Aaron Dobson

Better late than never for Patriots with Mohamed Sanu

Better late than never for Patriots with Mohamed Sanu

This is Mohamed Sanu’s eighth season in the NFL and – prior to Sunday night – he’d never been featured in a game like he was against the Ravens.

In just his second game with the Patriots, Sanu played every offensive snap – all 67 of them – and was targeted with throws on 14 of those snaps. He caught 10 of them.

Never before had Sanu played every offensive snap in the NFL. His previous highs were 62 snaps in 2016 and 61 snaps in 2017 and 2018 when he was with the Falcons. The 14 targets and 10 receptions matched his career highs in both categories set when he was with the Bengals in 2014.

We knew Sanu was just what the doctors (in this case, Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels) ordered when the trade was made and we detailed it the day it went down:  he’d have on Julian Edelman’s workload, the way he’d change the color on Tom Brady’s mood ring, the red-zone potency (he caught a touchdown in the first half against Baltimore).

Truth be told, Sanu probably should have been here all along. He was a third-round pick in the 2012 draft out of Rutgers, selected at No. 83. The Patriots went into the 2012 season with newly-signed free agent Brandon Lloyd, aging Deion Branch, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman as their four wideouts. They had Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski as multi-dimensional tight ends so it wasn’t like they went into that season strapped for targets.

But Welker’s deal was going to be up at the end of the year, Edelman hadn’t yet made the strides he would, Branch was at the end and Lloyd was – despite all his skill – mercurial.

The Patriots took Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower with their first two picks in that draft. Home runs. Then they took Tavon Wilson with the 48th pick. Three-pitch K. Backwards K. At 90 – a few picks after Sanu went to the Bengals, the Patriots took defensive end Jake Bequette.

This isn’t 20/20 hindsight. This is what I wrote prior to that draft.

Ridiculously productive at Rutgers where he set Big East records for career receptions (210) and single-season receptions (115 in 2011). At 6-foot-2, 211 pounds, he's got good size and has shown adaptability in the passing game with the ability to run a lot of different routes well and be creative at setting up defenders. Enjoys the physical part of the game - blocking, working inside - and has multi-dimensional skills as both a return man on special teams and as a Wildcat quarterback.

This kid reeks to high heaven of David Givens-ness. Givens, a seventh-round pick from Notre Dame in 2002 who turned into a brilliant receiver over the next few seasons, was 6-1, 217 coming into the league with a 4.56 40-yard dash at the Combine. He had a great build and the potential to get better physically and mentally and he did once he got in the program. Sanu is a more finished version of Givens at 6-2, 211 and -- while his 4.66 time at the Combine concerned people -- he's said to be football fast and is such a technician he makes up for the heartbeat of speed he may be lacking in a straight-line sprint. The Patriots have four targets filling roles for Tom Brady. Wes Welker is the slot; Brandon Lloyd is the downfield X-receiver; Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are the versatile tight ends running in the flats and down the seams, Deion Branch is working the sidelines. That would be the role for Sanu the same way it was for Givens. The deep out, the backline drag in the end zone - key spots for a smart, physical player like Sanu who can replace Branch. Plus, he returns punts. And he comes from the Belichick-approved Greg Schiano program at Rutgers.

The 23-year-old junior was seen as a borderline first-rounder until the NFL Combine. But the rise of some other wideouts with better measurables but far less production (Stephen Hill) may drive Sanu down the board. The later it goes, the more likely it is he joins the Patriots. Bill Belichick has said in the past that the second round is a place for gambles. Sanu isn't really that. He doesn't have a ridiculously high NFL ceiling. But the chance of him becoming a total bust is unlikely as well. If he's on the board at 62, the Patriots would be getting a steal.

And they would have. By the time the 2013 season began, Welker was a Bronco, Hernandez was in jail, and Lloyd was released and out of the NFL for the year. The Patriots signed Danny Amendola and got busy at wideout in drafting Aaron Dobson in the second round and Josh Boyce in the fourth.

Neither one of them ultimately worked out. Meanwhile, Sanu was settling in with the Bengals where he’d be a useful player for a mediocre team until hitting free agency in 2016.

The Patriots showed some interest in Sanu then but he was pursued harder by the Falcons. The Patriots brought aboard Chris Hogan and Nate Washington.

Big picture, what did the Patriots miss out on while Sanu was a Bengal from 2012 to 2015? They went to the AFC Championship each of those years, they won a Super Bowl in 2014, they’ve won two more since they didn’t grab him in free agency. Was Sanu the silver bullet that would have delivered a string of uninterrupted Lombardis?

Probably not. And it’s not worth kicking rocks about given the success of the franchise.

But it was a draft-day wideout miss (Aside: I could have been spoonfeeding these guys wideout picks – I was ALL OVER Tyler Lockett in 2015 and Sterling Shepard in 2016 as later-round picks who’d click).

Now that they have him, Brady is over the moon.

"He's done a great job," Brady told Scott Zolak for WBZ's "Patriots All-Access. "Any time someone's forced in, in a short period of time, it's really hard to learn an entire offense that most guys are starting in March and then installing and picking up these things ... It's hard to get someone up to speed in a very short period of time. 

