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Thoughts on the AFC East's picks in rounds 4 through 7 of the NFL draft

Posted by Erik Frenz April 27, 2013 07:55 PM

Quick thoughts on the players selected to the AFC East on Saturday.

New England Patriots

Picks:

  • Round 4, pick 102: Josh Boyce, WR, TCU
  • Round 7, pick 226: Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois
  • Round 7, pick 235: Steve Beauharnais, ILB, Rutgers

The Patriots completed the double-dip at wide receiver by selecting Josh Boyce. He fits the profile of a Patriots wide receiver, with a fast three-cone drill (6.68 seconds) ranking him among the top five in that drill at the combine. He also ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash according to NFL.com, all on a broken foot. At 5'11" and 203 pounds, he's built like a brick and has the versatility to line up inside or outside.

Buchanan gives the Patriots another pass-rushing option at defensive end. His length makes him an intriguing prospect, standing 6'5" with 34" long arms. He logged just 12 sacks over the past two years, but he knows how to get into the backfield and had a total of 26 tackles for loss in the past three years. His best year came in 2011, when he had 7.5 sacks and helped the Illini rank third in the nation against the pass.

Steve Beauharnais completes the hat trick of Rutgers prospects. The inside linebacker was one of the leaders of the Scarlet Knights defense, and he has a nose for making plays in the backfield (22 tackles for loss, six sacks past two seasons). NFL.com's scouting report lauds his ability to play with good pad level against the run, and although he's not an exceptional athlete, he has versatility to play the run as a read-and-react defender as well as to rush the passer, either with his hand in the dirt or from a two-point stance.

New York Jets

Picks:

  • Round 5, pick 141: Oday Aboushi, OT, Virginia
  • Round 6, pick 178: William Campbell, DT, Michigan
  • Round 7, pick 215: Tommy Bohanon, FB, Wake Forest

With both Matt Slauson and Brandon Moore headed out of New York, the Jets needed to take some shots at the board to fill their two vacant starting spots at guard. They started that with Brian Winters in the third round, and took Oday Aboushi with their next pick. He could back-up Austin Howard at right tackle, where he played at Virginia, but at 6'6" and 308 pounds, he doesn't quite have the quick feet and athleticism to remain an effective pass-blocking tackle in the NFL.

William Campbell is an interesting pick for the Jets. He was a defensive tackle at Michigan, but will switch to offensive line in the NFL. According to ESPN, he worked out as an offensive linemen in two of his three private workouts. He will probably not make an immediate impact as he learns his new position, but he wouldn't be the first Jets draft pick to successfully make that switch -- Brandon Moore did so coming out of Viriginia back in 2003.

Tommy Bohanon has some versatility to his game. He is a great blocker. He put up 36 reps on the 225-pound bench press at the combine, and he uses his strength functionally for bone-jarring blocks when out in front of his running back. He had 50 career carries (three touchdowns) and 51 career receptions (seven touchdowns), evidence of his versatility in the running and passing game.

Buffalo Bills

Picks:

  • Round 4, pick 105: Duke Williams, S, Nevada
  • Round 5, pick 143: Jonathan Meeks, S, Clemson
  • Round 6, pick 177: Dustin Hopkins, K, Florida State
  • Round 7, pick 222: Chris Gragg, TE, Arkansas

Well, things just got a lot more uncomfortable for safety Jairus Byrd. He has yet to show up for team workouts, and was given the franchise tag for 2013, but he was put on notice by the Bills when they drafted safeties with back-to-back selections.

Williams' burst and closing speed are likely a product of his experience help make him the hardest-hitting safety on the roster, but he will likely be used primarily against the run and as a blitzing safety.

Meeks is a bit bigger than Williams at 6'1" and 210 pounds, and will probably contribute mainly on special teams to start his career. This is just another big, hard-hitting safety to add to Mike Pettine's beffy secondary. The Bills brought him in for a pre-draft visit with Buffalo, so their interest has been evident for awhile.

A kicker may seem like a rather innocuous pick, but the Bills absolutey needed a new kicker. The Bills had very little confidence in Lindell's ability to kick long field goals last year, attempting just two of over 50 yards in 2012. Dustin Hopkins went five-of-six on such attempts as a senior at FSU, so there's much less trepidation in his leg strength.

At 6'3" and 244 pounds, Gragg isn't the ideal size for a true in-line blocking tight end, but he has the speed to get downfield and the ability to pick up yards after the catch. His ball skills and catch radius make him an intriguing fit in the passing game. He put his physical skills on display at the combine, running a 4.5-second 40-yard dash and posting a 37.5" vertical according to NFL.com. Coupled with Scott Chandler, the Bills have a talented duo of pass-catching tight ends.

Miami Dolphins

Picks:

  • Round 4, pick 104: Jelani Jenkins, LB, Florida
  • Round 4, pick 106: Dion Sims, TE, Michigan State
  • Round 5, pick 164: Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida
  • Round 5, pick 166: Caleb Sturgis, K, Florida
  • Round 7, pick 250: Don Jones, SS, Arkansas State

The Dolphins cornered the market on Florida players in the late rounds, with three of their first four selections on the third day of the draft.

Jelani Jenkins started 31 games at linebacker for Florida. He has skills in coverage, which could be of service to a Dolphins team that loaded up on blitzing linebackers in free-agency, but there may not be room for him to get significant playing time on defense. He will have to make a majority of his impact on special teams.

Dion Sims is more of a blocking tight end than a receiver, and put up just 59 receptions for 707 yards and eight touchdowns in his Michigan State career, but he has underrated athleticism and could be used more as a receiver if the Dolphins choose. He has the ball skills, leaping ability and an understanding of how to get open against zone coverage. His versatility gives the Dolphins a nice complement to Dustin Keller, who is almost exclusively a receiving tight end.

Adding Mike Gillislee is a slam-dunk pick, as it rounds out the roster with a third young back. His production at Florida -- 10 touchdowns on 244 carries -- is indicative not only of his nose for the end zone, but also of his low odometer; with just 389 career carries at Florida, there's still a lot of tread left on the tires.

Kicker Dan Carpenter has missed two games to injury in each of the past two years, and hit a rough patch early in the season where his confidence seemed shaken (went five-of-nine in Weeks 3 through 5). Caleb Sturgis converted 34 of his 35 field goal tries (97.1 percent) and missed just three field goals over the past three years.

Colleague Zuri Berry highlighted Don Jones in a pre-draft scouting report, highlighting his game-breaking speed and overall physical tools as his most intriguing quality.

