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Pats secondary struggling for 3rd straight year

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Pats secondary struggling for 3rd straight year

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The New England Patriots keep drafting defensive backs in the early rounds. One of these years they may find one who lives up to that status.

For the third straight season, the Patriots have one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL, specializing in allowing big plays.

Clearly, their secondary is a primary problem.

``We have to play better in the secondary and this team will be better,'' said cornerback Devin McCourty, a first-round pick in 2010.

At Seattle last Sunday, New England gave up touchdown passes by rookie Russell Wilson of 50 yards to Doug Baldwin and 46 to Sidney Rice. A pass to Golden Tate gained 51 yards, and safety Patrick Chung, a second-round choice in 2009, was called for a 40-yard pass interference penalty. Rice's touchdown with 1:18 left and Steven Hauschka's extra point gave the Seahawks a 24-23 win.

The long completions are becoming painfully commonplace.

The Patriots have allowed 13 of 30 yards or more, a big reason they're just 3-3. Tom Brady has thrown only five passes for that distance in the six games.

Five of the six quarterbacks the Patriots have faced have completed passes for at least 30 yards. Wilson, Peyton Manning, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Joe Flacco did it three times and Jake Locker once.

``Obviously, you never want to give up big plays, regardless what phase of the game it is,'' said Matthew Slater, a wide receiver and special teams captain who was forced into action at safety last season by injuries. ``Big plays are momentum plays so, in that respect, a lot of us have the responsibility not to give up the big play and to make the big play.''

The Patriots have tried plenty of defensive backs, hoping they can fulfill that responsibility.

They've drafted seven of them in the first two rounds in the last six years. Only four remain. Is that because coach Bill Belichick's defensive system is tougher to learn than others or because the three no longer with the team weren't as good as Belichick thought when he drafted them?

Those three - Brandon Meriweather, Terrence Wheatley and Darius Butler - haven't done well after leaving the Patriots. And cornerback Ras-I Dowling, slowed by injuries after being taken in the second round last year, hasn't lived up to expectations this year.

The turnover in the secondary has been constant.

Of the 10 defensive backs who played for the Patriots in 2009, four didn't play for them the next year. Of the nine they used in 2010, five were gone in 2011. They tried 13 different players in the secondary in 2011 and eight are no longer with the team. That includes James Ihedigbo, who started 12 of the 16 games he played.

None of the current defensive backs can be counted on week after week.

McCourty made the Pro Bowl as a rookie but has been plagued by defensive pass interference calls this year. Starting cornerback Kyle Arrington tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions last season, but was replaced by rookie Alfonzo Dennard, a seventh-rounder, after allowing the 50-yard touchdown to Baldwin on Seattle's second series.

The other two regular starters, safeties Steve Gregory and Chung, have been nicked up. Gregory missed the last two games with a hip injury and Chung left Sunday's game after hurting his shoulder.

So on the decisive touchdown pass to Rice, the Patriots used only four defensive backs with rookie draft picks Tavon Wilson (second round) and Nate Ebner (sixth) at safety. Rice got by Wilson and Ebner came over too late to help.

``Early in your career, everything's a learning experience and they're getting plenty of learning experiences now,'' said Gregory, in his first year as a Patriot after signing as a free agent from San Diego. ``But they're working really hard at trying to become better football players.''

Wilson put the blame on himself.

``I'm held accountable just like everybody else on this team,'' he said. ``I don't expect them to take no slack on me because I'm a rookie. I've got to make the play.''

But why didn't Belichick put more defensive backs on the field to help the rookies, knowing that the Seahawks would pass with little time left and a six-point deficit?

``I think we had enough people back there on paper,'' he said. ``I don't think there was anything wrong with the call. I think we could have played it better, which includes coaching it to be played better. ... We would have had to cover it if we were in something else as well.''

The Patriots could catch a break next Sunday when they face the New York Jets. Mark Sanchez has had a tough season and threw for just 82 yards in last Sunday's 35-9 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

The way New England's secondary is playing, that number could be much higher.

``I have played some safety and it is much harder than it may look,'' Slater said. ``We believe in every last one of them, wouldn't want any other guy back there than the guys that have been back there, and we stand behind them 100 percent.''

It's the receivers who get behind them who are causing the problems.

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The Caps' Cup-winning roster is a lesson in building through the draft

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USA TODAY Sports

The Caps' Cup-winning roster is a lesson in building through the draft

Every year, the Stanley Cup-winning team shows the importance of building through the draft. This year, that team is the Washington Capitals.

With the NHL Draft starting on Friday, let’s break down the Capitals roster from the playoffs to see just how it was put together.

Acquired by the draft: Nicklas Backstrom, Madison Bowey, Travis Boy, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Shane Gersich, Philipp Grubauer, Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Alex Ovechkin, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Nathan Walker, Tom Wilson

Acquired as a free agent: Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson, Brett Connolly, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Devante Smith-Pelly

Acquired by trade: Lars Eller, Jakub Jerabek, Michal Kempny, T.J. Oshie

The first thing to note is that the vast majority of Washington’s roster is made up of draft picks. Specifically, the majority of the Caps’ top six on offense, three of its top six defensemen and both goalies were drafted by the team.

