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.

Anyway.

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.

UDFAs

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

Roger Goodell Is A Pathological Liar – But We Already Knew That

The NFL’s release on PSI testing in August:

At designated games, selected at random, the game balls used in the first half will be collected by the KBC at halftime, and the League’s Security Representative will escort the KBC with the footballs to the Officials’ Locker room. During halftime, each game ball for both teams will be inspected in the locker room by designated members of the officiating and security crews, and the PSI results will be measured and recorded.  Once measured, those game balls will then be secured and removed from play.

For these randomly selected games only, the back-up footballs will be used for each team during the second half. Approximately three minutes prior to kickoff, the KBC along with a designated Game Official will bring the back-up set of game balls to the on-field replay station to be distributed to each club’s Ball Crew.

At the end of any randomly selected game, the KBC will return the footballs to the Officials’ Locker Room where all game balls from each team will be inspected and the results will be recorded.

All game ball information will be recorded on the Referee’s Report, which must be submitted to the League office by noon on the day following the game.

First paragraph: the PSI results will be measured and recorded

Third paragraph: all game balls from each team will be inspected and the results will be recorded.

Fourth paragraph: All game ball information will be recorded on the Referee’s Report, which must be submitted to the League office

Translation: We know we’re right and we’re going to nail the Patriots. They’re in big F___ing trouble.

In October, NFL Spokesman Greg Aiello told Tom E Curran about the PSI data:

A determination on how it will be shared has not been made yet.”

Translation: Welp, the early results haven’t been exactly what we thought, but we’ll spin it accordingly.

Today, Roger Goodell went on The Rich Eisen Show, and when asked about the PSI testing, had this to say:

No, Rich, what the league did this year was what we do with a lot of rules and policies designed to protect the integrity of the game, and that’s to create a deterrent effect. We do spot checks to prevent and make sure the clubs understand that we’re watching these issues. It wasn’t a research study. They simply were spot checks. There were no violations this year. We’re pleased that we haven’t had any violations and we continue the work, obviously, to consistently and importantly enforce the integrity of the game and the rules that are designed to protect it.

Translation: The data in no way supported our preconceived notions. We need to minimize this.

It wasn’t a research study. They simply were spot checks. There were no violations this year.

Let that sink in for a minute.

The audacity, the arrogance of that statement.

The league devotes a big section of its August Operations release to outlining specifics of the procedures that will be followed, including the note that all reports are due into the league office by noon the day after the game.

But according to Goodell, this was no research study, it was just spot checks. Meant to be a deterrent.

There were no violations this year. A bold-faced, pathological lie, given all that we’ve learned about the Ideal Gas Law this past year, and the NFL’s insistence that it simply doesn’t exist.

Roger Goodell vilified Tom Brady by leaking that he had destroyed his phone, insinuating that there was important information on it that would’ve made Brady look bad. Today, Roger Goodell essentially confessed that the league has destroyed data that would’ve made the NFL look bad.

Because if the data was in the NFL’s favor, would this have been the outcome?

Nope.

But if they released data that supported the Patriots, it would’ve gone against the case they’re appealing in federal court next month, and the cry to restore the Patriots draft picks would’ve arisen. They couldn’t let that happen.

I’ve been hoping beyond hope that the Patriots have been doing their own PSI testing this season, and waiting to spring it at the appropriate time. It’s a pipe-dream, but now would be the perfect to drop that.

Patriots’ “That Guy” 2016 Senior Bowl Edition

Last year, we had our most success yet with Patriots mock drafts. The key came in worrying less about what New England would do with specific picks (their active trading makes that tough), and focusing on the types of players they tend to select in general areas of the draft. You can take a gander at our 2015 draft review that wrapped up the “That Guy” series here.

With last weekend’s Senior Bowl in mind (along with the previous weekend’s East-West Shrine Game and NFLPA Bowl), we looked at some players of note and tried to figure out where they’d fit in the Patriots draft.

The Solid First-Rounder: The Patriots draft as well in the first round as any team, but they lost their top 2016 pick for using footballs that followed the Ideal Gas Law. Damnit. We’ll do better than the NFL here and just move on.

The Small-School Defender: New England drafted Zach Moore (Concordia) in 2014 and Markell Carter (Central Arkansas) in 2011. Javon Hargrave (6-2, 295) of South Carolina State could fit here. Hargrave had a late sack that helped keep the South atop the North. The stout defender was named the Defensive Player of the Year for the Mid-East Athletic Conference for the second year in a row after notching 59 total tackles (22 for loss, 13.5 sacks) and forcing two fumbles.

The defensive star of the East-West Shrine Game was pass-rusher Victor Ochi (6-1, 244) from Stonybrook. Though on the smaller side, Ochi succeeded no matter who lined up against him, with constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks and one sack. Last season, Ochi tallied 13 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss.

Offensive Line Double-Dips: Just as they did with Bryan Stork/Cameron Fleming in 2014 and Tré Jackson/Shaq Mason in 2015, the Patriots could use a couple of mid-round picks to strengthen their offensive line. Looking at the tackle position, we’ll take prospects Le’Raven Clark (6-6, 312) from Texas Tech and Kyle Murphy (6-6, 300) from Stanford. Clark showed surprising power on run plays, while Murphy displayed good feet and technique on pass protection.

Clark started 50 games at Texas Tech, which this year ranked tops third down conversion rate (52 percent), and second in scoring offense (46.6 ppg), total offense (595 ypg), and passing offense (390 ypg). Big 12 coaches voted him to the conference’s First Team. At Stanford, Murphy helped the Cardinal average 222 yards per game rushing and allow a mere 18 sacks over the season. He was named to the All-Pac-12 First Team by conference coaches.

Pats could have some size and talent to work with, there.

The Alabama Guy: Even if Bill Belichick and ‘Bama coach Nick Saban didn’t go back to the first Bush administration when they coached in Cleveland together, the current national champs are always worth a look. Last year, New England drafted Xzavier Dickson, currently with the Falcons. In 2012, the Patriots took Dont’a Hightower in the first round.

Lots to choose from here, but – despite a pass interference penalty in the end zone – we liked most of what cornerback Cyrus Jones (5-10, 196) presented, as he knocked down two passes and returned punts for the South team. At Alabama, Jones had 37 tackles (four for loss), two interceptions, and seven pass break-ups. He also averaged 12.6 yards per punt return (42 for 530), and took four (yes, four) back for touchdowns.

The Rutgers Guy(s): Having drafted Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, and Logan Ryan and taken on Kevin Snyder and Jonathan Freeny as free agents, the Foxboro front office is contemplating renaming the team “The Scarlet Patriots, ” or maybe just “The New England Knights.”

In terms of picking a Senior Bowl favorite, this one should have been easy – receiver Leonte Carroo was the only Scarlet Knight in Mobile last week – but Carroo injured his leg during practice and could not play. Looking back at the Shrine Game, we saw left tackle Keith Lumpkin hold his own. Lumpkin’s got size (6-7, 327) and versatility (38 games at left tackle, 11 at right guard). He was an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention last year.

In the NFLPA Bowl, linebacker Quentin Gause (6-0, 243) led all tacklers with 6.5 stops (and frankly, the announcers should have talked about him more). By the banks of the Raritan, Gause served as a team captain and All-Big Ten Honorable Mention, tallying 96 tackles including 12 for loss. A smartypants (4.0 fall GPA), Gause fits perfectly as the Rutgers/Special Teams Guy.

For all news of Rutgers football, please follow NJ Advance Media for NJ.com writer Dan Duggan on Twitter @DDuggan21.

The Ohio State Guy: Ol’ Belichick pal Urban Meyer added ol’ Belichick pal (and former Rutgers coach) Greg Schiano as a defensive coordinator at Ohio State, so maybe some kind of connection here, you think? Some interesting guys to choose from, including receiver Braxton Miller (see below), tight end Nick Vannett (see below), safety Tyvis Powell, and defensive lineman Adolphus Washington. They all looked pretty good to us.

You know what? Of the two defenders, we’ll stick with Powell, who had the good sense to not solicit a prostitute before OSU’s bowl game. Powell (6-3, 208) demonstrated solid run support at the Senior Bowl. The graduate student (he completed his studies in 3.5 years) placed third on the team with 71 tackles, adding three interceptions, three pass break-ups, and a blocked kick.

The Injured Guy: New England tends to take chances with players who missed time due to injury. Defensive lineman Dominique Easley and offensive lineman Tré Jackson had knee problems in college; Rob Gronkowski had back issues at Arizona. Sometimes the gamble pays off, sometimes not. (Ras-I Dowling, for one, never got over the injury bug.)

Penn State defensive lineman Carl Nassib didn’t play in the Senior Bowl (he hurt his shoulder in December and had some injuries during the week leading up to the game). Nassib, a walk-on for the Nittany Lions, had 15.5 sacks in 13 games this past season, with six forced fumbles and one interception. The 6-7, 275-pound pass-rusher was the 2015 Ted Hendricks Award winner, given to the nation’s top defensive end.

East-West Shrine Game running back Danny Lasco of Cal (6-0, 205) caught the eye with a 41-gard draw play on third and eight, and ended up with 62 yards on six carries (10.3 avg). In 2015 Lasco rushed for a 5.1-yard average for the Golden Bears, but only started three games as he battled an ankle injury in the latter part of the season.

The Backup Tight End: Starting with fifth-rounder Dave Stachelski in 2000, the Patriots have drafted plenty of tight ends under Belichick. They got their starters in the first (Daniel Graham, 2002; Benjamin Watson, 2004) and second rounds (Gronk, 2010), but the search for a second TE hasn’t been as productive. (We won’t discuss The Tight End Who Shan’t Be Named.)

While Ohio State’s Vannett (6-6, 260) looked the part of a sub-Gronk, and Greg Gronkowski (6-3, 234) looked the part of a lil’ Gronk, we went with South Carolina’s Jerrell Adams (6-5, 244) as a pass-catching tight end who showed decent on-line blocking skills. Adams looked smooth catching the ball in limited opportunities. We also appreciated his hustle as he prevented a TD by tracking down a South defender trying to return a blocked field goal. Last fall, Adams was second on the Gamecocks with 28 receptions for 421 yards (a noteworthy 15 yards per catch) and three TDs.

The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: The trick of drafting? Predicting how a player can fit in one’s system. The receiver position has the most pitfalls, because they’re not just learning a system, they’re trying to mesh with a perfectionist QB who also happens to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Too bad Tom Brady can’t got along on scouting trips to play catch.

Yes, the dynamism of former Ohio State QB Miller reminded us of Julian Edelman and would be fun to watch in Foxboro. Still, we’ll go with Jay Lee (6-2, 214) out of Baylor. Lee made some solid catches, running fine routes and showing some elusiveness after the catch. At Baylor, Lee averaged almost 20 yards per reception (38 for 758, 19.9) and scored eight touchdowns.

Two Shrine Game receivers who stood out were Geronimo Allison of Illinois (6-3, 197) and Jared Dangerfied of Western Kentucky (6-1, 214). Allison led the West team with six receptions for 68 yards and two touchdowns. He got invited to the Senior Bowl, where he caught one pass. Last season, Allison had 65 catches for 882 yards, both tops for the Illini, with three touchdowns. In the Shrine Game, Dangerfield tallied five catches for 84 yards, a 16.8 average. At WKU, Dangerfield had 82 grabs for 844 yards and eight TDs.

The Special Teams Guy: It began with Matthew Slater in 2008’s fifth round. It continued with selections of long snapper Jake Ingram in 2009, punter Zoltan Mesko in 2010, Nate Ebner in 2012, and long snapper Joe Cardona in 2015. The Pats like to pick guys with a special teams focus.

Oh, man. So many choices in these bowls. We’ll stick with two undersized linebackers: Tyler Matakevich of Temple (6-0, 233) and the appropriately named Eric Striker of Oklahoma (5-11, 228). Matakevich filled in running gaps well, making many of the opening tackles of the Senior Bowl. Striker made a couple of hard-nosed stops, notable for their speed. At Temple, Matakevich compiled 126 tackles last fall, with 15 tackles for loss (4.5 sacks). He also grabbed five interceptions. At Oklahoma, Striker had 67 tackles, with 19 for loss (7.5 sacks), 11 QB hits, and one interception.

The Navy Guy: Just about everyone following last year’s draft figured Cardona would end up in Foxboro for some length of time; few of us figured he’d get chosen in the fifth and end up starting for the year. Belichick, due in large part to his father’s background as a long-term assistant coach at the Naval Academy, always keeps an eye out for Midshipmen.

Fullbacks Kyle Eckel (scored two TDs in 2007) and Eric Kettani (practice squad, 2009) were signed by the Patriots as free agents, a fact that we believe will pave the way for 2016 Senior Bowler Chris Swain (6-0, 247). At Annapolis, Swain rushed for 847 yards, averaged over five per carry, and notched 10 TDs. Not bad for a guy who sought contact more often than Velcro.

The Seventh-Round Slot Receiver: Thinking about players like Northwestern’s Jeremy Ebert (2012) and Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon (2014) for this category, as well as a little-recognized former QB out of Kent State with a name that sounds like Hulian Jedelman (2009).

In limited snaps, we noticed Minnesota receiver K. J. Maye (5-8, 194), whose quickness helped him make yardage on two end-around plays and one bubble screen. Maye was an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention last year with a team-leading 65 passes for 706 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed nine times for 46 yards and a TD.

At the Shrine Game, one guy – one small guy – stood out. Washington receiver Jaydon Mickens (5-10, 174) caught three passes for 49 yards and one touchdown. He looked like a tough guy to cover, and continued to show his elusiveness as a kick returner, bringing one back for 35 yards. At UW, Mickens led the team with 58 catches for 692 yards (11.9 avg), scoring two TDs. He also ran the ball seven times, averaging 6.3 per carry and getting in the end zone once.

Next month, keep an eye out for our Patriots That Guy 2.0: Post-Combine Edition.

Chris Warner tweets about the inanity of life @cwarn89 

No Super Bowl For Patriots, But No Quit, Either

America is happy.

The New England Patriots, the very picture of villainy and evil for the sports fans of the country have been vanquished.

I’m not unhappy.

Sure, I’m bitterly disappointed, I’m frustrated, I’m upset.

I’m also proud. This team, what they had to overcome this season, what they had to overcome in this game, and they did not quit. I’m not unhappy with them as a team, despite the final score.

Oh sure, I’m prepared for an offseason of Gostkowski’s miss, Ebner’s pooch kick,  about the game plan going into Miami and several other points which the simple-minded will grasp onto and refuse to let go off.

Shocker: Not all decisions made were correct or worked out. But you know what? I want the guy making the decisions right now to be the guy continuing to make those decisions for as long as he wants to make those decisions.

I want the guy quarterbacking the team to continue to quarterback the team for as long as he wants to.

After the NFL spent the entire offseason trying to derail the quarterback and team, and after 59 minutes, 45 seconds today of getting their quarterback thrashed, beaten and bruised, they still didn’t give up. Brady found Rob Gronkowski in the back of the end zone on a 4th down play to give the team a chance to tie with a two-point conversion and send the AFC Title game into overtime.

You know how it turned out.

Postgame, Stephen Gostkowski, as reliable a kicker as has ever played the game wanted the blame placed squarely on his shoulder after the game for earlier missing his first extra point in 10 years. His teammates would have none of it.They lauded his praises, calling him the best kicker in the league. The extra point he missed was early enough in the game that they expected to be able to pick him up, just like he has picked them up so many times with long field goals after stalled drives.

They couldn’t do it. Oh, they tried, but in the end, the missed point was the difference in the game.

I can’t say it enough. They never gave up. A makeshift offensive line which was missing starters Nate Solder, Tre’ Jackson and Ryan Wendell, could not hold up against the furious pass rush of the Denver defense, but when they needed to the most, on the final drive, on fourth down plays, they did just enough to allow Brady to find Rob Gronkowski for two miraculous plays to keep their hopes alive.

The Patriots defense after a rough start covering Owen Daniels, was every bit as relentless as Denver’s for the final three quarters of the game.

I’m satisfied that this team showed what the heart of a true champion looks like. That final drive, while not counting officially in Tom Brady’s collection of last minute comebacks, was as good as or better than anything he’s done. With the stakes, the crowd and the Denver defense, they were in position to tie the score.

This is why we watch sports – to see the competition. There will be plenty of small-minded media trolls who will be taking victory laps in the weeks to come, people who will criticize decisions made, armchair second-guessers who have no idea what went into making decisions. While you can attempt to argue over decisions, you cannot argue with the competitiveness of the team, and their lack of quit.

While Bill Belichick isn’t perfect, I have 100% faith that every decision he makes is the one that he feels is best for the team at that moment. He’s not always right, but he’s right more than anyone else.

I am just so incredibly proud of the focus of this team, even as the NFL was making a Federal Court Case over it’s own ignorance of science, the Patriots went about the business of trying to repeat as Super Bowl Champions.

Now that their season is over, I hope that Robert Kraft will make noise over the lost draft picks, especially after the NFL releases their data on PSI checks for this season. I doubly hope that the team has done their own study, with enough evidence to expose any further deception the NFL may attempt to perpetrate. (Imagine if this game was in Gillette, and Denver’s sideline tablets went out? Right as the Patriots were going in to score? Mike Klis would be getting a call from an NFL source about now, saying that the league is investigating that the Patriots tampered with 11 of 12 of the Bronco’s tablets.)

If it turns out that Kraft allows the NFL to take a first and fourth round pick for nothing, without a public fight, I will be livid. Kraft is about conciliation as we’re constantly being reminded, but he needs to fight more on this topic.

If you noticed anything on the field today, it was that a first round offensive lineman sure would be welcomed here.

Preferably one with the type of heart we saw on the field today.

With A Little Bit Of Luck (2016 Edition)

(Editor’s Note: We ran this column last year and – given the craziness of the past wild card weekend – think it’s worth an updated review.)

In the NFL, every team needs some good fortune to win the Super Bowl.

Last Saturday and Sunday each provided a startling example. In weather so frigid they could have called in Jack London to write the game story, Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh made three field goals in a row, including a 47-yarder, only to miss the potential game-winner from 27 yards out. Walsh had been on a 10-for-10 hot streak (including two 53-yarders) since his last miss on November 29 vs. Atlanta. Seattle did well to come back from a 9-0 deficit, but they got a big break.

Maybe Pittsburgh got a bigger one. After getting slammed to the turf, QB Ben Roethlisberger left the game for three series. He came back in despite moving with all the easy grace of a rusty lawn chair. After a few short passes, his one long throw sailed harmlessly over Antonio Brown’s head, the same head that Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict crushed with a brutal-looking hit. Unnecessary roughness penalty,15 yards.

But wait, there’s more: while on the field arguing the call and standing off vs. his opponents, Cincinnati cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones confronted Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter, getting another 15-yard penalty. So, with 22 seconds left and no timeouts at Cincinnati’s 47-yard line, the Steelers picked up 30 yards on zero offensive plays, taking up zero seconds. Kicker Chris Boswell jogged onto the field and pushed the ball through for a 35-yard game winner.

Pittsburgh deserves some credit for not completely losing their minds (a low bar), and also for putting enough pressure on the Bengals to evoke the possibility of a meltdown. Jones insists that Brown faked getting hurt on the play, and that the receiver actually winked at him. If so, impressive. But, really, the Steelers basically did what children do on Christmas: they showed up and got their gifts.

This Saturday, a New England team with some key starters returning to action hosts a Kansas City team with at least one key starter (receiver Jeremy Maclin) nursing an injury (ankle). Is that the Patriots’ big break this week? We shall see.

For a look at how every team – no matter how deserving or how talented overall – needs the ball to bounce its way, see below, starting with the Patriots’ first Super Bowl run in early 2002.

2002 Super Bowl: New England 20, St. Louis 17

Most Fortunate Moment: Has to be the Tuck Rule, right? An obscure, now-abolished rule – albeit one with which Patriots fans had become familiar in 2001 after their Week Two game against the Jets – was implemented correctly to overturn an apparent Tom Brady fumble, thus allowing Adam Vinatieri to kick the football into the maw of a blizzard for the greatest field goal in playoff history.

Hey, Raiders fans? That was 2002. You want to live in 2002, go listen to Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” and watch “CSI.” We can share content on Friendster. Might be time to let it go.

Honorable Mention: Pittsburgh’s special teams implosion in the AFC Champsionship game, allowing two TDs (punt return and blocked kick return); having Drew Bledsoe as a bench QB after Brady hurt his ankle in the first half of that game; the Super Bowl refs adapting a “let ’em play” attitude, with Pats DBs getting their hands on more Rams than a shepherd in a shearing contest.

2003 Super Bowl: Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21

Most Fortunate Moment: Coach Jon Gruden got to play his previous team in the Super Bowl, reaping the benefits of new Oakland head coach Bill Callahan failing to make significant changes to the offense that Gruden had developed. Talk about an in-depth scouting report. Almost makes one feel badly for Raiders fans. (The first word of that sentence is key.)

Honorable Mention: Oakland’s starting center Barret Robbins did not show up to practice Super Bowl week (he was barred from playing and later diagnosed with manic depression).

2004 Super Bowl: New England 32, Carolina 29

Most Fortunate Moment: After Carolina tied it at 29, John Kasay kicked off out-of-bounds, giving New England the ball at their own 40 with 1:08 left. Vinatieri kicked the game-winner with four seconds remaining.

Honorable Mention: Panthers coach John Fox went for two 2-point conversions in the fourth quarter and failed; in the divisional playoffs, normally sure-handed Titans receiver Drew Bennett dropped a pass that would have gotten Tennessee into field goal position to tie it; in the AFC Championship vs. Peyton Manning and the Colts, the refs allowed the Pats’ defensive backs to play with the type of aggression that would get penalized today; plus, snow fell in Foxboro, an anathema to most dome teams.

2005 Super Bowl: New England 24, Philadelphia 21

Most Fortunate Moment: The failure of the Eagles to deal with shaken QB Donovan McNabb. Down by 10, Philly declined to hurry on offense, in part because McNabb was having trouble breathing after getting hit by Tedy Bruschi. (You can read a more in-depth story on that here.)

Honorable Mention: Optimum health. As they had in 2003, many New England starters missed games due to injury, but most came back in time for the playoffs; more snow in Foxboro vs. the Colts.

Overall, it’s tough to associate pure luck with this team: one of the best of the decade and certainly one of the strongest, deepest squads in Patriots history.

2006 Super Bowl: Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10

Most Fortunate Moment: Not having to play the Patriots in the playoffs. (Well, they had shown Pittsburgh the way home twice in four years.)

