Buzz from the combine: An overrated class of quarterbacks?

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Buzz from the combine: An overrated class of quarterbacks?

INDIANAPOLIS -- After three days of bouncing around this fine city, let's unload some of the buzz we picked up on . . . both Patriots-related and otherwise. 

Where to start? How about with this year's class of quarterbacks, which has been our focus for the last few weeks. We know the Patriots are doing some due diligence on the players at that spot, and so we're trying to do the same. 

* As deep as the quarterback class this year seems to be, there are no perfect prospects. USC's Sam Darnold's decision-making has been questioned, as have the maturity levels of both UCLA's Josh Rosen and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield. Accuracy and consistency are the primary concerns when it comes to Wyoming's Josh Allen and Louisville's Lamar Jackson. As for Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph and Washington State's Luke Falk, arm strength is an issue for some. Bottom line: Even though there could be five or six passers taken in the first round, some believe this class has been vastly overrated . . . 

* . . . And that's why it comes as little surprise that there is still lingering frustration from some around the league that the Niners received a franchise guy from the Patriots for a second-round pick. Even though it shoudn't be forgotten that San Francisco had to pony up a record contract to keep Garoppolo in town, "annoyed" would seem like an appropriate word to describe how one coach reacted when the Garoppolo conversation came up. A second-round selection was viewed a modest price to pay to have a shot at a long-term marriage with a good player.

* It was interesting to hear just how many teams are going to be in on the quarterback hunt this offseason. The Browns, Broncos, Jets and Cardinals are obviously looking. The Giants, Dolphins, Chargers, Bills, Panthers, Jaguars and Saints have also been rumored to be in on the action. Then there are the Ravens. We've been given indications that they'll be looking into drafting a quarterback this spring as well. That means 12 teams -- more than a third of the league -- ahead of the Patriots in the draft's pecking order could be looking for a player at the game's most important position. Two of those teams (the Browns and Bills) pick twice before the Patriots in the first round. If Bill Belichick has someone in mind he would like to back up Tom Brady, he may have to be willing to take the plunge early. Obviously free agency will change the landscape of quarterback needs across the NFL, but there will be plenty of competition for arms on draft weekend. 

* At the top of the class, Darnold is consistently mentioned as the player with the best shot at going No. 1 overall, but there are plenty who see Rosen as the better player. Rosen can make every throw. His mechanics are more polished. What many believe prevents Rosen from being mentioned more consistently as an option at No. 1 is the question of how his attitude will play at the next level. The consensus is he will not be the world's easiest player to coach, and one story we heard this week did little to squash that notion. Asked in one of his interviews about an interception on his tape, Rosen shot back with another question, asking the interviewer if he'd ever played quarterback before. OK, then! For combine interviews, where coached-up answers are commonplace, that would qualify as a rare back-and-forth. 

* Richmond quarterback Kyle Lauletta helped himself last week, building on the positive momentum he created when he had a strong week of Senior Bowl practices and won the Senior Bowl MVP. During his field workout in Indy, Lauletta was accurate, and he tested among the best at his position in the vertical jump (31 inches), broad jump (9-feet-5), three-cone (6.95 seconds) and short shuttle (4.07). His combination of athleticism and ball-placement led one coach -- a coach who knows Jimmy Garoppolo well -- to say Lauletta is probably the closest thing to Garoppolo in this year's draft class. Lauletta's release isn't what Garoppolo's is in terms of its quickness, but more than one person I spoke to said he could have a shot at being taken on Day 2. We'll see if that changes by the time we get into late April. Lauletta has met with Patriots scouts, but he said he did not have a formal interview scheduled with New England. 

