Gauging the Patriots Running Back Situation

Patriots Running Backs coach Ivan Fears.

Patriots Running Backs coach Ivan Fears. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once an area of weakness, the running back position is an area that the Patriots have given more attention to over the past couple of years. No longer do we have to deal with Laurence Maroney’s dancing-for-one-yard antics. We actually have some hard-nosed, talented backs.

As of today, the Patriots depth chart at the position looks something like this:

  1. Stevan Ridley
  2. Shane Vereen
  3. Brandon Bolden
  4. LeGarrette Blount
  5. Leon Washington

Chances are the team will not carry five running backs into the regular season, although nothing can be assumed when it comes to Belichick. If I had to guess, I’d say that four of these five will be on the final roster. This is of course barring an injury like we saw with Jeff Demps in the preseason last year.

The Locks: Ridley, Vereen, Washington

Ridley was the feature back last season and should retain that role this season. With the departure of Woodhead, Vereen seems most likely to take over the third-down and receiving role. Washington most likely won’t see many carries, but his value lies on special teams, where he will definitely be the main kick returner and also potentially the main punt returner.

On the Bubble: Bolden, Blount

Bolden, while he is the same size as Ridley, was much more of a downhill runner than the shifty Ridley. He showed flashes last season of being the goal-line back that the Patriots needed, before a four game suspension set him off course. In his return he saw limited action and didn’t look like the same runner he was before the suspension. Blount will be challenging him for the potential goal-line bruiser role. At almost 250 pounds, Blount has the perfect frame to be the go-to guy in short yardage situations. If he can prove he can handle this role, I’d say he has the edge on Bolden, especially after the large pay cut he took to come here.

 

AFC East Draft From a Patriots Perspective

National Football League Draft

National Football League Draft (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The NFL Draft wrapped up yesterday, and there was no shortage of storylines in the AFC East. All four teams in the division made some good picks and some head scratchers. As a Patriots blog, we’re going to breakdown first, the rest of the AFC East picks, followed by a breakdown of the selections by the Patriots.

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Free Agent Friday: Laurent Robinson

Unfortunately the Patriots lost out on Emmanuel Sanders after the Steelers decided to match the offer sheet that he signed with the Pats. This puts the Pats right back where they were: searching for another impact receiver, preferably one with the ability to play on the outside and with a lot of speed. A name raised by WEEI as a possible target is Laurent Robinson.

Robinson has bounced around throughout his career, with his best season coming in 2011 with Dallas when he finished with 54 catches for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns. This breakout performance led to a 5 year deal worth $32.5 million dollars with Jacksonville. Unfortunately he was plagued by concussions throughout the season, finishing with 24 catches and no scores in 7 games, before being cut this offseason as the Jags look to rebuild.

Robinson would provide the speed the Pats are looking for (4.38 40-yard-dash) and would give them the positional versatility that Belichick loves in his receivers, as he can play either outside or in the slot. Much like Sanders would have, Robinson would have the potential to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark catching passes from Tom Brady if he can stay healthy.

Personally, I’d be a little hesitant to sign Robinson. He has yet to play a full 16 game season in his 6 year career and the concussion problems should be a red flag. Add in the fact that he’s been wildly inconsistent with his play throughout his career, and I highly doubt he’s the answer for the Pats. If they can get him cheap, then I’m all for it. But if they were to sign him, they would still need to bring in someone as insurance. Right now, I’d say the draft is their best option at addressing the position. Take a chance on a speed guy in the 2nd-3rd round range who won’t dip too deep into their wallets.

Free Agent Friday: Patriots Resign Julian Edelman

Julian Edelman and Pat Chung

Julian Edelman and Pat Chung (Photo credit: Beth_Hart)

The Pats agreed to a new one year deal with wide receiver Julian Edelman that will pay him a base salary of $715,000. Edelman could make up to $1.015 million with incentives, which you can view here.

Edelman has not played a full season in a Patriots uniform as he has been plagued by injuries, including a foot injury that landed him on injured reserve after only nine games last season. When healthy, Edelman was an excellent punt returner and showed flashes of his potential as a slot receiver. A one year incentive-laden deal makes a lot of sense for both sides. The Patriots don’t take a big cap hit and get back a receiver with knowledge of the offense, which is important following the departure of Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. Edelman meanwhile will get a chance to prove he can stay healthy and be a solid offensive contributor before hitting free agency once again next year.

