Patriots

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.

ADRIAN CLAYBORN


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.

JASON McCOURTY


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.  

DANNY SHELTON


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.

CORDARRELLE PATTERSON


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. 

MATT TOBIN


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.

JEREMY HILL


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. 

THE QUICK SLANTS PODCAST:  CURRAN AND PERRY DISCUSS THE PATS' MOVES

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE


 

Next Pats Podcast: Breaking down Prototypical Patriots and a brand new 7 Round Mock Draft

Next Pats Podcast: Breaking down Prototypical Patriots and a brand new 7 Round Mock Draft

In the latest Next Pats Podcast, Phil Perry asks some questions of NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah, talks about his prototypical Patriots, and discusses his latest seven-round Patriots mock draft.

3:05: Perry explains his strategy for trading during the draft.

5:05: Jeremiah's offers his thoughts on the 2020 quarterback class.

8:05: A quote from Patriots executive Nick Caserio on building a team and whether or not they need a quarterback.

11:20: Discussion on prototypical Patriots begins, starting with quarterbacks.

17:45: Jeremiah's thoughts on which quarterbacks will be the best fit for the Patriots, including veteran NC State quarterback Ryan Finley.

19:37: Perry dives into wide receiver and tight end prototypes, focusing on Terry McLaurin, Miles Boykin, and Foster Moreau as some of the top guys that fit the Patriots' mold.

21:45: Patriots-specific mock draft analysis begins and Perry compares his first pick in the Patriots' mock draft to current Patriot Patrick Chung.

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Patriots have backed themselves into a corner at tight end

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Patriots have backed themselves into a corner at tight end

Forty tight ends have been drafted since 2016.

The Patriots have taken one – Ryan Izzo from Florida State with the 250th overall pick last year. He was the 15th tight end drafted.

Even with the sand running out of Rob Gronkowski’s career hourglass, the Patriots spent their picks on three defensive backs (including the departed Cyrus Jones in the second round of 2016), four linebackers from whom they’ve gotten a total of 47 games played (44 from Elandon Roberts) and three offensive tackles — none of whom have played a regular-season snap.

Hey, but a lot of those guys got hurt! Indeed they did. Productive careers may still await Isaiah Wynn, Duke Dawson, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Christian Sam. Godspeed Antonio Garcia. But the point is, the Patriots have been fiddling around at other spots while the tight end position burns.

Seven of the drafted tight ends last year had 20 or more catches, and four had more than 30, led by the Jets' Chris Herndon and Carolina’s Ian Thomas. They were both fourth-round picks. The 2017 crop included three first-rounders, Evan Engram of the Giants and Tampa’s O.J. Howard. They have 257 receptions between them. The most productive pass-catching tight end from that draft is George Kittle, a fifth-rounder from Iowa who’s made 131 catches for 1,892 yards.

In 2016, there were no first-round tight ends but San Diego’s Hunter Henry (81 catches, 1,057 yards in 2016 and ’17) and Atlanta’s Austin Hooper (139 catches, 1,457 yards in three years) were both third-round picks.

There have been many tight ends talented enough to produce at the NFL level that New England passed on drafting.

Meanwhile, the non-Gronk production at tight end from Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen and Martellus Bennett over the past three seasons combined is 72 catches for 856 yards. And Bennett contributed 55 of the catches and 701 of the yards.

Amid this crisis, the Patriots have struggled to three Super Bowls appearances, winning only two. Yeah, yeah, yeah, fine.

And the team has added 26-year-old Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, who is six feet, five inches and 262 pounds of untapped potential after catching passes from the likes of Blake Bortles, Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick (the bad Jets version).

It’s time for them to dive headlong into the position and Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff said on Quick Slants the Podcast this week that – even though they’ve waited – this is a very good time to do it.

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After discussing the deep but seemingly not elite wide receiver crop, Dimitroff said, “When we’re talking about the tight ends, that’s kinda flipped. Usually tight ends are going to be in that spot where they are seconds and thirds but there are a number of (good) tight ends.

“I think there will be potentially two in the first round and then there’s another group that will go in the second round,” he added. “That’s never the way it used to be. You used to be able to find a tight end in the third round, so this is a good group.”

The consensus top two are T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant from Iowa. We’ve done much reporting on them. There’s also Irv Smith from Alabama and Jace Sternberger from Texas A&M then Kahale Warring and Dawson Knox from San Diego State and Ole Miss respectively.

The Patriots are going to find a tight end. Maybe more than one. And they will get Izzo back and maybe he makes strides. Meanwhile, Hollister is a good pass-catcher; he just hasn’t stayed healthy enough to make an impact and gain trust.

But the fact remains it hasn’t been a priority position in the draft for New England. And that’s not just in the past three seasons, when a lot of good tight ends came into the league, but going back to 2014 which is the draft following the arrest and release of Aaron Hernandez. Izzo and A.J. Derby are the only tight ends they’ve drafted since 2014.

Bennett, Allen and Scott Chandler are the only veteran tight ends who’ve come in and caught passes.  

Now they need to nail it.

Click here for Phil Perry's Mock NFL Draft 5.0>>>>

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