Giardi: The experts say these guys are underrated, but not underappreciated

Giardi: The experts say these guys are underrated, but not underappreciated

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.


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: Who is the most underrated Patriot?

Scout 1: "Duron Harmon. Curious draft pick at the time and I didn’t think all that much of him his first year in the league, but he’s really developed into a Steady Eddie type. Very few mistakes, good range backing up the off corner or playing center field, and he appears to be a calming presence. I figured he’d be as good as gone once he got to free agency. Getting him back was a nice feather in the Pats cap. Not a re-signing that blows you away, but he’s one of your own guys worth keeping.”

Scout 2: "Our team wouldn’t go near Alan Branch, but I campaigned for him. That dude is unblockable. Not in a JJ Watt or Aaron Donald kind of way, but he’s just such a massive human, you hardly ever see someone get into his chest plate and drive him backwards. There’s so much value in that. He’s also surprisingly good moving laterally. I know some people might laugh at that, but he’s got efficient feet."

Scout 3: Worst game I saw Tom Brady play over the last couple years was that AFC Championship game in Denver (2015-16 season). He was under siege the entire day. The Pats win that game if Nate Solder was healthy and playing. No one ever talks about him as an elite left tackle but I’d put him on the short list of the next best guys after [Trent] Williams, [Joe] Thomas, David [Bakhtiari] and [Jason] Peters. Solder’s just good at everything. Kick and slide, excellent hand placement, good punch. Like anybody, he’ll occasionally be a waist bender and get beaten by a counter move, but you rarely see him get overpowered and it seems like he’s quick to correct. I know it took him a half [to get going] in the Super Bowl, but again, he kept at it and got another ring."

Former Patriot/current player: "Give me James [White] all day, every day. You want to talk about a player who has come a long way over the last couple years. I know you talk to [Jerod] Mayo. When he said we all thought he sucked, he wasn’t lying. You wondered how [White] did what he did in the Big 10. But 28 works at it, all the time. Practice field. Weight room. Film room. He’d have been my Super Bowl MVP if they gave me a vote -- don’t tell Tom [Brady]."

Current NFL exec: "I’m not sure you’ll find too many guards in this league that are as athletic as Shaq Mason. I thought he had a Pro Bowl-type season last year. I can only imagine what he’ll look like this year, with another season in the league and under [offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and coach Bill Belichick]. He’ll always have some limitations as a pass blocker because of his height and arm length, but with better technique he can mask some of that. I think he’s as good a run blocker as there is at that position and I expect he’ll be a big part of that offensive line for a long time. [Logan] Mankins was the gold standard for Bill, but when all is said and done, it could be this kid."


Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

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Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

Johnny Manziel said 10 days ago, "I'd go to New England in a heartbeat," when asked about the Patriots as a potential landing spot.

That seemed like wishful thinking at the time, but they're taking a look at him...along with 12 other NFL teams, according to ESPN's Eric Williams. 

Tom Brady's current backup Brian Hoyer is, like Manziel, an ex-Cleveland Browns quarterback. Manziel would again be competing with Hoyer for the Pats' No. 2 job should New England take a chance on "Johnny Football", the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems.

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had it at 12 teams watching Manziel work out at the University of San Diego and said the Patriots gave Manziel a weigh-in.


Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

The Patriots have agreed to re-sign offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, his agent Scott Casterline confirmed on Twitter.  Waddle hit unrestricted free agency when the new league year began and made a visit to the Cowboys earlier this week. In the end, though, he chose to return to the team that claimed him off of waivers at the end of the 2015 season.

Waddle, who turns 27 in July, appeared in 12 games last season for the Patriots. He was the first right tackle the Patriots turned to when Marcus Cannon suffered an ankle injury mid-season against the Chargers. He ended up playing 51 snaps against the likes of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram without allowing a sack. He then started the next three games against the Broncos, Raiders and Dolphins and held star rushers Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Cameron Wake -- all of whom rush primarily off of the offensive right -- without a sack. 

Injuries forced Waddle (380 snaps on the season) to split the right tackle position with Cameron Fleming (543 snaps), but he was the primary backup when healthy. Waddle started the Divisional Round playoff game against the Titans but suffered a knee injury and was removed for Fleming. 

Both Fleming and Waddle visited the Cowboys this week, and the fact that Waddle has re-signed with the Patriots may impact Fleming's decision moving forward. 

The Patriots went to great lengths to build tackle depth last season, and adding Waddle to the roster helps them retain some of that depth after losing their left tackle, Nate Solder, to the Giants via free agency. Waddle could be an option on the left side, but the vast majority of his work since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2013 has been on the right side. 

The Patriots now have Fleming, Marcus Cannon, Cole Croston, Tony Garcia and Andrew Jelks on their depth chart at tackle. Croston, Garcia and Jelks are all headed into their second years as pros. Croston remained on the 53-man roster all season -- an indication that the Patriots liked him enough not to expose him to the waiver system -- but did not see meaningful snaps. Garcia and Jelks both missed the entirety of the 2017 season on reserve lists. 

Once the Patriots lost Solder to the Giants, it seemed to be of paramount importance that the Patriots re-sign either Waddle or Fleming. Behind Cannon, there were simply too many question marks not to have one return. The Patriots could opt to draft a tackle, but this is considered an average year at that position in that there are few ready-made NFL players and several developmental types.

Before the Super Bowl last season, I asked offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia how the team was able to manage offensively with backups at right tackle for much of the season. 

"It's not like [Fleming and Waddle are] not good players," Scarnecchia said. "They are good players. Their skill set seemed to fit that position pretty well. They have the traits that we covet. And they're both really smart guys, very willing learners, and they're both driven to be good and they want to play good. And I think all those things have manifested themselves when they've been out there playing. And we've been very, very pleased with what they've done for us this year, essentially splitting that position."

Asked about the aspects of the game the Patriots worked on with both Waddle and Fleming last year, Scarnecchia said, "For us it transcends everything. Obviously run-blocking and pass-blocking. They're both good at those things. Are they great at those things? No. But they've been able to steadily improve over the last two years to the point where we put them out there and no one's worried. And it's been that way the whole season after Marcus got hurt. Yeah they've done a nice job for us."