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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Next Pats Podcast: Matthew Slater reflects on social unrest within U.S. and NFL

Next Pats Podcast: Matthew Slater reflects on social unrest within U.S. and NFL

As much as we'd love to talk football, it has taken a back seat to the conversations that need to be had about George Floyd's murder and the racial injustices that remain prevalent in the United States.

The "Black Lives Matter" movement has spread across the country with protests advocating for justice and racial equality. It has impacted the world of sports, with countless athletes using their platforms to let their voices be heard. NFL players even sent a strong message to the league with a video stating what they wanted to hear it say regarding the oppression of African Americans.

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On a brand new episode of the Next Pats Podcast, New England Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater joined Phil Perry to discuss the state of the nation.

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Slater covered a variety of important topics in the episode. But one that particularly stood out was his explanation of how if the country operated like an NFL locker room, it would be a more inclusive place.

"It is a very unique place. A locker room setting -- you know, if our country operated and moved like a locker room, man it would be a beautiful thing," Slater said. "I'm not saying it's perfect, I'm not saying we've got it all figured out, but what a unique space where people from all different walks of life, different belief systems and things of that nature to work toward a common goal.

"And there's automatic respect that comes with the fact that you have a jersey and a helmet, and you're one of us. So I'm appreciative of that and I think now is a time for us to maybe forge those bonds even deeper. Guys that maybe hear personal stories and maybe experience this from their teammates have a different appreciation for why that guy is the way he is, why he does the things that he does. And I think ultimately that's going to lead to deeper and more fruitful relationships."

If anyone knows what a healthy, inclusive locker room environment looks like, it's Slater. The 34-year-old has been a captain for the Patriots for nearly a decade and has been an admirable leader throughout his stellar NFL career.

Slater also discussed how head coach Bill Belichick has been involved in the team's discussions about recent events, his experiences living as a black man in America, and much more.

Check out more of the Next Pats Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network or watch on YouTube below:

Patriots Roster Reset: Rookie tight ends offer optimism after 2019 drought

Patriots Roster Reset: Rookie tight ends offer optimism after 2019 drought

What if? What if Rob Gronkowski had announced his retirement just a few days sooner, allowing the Patriots to make a legitimate play for free agent Jared Cook? 

By the time the man who is arguably the greatest tight end in NFL history decided to hang 'em up (briefly), Cook was already making plans to join the Saints. He ended up eighth among tight ends with 705 receiving yards and second with nine touchdowns.

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Meanwhile the Patriots were left to piece together that spot with the likes of Matt LaCosse, Ben Watson and Ryan Izzo.

Reluctant to invest in young players at the position since taking Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in 2010 — since then they'd only drafted Izzo (2018, seventh round), Lee Smith (2011, fifth round) and A.J. Derby (2015, sixth round) — the Patriots had arguably the least-productive tight end group in the NFL last season: 37 catches for 419 yards and two touchdowns.

They've attempted to remedy that situation. In this year's draft, they traded up to land two intriguing talents in the third round.

UCLA's Devin Asiasi is a do-it-all player with the size to move people on the line of scrimmage and the body control to draw comparisons to some of the game's elites at that position. Dalton Keene is an athletic option with experience playing out of the backfield at Virginia Tech who could be the key to unlocking snap-to-snap unpredictability for Josh McDaniels' personnel packages.

Do they enter the equation as the immediate No. 1 and 2 options there? Let's reset the depth chart.

LOCK ‘EM IN

Asiasi. Keene. That's it. Those are the locks. Given the output, it should come as no surprise that there's not a player from last year's roster who comes into this season guaranteed to have a regular-season role. 

ON THE BUBBLE

LaCosse makes sense here. He could potentially end up on the roster as a 2020 version of Alge Crumpler — a veteran who can help guide two promising rookies — because his experience level dwarfs that of others on the depth chart.

However, his experience level isn't exactly overwhelming (33 career games). If he can't stay healthy, as was the case last season, or can't win a job, he'd save the Patriots $1.3 million on the salary cap if released in camp.

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LONG SHOTS

Izzo will have to open eyes in camp or become a special teams staple in order to have a chance to make an impact. Though he showed flashes of being a capable receiver last season, that part of his game was lacking consistency. As a blocker? It was there that he was thought to be a potential contributor when drafted out of Florida State two years ago. But according to Pro Football Focus, his 44.9 run-blocking grade was second-lowest among all players at the position in 2019.

Undrafted rookies Jake Burt from Boston College and Rashod Berry from Ohio State also have to be considered in this category. Burt looks like an in-line option at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds. Berry actually played both on the defensive line and at tight end as a senior. He finished his career with 17 receptions. 

NEWCOMER TO WATCH

In what was considered a tight end class short on game-changing talent, Asiasi might've been the most gifted. Notre Dame's Cole Kmet was the first tight end taken in the draft, going off the board in the second round as the "safest" of this year's tight end crop, according to several evaluators. But when it comes to physical ability? Asiasi can "do it all," one tight ends coach told me.

Some questions about Asiasi's makeup lingered into draft weekend, helping him stay undrafted through almost three full rounds, but the Patriots may have found themselves a steal if Asiasi can make good on his on-the-field promise. Asiasi's trainer Dave Spitz, who has also worked with Browns tight end Austin Hooper and Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, spoke to NBC Sports Boston earlier this offseason.

"He has the catch radius of Austin," Spitz said. "He has the body control and awareness of Zach. And he, I think, has more bend, more wiggle, than both of them. He's a beautiful combination."

X-FACTOR

Asiasi might be the most talented addition the Patriots have made at this position in years, but Keene's versatility makes him an interesting queen-on-the-chess-board piece for Bill Belichick and McDaniels. He has enough size (6-foot-4, 253 pounds) to play in-line as a "Y" tight end. He has the movement skills to serve as more of an "F" option. He's played in the backfield before. He's served as a lead-blocker like a fullback. There are a variety of ways in which he can be deployed.

Why does that matter? Perhaps the Patriots want to use their 12-personnel package with one back and two tight ends. Perhaps, because tight ends are oftentimes glorified receivers these days, a defense will respond to that two-tight end set by matching it with an extra safety instead of a linebacker. If that's the case, Keene could flex in as a fullback and the Patriots could run a 21-personnel look at a lighter defense for an advantage. If the defense keeps linebackers on the field to check Asiasi and/or Keene, the Patriots could use them in the passing game where their athleticism should give them an advantage over a traditional second-level defender. Options.

That's what Keene provides, making him an X-factor in the truest sense if he can handle a wide range of alignments and responsibilities early in his career.