Honorable Mention: Some close officiating in the big game. This is not to say that Pittsburgh didn’t deserve to win (they appeared to be the better squad), but had some of those close calls gone the other way, Seattle would have been the lucky ones. In the divisional playoffs at Indianapolis, Jerome Bettis fumbled on the Colts’ two-yard line, paving the way for glory for Nick Harper on the fumble return, but Roethlisberger made a diving, spinning tackle at Indy’s 42; Colts kicker/anti-hero Mike Vanderjagt missed a potential game-tying 47-yard field goal.

2007 Super Bowl: Indianapolis 29, Chicago 17

Most Fortunate Moment: Whatever switch went off in Manning’s head in the AFC Championship that had him looking for drive-sustaining first downs instead of long passes. The Patriots defense had to stay on the field forever and couldn’t protect their halftime lead.

Honorable Mention: The Patriots defense was also suffering from the flu, wearing them down further; NE receiver Reche Caldwell dropped an easy pass that would have at least led to a clock-killing first down; cornerback Ellis Hobbs got a questionable pass interference call in the end zone that led to a Colts score; Indy got to play Rex Grossman in the Super Bowl.

2008 Super Bowl: New York 17, New England 14

Most Fortunate Moment: We think we know what most fans would say, but we’ll point to the NFC Championship, specifically Brett Favre and his ill-advised pass-punt in overtime, an easy interception that led to the Giants’ game-winning field goal. Few New England fans doubt that the Pats would have cruised past the Packers.

Honorable Mention: The Helmet Catch, of course; Eli Manning fumbled twice in the Super Bowl but lost neither; Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel failed to secure what could have been the game-sealing interception on New York’s final drive.

2009 Super Bowl: Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23

Most Fortunate Moment: While Steelers defender James Harrison returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown, he got unintentional help from Cardinal Antrel Rolle who – stepping onto the edge of the field for a closer look – bumped into receiver Larry Fitzgerald, preventing Fitzgerald from making the tackle in time. (Keep an eye on number 11 running along the sideline in this clip.)

Honorable Mention: Roethlisberger bounced back from a concussion suffered during the final week of the regular season to beat the Chargers in the divisional round; in the AFC Championship, the QB fumbled twice but lost neither in a 24-19 win over the Jets.

2010 Super Bowl Winner: New Orleans 31, Indianapolis 17

Most Fortunate Moment: On a potential game-tying drive, Colts receiver Reggie Wayne came up short on his route, allowing Tracy Porter to cut in front of him for a pick-six.

Honorable Mention: During their on-sides kick – a gamble that made putting all your cash into lottery tickets seem like a sound investment – Indy receiver Hank Baskett had the ball bounce off of him, giving the Saints possession to open the second half.

2011 Super Bowl: Green Bay 31, Pittsburgh 25

Most Fortunate Moment: I’m not sure what I was doing at this time, but, honest to God, I remember nothing about these playoffs. Apparently the Chicago Bears were down to their third-string QB (Caleb Hanie) in the NFC Championship game; Hanie threw an interception directly at Packers defensive lineman B. J. Raji, which seems like trying to throw a crumpled-up piece of paper into a wastebasket and not realizing there’s a door in front of it.

Honorable Mention: Um, I dunno … health? Seriously, I got nothing. Did these playoffs happen?

2012 Super Bowl: New York 21, New England 17

Most Fortunate Moment: An injury to regular San Francisco punt returner Ted Ginn, Jr. put Kyle Williams into the spotlight for the NFC Championship. That worked out great for New York, as Williams muffed one return and fumbled the other, respectively leading to a regulation TD and the game-winning field goal in overtime for a 20-17 win.

Honorable Mention: Gronkowski getting hurt during the AFC Championship, making him less than 100 percent for the Super Bowl; New York fumbling three times in the big game and – again – losing nary a one.

2013 Super Bowl: Baltimore 34, San Francisco 31

Most Fortunate Moment: In the divisional playoff, Denver safety Rahim Moore got lost on Joe Flacco’s 70-yard pass, allowing the tying touchdown with 31 seconds left to play. Baltimore won in OT.

Honorable Mention: Gronkowski’s absence from the AFC Championship game; Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib’s injury during that game opening up the passing lanes for Flacco; in the Super Bowl, terrible play-calling for the 49ers on their potential game-winning drive; on that drive, the refs allowed contact on a potential pass interference penalty in the end zone. (Something that probably would get the call this year.)

2014 Super Bowl: Seattle 43, Denver 8

Most Fortunate Moment: On the first snap of the game, Denver center Manny Ramirez shotgunned the football past Peyton Manning into the end zone for a what-the-heck-just-happened safety. Seattle’s D had a huge game, but didn’t have to lift a finger to get the lead. The Broncos’ lack of preparedness for the Seahawks’ 12th man set the tone for the night.

Honorable Mention: In the NFC title game, on a fourth-and-seven play, Niners defensive end Aldon Smith went offside, giving QB Russell Wilson a free play (as he told in this game story); Jermaine Kearse snatched Wilson’s pass in the end zone, giving Seattle a 20-17 lead on their way to a 23-17 win.

2015 Super Bowl: New England 28, Seattle 24

Most Fortunate Moment: Unlike what seems like the rest of the world, we don’t think the play call was the worst in Super Bowl history; http://seattletimes.com/html/seahawks/2025601887_brewer02xml.html however, the Seahawks’ decision to pass from the one-yard line gave rookie Patriots defensive back (and instant fan favorite for life) Malcolm Butler the chance to intercept the ball and seal the game. Also fortunate? As we saw in the “Do Your Job” program, the Patriots had planned for that exact play in the previous week’s practice.

Honorable Mention: The Patriots finally – finally! – had a mostly healthy roster, with Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Vince Wilfork and a full O-line contributing; Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner signed with New England and re-shaped the defense. (For a year, at least. A very good year.)

