Bill Belichick can't stop calling Rams punter Johnny Hekker 'a weapon'


Bill Belichick can't stop calling Rams punter Johnny Hekker 'a weapon'

FOXBORO -- Ed Reed. Jason Taylor. Larry Fitzgerald. Johnny Hekker.

One of these is not like the others.

Every week Patriots coach Bill Belichick heaps a certain level of praise on the best players his team is about to face, but there are certain individuals who urge Belichick to take his admiration to another level. Oftentimes those are surefire Hall of Famers or All-Pros, like the first three names mentioned above. But during his Wednesday morning press conference with reporters, Belichick went above and beyond on a punter. 

For Belichick, Rams punter Hekker represents a unique kind of football talent, an endangered species, a rare jewel. On a team full of impressive athletes, Belichick considers Hekker to be one of their best. That Hekker happens to use his foot to push the football down the field and change field position . . . well that made Belichick, a former special teams coach, ratchet up the flattery to an 11. 

"Hekker is a tremendous weapon," Belichick said, unprovoked. "I mean, this guy is as good a player as I've ever seen at that position. He's a tremendous weapon in his ability to punt the ball, punt it inside the 20, directonal kick it, involved in fakes, can throw, can run, very athletic . . . He's dangerous. Absolutely. He's like a quarterback. He can throw. He can run. You gotta defend him like you defend one of those guys."

Hekker and the Patriots have an interesting shared history. Back in 2008, he walked onto the Oregon State football team along with another freshman punter named Ryan Allen. Hekker won the job, and a scholarship, and Allen didn't have a chance to get on the field for two seasons. He eventually transferred to Louisiana Tech, won the Ray Guy Award twice as the nation's top collegiate punter, and was signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2013. 

While Belichick certainly appreciates Allen and the way he's performed over the last four seasons, he went on and on about Allen's former college teammate, comparing Hekker to Guy, Saints punter Thomas Morestead and former Giants punters Dave Jennings and Sean Landetta.

"They're all great players," Belichick said. "I'm not taking anything away from them . . . But I mean this guy is -- this guy is a weapon. I mean he's not a good player. He's a weapon . . . You're talking about an athlete with Hekker now. He's a little more athletic than Landeta. Just to pick a name. I'd say Ray Guy . . . Ray kicked for a great average, but these guys [the Rams] lead the league in punt coverage. Lead the league in gross punting. Lead the league in net punting. Lead the league in inside the 20, and lead the league in punt coverage. I mean, if you're in front of one of those catergories that's pretty good. Last year they led the league in all three. They're right up there this year. Plus [Hekker's] a threat on fakes and stuff like that."

Belichick was asked, though, if he would like to see Hekker get a large workload on Sunday.

"Yeah. Right. Just gotta make sure we get the ball," he said. "Another part of the problem is just catching the ball. He kicks it so far and makes the returner move for it. They run over there, they mishandle it, or it hits the ground and rolls for another 20 yards. It's a tough ball to catch because you're not just shagging flies out there. He's making you run, and he's kicking it over your head.

"The ball-handling is tough for the returners too. Very tough. The Jets had a lot of trouble with it. Carolina . . . He's had several punt this year where they can't get to the ball and it rolls 20 yards. Fifty becomes 70. Forty-five becomes 65. It changes field position [in] one play. You think you're going to get the ball with good field position and you're at the 15-yard line.

"But, yeah, to your point, I hope he gets a good workout."

What are the Patriots getting in Cordarrelle Patterson?

What are the Patriots getting in Cordarrelle Patterson?

The Patriots have made a trade with the Raiders to acquire receiver and special teamer Cordarrelle Patterson, according to a source. The deal, first reported by Pardon My Take, is an interesting one because it lands Patterson with the team that passed on the opportunity to draft him back in 2013. 


Bill Belichick dealt the No. 29 overall pick to the Vikings that year in exchange for four selections, including a second-rounder and a third-rounder. The second-rounder became Jamie Collins, and the third became Logan Ryan. The Patriots also took Josh Boyce with a fourth they received in the trade, and the fourth pick (a seventh) was traded to Tampa Bay in exchange for LeGarrette Blount. The Vikings took Patterson. 

