone else surprised by how CBS handled showing the goal-line stand and the safety, replay-wise? Big plays that didn’t get their due, in my opinion. Let’s focus on the broadcast of the safety. The play happens, then we spend 20 seconds watching Hightower celebrate in the end zone with other defenders before heading to the sideline, with Ian Eagle saying what we already know (“New England has cut the Cincinnati lead to two. Hightower makes the play on the quarterback”), then we go to commercial. And not just one, “Now you can have a McGriddle at 10 p.m. and devour your self-loathing!” commercial. Nope: McDonald’s, Toyota, Verizon, and a quick CBS self-promo for what I’m sure is a hilarious reworking of “The Odd Couple,” because the original just had it so wrong.

Then, once we return to the game, we get the post-safety punt/kickoff (punt-off?). We don’t get to see a replay for a few minutes. That replay included one view from behind the defense and no real explanation of how it worked other than Dan Fouts saying, “Nobody picks him up until it’s too late.” Yeah, but Roberts blitzed and occupied the center, and the guard double-teamed Brown, so Hightower’s delayed A-gap blitz …

You know what? Forget it. I like Fouts in general, but I can’t expect that much from a color commentator who called Elandon Roberts “Eldon.”

The Times Are Tough Now, Just Gettin’ Tougher: Here’s a pet peeve I’ve had for a while: What’s up with knee pads that don’t cover the knees? I first remember seeing this phenomenon with Marcus Allen, and wondering how in the hell a running back could sprint into a cluster of tacklers with any confidence knowing that his knees didn’t have protection. I guess it’s for freedom of movement, but when it comes to knees it’s hard for me as a Patriots follower to forget the fate of poor Hart Lee Dykes. Also, in the era when I last suited up, most players dressed like Robocop, with plenty of coverage.

Another Saturday Night And I Ain’t Got Parody: You know, I actually feel bad for the writers of “Saturday Night Live.” How can anyone effectively satirize this election season? What can you exaggerate and/or make funnier? At this point, it’s like trying to write a parody of Gallagher’s act. “Hey, maybe instead of using a sledgehammer, we could blow up the watermelons with C-4?” That said, there’s just not a lot of life to their sketches. One of the first offerings of the season – this bit with Margot Robbie about a live news report – delivered, with numerous cast members meshing well. In ensuing weeks, though, the pickings have been slim, with decent, oft-absurd ideas failing to get the proper execution.

Meh. I’ve actually seen worse. My junior-high heyday came in the forgettable-at-best early 1980s, when it was Eddie Murphy and not a heck of a lot else.

Why Are You So Far Away From Me? Another game across the sea, New York vs. Los Angeles, 9:30 a.m. Eastern. The Rams took a 10.5-hour flight on Monday to adjust to an eight-hour time difference. The Giants will travel Friday to adjust to a five-hour time change. London, folks! Me ol’ bamboo!

Please consider spending your Sunday morning doing something else besides watching this crumpet-load – or, more likely, having it on in the background.

Chris Warner puts the over/under on comments until the section gets hijacked at 1.5. He can also be tweeted: @cwarn89 

Pats Thursday Observations, Browns Review

The Patriots went to Cleveland and did the expected, reaching 4-1 overall by overtaking the Browns, 33-13. They host Cincinnati next Sunday at 1 p.m.

Yup. That’s it. Not much to report. Well, except for a few small details…

Player/Game Observations

Genius Of Love: Oh, Tom Tom Club? Sure. Members of said establishment must have felt happy with the return of Tom Brady, who was suspended for no good reason whatsoever.  The world’s greatest quarterback returned with what some might call a vengeance, completing 28 of 40 passes (70 percent) for 406 yards and three touchdowns. Sunday, New England hosts the Bengals, who lost at Dallas last week, 28-14.

Loosen Up Your Too Tights: The recipient of Brady’s three TD passes was tight end and fantasy football roller-coaster Martellus Bennett, who ended up with six receptions for 67 yards. Though his line mate Rob Gronkowski didn’t score, he caught five passes for 109 yards, including this schoolyard romp through half of the Browns’ defense to set up the visitors’ first touchdown.

Before Brady’s return, Gronk had caught one pass for 11 yards. Bennett had one touchdown reception. So, yes: release the hounds!

What Can Brown Do For You? Stop the run, apparently. Second-year defensive lineman Malcom Brown had three tackles, a statistic which tells about as complete a story as my daughter does after knocking something over.

Sweetie, what happened?


I know it was an accident, but what happened?

“I don’t know.”

Brown consistently manipulates his blocker and causes problems for opposing offenses. Between him, veteran Alan Branch, and rookie Woodrow “All Right” Hamilton, the defensive line helped shut down the Brown’s previously vaunted rushing attack, as Isaiah Crowell – who came into the game averaging 6.5 yards per rush – tallied just 22 yards on 13 carries (1.7 ypc, which, by the way, is a stat that tells a story).

Mr. Roberts, Report To The Captain’s Cabin On The Double: This past spring, the Patriots drafted two smaller linebackers in the sixth round: Kamu Grugier-Hill out of Eastern Illinois at the 208th selection overall, and Elandon Roberts out of Houston at 214. Grugier-Hill is the better athlete, as he posted some notable pro day numbers, including a 4.45-second 40 and a 6.89-second 3-cone drill. He impressed onlookers in spring camps, but when it came time to winnow down the roster, New England cut Grugier-Hill and held on to Roberts. This week, Roberts got to show off the kind of instincts and strength that earned him a nation-best 88 solo tackles last season. The rookie notched seven stops at Cleveland, leading the team.

Perhaps his best play came with 6:03 left in the first half. With the Browns backed up against their own end zone and looking to give themselves some space, Roberts used his none-too-tortoise-like 4.60-40 speed to power toward the ballcarrier. On the way, he caught tackle Joe Thomas under the shoulder pads and took the perennial Pro-Bowler to the Magic Pan, while somehow making the tackle on Crowell for no gain. (You can see a clip of the play here.)  Roberts flexes his biceps after the play, and, as much as I dislike showing off, we all should feel fine about that.

Ghost Right-er: So, we’re not worried about Stephen Gostkowski missing to the right on a few kicks, are we? We’re not concerned that will come back at some grossly inopportune time and bite the team again?

No? Okay, good.

Nope, me neither. Hadn’t even crossed my mind.

We’re On To Cincinnati: There we go. Though now at 2-3, the Bengals are not to be overlooked, as their losses have come against the Steelers, Broncos, and a very peppy Cowboys club. Should be fun to watch.

Random Observations

Outside The Lines: I’m not here to rant against sideline reporters. They’re fine. Still, I have to admit, watching last Sunday’s game in Cleveland, right after Jamie Erdahl got through her pre-game bit on Brady, I realized I hadn’t paid attention to a single word. Something about playing catch, maybe? Who knows?

Also, if she’s at the game, what the heck is former kicker Jay Feely doing there? Two sideline reporters? That’s like having two appendixes. But, no, there’s Jay Feely, telling us what Brady was up to over his “break.” Family. Check. Just not sure of the usefulness. Plus, with his comically large necktie knots, Feely looks like an extra on Bugsy Malone.

So, yeah, fine: be the sideline reporter. Just let me ignore you.

Pretty In Pink: When considering whether or not to buy pink NFL gear to support breast cancer awareness, please keep some numbers in mind. On its website, the NFL boasts that,

Since 2009, the first year of the NFL’s “A Crucial Catch” campaign, the NFL’s work has raised nearly $15 million for the American Cancer Society, with the majority of the contributions coming from the sale of Breast Cancer Awareness-identified pink merchandise at retail and via the NFL Auction website.

Now, that’s great. It’s wonderful that $15 million has gone toward the ACS. But, the campaign has been happening for seven years now, which averages out to $2.14 million per year. Again, not too shabby, but remember that a) the league made $7.2 billion in 2014, which meant $226.4 million per team, and b) the NFL spent $12.5 million to prosecute the Deflategate case. If they wanted to spend more to support the ACS, they certainly could, but – just as they do with military veterans – the NFL uses righteous causes as PR fodder.

Sometimes they can’t even do that right, as evidenced by last season’s kerfluffle when Steeler running back DeAngelo Williams was denied permission to wear pink gear throughout the season to honor his mother, who died of breast cancer in May of 2014. Williams ended up dyeing the tips of his hair pink. The NFL said they could not make an exception to the uniform policy.

What? Of course they could. Here’s an example of how:

Hey, players, listen up. If you want to wear pink gear throughout the season to honor a loved one, please email me and let me know whom you’re doing it for. We will keep a list on our website to further promote breast cancer awareness. Thank you for supporting the program that we started.

Roger “Media-Friendly-And-Decent-Human” Goodell 

Never forget: the NFL is a business. They don’t care about you beyond your wallet and what’s in it. Please consider donating directly to the ACS by clicking here.

Pryor Engagement: With the realization that Bill Belichick had some interest in drafting Ohio State QB/Browns WR Terrelle Pryor (thank you, Mike Reiss),  it’s always compelling to wonder what a great athlete could accomplish with a better team around him. Pryor has caught 24 passes this season for 338 yards and one TD. He has also rushed for 18 yards and passed for 40. Those 24 receptions have come after being targeted 45 times this year, which is a pretty rough ratio.

Not that New England is desperate for receivers, but it’s an intriguing “what if?”

You Should Have Seen The ’80s: Ah, shoulder pads. Watching Cleveland quarterback Cody Kessler get knocked down by Dont’a Hightower looked like a frame-by-frame homage to New England QB Jimmy Garoppolo’s hit by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso, and it got me thinking. Why can’t someone figure out a way to protect a ball carrier’s shoulders? Think about flopping onto your side from a kneeling position. That would hurt your shoulder, right? I mean, maybe not injure it, but you’d feel it. Now imagine falling onto your shoulder from a standing position. Now, add a 250-pound linebacker driving your shoulder into the ground. Yeesh.

Is it possible to run a rod or slat of hard material through the back of the shoulder pads and attach it to the shoulder flap – something that could break the fall and take the stress off the shoulder if need be? Maybe, if the player wanted to raise his arms, it could be attached by an elastic that would bring it back into place when the arm went down? I dunno. Just spitballing. Seems like a recurring injury – the kind where we know exactly what happened the second it happened – should get a closer look in terms of prevention.

No, Really, What Can Brown Do For You? I know they’re called the Browns, but do they have to wear that abysmal color? For a brief period in the early ’90s, Brown University experimented with red and black uniforms, which are the colors of the school’s seal.   Cleveland could go with the colors of any of various Brown family crests, none of which seems to feature the color brown prominently. Seriously, brown denotes rust and rot, among other things. Adding bright orange doesn’t help. At best, Cleveland’s football team could be an advertisement for Reese’s peanut butter cups.

Lions aren’t really blue. I’ve never seen a purple raven. So, Browns, consider keeping the name and ditching the color.

(Very proud of myself for not referring to Cleveland coach Hue Jackson, as in, “Looking For A New Hue.” So I guess now I’m not so proud of myself.)

Whitehurst, Right Now, There Is No Other Place I Want To Be: Sure, we can all sit back on our couches and make fun of Charlie Whitehurst, aka “Clipboard Jesus.” Thin on QBs after Kessler’s injury, the Browns gave Whitehurst the reins and watched him do as well as expected, completing 14 of 24 passes for 182 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Whitehurst banged up his knee Sunday and was cut by the Browns on Tuesday. He’s been in the league for 11 years. He’s played for five different teams (Browns, Colts, Titans, Seahawks, and Chargers, twice). He has sat through seven seasons where he threw as many NFL passes as I did (which, coincidentally, is the same number of Olympic gold medals I’ve won, or times I’ve climbed Mt. Everest).

But here’s the thing about Charlie Whitehurst: he’s 34 years old. These days he gets a base salary of about $950,000 a year. He has never played in more than seven games in a season (Titans, 2014), and he should be able to literally walk away from the league in good health. As I said, we can all sit back and laugh at Whitehurst all we want; in the end, I have to imagine he’ll have a few chuckles saved up for himself.

For The Last Time, What Can Brown Do For You? The Patriots’ website posted a video of Belichick bringing the team to the statue of NFL great Jim Brown. Once at the base of the statue, Belichick calls Brown the greatest player that ever played, and goes on to call him a great person. I can’t be the only one who flinched. While Brown may well be the greatest player ever, and he has in many cases acted as a “great ambassador” (Belichick’s words), he has also compiled a disturbing police record of domestic abuse.

On The Big Lead website this past February, Stephen Douglas recounted the numerous occasions that Brown has been implicated in domestic violence incidents. They began in 1965 and occurred at least once each decade until 2000, when Brown went to jail rather than serve probation and attend a domestic violence counseling program. Now that he’s 80 years old, I have to hope that he’s slowed down and left these problems in the past. But let’s not go overboard praising him as a person, at least without mentioning some of his troubles.

Sox 2BU: Well, that certainly wasn’t the way I wanted David Ortiz’s last game to go. If anything, the 2016 Red Sox remind us of how stunning the 2013 Sox were. That team won it all with a .211 World Series batting average, and that included Ortiz’s Zeus-like .688 BA. Mike Napoli batted just .154, but he had four World Series RBIs. Jonny Gomes batted a mere .118 (!), but he had three RBIs. Hell, Mike Carp batted .000 (0 for 2) and still managed to push a run across the plate (a forceout at second got Xander Bogaerts home). It’s not average, it’s timing, and this year’s club lacked it.

Hunh. Seems like a bummer to end on that note. Hmmm…

Pumpkin Peeve Of The Week: Pumpkin Spice Sweet Potato Chips. Suck it, Whole Foods.

Chris Warner can be reached via email ( or Twitter @cwarn89 

Patriots Three-Sixteenths Through 2016 Review

Come on. I mean, 3-0? Sure, most fans hoped for it, but to see it happen the way it has happened has been a real trip.

Yes, here the Patriots sit after coming back to win in Arizona, outlasting the Dolphins at home, and besting the Texans in every phase of the game last Thursday night. Each an impressive win in its own right, even disregarding the players who missed time on the field.

A list of some of the topics we’re discussing this week.

Flying Coach: The game day roster had dwindled like the cast of a Hitchcock movie. The offense had more questions than a six-year-old watching a Pinter play. Who’s held in higher esteem right now than the Patriots’ coaching staff? They got their team prepared, set them off to strong starts, and beat some teams who are expected to do something in the league this season. Impressive all the way around.

The Third Man: Imagine hearing this a few months ago. Hey, listen up, Patriots fans. Tom Brady won’t play the first four games because of a supercilious, sniveling toady who wanted to clarify his power over players. Then, less than halfway through what will be shaping up as a benchmark performance vs. Miami (18 for 26, 232 yards, three TDs), Jimmy Garoppolo will hurt his throwing shoulder. So, Jacoby Brissett will start vs. the Texans. (That’s the rookie.)

Well, you might ask, who’s Brissett’s backup? Oh, nobody. I mean, Julian Edelman, I guess, but if it comes down to that, the match is more or less lost, anyway.

With 103 yards passing (11 of 19 for 58 percent), Brissett’s first start will not make the Patriots Hall of Fame, but it should stay in fans’ memories for a while. The rookie got sacked just once and ran eight times for 48 yards, including a slick touchdown run where, even if Houston had brought 13 players onto the field, all 13 would have gone for the fake handoff. Keep in mind, no opposing coaching staff knows the Patriots as well as the Texans staff does, yet Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and company kept Houston on their heels for much of the night during their 27-0 dominance.

Part of that game plan, of course, called for a focus on running the football.

Develin A Deep Blue Key: Donning his smart “color rush” threads last Thursday, fullback James Develin once again demonstrated his importance in the running game. After three weeks, he has compiled exactly zero yards on zero carries with zero receptions. Yet he’s one of the most important offensive players on the field. LeGarrette Blount is averaging 4.0 yards per carry (75 for 298) with four touchdowns. While much credit goes to O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia with his young charges, Develin has made a huge difference, paving the way for the Pats to run out the clock this year.

Giving Him The Bennett Of The Doubt: I must admit, I did not have high hopes for tight end Martellus Bennett coming into this season. His preseason performance seemed a bit underwhelming (seven catches in four games). Though his blocking made an impression in Week One (largely the impression of Cardinals defenders planted in the Arizona turf), he caught just three passes for 14 yards. This was why I convinced my wife to bench him for her fantasy football team (still sorry, my Love!). Bennett, of course, caught five passes for 114 yards and a TD. He continued his essential role the following week, acting as a safety valve for Brissett (two catches for 10) and pushing bodies around like a Tokyo train conductor. Also, for the first time in his career? Carrying the football. One rush for six yards on an end-around.

So, yeah, I was wrong about Bennett. Imagine what he can do playing with a healthy Rob Gronkowski alongside him.

Take The Long Way Home: The Patriots showed interest in defensive end Chris Long before the 2008 draft. Nice they kept their interest, and nice for a solid veteran like Long to experience winning on a regular basis. In his eight years on the Rams, the team never had more than seven wins (four times) and went 2-14 twice (2008, 2011) and 1-15 once (2009). Long seems rejuvenated, with one sack, two passes defensed, and numerous pressures. Here’s hoping he discovers what it’s like to go over .500 in a season.

Dont’a You Forget About Me: Important to note that New England’s defense held Houston’s offense in check without linebacker Dont’a Hightower. New England’s defensive play-caller and run-stopper managed one tackle before getting hurt against Arizona. In the meantime, battery mate Jamie Collins has turned Kraken, tallying 23 tackles in three games (14 vs. Houston), along with two interceptions. Backup Jonathan Freeny (10 tackles, one forced fumble) has pitched in, but when Hightower returns, the defense has the potential to improve. This really seems like the proverbial icing on the cake. I mean, life’s great, you’re eating cake, and someone comes along and says, “Hey, how about some icing on that?” Hells, yeah. Frost that sonofabitch.

All The White Moves: Some impressive plays from running back James White thus far this season, and that observation comes from a big supporter of running back D. J. Foster. Some idiot may have even figured it would have been a good idea to release White in favor of Foster. That same nincompoop feels relieved this never happened. Besides averaging a nifty 4.4 yards per carry (eight for 35), White has caught eight passes for 52 yards and shown an increase in power and elusiveness from last year. With pass-catching dynamo Dion Lewis’ expected return later this season, White might see his playing time limited. For now, though, he has provided quarterbacks not named Brady with a comfy fallback option.

All Four One And One Four All: As much as I questioned New England keeping only four receivers on their roster (not counting special teams ace Matthew Slater), it has paid off to this point in the season. Edelman (18 receptions, 180 yards) remains a central, go-to guy. Danny Amendola (nine for 119, two TDs) just seems to catch tough passes to convert third downs. Rookie Malcolm Mitchell (four for 75) has shown the potential to become the first dependable receiver the Patriots have drafted since Edelman. Chris Hogan (eight for 122) has popped up in key moments (none better than his opening TD at Arizona) and shown the willingness to block so necessary for NFL pass-catchers.

Vito, You’re Blocking: Speaking of which, check out this clip of Blount’s touchdown run, and keep an eye on Develin, Hogan and Edelman. This play reminds me of when the Naval Academy’s option offense really gets rolling: the entire offense accounts for every defender. For Pete’s sake, Edelman IHOPs his defender as Blount runs by. Houston came to Gillette as favorites, the first team to do so since the Portsmouth Spartans in 1931. (Note: This is decidedly untrue.)

You’re Wondering Now, What To DoNew England’s special teams have made such a huge difference over the past few weeks, from punter Ryan Allen dropping footballs at the Texans’ 10-yard-line, to kicker Stephen Gostkowski hitting all three field goal attempts at Arizona (including a 53-yarder), to myriad contributors forcing fumbles and making tackles (Gostkowski’s high-flying kickoffs have helped). Play-for-play, special teams contributions have the highest impact, and their ability to fluster opponents has been a key part of the Pats’ 3-0 start.

Nothing But Flowers: Defensive lineman Trey Flowers has six tackles and one fumble recovery this year; he gets mentioned here for something beyond numbers. The best Patriots teams over the past 15 years have had strong backups to help weather any injury fronts. Flowers backs up both Long and Jabaal Sheard (two sacks). Free agent athlete Barkevious Mingo and Shea McClellin back up the linebackers, including the aforementioned Freeny. This is a talented team with a deep roster that, if necessary, could make a difference in January.

The Brady Hunch: One aspect of the Patriots’ as-hot-as-could-be-expected start that no one seems to consider is opponents’ motivation factor. Are teams starting out flat vs. New England? As’s Mike Reiss pointed out in his indispensable Sunday notes, the Patriots have outscored their three foes 34-0 in the first quarter. Partly Pats’ preparation, of course, but also a sign that the other guys aren’t as pumped as usual? Though impossible to tell, it might make sense that a defensive player isn’t quite as focused facing Garoppolo or Brissett as he would be vs. one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.

Not saying that going without Tom Brady for a month has been good for the team, the league, or anyone else. Just looking at it from another angle.

What angles are you looking at this season? Let us know in the comments section below.

Chris Warner tweets a little more than he should @cwarn89

Who’s The FA? UDFA! (2016 Edition)

Almost every year, New England finds an undrafted free agent to fill out their roster. Some, like guard Stephen Neal, work their way up to starter. Others, like cornerback Malcolm Butler, seem to burst onto the scene all at once.

Right now, Butler, punter Ryan Allen, guard Josh Kline, center David Andrews, running back Brandon Bolden and special teamer Brandon King compose some but not all of the UDFAs in Foxboro this spring. It’s an important avenue of team-building, especially for a franchise that seems to emphasize the so-called “middle class” of the roster.

Below are the undrafted New England rookies listed on, an invaluable website for this time of year. We’ve included highlight reels for all the players we could find. (Beware of questionable lyrics on many of them. And, yes, I sound like my father.)

Plus, high school fun facts!

Too Scheu Scheu, Hush Hush: We first mentioned tight end Steven Scheu (pronounced Shoy – 6-5, 253) in our Combine Snubs series after his successful pro day at Vanderbilt.

Why undrafted: Scheu’s 26 receptions ranked second among all Commodore receivers. Not exactly Texas Tech during its pass-happy heyday, there.

Why invited: He has good size. Ran a 4.70 40 and benched 225 pounds 23 times, which would have both been good enough for second place among combine tight ends. He was also named the team’s top scholar-athlete of 2015. Junior year highlights here.

High School Fun Fact: At Reitz Memorial High in Indiana, Scheu started at tight end for three years and played some fullback as a senior. His best year came as a junior, with 43 catches, 724 yards, and 10 touchdowns.

Hell Yeah, Hey D. J. Bring That Back: Arizona State slot receiver D. J. Foster (5-10, 193) made an appearance in our post-combine “That Guy” column in the potential seventh-round slot receiver category. He made the switch to receiver after playing running back at ASU.

Why undrafted: Not a huge guy, and his position switch may have scared some teams off. Also may have been knocked down draft boards after a mediocre 40 at the combine (4.57). His senior year output (59 receptions for 584 yards and three touchdowns) is solid yet not spectacular.

Why invited: He had a strong 40-yard dash at his pro day (4.46), and stood out due to his 6.75-second 3-cone. In 2015, Foster  continued to run the ball, compiling 280 yards on 55 carries (5.1 ypc). In his career, he gained more than 2,000 yards each rushing and receiving. For an organization that values versatility more than the makers of New Shimmer, a productive receiver/running back should get a look. See his highlights here, but it’s NSFW unless you want your fellow employees to be regaled with racial epithets.

High School Fun Fact: As a senior for Saguaro High in Arizona, Foster carried the ball 20 times vs. Sunrise Mountain, gaining 508 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns – both state records.

Driving A Bentley: At least, Patriots coaches hope to. V’Angelo Bentley (5-8, 193), Illinois cornerback, arrives in Foxboro to round out their special teams squad and possibly add a defensive back.

Why undrafted: Look again at that 5-foot-8, and remember Bentley ran an uninspiring 4.57 40-yard dash at his pro day. His 7.22-second 3-cone drill didn’t exactly write his ticket to the NFL, either.

Why invited: Notched 54 tackles, one sack, and six pass break-ups last season. Also – and more importantly – Bentley received All-Big Ten Honorable Mention as a returner, ranking second in the conference in punt return average (8.6). He was also the only player in school history to return a kickoff, punt, interception, and fumble for touchdowns in his career. Short and vague highlight reel here.

High School Fun Fact: Bentley ran track at Glenville High in Ohio, where his coach was Ted Ginn, Sr.

Drawing LeBlanc: Cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc (5-10, 185) from Florida Atlantic adds his name to a growing group of rookie corners for New England.

Why undrafted: His 4.67 40 at his pro day couldn’t have helped, and measuring a bit under 5-10 probably didn’t have scouts shouting his name, either.

Why invited: Completed a respectable 6.95-second 3-cone drill and put up 21 reps on the bench. Made All-Conference USA Second Team, leading the league with four interceptions. That, along with 11 pass break-ups, earned him Team Defensive MVP honors. Returned kicks and punts; also served as team captain. Aggressive coverage highlights here.

High School Fun Fact: While at Glades Central High, LeBlanc doled out the “Hardest Hit of the Year” in Palm Beach County. (I have no way to verify this, but it sounds cool.)

A Hit And A Miss: Mississippi linebacker C. J. Johnson (6-1, 234) could work his way onto the roster as another smaller linebacker/special-teamer type.

Why undrafted: Rather uninspiring numbers for both the combine and at his pro day, including a 4.81-second 40 and a 7.69-second 3-cone drill. (For comparison, Pats rookie offensive guard Joe Thuney ran a 7.47.) Also missed two weeks due to an October knee injury.

Why invited: Showed some toughness by coming back in two weeks and not the expected four. Plays Mike linebacker, where New England could use some depth. Had 43 tackles, two sacks, and two interceptions in 10 games. Johnson displayed versatility by moving from defensive end to middle linebacker before his senior year. High effort, low production sophomore highlights here.

High School Fun Fact: When he played at Philadelphia (Miss.) High, ranked Johnson the number one high school player in Mississippi.

Look At The Bones! Not to be confused with Jon “Bones” Jones, Auburn’s Jonathan Jones, cornerback, will be fighting for a roster spot amongst a crowded field of defensive backs.

Why undrafted: Jones measures on the smaller side at 5-9, 186 pounds. Also not the quickest, with a 7.25-second 3-cone drill.

Why invited: His 4.33 40 time was the third-fastest overall at the NFL Combine. Strong for a corner, as his 19 bench press reps tied for second at the position. Started for four years at corner; ended his final year with 69 tackles, one interception, and 13 pass break-ups. Fast-paced interception highlights that also need a mute button here.

High School Fun Fact: While at Carrollton High in Georgia, Johnson was the 110-meter high hurdles national champion with a time of 13.72 seconds.

They Stretchya, They Workya, De’Runnya: Ole Miss’ De’Runnya Wilson (6-5, 224) arrives as a tight end/receiver hybrid and could bring even more versatility to New England’s receiving crew.

Why undrafted: We call it versatility, others may call it a man without a position. Also ran a flat-out miserable 4.82 40, which would be fine for a blocking TE but not a 224-pounder.

Why invited: New England has searched for a prolific “move” tight end ever since He Who Shall Not Be Named committed That Thing We Won’t Talk About. Wilson made All-SEC Second Team last year, catching 60 passes for 918 yards (15.3 avg.) and 10 touchdowns. Impressive highlight reel (that’s what highlight reels are for, after all) here.

High School Fun Fact: Wilson’s basketball team won the state championship his junior year, as he averaged 13.7 points and 10.9 rebounds for Wenonah High in Birmingham, Alabama (go Dragons!).

All Right, Hamilton! Defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton (6-3, 312) from Ole Miss could further bulk up the defensive front in Foxboro.

Why undrafted: Hamilton tweaked his hamstring in March, which may be partly to blame for mediocre times in the 20-yard shuttle (4.88 seconds) and the 3-cone (7.90).

Why invited: Put up 29 reps on the bench press, which would have tied him for eighth at the combine. Was also said to have had a “very good pro-day workout” by Gil Brandt on Has started since his sophomore year at nose tackle, a position the Pats seem quite interested in this off-season.

High School Fun Fact: As a senior at Raleigh High in Mississippi, Hamilton had six sacks and two blocked punts, making the All-State team. If you want to see two high school plays highlighted, click here.

Smithers, I’m Home: Free safety Mr. Devonta Burns (5-10, 203) of Texas A&M could contribute as a special-teamer and eventually make his way into defensive sub packages.

Why undrafted: Not an explosive athlete, with non-special times in the 40 (4.52) and 3-cone (7.07) for someone his size. Had a mere 17 tackles in 2015. Had zero interceptions in his college career.

Why invited: As a nickel corner, had 57 tackles in 2014, as well as one pass break-up and two forced fumbles. Plus, special teams experience. Some almost-impossible-to-see kickoff coverage highlights here.

High School Fun Fact: Burns was named to the 4-5A First-Team All-District squad as a senior at Arlington Martin High in Texas and was ranked the third-best safety in the state by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football.

Pay The Bryce: Well, we shall see. Bryce Williams (6-6, 257), East Carolina tight end, will give New England’s bigger TEs some reps off this summer.

Why undrafted: His 4.94-second 40 was about the same as our aforementioned rookie guard Thuney, who ran a 4.95. As far as strength, his 19 bench reps seem low for the position of blocking tight end.

Why invited: Not Gronk-level talented, but definitely Gronk-sized. Could provide another big body at the position, which would mean competition for the likes of Michael Williams. Williams (Bryce, that is) caught 58 passes for 588 yards and four touchdowns last season. Some highlights of what a big pass-catcher can do are found on this link.

High School Fun Fact: At North Davidson High in North Carolina, Williams excelled in football (school offensive MVP), track (All-conference in the 110 meters), and basketball (all-county).

Shaq’ing Up: The Patriots did not draft a running back, but they decided to add to their running back stable by inviting Shaquille Powell (5-9, 210) out of Duke.

Why undrafted: Powell’s a smaller back but lacks the speed (4.63 40) and quickness (7.07 3-cone) that runners of his size seem to require. Averaged just 4.3 yards per carry. Also, fair to say that Duke is not known as a football school.

Why invited: Powell caught 35 passes for 212 yards (6.06 avg.) and two touchdowns and did not fumble his senior year – in fact, he lost only one fumble in his entire career (418 touches). Was an Academic All-ACC selection for three years running (so to speak). Powell’s prowess on runs, screens, and wheel routes can be witnessed here.

High School Fun Fact: As a senior at Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, Powell rushed for 2,458 yards and 40 touchdowns on his way to a state title.

His Middle Name Is Kringle-Jack: Linebacker Kris Frost (6-2, 240) out of Auburn also got a camp invite and could fit as a backup middle linebacker.

Why undrafted: Frost lacks speed, running a 4.97 40 at the combine. He also had shoulder issues in February that prevented him from performing the combine bench press.

Why invited: Second on the team with 96 tackles. Also had two interceptions and one forced fumble. Pretty good quickness with a 7.15 3-cone. Along with Jones (and Garrett, below) – and with the fact that Belichick visited Auburn this spring for pro day – highlights the coach’s interest in the Tigers. You can see Frost’s game film vs. Mississippi State in 2014 here.

High School Fun Fact: As an outside linebacker for Butler High in Matthews, North Carolina, Frost’s team went 16-0. In his final two years, he tallied 178 tackles, (22 for loss), six forced fumbles, and seven interceptions.

Justin Case: Apparently, when it comes to training camp, you can’t invite too many linebackers. Justin Garrett (6-1, 226) became the latest Auburn defender to make his way to Gillette.

Why undrafted: Garrett’s smaller than most ‘backers and failed to make up for that lack of size with great speed, getting timed at a mediocre 4.75 seconds in the 40.

Why invited: His 28 bench press reps would have been the second-best effort for linebackers at the combine. Had 50 tackles, one sack, and two interceptions for the Tigers in 2015. Showed some versatility by practicing as a safety before his sophomore year. Watch Garrett return a fumble for a TD in this clip.

High School Fun Fact: Playing for Tucker High in Stone Mountain, Georgia, Garrett was ranked as the number 12 outside linebacker in the country by

It’s A Shame About Ray: Or not. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with camp invitee wide receiver Melvin Ray (6-2, 208) out of – wait for it – Auburn, who will provide some competition for the lower end of the receiver roster.

Why undrafted: Ray ran a less-than-spectacular 4.60 40-yard dash at his pro day. Playing behind superior pass-catchers, Ray only managed 33 receptions for his career. Just turned 27 years old last month, as he played minor league baseball prior to attending Auburn.

Why invited: His 6.98-second 3-cone drill is pretty swift for his size. Speaking of size, right now Ray ties with rookie Devin Lucien for the second-tallest receiver on the team behind Aaron Dobson. Averaged 17.2 yards per catch and gained a TD or first down on 81 percent of his receptions. Has special teams experience. He eluded non-existent coverage for one of his four career TDs here.

High School Fun Facts: As a senior at North Florida Christian in Tallahassee, Florida, Ray caught 53 passes for 1,058 yards and 16 TDs. He later got picked by the L. A. Dodgers in the 2008 MLB Draft.

If any new undrafted players join the team after this article posts, please let us know in the comment section below. Also, if a Boston sports radio host says something outlandish, feel free to voice your outrage.

Chris Warner wanted to play tight end for the Patriots growing up and was a huge fan of Lin Dawson. He tweets from @cwarn89.  

Patriots “That Guy” 2016 Draft Review

Predicting New England’s draft picks provides more setbacks than predicting spring weather (Hello there, 70 degrees! Nice to see you, sleet!). However, forecasting what types of players they usually pick has gotten easier.

In our previous, pre-draft “That Guy” piece, we touched on several different kinds of athletes the Patriots tend to bring into the fold. They remained true to form, as we’ll see below.

Just to review, here are New England’s picks by round (and overall number).

Round Two (60): CB/PR Cyrus Jones (5-10, 197), Alabama

Round Three (78): OL Joe Thuney (6-5, 305), N.C. State

Round Three ( 91): QB Jacoby Brissett (6-4, 231), N.C. State

Round Three (96): DL Vincent Valentine (6-4, 329), Nebraska

Round Four (112): WR Malcolm Mitchell (6-0, 198), Georgia

Round Six (208): OLB Kamu Grugier-Hill (6-2, 208), Eastern Illinois

Round Six (214): ILB Elandon Roberts (6-0, 235), Houston

Round Six (221): OL Ted Karras (6-3, 307), Illinois

Round Seven (225): WR Devin Lucien (6-2, 195), Arizona State

Trades: Ah, yes. On draft day, Coach Bill Belichick tends to go the full Monty Hall, wheeling and dealing in his search for the best value. New England entered the draft with 11 picks and wound up using nine, at one point trading up to the fourth round by swapping picks 196, 204, and 250 for Miami’s 147. They later used that to get an extra pick in 2017 (a Seattle fourth-rounder).

So, what kinds of players did they end up with?

The Alabama Guy: Our lone correct hit of the day came in the second round with Jones, who will join fellow Tide alum Dont’a Hightower on New England’s defense (and if Hightower could start as a rookie, expect Jones to contribute this year, too). Jones lacks height but has bulk and quickness (a head-turning 6.71-second 3-cone at the combine). He nabbed two interceptions last fall to go along with eight pass break-ups and 37 tackles. Where he’ll make his mark, though, is on special teams, as he averaged 12.6 yards per punt return in 2015, bringing four punts home for dinner.*

*Still working on a catchphrase for a return TD. It’s not going well. 

The Offensive Line Double-Dip: Last year, rookies Shaq Mason and Tré Jackson started several games on the interior; the year before, Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming shored up the line. This season, Coach Belichick and returning OL coach/wizard Dante Scarnecchia hope to continue the trend with their two-fer of Thuney and Karras.

Thuney projects as a guard, but his speed (4.95 40) and upper-body strength (28 bench reps of 225 pounds) allow him some flexibility. Most importantly, he made All-ACC First Team last year as a left tackle after playing left guard in 2014 and right tackle, right guard, and left tackle in 2013. The man has more versatility than a Swiss Army knife with a Humanities doctorate.

Karras, who may or may not be able to knock out a horse, should compete for a guard spot. Though he lacks quickness (his 5.34 40 and 8.15 3-cone were timed indoors – on a couch! Right?), his 32 bench reps would have come in fourth overall at the NFL Combine, third for offensive linemen. Karras made All-Big Ten Third Team in 2015, filling in briefly at center as a senior. He started at right guard for 43 games in his career .

The Backup Quarterback: Well, this came as a surprise. With 2014 second-rounder Jimmy Garoppolo in the fold, we figured New England would wait until the later rounds to nab a third-string QB, and that they’d try to address an area of need (namely, anything but a rookie play-caller). Brissett became the number two third-round quarterback picked during Belichick’s tenure (Kevin O’Connell got the call in 2008). He’s an interesting prospect, with prototypical size (6-4, 231) and notable quickness (7.17 3-cone). Last year, he passed for 2,662 yards and 20 touchdowns vs. six interceptions. Had a 60 percent completion rate.

This is a “friend of Bill” pick, as both former Pats offensive coordinator Charlies Weis and former Pats coach Bill Parcells have mentored Brissett over the years. Interesting to see how this all works out.

The “Who’s That Guy?” Guy: New England usually pulls this off in the second round, with Sebastian Vollmer in 2009, Tavon Wilson in 2012, and Jordan Richards in 2015 as examples of Day Three prospects getting Day Two treatment. The highest rating for Valentine that we could find ( measured him as a late seventh-rounder. Speaking of measurements, apparently 329-pound D-linemen do not grow on trees (because surely they would break the branches). And men of such size who submit 5.19-second 40-yard dashes and 29-inch vertical leaps grow more rarely still.

Valentine could have crossed into another category as “The Injured Guy” after playing only 10 games last season as a junior due to an ankle injury. He notched a mere seven tackles in 2015. As a sophomore in 2014, he tallied 45 tackles (6.5 for loss) including three sacks, and forced a fumble.

The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: The Patriots took a shot on Mitchell in the fourth round, and it feels like their best chance for pass-catcher production out of a draftee since a certain seventh-rounder in 2009. (Back then, I dismissed Julian Edelman in part due to his name. Even worse, that year my favorite pick was Tyrone McKenzie. I had more misfires than a wet musket. You can read all of them here.)

Mitchell has decent size and good speed (4.45 40). His 3-cone is fine at 6.94 seconds – he certainly seems to get open on film. As a senior, he led the run-heavy Bulldogs with 58 receptions, gaining 865 yards and scoring five touchdowns. He’s also got intangibles, earning numerous honors in community service, such as the 2015 AllState AFCA Good Works Award and the 2016 Community Spirit Award.

Plus: 10.5-inch hands! Those are, like, Goliath birdeater tarantula hands.

The Sixth-Round Small School Defender: No, Eastern Illinois isn’t as small as Concordia (Zach Moore, 2014) or Central Arkansas (Markell Carter, 2011), but as a 1-AA school in the Ohio Valley Conference, it’s not exactly Ohio State. The Pats got themselves a nifty athlete in Grugier-Hill, whose pro day performance should have been included in our Combine Snubs Who Showed ‘Em column. The strong safety ran a 4.45-second 40, a 4.20-second 20-yard shuttle, and a 6.89-second 3-cone drill. All three times would have made top five for safeties at the NFL Combine.

For the Panthers, Grugier-Hill made All-Ohio Valley Conference First Team with 62 tackles (a noteworthy 14.5 for loss) 5.5 sacks, and one interception.

The Special Teams Guy: Looks like Roberts can join Matthew Slater (2008) and Nate Ebner (2012) as athletes drafted in later rounds for their potential special teams prowess. At 235 pounds, Roberts weighs less than most Patriots linebackers, but the kid has skills: his 4.60 40 would have tied for the fifth-best time among combine linebackers, while his 25 bench reps would have been top three at the position. Best of all, he had more stops than a five-page telegram, leading the Cougars with 142 total tackles in 2015 (the next guy had 50 fewer). His whopping 88 unassisted tackles led the nation. He had 19 for loss, with six sacks. Throw in five pass break-ups, two forced fumbles, and an interception, and you’ve got yourself a defensive “Mark Twain Live!” (In other words, a real one-man show.)

The Seventh-Round Slot Receiver Guy(?): Besides Edelman, the Pats have drafted a couple of Jeremys – Ebert (2012) and Gallon (2014) – to fill this role. We’re shoehorning Lucien into this category like Cinderella’s stepsisters’ feet: his college (and now pro) teammate D. J. Foster gets the glass slipper here. In fact, we said as much in this year’s first “That Guy” column after Foster’s combine performance. Lucien has solid numbers from his pro day (4.49 40, 6.93 3-cone), but his production at ASU says much more. He led the Sun Devils in receptions (66) and yardage (1,075), while tying for the team lead in receiving TDs (eight). He averaged 16.3 yards per catch.

Lucien graduated from UCLA and transferred to ASU. Before Super Bowl 49 in Arizona, Belichick praised ASU coach Todd Graham, which may have helped Lucien get drafted (and Foster get a call as a rookie free agent).

That sums it up for this year’s selections. Later this week, please keep an eye out for our annual undrafted free agent piece “Who’s The FA? UDFA!”

Chris Warner visited the National Museum of the Marine Corps this past weekend and thought it was amazing. He also tweets: @cwarn89

Patriots “That Guy” 2016 April Edition

Welcome to part three of our “That Guy” Patriots draft series. In our previous two installments, we reviewed some Senior Bowl standouts and inspected NFL Combine results in our search for players who may fit in at Foxboro.

Since then, we’ve had a few weeks to look at pro day results in our “Combine Snubs” series, as well as watch New England build their squad for the 2016 season. These observations have led to a few alterations to our “That Guy” column. Here are the types of athletes the Patriots tend to draft, with suggestions on particular players for later this spring.

The First Round, Solid Bet Guy: The more we look at the NFL taking away New England’s first rounder, the more it hurts. Using defensive linemen as an example, the Patriots have a strong record for the position in Round One that includes Richard Seymour (2001), Ty Warren (2003), Vince Wilfork (2004), Chandler Jones (2012), and Malcom Brown (2015). All starters. Their selections in Round Two? Marquise Hill (2004), Ron Brace (2009), and Jermaine Cunningham (2010). That’s a disconcerting difference in production, there.

We wanted to consider an athlete they could select in the second round who could contribute for years to come, and possibly utilize some of ex-Patriot (and lone first-round bust) Dominique Easley’s minutes as an interior rusher.