For most of the past two games, the Seahawks seemed destined to win this thing. From Green Bay’s inexplicable breakdown in the NFC Championship to Tom Brady’s first interception (I mean, really Tom. Where? To whom?) to what would have been deemed the Juggle Catch, Seattle looked like SB repeaters for sure.

The Pats just needed a break. And they got it.

Thoughts regarding lucky moments on the big stage? Let us know in the comment space below.

You can reach Chris Warner at chris.warner@patriotsdaily.com or @cwarn89 on Twitter.

Watching The Reporting On Chandler Jones

It will be interesting watching what facts come out in the next few days/weeks regarding what happened to Chandler Jones over the weekend.

This is what we know for sure:

What else do we know? Very little apparently, but that’s not stopping rampant speculation.

This was what started the whole story:

DandCShowTwitter

 

The Tweet was taken down soon after and replaced with this.

DandCShowTwitter2

The bit about Gronk’s house was removed. Then Lou Merloni advanced the story.

So now of the original Chris Curtis (D&C producer, runs the Twitter account) Tweet, the bit about Gronk’s house has been removed, Lou says Jones “walked” into police station which would seem to disprove the “OD” aspect. The Police dispatcher in the case mentioned “class D Delta” which often refers to marijuana. Other unnamed sources suggest sleeping pills and a bad reaction to something.

For someone who spent months railing against Chris Mortensen for blindly tweeting what sources told him, Curtis seems the ultimate hypocrite here. Instead, much of their show today was spent focused on whether the police covered up for the Patriots and Jones, and calling Patriots fans hypocrites. Okay.

There is definitely a story here though. The question is, who is going to get it, and get it right? Gillette Stadium was mobbed with reporters this morning, ensuring that this story will already have more coverage than the Peyton Manning HGH story. But will the stories rely on facts, or speculation?

We’ll be watching, media.

Try and get it right this time, OK?

Pats 2015 Fourth Quarter Review

The Patriots flew into Miami for their regular-season finale with only slightly less energy than a potato battery. Their 20-10 loss made them 2-3 over their past five games, the worst mark for New England in December/January since Pete Carroll’s final season in 1999.

The Pats beat the teams they should have, keeping pace by demolishing the Texans 27-6 and pushing past the Titans, 33-16. They lost one game they could have won, falling to the Jets in overtime, 26-20. Had they taken that game, the Dolphins “contest” (quotes all mine) would not have mattered. As things sit, New England has a 12-4 record and a bye week to try to figure it all out.

Some thoughts as we prepare to watch others play for the privilege of visiting Foxboro…

Price Is Right? Chris Price of WEEI.com wrote a follow-up piece on how, when it comes to the playoffs, health trumps momentum. It’s a compelling debate, especially when you look at a team like Baltimore, who went 1-4 at the end of 2012 on their way to Super Bowl success. Again, this Pats team might get bounced faster than a Super Ball in a paint shaker. But the phrase “anything can happen” can work for optimists, too.

Lost In Logan: Disappointing couple of weeks for cornerback Logan Ryan. After a sharp run through most of December, Ryan got bypassed by Brandon Marshall in New York (eight catches, 115 yards, two touchdowns) and outplayed in part by Devante Parker in Miami (five for 106 and one TD). New England’s defensive backfield is playing like season two of that show you unexpectedly enjoyed last year: you want to keep liking it, but it hasn’t been living up to its potential. A healthier safety crew and front seven might help.

O, O Sea Bass: Yup. You know it’s the end of the regular season when I’ve run out of puns. (Oh, Sheila? Anyone? No? Too bad.) Anyhoo, this season the Patriots O-line has gone through more combos than a busload of returning Outward Bound students at McDonald’s. Tackle Sebastian Vollmer went down with an ankle injury during the first quarter of the Jets game December 27, providing the final push to this superhuman-sized row of dominoes. Vollmer had stepped over from right tackle to take over for Nate Solder. His injury forced Cameron Fleming to left tackle, which has made things tough for the offense. His expected return could help settle down the entire line.

Jules Of Denial: I mean, yeah, if you want to talk injuries, the Patriots have more personnel on reserve than the Coast Guard. Yet, amidst all the gloom, we seem to look past the fact that Julian Edelman, New England’s best receiver, looks primed to come back for the playoffs. After catching 61 passes in his first nine games, Edelman sat with a broken bone in his foot. That means almost seven completions per contest had to got to other targets. Nice to have that potential back for the big games.

How LaFar He LaFell: I suppose Patriots fans should consider themselves lucky they got the 2014 version of Brandon LaFell when they did. That guy distinguished himself as a solid pass-catcher in big situations, culminating in the game-winning score in the Divisional Round vs. Baltimore and the opening TD in the Super Bowl. Not sure what happened to that guy. Maybe off-season foot surgery took more of a toll than expected. His first game back, vs. the Jets, featured nine drops. He has only 37 receptions in 11 games, half of his 74 in 16 games last year. Zero touchdowns this season vs. seven in 2014. Pretty rough, especially considering the absence of Edelman and the need for different receivers.

I’m Just A Bill: Everything I just said about LaFell works for tight end Scott Chandler, minus the Super Bowl run. Last year Chandler had 47 receptions with Buffalo. This year in Foxboro, 23. Too often these guys react to the football like emotionally stunted bridesmaids watching the bouquet flying toward them, giving an effort that seems perfunctory at best.

No Reason To Get Excited, Or All Along The Hightower: If injuries to a football team are like removing tools out of a toolbox, then linebacker Dont’a Hightower is the hammer. New England’s run defense hasn’t been the same since Hightower’s injury in Denver; it remains to be seen if he has played again at full strength.

Eh, at this point it just feels like we’re making excuses, but when you’re the most injured team in the league, it makes a difference. Getting back to full health, or close to it, will give the Patriots a chance to show what they can do.

