Patriots players agree: Jimmy Garoppolo is the real deal

Patriots players agree: Jimmy Garoppolo is the real deal

Pretty rare for a backup quarterback to be one of the most talked about players as we enter the NFL offseason, especially one with about six relevant quarters under his belt, but everywhere you turn these days, people are talking about Jimmy Garoppolo. When will the Patriots trade him? What will they get for him? What should they get for him? Should they even trade him at all? That noise hasn’t bothered Garoppolo, who was repeatedly asked about it during Super Bowl week.

“I can’t control it. I can’t control any of it. I can just control myself,” he told me at one point. And then he smiled. Jimmy is always smiling, even on the practice field, where he’s done most of his work.

“He can ball,” said Duron Harmon. “He’s not afraid of anything.”

“Oh man, Jimmy is really good. Lot of times, you can’t tell the difference (between Garoppolo and Tom Brady),” Malcolm Butler added, echoing something Bill Belichick said late in the year, catching many off guard.

Garoppolo and Brady? Well if Garoppolo is the sponge they say he is, and he absorbed three years worth of intel from Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, then maybe he can at least be a good player in this league for a long time.

“I learned a ton, a ton (from Brady and McDaniels),” said Garoppolo. “The knowledge between the two of them, they’ve been doing it for 17 years in the same offense. It’s helped me a ton and it will only help me going forward.”

Julian Edelman gets to be on Garoppolo’s side for many a practice, and was in the huddle at the start of the season when the 3rd year pro had to step in for the suspended Brady. He told NFL Network that the Eastern Illinois product has something you can’t coach.

“I’m not a paid GM, so I don’t know the whole value thing, but as far as a guy I get to play with every single day, Jimmy Garoppolo, the guy’s a stud,” Edelman said on NFL Network's "NFL Total Access." “He went out and played in the regular season, and he played very well. He’s got that kind of gunslinger kind of confidence, that Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers-kind of confidence. He practices hard, he prepares hard, he’s a good kid, he’s young. I think he’s a good player.”

That may have pained Edelman to say. His bromance with Brady is well-documented, but the wide receiver is no dummy. Edelman saw what his teammates saw, what his coaches saw, and what the Pats are banking other team saw as they search for a franchise quarterback.

“I want him on our team,” said McDaniels, adding that that was a decision he doesn’t get to make. “He’s a professional now. He’s not a rookie anymore. He’s learned. He knows how to handle himself. He can play, and play at a high level.”

“Man, I don’t know, but I know he’s good. I know he’s great,” said Butler.

“Jimmy can play in this league and play for a long time,” Chris Hogan offered. “To go into to [the season-opener in] Arizona, and play like he did tells you a lot.”

Garoppolo wouldn’t get into all that, repeating his familiar refrain, “Just being in the NFL is a privilege, it's a hard thing to do. Whenever you get the opportunity to play you've got to take advantage of it.”

He did -- and now the Patriots and Garoppolo may both reap the rewards.

Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

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Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

Looking for a two-word answer from Bill Belichick during a press conference? Ask him how a new addition to the roster might fit into the Patriots scheme. 

"We'll see," is Belichick's typical reply in those situations. 


We point that out here because it's hard to know exactly what any new player's role will be with the Patriots, particularly for an edge player like Adrian Clayborn. That spot in Belichick's defense can take on a variety of roles, from pass-rusher, to edge-setter, to coverage player. 

But we can take an educated guess as to how Clayborn will fit in the Patriots defense, based on what we know. That's what the Patriots did when they signed him. They saw certain skills. They saw Clayborn perform in certain situations. They made their projection. 

There's always the chance Clayborn asserts himself in a way that wasn't expected. Or maybe the way he fits with his new teammates will open his coaches' eyes in ways they weren't anticipating. But at this point, as is the case with every new addition, they're hypothesizing. So we will too. 

AGAINST THE PASS: Clayborn was, for the vast majority of his snaps, a pass-rusher for the Falcons last year. He played 631 snaps for the Falcons, which was 53.4 of their defensive snaps. Of those 631 plays, Clayborn rushed the quarterback 477 times, per Pro Football Focus (76 percent of his workload). And of those pass-rush snaps, only one came from the left side. (Clayborn was born with Erb's palsy, which means his right arm has some limitations compared to his left, which impacts the side of the field he aligns on. He played 91 percent of his snaps from the right side in 2016.)  Clayborn played over 80 percent of the snaps during each of his first three seasons in the league as a member of the Bucs so he's been a three-down player before. But recent history would suggest the 6-foot-2, 280-pounder is now more of a sub option.

Here's how Clayborn responded during a conference call on Wednesday when asked if he could chip in on first and second down for the Patriots. "I believe that’s what people have pigeon-holed me in as a third-down player, but I know I can play first, second, third down if need be," he said. "That was my role in Atlanta because that’s what they asked me to do, but I mean, I can play all three downs if you ask me."

AGAINST THE RUN: According to Pro Football Focus, Clayborn has been a negatively-graded player against the run during each of his seven seasons in the NFL. Last year he checked in as PFF's 78th-ranked run defender among edge players, which was far below the ranking Trey Flowers received (19th) but ahead of Deatrich Wise (85th) and Eric Lee (96th). During each of his last three seasons with the Falcons, he has seen his snap-counts break down similarly: about 75 percent of his work came against the pass, about 25 percent came against the run. He can defend the run. He's capable of it. He just hasn't been asked to consistently hold up on the edge on a down-in-down-out basis during the most recent phase of his career. 

THE FIT: Based on his history in Atlanta, it would make sense if the Patriots asked Clayborn to come off of the right edge in passing situations in 2018. That's where his recent experience has been. Keeping him away from the left side not only makes the most of where he's strongest, but it also keeps him from finding himself in coverage. As Belichick has explained in the past, the left end spot (Rob Ninkovich's old spot), going against right-handed quarterbacks, is typically asked to do more in coverage. The right edge has been Flowers' area in the recent past -- he played almost 65 percent of his passing-rush snaps last season off the right, per PFF -- but if the Patriots are fully-healthy up front, Flowers could kick inside to do his rushing. An ideal sub package for the Patriots, it could be argued, would have Clayborn on the right edge, Flowers and either Wise or Adam Butler on the interior, and Derek Rivers or Dont'a Hightower on the left edge. Rivers saw some work off the left side before suffering an injury in last year's training camp. Early last season, Hightower saw time on the left edge. 


Clayborn will have an opportunity to show he can do more than rush off the right side. He said on Wednesday that the Patriots have discussed multiple roles for him. (Perhaps he could rush from the interior, though he's not as long as Flowers or Wise, whose arms make them good matchups for stouter guards and tackles.) Wherever those opportunities come, Clayborn knows he'll have to make the most of them if he doesn't want to be pigeonholed. The deal for two years and $10 million he just signed in New England doesn't guarantee him myriad responsibilities.

"Whatever I can prove I can do,” he said. "I know I can rush the passer. I know I can set edge in the run. I mean, there’s a couple of different positions that they believe I can play, so it’s up to me to prove I can play them."


Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

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Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

Former Patriots defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois is signing with the Lions, according to Jordan Schultz of Yahoo Sports.

The 31-year-old had six tackles in six games for the Patriots in 2017. He'll reunite with ex-Patriots defensive coordinator and now Lions head coach Matt Patricia in Detroit.