Thoughts on the 2020 NFL Draft, Cam Newton becoming a Patriot, tattoo-gate and unsung James Develin

Thoughts on the 2020 NFL Draft, Cam Newton becoming a Patriot, tattoo-gate and unsung James Develin

Do I have any complaints about the Patriots’ draft? How could I?

They followed my advice every step of the way.

I basically took them by the hand and led them through the minefield of bringing in new talent. I doled out sound advice for the donut. They took it. And I didn’t even have to go to Mobile for the Senior Bowl.

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Stay away from Tua, I said. Far away. In fact, don’t draft any quarterbacks. You got a guy in house who’d be the second-best prospect on the board already. Leave. Jarrett. Stidham. Alone. For 2020. Go where the needs are. Done.

Second round defensive backs? A couple weeks before the draft I nudged Bill Belichick to reconsider his approach (last two questions on ye olde transcripte). He clearly warmed to the suggestion and — instead of taking a big-program guy from a power conference — he chased elite athleticism from a small school. Good tweak. I like it.

Thursday night, I let Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio know it was time to stop ignoring tight ends (last two questions on ye olde transcripte).

Friday? BAM! Not just one tight end drafted before the fifth round (something the team hadn’t done since 2010) but two! A deuce! A double! Not one, not three, A PAIR OF TIGHT ENDS!

You can see by the transcripts that neither Bill nor Nick wanted to say openly how much they appreciated the advice. Understandable. You have an oracle like me, you keep it under wraps. 

Truth be told, I need no thanks. It’s a public service.

And in that spirit, I will now tell you include a few insightful notes and bold predictions for your post-draft perusal. Because, once the dust settles from the draft, it’s just you, me, Phil, Bo and backyard chipping contests on Zoom to look forward to.

Enough with the Cam Newton chatter already

Cam Newton isn’t in the Patriots plans. Wasn’t before the draft. Isn’t going to be after the draft. Have I checked to make sure? Yes I have. Besides, they have like 14 bucks of cap space left (actually, $1.077M, which is 31st in the NFL).

You think Cam is going to come in and play for free? Or for less than Marcus Mariota agreed to with the Raiders as Derek Carr’s backup ($7.5M this year)? No. No he’s not.

Was he a brilliant player in 2015 and before? Yes. But he’s 23-23 as a starter since, his arm’s turned to junk and he’s never been a terribly accurate or careful thrower.

Just because someone sitting at a desk near a New Jersey horse track says, “Hey, the Patriots don’t have an established starter, let’s see if we can get people to part with their money on odds Cam goes there?”, logic doesn’t have to take a holiday.  

James Develin: The ultimate unsung hero

As passionate football observers, we all get a little over-the-top at times with our proclamations when we strongly believe things. In a related story, it seems that people are convinced that adding the phrase, “And it’s not even close …” is supposed to end all debate. (Here are your Twitter search results for “its not even close”, Moss). Well, usually it is close.

Anyway, I feel very strongly that, if James Develin wasn’t part of the Patriots in 2018, they wouldn’t have won a sixth Super Bowl title.

Develin was on the field for every one of the Patriots nine rushing touchdowns in the 2018 postseason.

Here’s what the final one — the Sony Michel plunge that broke a 3-3 tie — looked like. Develin is just crushing former first-round pick Mark Barron in the hole. Put that picture up in the Patriots Hall of Fame somewhere. Here’s the video of that one.

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Here’s Develin in the AFC Divisional Playoff bludgeoning of the Chargers as a human battering ram making room for Michel to score three touchdowns. Here he is in the AFCCG against the Chiefs on fourth-and-inches clearing the way for Michel to go untouched. Here he is in overtime in front of Rex Burkhead.

When the Patriots came off their loss at Pittsburgh in Week 14 that dropped them to 9-5 and had their “Come to Jesus” week, they come out of it as an offense committed to brutalizing teams on the ground.

In the playoffs, they ran it 34, 48 and 32 times. They ran it 47 and 30 in the final two regular-season games against the Bills and Jets. They ran it for 273 yards. They never could have committed to the running game as they did if Develin wasn’t there.  

“What he’s done this year, the number of reps he’s had, plays he’s had, the pounding he’s taken, that doesn’t wear well with a lot of backs,” running backs coach Ivan Fears said to NESN’s Zack Cox that week. “How many guys are out there that you think can do this? There’s not that many. That’s why (fullbacks) fell out of favor in the first place. … I think James is really special.”

I reached out to Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady about Develin on Tuesday. He had this to say about Develin: “Jimmy was an incredible teammate and champion who played the (game the) way I wish it was always played — with toughness, commitment, discipline and determination! He had mental and physical toughness in every ounce of his body and I loved being his teammate and friend!!”

The Patriots aren’t abandoning the fullback position. They’ve got Danny Vitale, former Packer, in the program to take over for Develin. Given the state of the offensive personnel, Vitale is probably going to get a lot of work.  

