Patriots

NFL scout on Garoppolo: 'Bill thinks he's got the next great one'

NFL scout on Garoppolo: 'Bill thinks he's got the next great one'

Covering the NFL for almost 20 years allows you to make relationships with a bunch of people. So I thought I'd tap into some of those people as we gear up for New England Patriots training camp for a series of pieces about topics we've been kicking around.

OTHER TOPICS

The panel consists of one former Pats player still in the game, two scouts of AFC teams, one front-office member in the AFC, and one NFC scout. They all requested anonymity for obvious reasons (as the player said, "hey, I might want to end up back there!") I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I had talking to these guys.

Today's topic: Why is Jimmy Garoppolo still here?

Scout 1 (AFC) -- "He's Bill Belichick. He doesn't give a [damn] about what you, or me or anyone else thinks. I know teams called about Garoppolo. I don't believe they were ever given a realistic price. Why? To me, the answer is simple: Bill thinks he's got the next great one. I watched his snaps. I think he can be that. [Garoppolo] has a great base, and his mechanics are close enough to [Brady] that you appreciate his willingness to learn and the coaching he's gotten there."

Scout 2 (AFC) -- "I absolutely loved the kid coming out of college. When we interviewed him, [it was obvious] he's got those qualities you want in a QB, as a leader. I begged our guys to take him at the end of the first round. That's how good I thought he was then. He's a hell of a lot better now. The job Bill and [offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels] have done with him, the work he clearly has put in, wrap all that up and it makes all the sense in the world to keep him. They can win with him. That's all you need to know -- in my opinion -- as to why they kept him. The moment that Brady guy starts to show cracks, the next guy is in already there, already knows the locker room, the system, the environment. I think it's genius."

Former Pats player -- "I played against him every day in practice. He's all that." Why? "He can make all the throws. He can process all the information. He is a gamer. He can slow it down. He can spin it. I'm going tell you this, if he had gotten traded to Cleveland, they're a borderline playoff team. I really believe that."

Scout 3 (NFC) -- "I know teams called and got nowhere. Easy conclusion is they see Garoppolo as the next QB. But I think it could be as simple as the value there. He's the player one snap away. Weigh that against the third guy (Jacoby Brissett) or some vet and maybe it was just too wide a gap to risk it. Keep him. See how the year plays out and then decide, do we want to franchise him? Ink him to some kind of bridge deal? Or let him go off into free agency?"

Front Office (AFC) -- "Bill knows something we don't. That's the way I read it. Whether it's Brady's future, or what they didn't see in Brissett, or something about the makeup of Garoppolo, he just couldn't part company with him. I can't say as I blame him. Finding one good QB in this league is hard enough. Two? Maybe only a handful of teams in the league can say they have that. Plus, with Bill, he's not worried about coaching for his job. He can think big picture -- two, three, four years down the line. That's not something too many other coaches/front offices in this environment get. He can afford to pass on a handful of draft picks to keep a player he really likes."

Look for more articles like this in the future on a wide array of topics.

Patriots QB Tom Brady is highest-ranked NFL player on ESPN's 'World Fame 100' list

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USA TODAY Sports

Patriots QB Tom Brady is highest-ranked NFL player on ESPN's 'World Fame 100' list

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is among the most recognizable and popular athletes in sports, but where does he rank when compared to other famous athletes?

ESPN's recently unveiled its 2019 "World Fame 100" ranking that uses social media followers, endorsement dollars and search score to compile a list of the world's most popular athletes.

Brady is the highest ranked NFL player on the list at No. 31, good for a seven-spot increase from 2018.

You might be a bit surprised that a legendary player like Brady, who just won his sixth Super Bowl championship last month, wouldn't even crack the top 25. One thing holding him back is the popularity of football outside of the United States. The sport doesn't have the same global appeal as basketball or soccer do.

One area Brady doesn't rank among the highest is social media following. He doesn't have an official Twitter account, just Instagram and Facebook pages. Many athletes have verified Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Just four of the 30 athletes ranked ahead of Brady have a smaller social media following.

The No. 1 ranked athlete on the list is Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. Soccer players make up five of the top 15 spots.

Other Boston athletes joining Brady on ESPN's list include his Patriots teammate Rob Gronkowski (No. 97) and Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving (No. 47).

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Names to know: Slot receiver options for Patriots if they wait for 2019 NFL draft

Names to know: Slot receiver options for Patriots if they wait for 2019 NFL draft

There's still time for the Patriots to sign a free-agent wideout. There's still time for them to acquire a pass-catcher via trade.

But what if they decide the best way to continue to build depth at the position around Julian Edelman is to dip into the draft?

The Patriots have of course had their share of cracks at rookie receivers, using 16 picks to take wideouts with Bill Belichick at the helm. Most recently, they've used draft choices on Braxton Berrios (sixth round, 2018), Malcolm Mitchell (fourth round, 2016), Devin Lucien (seventh round, 2016), Jeremy Gallon (seventh round, 2014), Aaron Dobson (second round, 2013) and Josh Boyce (fourth round, 2013). 

Dobson, Chad Jackson (2006), Bethel Johnson (2003) and Deion Branch (2002) are the second-round choices Belichick has been willing to spend at the position. The Patriots haven't taken a receiver in the first round since Terry Glenn in 1996. 

Is the situation at that spot such that Belichick would be willing to use the No. 32 pick in this year's draft on a receiver? If he wants to wait until the second round -- where the Patriots have picks No. 56 and No. 64 -- who may be there waiting for the call? 

WHAT ABOUT FREE AGENCY?

