Devin McCourty

Ranking the Patriots' first-round picks under Bill Belichick

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Ranking the Patriots' first-round picks under Bill Belichick

Here's a ranking of the 15 players Bill Belichick has drafted in the first round for the Patriots. You can find the gallery by CLICKING HERE.


Curran: Ranking the Patriots imports so far

Curran: Ranking the Patriots imports so far

Did you know today (Tuesday) is the International Day of Happiness?

Cheese, willow trees, pool basketball in the pool, a newly-mowed-lawn and briefly turning off my headlights while driving down a dark, narrow street to scare my passengers. Those are things that make me happy.

It’s good timing.

The first few days of NFL free agency (and the legalized flirting that preceded it) created a level of unhappiness in New England because of all the exports.

All made stupid money that the Patriots really couldn’t ante up, but the contributions of Nate Solder, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola and Malcolm Butler were such that a shrug and “What are ya gonna do...?” would have been an insufficient response.

So there was flipping out.

But in honor of IDOH, let’s look at imports and rank them in order of projected usefulness. It’s a happy exercise because there’s upside to each of the six signings.


A league source told me this is a Patriots 1.0 type of signing – one of those high-character players who has a well-defined strength as an edge-setter/pass-rusher. When the Patriots brought in James Harrison at the end of the 2017 season, that was their acknowledgment they didn’t have a complementary edge player opposite Trey Flowers. Clayborn’s a decade younger than Harrison, has been durable and – at 6-3, 280 – has plenty of size to bow up when attacked on the ground. The team never sufficiently replaced Rob Ninkovich and Chris Long last year (their planned move of Dont'a Hightower to the edge went kaput when he had to move back to linebacker and then got hurt). Clayborn should help do that.


McCourty was having one of the best seasons of a good career in Cleveland before an ankle injury in practice knocked him out of action last October. So, it stands to reason that there’s plenty left in the tank for Devin McCourty’s twin brother as he joins the Patriots on a very manageable deal ($3 million). He’s a free agent at the end of the year. The Super Bowl was an embarrassment for the Patriots defense. For reasons still unexplained, the team couldn’t risk putting a former Pro Bowl corner who’d played 98 percent of his team’s snaps all year on the field. And the resulting Malcolm Butler Shuffle which put Patrick Chung out of position and Jordan Richards and Jonathan Bademosi on the field cost the team a title. It boils down to Bill Belichick not believing he could count on Butler. Whatever. Jason McCourty’s an Eagle Scout, he’s never played in a playoff game and he’s happy to be in New England. He could be equal to or better than Eric Rowe and his presence – along with Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones – gives the team nice corner depth.  


This is like the McCourty deal in a way. Just as the Patriots' patience ran out with Butler, so too did it run out with Alan Branch. And vice versa, it seemed to me. The offbeat Branch was an incredibly impactful and valuable defensive tackle for the Patriots. Belichick gushed about how Branch was far-and-away their most impactful defensive lineman in 2016. And by 2017 he was a healthy scratch several times and was in street clothes for the Super Bowl while LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi ran wild. Shelton is a decade younger and while he’s smaller than the 6-6, 350-pound Branch (Shelton’s “just” 6-2, 335), he also isn’t world/NFL-weary in the same way Branch seemed to be. As the 12th overall pick in 2015, Shelton didn’t make the impact expected there. We’ve heard scheme and the Browns’ general suckitude as being the reason, but some of it has to come back to Shelton too who – Cleveland writers told me – has a tendency to lose technique in games and wear down. Huge upside potential at a position of need.


Kick returners have diminishing importance in the NFL thanks to the rule changes of the past few years but they aren’t extinct yet. And Patterson is among the most explosive in the league. Dion Lewis had a 103-yard kickoff return last year. He averaged 21.1 on his other 22 returns. Patterson averaged 26.3. He can also cover punts which the Patriots will need if they intend to let Matt Slater go. His presence on offense will command attention as a gadget guy (jet sweeps, jailbreak screens) and downfield decoy. He also has had some ballhandling issues so that’s worth watching as well. Here's Phil Perry on what the Patriots are getting in Patterson. 


Tobin was a walk-on at the University of Iowa. He was an undrafted free agent that made the Eagles in 2013. I mention this as proof the guy – who has now spent five seasons in the NFL – has a penchant for doing more than anticipated. The 6-foot-6 Tobin isn’t going to replace Nate Solder. I don’t think the Patriots are pretending that he can. But with Solder gone and Cam Fleming/La’Adrian Waddle both still free agents, the Patriots need reinforcements not just at starter but as depth. Tobin will serve as that. Greg Bedard at the Boston Sports Journal (subscription required) went deep on Tobin. In short, Matt Tobin draws a shrug from me.