With Edelman in the fold, if the Steelers decide not to match the offer sheet Emmanuel Sanders signed with New England, the Pats will have a pretty good receiving corp when they are all healthy. The question will be whether they decide to make a few more depth signings or further address the position in the draft because of the injury history of Edelman, Danny Amendola, and Donald Jones.

Patriots Sign Tommy Kelly, So Where Do They Go Next?

English: Tommy Kelly, a National Football Leag...

English: Tommy Kelly, a National Football League player. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Pats agreed to terms this past week with free agent defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, formerly of the Oakland Raiders. Kelly has been a model of durability throughout his career, starting all 16 games over the past five seasons. However, after finishing with 7.0 sacks in 2010 and 7.5 in 2011, Kelly saw a dramatic decrease in production, finishing with only 1.5 sacks last season in Oakland. The Patriots giving him a two year deal for about $5 million gives the appearance that they believe he still has something left in the tank. You can read a nice writeup by Tris Sports Talk about Belichick’s view of Kelly and his potential role in New England here.

Where will the Pats go from here? They still have about $8 million in cap space for the upcoming season, so they have some freedom to make another move or two. Cody’s Ranting has a nice writeup about veteran players who are still on the market; the exact type of players Belichick likes to target. An interesting name mentioned is Charles Woodson, who, while he is not nearly the player he once was, could provide some secondary help to a team in need. Just something to keep an eye on.

The Pats have taken care of their offensive line and defensive line depth over the past couple weeks. Just waiting on some help at receiver and in the secondary there, Bill.

Update: Immediately following the crafting of this post, it was announced by Adam Schefter that the Patriots signed Emmanuel Sanders to a one-year offer sheet. The Steelers now decide whether they want to match the offer or take the Pats third round pick in exchange for Sanders.

Patriots Draft Preview Event: Potential Mid-Round Patriots

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to attend the Patriots Draft Preview Event that is held for season-ticket holders at Gillette Stadium (side note: I’m not a season-ticket holder. I know a guy…). NFL Live host Trey Wingo, ESPNBoston.com writer Mike Reiss, former Patriots linebacker and current ESPN NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi, and former Patriots first-round pick and current ESPN college football expert Trevor Matich led discussions centered around the Patriots offseason moves and the upcoming NFL Draft. They talked about not only the Patriots first-round pick (which they all believe the Pats will trade), but also who they might target in the second-third round range. Here’s five players who were mentioned:

Margus Hunt, DE (Southern Methodist University)

Hunt is 6’8″, 280 pounds, and has some of the longest arms and strongest hands you’ll ever see. Oh, and did I mention he ran a 4.6 40-yard-dash at the combine? Unheard of for a man his size. So why isn’t he the top overall pick? Well he’s only been playing football since 2009, so he’s extremely raw. Matich loves him however and thinks if he’s available at the Pats first round pick, they should take him.

Aaron Dobson, WR (Marshall)

Dobson has size (6’3″) and speed (4.43 40-yard-dash). That’s exactly the combo the Pats need. Plus when you can catch a football like this, you’ll turn some heads. Only concerns lie with his ability to make people miss, as he does not possess elite athleticism. Matich however is extremely high on this guy as a second/third round pick.

Tyrann Mathieu, CB (LSU)

The Honey Badger. Someone is going to take a chance on him. But will it be the Patriots? Not according to our expert panelists. When an audience member asked about Mathieu, all of the panelists were down on him, citing his physical limitations (5’9″ if you’re being generous) and a poor fit in the Pats defense (he will probably be limited to the slot). His off-field problems also raised some red flags.

Terrance Williams, WR (Baylor)

Another tall receiver (6’2″) that was mentioned by Matich as a potential second round pick. Williams has ideal size for the Pats and decent speed, although he’s definitely not known as a burner. Scouts question his mental makeup and whether he’ll be a hard worker at the next level, which is important for any Belichick coached player.

Markus Wheaton, WR (Oregon State)

Wheaton is the opposite of Williams. He doesn’t have great size (5’11”), but he’s definitely a burner (4.40 40-yard-dash). He has a quick burst off the line of scrimmage and has excellent hands. The only concerns here lie with his thin frame and where he’ll be best suited to line up in an NFL offense.

Free Agent Friday: Emmanuel Sanders

We’re going to keep hammering home the Pats need for a wide receiver until they have completely addressed the issue, either through free agency or the draft. While they have made a few pickups at the position already, they are still a piece or two away from having a formidable wide receiver crew. Emmanuel Sanders, who visited with the Pats a few weeks ago, is still available and would be an intriguing pickup for New England.