* Spoke to Rob Gronkowski's agent Drew Rosenhaus toward the end of the week. He wasn't all that keen on discussing his client's future. He did tell PFT's Mike Florio, however, that there was no timetable on Gronkowski's decision to return to the field. That puts the Patriots in a tight spot. They could stand pat and hope for the best. They could hope for the best but prepare for the worst and make a significant investment in the tight end position during free agency and/or the draft. The issue there is that there are plenty of other positions on the roster that need to be addressed (left tackle, linebacker, end, corner), and the Patriots would probably like to avoid spending big to replace someone who may or may not need to be replaced. Trading Gronkowski doesn't seem like a realistic option -- unless Gronkowski gave assurances to another team he'd be willing to play for them -- since trying to ship off a player considering retirement would be difficult if not impossible. They could offer to give Gronkowski a raise. But if that doesn't work . . . then what? Hope for the best? 

* It's hard to gauge just how much interest the Patriots have in prospects based on formal combine interviews. All clubs are allowed 60 interviews, which each last 15 minutes. By the time the pre-draft process is finished, the Patriots will have met with countless prospects at various different points -- Senior Bowl, combine, pro days, private workouts, Gillette Stadium visits, etc. -- but the combine interviews at least give us an early window into some of the players they want to get to know better. They've met with offensive tackles, slot receivers, running backssafeties, ends and linebackers . . . at least. Many of the quarterbacks played it coy when it came to which teams they were scheduled to meet with. Both Lamar Jackson and Lauletta said they did not have formal interviews planned with New England. Luke Falk and Mason Rudolph were among those who chose to keep their formal interview plans quiet. 

* We spoke to multiple evaluators who -- somewhat surprisingly -- pointed to Leighton Vander Esch of Boise State as the player they were most excited by when it came to off-the-ball linebackers in this year's class. Granted those conversations happened before Tremaine Edmunds of Virginia Tech (who is still just 19 years old) checked in with an impressive 4.54-second 40-yard dash at 253 pounds Sunday. But Vander Esch walloped his workout, too. He ran a 4.65 40 at 256 pounds and ranked among the best at his position in the vertical (39.5 inches) and three-cone (6.88 seconds). Vander Esch has just one full season as a starter under his belt, but his instincts are viewed as a cut above those of Edmunds. He's not a big-hitter, but he's long (6-foot-4, 34-inch arms), and he can cover. He could be in the conversation for the Patriots in the back end of the first round. Georgia's Roquan Smith is a smaller, quicker 'backer (6-1, 236), who is widely viewed as the best player at his position and one of the best players in the draft. He doesn't have the size of either Vander Esch or Edmunds and will likely be used differently at the next level. Alabama's Rashaan Evans (6-3, 234) is another intriguing linebacker prospect who is expected by some to go in the first round, though there is some concern about his ability to stay healthy. However the top-four stack up, the fact that there are four players at that position that could warrant first-round consideration has to be good news for the Patriots. They could benefit from a lift at the second level.

* One final note, a little reminder as to just how goofy the combine can seem. One part of the testing process at the combine is the rarely-publicized, rarely-interesting player flexibility portion. One of the flexibility tests is basically a sit-and-reach test. The measurement goes from your face to the floor, meaning the lower the number, the more flexible you are. Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, thought to be one of the best players in the draft and one of the safest selections because of his high floor, scored a zero. Impressive. But he dominates on tape. And he killed the bench-press testing (35 reps at 225 pounds). So how much would the sit-and-reach have really swayed his draft stock one way or the other? Probably not at all. But the fact that he annihilated every step of the combine -- including the flexibility station -- had evaluators giddy. 


Patriots Talk Podcast: Youth - that means draft success - will have to fuel Pats' reboot

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Patriots Talk Podcast: Youth - that means draft success - will have to fuel Pats' reboot

It's simple, really. If the Patriots are going to avoid staying home again after the Wild Card Round of the playoffs next season and seasons to come, they've got to get younger.

And to get younger, they've got to be more successful in the draft.

In the latest edition of Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast, Curran and Phil Perry focus on the last time New England was sent home this early in the playoffs a decade ago and if there can be lessons learned from that roster reboot in 2010. 

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The biggest issue confronting the Pats this time around is their age, which averages 31.6 years old (a 42-year-old quarterback skews that a little, of course). By comparison, the Super Bowl 54 opponents, the Kansas City Chiefs (26.8) and the San Francisco 49ers (26.6) are considerably younger.

Click here to listen and subscribe to Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast: 

The age factor is why, as Perry pointed out, "the pressure is on for them to hit not only in this 2020 draft, where they do have 12 picks, they have no second-round pick, but 12 shots at the dartboard. Last year, they had 10 [picks] and nine guys are still with the team.

"It's clear they have told themselves, 'We need to get younger. We need to start hitting here if we want to sustain this success.' The draft is the lifeblood of any team."

The 2018 team and its victory in the Super Bowl over the Rams last February worked to hide some of those flaws from recent low-yield draft classes.

"They had a great quarterback when they needed him. They had a Hall of Fame quarterback when they needed him. The defense looked tremendous we know how that story played out," Perry said. 

What kind of draft yield are we talking about to fuel the next generation of Patriots' success?

Curran goes on to rattle off the names from 2008-2012 drafts (Mayo, Slater, Edelman, Vollmer, Butler, Chung, Gronkowski, McCourty) that fueled the second half of the Pats dynasty.

"I have upwards of 30 names from 2008 to 2012 who were contributing players to the Patriots. I'm not even talking a little contributing, but massive contributing...," Curran said.  

There's also a discussion of how the uncertainty surrounding Tom Brady will impact the 2020 draft strategy. Listen and subscribe to Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston podcast network.


That 617 Life Podcast: Patriots' ties to a Pats-less Super Bowl

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That 617 Life Podcast: Patriots' ties to a Pats-less Super Bowl

The Patriots may have been missing from the NFL's Championship Sunday, but that didn't stop them from being mentioned and having their former personnel play prominent roles in the AFC and NFC Championship Games.

Whether it was former Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel coaching the Tennessee Titans against the Kansas City Chiefs or former New England quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo helping the San Francisco 49ers beat the Green Bay Packers to reach Super Bowl 54, the Patriots continue to be a talked-about team. 

On the latest edition of the "That 617 Life" podcast, Leroy Irvin, Shanda Foster and Cerrone Battle discussed how the Pats still loomed over the games on Sunday.

"You can not say anything bad about the Patriots because we are always constantly producing talent," Foster said. "I think this is the perfect testament to Bill Belichick."

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Battle said it speaks to the dominance of the Patriots the past two decades that connections to their former players and staff are now all over the league.

"That's what happens when you win," Battle said. "When you win, everybody wants a piece. They want your waterboy. Look at the new head coach of the Giants [Joe Judge, the former Patriots special teams and receivers coach]?... When you're good for 20 years eventually you're going to have your roots all over the league. After years and years of success, I'm not shocked by it."

Irvin and Foster said instead of lamenting a rare NFL Final Four without New England, Pats fans should be grateful.

"I wish Patriot Nation would grow up," Irvin said. "By that I mean I'm tired of seeing on social media people just crying and complaining, 'Oh it's boring without the Patriots.' We've had almost two decades of excellence. We're not there. Get over it."

Said Foster, "I was grateful more than anything. Filled with gratitude. We may never see a run like this again."

In his "Hot Takes and Cold Cuts" segment, Battle says those crowning the Super Bowl 54 opponents as the next dynasties might want to pump the brakes a little. 

"First thing I heard [after the games] is, 'Kansas City they're gonna be around for years and San Francisco they're gonna be around for a long time. They're gonna be contenders forever,' " Battle said. "That was the story all day. 'What is anybody gonna do about these teams next year?' What are they gonna do next year? Not even worry about them. Why? Because this is the Not For Long League. The NFL. Every year, the teams that were hot the year before are never guaranteed to be hot the year after that. Unless you're the Patriots."

The crew also gives their reactions to the new Aaron Hernandez Netflix documentary. It's all in this week's "That 617 Life" podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast network. Click here to listen and subscribe.