The meaning of tattoos strikes Foxboro (again)

Now on to young Justin Rohrwasser, the fifth-round selection out of Marshall, a kicker with a consternation-causing tattoo.

The tattoo, as you by now know, is the symbol of the “Three-Percenters.” You probably never heard of them until Saturday. Me neither.

But they are, apparently, a libertarian group that’s committed to protecting the Second Amendment and bemoaning government overreach.

This message has seemingly been a siren call to anti-government, pro-gun extremists who are down with that overall message and — predictably — some of them aren’t that down with diversity.

Twice, Rohrwasser has disavowed knowing the ink on his forearm was seen as sinister.

We can discuss whether or not the Patriots knew he had it (and given past revelations with Aaron Hernandez' tattoos, whether they should be paying closer attention).
We can debate whether having a tattoo aligning oneself with an organization purportedly founded on one set of values (apparently, extreme libertarian, second-amendment, anti-government) that's later appropriated by racists and anarchists (by chance or design) means everyone that has the tattoo is as bad as the worst person who also aligns himself with the organization.
We can wonder if the Patriots coached him up on his answers or why he didn't get it covered up or blasted off prior. I mean, nobody who either hates or loves the three-percenters ever mentioned there are some whack jobs in their ranks?
We can wonder if we will now be logging serious hours spelunking to find the meaning of these kids’  tattoos moving forward, many gotten when they were in high school or college.
We can wonder if we now should do a retroactive deep dive on the scarring tattoo former Celtic Marquis Daniels had on his forearm — a guy blowing off his head with a shotgun — and wonder if we missed a chance to go off on that when he played 138 games for the team. 

We can give traction to the absurd, reductive "look at me!" social media musings that the Patriots must be quite comfortable employing white supremacists.

Or we can keep in mind what Tommy Jefferson said: "I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend," and take the kid at his word.

Fromm could supplant Allen in Buffalo ... quickly

Rock-kicking over the Patriots not taking a quarterback over the weekend continues at a decent clip.

There are plenty who hoped the Patriots took Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm. I predict it won’t be long before Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen is one of them. The Bills did take Fromm with the 167th pick and his efficient, composed, accurate, turnover-averse style is going to be a stark contrast to Allen’s seat-of-his pants approach.

You can’t argue with Allen’s arm strength, mobility, power as a runner, etc. But watching him self-sabotage in the Bills’ playoff loss at Houston was a red flag. He was at the end of his second year in the league, he had his team in the playoffs in a position to win on the road and he’s treating the football like a losing lottery ticket?

Fromm is going to stand out not for what he does but for what he doesn’t do — namely, dumb things.

Upon further review: I'm now a Dugger guy

The Patriots got a supremely talented athlete in Kyle Dugger. The Senator is going to have an interesting story on that this week. But one thing I wanted to highlight about Dugger as compared to Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung? THEY are supremely talented athletes.

Look at the scouting report on Chung when he was coming out in 2009. He ran a 4.5, benched 225 pounds 25 times and had a 34-inch vertical. Additionally, he had a recklessness and toughness that can’t be taught.

Positives: Well-built, versatile athlete who has seen time at cornerback and as a returner. ... Flashes explosive hitting ability. ... Reads the action quickly and is seemingly always around the ball. ... Good lateral quickness, acceleration and smooth change-of-direction agility while in zone coverage. ... Attacks underneath routes and rarely allows the receiver to cross with the ball unscathed. ... Closes quickly on the ballcarrier. ... Receivers are cognizant of him when going over the middle. ... Quick enough to hang with receivers for a few seconds in the deep half. ... Among the more reliable open-field tacklers in the country and should be an excellent last line of defense at the NFL level. ... Accomplished blitzer. ... Few have Chung's ability to explode into ballcarriers while wrapping their arms securely. ... Whether deep in coverage or attacking the line of scrimmage, he limits the yards gained at the point he meets the ballcarrier. ... Consistently swarms to the ball. ... Durable, consistent performer. ... Instinctive defender. ... Should be a leader on defense and special teams.

Negatives: Questionable deep speed and is a bit shorter than scouts prefer because of their coverage duties against tight ends. ... Physical player who can get a bit grabby while in coverage, leading to some holding calls. ... Attacks the line or underneath routes too quickly, leaving room for the deep ball behind him. ... At his best facing the quarterback and running downhill toward the ball.

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As for McCourty? The Patriots took him at 27th overall in 2010. Plenty felt that was too soon and that the Patriots could have gotten him later.

Look at the skinny on him. It’s telling because every weakness mentioned was one that could be improved upon and he absolutely did to become one of the best safeties in the NFL.