Or maybe everyone should just lower their expectations. Speaking of which…

Earthwind And Fired: In past years, New England has been able to find a free agent or practice squad player who can fill in at an acceptable level. No one should ever confuse defensive back Earthwind Moreland with Ty Law, but the former stepped up from the practice squad after Law’s season-ending injury in 2004 and notched 17 total tackles (the only stops recorded in his five seasons in the NFL). Not a long-term solution, but a good enough stop-gap.

In a similar way, Danny Woodhead got to Foxboro in September of 2010 and took over Kevin Faulk’s third-down role less than two weeks later after Faulk went on injured reserve with a knee injury. Woodhead averaged 5.6 yards per carry (97 for 547) and 11.1 yards per catch (34 for 379). Last year, guys like LeGarrette Blount and Alan Branch helped out down the stretch. This season, the rewards have been harder to come by.

Defensive back Leonard Johnson had a sweet Pats debut at Houston, breaking up two passes and dancing like it was Gino time. He did fine vs. Tennessee, then seemed to slip over the past two games. Offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle got hurt before getting to show much. Receiver Chris Harper came with high hopes off the practice squad. I’ve watched him twice in the past six weeks and have yelled at the TV both times.

Just catch the punt! Just get out-of-bounds!

Disappointing. Much like running back Steven Jackson, who has averaged 2.4 yards per carry. Not all his fault – he’s only been a Patriot for two weeks and could deliver more in the post-season – but still tough to watch.

Bye Curious: The past month has felt like a team tetanus shot they just wanted to get out of the way. So, how much can one week off really help? We only know that things can change quickly in the NFL. No AFC team looks unbeatable right now. Kansas City has had a great run, but how will they play at Foxboro? Denver deserves credit for nabbing the number one seed, but how will they transition from a young, promising QB back to their Hall of Famer, the amazing Ashley Manning?

(Oops. Sorry. That was meant for Peyton Manning, but I addressed it to his wife.)

This thing is wide open. No one’s undefeated. No one’s playing perfectly. Let’s see how it all turns out.

Chris Warner like to spend a little too much time on Twitter @cwarn89

Brady vs Manning – Rivals Even In Media Hypocrisy

The narrative of the national sports media never ceases to astound me.

On false reports and leaks to well-placed reporters, Tom Brady and the Patriots were villainized, accused of cheating, and became a national story leading the evening newscasts.

The media was eager to lap it up and proclaim Brady and the Patriots guilty and demand their removal from the Super Bowl and the record books.

Within days, the majority of people believed without reservation that the Patriots had cheated. For many of those, nothing that came afterwards would sway their opinion.

During the Super Bowl broadcast, the topic came up numerous times – even with under two minutes left to play and the game on the line.

Over an alleged few puffs of air –  of which, the veracity of such claims has been proven to extremely questionable.

The case against Tom Brady involved false leaks to reporters, a sham investigation which has been mocked by scientists and a federal judge and lies by the Commissioner of the NFL.

Now we come to Peyton Manning.

A report comes out linking Manning to Human Growth Hormone. The initial report comes from Al Jazeera, which, fair or not, probably plays a part in the perception of the story.

After numerous neck surgeries, including one overseas because no one here in the U.S. would perform it, Manning was treated by a doctor with a checkered past, who had a history of putting his patients on HGH. Manning’s wife was also a patient and shipments were sent in her name to the Manning house.

The difference in coverage between Boston and Indianapolis of two stories which have some similarities is startling. Both involve a star quarterback and someone with a sketchy past who has helped with their recovery from major injury and/or training.

The Indianapolis Star has dug into the past of Dr. Dale Guyer and advanced the story admirably, but have been very careful to not to tarnish the reputation of Peyton Manning, keeping his (and his wife’s) involvement on the periphery of the story.

The Boston Globe (and Boston Magazine) dug into the past of Alex Guerrero with the sole purpose of trying to tarnish the reputation of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. This was reflected in the tone of article and the insinuations that besides legal issues, the situation was violating the NFL salary cap, of all things.

In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz, who was spoon-fed the deflategate scoop by a malicious NFL source, and proudly proclaimed it the biggest story of his career – had actually been treated by the same Dr Guyer, and had been prescribed HGH – but didn’t deem it worthy of any sensationalism.

Old friend Gregg Doyel who was at the forefront of the pitchfork-wielding mob that was out to lynch Brady, (and to this day – literally, today – still believes it.) has had only one stance on this Manning story.

Can you fathom a writer, any writer tweeting, “I ride with 12.” ?

Nationally though, this Manning report, is not being viewed with the skepticism that we would’ve hoped the whole deflategate case would’ve been, even though there is more evidence here that something happened then there was ever on the deflategate case.

When the original source of the story Charles Sly recanted his story after it became public – his original claims having been filmed by an undercover reporter – out of fear, embarrassment, or whatever, many people took that as enough evidence that the story was bogus. When Manning told reporters how angry he was about the report, for many, well, that was all they needed to dismiss the story, despite several very compelling unanswered questions.

It’s interesting to see the media used in the opposite way from the Brady case in this Manning case. Take, for instance, the fact the when the Broncos were playing a national game on CBS, this story was not mentioned at all.

On purpose.

This is what Jim Nantz said when asked why he didn’t mention it:

Wut.

Al Jazeera says there is a second, “impeccably placed” source to back up the network’s recent assertion that human growth hormone shipments were provided to Peyton Manning’s wife.

Let’s pose a hypothetical:

Instead of deflategate last January, what if it came out that during his recovery from the ACL tear in 2008, that shipments of HGH were sent to Tom Brady’s house, addressed to Giselle.

What would the reaction have been? Would the national media have called it “a story that on all levels is a non-story?

I think we know the answer.

