Patriots

Patterns emerge in Pats' draft-day trade plans

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Patterns emerge in Pats' draft-day trade plans

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com

Ty Warren. OK? I got Ty Warren right in 2003. And I also had a verr-rry strong hunch about Daniel Graham and I mentioned likely interest in Logan Mankins. So when people say, "Nobody knows what the Patriots are going to do on draft day," that's not exactly right. Because this guy (me), eight years ago? I knew. Enough of that, though. As much as I'm convinced Cam Jordan is a wonderful fit for the Patriots, I'd have to look at my track record and say I'm usually wrong. But what I do know is the Patriots will trade, trade, trade their fool faces off Thursday, Friday and Saturday during the NFL Draft. Look at last year's draft day summary. They took one player with an assigned pick (Jermaine Cunningham, 53rd overall). It's fascinating to look at the Patriots' history of draft trades and see the patterns that have developed. Let's stick with the first two rounds in this investigation. TRADING UPNew Englandhasn't traded up in the first round since 2003 when they moved from 14 to 13 in a deal with Chicago so they could take Warren. The Patriots also had to throw in a sixth-rounder to get that done. Why would they trade up one spot? Because other teams were trying to jump ahead of New England and the presumed target of those teams was Warren. They also traded up in 2002, going from 32 to 21 to get Graham. In that deal with Washington, they had to give up 32, a third-rounder and a sixth-rounder. The Patriots frequently trade up in the second round, though, when the pickings on the shelves are getting thinner. In 2010, they figured Rob Gronkowski had been on the board past his value even though he missed his final year at Arizona and moved up two spots to get him at 42. They sentOakland 44 and a sixth-rounder.In 2009, they really wanted Ron Brace. So they dealt with Oakland to get the 40th pick and sent the Raiders 47, a fourth-rounder and a sixth-rounder. In 2006, they moved up 16 spots to get Chad Jackson at 36. They sent Green Bay the 52nd pick and a third-rounder. And 52 became standout receiver Greg Jennings. In 2003, the Patriots made a nice move in the second, going from 41 to 36 to get Eugene Wilson. They swapped fourth-rounders with Houston to sweeten that deal. Also in 2003, they dealt with the Texans again, going from 50 to 45 to get Bethel Johnson and sending along a fourth-rounder for Houston's trouble. What's the pattern reveal? That when the Patriots covet a player, they will be aggressivein trying to move up. That they really seem to value the players in the top-40 or so. And that their second-round trade-ups have beenOK but not great(and Gronkowski helped move that grade higher). TRADE DOWNSThis, of course, is where the Patriots really play the league like a violin. They capitalize on the desperation of other clubs to stock up for future years and still get the players they love who are - quite often - not as high on anyone else's draft board. And 2010 may have been their best draft in this regard. They traded out from 22 with Denver and took the Broncos 24th and 113th picks (113 became Aaron Hernandez). Then they took 24 and traded it to Dallas for 27 overall (Devin McCourty) and also took a third-rounder from Dallas in exchange for 119 overall (119 was kind of obsolete after they got 113). And 119 became Taylor Price (the jury remains out). So they turned the 22nd pick into three different players (McCourty, Hernandez and Price) and only moved down five spots. That was cleaning up on Denver's desire for wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and Dallas' desire for Dez Bryant. The second round was even more amazing. First, they took their 47th pick and sent it to Arizona for picks 58 and 89.They then traded out at 58 in exchange for 62 and 150. The Patriots then took Brandon Spikes at 62 and Zoltan Mesko at 150. And the 89th pick? They capitalized on Carolina's desire to get QBWR Armanti Edwards at that spot and exchanged 89 for a second-round pick in the 2011 draft which wound up being the 33rd overall. Good as last year was, 2009 seemed like the Patriotsspun their wheels with trades down. They went from 23 to 26 in a deal with the Ravens. The Pats also added 162. The Ravens took Michael Oher at 23The Pats then traded out of the first round with Green Bay, sending 26 and 162 to the Packers (Green Bay took Clay Matthews) and gaining a second-rounder and two third-rounders. They turned the second rounder into Darius Butler (41 overall) and used one of the thirds on Brandon Tate. In 2008, the Patriots made a nice move going from No. 7 overall (fleeced from the 49ers in 2007) to No. 10, taking Jerod Mayo at 10 and and also turning a fifth-rounder into a third-rounder (Shawn Crable) in the same deal as a pot-sweetener from New Orleans. From this we can gather two things. The Patriots can either feast on the anxiety of other teams or capitalize on their own disinterest in spending a pick at the spot they're in. TRADE OUTSThis is where the Patriots stock up for the future. We already mentioned the trade out in the third round last year that got them the 33rd pick this year. There were two third-round trade outs in 2009 that got them second-rounders in 2010 (which got flipped in amid other deals that are too hard to rehash). The best trade outs the Patriots executed in which they turned the exchanged pickdirectly into players and not bargaining chips were 2007 and 2003. In 2007, they sent their 28th pick (!) to the Niners in exchange for the Niners 2008 first-rounder ANDa 2007 fourth-rounder. The Niners pick turned into Mayo. In 2003, the Ravens wanted Kyle Boller. So they made a reasonable deal, handing the Pats No. 41 to take the Pats first-rounder at 19. Baltimore also threw in their 2004 first rounder and that turned out to be Vince Wilfork in 2004. When you think about it, trade outs can only by made by coaches and personnel people who are supremely confident and secure. What coach wants to stock a team with future picks if he's worried about job security? Bill Belichick hasn't had to worry about that for a while. And, as a result, he can deal with confidence not worrying about what the owner, the fans or the media have to say. Because in the end, Belichick and the Patriots win a lot more often than they lose at the end of April.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Former Patriot Mike Vrabel named head coach of the Tennessee Titans

