Patriots

Some interesting names may fall to Patriots

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Some interesting names may fall to Patriots

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com

Some of the most enduring memories from drafts past are the guys who slid. Whether it was Aaron Rodgers rotting in the green room, Brady Quinn canoodling with an increasingly disinterested blond, or Tom Brady walking through his neighborhood with a baseball bat, the guys who drop often become more fascinating than the guys who get picked. And there are three players this year who could take the unwelcome plunge - Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers, Alabama's Mark Ingram and Auburn's Nick Fairley. All three guys could have entertained thoughts of being top five picks at one point. But as the draft looms, there's a growing sense that all could drop precipitously. Start with Bowers. The 6-4, 280-pounder led the nation with 15.5 sacks last year. But I'm hearing there are concerns that his kneehas limited timebefore he'll need major surgery. With a kid whose weight fluctuates drastically and who plays an interior defensive line (or 3-4 end) position, this could be a chronic issue.
My compadre TimGraham at ESPN.com did a mock draft and he had the Patriots taking Bowers with the 17th pick. Even though Bowers is a good kid and potentially great player,at 17, he'stoo big a dice roll with those knee concerns. Especially with a defensive line class that is as good as any Bill Belichick has ever seen. Then there's Ingram, the Heisman Trophy winner in 2009 when he ran for 1,658 yards. His left knee was slow to fully recover from athroscopic surgery last August. There's concern it could be an ongoing trouble spot - though concerns about him aren't nearly as high as they are for Bowers. During the draft process, he's seen his stock fall to the point where it's been speculated he could drop to the second round. The Patriots have been sweet on Ingram for a while. Sweet enough to take him at 17 when they could get him at 28 or even 33? Probably not. Finally, there's Fairley. There is no smoking-gun reason for people to be apprehensive about the massive and athletically gifted wrecking ball. He hasn't been arrested, there are no reports of positive drug tests. But there's a perception he's not a hard-worker and can be immature and irresponsible. He reportedly blew off a dinner with the Miami Dolphins in March. The Titans are a possible landing spot for Fairley at No. 8. ESPN's Paul Kuharsky, the AFC South blogger, spoke to scouts recently about Fairley and asked them if he was as temperamental as Albert Haynesworth. The consensus was that Fairley was nothing like Haynesworth. He was just very, well . . . Southern. Fairley is more happy-go-lucky, hes not Haynesworth, the scout told Kuharsky. Albert played with a huge chip on his shoulder, like everybody was against him. This kid, when he hits the field, yeah, no question hes a competitive son of a gun. But hes not Albert . . .

I think Fairley clearly has a chance to be a special player. Youve got to remember, hes a Southern, Southern kid. Hes a bayou-type kid. The Titans had a guy like defensive end Antwan Odom, who was a bayou kid -- it can be misconstrued as not having a passion. But I dont think thats the case. I think this kid is a fun-loving type of kid whos silly.

Yeah, hes going to make mistakes. Are they going to be glaring or things done on purpose? His mistakes are going to come out of, pardon the expression, ignorance, just not knowing. License registration and stuff like that -- 'Oh, I didnt even know I had to register my car.'

To me, he's as dynamic a defensive lineman as any guy in this draft. And if he's sitting there at 17 - or within hailing distance of 17 - the Patriots should make a move to get him.

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

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. 

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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.