Patriots

What prototypical Patriots are playing for LSU, Clemson in National Championship?

What prototypical Patriots are playing for LSU, Clemson in National Championship?

Our Prototypical Patriots series won't start in earnest until the NFL Scouting Combine has come and gone — the numbers posted there help fill in the blanks on certain prospects — but we can get an idea of which players might interest the Patriots at this point in the year.

With the National Championship Game between LSU and Clemson set to kick off at 8 p.m. Monday night, here are a few names for Patriots fans to keep an eye on as they watch two of the most talented rosters in college football square off.

QUARTERBACK

Joe Burrow, LSU, 6-foot-4, 216 pounds

The Patriots have typically drafted quarterbacks from Power 5 conferences who stood 6-foot-3 or taller. They've exclusively drafted quarterbacks who've spent four years in college (Ryan Mallett and Jarrett Stidham played just three years each, but both were collegians for four years because they sat out one season in order to transfer). Their career touchdown-to-interception ratio averaged out to be just over 2-to-1. Their yards to attempt were often 7.5 or better, and they typically completed better than 60 percent of their passes.

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Burrow checks every single marker — easily — having spent six years in the college ranks between Ohio State and LSU. This year's Heisman Trophy winner has a better than 6-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio, a 9.4 yards per attempt figure, and a 69.1 completion percentage. He's expected to be the No. 1 overall pick and therefore nothing more than a pipe dream for Patriots fans. His opponent, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, is expected by many to be the No. 1 overall selection in 2021.

EDGE DEFENDER

K'Lavon Chaisson, LSU, 6-foot-4, 250 pounds

With Kyle Van Noy expected to see some lucrative offers thrown his way in free agency this offseason, the Patriots could be in the market to add another young edge rusher one year after drafting Michigan's Chase Winovich in the third round. 

If the Patriots continue to utilize more 3-4 looks, as they did in 2019, Chaisson looks like he would be a perfect fit at outside linebacker. We'll have to wait for the combine to see his athletic testing numbers and his measurements, but he has more than enough athleticism and seemingly the requisite length to be worthy of a first-round choice for the Patriots if they wanted to go in that direction.

Chaisson only played two years of high school football and missed all of 2018 with a torn ACL. But he was a captain at LSU this season and was honored with the program's No. 18 jersey, given to players who have had success both on and off the field — Chaisson was an SEC academic honor roll honoree in both 2017 and 2018 — and have exhibited selflessness. With the coaching he'd receive in New England, his game would likely see some refinement quickly and he could become a core piece of Bill Belichick's defense for years to come. He was a first-team All-SEC selection by coaches this year and may be gone by the time the Patriots are on the clock at No. 23.

LINEBACKER

Isaiah Simmons, Clemson, 6-foot-4, 235 pounds

The Patriots typically like their off-the-ball linebackers to be heavy-hitters. Big bodies with an ability to stop the run may be considered "throwbacks" in today's NFL, but the Patriots covet the size to take on blockers and the football IQ to understand ever-changing assignments within their scheme. 

Simmons might not have quite the same bulk of someone like Dont'a Hightower when Hightower was drafted in 2012, but Clemson's freakiest athlete is the definition of a modern NFL defender. He jumps 40 inches in the vertical and broad jumps 11 feet. He's run a 40 in under 4.4 seconds. That kind of athleticism would allow Belichick to use Simmons as a queen piece on the chess board who could cover tight ends or running backs — an area the Patriots might be looking to address — as well as chase ball-carriers from sideline to sideline from an off-the-ball spot. He's expected by many to be taken in the first half of the first round so if the Patriots want him, it might require a move up from No. 23.

Jacob Phillips, LSU, 6-foot-4, 233 pounds

This two-year starter was the team's leading tackler going into the postseason. His size and production against top competition could make him an intriguing Day 3 choice.

SAFETY

Grant Delpit, LSU, 6-foot-3, 201 pounds

Delpit loaded up on awards at LSU over the course of the last two years. He won the Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back this year, while last year he was named a unanimous All-American. The Patriots will likely appreciate the fact that he has experience playing at a number of different spots in the secondary and in a number of different roles. He's blitzed, played the run and covered from strong safety, free safety and in the slot. His tackling could be more consistent, but if the Patriots are looking for their next Patrick Chung type, Delpit might be an option in the first round.

K'Von Wallace, Clemson, 5-foot-11, 205 pounds

Wallace has played a variety of positions in the secondary as well, but he looks like a strong safety who can cover from down in the box. He's accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl so Monday's game won't be his last opportunity to impress on the field. He's not yet considered to be a top-end pick because his size and athleticism aren't necessarily upper-tier, but he could be a mid-round pick.

Tanner Muse, Clemson, 6-2, 230 pounds

Muse is another all-star game participant — he's slated to take part in the Shrine Bowl — who might be considered a late-round possibility. Why is he here when the Patriots are our focus? Special teams. Despite being an All-ACC selection this year and grading out as the best safety in the ACC by Pro Football Focus this year, "teams" might be his best shot at an NFL roster. He's shown proficiency in that phase, earning Clemson's special-teamer of the year honors in 2016. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said Muse is "an incredible leader" and has made more extra-effort plays this year than anyone on the team's defense.

