From Comcast SportsNetFOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -- The New England Patriots can make quick work of the NFL draft. With no picks after the fourth round, Bill Belichick and his braintrust could be done long before the seven-round selection process is over.Don't count on it.Belichick usually stays busy making deals on draft day -- trading up for a player he wants or down for a lower pick plus an additional choice the following year. In 2010, he sent the 22nd pick to Denver for the Broncos' 24th and a fourth rounder. Then he shipped that 24th selection and his own fourth-round pick to Dallas for the 27th and a third rounder.As usual, his plans for the three-day draft starting Thursday night are shrouded in mystery. He didn't even have a pre-draft news conference, sending director of player personnel Nick Caserio out to address reporters instead.For now, the Patriots have two picks in the first round (the 27th and 31st), two in the second (16th and 31st), and one each in the third and fourth (both the 31st)."Historically, there's been a lot of movement as it relates to our picks," Caserio said. "Right now is where we are, but the door is always open. I would say that those things kind of evolve as the draft sort of moves along."We'll see how it goes."The Patriots sent their fifth rounder to Cincinnati before last season for WR Chad Ochocinco, who had a disappointing year with just 15 receptions. They traded picks in the next two rounds on the same day, Sept. 5, 2010, with the sixth rounder going to Philadelphia for linebacker Tracy White and the seventh rounder to Kansas City for safety Jarrad Page.But they do have an extra pick in each of the first two rounds. Of course, they could trade any of those, most likely for a pick in the current draft."You try not to look too far into next year because there's an air of uncertainty," Caserio said. "You don't really know what that quantity of players is going to look like. You may have some idea throughout the course of the fall when you're going through it, but I'd say for the most part you're focused on (this) year."And this year they have plenty of positions to shore up despite reaching the Super Bowl against the New York Giants that wasn't decided until the final play -- Tom Brady's desperation heave into the end zone that fell incomplete in a 21-17 Patriots loss.The Patriots allowed the second most yards overall and in pass defense last season, and need help throughout the unit.They were 14th in the NFL with 40 sacks, led by Mark Anderson and Andre Carter with 10 each. But Anderson signed with Buffalo as a free agent and Carter is a free agent whose season ended with a knee injury in the 14th game of the season. The secondary also could use help, especially at safety where 2010 first-round draft pick Devin McCourty moved over from his normal cornerback position.Among those who could be available in the first round to help the pass rush are Nick Perry of USC, Whitney Mercilus of Illinois, Vinny Curry of Marshall and Shea McClellin of Boise State."I think the quantity of front seven players, I'd say is higher than it's been in the past," Caserio said. "There are some other positions where maybe there aren't as many players. It evolves and it rotates every year. I'd say every draft is sort of different just in terms of quality and quantity of player."In the secondary, the Patriots could have a shot at cornerbacks Stephen Gilmore of South Carolina and Janoris Jenkins of North Alabama and safety Harrison Smith of Notre Dame.New England also lacked a deep threat last season, but the signing of free agent Brandon Lloyd could make the need for a speedy young receiver less pressing.There's an unusually large number of underclassmen in the draft and that could pose a dilemma for teams."You need to delve in a little bit further, especially with underclassmen because you could have a player who let's just say has been out of high school for three years," Caserio said, "or let's say he's a redshirt sophomore, who only played one year of college football at a productive level or started for one year, so you have to make that determination. Next year, do you think that performance would improve or would it decline?"Another issue is the possibility that some veterans will retire. Left tackle Matt Light and right guard Brian Waters may go that route."Our thinking won't change," Caserio said. "We'll approach it the same way and we'll deal with things on a day-to-day basis, however they unfold."
The Bears' Week 15 loss to the Packers brings to an end any far-fetched hope that Chicago would complete a miraculous late-season turnaround and sneak into the playoffs as an NFC wild-card team. And while there's still a chance the Bears can finish 2019 above .500, the theme of this year will be disappointment.
There will be plenty of time to nitpick the 2019 Bears and identify what went wrong to derail a club with Super Bowl aspirations over the summer. For now, though, it's worth pointing out a positive development from Sunday's loss that advanced a recent trend of production in Chicago's passing game.
Wide receivers Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller each eclipsed 100 receiving yards against the Packers and continued to provide the Bears with a look at what could emerge as one of the best receiver tandems in the NFL next season.
Miller caught nine passes for 118 yards and a touchdown while Robinson secured seven catches for 125 yards. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky targeted the duo a total of 29 times in the game.
"We are just trying to make plays," Robinson said Sunday after the game. "Anthony Miller is a very competitive dude. He makes plays when he gets his chance. So for me I am just trying to do the same thing; make plays and give our offense a shot to move the ball and score some touchdowns.”
Robinson's big afternoon brings his season totals to 83 catches, 1,023 yards and seven scores. It's the first time A-Rob has gone over 1,000 receiving yards since his breakout 1,400-yard season in 2015.
Miller, who was an afterthought in the passing offense for the first month of the season, now has career-highs in receptions (50) and yards (649). He's averaged 86 receiving yards per game over the last five weeks.
Trubisky's stat line has benefited quite a bit from Miller's recent surge, too. He's averaging 298 passing yards per game over the last four weeks, which spread across an entire season would total more than 4,700 yards.
It's OK to be frustrated with how 2019 turned out for the Bears. The season got off to an unbearably slow start and didn't come anywhere near the lofty expectations fans had when training camp broke. But it's become very clear over the last several games that the Bears have a strong foundation for an explosive passing game in place with Robinson and Miller.
The goal in 2020 should be to make sure the explosive duo is unleashed much sooner in the season.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.
When he speaks with the media after games or practice, Akiem Hicks is rarely at a loss for what to say. The defensive tackle isn’t one to mince words, a personality trait that suits him well as one of the Bears’ most vocal and unquestionable leaders. That’s why it was so surprising when he couldn’t properly express how much pain he was going through during the Bears’ 21-13 loss on Sunday afternoon.
“I would hate to describe it. I guess just imagine bones, doing that, moving a little bit when you don’t want it to,” Hicks said, mimicking the bone-on-bone agitation he felt by aggressively rubbing the knuckles of his two fists together. “That’s part of the game.”
Hicks made his much-anticipated return on Sunday afternoon, and his impact was felt almost immediately. On the Packers’ first play of the game, Aaron Rodgers dialed up a deep ball to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who had a step on his man. Hicks got a great jump on the ball, getting in Rodgers’ line of sight and hitting him right as the quarterback uncorked the heave. It would fall a few feet in front of Valdes-Scantling’s outstretched hands. It was one of two QB hits and four tackles Hicks was credited with on the afternoon.
“I mean, I’ve been saying that Akiem is the juice, man,” Prince Amukamara said. “He brings the juice to this team. His leadership on the field and off the field. You can even see him and Eddie [Jackson] have a thing where they just feed off each other. We appreciate him coming back.”
Hicks’ impact on other defensive players was a heavily-discussed topic all week, but it centered more on how he would free up Khalil Mack (one tackle) and Leonard Floyd (one tackle) to create havoc. Instead, it was Jackson who led the team in tackles (6).
“It was huge, man,” Jackson said of Hicks’ return. “He gets us fired up.”
Hicks clearly struggled with the injury from the get-go. He was taken into the medical tent by trainers on two separate occasions, and at that point wasn’t sure if he’d be able to get back into the game.
“It’s my elbow.” pic.twitter.com/9LLLlvZbnX— Brian Sandalow (@BrianSandalow) December 15, 2019
He wouldn’t elaborate on what specifically was going on, only mentioning that the training staff did a terrific job working on the fly to make sure he stayed in the game.
“There’s a lot of doubt in that moment,” he said. “You’re in the medical tent, so you’re just trying to figure out what’s going on. And so, they did their best to make sure I was able to play, and I was able to go back out and finish the game, so kudos to our team.”
Now that the Bears have been eliminated from playoff contention, how the team treats Hicks’ final two games of 2019 will be something to watch for. When asked if he planned on being out there for games against Kansas City and Minnesota, Hicks smiled and chose his words carefully.
“I love football.”Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.