Here are a few of the names worth keeping an eye on come next month, as the Patriots have expressed interest in free-agent wideouts since the new league began but have not been able to land a dependable starting-caliber player in that time. With this list, we'll focus in on players who could potentially contribute inside since it appears that's something for which the Patriots -- given their interest in Adam Humphries and Golden Tate -- are looking.

DAY 1 OPTIONS

AJ Brown, Ole Miss 
Brown, according to some experts, could be in the mix as the top receiver taken in this year's class. But if it's his teammate DK Metcalf who goes first, and if true "X" options like N'Keal Harry go early, Brown could end up sliding. At 6-feet, 226 pounds, he'd certainly qualify as a big slot, but he can uncover with his size as well as his route-running. He's not afraid to mix it up as a blocker, which the Patriots would appreciate, and he's aggressive enough to run through contact with the ball in his hands. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein compares him to JuJu Smith-Schuster. 

Parris Campbell, Ohio State 
Campbell isn't thought of as a first-round receiver by most, but his athletic traits could attract someone near the end of Day 1. He lit up the combine at 6-feet, 205 pounds, running a 4.31-second 40 (96th percentile among receivers, according to MockDraftable.com), jumping 135 inches in the broad jump (98th percentile) and clocking a 4.03-second 20-yard shuttle (90th percentile). He may project more as a "Z" than a true slot since he's shown an ability to burn off the corner as a jet-sweep specialist. He's also a threat in the screen game, where he can use his speed to slice through defenses. He may not be the draft's most polished route-runner, but he has physical gifts that can't be taught. On special teams, he could fill a role for the Patriots both as their kick and punt returner. 

Deebo Samuel, South Carolina 
Samuel is another inside receiver who's built to withstand the punishment pass-catchers absorb over the middle of the field (5-11, 214 pounds) but has the athleticism (4.48-second 40) to break games open. He's an explosive returner (four kicks brought back for touchdowns) and has produced against some of the best competition college football has to offer. He put up 10 catches for 210 yards and three scores against Clemson last season. 

DAY 2 OPTIONS

Mecole Hardman, Georgia 
The Patriots love to draft Bulldogs, and there are a couple of receivers from Georgia in this year's class who may catch their eye. Riley Ridley is more of an outside threat who'll use his body to shield defenders and pluck passes out of the air with dependable hands. Hardman, meanwhile, is an undersized burner. The 5-10, 187-pounder ran a 4.33-second 40 at the combine and has drawn comparisons to Seattle's Tyler Lockett (51 percent of snaps in the slot for the Seahawks in 2018). Hardman has only spent two seasons as a receiver so he won't be a short-to-intermediate route-running whiz. But maybe with some coaching, and if he gets a good reference from coach Kirby Smart, he'll provide the Patriots with an explosive presence from the slot. He might be available to the Patriots in the third round if they wait to pounce at the position.

Andy Isabella, UMass 
We dove deep into Isabella's skill set here, but he's worth mentioning again as a potential option. The fact that he was a down-the-field player at UMass (4.31-second 40) who's projected as a slot -- he's admitted he's working on interior routes leading up to the draft -- means he could have some versatility within offensive formations. That's something the Patriots typically like to see. Isabella could be dangerous as an end-around option, and he has solid short-area quickness (4.15-second 20-yard shuttle) to redirect in the middle of the field for Tom Brady.

WHAT ABOUT A TRADE?

Terry McClaurin, Ohio State
The Patriots haven't plucked players from the Urban Meyer tree in some time, but McClaurin would make sense as the next. He profiles as one of the best all-around athletes in the class at the position (4.35-second 40, 37.5-inch vertical), and his top MockDraftable.com comparisons include Chad Jackson, Bethel Johnson and Cordarrelle Patterson. McLaurin got some experience working in the slot at Ohio State and showed reliable hands. He's also a potential core special-teamer who has the size, speed and competitiveness to excel on fourth down.

DAY 3 OPTIONS

Greg Dortch, Wake Forest
At 5-foot-7, 173 pounds, Dortch isn't going to give the Patriots some of the inside-out versatility that they like. He worked out of the slot almost exclusively at Wake Forest. And his frame won't make him an imposing player in the run game as a blocker. But he's tough. He suffered a punctured small intestine while scoring against Louisville, stayed in the game, scored twice more, and then later that day had to be rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. He returned two punts for scores last year and averaged 11.0 yards per return with one muff.

Hunter Renfrow, Clemson
Renfrow has been projected as a Patriots fit since he was working the short-to-intermediate area for Clemson in the College Football Playoffs years ago. Surprise, surprise: He tested as a quick change-of-direction target at the combine (6.8-second three-cone, 4.19-second 20-yard shuttle) who could be the next Danny Amendola as a slightly-built slot. If the Patriots want to wait until Day 3 to nab a slot option with experience performing under pressure, Renfrow could be their guy.

Cody Thompson, Toledo 
We had Thompson going off to the Patriots in a seven-round mock draft earlier this offseason. Here's what we said at the time: "Quarterback-turned-receiver. MAC product. Possesses special teams value. Seventh-round pick. Sound familiar? Thompson isn't going to be the next Julian Edelman, but he does have some intriguing qualities to work with. Because he doesn't have breakaway speed (4.57 40), he might be a slot receiver even though his frame (6-1, 205) makes him look like an "X." Furthering his case for the slot would be his agility numbers -- 6.87 three-cone, 4.03 short shuttle -- and his willingness to block. Thompson has experience as a returner and has blocked three punts in his college career, meaning there might be a spot for him on the roster even if he doesn't contribute offensively."

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