Possible Pick: For where they’ll be drafting, it’s easy to consider Carl Nassib of Penn State. A defensive end at 6-7, 277 pounds, Nassib showed the ability to work inside and create havoc against interior defensive linemen. He has good speed (4.84-second 40) and solid quickness (7.27 3-cone, 4.37 20-yard shuttle) that give him positional flexibility New England adores. Nassib, a walk-on at PSU, won the Ted Hendricks Award this past season as the best college defensive end. He led the nation in sacks with 15.5, adding six forced fumbles on the year.

The “Who’s That Guy?” Guy: By making second-round picks out of unheralded names like Sebastian Vollmer (2009), Tavon Wilson (2012), and Jordan Richards (2015), the Patriots demonstrated how they often value certain players differently than most pundits. If they like a guy, they tend to go get him.

Possible Pick: I mean, based on the name alone, we had to select linebacker Cassanova McKinzy out of Auburn. Coach Bill Belichick traveled to Auburn for their pro day; he surely witnessed McKinzy (6-1, 248) during position drills. McKinzy started at middle linebacker as a freshman and had 263 career stops. As a senior, he tallied 74 tackles, including 10 for loss (five sacks) and 20 quarterback hits. A minor scouting note: he had one of his most prolific games vs. Alabama, with eight tackles and three QB hits.

I’ll take Cassanova, because me and Romeo ain’t never been friends.

The 3-Cone Guy: The Patriots seem to appreciate high-octane 3-cone drills more than speedy 40-yard dashes. (’s Chris Price would tend to agree.) This has led to the drafting of Julian Edelman (6.62-second 3-cone) in 2009 and Darryl Roberts (6.66) in 2015, among many others who have quick feet for their respective positions.

Possible Pick: We’re going to go to the defense here, as Kansas State cornerback Morgan Burns (5-10, 200) had a 6.60 3-cone during his pro day (of course, his 4.38-second 40 probably won’t hurt his stock, either). Burns earned All-Big 12 Honorable Mention status as a defensive back with one interception and 10 pass break-ups. Most importantly, he was named All-American as a kick returner, bringing back four kickoffs to the far horizon* last year while gaining an average of 33.5 yards per return.

*I’m trying to think of another phrase for “to the house” or “all the way.” I’m open to suggestions.

The Freakishly Athletic Guy: Every once in a while, the Patriots select someone who drops jaws at the combine. In 2013, that was Jamie Collins, whose 11-foot, seven-inch broad jump at 250 pounds remains a stunner. (You can watch it here. Listen for the announcers laughing at its ridiculousness.)

Possible Pick: We went with Justin Simmons out of Boston College for our combine edition, and we stick with him now. He’s big for a free safety at 6-2, 202 pounds, and with a 40-inch vertical, 10-foot, six-inch broad jump, and a 6.58-second 3-cone, he has the quicks and power to play various spots in sub packages. His experience at cornerback could help defenses give different, QB-confusing looks. At BC, Simmons had 67 tackles, five interceptions and two forced fumbles.

The Long-Limbed Defensive End: New England often seeks out a lanky pass-rusher, as seen in the likes of Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom in 2015 and Michael Buchanan in 2013. While they seem pretty stocked at the position – Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard remain stalwarts; Chris Long just got added in free agency – the trading of Chandler Jones could open up an opportunity for rookie minutes in a sub role.

Possible Pick: Lots to like about Matt Judon, a small-school wrecking crew from the Greater Lakes Interscholastic Athletic Conference. Judon (6-3, 275) actually outweighs the 2012 rookie version of Jones (266) and ran a slightly faster 40 (4.73 to Jones’ 4.87). Not saying Judon could come in and start, but he does have some notable talents (30 bench press reps, 35-inch vertical) that could help him become a solid defender in time. The GLIAC Defensive Lineman of the Year led the nation with 18 sacks. He also forced three fumbles and recovered two.

Offensive Line Double-Dips: Last year, the Pats looked to Tré Jackson and Shaq Mason as rookies to bolster the interior line. The year before, both Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming added important minutes, with Stork coming in to start at center and stabilize a shaky offense. Their veteran offensive tackles are getting closer to the ends of their careers (as are we all, really), so it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Belichick looked for two rookies to add to the O-line.

Possible Picks: We’ve got to acknowledge North Dakota State tackle Joe Haeg (6-6, 304), especially after his meeting with Patriots coaches during Senior Bowl week. Haeg was an All-American in his final two seasons, earning Top Collegiate Offensive Lineman by the FCS Athletic Directors Association. Also ran a 5.16-second 40 at the NFL Combine and had a 7.47-second 3-cone, good enough for fifth-best OL.

South Carolina’s Brandon Shell is another tackle candidate we’ve noticed, especially after a 5.22-second 40, impressive given his size (6-5, 324). He started at left tackle as a senior after spending most of the previous three years on the right side, compiling 47 consecutive starts. Shell is the great-nephew of Hall of Fame lineman Art Shell, which we’re sure Belichick knows and appreciates.

The Alabama Guy: ‘Bama coach Nick Saban coached with Belichick at Cleveland lo these 25 years ago. This has led to such players as Dont’a Hightower getting nabbed in the first round in 2012, as well as LB Xzavier Dickson getting the call late in last year’s draft.

Possible Pick: We’re going with cornerback Cyrus Jones this year. At 5-10, 197 pounds, he’s not super big. With a 4.49-second 40, he’s not super fast. But, with a 6.71-second 3-cone, he is super quick, and he uses it well on the field. Last season, Jones returned four punts for touchdowns (“to the far horizon,” maybe? No?), averaging 12.6 per take-back. He also had two interceptions and eight pass break-ups. Here he is working his magic vs. the Spartans with a punt return TD in the Cotton Bowl.

The Rutgers Guy: Due to Coach Belichick’s relationship with former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano, players from that school have flowed through Foxboro with all the force of the mighty Raritan, including Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon.

Possible Pick: Oh, so, so much to like about Quentin Gause. The 6-0, 232-pound linebacker had solid production with 96 tackles and a team-leading 12 tackles for loss, sure, but my oh my: the intangibles, people. Team captain? Check. Big Ten Sportsmanship Award? Academic All-Big Ten? Check and check. The “R” Man Courage Award? Checkeroo. And you know what? Running a 4.73-second 40 and a 7.01-second 3-cone probably can’t hurt, either.

The Ohio State Guy: Belichick used to have a friendly relationship with former Florida coach and current Ohio State head Urban Meyer. That has probably cooled a bit over the past several years, draft-wise, considering some of the algal slime that has crawled out of the Gator swamp up to Foxboro. (Seriously, if Mike Reiss is calling the benefits of that relationship into question in his indispensable Sunday notes, there’s an issue.) But now, since former Rutgers head coach Schiano took on the role as OSU co-defensive coordinator, we’re taking another gander at the Buckeyes.

Possible Pick: We’d like to add Tyvis Powell to the list of solid, dependable safeties on the Patriots’ potential roster. He has noteworthy size at 6-3, 211 pounds and great speed for said size with a 4.46-second 40. (For comparison, the 6-0, 196-pound Harmon ran a 4.51, while the 5-11, 193-pound McCourty ran a 4.48.) Add a thoroughly decent 7.03-second 3-cone, and we’re in the Buckeye business. At OSU, Powell had 71 total tackles, with three interceptions, three pass break-ups, and a blocked kick. He had eight career interceptions, with one each in bowl games vs. Alabama and Notre Dame.

The Injured Guy: New England likes to take chances with players who have missed playing time due to injury. This has worked out well in some cases (Rob Gronkowski) and not so well in others (Ras-I Dowling). Last year, the Patriots selected guard Tré Jackson, who had been bothered with knee issues while at Florida State. Jackson did miss time with injuries, but he started nine games as a rookie and should vie for playing time this year.

Possible Pick: Boise State guard Rees Odhiambo is worth reviewing. The 6-4, 314-pound Odhiambo injured his ankle in October and missed the rest of the season. Despite playing in only eight games, he was named to the All-Mountain West First Team. Injuries have chased the native Kenyan throughout his college career, as he has never started more than nine games in any one season. Still, for a mid-round pick, Odhiambo could serve as an inexpensive backup for the interior O-line.

The Day Two Running Back: In 2011, the Patriots drafted Shane Vereen in the second round and Stevan Ridley in the third. In 2015, injuries to Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount showed how much the team needed depth at the position.

Possible Pick: Even after signing Blount, we assume New England will seek out another sizable back this spring, which brings us to Keith Marshall of Georgia. Marshall (5-11, 219) averaged 5.1 yards per carry for the Bulldogs, scoring three TDs. At the combine, he blew away the field with a 4.31-second 40, the fastest at Indy this year (As far as we can tell, no draftee has had a faster pro day this spring.) We spend a lot of time yakking about how the Patriots don’t fall in love with 40 times, but Marshall’s 25 bench reps and 6.98-second 3-cone should factor in here.

The Sixth-Round Small School Defender: From Markell Carter (Central Arkansas) in 2011 to Zach Moore (Concordia) in 2014, the Patriots aren’t shy about checking out the lower divisions for talent. With about 27 sixth-round picks this year (note: number may be exaggerated for effect), it seems like an ideal time to revisit this tendency.

Possible Pick: Back to the GLIAC (see: Matt Judon above) for some more D-II action. We mentioned Justin Zimmer from Ferris State in our Combine Snubs series. He would fit in well here. The 6-3, 302-pounder moved faster than a rolling temple boulder, notching a 4.85-second 40. His 7.01-second 3-cone drill would have come in fourth for NFL Combine safeties this year. Perhaps most awesome was Zimmer’s 44 bench reps of 225 pounds that would have bested all 2016 NFL Combine participants. At Ferris State, Zimmer tallied 81 tackles, with 26 coming for loss, half of those in sacks. He broke up five passes and forced four fumbles.

The Backup Tight End: No position has changed more for the Patriots over the past few weeks than tight end. The signing of Martellus Bennett created a dreamscape for wannabe offensive coordinators all the way from Madawaska, Maine down to whatever scattered parts of Greenwich, Connecticut root for New England. The signing of Clay Harbor added a smaller, “move” tight end, and – along with a healthy A. J. Derby – could fortify the position even more. So what do we do? We go jack-of-all-trades on ’em.

Possible Pick (Move TE): We’ll take our chances on a prolific college QB, one Jason Vander Laan of the aforementioned Ferris State. He’s got good size (6-4, 240), decent speed (4.75 40) and excellent quickness (6.73 3-cone – better than all combine tight ends). And, best of all, he has the football knowledge and production that could make him a threat from different positions. Vander Laan won The Harlan Hill Trophy (Division II Player of the Year Award) two years running. He is the first quarterback in the history of the NCAA with four consecutive seasons both passing and rushing for 1,000-plus yards. In 2015, he threw for 2,626 yards and 27 touchdowns and ran for 1,542 yards and 24 touchdowns.

I mean, I know it’s Division II, but he produced numbers like a 12-year-old playing against 11 cats. Old, disinterested ones.

Possible Pick (Blocking TE): Sometimes we add picks that probably won’t happen but would love to see. Enter LaQuan McGowan, a tight end/fullback out of Baylor who measures an astounding 6-6, 405 pounds. His running times are, as one might predict, only slightly faster than erosion, with a 5.48-second 40. However, he leapt a noteworthy 24 inches vertically, and put up 30 reps on the bench. He has noted his willingness to play guard, his natural position. Hey, we could see plays like this in the future. Could be fun.

The Special Teams Guy: As a former special teams coach, Belichick has always paid attention to the one-play wonders of the NFL. We think drafting specifically for ST roles probably got going in 2008 with Matthew Slater, continued in 2012 with Nate Ebner, and was maintained throughout with plenty of specialists (long snapper Joe Cardona last year, for instance).

Possible Pick: While the Patriots tend to focus on smaller linebackers and/or bigger safeties for this role, Washington outside linebacker Travis Feeney catches the eye. He has unusual measurements for most special-teamers at 6-4, 230 pounds, and he did very well on his 40 with a 4.50-second time. Speaking of 40, that’s how many inches he jumped in the vertical, topping all other combine linebackers. A Huskies team captain, Feeney was voted UW’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player with eight sacks and 17.5 total tackles for loss last season. He also forced three fumbles.

The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: The Patriots have drafted a long list of receivers who failed to pan out in Foxboro. The ones that did (Deion Branch, David Givens, Julian Edelman) helped win Super Bowls, so it’s easy to figure they’ll take another chance this spring.

Possible Pick: Let’s take a closer look at the speedy Charone Peake out of Clemson. He’s got size at 6-2, 209 pounds – a veritable Gulliver compared to most of the LilliPatriots currently on the roster. He also has speed (4.38 pro day 40) and quickness (6.96 3-cone). Peake caught 50 passes last year for 716 yards, a 14.3 yards-per-catch average, with five touchdowns.

Aaaaand he’ll probably be a bust. But it’s worth a shot, people. It’s always worth a shot.

The Backup Quarterback: They got Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round (2014), Kevin O’Connell in the third (2008), Rohan Davey in the fourth (2002), Kliff Kingsbury in the sixth (2003), and Matt Cassel in the seventh (2005). Time to bring in a camp arm to nurture and – when the time comes –  see how it can best help the team moving forward.

Possible Pick: Cassel was a backup out of USC who panned out, so why not take a starter from the same school? Cody Kessler has had a great career for the Trojans. At 6-foot-1, height might play a role in his lower draft status, but height didn’t seem to matter to Belichick when he kept Doug Flutie around. Plus, the kid can play: An All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention in 2015, Kessler completed 67 percent of his passes (298 of 446) for 3,536 total yards, 29 touchdowns, and seven interceptions.

Hell, Cassel completed 10 passes in his entire Trojan career, so the Pats should be able to do something with this guy, right?

The Seventh-Round Slot Receiver Guy: This trend started off quite well with Edelman in 2009, yet found less success with Jeremy Ebert out of Northwestern in 2012 and Jeremy Gallon out of Michigan in 2014. Still, if they can add another dependable sticks-mover in the seventh, they’ll give it a chance.

