Patriots

No. 33 and beyond: A Day Two draft primer

191543.jpg

No. 33 and beyond: A Day Two draft primer

By Adam Hart
CSNNE.com

"Can we ever pick a player, Belichick?"

That's an actual, censored text message received Thursday night during the NFL Draft. The Patriots had in fact picked a player -- beanstalk-dweller Nate Solder -- at No. 17 overall, but they also traded out of the 28th spot.

That deal brings added appeal to Day Two with the Patriots receiving No. 56 overall from the Saints to go along with Nos. 33 and 60 -- all second-round picks. So, yes, he will pick a player; probably going to be an active trader, as well.

And, as Bill Belichick told the media, the interest in Day Two's top selection is already hot.

Welcome to the trading post
A first-round run on quarterbacks has not quelled the need among every team interested in a signal-caller. The Bills (34), Bengals (35), Redskins (41, 49), and Raiders (48) might have their eyes on particular passers. Colin Kaepernick, Andy Dalton, Ryan Mallett and Ricky Stanzi figure to be second-round targets. The Bills and Bengals can have their pick of the litter, unless Washington or Oakland trades up into New England's spot.

The haul from a deal for the 33rd pick could set up another stacked draft board in 2012; the Patriots currently have two first-round picks next year, acquiring New Orleans' on Day One. The team has until 6 p.m. to value the trade bids against actually drafting a player. And, yes, trading out will spawn more of those text messages. Delightful.

Target practice
No matter how it unfolds at No. 33, the Patriots can add impact players in the second round. Expect the team to somehow move into the coveted 40-50 range. Some names to watch:

Runnings Back:

Ryan Williams - Was flossing an eyebrow ring on stage at the Draft, but that's not something for which he should be judged. He touts good vision and a certain slipperiness, but battled a hamstring injury in 2010.
Kendall Hunter - A smaller guy, but he runs like a firecracker.

Receiver:

Randall Cobb - A do-it-all type of guy who ran for, threw and caught touchdowns at Kentucky. Has a workmanlike attitude which would seemingly fit into the team-first mantra in Foxborough. A special athlete, he's spent time at receiver, unlike 2009 seventh-round pick Julian Edelman.

Torrey Smith - His gait is reminiscent of Randy Moss. His hands? They're decent.

Offensive Line:

There is still a need here because there's no guarantee Logan Mankins will return and Stephen Neal retired. Dan Connolly is penciled in, but some depth would be nice.

John Moffitt - Can play guard or center. Plays with a mean streak, but told Tom E. Curran he needs to improve his pass blocking.

Clint Boling - A guard in the NFL, he would be.
Outside Linebacker:

Allen Bailey - Belichick watched film with Bailey and his teammates at Miami. He's "country strong," but it doesn't always translate to the field. Played linebacker a bit at Miami, but has said he prefers defensive end. Could he play that Willie McGinest-type role? Maybe.

Chris Carter - Played at Fresno State, trained with McGinest, but is relatively little. He puts in the hard work to improve his game and excels at rushing the passer. If the coaching staff wants a player who can corral Mark Sanchez on third down, Carter might be the pick.

Akeem Ayers - Played across UCLA's linebacker corps, but tended to arrive on the tail end of plays. Still, there are some who are smitten over his athleticism.

Defensive Line:

Drake Nevis - He would fit in that Jarvis Green role, playing along the line on third down. Nevis has excellent burst off the snap and can knife into the backfield, but is not considered suitable for the base 3-4.

Defensive Back:

Ras-I Dowling - An injury-plagued season caused his stock to drop. He is a great tackler for a cornerback, and perhaps could be aided by a move to safety in the NFL.

There, that should cover all 32 picks in the second round.

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

When the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore in the offseason and then managed to keep Malcolm Butler around, the consensus was not only might this be the best 1-2 punch at cornerback the team has ever had, but maybe, just maybe, it was the best duo in the NFL this season. 

Newsflash: it hasn’t been. Not even close. 

MORE PATRIOTS

The latest example comes from Sunday night in Denver. Gilmore returned from a three-game absence (concussion) to play well against Demaryius Thomas in that 41-16 win. The same can’t be said of Butler. He spent much of his day playing man-to-man versus Emmanuel Sanders and struggled mightily.

Butler’s issues started on the very first play. He got lost along the sidelines and surrendered a 31-yard catch. Butler initially had Sanders blanketed. The two were lined up outside the numbers along the left sideline. Based on the formation, and the alignment of safety Devin McCourty, it was pretty clear Butler was alone on an island. Sanders initially drove inside before straightening out his route. Then he cut sharply, working speedily to the flat. Butler had a good beat on the play but unwisely peeked into the backfield. That’s when Sanders turned up and found nothing but green grass.

“I would just say I’d just tip my hat to him,” said Butler. “It was a great route. He steered me in. Then he went up then went out then went back up so I thought that was it. It was a little more than I expected. You gotta learn from it and play it better next time.”

On the same drive, he was beaten again by Sanders, this time for 13 yards. The Pats defense tightened up and held Denver to a field goal but a pattern had already been established between the Patriots' 27-year-old cornerback and Sanders.

The next big play Butler coughed up came with 4:13 to play in the second quarter. Broncos QB Brock Osweiler summoned Sanders to come across the formation via motion but then sent him back as the wideout approached the tackle box. Butler overreacted, trying to jump out ahead of the motion while simultaneously looking into the backfield. It was then he realized Sanders had done an about-face. To his credit, Butler recovered and jumped on Sanders shortly after the snap of the ball, actually shoving the receivers’ right shoulder in an attempt to disrupt the pattern. 

As Sanders turned upfield, he appeared well-covered by Butler. But then another old habit that’s been hard for Butler to break appeared. He lost track of the ball once it took flight. Sanders slapped on the brakes and high-pointed the football while Butler watched, helplessly flat-footed. Chalk up another 23-yard gain.

“I would just say he underthrew it and I got pushed by,” said Butler. “I probably burst because I was expected the ball to come too. You just got to play it the best way you can. Things happen. He just made a great play. I was in good position but not good enough.”

Sanders caught one more pass on the drive, and should have had a touchdown in the second quarter, streaking past Butler toward the end zone. But Osweiler made a terrible throw, unable to even keep it in the field of play. Hence another field goal instead of a touchdown. Bullet dodged - and there were a few.

“You can’t win with three all day,” said Butler of the defense’s red-zone efficiency. “They’re very hard on us on protecting the red area and not giving up touchdowns in the red area. Bend but don’t break. That’s been the motto.”

The Patriots would break later and Sanders beating Butler was a part of it. The play coming about five minutes into the third quarter on Denver's only TD-scoring drive. The Broncos came out in trips, employing a bunch formation that had plagued the Patriots so often the first month of the season. Unlike then, the Pats handled communication perfectly and as Sanders worked toward the seam, Butler had good position and help toward the post, with safety Duron Harmon eyeballing Sanders the entire way. So did Butler do? He gave up outside leverage, with Sanders breaking hard to the flag. Butler’s footwork was a mess - he got spun around like he was auditioning for "Dancing With the Stars" - and was unable to recover until Sanders had picked up another 23 yards.

“Another good route,” said Butler. “He got me thinking inside and broke out. He’s a good player. A great receiver.”

There’s no denying Sanders’ talent, but Butler has got to be better and more consistent. He’s too often been lost in coverage or gotten caught gambling, eyeballing a big play that’s rarely come in 2017. With their issues up front, it’s the Pats secondary that’s going to have to lead the way. The corners have only occasionally played to the level expected of them. The clock is ticking. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: this is when the Patriots want to be playing their best football. About time Butler answered the call.