At the Arkansas State pro day, he ran a 4.42 and 4.40 40-yard dash, according to NFLDraftScout.com. He also recorded a remarkable 42-inch vertical jump, which has skyrocketed his draft stock. While he was estimated as a third- or fourth-round pick originally, that has more than likely changed.

Considering the Dolphins had him for a seventh-round pick, it's safe to say they got a steal for a safety with a lot of potential.


What does Chris Ivory bring to the Jets?

Posted by Erik Frenz April 27, 2013 01:43 PM

The Jets have spent much of the offseason tirelessly improving their roster one player at a time, and they used a fifth-round pick on Friday to trade for Saints running back Chris Ivory.

How is it an upgrade?

Consider these scouting notes from Scouts, Inc.

[Ivory] is a powerful downhill runner who runs with balance and effort. He does a good job finishing off his runs and flashes the ability to move the pile near the goal line. He has just enough speed and lateral cutting ability to get to the edge but is not going to create a lot on his own.

From the sound of it, he is similar to Shonn Greene in his between-the-tackles running style, but different in that he actually has some speed to his game.

He is capable of moving a direction besides north-south, and consistently finds his way to the edge when traffic gets jammed in the middle.

The highlight above illustrates just how versatile he is. He bounces all different directions initially, keeps his balance through an arm tackle and stiff-arms his way through the final would-be tackler for the touchdown.

His relentlessness won't go unnoticed, either.

On this play, he is hit at the line of scrimmage, but battles through at least five tacklers to pick up nine yards.

The Jets already added a running back this offseason in Mike Goodson, but he is more a finesse back. While he'll be a solid fit in the West Coast offense for his abilities as a receiver out of the backfield, the Jets still needed a true hammer between the tackles to alleviate the loss of Greene.

Considering the Jets spent a third-rounder on Greene four years ago, and a fifth-rounder on Ivory today, it's safe to say they accomplished the goal of upgrading the running back spot over last year's group.


Grading the AFC East on Day 2 of the NFL draft

Posted by Erik Frenz April 27, 2013 12:10 AM

geno smith.jpg

AP Photo/Eric Gay
If you thought the first round flew by, the second and third rounds left you with your head spinning.

Once again, the Jets became the story of the draft by taking the biggest-name prospect of the second day, while the Patriots created some buzz by drafting a largely unknown prospect. The Bills bolstered their arsenal of pass-catchers with two of their picks, and the Dolphins double-dipped at defensive back, where they had some gaping holes to fill.

All-in-all, the four teams in the AFC East made 12 selections. How did the teams do with each of their picks? Here are my grades for every selection on Friday.

FULL ENTRY

Grading the AFC East's first-round picks

Posted by Erik Frenz April 26, 2013 12:40 AM

The AFC East was one of the most active divisions in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. The Miami Dolphins traded up nine picks; the Buffalo Bills traded back eight picks; the New York Jets hung tight with their two first-round picks; the New England Patriots got four picks for the price of one in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings.

With two defensive linemen and a cornerback taken by AFC East rivals in the first round, the Patriots influence was felt heavily. You could even argue the Bills feel the pressure to put points on the board with an explosive offense to answer the high-scoring offense of the Patriots.

How did all four teams do? Here are my grades for each pick.

No. 3 -- Dolphins select Oregon DE Dion Jordan

The Dolphins traded the No. 12 and 42 selections to move up to the Raiders' No. 3 spot. They have a need at offensive tackle and Oklahoma's Lane Johnson was waiting for them on the board, but Jordan was the pick, and with good reason.

They lack a standout pass-rusher to put opposite left end Cameron Wake. They selected Jared Odrick in the first round of the 2010 draft, and although he played right end for the Dolphins last year, he is more natural as a five-technique or as a defensive tackle.

Jordan only logged 12.5 sacks for the Ducks over the past two years, but he was used in a variety of ways as a 3-4 outside linebacker, dropping into coverage at times as well as his duties at the line of scrimmage.

Jordan isn't as stout against the run, but their pass defense is a bigger concern. They gave up 60 pass plays of 20 yards or more, the fourth-most in the NFL. If the Dolphins' goal is to overtake the Patriots in the AFC East, they need to be able to get more pressure on the passer to stop those big plays. Jordan helps them do that.

Grade: A-

No. 9 -- Jets select Alabama CB Dee Milliner

From one shutdown cornerback to another.

First off, let's clear up a misconception: Milliner is not being drafted to replace Darrelle Revis. That responsibility falls on Antonio Cromartie, who will be covering a team's No. 1 wide receiver.

There are significant questions as to whether Kyle Wilson will ever evolve into a starting caliber cornerback. The clock is ticking for Wilson, with two years left on his rookie deal. Milliner should light a little fire under him to improve, and is a better outside corner prospect than Wilson.

Some college cornerbacks don't have a lot on their plate, but that's not the case at Alabama, where corners are often asked to do just as much or more than they would be in the NFL. Milliner has experience in man and zone coverage, and although his technique isn't always flawless, he has the size and speed to help him compensate.

Concerns over his injury history are overblown. Teams knew about the issues before the scouting combine, and according to Bleacher Report injury expert Will Carroll, the injury shouldn't cause Milliner any problems following training camp, as long as there are no hangups in his rehab. It should also be noted that the injuries he suffered throughout 2012 were not enough to keep him off the field, as he didn't miss a single game for the Crimson Tide.

Grade: B+

No. 13 -- Jets select Missouri DL Sheldon Richardson

Richardson, as a prospect, is a solid player. He is a great athlete on the defensive line, with the athleticism to really wreak havoc as a pass-rusher up the middle. His combination of size and speed will help him make a lot of plays, and his non-stop motor will help him make the rest.

He has disruptive capabilities, with 18.5 tackles for loss and six sacks over the past two years. His production even took a step up when Missouri joined the SEC in 2012.

For the Jets, though, the pick is confusing. Why, after drafting defensive linemen for their 3-4 front over the past two years (Muhammad Wilkerson in 2011 and Quinton Coples in 2012) did the Jets decide another first-round defensive linemen was in the cards?

Coples may be at his best as a five-technique; Wilkerson lined up primarily as a five-technique in 2012, but he is a bit more versatile. Richardson was primarily used as a three-technique at Missouri, and kicked outside in three-man fronts. Perhaps the Jets could work the three of them into a rotation, but that still leaves a question mark at nose tackle, where Kenrick Ellis may be asked to step up.

If the plan was to get after the quarterback with a solid push up the middle, the Jets hit a home run with this pick. The problem is, the Jets current group of defenders makes this less of a need than some other spots.

Grade: C+

No. 16 -- Bills select Florida State QB E.J. Manuel

The Bills traded down eight picks and gave up the 71st pick to the St. Louis Rams, adding the 16th, 46th, 78th and 222nd picks in the process.

Manuel is far from a pocket passer. He has the speed to make hay when running with the ball, and at 6'5" and 237 pounds, he has the size to take a beating in the NFL. The Bills would be wise to use him to his strengths, giving him opportunities to run with the ball and take advantage of his legs with misdirection. It would be shocking if the Bills don't incorporate the read-option heavily into their offense.

He was consistent in his production, improving each year in college. He ranks third all-time in Florida State history in passing yards, but he was not asked to do much as a pure pocket passer -- he was a one-read quarterback and was not asked to carry a heavy burden as a pocket passer.

There's a developmental aspect to Manuel, but given the success of mobile quarterbacks of late, the potential is there for Manuel to make an early impact.

Grade: C+

No. 29 -- Patriots trade for Nos. 52, 83, 102 and 229

Tell me you saw this coming. The Patriots have developed a reputation for trading down and collecting value, but this year set up perfectly for them to do just that.

With just five picks in this year's draft, the Patriots were in an unusual spot. They rectified the situation in one fell swoop, jumping from five to eight selections total with the trade.

In terms of talent and upside, the dropoff between the 25th and the 52nd prospects in this draft isn't necessarily that big. Now, with two picks in the second and third rounds and three in the seventh round, the Patriots have a good deal of mana to work with for the next two days.

Grade: A-


The logistics of a Ryan Mallett draft day trade

Posted by Erik Frenz April 24, 2013 07:00 AM

609mallett.jpgIt makes sense that the Patriots would try to trade backup quarterback Ryan Mallett. It's been speculated from the beginning that the Patriots might try to flip Mallett for a higher pick.

The Patriots don't have the glaring need at quarterback that some other teams have, so perhaps the value could be felt better elsewhere on the roster.

The questions then are the following:

What would be the compensation?

Mallett was regarded as a first round talent coming out of college. One of the reasons he slid out of the first round was reported drug use, but he has stayed out of trouble in New England.

The Patriots drafted him in the third round, and it's fair to guess they want more than that back in return if they are to trade him — both as a result of the time and effort they put into his development, as well as him keeping his nose clean.

The problem is, there aren't many examples of an inexperienced backup being traded for high draft pick compensation. There are only two recent ones:

  • The Chargers traded Charlie Whitehurst and the 60th pick in the 2011 draft to the Seahawks for the 40th pick in 2011 and a third round pick in 2012.
  • The Seahawks traded Matt Flynn to the Raiders for a 2014 fifth-round pick and a 2015 conditional pick.
Mallett is certainly more talented than Whitehurst, but that trade didn't exactly work out for the Seahawks. Whitehurst went 84-of-155 passing (54.2 percent) for 805 yards (5.2 YPA), three touchdowns and four interceptions (64.6 passer rating) in 11 games and four starts for the Seahawks.

We'll have to see if the Flynn trade works out for the Raiders, but he is not the arm talent Mallett is, but he is more polished in his ability to read defenses and make quick decisions with the ball.

It's hard to get an idea for what Mallett could draw in a trade given the price tag of the other two quarterbacks listed above, but a team that sees Mallett as a fit could be willing to make an aggressive move — especially if they don't like this year's shaky crop of quarterbacks.

Who are potential suitors?

There aren't many teams that still haven't provided a solution to their quarterback controversy this offseason.

The Eagles could use a quarterback, even though they already have Michael Vick and Nick Foles on the roster. Mallett's big arm would be an intriguing combination with the speed of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, but if head coach Chip Kelly's offense looks like it did at Oregon, he'll be looking for a quarterback with some legs — in 2010, Darron Thomas had 93 rush attempts; in 2012, Marcus Mariota had 106 rush attempts.

The Titans, Browns, and Jaguars are all among teams that have a need for a new starting quarterback, where Mallett could fit.

In Tennessee, there are still some questions around the development of Jake Locker. There's some pressure on him to make strides in his third year, after throwing 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 11 games as a starter in 2012.

Browns general manager Michael Lombardi has a close connection with Bill Belichick, and no connection to quarterback Brandon Weeden, despite his status as a first-round pick in 2012. The trouble there is he wasn't necessarily bad enough to completely give up on him, so the Browns have to be careful how much they invest at the quarterback position.

With reports that indicate Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert has an accountability issue and box scores that indicate he has a performance issue (5.6 career YPA, 70.2 career passer rating), the odds are stacked against him as their long-term starter. Much like the Browns, the Jaguars new regime has no attachment to the old starting quarterback.

We don't know whether the Patriots are shopping Mallett, but if they want to, they could possibly work something out with one of those three teams.


The impact of relocating Revis Island

Posted by Erik Frenz April 22, 2013 05:00 PM
AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
In terms of pure value, the New York Jets came out on the winning end of the trade that sent All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the 13th pick in the 2013 NFL draft and a conditional third- or fourth-round pick in 2014. The question is, will they be better off for it? We won't know until we see who the Jets select and how those players develop.

In that sense, we still have an incomplete picture of what the trade looks like, but the Patriots likely won't be too upset about it in the immediate future.

Although the Patriots still have to face Revis and the Buccaneers in Week 3 of the 2013 season, they don't have to face him twice a year anymore. Unless the two teams meet in the Super Bowl, they won't face Revis in a meaningful game again until 2017.

In the here and now, though, that is likely welcome news for Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.

According to stats and analytics site Pro Football Focus, Brady has only targeted Revis 12 times in their past four meetings (2010-2011), a testament to Brady's respect for Revis as well as how frequently Revis had his way with the Patriots receivers.

Speaking of the Patriots receivers, it's a brand new group in 2013. Will they get on the same page with Brady early on?

jets corners.pngAgainst the Jets, the chances of that happening just got a bit better. Instead of having to face Revis and Antonio Cromartie as the team's top two cornerbacks, the current starting tandem is Cromartie and Kyle Wilson. Moving Revis also brings cornerbacks Isaiah Trufant and Ellis Lankster into the discussion. Do the Jets have confidence in them as slot corners? Neither of them played a whole lot, and both have some holes in their game.

The Jets may have been in the market for a cornerback in the second or third round of the draft even before trading Revis, if only to address a need for depth as well as the uncertainty of Kyle Wilson as a starter. Following the trade, though, they may be in the market for a top cornerback.

What the Jets really need to figure out, though, is how to cover the Patriots tight ends. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski have both performed well against the Jets in the past

Hernandez piled up six catches and 101 yards on the Jets in his first game against them back in 2010, and averages 13.6 YPR against them, against a career average of 11.2. The Jets were the victims for two of Gronkowski's 12 career games of two touchdowns or more.