Possible Pick: Slot receiver, outside receiver, running back, returner. Byron Marshall (5-9, 205), did a little of everything for Oregon in 2015 before his season-ending injury after only four games. He was well enough to participate in Oregon’s pro day on March 14, with a so-so 4.56-second 40 getting overlooked due to encouraging quickness times (4.19 20-yard shuttle, 6.99 3-cone). As a junior in 2014, Marshall led the Ducks with 74 receptions for 1,003 yards (13.6 avg) and six TDs. He also averaged 7.5 yards per rush (52 for 392).

High School Fun Fact: At Valley Christian High, Marshall was the top-ranked sophomore in California in the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.67 seconds. So, hey, that 40-yard time? He’s just getting warmed up.

The Navy Guy: Last year, long snapper Joe Cardona got drafted. While he figured into our seven-round assessment, we did not think he would go as high as the fifth. Hard to think that any other NFL coach has the same fondness for Annapolis as Belichick. It is his hometown, after all.

Possible Pick: Hoo, boy. Whom to pick, whom to pick? Our choice comes between QB Keenan Reynolds, who set all kinds of rushing records for QBs, and FB Chris Swain, who would follow the New England tradition of Navy fullbacks in Foxboro (Kyle Eckel and Eric Kettani). Based on Belichick visiting Annapolis to see Reynolds, we’ll go with the QB. Belichick loves the Naval Academy, and he loves football history, and few Midshipman have made quite as much history as Reynolds. His 88 career rushing touchdowns are the most ever in Division I. He’s also the first player in Football Bowl Subdivision history to score at least 23 touchdowns in three different seasons. He rushed for 4,559 yards in his career, the most in FBS history by a QB. He’s not big (5-9, 190), but his ability to run the ball in open space – along with his experience under center –  is something Coach Belichick might want to work with in camp.

Any “Guys” we’ve overlooked or any names you think belong in each category, please let us know in the comments section below.

Chris Warner tweets with the fury of the winds @cwarn89  

Combine Snubs Who Showed ‘Em, Part II

Every year, over 300 college football players head to Indianapolis to demonstrate their prowess at the NFL Combine. Every year, hundreds more players get overlooked.

We’re here to give props to those athletes who excelled at their pro days, proving that they probably should have received Combine invitations. You can review Part I from mid-March here. For a refresher on the various pro day events, the NFL’s Combine page offers a succinct description of each.

As always, thanks to’s Gil Brandt and his incomparable pro day results list. Now, on with the show.


Double Darius: Eastern Michigan running back Darius Jackson ran two 40-yard dashes, in 4.38 and 4.35 seconds. That latter time would have tied for fifth overall, second for combine RBs, which is better than expected for a 6-1, 220-pounder. Complement that mark with great power (41-inch vertical, second for RBs; 11-foot-1 broad jump, also second) and quickness (6.82-second 3-cone, a woulda-been top time for combine backs). Jackson rushed for 1,089 yards in 2015, and set EMU’s record for touchdowns in a single season with 16.

Pretty Smitty: Iowa receiver Tevaun Smith had a great pro day, running a 4.38 40 that would have come in second for combine pass-catchers, top eight overall. The 6-0, 205-pound receiver jumped 38 inches vertically (fifth for WRs) and ran the 3-cone drill in 6.72 seconds (fourth for WRs). Smith caught 32 passes for 563 yards (17.6 ypr) and three TDs last season for the Hawkeyes.

I Want To Love You, BYT (Brigham Young Thing): One of the tallest receivers in the draft, Mitch Mathews of BYU (6-6, 222) ran a 4.47-second 40, which would have tied him for seventh-best among (more diminutive) receivers at the combine. He also had a 10-foot-9 broad jump (tied for fourth receiver) and a 36-inch vertical (tied for ninth). His 4.25 20-yard dash and 6.99-second 3-cone times didn’t set combine records, but they look strong given Mathews’ size. The big man led the Cougars with 54 catches for 737 yards (13.6 avg) and 11 touchdowns, none more memorable than this 42-yard Hail Mary to beat Nebraska.

Fun Fact: Mathews served his Mormon mission in Orlando, Florida. Sweet gig.

Save Ferris: Wide receiver Jake Lampman of Ferris State (5-11, 200) ran a 4.47-second 40, which would have put him in the top seven for combine receivers. He also had a 39-inch vertical (top four for WRs) and a 6.76-second 3-cone (tied for fifth WR). His 27 bench press reps is the best mark for a combine receiver since 2009. (It also helps him bury defensive backs, as you can see on his highlight reel.) As a senior, Lampman caught 43 passes for 717 yards (16.7 avg.) and seven touchdowns.

Bell, Biv, Devonte: What? Let’s try that over…

Delicious, Delightful, Devonte: Meh. A little better. But not as good as the numbers that wide receiver Devonte Robinson put up at Utah State’s pro day. The 6-1, 199-pound pass-catcher ran a 4.31-second 40, which would have tied him for the best time at this year’s combine. He also had a 38-inch vertical (tied for fifth-best WR) and 10-foot-8 broad jump (tied for seventh-best WR). In 2015, Robinson caught 20 passes for 326 yards (16.3 avg) and two touchdowns.

M-I-C… See You On Draft Weekend: Mighty mite receiver Jaydon Mickens out of Washington caught our eye at the East-West Shrine game, then caught many more eyes at his pro day. The 5-10, 174-pounder had a decent time in the 40 (4.51), but set himself apart in quickness drills with a rabbity 3.87-second 20-yard shuttle and a 6.58-second 3-cone. His shuttle would have come in second overall at the combine (top receiver), while his 3-cone would have tied for second overall (second receiver). In 2015, Mickens led the Huskies with 58 catches for 692 yards and two touchdowns. He also added seven rushing attempts for 44 yards and one TD.

Give Some Lee Way: This isn’t the first time we’ve mentioned Jay Lee, as the Baylor receiver stuck out at the Senior Bowl. The 6-2, 215-pound wideout continued this trend at his pro day with a 6.75-second 3-cone drill, which would have been top four for combine receivers, top nine overall. His 4.53 40 won’t move him up draft boards, but his size and quickness should provide a boost to his stock. At Baylor, Lee caught 38 passes for 758 yards (a team-leading 19.9 avg) and eight touchdowns.

I Know A Little German, But This Is A Different Guy: German Moritz Boehringer forced a bevy of scouts to their Berlitz books, as the Titanic Teuton had one of the best pro days of any receiver in this draft, making top five for combine pass-catchers in all events. Measuring 6-4, 227 pounds, Boehringer ran a 4.43 40 (tied, top four wide receiver), leapt 39 inches in the vertical (top four WR) and 10-foot-11 in the broad (tied, top two WR; top seven overall), hustled through a 4.10 20-yard shuttle (top four WR) and topped it off with a 6.65 3-cone (tied, top three WR; top five overall).

As one might expect, Boehringer put up awesome numbers in the German Football League last season, catching 59 passes for 1,232 yards and 13 TDs for the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns. (The most disappointing aspect of Schwäbisch Hall Football t-shirts? No freaking unicorns.)

Field General Washington: Angelo State quarterback Kyle Washington (6-6, 220), ran two 40s that averaged out to 4.67 seconds. He had a 38.5-inch vertical, 10-7 broad jump, 4.36 short shuttle, and a 6.97-second 3-cone. He would have been, as you might imagine, at or near the top for Combine quarterbacks in almost all events. Last season, he did some serious damage for the Rams, completing 265 of 443 passes (60 percent) for 3,691 yards, 27 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. Again: this is in 2015 alone, in a mere 11 games played (335 yards passing per game). Washington also led the team in rushing, averaging 6.8 yards per carry on his way to 831 yards and 15 TDs. And, sure enough, he caught one pass for a score, adding up to a total of 43 TDs, passing, rushing, and receiving on the year.


It’s Dawn, Zimmer: Considering his size (6-3, 302), Ferris State defensive tackle Justin Zimmer ran an eye-opening 4.85-second 40 at his pro day – a comparable time to many fullbacks. His 7.01 3-cone would have tied with the fourth defensive lineman at the combine (the top 13 D-line times came from lighter D-ends). Last but most, his 44 bench reps would have been the overall best mark this year at the combine by 10. Zimmer terrorized the Greater Lakes Conference (GLIAC) with 81 total tackles, including 26 for loss (13 sacks). He also forced four fumbles, broke up five passes, and blocked one kick. If you want to see a D-lineman go after QBs like a doberman set loose in a meat locker, click here.

The Captain And Shaneil: Defensive end Shaneil Jenkins out of Division II Shepherd in West Virginia ran a 4.78-second 40, remarkable given his 6-3, 281-pound frame. He had a 7.25-second 3-cone, which would have come in 11th for all defensive linemen at the combine, and a 4.5-second 20-yard shuttle. Jenkins made First Team All-Mountain East Conference as MEC Defensive Player of the Year with 41 tackles (including 23 for loss with 13.5 sacks), three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, three pass breakups, and a blocked kick.

Maine Attraction: Oh, yay, how super original! Wait a sec…

The Bear Necessities: Remember when a store by that name resided in Faneuil Hall? They sold teddy bears? No? Anyway…

Fresh Bates: I hate myself. Trevor Bates, Maine defensive end, ran a decent 4.78-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, which would have scored in the top eight for combine defensive linemen (though, to be fair, at 6-1, 245 pounds, Bates is looking at a conversion to linebacker). His most impressive mark was a 6.75-second 3-cone drill, which would have come in second for all linebackers at the combine. The former Black Bear had 57 tackles in 2015, including 14.5 for loss (7.5 sacks). He also had two pass break-ups, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery.

Wiiiilllllllssso-o-o-o-on! Fresno State will certainly lament the moving on of linebacker Kyrie Wilson. Running light at 6-2, 228 pounds, Wilson ran a 4.57 40 that would have been third-best at the combine for linebackers, sixth-best for safeties. His 40.5-inch vertical would have come in seventh overall, while his 6.99-second 3-cone time would have tied for third-best linebacker and come in fourth for safeties. As a middle linebacker last fall, Wilson made 74 tackles (three for loss) and forced two fumbles.

Better Get Ute To It: Like many other snubs, Utah’s Jason Whittingham (6-2, 238) would have been right in the combine linebacker mix, starting with a 4.66 40 that would have come in seventh for the position. His 35.5-inch vertical (tied, fifth), 6.9-second 3-cone (second), 28 bench press reps (second) and 4.1-second 20-yard shuttle (second) all would have made top five for linebackers at Indy. In 2015, Whittingham had 26 tackles (six for loss), including 1.5 sacks.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight: At least he should after this workout. Penn State cornerback Trevor Williams (5-10, 191) ran a 4.41 40, tied for seventh-fastest corner at the combine. His 10-5 broad jump would have tied the sixth-best corner, while his 6.84 3-cone would have come in fifth for the position. For the Nittany Lions, Williams earned All-Big Ten Honorable Mention from conference coaches with 31 tackles (three for loss), three pass break-ups, and one interception. He’s probably on the Patriots’ radar after a big game in 2014 where he had two interceptions at Rutgers. Because, you know, Bill Belichick has a 24-hour loop of Rutgers game film running on his home screens.

UNIque Name, UNIque Player: Cornerback Makinton Dorleant from Northern Iowa (UNI) – all 5-11, 177 pounds of him – ran a 4.35 40 that would have tied for second-best corner at the combine, fifth overall. He leapt a 39-inch vertical (tied for fourth cornerback), a 7.03-second 3-cone (tied for 12th CB), and 16 bench press reps (tied for 11th CB). A Maryland transfer, Dorleant had 47 tackles last fall, including four for loss. He also had three forced fumbles, one interception, and 17 pass break-ups (that’s right: a full Hondo). On top of that, he returned kicks and punts, averaging 23.9 and 14.2 yards, respectively.

Enchanté Devonte: I should have used that for the first Devonte. Anyway, at Weber State’s pro day, cornerback Devonte Johnson (5-11, 180) had a 41-inch vertical leap (tied, second combine cornerback; third-best overall) and an 11-foot broad jump (tied, second CB; fourth overall), along with a 6.96-second 3-cone (11th-best CB). He also put up 15 reps on the bench, notable given his willowy frame. For the Wildcats, Johnson had 40 tackles last year, including one sack. He also broke up 11 passes.

Stay Gold, Pony Boy: SMU safety Shakiel Randolph – a spring-coiled 6-4, 213 pounds – had a 42-inch vertical at his pro day that would have come in first overall at the combine. In comparison to combine invitees, Randolph’s 4.59 40 (seventh for safeties), 10-foot-10 broad jump (second), 7.13 3-cone (ninth), and 16 bench press reps (tied, seventh) all would have made top ten for the position. Last year, Randolph had 39 tackles, including 1.5 for loss.

Running On MT: Safety Kevin Byard of Middle Tennesse State (5-11, 216) ran a 4.51-second 40 that would have made top four for combine safeties. His 10-foot broad jump (top ten safeties), 38-inch vertical (tied, second), 4.20 20-yard shuttle (fifth), and 6.73-second 3-cone (second) all would have made top ten for the position. For the Blue Raiders, Byard compiled 66 tackles and four interceptions, making First Team All-Conference USA in 2015.

COMBINE BESTS (With Pro-Day Comparables)


4.31 seconds – Keith Marshall, Georgia RB

4.31 seconds – Devonte Robinson, Utah State WR

4.35 seconds – Darius Jackson, Eastern Michigan RB

4.35 seconds – Makinton Dorleant, Northern Iowa CB

BENCH PRESS (225 pounds)

44 reps – Justin Zimmer, Ferris State DL

43 reps – Vi Teofilo, Arizona State OL

34 reps – Christian Westerman, Arizona State OL


42 inches – Shakiel Randolph, Southern Methodist FS

41.5 inches – Daniel Lasco, California RB 

41 inches – Darius Jackson, Eastern Michigan RB 


11 feet, 3 inches – Daniel Lasco, California RB

11 feet, 1 inch – Darius Jackson, Eastern Michigan RB


6.49 seconds – Devon Cajuste, Stanford WR

6.58 seconds – Jaydon Mickens, Washington WR

6.6 seconds – Morgan Burns, Kansas State CB 


3.85 seconds – Justin Simmons, Boston College FS

3.87 seconds – Jaydon Mickens, Washington WR

4.06 seconds – Jhurrell Presley, New Mexico RB

Any combine snubs with noteworthy performances that we’ve missed, please let us know in the comments section below.