Patterson's career to this point has been a mixed bag. One of the top athletes in the 2013 draft, the Tennessee product never quite panned out as a go-to No. 1 receiver. He has not missed a game in five seasons, but he has never cracked 600 offensive snaps in a single season. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder has turned himself into more of a gadget receiver as well as one of the game's best special teamers. 

Here's what the Patriots are getting in Patterson . . . 

TOP-TIER SPECIAL TEAMER: Patterson has solidified himself as one of the NFL's best kick-returners. In five seasons, he's ranked as the top returner in terms of average yards per return three times. He's never been outside of the top 10 in the league in that category. Last year he was sixth in the NFL with a 28.3 yards per return average. Patterson has also become a highly-effective gunner on punt units, a role he thrived in once he embraced it, and he has kick coverage experience. Patterson has not been a punt-returner. He has just one punt return under his belt compared to 153 kick returns. Patterson has been named a First-Team All-Pro twice for his work in the kicking game. 

INCONSISTENT RECEIVER: Patterson has never been able to take his explosiveness and translate that into consistent production offensively. He's not thought of as a precise route-runner, and he has a reputation as a "body-catcher." Yet, because he's so dynamic with the ball in his hands, offenses in Oakland and Minnesota have found ways to get the ball in his hands. He'll align in the backfield, take reverses and catch screens just to try to get him the ball in space where he can let his natural abilities take over. If he gets a crease, he can create a chunk play in a blink. 

THE COST: Patterson is in the second year of a two-year deal he signed with the Raiders last offseason. He has a base salary of $3 million and a cap hit of $3.25 million. The Patriots will be sending a fifth-rounder to the Raiders and getting a sixth-rounder back. (As an aside . . . The Patriots have used one fifth-round pick in the last six drafts. It was spent on long-snapper Joe Cardona. Why are they constantly dealing fifths away? Inside the Pylon's Dave Archibald did an interesting piece on that topic about a year and a half ago. The gist is that a) there's a significant drop-off in your chances of finding a star in the fifth compared to the fourth, and b) the talent in the fifth round, by some metrics, hasn't proven to be all that different from the sixth or seventh rounds.) 

THE FIT: Patterson is a relatively low-risk acquisition because of his cap hit (which on the Patriots slots him in between Shea McClellin and Chris Hogan) and because of the draft capital required to nab him. Trading for a player like Patterson as opposed to signing another team's free agent has the added benefit of not impacting the compensatory-pick formula. Patterson also fills a few needs. His abilities as a kick-returner will be more than suitable with last year's primary kick returner for the Patriots, Dion Lewis, out of the mix. What Patterson can do as a gunner and in kick coverage will also be useful with Johnson Bademosi now elsewhere. There's also a chance Matthew Slater plays in a different city in 2017, in which case Patterson's contributions as a gunner and in kick coverage could be critical. With Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman and Hogan all established in the Patriots offense, Patterson won't be expected to take on a heavy role in the Patriots offense. However, if he can pick up a new system, perhaps he could take on a role as a No. 4 or 5 wideout who benefits from plays designed to get him touches in space. Malcolm Mitchell, Phillip Dorsett and Kenny Britt -- now alongside Patterson -- will all be competing for time in New England's offense. Former Patriots coaching assistant Mike Lombardi seems to believe it's unlikely Patterson contributes offensively


Patriots acquire WR Cordarrelle Patterson in trade with Raiders

Patriots acquire WR Cordarrelle Patterson in trade with Raiders

The Patriots have acquired wide receiver and kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson in a trade with the Raiders, NBC Sports Boston's Phil Perry confirms.

Pardon My Take, a podcast by Barstool Sports, first reported the news.

Ian Rapaport of NFL Network reports the Patriots sent a fifth-round pick to Oakland and received a Raiders' sixth-rounder along with Patterson.

More to come...