Patriots

Camp Battles: Eric Rowe and Jason McCourty fight for starting corner spot opposite Stephon Gilmore

Camp Battles: Eric Rowe and Jason McCourty fight for starting corner spot opposite Stephon Gilmore

Everyone wanted to know why Malcolm Butler didn’t play in the Super Bowl but it wasn’t as if his replacement in the starting lineup, Eric Rowe, played poorly that day. Yes, he got beat by Alshon Jeffrey for a touchdown early in the game but it was a highly competitive play that required a perfectly lofted ball by Nick Foles and a terrific catch by the massive Jeffrey.  Once the Pats wised up and moved Stephon Gilmore opposite Jeffrey, Rowe did a solid job on Torrey Smith. In fact, safe to say Smith wasn’t much of a factor with Rowe in his grill.

The assumption was that once Butler fled in free agency, Rowe would assume the same role he had in the Super Bowl, starting opposite Gilmore. But Bill Belichick wasn’t satisfied with his team standing pat at the position and pulled off a trade for the “other” McCourty, Jason, a player who by all accounts had a better season last year for Cleveland then the erratic Butler did for New England.

While we’re very early in camp, those two players are alternating at right corner and each have had their moments - both good and bad. Consistency has often times eluded Rowe and that will be his big challenge as he tries to emerge as a 16-game starter in this his 4th year in the league. 

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McCourty has long been a stable player but has never played on a winner - he’s never played in a playoff game - and he had an odd spring where the Pats had him dress and watch, surrendering reps to an undradfted player like JC Jackson. Perhaps it was a physical issue. That was sidestepped by McCourty during a couple of interviews then.

As for what corner will assume the role as the slot corner, it appears that race is not only wide open but we haven’t even had a chance to see all the candidates. Both Jon and Cyrus Jones remain on the lower practice field working with players in various states of recovery. 2nd round pick Duke Dawson looked good on day one of camp but had a couple of unpleasant moments on day two. 

    Also, to my recollection, we’ve yet to see the Pats show the dime package. In the nickel (5 defensive backs), Pat Chung has primarily worked in the slot, although based on formations, Devin McCourty has also found himself head up there as well. 

    Jackson had some nice moments Friday and could be in line to be the latest undrafted cornerback find from Nick Caserio and his scouting staff.  We also can’t forget the speedy 7th rounder, Keion Crossen. The Pats have long been matchup defense and have also been week-to-week with some of their players. That’s probably how things will play out this summer and roll right into the fall unless a couple of these players get their chance and make it count consistently.

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    2020 NFL Draft: Scouting the top running backs

    2020 NFL Draft: Scouting the top running backs

    We'll be blunt: This isn't exactly the Golden Age of running backs.

    Only one running back (Josh Jacobs) was a top-50 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, and it's very likely that trend will continue in 2020.

    Teams are more wary than ever of spending premium draft capital at a position with such injury risk, especially with a host of talented wide receivers and tight ends on the 2020 NFL Draft board.

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    And yet: The running back position still is a great place to find value.

    Just ask the Buffalo Bills, whose 2019 third-round selection, Devin Singletary, is now a high-upside starter. Or the New Orleans Saints, who snagged superstar Alvin Kamara in the third round of the 2017 draft.

    • 2020 Draft Rankings: QB

    The New England Patriots have taken a running back in back-to-back drafts -- Sony Michel in 2018 and Damien Harris in 2019 -- to complement James White, Rex Burkhead and Brandon Bolden, so they don't necessarily have a backfield need.

    But have you known Bill Belichick to pass up value? Let's check out the top 10 running back prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft.

    1. D'Andre Swift

    College: Georgia
    Class: Junior
    2019 stats: 196 carries, 1,218 yards, seven touchdowns (24 receptions, 216 yards, one touchdown)

    The latest workhorse back to come out of Georgia, Swift is the most well-rounded runner of the 2020 class. He boasts top-end speed (4.48-second 40-yard dash) and a strong frame (5-foot-9, 215 pounds) but more importantly possesses patience and vision that should help make him a successful three-down back for whatever running back-needy team scoops him up.

    Projected Round: First

    2. Jonathan Taylor

    College: Wisconsin
    Class: Junior
    2019 stats: 320 carries, 2,003 yards, 21 touchdowns (26 receptions, 252 yards, five touchdowns)

    Taylor put up monster numbers at Wisconsin, leading the Big Ten in rushing in three straight years and winning two Doak Walker Awards as the best running back in college football. His heavy workload (926 carries over three seasons) might make some teams wary, but Taylor has the tools to be a starting NFL running back out of the gate.

    Projected Round: First or Second

    3. J.K. Dobbins

    College: Ohio State
    Class: Junior
    2019 stats: 301 carries, 2,003 yards, 21 touchdowns (23 receptions, 247 yards, two touchdowns)

    Dobbins averaged 6.7 yards per carry in 2019 and broke Ohio State's single-season rushing record held by Eddie George with 2,003 yards. He's no George or Ezekiel Elliott, though, and will have to prove those numbers weren't just the byproduct of an explosive Buckeye offense as he tries to compete for a starting NFL job in 2020.

    Projected Round: Second

    4. Clyde Edwards-Helaire

    College: LSU
    Class: Junior
    2019 stats: 215 carries, 1,414 yards, 16 touchdowns (55 receptions, 453 yards, one touchdown)

    What Edwards-Helaire lacks in height (5-foot-8), he makes up for with exceptional balance and explosiveness, as evidenced by his 6.9 yards per touch for the national champion Tigers. His receiving ability (3.7 receptions per game in 2019) also should appeal to a club looking for a boost on offense, although there's a good chance he slips to the third round with so many elite wideouts on the board.

    Projected Round: Second or Third

    5. Cam Akers

    College: Florida State
    Class: Junior
    2019 stats: 231 carries, 1,144 yards, 14 touchdowns (30 receptions, 225 yards, four touchdowns)

    A highly-touted recruit out of high school, Akers broke Dalvin Cook's freshman rushing record in 2017 and put up three seasons of solid production for an otherwise disappointing Seminoles team. Ball security is an issue (10 fumbles in three seasons), but Akers represents solid value in this second tier of backs.

    Projected Round: Second or Third

    6. Zack Moss

    College: Utah
    Class: Senior
    2019 stats: 235 carries, 1,416 yards, 15 touchdowns (28 receptions, 388 yards, two touchdowns)

    The cousin of former NFL wide receivers Santana and Sinorice Moss, Zack Moss is a bruiser whose physical running style could translate well to the NFL. Moss turns 23 in December and his 2018 knee injury is a potential red flag, but he has the potential to be a solid sleeper pick.

    Projected Round: Third

    7. Eno Benjamin

    College: Arizona State
    Class: Junior
    2019 stats: 253 carries, 1,083 yards, 10 touchdowns (42 receptions, 347 yards, two touchdowns)

    Benjamin's production actually dipped last season after a 300-rush, 1,642-yard campaign for the Sun Devils in 2018. The Texas native has top-end elusiveness, though, and could be a serviceable change-of-pace back for an NFL team after averaging 8.3 yards per reception in 2019.

    Projected Round: Fourth

    8. Anthony McFarland

    College: Maryland
    Class: Sophomore
    2019 stats: 114 carries, 614 yards, eight touchdowns (17 receptions, 126 yards, one touchdown)

    McFarland is one of the fastest running backs in the 2020 draft (4.44-second 40-yard dash) but has been dogged by injuries, including a high ankle sprain that limited his production in 2019. If an NFL team is convinced he can get healthy, he's an enticing mid-round flyer.

    Projected Round: Fourth

    9. A.J. Dillon

    College: Boston College
    Class: Junior
    2019 stats: 318 carries, 1,685 yards, 14 touchdowns (13 receptions, 195 yards, one touchdown)

    Boston College's bell-cow back amassed 845 carries over three seasons, boasting impressive athleticism for someone with his 6-foot, 250-pound frame. Dillon doesn't have any standout traits, though, and likely will begin his NFL career as a backup.

    Projected Round: Fourth or Fifth

    10. Ke'Shawn Vaughn

    College: Vanderbilt (via Illinois)
    Class: Senior
    2019 stats: 198 carries, 1,028 yards, nine touchdowns (28 receptions, 270 yards, one touchdown)

    Vaughn's best college season came in 2018, when he averaged 7.9 yards per carry (1,244 yards on 157 attempts) after transferring from Illinois to Vanderbilt. A regression in 2019 impacted his draft stock, but he still should go in the middle rounds after a decent showing at the Senior Bowl.

    Projected Round: Fourth or Fifth

    Tom Brady on 2020 Patriots: 'They can do great, and they will do great'

    Tom Brady on 2020 Patriots: 'They can do great, and they will do great'

    Many New England Patriots fans will be keeping a close eye on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season after Tom Brady left in free agency to sign with the NFC South club.

    And you can bet Brady likely will be keeping tabs on his former team, too. In fact, the subject of the Patriots' 2020 season came up Wednesday during Brady's candid, two-hour long interview with SiriusXM's Howard Stern.

    Here's what Brady had to say about the Patriots' upcoming campaign without him:

    The Patriots do have quite a challenge coming up. Not only did they lose the greatest quarterback of all-time in Brady, several important defensive players also departed New England as free agents, including linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins.

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    Patriots head coach Bill Belichick still has a lot of talent on this roster, however, and he's also fortunate the team owns 12 picks in this month's 2020 NFL Draft.

    Oddsmakers also are confident in the Patriots' ability to extend their postseason appearance streak to 12 seasons. DraftKings Sportsbook currently gives the Pats -200 odds to reach the postseason, and they're also +100 favorites to win the AFC East for a 12th consecutive season. New England has the third-best odds to win the AFC behind the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens.

    Much of the Patriots' success in 2020 is expected to depend on the performance of Brady's replacement, and second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham is the favorite to assume that role. Stidham has a monumental challenge in front of him, but his teammates have had plenty of praise for his attitude, poise and other attributes throughout the offseason.