Of the free agent signings, only two were big money players in Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. In 2014, defense was a major question mark for the Caps and Brian MacLellan made a splash as the new general manager by signing both blue liners to big deals. The majority of the signings, however, are cheap, low risk and high reward players.

Finally, the trades include players who filled obvious needs. The Caps needed Oshie to shore up the top six, Eller was brought in to be the third line center, Kempny stepped in as a top-four defenseman and Jerabek was brought in for defensive depth.

So what does this show us?

First, the draft is absolutely critical to building a team’s core. True superstar players are hard to come by. Once a team gets one, they do everything they can to keep them. The draft is a team's first opportunity to acquire a certain player and, if they have superstar potential, sign them long-term. John Tavares this season looks headed to free agency and the buzz around him stems from the fact that he is very much the exception, not the rule. The base of the Caps’ Stanley Cup team was built by drafting star players like Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Carlson, Holtby, etc.

This also shows the importance of the draft for depth. In the salary cap era, teams need to find enough cap room for their stars and their depth players. Having young players is absolutely critical because their low cap hit allows for the team to sign the expensive stars and make the important addition in free agency  or by trade. This is a formula that only works if those young players are productive as well.

Players like Vrana and Burakovsky, for example, played big roles in the playoff run, but also carried low cap hits.

So the Caps built a core through the draft and filled key roles with trades and mostly cheap free agent signings.

There is no formula for how to win a Stanley Cup, if there was everyone would do it, but this is about as close as you can come to one. A team has to draft very well and then build around those draft picks to be successful. You cannot hope to build simply through trades and free agency because of the cost. Trades always require sending an asset the other way and very often that asset turns out to be prospects or draft picks. Free agency, meanwhile, requires team overpay for top targets leading to serious cap trouble down the line.

There are always trades and free agent signings that prove to be important, but those are only pieces to a much large puzzle. To win a Stanley Cup, you have to build through the draft.

MORE CAPITALS COVERAGE:

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2018 NBA Draft: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

2018 NBA Draft: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

The 2018 NBA Draft will take place on Thursday night as the newest wave of potential superstars like DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Mo Bamba and Luka Doncic enter the league. Here is everything you need to know for the big night...

2018 NBA DRAFT

When: 7 p.m.
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY
TV: ESPN
Live stream: WatchESPN.com
Radio: ESPN

Wizards draft picks: 15th overall in the first round, 44th overall in the second round

First round order:

1. Phoenix Suns
2. Sacramento Kings
3. Atlanta Hawks
4. Memphis Grizzlies
5. Dallas Mavericks
6. Orlando Magic
7. Chicago Bulls
8. Cleveland Cavaliers
9. New York Knicks
10. Philadelphia 76ers
11. Charlotte Hornets
12. Los Angeles Clippers
13. Los Angeles Clippers
14. Denver Nuggets
15. Washington Wizards
16. Phoenix Suns
17. Milwaukee Bucks
18. San Antonio Spurs
19. Atlanta Hawks
20. Minnesota Timberwolves
21. Utah Jazz
22. Chicago Bulls
23. Indiana Pacers
24.Portland Trail Blazers
25. Los Angeles Lakers
26. Philadelphia 76ers
27. Boston Celtics
28. Golden State Warriors
29. Brooklyn Nets
30. Atlanta Hawks

Top prospects:

1. DeAndre Ayton, C, Arizona
2. Marvin Bagley III, Duke
3. Luka Doncic, Slovenia
4. Jaren Jackson, Jr., Michigan State
5. Mo Bamba, Texas
6. Michael Porter, Jr., Missouri
7. Wendell Carter, Duke
8. Trae Young, Oklahoma
9. Collin Sexton, Alabama
10. Kevin Knox, Kentucky

Three things to watch...

Will Leonard get traded?

Last year's draft featured some big trades including Jimmy Butler going to the Timberwolves. This year, there seems to be at least a decent chance it happens with Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs. He wants a trade and they have been meeting with him in recent days, perhaps for a last-ditch pitch to remain with the team. If he gets dealt on draft night, it wouldn't be a huge surprise.

Who will the Kings pick?

A consensus has built for Ayton to go No. 1 to the Suns. After that, it's a major crapshoot and whomever the Kings select will produce a domino effect from there on down. Will they take Bagley, the safe pick, or go a riskier route with Doncic or maybe even Porter, Jr.? The best bet at this point appears to be Bagley, but nobody truly knows.

Where will Young and Porter, Jr. go?

The two most interesting prospects in this draft are Young and Porter, Jr. Young was a sensation in college basketball, but is undersized and appears to be boom-or-bust. He could flame out quickly at the next level or be some iteration of the next Stephen Curry. Porter, Jr. played only three games in college due to a back injury and now has hip issues as well. His talent is undeniable, but his injury history represents significant risk.

CLICK HERE FOR OUR 2018 NBA MOCK DRAFT

For more on the NBA Draft, check out our preview special episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast: