Covering the NFL for almost 20 years allows you to make relationships with a bunch of people. So I thought I'd tap into some of those people for a series of topics we've been kicking around.
- Why is Jimmy Garoppolo still with the Pats?
- The amazing career of Tom Brady
- Who's the most underrated Patriot?
The panel consists of one former Pats player still in the game, two scouts of AFC teams, one front-office member in the AFC, and one NFC scout. They all requested anonymity for obvious reasons (as the player said, "Hey, I might want to end up back there!"). I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I had talking to these guys.
Today's topic: Which player (besides Tom Brady) can the Patriots least afford to lose?
Scout 1: Before I answer, I think they can win with [Jimmy] Garoppolo [at quarterback if Brady were injured]. But to your question, it’s Julian Edelman. He’s the little engine that could, the player that makes that offense go. He turns good slot corners into slappys. Slappies. I don’t think he runs quite as well after the catch as he did, say, in 2014, but it’s not this dramatic drop off. His football instincts are as good as [Brady's]. Even if he’s not reading it the same way as Brady, his feel for where a defender is, trying to leverage him, puts him where he’s suppose to be. He’s also a money player. Him, [Danny] Amendola, [James] White. You saw it in the Super Bowl. That catch was ridiculous. The catch and run in the Seattle Super Bowl (when he nearly got beheaded) was ridiculous. I’ll take him on my side any day.
Scout 2: I think this one is a slam dunk. It’s [Dont’a] Hightower. And I think Bill [Belichick] knows it too. That’s why you pay him what they did despite all the talk about injuries and the fact that Hightower always seems to be dealing with something. He’s kind of a freak, right? A massive ‘backer with the ability to move from the middle to the edge with ease. His power at the point of attack makes sense when you look at his size, but it’s the translation of that power into speed and quickness that seems to give the offense such a hard time. I’ve seen him split 650 pounds of offensive linemen in a double, but then accelerate and haul a back down from a bad angle. That’s something.
Scout 3: Can I pick [Nate] Solder again? Ok, ok. I’ll say Trey Flowers. He and Hightower are the only two that can get to the passer consistently in that front seven, and that’s not something they usually let Hightower do. Flowers was on our radar prior to that draft [in 2015]. We weren’t quite sure what to do with him. Leave it to Bill and [Matt] Patricia to figure it out. He was a bitch the couple of times I watched him late in the year. Found my eyes being drawn to him. Watch his hands. So quick. He’s a keeper.
Current NFL exec: The moose at tight end (Rob Gronkowski). You can’t duplicate what he brings to the field on Sundays. You just can’t. One of the better blocking tight ends in the game and an impossible cover. Edelman may be Brady’s favorite target, but Gronkowski is the better target. (In what sense?) His size. Put it somewhere in the ballpark and he’s going to win. You can’t say that about Edelman, even though he’ll win more 50/50 balls than 99 percent of the players his size. I don’t mean that as a slight on Julian, but it’s pretty cut and dried for me
Former Patriot/current player: Gronk. It’s gotta be Gronk. I know what just happened last year (Pats winning a Super Bowl with Gronkowski on IR), but [Martellus Bennett] is [bleeping] good, too. Now it’s Dwayne Allen as the backup? Yeah, I’m not a big Allen guy. They certainly can’t ask him to do what Gronk does if anything happens. They could do some of that with Marty. Besides, Gronk is one of the toughest covers in the league. Crazy catch radius. Physicality. Yeah, give me Gronk.