Sanders stands at 5’11” and has great speed, especially in the open field (4.41 40 yard dash at the 2010 Combine). His stats have improved yearly, as he notched 44 catches for 626 yards last season, and many believe that he has the potential to turn into a 1,000 yard receiver. In order to sign him the Pats would have to surrender a third round pick to the Steelers, but given the uncertainty that surrounds a mid-round pick (especially if they were to pick a receiver) it seems like that would be a deal that the Patriots would have great interest in, given their need for immediate contributions at the position.

If the Patriots truly want Sanders, it should not be hard at all to sign him. The Steelers are fairly cap-strapped, so they would have difficulty matching any offer sheet signed by Sanders from another team, especially if that offer sheet is front-loaded. It’s been a pretty slow moving free agent market, so don’t be surprised if Sanders doesn’t have a home for another couple weeks. My guess is the Patriots will take this thing all the way up until the draft and decide whether to sign him based on what they perceive their chances are of picking up an impact receiver in the draft.

Patriots Free Agent Signing Grades

We’ve talked a lot about the players the Pats have picked up and lost this offseason. But what grades are others around the web giving to the Pats offseason work?

Bleacher Report says that they don’t think the Pats have lost anyone that they can’t replace. They believe Danny Amendola will fit just fine as a replacement for Wes Welker, and they view the resignings of Sebastian Vollmer, Aqib Talib, and Kyle Arrington as key deals. Overall they gave the Pats an A minus.

In similar fashion, SB Nation loves the resigning Talib and the pick up of Adrian Wilson in the secondary. The Pats were given a B plus, but this was written before the return of Sebastian Vollmer, so my guess is the grade would be slightly higher today.

MassLive gave the Pats a B. Their main concern, and rightfully so, is with the receivers. While Amendola could be a solid replacement for Welker, there are injury concerns. And Donald Jones doesn’t seem like he’s equal to the talent they are losing with Brandon Lloyd gone. A couple more moves at the receiver position, and I’m sure this grade will rise.

Then there’s USA Today, who has a slightly harsher view, giving them a D plus. Now, like the SB Nation article, this article was written before the signing of Vollmer, so this grade would probably be slightly higher. But they have strong concerns with the durability of Amendola and hate the signing of Donald Jones. However, this article also gave a B grade to a Baltimore team that sacrificed half of their defense and their top wide receiver so they could resign Joe Flacco to a ridiculous deal, so take their grading of the Pats with a grain of salt.

An Interview With Bill Belichick’s Office Chair

Now we all see Bill as this always serious, never happy guy. Are there ever times when he laughs?

Well I’ll let you in on a little secret. Every morning Bill arrives at the office and he’ll sit down with me and he’ll just google “Bill Belichick rumors.” And we’ll sit there for an hour and just laugh and laugh at all of the people who think they actually know what’s going on in Bill’s mind. It’s a great way to get the day started.

And then there’s also the weeks leading up to the games against the Jets. Bill will go out for a press conference and give the usual “the Jets are a good football team, we’ll have to be ready,” and then he can barely make it back to the office without bursting into laughter.

What has been the funniest moment in the office?

Back in 2004 during the playoff game against the Colts, Bill stepped in front of Marvin Harrison out of bounds after a pick so he couldn’t come back and make a tackle. He came back to the office that night and we must’ve watched the replay 100 times. We were in tears we were laughing so hard.

What has been the scariest moment in the office?

Back in 2007 during the Spygate scandal. I’ve never seen Bill so angry. He brought in an Eric Mangini voodoo-like doll and placed it on his desk and just repeatedly beat it over the head with a bat. It was pretty frightening for all of us here in the office. His desk couldn’t sleep for a week.

Which player is the most frequent visitor to the office?

Definitely Tom Brady. Bill sees Tom as an extension of himself on the field. Tom spends a lot of time in here every week going over exactly what they want to do, but also talking about things going on in their lives. Bill and Tom have more than your typical coach-player relationship.

What has this off-season been like so far?

It’s been a lot of fun. A lot of fresh new faces have come into the office. Bill truly believes this team is just a couple of pieces away from a Super Bowl, and it’s been great to meet guys like Leon [Washington], Danny [Amendola], and Adrian [Wilson]. I think Pats fans are really going to like what they bring to the table.

Who can we expect Bill to target in the draft?

Well I can’t give away any specifics (laughs). You guys have already covered a lot of the potential players like Desmond Trufant, Cordarelle Patterson, Jonathan Banks. It could be any of them, but also don’t be surprised if a name pops up that hasn’t already as we get closer to draft day. Bill really does love to keep people guessing.