Patriots

Tom E. Curran's potential Patriots draftees

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Tom E. Curran's potential Patriots draftees

By TomE. Curran
CSNNE.com

Heading into the NFL draft, Tom E. Curran has compiled a series of looks at potential Patriots draftees. Check out the full list here:

RUNNING BACKS

Mark Ingram, Alabama5-9, 215Running Back

The Skinny: The highest-rated running back in this draft. Won the Heisman Trophy in 2009 when he ran for 1,658 yards. He was dinged up in 2010 but still averaged 5.5 per carry. He's compact and very solidly built. Thick. He's got elusiveness in small spaces, runs with excellent patience and finishes his runs. He's played against the highest competition, which is something the Patriots value in their evaluations. Also, he played for Bill Belichick's buddy Nick Saban, so the Patriots will get a solid review of Ingram's skills. He's not exceptionally fast but accelerates quickly to his top speed and has excellent quickness.

Mikel Leshoure, Illinois
6-0, 227Running Back
The Skinny: The consensus best "big back" in the draft. Ran for 1,695 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2010, averaging 6 yards per carry. A legitimate pounder between the tackles who can handle a heavy workload, he's got good quickness and soft hands. according to Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki. He's the second-best running back on Wes Bunting's rankings over at National Football Post. Both analysts see him having feature back potential. He should be on the board well into Round 2.

Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech
5-9, 212Running Back
The Skinny:The Patriots have shown interest, with running backs coach Ivan Fears working Williams out down in Blacksburg, Virginia. Williams had his2010 season ruined production-wise by a torn hamstring and only gained 477 yards (4.3 per carry) but managed nine touchdowns in five starts. As a result, he promises to be undervalued by decision-makers who need to "sell" their draft picks to their owners and fanbases. The Patriots don't have to do that, as the Brandon Tate and Rob Gronkowski picks the last two seasons showed. Williams' speed, aggression, competitive fire and overall package makes him very enticing.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

Gabe Carimi, 6-7, 314
OT,Wisconsin

The Skinny:After an injury-plagued junior season, the cocksure Carimi came back in 2010 and won the Outland Trophy, an award given annually to the best interior lineman (defense or offense) in the country. Carimi was part of a bludgeoning rushing attack for the Badgers. He demonstrated excellent smarts and toughness and a willingness to play through the inevitable dings an offensive lineman will deal with. With the Patriots needing to soon hire the successor to Matt Light at left tackle - or do some shuffling to get Sebastian Vollmer over there from right tackle- they will need a new guy. With BC's Anthony Castonzo and USC's Tyron Smith seemingly stacking up as the most attractive LTs in the draft, that will leave Carimi on the board for New England later in the first round.

Danny Watkins, 6-3, 310

OG, OL, C, Baylor

The Skinny:One of the most intriguing prospects in the draft, the 26-year-old (he'll turn 27 during his rookie year) didn't play football until junior college when he was enrolled in firefighting school at Butte (Calif.) College. Went on to start 25 games after he got to Baylor and impressed as a strong, nasty, humble, mature mauler. Stephen Neal's gone? Really, who better to pick up where he left off? And the nice thing? He's played two years at left tackle but can also play either guard spot or center.

Nate Solder, 6-8, 319OT, Colorado

The Skinny: Massive football player who entered Colorado as a tight end prospect but was transitioned into a left tackle during his redshirt sophomore season. Started at left tackle the next 38 games consecutively. Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki notes that, on 1,400 career pass plays, he allowed five sacks and 21 pressures. The Patriots have visited extensively with Solder, a player described as being very professional, dedicated and coachable. One of the reasons they may have spent significant time with him, though, was to figure if that long frame can put more weight on without sacrificing too much athleticism and to find out if his relatively meager 21 bench press reps were indicative of a guy who will struggle with bull rushes.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

Cam Heyward, 6-5, 294
DE,Ohio State

The Skinny:Son of Ironhead. A four-year starter at high-profile, highly-competitive program. While Cam Jordan is wonderfully versatile, Cam Heyward is near the other end of this deep class of defensive end prospects. He's a run-stopper; a plugger. He doesn't do a ton of different things - little pass rush upside - but what he does, he can do pretty well. He's got a very good reputation as a player, teammate and worker.

Ryan Kerrigan, 6-4, 267DEOLB,Purdue

The Skinny: Havoc-causing defensive end in Purdue's 4-3. Had 32.5 sacks in past three seasons for Boilermakers and tied the NCAA DivisionIrecord for forcedfumbles in a career (14). Kerrigan is probably the player most often ticketed to go to the Patriots in mock drafts this spring. There's a lot of reason for that. He's a football junkie and carries himself with the kind of professional air that says nothing matters more than football. Additionally, he's terrifically productive in a high-profile program and has played well against top Big Ten competition. It's not clear yet how well he'll operate in a 3-4 alignment. Whether or not he can drop into coverage on first and second down is the main question. But when the Patriots go 4-3 in passing situations, he's a beast on the edge going forward. Meanwhile, I keep reading about his lack of explosivenessand athleticism in scouting reports. I'm not getting it. Seems more than athletic and explosive than people give him credit for.

J.J. Watt, 6-5, 290 DE, Wisconsin

The Skinny:The buzz for this kid istremendous. Mike Mayock, the highly-respected NFL Network draft analyst and aman whose opinion Bill Belichick values, thinks Watt is one of the best"5-technique" defensive ends to come along in a while. (5-technique meanshe lines up on the outside shoulder of the left tackle; 0-technique means aplayer is head-up over the center). Put together an amazing show at the NFLCombine where his measurables in short quickness drills were equal to somerunning backs. He is a 3-4 defensive end, though, not an edge rusher. ThinkRichard Seymour. Same spot, not as outstanding though.

Cam Jordan, 6-4, 287DL, California
The Skinny: Possibly the most versatile of all the 3-4 defensive end prospects, Jordan is a smart, engaging, unique player whose dad Steve was a six-time Pro Bowl tight end for the Minnesota Vikings. He and Wisconsin's J.J. Watt are seen most often as the best fits for the Patriots' most pressing need - a suitable replacement for Richard Seymour. Bill Belichick has spoken of how rare it is to find the guy who's 6-5, 270 and runs 4.7. Here's one that's 6-4, 290 that can do that. And he's smart as hell.

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

Former Patriots defensive end Chris Long is donating his salary

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Former Patriots defensive end Chris Long is donating his salary

PHILADELPHIA - Chris Long is donating the rest of his year's salary to increase educational equality.

The Philadelphia Eagles' defensive end already gave up his first six game checks to provide two scholarships for students in Charlottesville, Virginia. Now, he's using the next 10 to launch the Pledge 10 for Tomorrow campaign.

"My wife and I have been passionate about education being a gateway for upward mobility and equality," Long told The Associated Press. "I think we can all agree that equity in education can help affect change that we all want to see in this country."

Long signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Eagles, including a $500,000 signing bonus and $1.5 million guaranteed. His base salary in 2017 is $1 million.

The charitable initiative encourages people to make donations to improve equal education opportunities. Long began his career in St. Louis in 2008 and played for the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots last season. Long's foundation has selected four organizations whose missions focus on making education easily accessible to underserved youth while also providing students the support they need to develop strong social and emotional character.

The four organizations are based in the three communities in which Long has played during his NFL career. The city that raises the most money during the season will receive an additional $50,000 donation.

"There's a lot of opportunities to help out and they're wonderful organizations," Long said. "We have such a great platform as football players and hopefully fans get behind it."

Long grew up in Charlottesville and starred in high school at St. Anne's-Belfield before going to the University of Virginia. He was moved to start the scholarship program following the violent protests in Charlottesville in August.

"Our hometown is a wonderful place and I feel like people got the wrong idea about what the residents of Charlottesville are all about," he said.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Gronkowski advises Hayward to treat rehab like anything else -- dominate

Gronkowski advises Hayward to treat rehab like anything else -- dominate

FOXBORO -- Rob Gronkowski's never suffered a break like the one Gordon Hayward did on Tuesday night, but he has been through enough to know what lies ahead as the Celtics forward stares at a lengthy recovery period.

"I saw it. I mean, I wish him nothing but wellness," Gronkowski said on Wednesday. "Hopefully he heals ASAP. You never want to see that with a player in any sport. When my friend showed me that last night, you get that feeling in your body, like, your heart drops. I wish him well.

"I can't wait to see him back. I know he's going to bounce back. Being here in Boston, he's going to be a hard worker it feels like. I can't wait to see him back."

MORE: 

Multiple back surgeries, a plate in his arm, a surgically-repaired ACL . . . Gronkowski has put in his share of rehabilitation work. Asked if he'd give Hayward any advice as he embarks on his road back to normalcy, Gronkowski's message was simple.

"Just go into rehab just like you go into anything else. Dominate it," Gronkowski said. "Come back when you feel ready. Come back when you're 100 percent . . . He wouldn't be where he is now if he wasn't a hard worker. I don't know the guy. Never met him. But it's not something you want to see as an athlete happen to anyone else."

Gronkowski acknowledged that in his experience, one of the biggest hurdles following an injury like that is the mental one. You quickly go from being a powerful athlete to a patient in need of help with even the smallest of tasks. 

"There is a big mental challenge, definitely, with that," Gronkowski explained. "It's not just not being able to be with your teammates and all that. It's outside of football, too. Because it takes away your whole life, going out like that . . . You can't do anything. You can't walk. You gotta have people do [things for you]. You get really frustrated. You just want the people around you to help you out and keep you in the best mindset throughout the whole process."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE