Patriots

Barner may prove to be Patriots' most important Tuesday signing

Barner may prove to be Patriots' most important Tuesday signing

Plenty of air was expelled discussing the Patriots signing of Corey Coleman on Tuesday. Maybe the 15th pick in the 2016 draft latches on fast and never looks back; maybe he’ll be gone by Saturday. It’s a dice roll.

The more certain and impactful transaction the team made Tuesday was signing running back Kenjon Barner.

With Jeremy Hill lost for the season thanks to a torn ACL, the Patriots needed another back. Barner is 5-foot-9, 190; Hill is 6-2, 225. There’s a style difference there and Barner isn’t going to replace the between-the-tackles potency that Hill brought.

But he can return punts. And the Patriots are desperately seeking someone to do that. Barner’s career has taken him from Carolina (a sixth-round pick out of Oregon in 2013) to Philadelphia to the Chargers back to Philadelphia last year where he replaced Darren Sproles as the Eagles return man then back to Carolina, which released him at the end of August.

Barner finished the 2017 regular season with 57 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown, 56 receiving yards, 10 kick returns for 194 net yards, and 27 punt returns for 240 net yards. He’s more than just a fielder of punts (here’s a 76-yarder against the Cardinals) . . . 

. . . and he’s got good awareness on special teams (here he is literally dragging a fallen teammate away from a bouncing punt to guard against a turnover) . . .

The cynical but predictable response to this is: “If he’s so good, why’s he out of work?”

The answer? Because he’s a short, 27-year-old changeup back with good receiving skills and special teams skills. He’s not electrifying. Just steady. The demand for that is soft.

But steady is what the Patriots need. Sticking Riley McCarron back to return punts in the opener was asking for it. He never looked steady in training camp or the preseason and the Patriots paid for it as McCarron fair-caught one punt at the 6 and -- even worse -- muffed a punt that led to a fourth-quarter Texans touchdown.

There’s an argument that the team should have kept Cyrus Jones solely to return punts. At least he looked like he looked like he knew what he was doing. But Jones’ five fumbles in 2016 left scarring that never healed.  

Barner has a chance to make plays and open eyes here the way he did in Philadelphia. 

Zac Robinson the third former Patriots QB to earn NFL coaching job

Zac Robinson the third former Patriots QB to earn NFL coaching job

The Bill Belichick coaching tree is still one of the biggest in pro football. However, another underrated tree is growing in New England, and that stems from the quarterbacks that have backed up Tom Brady.

Brady, long one of the NFL's best, has had plenty of QBs play behind him in his career. Recently, a few of these former depth players have landed notable coaching jobs. Zac Robinson's hiring by the Rams marked the third former Pats QB draft pick that got a significant NFL promotion, as Pro Football Weekly's Eric Edholm points out.

Robinson was a former seventh-round pick by the Patriots in 2010. He didn't end up making the team, but he hung around the NFL as a practice-squad guy on the Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions, and Cincinnati Bengals for a few seasons.

Kevin O'Connell was a third-round pick by the Patriots in 2008. He spent just a single season on the team and had brief stints with four other NFL teams. O'Connell was promoted by the Washington Redskins and will serve as their offensive coordinator. 

Kliff Kingsbury also spent a single season on the Patriots after being a sixth-round pick in 2003. He has been in coaching since 2008 and recently took over as the Arizona Cardinals' head coach.

It's unlikely all of this is just coincidence. The Patriots may have specifically been targeting  QBs with bright offensive minds and good leadership skills. Or, the teams hiring these former players could have been intrigued by their experience in New England's successful system. Either way, it's interesting to see three former Patriots- and Brady-connected QBs get promoted to significant positions in one offseason.

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Here are all the picks the Patriots have in the 2019 NFL draft

Here are all the picks the Patriots have in the 2019 NFL draft

The 2019 NFL Draft is drawing nearer and nearer. Scheduled to take place from April 25-27 in Nashville, NFL teams are starting to get geared up for draft season. With compensatory picks now distributed, there is more known about which teams are in a position to control the draft. And one of them could be the Patriots.  

The Patriots were awarded four compensatory selections on Friday. These picks were awarded due to the losses of free agents Malcolm Butler (Titans), Nate Solder (Giants), Danny Amendola (Dolphins), and Cameron Fleming (Cowboys) last offseason. It increased their impressive draft haul from eight potential picks to 12 and, even more impressively, they were able to land two third-round picks, giving them six picks in the top 101.

With those picks now in tow, here's a look at the Pats' 2019 full list of choices: 

First round: 32nd overall – original
Second: 56th overall – via Chicago
Second: 64th overall – original
Third: 73rd overall – via Detroit
Third: 97th overall - Solder compensatory
Third: 101st overall - Butler compensatory
Fourth: 134th overall - original
Sixth: 205th overall - Amendola compensatory
Seventh: 239th overall - via Philadelphia
Seventh: 243rd overall - via Cleveland
Seventh: 246th overall - original
Seventh: 252nd overall - Fleming compensatory

The Patriots have a lot of options with these 12 picks, but Phil Perry's latest seven-round mock has the team targeting offense early and often with their selections.

Of course, it is notable that all these picks are highly unlikely to remain with the Patriots. The team did make eight draft-day trades last year, and that's how they acquired some of these extra picks. Bill Belichick will have the power needed to move up and down the board as he pleases, so trades seem bound to happen again this year.

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