"He's someone that's done everything we could expect and more. Him having the targets the other night, making the plays, not only his hands, his run-after-the-catch, his toughness, we're definitely gonna have some fun working together the second half of the year as he gets more comfortable, confident in what we're doing and we gain more of a shared vision of how we see things. I think our chemistry is going to keep improving."

So maybe all’s well that ends well. With a defense like the one they have and – in Sanu – an asset that can make the offense more consistent and productive, the potential for 2019 ending well is high.

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Great Patriots Debate: Who was the most disappointing draft pick in team history?

Great Patriots Debate: Who was the most disappointing draft pick in team history?

Today's Great Patriots Debate had several different working titles before we settled on the word "disappointing."

If we simply went with "worst" pick, we'd be robbed of discussing all the what-if scenarios presented by players who suffered injuries during their pro careers and never panned out. 

If we went with "biggest whiff," we'd run into the same issue. Hard to fault anyone for what happened to Robert Edwards (except maybe the NFL for holding a flag football game in the sand during Pro Bowl week) or to point fingers at anyone for Ras-I Dowling's inability to stay healthy (though he entered the league with some health concerns). 

If we stick with biggest disappointments, we can lump together every high-end pick that didn't pan out — for whatever reason. Were they injured prior to their pro careers and stayed that way? Injured after the fact, providing the Patriots with nary a highlight? Could they simply... not play? 

Let's pose the question to you before laying out some of the options: If you were to peg one player, who would you choose as the most disappointing draft pick in franchise history?

Your answer will depend largely on when you were born. If you're old enough to remember the Patriots taking receiver Tom Reynolds with the No. 49 overall pick in 1972 and then saw him get just eight touches as a rookie before moving on to the Bears, that might rank right up there for you. Same could be said for 1974 second-rounder Steve Corbett, who played just 14 games after going No. 30 overall (four picks ahead of Patriots Hall of Famer Steve Nelson).

There was no shortage of draft-day letdowns in the 1980s, either. Running back Vagas Ferguson went No. 25 overall in 1980 and scored just five times in essentially two seasons. Running back Robert Weathers did less than that as the No. 40 overall choice — taken one spot before Hall of Famer Andre Tippett — two years later. Receiver Darryal Wilson (second-rounder, 1983), nose tackle Mike Ruth (second, 1986) and Reggie Dupard (first, 1986) certainly didn't help the Patriots build up any foundation upon which to construct a contender. Hart Lee Dykes, an explosive athlete taken with the No. 16 overall pick in 1989, suffered a series of injuries (including an eye injury in a fight outside a club in 1990) that eventually cost him his career.

Then came the Pete Carroll era with drafts headed up by Bobby Grier. Corner Chris Canty has an argument as one of the worst picks in franchise history, providing very little after being made the No. 29 overall selection in 1997. He was gone by 1999 and out of the league by the end of the 2000 season.

The team struck gold in the first round with Edwards in 1998 until he was injured, then it missed on a pair of second-rounders in the same class: receiver Tony Simmons and tight end Rod Rutledge. Andy Katzenmoyer (No. 28 overall) was part of a two-pronged first-round for New England the following year — Damien Woody went No. 17 — but he suffered a neck injury and walked away from the game in 2001. What looked like a player who might help redefine the linebacker position for the Patriots ended up playing just 24 career games. 

Bill Belichick, like any longtime personnel chief, has certainly had misses in the draft over the course of his two decades in Foxboro. The second round has been where he's taken his biggest swings, hitting on the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Sebastian Vollmer. But he's also gotten little-to-no production from second-rounders like Bethel Johnson (2003), Terrence Wheatley (2008), Dowling (2011), Aaron Dobson (2013), Jordan Richards (2015) or Cyrus Jones (2016), who suffered a torn ACL before the start of his sophomore season. Arguably the worst of the bunch was one of Belichick's highest second-round choices, wide receiver Chad Jackson (No. 36 overall, 2006). 

The first round has seen Belichick get at the very least solid returns out of almost every pick, with the exception of Dominique Easley. Like many of Belichick's second-round dice-rolls, the No. 29 choice in 2014 pick was a gamble. Easley came into the NFL with a history of significant knee injuries and could not stay healthy during his time in New England. He was released less than two years after he was drafted.

If I had to narrow it down — based on what was expected of the players at the time they were selected and what they ended up contributing — I'd say Canty, Katzenmoyer, Jackson and Easley all deserve to be considered right near the top of this list. And that's not even considering which players were drafted after those guys. 

Jason Taylor, the Barber twins and Sam Madison came after Canty; five-time Pro Bowler Al Wilson and Joey Porter were taken after Katzenmoyer; Greg Jennings, Andrew Whitworth and Maurice Jones-Drew followed Jackson; Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams, Stephon Tuitt, DeMarcus Lawrence and Kyle Van Noy were selected after Easley.

But again, my choices might be different than yours because of when I was born. Can't help it. Be sure to make the case for your biggest disappointment on our Facebook page or in our Twitter poll that can be found @philaperry. 

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Report: Ex-Patriots receiver Aaron Dobson works out for 49ers

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Report: Ex-Patriots receiver Aaron Dobson works out for 49ers

Former New England Patriots wide receiver Aaron Dobson worked out for the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday, according to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.

After a strong rookie campaign in 2013, Dobson dealt with nagging injuries and played in just 12 games total in the last two years. 

In 24 career games with the Patriots Dobson caught 53 passes for 698 yards and four touchdowns.