CORNERBACK

Kristian Fulton, LSU, 6-feet, 200 pounds

For years now, the Patriots have been one of the heaviest man-to-man defenses in the NFL. Fulton, considered one of the top cover corners in the draft, would help them continue to stockpile talent at arguably the game's most valuable defensive position. Though Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson will be back in 2020, Jason McCourty dealt with injury late in the year and the Patriots could be looking for another outside-the-numbers man defender. 

Fulton's inclusion here doesn't mean he's the "prototype" in every sense. He was suspended for the entire 2017 season after tampering with a drug test, but if a team feels comfortable with the second-team All-SEC selection then he'll end up being an easy first-rounder. He was PFF's highest-graded corner in the SEC.

A.J. Terrell, Clemson, 6-foot-1, 190 pounds

Good length to play the boundary against big-bodied receivers, Terrell is a little thin and might not hold up against the physicality of big-bodied receivers. Someone will value Terrell's physical skill set, but the Patriots just invested in a taller boundary corner in the second round last season (Joejuan Williams, 6-foot-3) and would seem unlikely to do the same in 2020. 

RECEIVER

Tee Higgins, Clemson, 6-foot-4, 215 pounds

Would the Patriots go with another big-bodied wideout in the first round after rolling with N'Keal Harry in the first round last year? Seems unlikely that they'd double-down on a position that they'd never selected in the first round under Bill Belichick. But that's where they'll have to grab Higgins, in all likelihood, if they want him. It's a draft loaded with receiver talent this year, but Higgins is among the best deep threats in the class, averaging over 20 yards per catch this season. He's not going to be the most versatile route-runner to come out of the class, but — as the old coaching cliché goes — you can't teach size.

Justin Jefferson, LSU, 6-foot-3, 192 pounds

Jefferson is another potential outside-the-numbers threat, but he's played a variety of spots within the LSU offense. He's worked his way into the first-round conversation this year with a monster 102-catch, 1,434-yard season with 18 touchdowns. How he tests at this year's combine will play a significant role in determining what his realistic NFL role could be.

RUNNING BACK

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU, 5-foot-8, 209 pounds

Edwards-Helaire is the longer of the two running back names mentioned in this space, but it's not the BIGGER name. No matter. The diminutive LSU back actually looks like a better fit for New England than the consensus No. 1 back (as of now) in the class from Clemson. Why? He's a better receiver, plain and simple. He's also incredibly slippery with the ball in his hands, allowing him to create yardage on his own. He won't be a first-round pick, but he might end up being one of the best third-down running back fits in this year's class for the Patriots. He's also only started one year, which means he should still have plenty of tread on his tires.

Travis Etienne, Clemson, 5-foot-10, 210 pounds

This year's dynamo at the running back position. He has plenty of tackle-breaking ability and his breakaway speed will leave run-game enthusiasts drooling. But for a player of his physical stature, he has not shown much in the way of consistent receiving ability. That's an issue. Can you have a 210-pound back and use him like LeGarrette Blount? There's a team out there who will. Not sure it will be New England. 

DEFENSIVE LINE

Rashard Lawrence, LSU, 6-foot-2, 308 pounds

Again, based on the presumption that the Patriots will roll with 3-4 defensive fronts in 2020, Lawrence might help to complement another Lawrence already on the roster. Lawrence Guy has much more length than Rashard Lawrence, but Rashard could fill the five-technique 3-4 end role for Belichick. He doesn't look like an early-round selection due to his stockier frame, but if the Patriots believe he can hold the point of attack, he has the intangible characteristics that might make him a mid-round option. He's been a team captain for three seasons and he's played multiple alignments for the Tigers against high-end competition, indicating an impressive football acumen. 

OFFENSIVE LINE

Lloyd Cushenberry, LSU, 6-foot-4, 315 pounds

Dante Scarnecchia has said it many times. He wants linemen who are smart, tough and "athletic enough." Cushenberry seems to fit. He's certainly an NFL-caliber athlete along the interior of the offensive line, using his mobility to his advantage as LSU's center. Character-wise he looks like a fit as well. Along with Chaisson, Cushenberry was given the No. 18 jersey for the Tigers. (As a lineman, he's not allowed to wear No. 18 so he has a No. 18 patch he wears during games.)

Gage Cervenka, Clemson, 6-3, 325 pounds

How's this for a potential Patriot? Cervenka shifted from the defensive line to the offensive line early in his collegiate career. He's played both center and guard, using strong hands to his advantage. A four-time South Carolina state champion wrestler in high school, Cervenka set the Clemson record for interior offensive linemen in the 225-pound bench press (44 reps). Cervenka will likely be available on Day 3.

Tremayne Anchrum, Clemson, 6-foot-2, 315 pounds

Anchrum sounds like a name made for an offensive lineman. He became the full-time starter at right tackle for Clemson in 2018 and has 35 starts to his name. The first-team All-ACC selection could end up a guard based on his length, if the Patriots feel as though they'd like to address the interior of their offensive line this offseason.

Revisiting the 'enlightening' lesson Kobe Bryant taught Bill Belichick, Patriots

Revisiting the 'enlightening' lesson Kobe Bryant taught Bill Belichick, Patriots

In a statement Tuesday, Bill Belichick said he had "never witnessed a group as captivated" as the New England Patriots when Kobe Bryant spoke to the team in May 2018.

Belichick wasn't just paying lip service.

On Tuesday, NFL Films resurfaced a clip from HBO's "The Art of Coaching" documentary about Belichick and Alabama head coach Nick Saban in which both coaching legends reflected on their interactions with Bryant.

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These comments came in March 2019, more than 10 months before Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others were tragically killed Sunday in a helicopter crash.

Here's what Belichick had to say at the time about Bryant's message to the Patriots:

Another thing he said to us, which was an awesome message, was, "When I was 25 (years old), I could go out and score 30 (points). When I was 35, 38, I could score 30, but it wasn't the same way. I had to learn how to play without the ball. I had to learn how to play in less space. I had to learn how to use picks differently. I couldn't just drive to the basket like I could in my younger days. I could still score, but I had to change my game."

That was so enlightening for all our players that heard that. Because you're sitting there looking at his career and then we're all thinking about ours. It's changed for me just like it's changed for the players.

Belichick is a student of football. He has won six Super Bowl titles over 20 years in New England by constantly adapting, changing his approach as a head coach and general manager to stay ahead of the game's shifting trends.

Belichick clearly saw the same trait in Bryant, who averaged 22.3 points per game at age 36 (after tearing his Achilles tendon) by altering his style of play after hours of study and practice. The 42-year-old Tom Brady obviously took Bryant's message to heart, as well.

Bryant is gone much too soon at age 41, but the impact he had on players and coaches of all sports will live on.

How Jimmy Garoppolo won his 49ers teammates over soon after Patriots trade: 'It was sick'

How Jimmy Garoppolo won his 49ers teammates over soon after Patriots trade: 'It was sick'

MIAMI -- George Kittle was dressed as a pirate. It was the day before Halloween of his rookie season. He was going to celebrate the holiday as any 24-year-old would. Then, as any 24-year-old would, he peeked down at his phone to check on a notification.

Jimmy Garoppolo had been traded by the Patriots to Kittle's 49ers. He had a new quarterback.

"I said, 'Wow, that's really interesting.' It was cool," Kittle remembered. "Jimmy G. Two Super Bowls. Hell of a leader. It's fun to have someone like that."

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Kittle and other Niners this week remembered the deal that sent Garoppolo to San Francisco and in the process changed the course of the franchise. They couldn't have known exactly what they had then. Garoppolo had only two NFL starts to his name. But now, sitting in front of microphones in Miami in the days leading up to Super Bowl LIV, they couldn't believe their good fortune that Garoppolo landed in their laps. 

The hints that they had something in Garoppolo came early. 

"Honestly, it sounds cliche but it's real, it was at the first practice," said fullback Kyle Juszczyk. "He ran the scout team the first day. And that first period he absolutely diced our defense. You could see it in his footwork, his mechanics, the confidence that he emitted. You could see that this guy was the real deal."

For Kittle, the sign came loud and clear that his offense had a new leader. It came before Garoppolo even made his first throw from under center. 

"It was funny, his first play under center, he has a really good cadence," Kittle said, referring to the quarterback's calls at the line of scrimmage. "He has a good voice for it. Right after he said, 'Hut! Hut! Hike!' for the first time, everyone was like, 'Whoa! Nice!' It was sick."  

"Very authoritative," offensive tackle Joe Staley said of Garoppolo's line-of-scrimmage vocals. The 13-year veteran smiled and added, "He's commanding. Lets you know he's there."

It came together quickly for Garoppolo in his second professional stop. He started five games after being traded, winning all five, and completing 67.4 percent of his passes at a clip of 8.8 yards per attempt. 

He tore his ACL after three games the following season, but rediscovered his 2017 form this season. The Niners went 13-3 with Garoppolo taking the snaps. He completed 69.1 percent of his throws (fourth in the NFL), threw 27 touchdown passes (sixth), and put up an 8.4 yards per attempt figure (third). 

"I didn't really know much, actually," Staley said of Garoppolo's days in New England. "I remember the one game he had in Arizona where he started and did really, really well. But didn't know much. Didn't have much of a reaction [to the trade] either way. Knew everyone was really high on him. 

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"Then he came in here and he really blew me away. In the huddle. All the little nuances of being a quarterback. The command that he had. His quick release. You could definitely tell that he was trained in that Patriots system as far as getting rid of the ball fast, which is awesome for an offensive lineman. He's continued to grow and develop since he's been here. It's been awesome to see him get to this point."

The Niners are back in the Super Bowl after a 4-12 record last season. Back in the Super Bowl with a chance to win one for the first time since January 1995. And thanks in part to Tom Brady continuing to play at an MVP level the season Garoppolo was dealt, thanks to the Patriots holding onto Garoppolo until midseason that year, all it cost the Niners to change everything was a second-round pick.

"I think," Juszczyk said, "we got him for a bargain."