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Former Patriot Mike Vrabel named head coach of the Tennessee Titans

The Titans job was rumored to be the first pick of Josh McDaniels, but as details have come to light, that is not the case.

The Tennessee Titans have agreed to hire former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel as their Head Coach tonight.

The team publicly announced the hire tonight across all of their social media platforms.

Vrabel won the Super Bowl with the Patriots three times in the early years of the New England dynasty. 

Despite having limited experience as a coach, he has attracted much attention in this past offseason for openings across the NFL. He has just one season's experience as a coordinator. 

Vrabel steps in to fill the role of Mike Mularkey, who was fired just one night after many believed he was receiving an extension. Despite the rumor of the extension, Mularkey and the Titans agreed to part ways just one day later.

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Who will be Patriots unsung hero Sunday?

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Who will be Patriots unsung hero Sunday?

FOXBORO -- We've hit on Tom Brady's hand. Over and over. And over again. We've also dissected just how good this Jaguars defense really is, and how Rob Gronkowski might be able to exploit it

But what about the games within the game? What about the so-called bit players who could make a significant impact in the AFC Championship Game? 

It seems to happen every year in the biggest games. No one predicted James White would put together an MVP-level performance in Super Bowl LI. No one saw Malcolm Butler coming - least of all Russell Wilson - in Super Bowl XLIX. And who would have guessed that Marquis Flowers, Adam Butler and Deatrich Wise would've had key roles in helping the Patriots dominate the Divisional Round against the Titans?

Let's try to get out ahead of those storylines before the Jaguars and Patriots meet at Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Here are five of our under-the-radar keys to the game: 

1) James Develin's incorporation into the game plan could seemingly pop up out of nowhere like a neck roll.
But if you've been following along this week, you know that it would be a good idea for the Patriots try to throw out of formations that employ their fullback. If Josh McDaniels figures out a way to keep Jacksonville's base defense on the field, that should give Brady all kinds of room to throw. That means getting Develin onto the field with Dion Lewis. It could also mean having Dwayne Allen (or Jacob Hollister) on the field with Rob Gronkowski. Two-back sets and two-tight end sets should have the same effect: The Jaguars will respond by leaving an extra linebacker and an extra defensive tackle on the field. (In all likelihood, run-stuffing linebacker Paul Posluszny would remain, as would defensive tackle Marcel Dareus. In sub situations, those players are more likely to come off, bringing nickel corner Aaron Colvin and pass-rusher Dante Fowler on.) That bigger stop-the-run grouping makes the Jaguars slower. When they're slower, they're less-equipped to defend the pass. Per Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis, the Jaguars allowed a quarterback rating of 99 and an average of 9.6 yards per attempt against offensive groupings with two backs, two tight ends, or both. Against three-receiver sets, they're much more effective, allowing a rating of 73 and an average-yards-per-attempt of just 4.9. One issue with Develin's usage could be - wait for it - Brady's hand. If it's clear Brady can't take snaps from under center, then the Patriots will either simply have to huddle up with Develin in the mix and align in some sort of spread look when they break, which they've done in the past. Or they could concede the threat of running behind Develin is non-existent if Brady can't get under center, and then you may simply see more two-tight end looks. Using tempo with this bigger personnel could also be wise. If the Patriots get defenders on the field they want to throw against, they could prevent the Jags from subbing by hurrying to the line of scrimmage. 