There's a lot of turnover for the Jets at other spots in the back seven, as well.

The Jets added seven-year veteran safety Dawan Landry to help them overcome the loss of LaRon Landry. Dawan allowed 30 of 44 passes (68.4 percent) to be completed into his coverage, and at a shade over 30 years old, it's fair to wonder if he could keep up with the spry athleticism of Hernandez and Gronkowski.

At other spots, however, youth takes over. Second-year safety Antonio Allen steps in for Yeremiah Bell, and second-year linebacker Demario Davis fills the starting spot left vacant by Bart Scott.

The Patriots have to feel pretty confident with how they match up with so many questions around the Jets — questions which became increasingly abundant with the trade of Revis.


Words With Frenz: Final questions headed into the 2013 NFL draft

Posted by Erik Frenz April 21, 2013 09:00 AM

In less than a week, the pre-draft hype will come to an end.

Until then, though, there's still time to take a shot at getting some answers.

Let's get right to the questions!

This is a good one to start because what we think the Patriots will or should do always ends up being different from what they actually do.

Trying to guess who they will pick is futile because they're impossible to predict in that way, but if I had to guess on their overall strategy, it's safe to guess the Patriots will trade back to acquire more picks.

This is a good draft for that mentality. Not only do they lack picks (just five overall), but the value in the middle of the second round will be similar to the value at the end of the first round. That is to say, the players the Patriots could get at the end of the first round will not be overwhelmingly better than the players they could still get if they traded out of the first round.

Personally, I would love for them to take DeAndre Hopkins. I haven't kept that secret. One player I haven't talked a lot about that I would love to see in a Patriots uniform is Tavon Austin.

He's not the "deep threat" a lot of fans will be clamoring for, but his big-play ability is unrivaled in this class. Austin will need an offense and an offensive coordinator that can play to his strengths by getting him out in space with the ball in his hands. We've seen the Patriots do that a lot with Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez, and Austin could be the best we've seen in a long time in that regard.

ravens patriots.pngNo bias involved, the best current rivalry is Ravens-Patriots.

The two teams aren't in the same division, but their 2013 Week 16 matchup will mark the fourth time in less than 24 calendar months that we'll see the two teams go head-to-head.

Add the fact that the two teams have split the past two AFC Championship games, and this has become one of the premier rivalries in the NFL.

hawks 9ers.pngLooking ahead, the best up-and-coming rivalry has to be Seahawks-49ers.

Never mind that we annually get to relive one of the greatest postgame handshakes in recent memory with the "What's-Your-Deal Bowl," but between the two teams fielding young quarterbacks, stout defenses, a pounding running game and both offenses running read-option style offenses, the two teams are eerily similar to one another.

Factor in myriad offseason acquisitions for both teams that have them looking like the top two teams in the NFL, and this rivalry could be budding into one of the NFL's best.

Arjuna, it's hard to say "division or bust" is the goal when that entails having a better season than the Patriots, but it would certainly be "playoffs or bust" if it isn't already.

Offensive tackle is one of two primary weaknesses in the Dolphins roster right now — the other being cornerback. The Dolphins have four offensive tackles on the roster, one of whom is converted tight end Will Yeatman. Offensive guard Nate Garner played well at right tackle in four games as a starter, but last year's second-round pick Jonathan Martin gives up more pressure on a per-snap basis at left tackle than he did at right tackle, and does not look 100 percent ready to assume the mantle as the team's starting left tackle.

Is Branden Albert the answer, though?

pass blocking.pngAlbert is not regarded as a great run-blocking tackle, but he has great length and initial quickness for a tackle in pass protection. Albert ranked seventh out of 72 qualifying offensive tackles in pass-blocking efficiency according to ProFootballFocus.com, allowing just one sack, four quarterback hits and 12 hurries in 396 snaps in pass protection. He gave up pressure on nearly one percent fewer snaps than the Dolphins former starting left tackle Jake Long.

Either way, the trade could take place soon; According to Mike Jurecki of XTRA 910, the Dolphins and Chiefs offensive tackle Branden Albert are negotiating a contract, and the Dolphins would send one of their two second-round picks to the Chiefs for Albert.

Thanks for the questions! Enjoy the draft, everyone.


Patriots and AFC East 2013 NFL mock draft roundup

Posted by Erik Frenz April 17, 2013 07:00 AM

Mock drafts always change throughout the pre-draft hype train, but with the 2013 NFL draft just around the corner, it's time to start taking one last look around the Internet at which prospect each team is being projected to take.

The Internet just happens to be filled with as many mock drafts as pictures of cats with cute captions under them, but the most renowned experts are the ones we'll look at here.

So, in an attempt at a last-minute round-up of opinions, let's consult the top draft analysts and see what they have in mind for the AFC East in the first round.

Expert mocks:

Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com
Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN
James Christensen, NEPatriotsDraft.com
Dane Brugler, CBS Sports
Russ Lande, NationalFootballPost.com

New England Patriots

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Three of the five experts here went with a cornerback to New England at No. 29. That's interesting considering they have made significant strides to keep that position steady for 2013. Boise State cornerback Jamar Taylor is seen by some as a second-round pick, but here, two experts pick him to the Patriots at No. 29.

Taylor has all the versatility Bill Belichick typically looks for in his cornerbacks, from his ability to play both man and zone coverage to his willingness to contribute against the run. He also showed solid ball skills in his junior and senior years at Boise State, with 21 pass break-ups and six interceptions.

Russ Lande's pick makes sense on several levels. Williams is not the elite pass-rushing defensive tackle the Patriots need, but he could be seen as a long-term heir to Vince Wilfork at the nose tackle spot, and a near-term upgrade over Kyle Love in the spot next to Wilfork. Given Belichick's relationship with Nick Saban, it wouldn't shock anyone if the Patriots went with another Alabama defender with an early draft pick.

New York Jets

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All five of our experts had the Jets picking a defensive player, and four had a defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid with the No. 9 pick.

That probably has something to do with the fact that the Jets cut linebacker Calvin Pace and said goodbye to linebacker Bryan Thomas as a free agent. The two had clearly lost a step in providing pressure off the edges, and combined for just 5.5 sacks in 2012. The Jets starting duo of outside linebackers is Antwan Barnes and Garrett McIntyre were not much better; they totaled 6.5 sacks last year.

If it's not because of that, it might be because the Jets sacked opposing quarterbacks on 5.7 percent of drop-backs in 2012, the ninth-lowest average in the NFL, and could clearly use a boost to their ailing pass rush.

It's pick-your-poison with these four. BYU's Ezekiel Ansah, Georgia's Jarvis Jones, Oregon's Dion Jordan and LSU's Barkevious Mingo all have holes in their game, but any of the, would add a necessary amount of athleticism to the front seven.

