Patriots

Report: Patriots special teams ace Slater visiting Steelers

Report: Patriots special teams ace Slater visiting Steelers

Patriots seven-time Pro Bowl special teamer Matthew Slater is in Pittsburgh on Saturday making a free-agent visit to the rival Steelers, according to an ESPN's Field Yates.

Slater, who turns 33 in September, has spent the past 10 seasons in a New England. The special teams captain and one of the leaders in the locker room signed a one-year, $1.8 million contract extension in 2016.

The Patriots lost special teamer Johnson Bademosi to the Texans in free agency on Friday but signed special teamers Brandon Bolden and Brandon King just before the free agency period began.

More to come...
 

Pats' first four picks: Giardi's predictions, Perry's reactions

Pats' first four picks: Giardi's predictions, Perry's reactions

The Patriots have four picks in the first and second rounds of the NFL Draft, and there's all sorts of speculation as to who they'll take. Mike Giardi takes a shot at choosing who they'll take, and Phil Perry reacts to Mike's selections.

TURNING THE TABLES: Perry selects, Giardi reacts

FIRST ROUND, 23RD OVERALL SELECTION

MIKE SAYS PATS WILL PICK: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama. This is too high for Evans, but aside from Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmonds no one is better equipped to get meaningful snaps right away than Evans. There could be discussion about  the Patriots moving backwards, but in the end it's not worth another team leapfrogging them and nabbing our man. First things first: Evans is a playmaker. He led Alabama in tackles for loss and also recorded a half-dozen sacks. That was an area the Pats had a problem with last year and I can envision having Hightower and Evans playing a two-man game over the 'A' gap or having one come off the strong side and the other off the weak. It's also easy to be enamored with his speed. He’s the type of sideline-to-sideline linebacker they don’t have on the roster. He’s wise enough to slide off the big bodies in front of him and has terrific feet for that position. They allow him to correct the occasional mistake diagnosing plays. Let’s not pretend Evans won’t bring the thunder, either. He can run through a fullback or guard if he has to. This is a tough dude who improved this past season. He’ll get even better in Foxboro.

WHAT PHIL THINKS ABOUT THE PICK: I think Evans would provide better value if the Patriots could get him at No. 31 or even No. 43, but I can't argue with the talent. He's fun to watch. If you like your linebackers to play violently, with reckless abandon, Evans is for you. He'll provide Bill Belichick with an immediate upgrade off the line of scrimmage, and he can get after the quarterback on third downs -- either from the A-gaps or off the edge. My concerns? He doesn't have a tremendous amount of experience in coverage. I think he's athletic enough to cover, but there's a level of the unknown there. He's not a ready-made field general in terms of helping players get aligned, I've been told. And I wonder about his durability. He's undersized for the role he projects to (at 230 pounds, he's about 40 pounds lighter than off-the-line/on-the-line prototype Dont'a Hightower), and he's dealt with injuries (which seem to have impacted his athletic testing numbers, which were unimpressive). But if he's cleared, and if he takes to the coaching he'll get at the next level, he could be a tone-setting staple in the middle of Belichick's defense for years. I like this pick. Don't love it. Like it.

FIRST ROUND, 38TH OVERALL SELECTION

(Mike has the Pats trading down.)

MIKE SAYS PATS WILL PICK: Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State. I’ve heard the criticism that he isn’t a great blocker. Newsflash: The ones that are usually can’t catch worth a damn. In fact, the Patriots have one on the team right now (hello, Dwayne Allen). Gesicki is a tremendous athlete, better than the one they're currently having so much trouble with (Gronk). No, he’s not as big and as good of a blocker, but this could be an instant mismatch for us -- too big for safeties (6-foot-5, 247 pounds) and too fast for linebackers (4.54 40 yard dash). Think Jimmy Graham, right down that 41.5 inch vertical leap. They've been desperately seeking a move tight end. He’ll adapt and make Tommy Boy a happy man. Gesicki isn’t some pretty boy, either. He will run down the seam knowing you’re trying to separate the ball from his body and still make the catch. He has an uncanny ability to separate for such a big man and is a very good route runner. Once the ball is in the air, he’ll go get it. 

WHAT PHIL THINKS ABOUT THE PICK: I understand why you're enamored with Gesicki, Mike. I do. His athleticism is off the charts. Almost literally. Off . . . the . . . charts. He can run by linebackers and out-jump corners and safeties. He's the ultimate 50-50 weapon. And when the Patriots have spent top-tier picks at this position in the past, they've gone after athletes. Rob Gronkowski obviously comes to mind. Ditto for Ben Watson. My concern about Gesicki is that I don't know exactly how he'll fit in the Patriots offense. He just looks like a big receiver to me. He's not a true "Y" tight end. And I don't see the suddenness that would allow him to fit a "move" Aaron Hernandez role, either. I'd personally rather draft Dallas Goedert, a good-but-maybe-not-great athlete with very good hands and the size to block in-line, if he's available. I don't hate Gesicki. And I think the Patriots would find a way to use his athleticism. He's just not my favorite tight end in this class for the Patriots, and if I was running their front office, I'd let another team call his name before I'm willing to.

SECOND ROUND, 43RD OVERALL SELECTION

MIKE SAYS PATS WILL PICK: Brian O'Neill, OT, Pitt. The Patriots have been blessed to have just a pair of left tackles for this unprecedented run of success starting back in 2001 -- Matt Light and Nate Solder. O’Neill is nearly a mirror of Solder. Long, athletic and a former tight end and right tackle, he’s just scratching the surface of what could be a career filled with Pro Bowls.  O’Neill started all 12 games at left tackle for the Panthers and was first-team all-ACC a year after being a second-teamer from the right side. His 6-foot-7 frame will easily pack on another 15 pounds of muscle and with that arm length (34 1/8 inches), once he gets his 9 3/8-inch mitts into you, say goodnight. He understands balance and with those feet can beat defenders to the spot. Yes, there are concerns about technique and it wasn’t a great Senior Bowl week for him, but offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia will turn O’Neill into a monster in no time. Raise your eyebrow now, but you may be thankful later.

WHAT PHIL THINKS ABOUT THE PICK: This feels a little rich to me, Michael! I know. I know. The Patriots need a tackle. But, in my opinion, they need a tackle who can play right now. Or at least help out in 2018 if Marcus Cannon or LaAdrian Waddle get injured. O'Neill isn't that guy. At least I don't think he is. He's still relatively new to the position, a little light, and reports out of the Senior Bowl on him weren't good. I'd prefer making this pick over, say, Kolton Miller in the first. So I'm with you there. Miller is another developmental prospect. But taking a project tackle at this point in the draft -- when a playmaker at receiver, safety or corner might be available -- would feel like a reach to me. For this draft, if I'm the Patriots, I'm either taking a pro-ready guy (Mike McGlinchey, Connor Williams), or I'm taking a pass. Antonio Garcia and Cole Croston feel like developmental tackles already destined to make the roster. Adding a third, to me, is redundant.

SECOND ROUND, 63RD OVERALL SELECTION

MIKE SAYS PATS WILL PICK: Duke Ejiofor, DE, Wake Forest.  The Patriots believe in rolling the dice in the second round and this is one of those occasions. Ejiofor came to the game late but he’s a student of it, knows who he is and what he can do and who he can do it to. He’s a perfect fit with the young collection of edge players the Patriots have on defense -- Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise Jr. and Adam Butler. Can’t wait to see Trey take Eliofor under his wing and help him blossom. What you’ll notice almost immediately are those long arms and his strong hands. Ejiofor gets into a tackle and can jolt much bigger men. He senses the change in balance and uses a sound collection of moves to disengage and find his way to the QB. He’s also shown an ability to slide inside as a pass rusher as well and is capable fo creating mismatches against opposing guards or centers. He’s not an elite athlete and injuries have been a concern but he’s either going to compliment Flowers and company in the years to come or replace Trey if his contract ask becomes too much. 

WHAT PHIL THINKS ABOUT THE PICK: Now we're talking. My favorite pick of the bunch. I've written this before, but to me Ejiofor looks like this year's Trey Flowers. Is that worthy of a late second-rounder? Damn right. Ejiofor may not be twitchy, but he's long, and he knows how to play. So often we look at athletic pass-rushers and tell ourselves, "Boy, if he can just learn a move or two  . . ." That's not the case with Ejiofor. He has heavy hands and he understands how to use them. With Flowers coming to the end of his rookie contract in the near future, it might behoove the Patriots to add another young talent to a room that already includes Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise.

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