2) Joe Thuney's ability to handle power rushes on the interior could determine how smoothly the Patriots offense runs.
The Jaguars front is their biggest threat to Tom Brady. Jacksonville's coverage players are talented, but there should be windows to throw. If Brady doesn't have time to find the windows because of a dogged pass-rush, though, it won't matter. Thuney could be the key. Why? Calais Campbell, a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, has seen 58 percent of his pass-rushing snaps come from the defensive right, according to Pro Football Focus. If that continues, he'll see his fair share of Nate Solder and -- in sub situations when he kicks inside -- Thuney on the offensive left. Along with the vastly underrated Yannick Ngakoue (12 sacks and a league-high six forced fumbles, but he's not a Pro Bowler or All-Pro), who rushes off the defensive right 77.5 percent of the time, Campbell helps form as imposing a duo as Thuney and Solder have faced all season. Campbell is the real-life response to the blue beings in James Cameron's "Avatar." He's 6-foot-8, with 36-inch arms, and if he can extend on Thuney, that's a one-on-one matchup that doesn't favor the Patriots. Thuney, who carries around a green notebook full of secrets to help him on game days, has been solid of late. He hasn't allowed a sack or a quarterback hit in his last three games, but he'll have to put together one of his cleanest performances of the season to keep Brady upright Sunday.  

3) Johnson Bademosi will have big shoes to fill in the kicking game. 
When Jonathan Jones suffered a season-ending injury against the Titans, that should thrust Bademosi - who was a healthy scratch last week -- back into the mix as a kick-coverage player and reserve corner for the Patriots. The Jaguars have a talented return man in Jaydon Mickens, and as a gunner, it could be on Bademosi's shoulders to make sure that the Patriots don't allow Mickens to make a game-changing play. With the focus on Matthew Slater, that should leave Bademosi with some one-on-one matchups to win on the outside. Why, you ask, is this important? The Jaguars are not a threat to consistently string together scoring drives offensively, so -- aside from scoring defensively, which they've been known to do -- they may need to exploit a breakdown in the kicking game in order to have a shot. "Mickens," Bill Belichick told Patriots.com this week, "as a returner, very explosive player...He's very, very explosive in the open field...They're a very explosive special teams unit."

4) For the second consecutive week, Marquis Flowers could play an important role in the defensive game plan.
His two best games with the Patriots have come against mobile quarterbacks, and Blake Bortles -- though not as athletic as Tyrod Taylor or Marcus Mariota -- would qualify. The Jaguars quarterback has recorded 123 yards rushing on 15 carries (an average of 8.2 yards per run) in two playoff games this season, and against the Bills in the Wild-Card Round, he actually ran for more yards (88) than he picked up through the air (87). Flowers has shown a knack for being able to mirror passers as he spies them from the second level, and it would come as no surprise if he was asked to do so again this weekend. The Patriots are a man coverage team. If you've watched closely, you've noticed they've played less true Cover-2 this season than they have in some others, partly because their corners are better-suited for man-to-man assignments than covering zones. By deploying Flowers (or Kyle Van Noy or someone else) as a spy, that allows Patriots defensive backs to play man-to-man on the back end. Without a spy, that would typically require more true zone in the secondary so that defensive backs could have their eyes in the backfield and spot when a quarterback takes off. If Flowers is tapped to spy again this weekend, he allows his teammates in coverage to play their game: Lock-down man-to-man.

5) Let's stick with the Patriots linebackers for this final key.
Discipline at the second level will be of vital importance against the Jaguars. Matt Patricia's unit should have little trouble stopping the run. It's a numbers game in the box, and if the Patriots commit enough resources to stoning Leonard Fournette, they should have success. Especially with the way Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown, Ricky Jean Francois and Trey Flowers have been playing of late. But the Jaguars are adept at using an opponent's aggressiveness against them. Whichever Patriots are at the linebacker level -- whether it's Elandon Roberts, Van Noy or Patrick Chung -- will have to be sure they read their keys and remain patient. Leaving Bortles wide-open throwing lanes is one of the few ways the Jaguars will be able to create chunk plays on Sunday, and if the Patriots are too eager to step up and fill lanes against the run, they could open themselves up to be stunned by the 23rd-rated quarterback in the NFL this season. The Jaguars passed on three of their first four plays from scrimmage against the Steelers in the Divisional Round. They picked up 53 yards on those three throws due in large part to Bortles' use of play-action. 

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