Ansah is brimming with athleticism, but the question is whether he truly loves football, having only played it for three years after moving here from Ghana. Jones showed a lot of potential to make plays in the SEC, and there were concerns about a neck injury, but those were cleared up at the combine. Jordan is a versatile player, but may never be a consistently elite pass-rusher. Mingo will certainly be that, but the question is whether he will be a liability against the run.

All things considered on each prospect, Jones seems like the best pick.

At 6'2" and 245 pounds, he's a little small by the Jets' standards, but he got the job done against SEC talent in college, and did so as a 3-4 outside linebacker no less. He led the nation in both tackles for loss (24.5) and sacks (14.5), which would greatly help the Jets as they build a younger, more athletic fron seven.

Buffalo Bills

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All signs point to the Bills targeting Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, but the question is when. Opinions have varied on Nassib since Day 1, when Russ Lande called Nassib the top quarterback in the class while others insisted they wouldn't take him in the first round. Our own Greg Bedard is on board with Nassib as a first-round talent:

It turns out he's far from the only one. There's a split for the bills between Ansah and Nassib, with one expert predicting the Bills to take West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin.

Ansah doesn't make a lot of sense to Buffalo because they just spent an exorbitant amount of money on defensive ends Mark Anderson and Mario Williams last offseason. Adding defensive coordinator Mike Pettine should greatly help the pass rush; he knows how to generate pressure.

Nassib, however, makes sense, especially if head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett are going to continue to run the same style of offense with the Bills they ran with Syracuse.

In watching some of Nassib's game tape at DraftBreakdown.com, his accuracy did come into question. In games against USC and Louisville, there was some inconsistency — great deep passes were cancelled out by underthrown balls; good decision-making was offset by erratic throws under pressure.

Nassib showed command of the offense last year, and he has the arm strength to make all the NFL throws. If his football IQ is as high as I keep reading it is, those two components could come together to make him a great NFL quarterback.

Miami Dolphins

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There was only one pick on offense: Alabama tackle D.J. Fluker. Meanwhile, four experts felt a defensive back was the way to go: Two for Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes, one for Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, and one for Texas safety/cornerback Kenny Vaccaro.

There was a time when I felt Rhodes would be a great fit in Miami's secondary, but now I'm not so sure. He has great measurables and will be great in man coverage from the get-go, gone are the days of pure man cover cornerbacks like Sean Smith and Vontae Davis, both big corners close to or above six feet tall and over 200 pounds.

They showed their hand a bit in signing free-agent cornerback Brent Grimes, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound corner who is at his best in zone.

Dee Milliner would be nice, but the chances of him falling out of the top 10 — or even the top six — are slim.

Of these picks, D.J. Fluker makes the most sense.

Fluker is not a dominant athlete, but he is a mauler in the running game, and has freakishly long arms at 36.75-inches long which allow him to reroute pass-rushers around the quarterback.

The Dolphins have still yet to add help at right tackle through free agency, and the offensive line remains one of the biggest needs for the team headed into the draft with left tackle Jake Long out and so much uncertainty around whether Jonathan Martin can play. Adding Fluker could give them at least one answer.


What are the Patriots options if Rob Gronkowski can't start Week 1?

Posted by Erik Frenz April 15, 2013 07:00 AM

The situation around tight end Rob Gronkowski's injured forearm is still up in the air, so it's impossible to say for sure whether he'll be ready to go for Week 1.

Either way, it can't hurt to get familiar with the backup plan.

So who could be asked to step up? What's going to happen if the Patriots are without their top tight end?

More Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui

fells hoomanawanui snap percentages 2.png

Daniel Fells was the primary back-up tight end at the beginning of 2012, and played 47.7 percent of the combined snaps against the Bills and Broncos. He was called upon again in Weeks 12 and 13 following Gronkowski's injury against the Colts. He played 68.2 percent of the snaps in the two games that followed.

Michael Hoomanawanui only played 11 snaps in the first two games of Gronkowski's five-game absence, but was a fixture in the lineup for the final four regular season games as a blocking tight end, and was used sparingly as a receiver. Hoomanawanui got the call with 51 of 67 snaps when Gronkowski went down against the Houston Texans in the playoffs.

As evidenced by their combined nine receptions for 194 yards in 2012, they are not dominant in the receiving game like Gronkowski.

Return of Jake Ballard

After spending the 2012 season on injured reserve with an ACL injury, Ballard should be ready to go for Week 1.

Will he be close to the same player he was for the Giants in 2011? That remains to be seen, but if he is, the Patriots could have someone to help ease them through whatever time frame they'll be without Gronkowski.

ballard 2011 snaps 2.pngBallard was fairly evenly split as a run-blocker and a route-runner in the passing game in 2011.

He isn't an explosive receiver, like Gronkowski is, but he has good hands and knows how to find holes in a defense. The Patriots are also familiar with his ability to make big catches, with a difficult reception over the middle against New England in a Giants win at Gillette Stadium in 2011, and caught the game-winning touchdown in that game as well.

Ballard was also serviceable, but not elite, as a blocking tight end.

He is well-rounded enough to carry out Gronkowski's assignments, though he likely won't be putting up the historic numbers anytime soon, and that's if he's healthy enough to play.

Three-receiver sets?

The Patriots went with a lot of three-receiver sets when without Aaron Hernandez against the Cardinals, the Ravens and the Bills (via ESPN Boston), but when Gronkowski was absent, they stuck with two tight ends.

As pointed out in Fells and Hoomanawanui's snap breakdowns, though, those snaps were primarily in run-blocking situations.

On one hand, putting three wide receivers and Hernandez on the field is like having four receivers on the field, and it also exposes the team's lack of depth at receiver.

Including the playoffs, though, the Patriots came out in the 11 personnel package (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) on 46.3 percent of downs and in the 12 personnel package (one running back, two tight ends, two receivers) on 20.4 percent of downs. With that in mind, it shouldn't come as a shock if we see more of the three receiver sets if Gronkowski misses time, but with so much turnover at the position, they may not be as confident in their receivers as they were last year.

If that's the case, at least they have some proven depth at tight end.

Unless otherwise specified, all statistics courtesy of ProFootballFocus.com.


Words With Frenz mailbag: Alfonzo Dennard ruling and the finishing touches on the Patriots defense

Posted by Erik Frenz April 12, 2013 07:00 AM

With less than two weeks to go to the 2013 NFL draft, there's no shortage of major news to talk about.

There's already a light at the end of the tunnel as we near the end of the roster-building portion of the 2013 offseason.

So, let's get right to the questions in this week's mailbag.