Chris Warner tweets to stave off the fear of anonymity: @cwarn89 

2016 Combine Snubs Who Showed ‘Em, Part I

Every year, hundreds of NFL draft hopefuls get invited to the league’s combine for testing and interviews. Every year, hundreds more are forced to show what they can do at their college pro days.

Every year, we keep track of the best pro day performances and compare them to what the combine invitees had to offer. (Here’s a link to last year’s Combine Snubs, Part II.) You can compare the numbers at the bottom of this column.

Thanks as always to scout Gil Brandt and his indispensable pro day page on Now, organized by position (somewhat), here are some pro day workouts of note for 2016.


Time To Say Good Vi: If New England wants to add strength in the middle of their offensive line, they could take a look at Arizona State guard Vi Teofilo. The 6-3, 320-pounder put up 43 bench reps at ASU’s pro day, which would have been the top number at the combine this year by a wide margin. Coincidentally, the combine best of 34 was submitted by Teofilo’s line mate Christian Westerman. An All Pac-12 Honorable Mention his senior year, Teofilo started 40 straight games at right guard.

Trojan Man: Solid pro day for Troy running back Brandon Burks. Despite a pedestrian 4.56 40, the 5-9, 208-pounder ran a 6.88-second 3-cone that would have been the third-best time for combine running backs. Burk’s 4.18-second 20-yard shuttle would have been the second-fastest time for the position. His 24 bench press reps would have tied for fifth, though pound-for-pound he’d have been the strongest back. Burks led Troy with 1,005 yards rushing (5.0 avg) and seven touchdowns. He also caught 29 passes for 304 yards (10.5 avg) and two TDs.

And Miles To Go Before He Sleeps: For such a small guy, Northwestern receiver Miles Shuler made a big impression. Measuring just under 5-foot-10 and 173 pounds (smaller than some O-linemen’s buffet dinners), Shuler ran a 4.4-second 40 that would have placed in the top five for combine receivers; plus, his 4.1-second 20-yard dash would have made top four, and his 6.78-second 3-cone would have been in the top seven for pass-catchers. Shuler only caught 13 passes last year and ran the ball twice (for 30 yards). His main contributions came in the return game, where he averaged 23.3 yards per kick return and 10 yards per punt return.

Fun Fact: Shuler transferred to Northwestern after playing at Rutgers for two seasons. Scarlet Knight Alert!

Will The Wolf Survive? Time to check out a member of Los Lobos, i.e., New Mexico running back Jhurell Pressley (5-10, 206). Pressley’s best 40 time came in 4.38 seconds, which would have made top two for combine running backs, top eight overall. Pressley also managed a 4.06-second 20-yard shuttle that would have led all backs at the combine. His 6.92 3-cone would have come in third among RBs, while his 25 bench reps would have tied for fourth. In 2015, Pressley averaged 6.2 yards per carry on his way to 907 on the season, scoring 11 touchdowns. His junior year, he gained 1,083 yards and averaged 9.5 per carry.

Dom Cougar Mellow Camp: Because he could make Tom Brady calmer this spring, maybe? Dominique “Dom” Williams (6-3, 198), Washington State receiver, ran a 4.39-second 40 at his pro day, which would have tied for second-best among combine receivers. His 40.5-inch vertical would have tied for third among pass-catchers. The lanky Cougar earned All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention in 2015, totaling 75 catches for 1,040 yards (13.9 avg.) and 11 TDs.

Berger Shakes And Flies: Looks like receiver Justin Berger out of Wyoming used his pro day to his advantage, ranking in the top ten for combine wide receivers in almost all of his events. Berger had a 4.45-second 40 (top five overall) and a 6.87-second 3-cone drill (top 10). The 6-1, 204-pounder put up 20 reps in the bench press, which would have tied him with the strongest wide receivers in Indianapolis. This Cowboy looks like he needs to rustle up some experience: he had only two receptions last year and totaled just seven catches in his Wyoming career.

Feeling Fuller: Wide receiver Devin Fuller (6-0, 194) wowed scouts at UCLA with a 4.39-second 40 that would have tied for top eight overall at the combine, top two for receivers. His 10-foot-4 broad jump would have been twelfth among combine receivers, while his 36-inch vertical would have come in ninth. His 7.1-second 3-cone didn’t showcase amazing quickness, yet Fuller made his biggest impact on Bruins special teams, averaging 11.8 yards per punt return and 24.2 per kickoff return. He also caught 24 passes for 259 yards (10.8 avg.) and three touchdowns.

The Family Jules? Could Ferris State’s Jason Vander Laan become another former QB to work his magic for the Patriots, a lá Julian Edelman? Nick Caserio reportedly worked him out at Northwestern’s pro day. According to Peter J. Wallner of Michigan Live (, Vander Laan measured 6-4, 240 pounds and ran a 4.75-second 40, top seven for combine tight ends. Even better from a Pats perspective, his 6.73-second 3-cone would have bested all tight ends at the combine.

We’ve got to start a new paragraph here to talk about what Vander Laan did at Ferris State. He received the Harlan Hill Trophy (Division II Player of the Year) for both the 2014 and 2015 seasons. He holds the NCAA record for most career rushing yards by a QB in every division, and he’s the first quarterback in NCAA history with 1,000+ passing yards and 1,000+ rushing yards in four consecutive seasons. Last year, Vander Laan threw for 2,626 yards and 27 touchdowns while rushing for 1,542 yards and 24 TDs.

A Scheu In? In what has been called a down year for tight ends, Vanderbilt’s Steven Scheu (6-5, 253) probably did himself some good at the Commodore’s pro day. His best 40 was in 4.70 seconds, which would have placed second for combine tight ends. His 23 bench presses would have also come in second (tie), while all of his other event numbers would have made top ten for his position. At Vandy, Scheu was the second-leading receiver with 26 catches for 231 yards and one touchdown, which probably tells you all you need to know about their passing attack. He was named the team’s top scholar athlete of the year.

A Tight End, B’Gosh: Wisconsin-Oshkosh tight end Joe Sommers worked out at Wisconsin’s pro day and did well for himself. The smaller, “move” end (6-3, 241) had a 4.64-second 40 that would have tied Jerrell Adams for best tight end at the combine. A 36-inch vertical (second for tight ends) and 6.91-second 3-cone (third) didn’t hurt him, either. Sommers had 25 catches last year for 338 yards and three touchdowns. Not exactly awe-inspiring, but a quick look at his highlight reel shows a hard-blocking prospect with notable field awareness.


Pierce Pressure: Time to take a closer look at Michael Pierce out of Samford. The defensive tackle ran a 4.98-second 40, remarkable for a human wall safe (6-1, 329 pounds). He also notched a 9-foot-7 broad jump, a 27-inch vertical, and a solid 28 bench reps. Believe it or not, Pierce’s numbers actually compare to Vince Wilfork’s pro day from 2004 (he had chosen to skip the combine). Big Vince ran a 5.08 40, jumped 8-foot-5 in the broad jump, and leapt 26.5 inches. The big difference? Wilfork’s 36 bench reps. (And, of course, a celebrated 11 seasons in Foxboro.)

Pierce totaled 48 tackles last year, including nine for loss with 2.5 sacks. He also had four QB hits. Pierce transferred to Samford after two years at Tulane, where he was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman Team. The Green Wave changed coaches Pierce’s sophomore year, which could partly explain his switch.

Good Times Never Felt So Good: Looks like we have another one of the Commodores, so let’s Sail On. Vanderbilt strong safety Andrew Williamson (6-1, 208) had himself a heck of a pro day, running a 4.48 40 that would have been the third fastest among combine safeties. Williamson’s 6.81 seconds would have been the second-best 3-cone time for the position. His 10-foot-4 broad jump would’ve tied for top five for safeties. Last season, Williamson had 41 total tackles (28 solo), with one sack, four pass breakups, and a forced fumble.

Have A Good Davie: Cornerback Daniel Davie out of Nebraska ran a 4.37-second 40 at his pro day, top three for combine corners, top six overall. A good-sized DB at 6-1, 190, Davie also completed the 3-cone drill in a quick 6.85 seconds, which would have tied for top five for corners at the combine. He also tied the fourth-best cornerbacks in both the vertical jump (39 inches) and broad jump (10-foot-7). Because of injuries his senior year, Davie played in only six games, totaling 18 tackles (17 solo) and five pass break-ups. As a junior, Davie started all 13 games. That led to 41 tackles (six for loss), two interceptions, and five pass break-ups. He played special teams his first two seasons.

Stand Up And Be Countess: Seeing as Bill Belichick himself made it to Auburn’s pro day, we have to assume he noticed cornerback Blake Countess (5-10, 184). After doing just fine in the 40 (4.48), the vertical jump (36.5 inches), and the broad jump (10-foot-1) with scores that would have made the top 15 for combine CBs, Countess submitted a woulda-been-top-five-for-corners 6.85-second 3-cone, along with 21 bench reps that would have been a combine-best among cornerbacks. The versatile DB actually wrapped up his career at Auburn as a safety this past season, with 71 tackles, two interceptions, 11 passes defensed, and a blocked kick. He started for three years (30 games) for Michigan at corner. In 2014, he racked up 24 tackles and three pass break-ups.

Third Degree Burns: We have to assume defensive back/returner Morgan Burns got a lot of questions at Kansas State’s pro day, especially after submitting a 4.38-second 40-yard dash that would have placed him fifth for combine CBs. The 5-10, 200-pounder also ran a 6.6-second 3-cone, which would have been top five at the combine overall. An All-Big 12 Honorable Mention at defensive back, Burns tallied 38 tackles, one interception, and 10 pass break-ups, along with a forced fumble and a blocked kick. Oh, hey, I guess we buried the lede: the All-American kick returner brought back four kickoffs for touchdowns in 2015, averaging 33.5 yards per return. He also recovered a blocked punt for a TD vs. Kansas.

So, special teams, you thinking? Because I’m thinking special teams.

Watch Burgess Merit It: Is he gonna eat lightning and crap thunder? James Burgess, Louisville linebacker, has the size of a strong safety at 5-11, 227 pounds, but his play at linebacker demonstrates his toughness. He measured up well against combine safeties, with a 4.61 40 that would have tied for seventh at the position, and a 7.06 3-cone that would have tied for sixth. His 21 bench press is second-best for safeties. The Atlantic Coast Conference Third Team linebacker had 92 tackles (9.5 for loss) and an interception last year, along with four pass break-ups and two fumble recoveries.

Duck, Duck, Loose: Oregon linebacker Joe Walker (6-2, 236) broke out at his pro day, coming up with numbers that would have stood up against combine linebackers. His 4.56-second 40 would have been third best for LBs, while his 6.81-second 3-cone would have come in second for the position. A 37.5-inch vertical (tied, third) and 10-4 broad jump (tied, fourth) both would have made top five for combine linebackers. Patrolling the middle, Walker led the Ducks in 2015 with 87 total tackles, including six for loss (two sacks). He also had an interception and two fumble recoveries.

Running Into A Brick Wallace: Kudos to linebacker Aaron Wallace out of UCLA for a notable pro day. His 10-foot-10 broad jump would have tied for eighth overall at the combine, second for linebackers. His 4.57-second 40 would have placed third among combine LBs, while his 36-inch vertical would have come in fourth and his 4.27-second 20-yard shuttle would have come in sixth for the position. What else, what else? Oh, yeah: 25 bench reps, good enough for third-place as an LB. For the Bruins, the 6-3, 240-pounder made All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention with 65 total tackles, including 12.5 for loss (seven sacks).

Give Me The Knight: Linebacker Quentin Gause out of Rutgers may not have gotten a combine invite, but the Patriots still have him on their radar as both a Rutgers Guy and a Special Teams Guy. Gause showed off his hard work prepping for his pro day. The 6-foot, 232 pound linebacker had 23 bench reps (third for combine linebackers), a 4.15-second 20-yard shuttle (third), a 7.00-second 3-cone (fourth) and a 36-inch vertical (fifth). An All-Big Ten Honorable Mention last year, Gause had 96 tackles (12 for loss, one sack), and two pass break-ups.

COMBINE BESTS (With Pro-Day Comparables)


4.31 seconds – Keith Marshall, Georgia RB

4.37 seconds – Daniel Davie, Nebraska CB

BENCH PRESS (225 pounds)

43 reps – Vi Teofilo, Arizona State OL

34 reps – Christian Westerman, Arizona State OL


41.5 inches – Daniel Lasco, California RB 

40.5 inches – Dominique Williams, Washington State WR


11 feet, 3 inches – Daniel Lasco, California RB


6.49 seconds – Devon Cajuste, Stanford WR

6.6 seconds – Morgan Burns, Kansas State CB 


3.85 seconds – Justin Simmons, Boston College FS

4.06 seconds – Jhurrell Presley, New Mexico RB

More snubs to come as pro day numbers come in.

Please let us know if we’ve missed any noteworthy pro day performances. Use the comment section below, or tweet Chris Warner @cwarn89

Patriots’ “That Guy” 2016 NFL Combine Edition

Welcome to the second part in our ongoing 2016 Patriots pre-draft series. In our first “That Guy” column of the year, we reviewed the Senior Bowl (as well as the East-West Shrine Game and the NFL Players’ Association Bowl) in search of candidates who fit New England’s draft profiles.

Now, after the NFL combine, we have some numbers to go by, which adds to our list of categories. For a comprehensive look at all of Bill Belichick’s draft choices since 2000, please see our Round-By-Round Review from earlier this year.

We don’t say this often, but good job, NFL. The league has put together a solid web page for combine news, including a review of what each workout entails.

Without further ado, we present the Patriots’ “That Guy” rundown, version 2.0.

The 3-Cone Guy: New England’s love of 3-cone prowess has been well-documented (we see you, Chris Price). Defensive back Darryl Roberts fit this pick last year after a 6.66-second 3-cone drill at Marshall’s pro day. Another seventh-rounder by the name of Julian Edelman ran a 6.62 in 2009. This year, Stanford receiver Devon Cajuste depicted his quicks, finishing the 3-cone in 6.49 seconds. Here’s a bigger surprise: Cajuste is 6-4, 234 pounds. While he slinked around the cones faster than an over-caffeinated ferret through a drain pipe, will Cajuste’s pedestrian 4.62 40 time give the Patriots pause? Is his 36-inch vertical combined with his height enough to make him a viable red-zone target? Interesting to see if New England would want to fit Cajuste into their offense, and how they’d do it.

Fun fact: neither Roberts nor Edelman was invited to the combine, which reminds us to ask you to watch out for our annual Combine Snubs series. Maybe New England’s seventh-round 3-cone contender is working out as you read this.

Quickly, one would assume.

The Freakishly Athletic Guy: In 2013, Southern Mississippi pass-rusher Jamie Collins blew away scouts at the combine with a 4.64 40-yard dash, a 41.5-inch vertical jump and a 11-foot, seven-inch broad jump. The Pats drafted the 6-3, 250-pounder and made him into one of the most dynamic defenders on the team.

Though we couldn’t find anyone at the 2016 combine with size and athleticism to match Collins (and we’ll bet few, if any, can do eight consecutive backflips), free safety Justin Simmons of Boston College impressed in most events. While BC’s 2015 offense provided about as much momentum as a cement block in a mud puddle, their defense did excellent work, and Simmons played a big part in that. At the combine, the 6-2, 202-pounder leapt 40 inches vertically and 10.5 feet broadly, and also submitted a 6.58-second 3-cone drill (second best to Cajuste). His 4.61-second 40 didn’t blow the doors off, but was good enough for top seven among safeties (for comparison, 2013 pick Logan Ryan ran a 4.56).

Last season, Simmons totaled 67 tackles, five interceptions, and two forced fumbles. He played most of his career at safety but did fill in at corner on occasion due to injuries.

The Small School Defender: The Patriots like to plumb the depths of the lower divisions in the later rounds, coming up with Zach Moore out of Concordia (2014) and Markell Carter from Central Arkansas (2011). This year, there’s a lot to like about defensive end Matt Judon out of Division II Grand Valley State. At 6-3, 275 pounds, Judon ran a 4.73-second 40, benched 225 pounds 30 times, and jumped up 35 inches, all top five for combine defensive linemen.

As one would expect, Judon rampaged through the Greater Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference like Grendel through a Danish village. Of his 81 total tackles, 23.5 went for a loss, including – seriously – 20 sacks. He added three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. For an entertaining look at Judon’s 2015 GLIAC Demolition Tour, see his highlights here.

Offensive Line Double-Dips: Picking up Tré Jackson and Shaq Mason last year bulked up the interior O-line. Maybe some focus on the exterior this spring, as both Sebastian Vollmer (over 30) and Nate Solder (torn bicep last October) have taken their share of lumps. Looks like Joe Haeg of North Dakota State is getting some attention as a New England tackle candidate. Though he played in a lower division, the Pats aren’t shy about picking FCS alums, especially from a program that has won a ridiculous five national championships in a row. Neither are the Patriots shy about legacies, and they’ll take a look at Brandon Shell of South Carolina, whom NESN’s Doug Kyed confirmed the Patriots talked to in Indianapolis. Shell is the nephew of former Raiders O-lineman/mauler Art Shell. Bet Bill Belichick has some stories.

At the combine, Haeg (6-6, 304) had a fast 40 (5.16 seconds) and quick feet for a lineman (7.47-second 3-cone). An All-American for the past two years, Haeg split his time between right and left tackle (ah, versatility remains a beautiful thing), starting 60 of 61 games while at NDSU. Shell, meanwhile, ran a respectable 5.22 seconds and delivered an impressive 9-foot, 4-inch broad jump – not bad for a 6-5, 324-pounder. Built with almost 35-inch arms that would give Laocoön nightmares, Shell started at right tackle through his junior year, switching to the left side as a senior. He also made the Fall SEC Academic Honor Roll in 2014. Which is probably pretty good, right?

Speaking of the SEC…

The Alabama Guy: The Belichick-Nick Saban connection has been well-established. Last year, linebacker Xzavier Dickson filled the ‘Bama quota. Of course, Dont’a Hightower got taken in the first round in 2012. D-lineman Brandon Deaderick made the team as a rookie in 2010.

Finding a Crimson Tide defender at the combine who isn’t going to get picked before the late second round is like finding a one-piece bathing suit in Sports Illustrated – it probably exists, but you’ve really got to care. Despite a positive showing at the Senior Bowl, defensive back Cyrus Jones could still be available on Day Three. Jones (5-10, 196) ran a decent combine 40 (4.49 seconds), but has value as someone familiar with the Patriots’ defense under Saban. In 2015, Jones notched 37 tackles (including four for loss), seven pass break-ups, and two interceptions. As a punt returner, Jones averaged 12.6 yards and scored four touchdowns last fall. That’s right: four. In fact, here’s one now.

The Rutgers Guy: A quick look at the defensive backfield shows Ryan, Devin McCourty, and Duron Harmon, all Rutgers alums. In free agency, the Pats added linebackers Jonathan Freeny and Kevin Snyder. Belichick just seems to have confidence in those guys, and they tend to live up to those expectations.

Of the two Scarlet Knights invited to the combine, outside linebacker Steve Longa fits here – and could also fit the “Special Teams Guy” category. (It helped that he participated in the events, as receiver Leonte Carroo played it safe with an ankle injury.) Longa (6-1, 241) had some decent numbers (4.78-second 40, 32-inch vertical) and some not-as-good ones (19 bench reps, 7.5-second 3-cone), but after putting up three 100-plus tackle seasons in a row by the banks of the Raritan, it’s easy to see why he declared early for the draft.

This past fall, Longa led the team with 117 tackles, including two sacks. He also broke up two passes and forced two fumbles on his way to 2015 Rutgers Defensive MVP and All-Big Ten Third Team honors (media vote).

The Ohio State Guy: While the influence  of current OSU (and former Florida) coach Urban Meyer has waned due to the inefficacy of most Pats picks from UF (“inefficacy” a super-nice term for “disastrous” and “soul-breaking”), the addition of defensive coordinator (and former Rutgers coach) Greg Schiano should rekindle interest in Meyer’s charges.

Seeing as Belichick collects safeties as if they were American Girl Dolls (and you’re welcome for that creepy image), free safety Tyvis Powell provides a lot to like. He has tremendous size (6-3, 211), solid strength (15 bench reps) and fluid speed (4.46 40). Powell had 71 tackles last year (third on the team), along with three interceptions, three pass break-ups, and a blocked kick. Of his eight career interceptions, two came in bowl games (one each vs. Alabama and Notre Dame).

The Injured Guy: New England often seems to take a chance on a player who missed time in college. It’s risky, but any policy that can land Rob Gronkowski seems worth it. Gronk had neck problems his junior year at Arizona, didn’t play the season, and skipped the combine. That pushed him to the second round.

This year’s combine-skipper extraordinaire looks like defensive lineman Adam Gotsis out of Georgia Tech. Gotsis banged up his knee vs. Virginia last October and missed the rest of the season, but managed 31 tackles in nine games, including five for loss. The 6-4, 287 stalwart remains a solid prospect to back up the D-line. An Australian native, Gotsis spent his youth playing Australian Rules football. He made the switch in high school and, in 2012, was selected to the IFAF World Team roster for the International Bowl in Austin, Texas. That team actually beat the USA, 35-29.

The Day Two Running Back: In 2011, New England selected Shane Vereen in Round Two and Stevan Ridley in Round Three. ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss has noted that it seems time for the Patriots to address the running back position in the draft; we don’t think there will be a double-dip in ball carriers in 2016, but we see his point.

New England doesn’t seem all that concerned about 40 times, especially for running backs. At the 2011 combine, Ridley ran a 4.73-second 40, stalactitic for a running back. On the other hand, his 6.78-second 3-cone was remarkable for a 225-pounder. This brings us to Daniel Lasco out of Cal, who had a notable East-West Shrine Game performance (62 yards on six carries). Lasco’s on the svelter side (6-0, 209), with decent speed (4.46 40) and an only okay 3-cone (7.22 seconds); however, he crushed a 41.5-inch vertical jump and an 11-foot-3 broad jump. Those leaps tied him for first overall in each combine event, making him an intriguing prospect.

At Cal, Lasco fought some ankle issues in 2015 but did rush for 5.1 yards per carry (65 for 351) and three touchdowns. When healthy as a junior, he gained 1,115 yards rushing (5.3 avg), scored 12 touchdowns, and caught 33 passes for 356 yards and two TDs.

The Backup Tight End: Belichick has selected plenty of tight ends in the past 16 drafts. In 2015, A. J. Derby came along in the sixth round but ended up on injured reserve by August. After trading Michael Hoomanawanui and failing to get the most out of Scott Chandler last year, this position could get a wholesale makeover for anyone not named Gronk.

We liked Jerrell Adams (6-5, 247) out of South Carolina before the combine when he showed a strong desire to block and solid hands at the Senior Bowl. His workouts might help his status, as he ran a 4.64 40 (best for all combine tight ends) and a 7.05-second 3-cone, while submitting a 32.5-inch vertical (top seven for both events among TEs). Adams caught 28 passes last year in an offense that wasn’t exactly the rebirth of the Houston Oilers, so it would prove worth watching to see what he could do in Foxboro.

The Special Teams Guy: When the Patriots drafted Matthew Slater in the fifth round in 2008, most of us thought they were looking for another receiver. Nope. Slater has always been a special teamer first and foremost. Nate Ebner, who plays safety occasionally, got the call in 2012 in the sixth round. Despite getting some undrafted gems in Brandon Bolden (2012) and Brandon King (2015), New England consistently bolsters their special teams depth via the draft.

Hard to miss Travis Feeney out of Washington. A gangly Gus at 6-4, 230 pounds, Feeney bested all linebackers with a 40-inch vertical and got the second-fastest 40 time for the position at 4.50 seconds. His 7.22-second 3-cone was good enough for top 15 for LBs. Feeney, a team captain in 2015, was voted the Huskies’ Most Outstanding Defensive Player with eight sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss. He also forced three fumbles and swatted two passes.

I mean, 6-foot-4 with a 40-inch vertical? He’s got to at least try to block an NFL kick or two, right?

The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: Interesting to note that the Patriots have never drafted a first-round receiver under Belichick. For second-rounders, they’ve picked Deion Branch (2002), Bethel Johnson (2003), Chad Jackson (2006), and Aaron Dobson (2013). That’s a long time since striking pay dirt, so we figure they’ll address other areas early, then take a chance on a mid-round guy.

Keep an eye out for Jordan Peyton out of UCLA, who has a lot of athletic traits the Patriots seem to covet. He’s a little bigger than their typical crew (6-1, 207), has some speed (4.47 40) and a solid broad jump (10 feet, one inch). Actually, that broad jump measurement and his 20-yard shuttle (4.33 seconds) match Dobson’s perfectly. Dobson was faster (4.37 40) and did a little better on the vertical jump (35 inches to Peyton’s 34.5). Hmm. Maybe Dobson deserves another –

No, Chris. Don’t do it. Don’t delude yourself into the Annual Dobson Redemption Tour. It’s over, man.

Anyway, Peyton increased his production every year at UCLA, culminating in a 78-catch, 1,105-yard, five touchdown senior campaign. He’s an avid blocker with solid hands. Also carries the characteristic of most Patriots receiver picks in that he’s relatively uninspiring. You know what I mean? Not dynamic, not a potential game-changer. Just … fine. (Now, if you’re saying you knew what Edelman would become, stop it.)

That said, the last wideout pick who got me excited was Jackson, whose level of football athleticism turned out to be inversely proportional to his on-field intelligence. New England and receivers, man. Who knows?

The Seventh-Round Slot Receiver Guy: Edelman led the trend here in 2009, but Jeremy Ebert out of Northwestern (2012) and Jeremy Gallon out of Michigan (2014) also got the call in the seventh round. New England could use a youngster to give Danny Amendola a breather and bring a little more dynamism than Keyshawn Martin.

Arizona State’s D. J. Foster (5-10, 193) has an intriguing history with the Sun Devils, converting to wide receiver as a senior after spending the previous three years at running back. His disappointing 4.57-second 40 could keep him lower on draft boards, while his quicksilver 6.75 3-cone should make him a natural for the slot. Last year, Foster didn’t forget how to run the ball, rushing for 296 yards (5.1 avg). As a receiver, he hauled in 59 passes for 584 yards and 3 TDs.

The Navy Guy: Very surprised to see that Navy QB Keenan Reynolds was not invited to the NFL combine, especially considering that, last year, current Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona made the trip. Ah, well. We’ll have more on the Division One record-holder for rushing touchdowns by a QB (88) in our next “That Guy” column.

Chris Warner is interested to see how long it will take before the comment section below gets hijacked. Also, Twitter: @cwarn89 

Round-By-Round Review, Pats Draft 2016

Here’s our annual check-in on New England’s draft status this century. While many sites break down team drafts by year, we take a closer look at how the Patriots have done in each round. The basic verdict? Great early, solid late, with some ups and downs in-between. About what you’d hope for as a fan.

Judging players as either successes or not with no in-between might start some arguments. Keeping it simple seemed key: more “did they get a first down?” than “is this a catch?” So, if a player contributed and/or remains on the roster, he has shown success.

We like this method because trying to weigh picks by round could get messy. For example, safety Tavon Wilson (2011) has remained on the team as a special-teamer and occasional sub package defender – not exactly satisfying what fans look for in a second-round pick. On the other hand, Julian Edelman (2009) has become one of the most prolific receivers and punt returners in franchise history – an absolute jackpot for a seventh-rounder. The level of success through an entire roster tends to even itself out over the years.

As of right now, Coach Belichick has six picks in the 2015 draft, including the second, third, fourth, sixth, and seventh (two). They could also get a potential third-round compensatory pick from letting free agent Darrelle Revis walk, as well as two sixth-round picks for Vince Wilfork, and Shane Vereen. (Tip of the cap, so to speak, to Over The Cap’s website.)

The Patriots lost their first-round pick this year because when footballs get exposed to cold, wet weather, their air pressure decreases. So, sure, fine. That’s cool.

On to the rounds!