McCourty is an average sized cornerback with good athleticism. He runs well but doesn’t have premier speed out on an island. McCourty is a tough, competitive player that understands angles and route progressions. He is an active secondary defender that gets his hands on lots of balls but doesn’t always make the interception. McCourty has great hips, agility and balance to turn and stay in the receiver’s hip pocket. He does get overpowered at times versus larger receivers in block protection and on jump ball situations but he appears to know his limitations and is a defender. McCourty is a good football player that will likely contribute quickly at nickel back and special teams (returns as well as coverage units) in his rookie season.

McCourty is a durable corner. He possesses great athletic ability combined with impressive instincts. Is an experienced prospect. Has the work ethic necessary to maximize his skill-set at the next level. Is a highly competitive defender. Has been productive during his career. Special teams standout as both a returner and on coverage units.

McCourty has somewhat of a slight build and can be taken advantage of by taller, more physical receivers. Must improve his block protection in order to be more productive in run support. Only possesses average ball skills, will drop some catchable balls and won’t make many circus plays.

So, despite my initial “WTF?! A safety from D-II Lenoir-Rhyne? I thought big program performance was a big deal” reaction, I’m standing down on that. I’m a Dugger guy.

Patriots QB Cam Newton given this jersey number with his new team

Patriots QB Cam Newton given this jersey number with his new team

The New England Patriots made the signing of quarterback Cam Newton official on Wednesday, and while it might be weird for some NFL fans to see the former MVP in a red, white and blue jersey this coming season, there is one part of his gameday look that will remain the same.

Newton will again wear the No. 1 jersey, according to the team's official roster page. This is the same number he wore during the first nine seasons of his career with the Carolina Panthers. 

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You might be surprised to learn that Newton will be just the fourth player in Patriots history to wear the No. 1 jersey and the first to do it since 1987, per Pro Football Reference's data. The other three players to wear No. 1 for the Patriots are former kickers Tony Franklin, Eric Schubert and John Smith. And, of course, the Pat Patriot mascot also wears No. 1.

Whether Newton ends up being the Patriots' No. 1 quarterback for Week 1 of the 2020 regular season remains to be seen. He's the favorite to win the starting job following Tom Brady's departure in March, but 2019 fourth-round draft pick Jarrett Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer also are on the depth chart and should provide competition for Newton. 

Next Pats Podcast: How can Pats maximize Harry's talent? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Next Pats Podcast: How can Patriots utilize N'Keal Harry more in 2020?

Next Pats Podcast: How can Patriots utilize N'Keal Harry more in 2020?

N'Keal Harry had his rookie season derailed by injuries, but that has done little to lessen expectations ahead of his second NFL campaign.

The New England Patriots wide receiver has obvious talent. The team selected him in the first round (32nd overall) of the 2018 draft after a successful college career at Arizona State, and when Harry did get onto the field with the Patriots, he showed flashes of his impressive skills.

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One of the challenges for Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels this coming season is finding ways to get Harry more involved in the offense and maximizing his abilities. 

How can the Patriots accomplish that goal? Pro Football Focus' Steve Palazzolo joined the latest episode of the Next Pats Podcast to break down his expectations for Harry and ways the Patriots can use him.

"I think he'll get better as the years go on. I think what has to happen is people need to change their expectations sometimes for receivers, especially first-round wide receivers," Palazzolo told our Patriots insider Phil Perry. "We're talking about a position where there's three starters, and not every receiver is going to be Julio Jones, and not every starter is going to be as good as Julian Edelman -- a guy you can depend on to get open in crunch time and third down.

"When we evaluated Harry coming out (of college), his skill set reminded us a lot of Demaryius Thomas, who, when you look at his best work, he was catching the ball and running well after the catch, as well as making contested catches. Harry did struggle separating, which is kind of an important point for receivers. He struggled getting open. I think if the expectations are, right or wrong, here's a guy we can scheme some stuff up for -- that back-shoulder touchdown he had from Tom Brady, that's the type of stuff, the vertical route tree, contested catches, using his big body. That's the type of stuff you can expect from him, but you probably don't want to feed him 150 targets and say go be the No. 1 wide receiver. I think Harry is more of a complimentary piece."

Next Pats Podcast: How can Pats maximize Harry's talent? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

One way to put pressure on defenses and use Harry's strength and athleticism is giving him the ball on running plays. We've seen plenty of wideouts run gadget plays to take advantage of mismatches, and Harry could be used in a similar role for New England.

"If the Patriots do get creative with N'Keal Harry to get the ball in his hands, you could hand it off to him, you could put him out there, he'll have a cornerback matched up with him. And then the defense will have to figure out its run fits -- how do I get enough guys in the box to stop this guy?" Palazzolo said. "So whether it's the jet sweep game, whether it's just legitimately putting him in the backfield as a running back, I think there is a world where N'Keal Harry could be maximized and give you that advantage over defenses."

For the entire Harry conversation between Perry and Palazzolo, check out the Next Pats Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network or watch on YouTube below: