Will training camp provide clues as to how the Patriots will deploy Michael Bennett?

Will training camp provide clues as to how the Patriots will deploy Michael Bennett?

Leading up to the start of Patriots training camp, we'll try to answer one question every day as a way of giving you a better idea of where our focus will be when practices begin. Today we take a look at the biggest veteran acquisition they made this offseason, Michael Bennett, and wonder how he'll be deployed.

When the Patriots acquired Michael Bennett in a trade with the Eagles prior to the start of free agency, Bill Belichick was commended almost universally. The consensus was that Bennett would be a pretty nice insurance policy in case Trey Flowers departed via free agency. 

That's exactly what happened. Flowers signed a five-year deal worth $90 million with the Lions that the Patriots were never going to approach. Bennett, meanwhile, was scheduled to make a fraction of that yet showed in 2018 that he still had the talent to replace a reasonable portion of that which Flowers provided. (The Patriots have re-worked Bennett's deal since trading a fifth-round pick for him, giving the 33-year-old a two-year deal worth $16.75 million.)

But what percentage of Flowers' production might Bennett replace? And will Bennett even be used similarly to his predecessor? Is his skill set such that Belichick will have to cook up a unique role, sharing what were Flowers' responsibilities between multiple defenders?

We won't know for sure what Bennett's specific duties will be for the entirety of 2019 based on how he's used in training camp. But I think it's reasonable to assume we will have a better idea of the team's plan for its newest pass-rusher once the pads come on and he's placed in a competitive situation on the fields behind Gillette Stadium.

What makes Bennett's role somewhat difficult to pin down ahead of camp is that a) he's played a variety of techniques, been used in a variety of situations over the course of his career, and b) the same was true for Flowers.

Flowers played all along the defensive line -- left end, right end, three-technique, nose tackle in passing situations -- and was used in just about every situation. He was New England's highest-graded pass-rusher last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and its second-best run-stopper. He played 892 snaps last season, including playoffs, which put him on the field for 77.4 percent of his team's defensive plays. Sixty-eight percent of those plays came against the pass. 

Bennett's career took an interesting turn in his one season with the Eagles in 2018. He played about 100 fewer snaps than he did in each of his previous two fully-healthy seasons with the Seahawks in 2017 and 2015 . . . but he still was on the field for 830 plays and didn't miss a game. His situational breakdown was tweaked a bit as well. Seventy-five percent of his snaps came against the pass last year, a significant up-tick from how he was used in Seattle. From 2014 to 2017, Bennett saw at least 36.5 percent of his plays come against the run. 

What's more is the Patriots have for years been a two-gapping defense. Their linemen and linebackers are consistently asked to stand up their blockers, read the play, then shed and flow to the ball wherever it ends up. How might Bennett fit in that type of scheme? In both Philly and Seattle, Bennett made the most of his ability to aggressively attack a single gap to get up the field quickly. 

Bennett thrived in Pete Carroll's 4-3 "under" front for years -- where four defensive linemen shade away from the strength of the offensive formation -- making three Pro Bowls. He often played the five-technique defensive end spot (across from the offensive tackle) and then kicked inside in passing situations. He, of course, played out wide as well, creating havoc just about everywhere he was aligned, as the Patriots found out in Super Bowl XLIX

With the Eagles, Bennett fit their scheme as more of a true edge rusher, rushing off the left side 71 percent of the time, per PFF. From that spot, he was credited with chipping in on eight sacks, with none coming from the right side and one coming from the interior. Of his 78 total pressures last season (tying him with Flowers), 45 came from the left end position.

Will Bennett see more time as an interior rusher for the Patriots now that the team is learning to cope with life after Flowers? Flowers rushed quarterbacks from the inside on 177 snaps last year, far and away the most of any "edge defender," according to PFF, winning one-fifth of those pass-rush reps. 

It'd make sense for Bennett to help make up for that interior production, as he has been an extremely productive interior rusher in the past. PFF credits Bennett with 45 interior pressures on 331 interior pass-rush snaps since 2015. A role more similar to the one Bennett held in Seattle -- more time spent against the run, more time rushing from the interior -- would seemingly benefit the Patriots as they re-shape their line in Flowers' absence. 

All that said . . . Will training camp, where fundamentals are so often the focus, provide us with answers as to how Bennett will be used in New England? Probably not definitive ones. Nonetheless, we'll keep our eyes open for clues once practices kick off next week.

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NFL Rumors: Patriots, RB Lamar Miller agree to one-year contract

NFL Rumors: Patriots, RB Lamar Miller agree to one-year contract

The New England Patriots added a veteran running back to their roster on Monday.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, ex-Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans RB Lamar Miller reached an agreement with the Patriots on a one-year contract.

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Miller, 29, missed the entire 2019 campaign after suffering a torn ACL in the preseason. In 2018 with Houston, he rushed for 973 yards and five touchdowns in 14 games and was named to the Pro Bowl.

Miller's most productive NFL season came in 2014 with Miami when he tallied 1,099 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

With Miller now in the fold, he joins a Patriots running back depth chart that also consists of Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Damien Harris. Michel underwent foot surgery in May and was placed on the PUP list earlier this month.

Fantasy football 2020: Projections for Tom Brady, other Bucs players

Fantasy football 2020: Projections for Tom Brady, other Bucs players

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski leaving the New England Patriots to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't just send a shockwave through the NFL. It also altered the fantasy football landscape.

The fantasy values of both the Patriots and Bucs' skill players will be much different in 2020 following Brady and Gronk's departure from Foxboro. We've gone over what to expect from the go-to guys in New England's offense, so now it's time to go over Tampa's weapons.

The obvious benefactors -- at least one would think -- of Brady becoming a Buc are his primary wide receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. But will their numbers, along with Brady's, see a significant increase as expected, or should we pump the brakes on the hype?

And then there are the running back and tight end positions. Can Tampa's intriguing rookie running back take over the starting job? What can we really expect out of Gronk after a year off from football?

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Here are our projections for the Bucs' key offensive players with Brady and Gronk in the fold:

Tom Brady, QB
Projected Stats
: 4,300 yards, 29 TD, 9 INT
Projected Draft Round: 5-7

Brady is set up to be a really solid starting quarterback in fantasy football this year. That being said, those who expect Brady to put up elite numbers and draft him any higher than Round 5 are just asking to be disappointed. There are going to be some growing pains in Bruce Arians' offense. Sure, having his old pal Gronk around as a security blanket will help, but it's going to take time for the six-time Super Bowl champ to get comfortable down in Florida. There's little doubt Brady's numbers will be better in nearly every category now that he has some real weapons at his disposal, just make sure you don't reach when plenty of other QBs will do just fine in the middle rounds.

Ronald Jones II, RB
Projected Stats
: 650 yards, 4 TD
Projected Draft Round: 7-9

Jones was an OK flex play at points last season, but overall he simply hasn't been the running back Tampa Bay has hoped for these last few seasons. That led to the Bucs selecting Vanderbilt product Ke'Shawn Vaughn on Day 2 of this year's NFL Draft. Jones is the No. 1 guy heading into camp, though it doesn't look like that will be the case throughout the 2020 campaign. Wait until the mid-to-late rounds to take Jones, and maybe even consider passing entirely to take Vaughn if you're so inclined to take a Bucs RB.

Ke'Shawn Vaughn, RB
Projected Stats
: 550 yards, 3 TD
Projected Draft Round: 8-10

Speaking of Vaughn, he could be a major difference-maker for the Bucs in Brady's offense this season. He rushed for 1,028 yards and nine touchdowns for Vandy last season and was pretty effective through the air too, tallying 270 yards and a TD. It's always tough to count on a rookie, but it's worth the risk and the ceiling definitely seems to be higher with Vaughn than it is for Jones. The addition of McCoy, however, makes Vaughn's fantasy outlook a bit murky.

LeSean McCoy, RB
Projected Stats
: 400 yards, 3 TD
Projected Draft Round: 8-10

It's impossible to now as of right now how the Bucs backfield is going to shape up in 2020. Although McCoy is a shell of what he once was, Bruce Arians definitely should find some sort of role for the 32-year-old veteran. The obvious question is whether that role will be more significant than Jones' or Vaughn's. If you're really that compelled to draft a Bucs running back, something I'd avoid entirely, it's a total toss-up and a matter of personal preference.

Mike Evans, WR
Projected Stats
: 75 receptions, 1,250 yards, 7 TD
Projected Draft Round: 2-3

There's no question the Brady-to-Evans connection is going to excite people heading into the new season. However, I'm somewhat skeptical about how their playing styles will mesh. Brady isn't one to take many risks, and Evans made a living out of catching Jameis Winston's ridiculous jump-balls downfield. It really is impossible to know how that'll work itself out, but nonetheless we're believers in Evans' elite talent and project him as a solid WR1 again in 2020.

Chris Godwin, WR
Projected Stats
: 90 receptions, 1,350 yards, 10 TD
Projected Draft Round: 2-3

Godwin was the breakout star of the 2019 fantasy football season as he put up absolutely ridiculous numbers with Jameis Winston under center. Now, the question is whether he can do it again with Brady. That may seem like a silly question, but again we have no clue what to expect from Brady in Arians' offense and how it will differ from what Godwin thrived in a year ago. Regardless, he definitely should be one of the first WRs off the board.

Rob Gronkowski, TE
Projected Stats
: 50 receptions, 700 yards, 5 TD
Projected Draft Round: 6-8

How do you make stat projections for a guy who took a year off from football to party in Miami and join the WWE? With injury concerns to boot, that makes drafting Gronk in fantasy football an extremely risky move. Obviously, with that high risk could come high reward as Tampa's offense has the potential to be one of the best in the entire NFL and Brady is going to look to Gronk early and often as a security blanket. Draft the former Pats tight end in the middle rounds, long after guys like Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Zach Ertz are off the board.

O.J. Howard, TE
Projected Stats: 25 receptions, 450 yards, 3 TD
Projected Draft Round: 8-10

The Bucs are going to run two-tight end sets in 2020, so don't think that Gronk's presence will limit Howard's production. In fact, it could even help it. Howard was a huge fantasy disappointment in 2019 and is out to prove he isn't a bust this year. There's also still a chance he gets traded to a TE-needy team and benefits from a change of scenery. Either way, you could do worse than Howard in the later rounds of your draft.