Poor Jeremy Hill. The fumble Pittsburgh’s Ryan Shazier forced Hill to commit in the 2016 AFC Divisional Playoffs led to impossibly anguished wailing from Hill and a satisfyingly painful loss for Hill’s detestable Bengals. It also allowed the Patriots to defeat the just-as-loathsome Steelers in the AFC Championship a week later. None of that has anything to do with what Hill may bring to the Patriots. But the fumble perhaps led to the drafting of Joe Mixon last April which led to Hill realizing his Cincy days were numbered and may have led to his deciding to have ankle surgery which Marvin Lewis strongly disagreed with Hill having. Hill, 25, comes to the Patriots as a goal-line, short-yardage threat who scored 29 touchdowns in 46 games for Cincy before last year’s abbreviated, low-impact season. He’ll either be better than Mike Gillislee or worse and the guy who loses that showdown probably gets released. 




Can Jason McCourty help replenish Patriots leadership lost via free agency?

Can Jason McCourty help replenish Patriots leadership lost via free agency?

With all the departures the Patriots have seen this offseason, it's worth wondering how the tenor of the Patriots locker room will be impacted. 

Respected players from a variety of position groups -- Nate Solder, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis -- have all headed elsewhere, and there could be more change on the horizon. Seven-time captain and one of the voices of the locker room Matthew Slater recently paid a visit to the Steelers. 

How do the Patriots replenish that outflow? They have their share of leaders still under contract, but trading for a player like Jason McCourty could help. 

Going into his 10th season, McCourty has established himself as a respected veteran who players looked to both in Tennessee and during his one year in Cleveland. He could naturally slide into somewhat of a leadership role, especially since his new teammates know his reputation after having played with his twin. Jason said in a conference call on Tuesday, though, he's not focused on leading at this point. 

"I think right now for myself I'm not going to go in with any expectations in regard to that," he said. "Get there, get accustomed to the guys in the locker room, not go in there and say 'I'm a 10-year vet, I've been a leader here, let me lead you guys.' But just go in and be myself and get to know them and figure out what my niche is and where I"m gonna fit in on the team. I'm just trying to go in there open-minded, ready to work, and just do whatever it is to help the team succeed."

One thing that should allow McCourty to find his niche relatively quickly is that he's already familiar with the Patriots defense. Though it will be a new system for him, he has watched the Patriots closely enough, and he talks enough with his brother that he understands what will be headed his way.

"I don't think it will take long," he said. "From an experience standpoint, I've only been able to play for two teams throughout my nine-year career, but I've been able to have a good amount of defensive coordinators. I think when you do that, you're forced to adjust, you get used to the different terminology, different systems. You start to combine them all and make sense of things.

"Obviously having Dev, we talk about different things throughout the course of the season. How to approach one game plan versus the next. Then it's just a team I've watched extremely closely. I think the one cool thing for me was when I got to Cleveland last year, it was a younger team and I didn't know a lot of the guys when I walked into the locker room. But just over the years, following my brother and the team, I walk into this locker room having a really good idea of a bunch of guys on the roster. That I think will help for an easier transition. Just over the years of going down to Super Bowls, coming to visit him at different points in the season, I've had a chance to meet a lot of the guys."

McCourty will have an opportunity to help fill the void left by Butler in the Patriots cornerback room. While Stephon Gilmore will slot in as the team's No. 1 corner, McCourty and Eric Rowe could compete for the starting job on the opposite boundary. McCourty is coming off of one of his best seasons with three picks (including one that was returned for a touchdown), 14 pass breakups and two forced fumbles for the Browns. 

Though he and Devin are identical twins (Devin is 27 minutes older), their skill sets differ. Devin told Boston Sports Tonight that he was the better and more physical player . . . a claim to which Jason responded Tuesday. 

"For some reason, he thinks he's more physical than me so I kind of let him have that one," Jason said. "I'm definitely faster than him. And I think some of our skill sets have kind of adjusted to the roles within our teams have been. For him with that switch from corner to safety, he's had to become more physical coming down in the box some or coming up and making tackles. For me, it's the quickness aspect getting in and out of breaks, being able to stay at the line of scrimmage and being able to chase some of the dynamic receivers that we have. So I think those are probably the biggest differences. I would agree with him there. 

"And we can have a debate on who gives the better pregame speeches. He already told me, don't come in there thinking that I'm gonna take over the pregame speeches. That's his thing. I may just have to sneak in there for a game or two."

Even if Jason isn't providing pregame speeches, it'll be interesting to watch how, if at all, he leads.

It's rare, but not unheard of, for a player to come in and make an impact on the locker room in his first year with the team. Chris Long comes to mind as an example of a veteran player who entered the building in 2016 with an established reputation who younger players looked up to. It'd come as no surprise if McCourty were to have a similar impact in 2018.