Shalise Manza Young reported that Alfonzo Dennard was given 24 months of probation, a 30-day jail sentence to be served next March, and 100 hours of “law enforcement-related” community service.

As Greg Bedard pointed out awhile back, the 2012 Personal Conduct Policy clearly indicates that Dennard is not subject to league suspension because he was not yet part of the NFL when the incident took place:

Covered Persons – This policy applies to all players under contract; all coaches; all game officials; all full-time employees of the NFL, NFL clubs, and all NFL-related entities; all rookie players once they are selected in the NFL college draft; and all undrafted rookie players, unsigned veterans who were under contract in the prior League Year...

If NFL commissioner Roger Goodell tries to impose a suspension on Dennard, he can expect the NFLPA to fight back on the suspension, and another appearance in court for Goodell would not be a good look.

In terms of free agent signings, Kyle, the Patriots might be just about done with big splashes. With the signings of defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and the $2.5 million offer sheet on the table for wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, the Patriots have around $6.7 million in cap space according to the NFLPA.

They could restructure some contracts to open more space up — Vince Wilfork and Logan Mankins come to mind for their heavy cap hits of $10.6 million and $10 million respectfully, but they need to save a good portion of that for their 2013 draft picks, as well.

Warmack has great feet and would be a good fit for the zone-blocking scheme, but there isn't a better linemen at pulling both directions and delivering vicious blocks in space than guard Jonathan Cooper.

Either way, your question is a good one.

I've seen Cooper mocked as high as No. 8 to the Bills, and two of CBS Sports' four mock draft experts had him in the top 10. A third had Warmack at No. 8, as well.

A guard may be the best overall player at No. 9, but the bigger question is, can a guard have a big impact on a team? That's why Cooper is the more intriguing prospect; he can allow you to do so much more in terms of pulling on screens and stretch runs, and is still a bulldozer as a lead blocker in the running game.

In theory, the answer to this should be simple: take the best player on the board and find a way to use him.

Good question, Joseph, because the Dolphins could still use some depth in the backfield. With Reggie Bush out the door, the workload is expected to be given to the team's second- and fourth-round picks at running back over the past two years. That investment does nothing to mitigate the possibility that they'll draft a running back. It's a position of need and the Dolphins know it.

Daniel Thomas was Bush's primary backup, but missed time with injuries, mainly two concussions. He averaged just 3.6 YPA on 91 carries last year.

Lamar Miller has a similar skill set to Bush, but he hardly even played, with just 146 snaps all season. He showed some big play potential by averaging 4.9 YPA, but he remains untested in the NFL. They might trust him, I have no idea, but even if they do, they should want to have insurance and Thomas isn't it.

Montee Ball shares many similar attributes to Thomas: he is mainly a between-the-tackles runner, lacks great breakaway speed, hits the hole decisively and had a nose for the end zone in college. The question then would be whether Ball is an upgrade over Thomas.

Ball's career will likely draw comparisons to BenJarvus Green-Ellis as a dependable and solid but unspectacular back. That, to me, is worthy of a third-round pick.

Got room for one more.

The Patriots have to know their defense needs to improve in those areas.

patriots LBs in coverage.pngThey ranked 23rd and 29th against running backs and tight ends out of the backfield according to Football Outsiders, and a look at the numbers from ProFootballFocus.com reveals the same thing: struggles in coverage at linebacker.

Dane Fletcher's primary role was in coverage; he spent 256 of his 470 defensive snaps from 2010 through 2011 as a cover linebacker. That being said, they weren't much better against running backs and tight ends in those years, either.

Adrian Wilson was taken off the field in some sub packages last year, but he pointed out it may not have had so much to do with him losing his abilities in coverage as other factors.

"The situation last year was strictly a coaches’ decision," he said. "I don’t think that had anything to do with me losing a step, but obviously nobody gets younger. ...It was something I had to deal with and I dealt with and I continued to practice hard and just kept trying to encourage the guys and keep moving forward."

By the numbers, Wilson didn't struggle that much. He allowed 12 completions on 27 throws into his coverage (44.4 percent) and two touchdowns with one interception and two pass break-ups according to ProFootballFocus.com.

If he can bring those numbers with him to New England, the Patriots defense could have an answer to its woes of recent years.

Thanks for the questions, everyone! Further queries can be directed to me on Twitter.


Resetting the Patriots defensive tackle competition

Posted by Erik Frenz April 10, 2013 07:01 AM

The Patriots have one of the best defensive tackles in the league in Vince Wilfork, but they have made a notable effort to bring in someone to help him out this offseason.

First, it was the signing of CFL defensive linemen Armond Armstead. On Monday, the Patriots reportedly signed former Raiders defensive tackle Tommy Kelly to a two-year deal.

The competition is heating up headed into the offseason, and the defensive tackle position could be the latest example of the volume approach which we highlighted on Going Deep a few days ago.

Here's a quick reset on the Patriots battle for playing time at defensive tackle.

Armond Armstead

Height: 6'5"
Weight: 295 lbs.
Age: 22

Scouting summary: The Patriots were clearly after an upgrade in athleticism in adding Armstead, with the thought of what he'll do for them to be deal with later. He could very well prove to be versatile between three- and four-man fronts, but he was used almost exclusively as an interior defender in a four-man line.

Since he has less experience in the 3-4, though, expect to see him earn the bulk of his workload as an interior linemen in four-man fronts, at least in the early going. The Argonauts GM Jim Barker described Armstead to Mike Reiss as "an above-average pass-rusher who plays the run well." Adding Tommy Kelly on a two-year deal may give them the time they need to develop Armstead into a similar role.

Brandon Deaderick

deaderick.jpg

Height: 6'4"
Weight: 305 lbs.
Age: 25

Scouting summary: Deaderick's versatility has helped him remain one of the only constants for the Patriots at defensive tackle over the past three years. His snap count has risen in each of the past three seasons, a strong indicator that the coaching staff felt he was their best option on the roster.

He can line up either as a tackle in the 4-3 defense or as an end in a three-man line. He is at his best against the run, as he lacks the agility and range to make an impact as a pass-rusher.

Marcus Forston

Height: 6'3"
Weight: 305 lbs.
Age: 23

Scouting summary: The Patriots are never shy about taking a chance on a player with athletic upside that they hope can develop into a star. That's what they added when they picked up Forston as an undrafted free agent. He has great initial quickness and burst off the snap, but there are some flaws in his technique that still need coaching.

Forston played a total of eight snaps in 2012, appearing in a Week 3 loss against the Ravens, and spent the rest of the season on the practice squad. He was called up to the active roster for the AFC Championship Game, but did not play. He's going to have to perform better than the competition at training camp to make the roster.

Tommy Kelly

Height: 6'6"
Weight: 325 lbs.
Age: 32

Scouting summary: Kelly provides the veteran presence at a youth-loaded spot for the Patriots. In fact, aside from Vince Wilfork, Kelly is the only player above the age of 26 at defensive tackle. Oakland's constant switching back and forth between a 3-4 and 4-3 was probably frustrating for Kelly at the time, but it will serve to his benefit in New England where the Patriots will often switch schemes during the course of a game.

Field Yates had a fantastic write-up on Kelly, in which he pointed out that Kelly "brings more pass-rush skills to the table than either [Kyle] Love or Deaderick," but that he won't be as successful against the run. If he's nearly as effective of a pass-rusher now as he was from 2010 to 2011 (46 hurries, 17 hits and 15 sacks, got pressure on 12.4 percent of rush attempts), he definitely has a spot on this team.

Kyle Love

Height: 6'1"
Weight: 315 lbs.
Age: 26

Scouting summary: Love spent most of his 2010 rookie season either on the practice squad or the bench, with just 155 snaps in nine regular season games, but he earned 566 defensive snaps in his second year and 556 in 2012.

Love has the abilities as a two-gap run-stuffing defensive tackle that make him a fit for what the Patriots have done for years on the line, and he has 49 career run stops and just six missed tackles on 65 total tackle attempts.

He has lined up all over the line for the Patriots, at either defensive tackle spot in four-man fronts, and either at defensive end or on the nose in a three-man line. He is not a great pass-rusher, but he has the size and strength to carry out his assignment in a two-gap system and will most certainly be on the roster come 2013.

Myron Pryor

Height: 6'1"
Weight: 305 lbs.
Age: 26

Scouting summary: Pryor immediately became a big part of the Patriots defensive game plan even as a sixth-round pick in 2009, earning 284 defensive snaps as a rookie. That being said, his time may be running up. He has yet to emerge beyond his backup role in his four-year NFL career, and he has played just 36 snaps over the past two seasons due to health issues.

The Patriots would like to use Pryor as an interior rusher, with 366 of his 559 snaps (65.5 percent) coming as a pass-rusher. He wasn't incredibly successful, though, logging pressure on 22 of those snaps. He's going to have to develop more pass-rush moves to get more effective in that area if he wants to make this roster.

Closing thoughts:

While none of the linemen provide the total package in terms of run-stuffing and pass-rushing abilities, this is a well-rounded, versatile group.

With both Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick entering contract years, this is a big year for both of them as well as for the Patriots to find out what they have in each for the long-term. They have sent that message loud and clear by creating a competition that consists of both a veteran that's ready to take their spots now and a young player who could potentially fill a roster spot for the future.

That, and they're simply doing what they always do: covering their bases.


Words With Frenz mailbag: NFL draft preview and re-setting the wide receiver position

Posted by Erik Frenz April 5, 2013 07:30 AM

Friday means it's time for another mailbag.

We look ahead to the NFL draft, and we continue to look long and hard at the wide receiver position for the 2013 season.

Let's get right to the questions!

Casey, Edelman visited with the Giants this week according to Mike Garafolo of USA Today, and although the visit went well, Edelman is still thinking things over.

Judging by the fact that there's one other team involved, it would seem the chances are 50-50 he'll return. In reality, we don't know how Edelman or either of the teams involved feels about the situation, so it's futile to guess the odds.

I will say this: Edelman was set to become a bigger part of the Patriots game plan in the beginning of the season when it seemed Wes Welker was being phased out. That would indicate the Patriots think Edelman can be a key player in the offense.

Similar to Danny Amendola, Edelman can line up both inside and outside. If the Patriots draft a receiver, Edelman will likely once again be the third receiver on the depth chart. If they do not, we could be looking at a four-man group of Edelman, Amendola, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.

Margus Hunt made a big impact for SMU in his senior year, logging 11.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks and forcing two fumbles.

He followed that up with a stellar performance at the combine, and put up a whopping 38 reps on the bench press and ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash at the combine for the third-fastest time among all defensive ends.

He has the long build a lot of coaches and scouts love, at 6'8" with 33.25" long arms. At 277 pounds, he could stand to even add a little bulk to his frame.

What Hunt has in athleticism and size, he lacks in versatility; he was strictly a defensive end for SMU, and would likely be used primarily with his hand in the dirt in the NFL. The question is whether he projects better in a 3-4 or a 4-3 front. Most would agree he is a more suitable 4-3 defensive end, as he lacks the girth of a three- or five-technique defensive end.

Damian, the market for Lloyd has been bare so far, but that doesn't mean nothing will come up. It's hard to predict whether a last-minute suitor could come into play (see Edelman above). Who else wants Lloyd? Who knows, but it's been nearly a month since he and the Patriots parted ways, and there have been no reports of developing contract negotiations.

The Patriots have almost completely turned over the wide receiver position from last season. Unless Edelman returns, the only receivers that remain on the roster from last year are Matthew Slater, Jeremy Ebert and Kamar Aiken, all of whom combined for zero receptions in 2012.

Comparing the groups, one thing in particular stands out: while this group doesn't have vast experience in the Patriots offense, they do have the size the Patriots have lacked. Amendola is bigger than Welker; Donald Jones is bigger than Brandon Lloyd; Michael Jenkins is bigger than anyone the Patriots had on the roster at receiver last year.

There are questions with each. For Amendola, it's his ability to stay healthy. For Jones, it's the undisclosed medical condition which ended his season in 2012. For Jenkins, it's how much life is left in those "Molasses Mike" legs.

With all those questions and not as many sure answers, it's easy to see why I mocked multiple receivers to the Patriots.

Geno Smith's draft stock has become the topic of much discussion because of a piece written by ProFootballWeekly's Nolan Nawrocki. Smith's leadership, mental toughness and football intelligence were all called into question, and he was even called a "gimmick" at one point.

Character assassination aside, he looks like a first-round pick on the field. He does have some issues with accuracy at times, but he is a versatile quarterback. He can throw rhythm passes in a West Coast style offense, he has the arm to make vertical throws, and of course, he has the athleticism to extend plays with his legs, but he's also great reading a defense from the pocket.

I'm not going to pretend to know the first thing about his character, though, and that's ultimately what will be the biggest determining factor in whether he's a first-round pick. The talent is there on tape. If he has his head on straight — and everyone besides Nawrocki seems to think he does — there's no reason he shouldn't be taken in the first round.

Thanks for the questions! Further queries can be directed to me on Twitter.


Going Deep's dream seven-round mock draft for the Patriots

Posted by Erik Frenz April 4, 2013 09:48 AM

hopkins.jpgThe New England Patriots are difficult to predict when it comes to the NFL draft, and with a 2013 class that no one can seem to agree on, this year seems to be no different.

So, instead of trying to predict what they'll do, why not just lay out my dream mock draft?

This is what I would do, if I were the GM/hoodie-donning leader of the Patriots.

Click here for my seven-round dream mock draft.


Breaking down the Patriots 'volume' personnel strategy

Posted by Erik Frenz April 2, 2013 07:30 AM

Over the years, the Patriots have taken an aggressive approach to addressing positions of need. They will add multiple players at one position in hopes that the best players will emerge from the group.

Sometimes, they've been more successful than others.

Some might call it "throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks." It's probably a little more methodical than that, so we'll call it the "volume" personnel strategy.

Let's take a look at the most recent examples of this strategy and see what the rewards have been.

Cornerbacks
Leigh+Bodden+Kyle+Arrington+Baltimore+Ravens+zWFaV0tsBDix.jpg
2009:

CB Kyle Arrington — 8 games played, 8 assisted tackles
CB Leigh Bodden — 15 games played, 14 starts, 47 solo tackles, 8 assists, 2 fumble recoveries, 17 passes defensed, 5 interceptions, 1 touchdown
CB Darius Butler — 14 games played, 3 starts, 32 solo tackles, 3 assists, 8 passes defensed, 3 interceptions, 1 touchdown
CB Shawn Springs — 12 games played, 8 starts, 34 solo tackles, 5 assists, 8 passes defensed, 1 interception

The Patriots pass defense was not awful in 2009, allowing an 81.2 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks and yielding seven yards per pass attempt.

Kyle Arrington is the only one that remains from this binge. Shawn Springs was off the roster by the end of the 2009 season; Darius Butler was out by the end of 2010; Leigh Bodden was sent packing midway through the 2011 season.

The approach gave the Patriots their answers for the 2009 season, but not much further than that. That's why they were right back where they began two years later.

2011:

CB Philip Adams — 6 games played, 9 solo tackles, 1 interception
CB Ras-I Dowling — 2 games played, 2 starts, 2 solo tackles, 1 assist
CB Sterling Moore — 6 games played, 3 starts, 8 solo tackles, 2 assists, 4 passes defensed, 2 interceptions, 1 touchdown
CB Malcolm Williams — 2 games played

This one doesn't quite fall under the same umbrella as the other examples of the volume approach, with two additions in the draft (Dowling and Williams) and two in-season free agent additions (Adams and Moore).

Williams has yet to play much meaningful football after being drafted in the seventh round, but has played in two games each year on special teams. Dowling has yet to play much meaningful football after suffering season-ending injuries in each of the past two years. Adams was on and off the roster all of 2011 and was eventually signed by the Seahawks before the end of the season.

Sterling Moore was also on and off the roster, but was ultimately kept around for the playoffs and was brought back in 2012. He was waived in November, and was picked up by the Cowboys.

Defensive line
AP111113088707.jpg
2011:

DE Mark Anderson — 16 games played, 1 start, 20 solo tackles, 12 assists, 10 sacks, 1 batted pass, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery
DE Andre Carter — 14 games played, 14 starts, 30 solo tackles, 21 assists, 10 sacks, 1 batted pass, 2 forced fumbles
DE Markell Carter — spent 2011 on practice squad, was cut in 2012
DT Shaun Ellis — 14 games played, 10 starts, 7 solo tackles, 7 assists, 1 sack
DT Albert Haynesworth — 6 games played, 2 solo tackles, 1 assist

The Patriots pegged the defensive line as the area in most need of improvement in 2011.

Markell Carter, Shaun Ellis and Albert Haynesworth all ended up being disappointments, but the Patriots still settled their need for a defensive end with Mark Anderson and Andre Carter. The two went on to become the first duo with 10 or more sacks for the Patriots since Andre Tippett and Garin Veris in 1985.

All four defensive linemen were off the roster by 2012. Carter and Anderson both left as free agents, Ellis retired and Haynesworth didn't make it to the end of the season. Still, this was arguably the biggest hit of the volume approach.

Wide receivers
50169106c4be1.image.jpg
2012:

WR Jeremy Ebert — spent 2012 on the practice squad
WR Jabar Gaffney — cut in training camp
WR Anthony Gonzalez — cut before training camp
WR Brandon Lloyd — 16 games played, 15 starts, 74 receptions, 911 yards, 12.3 yards per reception, 4 touchdowns
WR Donte Stallworth — 1 game played, 1 reception, 63 yards, 1 touchdown

This was arguably the least successful example of the volume approach. Lloyd was the only receiver added in the 2012 offseason to play more than one game and log more than one reception.

Gonzalez's injury history made him a question mark from the getgo, and he didn't even make it to training camp. Stallworth and Gaffney were both released during training camp, with Stallworth returning during the season when the Patriots were hit with injuries. Lloyd was let go with his character being called into question on his way out. He had a productive season, but still fell short of expectations and was not quite the receiver the Patriots thought they were getting.

As of right now, Ebert is the only receiver that remains on the roster.

2013:

WR Danny Amendola
WR Michael Jenkins
WR Donald Jones

With three signings at wide receiver, the Patriots haven't quite reached the numbers of previous examples of the volume approach, but the Patriots have three players who can hopefully fill the two spots left vacant by Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd.

Jenkins has been a reliable target in the past, but he's lost the ability to create separation. He can still win matchups with his size, but he's not going to stress a defense vertically anymore. He was starting to catch on in Atlanta before moving to Minnesota, but over the past two years, he has recorded his lowest totals in both receptions and yards since 2006.

Jones has improved each of his three years in the NFL, and had a career-best 41 catches on 62 targets (66.1 percent) for 443 yards and four touchdowns in 2012. He does have some issues with drops, though, having dropped 11 of 93 catchable balls (11.8 percent). The problem with him, though, is that there's a health condition which has yet to be disclosed that has kept him off the field.

Expectations are low for both Jenkins and Jones. Amendola, not so much.

welker amendola.pngMany people expect Amendola to step in and be similar to Wes Welker. He has a similar skill set, but is a slightly different receiver in that he's a bit faster and can win matchups on the outside. Amendola's 2012 stats are remarkably similar to Welker's 2006 stats, the year before he joined the Patriots. He would have finished with 92 receptions for 969 yards and four touchdowns if he had stayed healthy in 2012. That, however, is the big concern with him.

There will be plenty of opportunities for the Patriots to add a wide receiver in the draft.

With the current question marks at the position, it wouldn't be a surprise for them to add one more at some point.


About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »

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