Finally, this week, a large media outlet looked into this story The New York Times set about Finding a Common Thread in the Al Jazeera Doping Report

With the help of my New York Times colleagues Ken Belson and Doris Burke, I scrutinized the list of names, and it soon appeared less random than at first blush. Nearly all of the athletes Sly named are clients of Jason Riley, a fitness trainer based in Sarasota, Fla.

Riley and Sly founded Elementz Nutrition and had an impressive stable of big time athletes using them.

The conclusions are very interesting. On the undercover interview with Sly:

But what to make of Sly? In the end, this story hinges on his credibility. A man who operates in the athletic shadows, he was confronted with his hours of undercover interviews and recanted. He proclaimed himself an idle boaster.

What was he supposed to do, if what he had said was true? Acknowledge it and allow his words to become his manacles?

Mitosomal growth factors, stem cells and pig brain peptide: He talked of all with a chemist’s ease. His network, as he described it, extends from Germany and Switzerland to Vancouver, British Columbia, where Chad Robertson, a pharmacist, said Sly was a savant of doping.

The other obvious question is, if he really was a savant of doping, and knew all these things, why would he just boast about random athletes even if he was just trying to look impressive to the person he was talking to?

So is anyone going to do anything about it?

The Al Jazeera documentary was only the latest report to reveal sports doping as a spider’s web that stretches across continents and oceans. You wonder if the pro league chieftains, Rob Manfred in baseball and the N.F.L. sachem Roger Goodell, have paid attention, and have the stomach to pursue these strands.

Then comes the killshot. A brilliant way to end the story, as it is a true drop-the-mic ending.

They might want to hurry. Last week, Elementz Nutrition voluntarily dissolved and closed its doors.

Remember the NFL leak to Stephen A Smith about how Tom Brady destroyed his phone? A leak that was completely malicious, and designed to again taint public perception because it was scandalous on the surface, yet immaterial to the case. Yet people still bring it up. Just a few days ago Mark Schlereth, while trolling Patriots fans, brought it up.

In this Manning case, the company owned by the source of the story shut its doors. Think about that. The entire company! You can image the paper-shredding and hard-drive erasing that is going on there.

Yet, where is this story? Jim Nantz won’t talk about it on CBS. ESPN hasn’t published a single thing about this story since December 29th.(Too busy breaking federal laws?) NBC put out Manning’s side of the story giving him the chance to tell Peter King how angry he was about it. How he was “probably” going to sue. Which he hasn’t done yet, despite two other athletes doing so already.

Like Chris Price wrote, I don’t care if Peyton Manning took HGH to aid his recovery from injury. Athletes do what they need to do to keep their careers going. I don’t really begrudge them that.

For me, this story isn’t really about Manning. It’s about the coverage of the allegations and the blatant hypocrisy of many in the national media. Once again, they’re showing their true colors, this time by their silence.

Catching Up – Ratings, Red Sox Announcers, et al.

It’s been a busy time for everyone, but especially in the world of sports media, where things are moving fast and furious. A few items:

98.5 The SportsHub once again topped the radio ratings for the Fall book, demonstrating repeatedly that trolling is king when it comes to gaining and retaining listeners. WEEI however, finished a very strong second, with numbers they hadn’t approached since their heyday of the early-to-mid 2000’s.

The Sports Hub led the market with a 13.6 overall while WEEI was second with a 9.1.

The breakdown:

Timeslot Station Show Ratings
Mornings 98.5 Toucher and Rich 14.6
Mornings 93.7 Dennis and Callahan, With Minihane 13.4
Middays 98.5 Zolak and Bertrand 12.3
Middays 93.7 Ordway, Merloni and Fauria 8.5
Afternoon Drive 98.5 Felger and Mazz 16.9
Afternoon Drive 93.7 Dale and Holley, With Thornton 9.6
Evenings 98.5 The Adam Jones Show 11.4
Evenings 93.7 Planet Mikey 7.8

Those are tremendous numbers across the board for both stations. It has to be frustrating for WEEI, especially in morning drive, that they just can’t top Toucher and Rich. It amazes me, as other than the occasional guest – Mike Gorman, Rosevelt Colvin, etc, I rarely listen to 98.5 in the mornings. (or at all, to be honest.)

I’m clearly out of the target audience then, as 98.5’s numbers are just eye-popping across the entire grid above. Amazing. Hats off to them for figuring out what Boston wants to hear.

*****************

WEEI made it official on Monday, hiring Tim Neverett as the new play-by-play host for Boston Red Sox radio broadcasts. He’ll work alongside Joe Castiglione after Dave O’Brien moved over the the TV side, taking the place of Don Orsillo.

The announcement came through on the Pittsburgh side as well:

Also, Chad Finn has a look at Neverett, who hails from Nashua, NH.

******************

Speaking of Chad, I enjoyed his column last week: Here’s the ‘nice’ list in local sports media

So Bill Belichick told his team they wanted to kick off to start OT.

Arrogant? Wut.

This is pretty much the perfect answer to that:

On Peyton Manning, I personally don’t care if he used HGH while recovering from his plethora of neck surgeries. I don’t think it’s a big deal. I am interested in seeing how the media and NFL react to and cover this story. Will there be the same zeal?

In other developments, Al Jazeera is a more credible news outlet than ESPN when it comes to the NFL.

So, The NFL CAN Correct ESPN Reports?

Hmmm.

otl-tweet

https://twitter.com/OTLonESPN/status/679304105538535424

(Tweet has been deleted.)

Less than 30 minutes later:

I don’t trust either entity, so who knows the actual truth?

I do find it interesting that ESPN would call out the NFL for allegedly pulling out this concussion study, when ESPN pulled out of the Frontline documentary with PBS (reputedly at the NFL’s urging) on concussions a couple of years ago. The documentary was based on work done by the Fainaru brothers.

Also interesting: NFL does have the ability to refute what it says is an inaccurate report from ESPN? Who knew?