First Round –

2000: None (pick went to NYJ for BB)

2001: Richard Seymour, DL, Georgia

2002: Dan Graham, TE, Colorado

2003: Ty Warren, DL, Texas A&M

2004: Vince Wilfork, DL, Miami; Benjamin Watson, TE, Georgia

2005: Logan Mankins, OL, Fresno State

2006: Laurence Maroney, RB, Minnesota

2007: Brandon Meriweather, DB, Miami

2008: Jerod Mayo, LB, Tennessee

2009: (No Pick – traded down)

2010: Devin McCourty, DB, Rutgers

2011: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado

2012: Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse; Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama

2013: (No Pick – traded down)

2014: Dominique Easley, DL, Florida

2015: Malcom Brown, DL, Texas

Total Picks: 15

Successful Picks: 13 (sans Maroney, Meriweather)

Most Successful Pick: Seymour

Percentage: 87

Every first-round pick has started in Foxboro. Maroney rushed for 1,580 yards in his first two years in the league, but injuries and an increased tendency to hesitate at the line made him expendable. Meriweather had 12 interceptions in his four years in New England and is currently playing on his fourth team (Giants). Not bad in either case, but each failed to live up to the lofty expectations of Bill’s Chosen.

Looks like they have another long-term starter in Brown, who began to excel by the midway point of his rookie season. If Easley can stay healthy, New England’s got a solid D-line combo for years to come.

This is why the lost first-rounder over amateur PSI measurements infuriates fans. The Pats had an 87 percent chance of drafting a multi-season starter taken away from them.


Second Round –

2000: Adrian Klemm, OT, Hawaii

2001: Matt Light, OT, Purdue

2002: Deion Branch, WR, Louisville

2003: Eugene Wilson, DB, Illinois; Bethel Johnson, WR, Texas A&M

2004: Marquise Hill, DE, LSU

2005: (No pick)

2006: Chad Jackson, WR, Florida

2007: (No pick – traded for Wes Welker)

2008: Terrence Wheatley, DB, Colorado

2009: Patrick Chung, DB, Oregon; Ron Brace, DT, BC; Darius Butler, DB, UConn; Sebastian Vollmer, OT, Houston

2010: Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona; Jermaine Cunningham, DE, Florida; Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida.

2011: Ras-I Dowling, DB, Virginia; Shane Vereen, RB, California

2012: Tavon Wilson, DB, Illinois

2013: Jamie Collins, OLB, Southern Miss; Aaron Dobson, WR, Marshall

2014: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois

2015: Jordan Richards, DB, Stanford

Total Picks: 22

Successful Picks: 12 (Light, Branch, E. Wilson, Vollmer, Gronkowski, Spikes, Vereen, T. Wilson, Collins, Garoppolo, Chung, Richards)

Most Successful Pick: Gronkowski (ed. note: this has been changed from an earlier draft that had Collins, as we considered the value outlined below. But, player-for-player, it’s Gronk.)

Percentage: 55

This year marks Gronk’s first at the top, replacing Light’s long run as best second-rounder. The Collins pick is worth noting as Belichick and Co. traded down from the first round for the linebacker, Logan Ryan in the third, and a seventh to trade for LeGarrette Blount. Value, people.

The Patriots tend to take risks here, sometimes looking past college injuries, which gets them a mixed bag (Dowling, Wheatley, Gronk). They also look at lesser-known players, like the aforementioned Wilson, plus Vollmer and Richardson. Collins was a super-athletic defensive end from a winless Southern Miss squad; Chad Jackson was a first-round-rated, super-athletic receiver out of Florida. Sometimes highly-touted doesn’t translate. (And I loved that Jackson pick.)

Speaking of receivers, we’re letting go of Aaron Dobson. As a rookie he played in 12 games and caught 37 passes. In the past two years he played in 12 games and caught 16 passes. The oft-injured pass-catcher’s time in Foxboro could be over. But before we hear the ol’ Belichick can’t draft receivers rant, let’s 1) remember the awesome double-dip of Deion Branch and David Givens in 2002 and Edelman in 2009, and 2) agree that gaining the trust of a demanding, obsessive, future Hall-of-Fame quarterback isn’t all that simple.

We said as much in our final preseason report back in 2011, invoking the Pats Free Agent JG Scale. You either pick up the system quickly (Jabar Gaffney) or not at all (Joey Galloway). Interesting to see where any incoming rookie receivers may fit.

Third Round –

2000: J. R. Redmond, RB, Arizona State

2001: Brock Williams, DB, Notre Dame

2002: (No pick)

2003: (No pick)

2004: Guss Scott, DB, Florida

2005: Ellis Hobbs III, CB, Iowa State; Nick Kaczur, OL, Toledo

2006: David Thomas, TE, Texas

2007: (No pick)

2008: Shawn Crable, OLB, Michigan; Kevin O’Connell, QB, San Diego State

2009: Brandon Tate, WR, North Carolina; Tyrone McKenzie, LB, South Florida

2010: Taylor Price, WR, Ohio

2011: Stevan Ridley, RB, LSU; Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas

2012: Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas

2013: Logan Ryan, DB, Rutgers; Duron Harmon, DB, Rutgers

2014: (No pick)

2015: Geneo Grissom, DL, Oklahoma

Total Picks: 17

Successful Picks: 7 (Hobbs, Kaczur, Ridley, Mallett, Ryan, Harmon, Grissom)

Most Successful Pick: Ryan

Percentage: 41

Ryan and Harmon put a little shine on this sneaker of a round, while the potential of Grissom intrigues us. Maybe potential is what the New England draft gurus go for here: Bequette, Crable, and McKenzie were all athletic, productive college defenders who needed some polish. Tate had a major injury in college but actually showed something in New England, catching 24 passes for three TDs his second year. In hindsight, keeping him over Chad Ochocinco in 2011 would have made that offense more productive.

The Third Round begins the Inexact Science middle of the draft, where players often contribute in the short term but get replaced by better fits.

Fourth Round –

2000: Greg Robinson-Randall, OT, Michigan State

2001: Kenyatta Jones, OT, South Florida; Jabari Holloway, TE, Notre Dame

2002: Rohan Davey, QB, LSU; Jarvis Green, DE, LSU

2003: Dan Klecko, DL, Temple; Asante Samuel, CB, Central Florida

2004: Dexter Reid, DB, North Carolina; Cedric Cobbs, RB, Arkansas

2005: James Sanders, DB, Fresno State

2006: Garrett Mills, FB, Tulsa; Stephen Gostkowski, K, Memphis

2007: Kareem Brown, DL, Miami

2008: Jonathan Wilhite, DB, Auburn

2009: Rich Ohrnberger, OL, Penn State

2010: The Tight End Who Shan’t Be Named, Florida

2011: (No Pick)

2012: (No Pick)

2013: Josh Boyce, WR, TCU

2014: Bryan Stork, OL, Florida State; James White, RB, Wisconsin; Cameron Fleming, OL, Stanford

2015: Trey Flowers, DL, Arkansas; Tré Jackson, OL, Florida State; Shaq Mason, OL, Georgia Tech

Total Picks: 23

Successful Picks: 10 (Green, Samuel, Sanders, Gostkowski, Stork, White, Fleming, Flowers, Jackson, Mason)

Most Successful Pick: Stork

Percentage: 43

Gostkowski took Samuel’s place last year, but we’re going with Stork now. Worth an argument, but Stork’s potential to play center and help the O-line mesh in the foreseeable future makes him our number one choice. (Plus, Gostkowski missed that extra point.)

Shh. Quiet in the back row.

Anyway, all six fourth-round players drafted in the past two years remain with the team. They include three starting offensive linemen and a solid third-down back. Flowers had a strong preseason and, if healthy this year, could contribute in a pass-rushing rotation. Call this round the answer to “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” as New England finds itself on a roll here recently.

Wait, do I hear Janet Jackson?

Fifth Round – 

2000: Dave Stachelski, TE, Boise State; Jeff Marriott, DT, Missouri

2001: Hakim Akbar, DB, Washington

2002: (No pick)

2003: Dan Koppen, OL, Boston College

2004: P. K. Sam, WR, Florida State

2005: Ryan Claridge, OLB, UNLV

2006: Ryan O’Callaghan, OL, California

2007: Clint Oldenburg, OL, Colorado State

2008: Matthew Slater, WR, UCLA

2009: George Bussey, OL, Louisville

2010: Zoltan Mesko, P, Michigan

2011: Marcus Cannon, OL, TCU; Lee Smith, TE, Marshall

2012: (No pick)

2013: (No pick)

2014: (No pick)

2015: Joe Cardona, LS, Navy

Total Picks: 14

Successful Picks: 5 (Koppen, Slater, Mesko, Cannon, Cardona)

Most Successful Pick: Koppen

Percentage: 36

For years, we named Round Five “Koppen or Bust.” Now, with Slater, Mesko and Cardona, we can rename it “The Special Teams Round.” Almost seemed like Belichick gave up on the round for three years after getting some success with Mesko and Cannon, but he couldn’t resist getting a Navy Guy into the ranks (a good thing, as the long-snapper position is solidified for as long as Cardona can stay in Foxboro).

No 2016 fifth-round selection as of this writing, as the Pats traded it to Houston for receiver Keshawn Martin. For 24 receptions and two touchdowns, probably worth it.

Sixth Round –

2000: Antwan Harris, CB, Virginia; Tom Brady, QB, Michigan; David Nugent, DT, Purdue.

2001: Arther Love, TE, South Carolina State; Leonard Myers, DB, Miami

2002: (No pick)

2003: Kliff Kingsbury, QB, Texas Tech

2004: (No pick)

2005: (No pick)

2006: Jeremy Mincey, OLB, Florida; Dan Stevenson, OL, Notre Dame; LeKevin Smith, DL, Nebraska

2007: Justin Rogers, OLB, SMU; Justise Hairston, RB, Central Connecticut; Corey Hilliard, OL, Oklahoma State

2008: Bo Ruud, OLB, Nebraska

2009: Jake Ingram, LS, Hawaii; Myron Pryor, DT, Kentucky

2010: Ted Larsen, C, NC State

2011: Markell Carter, DE, Central Arkansas

2012: Nate Ebner, DB, Ohio State

2013: (No Pick)

2014: John Halapio, OL, Florida; Zach Moore, DE, Concordia

2015: Matthew Wells, LB, Mississippi State; A. J. Derby, TE, Arkansas

Total Picks: 22

Successful Picks: 4 (Brady, Pryor, Ebner, Derby)

Most Successful Pick: That QB (not Kingsbury, the other one)

Percentage: 18

Ah, the Brady Round. Bill Belichick could spend the rest of his career in Foxboro trading sixth-round picks for Dunkin’ Coolattas, yet we would still argue that this remains New England’s greatest draft round. (Excuse me while I go watch “The Brady 6” again.)

Ebner has settled in nicely as a core special teamer. Derby got hurt last year but showed some potential as a pass-catching complement to Gronk. Other than that, this comes up statistically as the least successful round, which proves that stats don’t always tell the whole story. Call it a strong dose of quality over quantity.

It’s also an odd little dead zone before the relative success of seventh-rounders and undrafted rookies, as we see below.

Seventh Round – 

2000: Casey Tisdale, OLB, New Mexico; Patrick Pass, RB, Georgia

2001: Owen Pochman, K, BYU; T. J. Turner, LB, Michigan State

2002: Antwoine Womack, RB, Virginia; David Givens, WR, Notre Dame

2003: Spencer Nead, TE, BYU; Tully Banta-Cain, LB, California; Ethan Kelley, NT, Baylor

2004: Christian Morton, CB, Florida State

2005: Matt Cassel, QB, Southern California; Andy Stokes, TE, William Penn

2006: Willie Andrews, DB, Baylor

2007: Oscar Lua, LB, Southern California; Mike Elgin, OL, Iowa

2008: (No pick)

2009: Julian Edelman, WR, Kent State; Darryl Richardson, DT, Georgia Tech

2010: Thomas Welch, OT, Vanderbilt; Brandon Deaderick, DL, Alabama; Kade Weston, DL, Georgia; Zac Robinson, QB, Oklahoma State

2011: Malcolm Williams, CB, TCU

2012: Alfonso Dennard, DB, Nebraska; Jeremy Ebert, WR, Northwestern

2013: Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois; Steve Beauharnais, LB, Rutgers

2014: Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan

2015: Darryl Roberts, DB, Marshall

Total Picks: 28 (Yeesh.)

Successful Picks: 8 (Pass, Givens, Banta-Cain, Cassel, Edelman, Deaderick, Dennard, Roberts)

Most Successful Pick: Edelman

Percentage: 29

Edelman remains the prize – call him the World Wonder of the Seventh.

Worth noting the whopping 28 picks in 16 years. Why not? They’re low-risk picks with potential, where almost one in three makes the grade. Even players not rated as successes can contribute for a season or two (Beauharnais, Richardson, Andrews, Buchanan). Looking forward to seeing Roberts in action, as he started the 2015 preseason vs. Green Bay (five tackles) but was placed on IR with a hurt wrist September 1.

A loosely-related, quirky detail: Givens in 2002. Edelman in 2009. Looks like it’s time for Belichick to satisfy the Seven-Year Itch for a prolific seventh-round receiver.


The Patriots consistently find undrafted free agents to contribute each season. In 2015, Georgia center David Andrews stepped in and helped the team to 11-0. In 2014, Malcolm Buter did something or other that seemed important. Overall, the percentage hasn’t been high: last season was atypical in that New England hosted seven and signed two (29 percent). Usually they bring in 12 to 17 and sign one or two.

Some past UDFAs who contributed: Stephen Neal, OL; Tom Ashworth, OL; Eric Alexander, LB; Randall Gay, DB; Wesley Britt, OL; Antwain Spann, CB; Kyle Eckel, RB; Santonio Thomas, DL: Mike Wright, DL; Corey Mays, LB; Pierre Woods, OLB; BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB; Vince Redd, OLB, Tyson Devree, TE; Gary Guyton, LB; Brian Hoyer, QB; Ray Ventrone, DB.

Some UDFAs on the roster now: Ryan Allen, P, Louisiana Tech; Brandon Bolden, RB, Ole Miss; Josh Kline, OL, Kent State; Joe Vellano, DL, Maryland; Malcolm Butler, CB, West Alabama; David Andrews, OL, Georgia; Brandon King, DB, Auburn; Chris Harper, WR, Cal.

With a few solid picks, maybe a surprise UDFA or two, and good health, the 2016 Patriots could continue their impressive run.

Chris Warner seeks validation on Twitter @cwarn89