Patriots

It's a 2nd-rounder ... so what? And four more takeaways from Mohamed Sanu trade

It's a 2nd-rounder ... so what? And four more takeaways from Mohamed Sanu trade

Mohamed Sanu is just what the Patriots needed. Is he all that they needed? The way they are playing defensively, probably.

Since 2012 when he entered the draft out of Rutgers fresh from a 115-catch season, he’s had Perfect Patriot written all over him. I thought he was a perfect fit for the offense back then (“This kid reeks to high heaven of David Givens-ness.") Nothing he’s done in his seven seasons in the NFL alter that.

He’s 6-2, 215, versatile, is happy to block, doesn’t drop the ball (one drop this year, one of the NFL’s most surehanded receivers since coming into the league) and can work inside (no receiver gave his QB a higher passer rating on in-breaking routes in 2018 than Sanu did for Matt Ryan). He isn’t fast. He doesn’t get in the end zone much. He’s a very good complementary wide receiver, not a game-breaker.

As for the Patriots giving up a second-rounder, I’ll get to that in the story. But I’d like to respectfully offer a pre-emptive, “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…..” on that front.

Here are five takeaways on the player who will likely stand as the team’s big 2019 trade deadline move.

TRICKLE DOWN HELPS

Julian Edelman’s been targeted 27 times over the past two games. He’s been targeted 68 times this season. For a guy that’s 33, he takes more physical punishment than just about any wideout in football and is the Patriots' most important offensive player not named Brady. Sanu can help lighten the load, especially on third down.

Both Edelman and Sanu can work between the numbers. Jakobi Meyers is showing a growing ability to do that as well. Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett and N’Keal Harry are outside guys. The Patriots needed to become a little less predictable on third down and Sanu should help them do that. He’ll also help take the reliance away from James White. And he’ll make it so the urgency for Gordon and Harry to return is a little less urgent. One hope? Sanu doesn’t slow the progress of the glue-fingered Meyers.

WHAT SANU CAN DO FOR YOU

Coming into this season, Sanu was the fourth-best receiver in the league getting separation against press coverage according to Next Gen Stats. You’ll notice if you bang that link that Sanu was one of the first to respond to the tweet saying “7/11” as in always open. Last spring, Josh McDaniels noted that the team was better served getting Edelman more on the outside of the formation. "Julian plays a lot outside the formation," he said. "Does Julian do some of those things inside the formation? Absolutely he does. But he does a lot more on the outside in the running game and passing game. It's what he's become. There's a little bit of a difference based on the way we've used him than those other guys."

Sanu, according to Pro Football Focus, has the fourth-most yards from the slot position since 2016.

https://twitter.com/PFF/status/1186607938565222406?s=20

HE’LL MAKE THE QB SMILE

Tom Brady’s tepid embrace of the team’s offensive performances continued after the whacking of the Jets. Why? Production on third down and in the red zone. Since the first Jets game, the Patriots are 28 for 77 on third down. That’s 36 percent. And there are stretches – usually after teams out figure what kind of potion McDaniels is pouring down their throat – when the numbers dip even more.

Last night, the Patriots started 4 for 4 on third down and were 3 for 12 the rest of the way. In the first meeting against the Jets, the Patriots were 2 for 10 on their final 12 attempts. Don’t you, “Yeah but the score…” me! You don’t honestly think the Patriots aren’t trying to convert and keep their punter off the field?

As for the red zone, you can see how hard it is for the Patriots to scheme something up when they get in close to get somebody open. It’s a fact of post-Gronk life. They are 10 for 19 in the red zone over their past four games. They’d like to be better than that, especially when (presumably) better teams come calling. Sanu should help with that.

SO IT'S A 2? WHO CARES

I’m hearing a lot of, “Hmmmm…a second-rounder. Feels like a lot, Mike. No, yeah, really, feels like a looootttttt.”

A) The second-rounder will probably be about the 64th pick anyway.

B) If the receiver – and the offense in general – have the potential to be the Achilles' heel that prevents the Patriots from taking advantage of a historic season defensively (and it does), no price is too high.

C) The Patriots roll the dice in the second round anyway – which is probably why they took Tavon Wilson back in 2012 when Sanu was still on the board for them. Serves them right to have to spend a 2 on him now.

D) He isn’t a rental. He’s under contract for next season with a $6.4M salary. They are getting – potentially – 24 games out of him (plus playoffs), not eight. E) I’d rather see a season-and-a-half of Sanu than four years of Jordan Richards, Duke Dawson, you get the point. Always take the known NFL quantity.

MINDING THE BUSINESS

While a Falcon, Sanu was steadfast about not wanting his contract tinkered with. In July, when the Falcons were puzzling over how to pay Julio Jones, Sanu offered on Twitter that, “Ain’t no prices ever dropping over here this ain’t Walmart..” So what did it take for the Patriots to cram Sanu under the cap? Or what will it cost, since they are probably still trying to make it happen?

We’re going to find out, but Sanu’s deal called for him to make $3.529M over the rest of the season. It won’t be hard for the team to fashion a new deal for him, according to Miguel Benzan of Boston Sports Journal. And if they can fire-sale Michael Bennett out of town, they can save some dough against the cap and – zing, zang – just like that it’s a clean move.

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If Patriots just did this, the offense would see a big improvement

If Patriots just did this, the offense would see a big improvement

Every week during the NFL season, Tom E. Curran & Phil Perry will go head-to-head and offer their own takes on a Patriots or NFL-related topic. This week: Call me crazy, but if the Patriots would just do THIS offensively, they’d see a big improvement. 

Bang it to the tight ends. So far this season, the Patriots have 26 catches for 349 yards and a touchdown from Benjamin Watson, Matt Lacosse, Ryan Izzo and Eric Tomlinson. The 27 catches have come on 38 total targets. Tomlinson’s long gone and Izzo hasn’t played since Week 6 against the Giants. Lacosse, meanwhile, has missed five games. The 38-year-old Watson has been targeted twice in the past two games but has pulled in 12 of the 17 passes sent his way in the past six weeks. Last season, a dinged-up Rob Gronkowski caught 26 passes for 304 yards by himself and that came on 43 targets. It’s astounding that an offense that’s been as reliant on the tight end as the Patriots has only directed 38 passes to the position through 12 games. Even in 2016, when Gronk missed a big chunk of the year, the team was still able to get 55 catches and 701 yards from Martellus Bennett. I have a feeling the Josh McDaniels has noticed the absence of the tight end in their offense. I’m also sure that part of the reason it hasn’t been anything more than an afterthought is A) they’ve had a revolving door there with Lacosse injured and Watson suspended for the early part of the year; B) they’ve had woeful pass protection especially on the left while Isaiah Wynn was out and needed to keep a tight end in at times and C) they don’t have dynamic players at the spot. But last week, the Patriots got a much-missed seam pass to Lacosse for 23 yards and a 32-yard catch-and-run from Watson. Could that be a motivator to get the ball out there a little more often? Couldn’t hurt.

***

I'm not sure there's anything they can do right now to see a BIG improvement. But there are improvements there to be made, no doubt. I'd focus on the red zone because that's the area of the field where there's the most obvious potential for growth for the Patriots. There really is no reason for the Patriots not to be at least a little more effective at scoring touchdowns when they get inside the 20. They're currently 24th in the NFL when it comes to red-zone efficiency at 48.89 percent. That's a tick below bad offensive football teams like the Giants (53.12 percent, 22nd), Bears (59.46 percent, 14th), Bills (63.64 percent, 9th) and Dolphins (67.74 percent, 4th). How do they improve? Go big. Go bigger in the passing game. Get those tight ends you mention, Tom, out there and allow them to use their bodies to post up on defenders in an area of the field where space is tight. Use N'Keal Harry, even if it's only as a specialty player in there, because he knows how to make a back-shoulder catch. Maybe give Phillip Dorsett and Jakobi Meyers a breather when you're in there. And go big in the running game deep in opponent territory. Multiple tight ends. Maybe an extra offensive lineman at times. Since Isaiah Wynn's return, and since LaCosse has been healthy enough to be a factor as a blocker, the run game has improved. Especially out of two-tight end sets. In the last two weeks, they've run for 4.2 yards per carry out of 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends). That number was 3.4 yards per carry in Weeks 2-11 without Wynn. They picked up 3.3 yards per carry in games without Wynn this year, whereas they've averaged 4.4 yards per carry the past two weeks -- regardless of personnel package. They should be able to run it closer to the goal line with the offensive line and tight end spots healthier. And if they prove they can do that, that'll open up the play-action passing game down there. Poof. Just like that, the red-zone offense will be better and the Patriots will see more points on the scoreboard as a result.

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That 617 Life Podcast: Who made who? Bill Belichick or Tom Brady

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

That 617 Life Podcast: Who made who? Bill Belichick or Tom Brady

The people's court is now in session. The topic of debate: Who made who, Bill Belichick or Tom Brady?

The two New England Patriots greats will always be inextricably linked for the success they've had in creating the Patriots dynasty. Together, the duo has won six Super Bowl titles and has overseen the most dominant two-decade stretch in NFL history.

Still, the question of who is chiefly responsible for the team's success has long been a debate among the New England faithful. And this week, Shanda, Cerrone, and Leroy take a deeper dive into the case for both sides on the latest episode of "That 617 Life Podcast".

Cerrone kicks off the "trial" by defending Brady, arguing that his on-field play and his arrival to the team snapped the Patriots out of the funk that they were in for most of the early part of their franchise's existence.

[The Patriots] were the team that nobody wanted to use in TecmoBowl. Now, for everybody in America, you're cheating if you use Tom Brady in Madden.

Furthermore, from Cerrone:

There's teams in the NFL over the past 20 years that still haven't defeated Tom Brady. Still, over 20 seasons. There are organizations and fan bases that still have not seen a victory in front of Tom Brady.

As for the case for Belichick, Leroy laid out a simple case for Belichick and called him "possibly the greatest coach in sports history."

Hear more of the trial and thoughts on the latest Boston sports stories on the latest episode of the "That 617 Life Podcast", which drops every Friday as part of the NBC Sports Boston podcast network.

CURRAN: Are we watching Brady's final day with the Patriots?>>>

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