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Target Practice: Who was Tom Brady’s favorite (and most dependable) target this past postseason?

02.09.12 at 9:08 am ET
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Targets have been compiled by the NFL since the start of the 2009 season, and while it remains an imperfect stat ‘€” a badly thrown ball from a quarterback can often go against the record of the receiver as opposed to the quarterback ‘€” it remains a good indication of the confidence level a passer might have in his pass catcher. We had the target breakdown for the New England passing game for the 2011 regular season — here’€™s what the postseason breakdown looks like:

Chad Ochocinco: 1 catch on 1 target (100 percent)
Wes Welker: 19 catches on 23 targets (83 percent)
Danny Woodhead: 5 catches on 6 targets (83 percent)
Rob Gronkowski: 17 catches on 23 targets (74 percent)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 3 catches on 5 targets (60 percent)
Deion Branch: 8 catches on 13 targets (62 percent)
Aaron Hernandez: 19 catches on 31 targets (61 percent)
Julian Edelman: 2 catches on 5 targets (40 percent)
Stevan Ridley: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)
Matthew Slater: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)

By position
Wide receiver: 30 catches on 43 targets (70 percent)
Tight end: 36 catches on 54 targets (67 percent)
Running back: 8 catches on 12 targets (67 percent)

The sample size for the postseason is smaller, but it’€™s interesting to note that when you compare the regular-season percentages against the postseason number that Gronkowski’€™s percentage was almost the same (74 percent in the playoffs, 73 percent in the regular season). And among the receivers who see the most passes, Welker’€™s numbers increased dramatically between the regular season (71 percent) and postseason (83 percent), while Hernandez saw a sharp drop in his percentage from the regular season to the postseason (70 to 61 percent).

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Chad Ochocinco, Danny Woodhead

Re-setting the Patriots 2012 draft board

02.08.12 at 12:48 pm ET
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With the Super Bowl done, the 2012 draft order has been set. The Patriots have two picks in the first round, with one at No. 27 (the result of a trade last year with the Saints) and their own pick at No. 31. The Patriots also have two second-round picks, with No. 48 overall courtesy of a deal with the Raiders, and their own selection at No. 63.

‘€œI’€™m actually very excited about the core group of players we have on this team, about the young players that have come in,’€ Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a press conference on Monday. ‘€œI’€™m also excited that we have two (first-round draft picks) and two (second-round draft picks) in this upcoming draft.’€

In addition, the Patriots also have a third-round pick at No. 94, as well as a fourth-round pick that’s TBD.

New England has dealt away its fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round selections in various deals the last few seasons, with the fifth-rounder going to Cincinnati in exchange for Chad Ochocinco, the sixth-round pick to Philadelphia in a deal that landed the Patriots linebacker Tracy White, and the seventh rounders to Kansas City (for Jarrad Page) and Minnesota (via Philadelphia) as part of the 2010 trade of Randy Moss.

Read More: Chad Ochocinco, Jarrad Page, Randy Moss, Robert Kraft

CEO of company that took a shot at Wes Welker issues half-hearted apology

02.08.12 at 12:36 pm ET
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The company that dumped 900 pounds of Butterfingers in Copley Square as a shot at Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker has issued an apology. In an open letter on the Pawngo website from CEO and Founder Todd Hills writes: “In delivering a pile of Butterfinger bars to Copley Square in Boston, and a sign referencing Wes Welker, we were making a lighthearted gesture following Sunday’€™s hard fought game. We thought that Boston fans would get a laugh out of it.  But,  for many great Boston sports fans, it was taken offensively.  Please accept my most sincere apologies.”

Read More: Todd Hills, Wes Welker,

Could the Patriots lose tight ends coach Brian Ferentz to Iowa?

02.08.12 at 12:28 am ET
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Bill O’€™Brien might not be the only coach the Patriots lose this offseason. New England tight ends coach Brian Ferentz — the son of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz — could be joining his father’€™s staff as an assistant.

There’€™s been a lot of movement lately on the Hawkeyes coaching staff, where Reese Morgan, Iowa’€™s offensive line coach for the past nine seasons, is moving to defensive line, and according to this ESPN blog post, that would open up a spot on the coaching staff for Brian Ferentz.

The son of Kirk (who worked with Bill Belichick in Cleveland), Brian started with the Patriots as a coaching assistant in 2008, moved to offensive coaching assistant the following year and became an offensive assistant in 2010. He was officially promoted to tight ends coach at the start of this season, and has helped youngsters Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez become two of the best young tight ends in the game.

Ferentz spoke with the TheGazette.com shortly after the Patriots’€™ Super Bowl loss to the Giants, and discussed a handful of topics, including the new openings on the Iowa coaching staff, whether he would be a candidate, as well as Gronkowski’€™s performance in the Super Bowl.

‘€œMy job is the coach of the New England Patriots‘€™ tight ends. I’€™m trying to do that to the best of my ability today,’€ he said. ‘€œWhat happens in the future, whether a year, two years, 10 years from now, I’€™m focused on doing my job.’€

When it came to Gronkowski’€™s performance against the Giants, Ferentz was impressed with what the big tight end could do with a high ankle sprain.

‘€œI’€™m certainly not a doctor, but it was something comparable to what Ricky Stanzi had two years ago,’€ he said.

‘€œI was impressed coaching him in how he showed a lot of mental toughness, a lot of physical toughness. Most importantly, he had the commitment to his teammates to get out on the field and give us whatever he had. I still think he brought a lot to the game with blocking protection in the run game, and he actually performed pretty well. He gave us some spirit, some juice.’€

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Bill Belichick, Bill O'Brien, Brian Ferentz

Ten players the Patriots should look at drafting

02.07.12 at 11:59 pm ET
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The games have been played, and now it’s time for the real fun to begin. The NFL Scouting Combine is just two short weeks away, and the Patriots have four of the draft’s first 63 picks in this year’s draft (Nos. 27, 31, 48 and 63).

Is this the year the Pats finally go after a pass-rusher? Will the team spend another high pick on a defensive back (and shouldn’t they)? Will the Patriots add a big receiver? These are the questions that will likely be asked time and time again in the weeks leading up to April 26.

So, with some apparent needs and a plethora of picks to address them early, here are 10 players the Pats might want to consider in this year’s draft. Of course, this is an incredibly early look and workouts have yet to be conducted, so projections as to where players might be selected are merely educated guesses at this point.

Quinton Coples, DE/DT, UNC

Where he might go in the draft: Top 10

When it comes to defensive prospects in this draft, this is the guy. Projected as an elite lineman as either a defensive end or defensive tackle, Coples would bring star power to a defensive line that doesn’t have much outside of Vince Wilfork. Bill Belichick would really need to change his ways in order to secure Coples’ services, as the last time the Pats traded up in the first round was in 2003, and it was just one spot.

Coples has very good size (6-foot-5 6/8, 281 pounds), is strong and has very good speed. The thing that might not make Coples worth trading up for is the fact that he is not an elite pass-rusher, which is something the Patriots need.

Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska

Where he might go in the draft: First or second round

Every year, it seems, we list all of the pass-rushers who seem perfect for the Patriots, but the Pats have largely ignored the need for years. With that being said, people won’t stop suggesting they add a legitimate pass-rusher until they do. Crick is a pass-rush specialist, is big (6-foot-4 2/8, 286) and could play on the line in the 4-3 and standing up in the 3-4.

Crick emerged as a sophomore, playing on the same line as Ndamukong Suh and racking up 9.5 sacks for the Huskers. When Suh left, Crick’s production didn’t drop off. He posted 9.5 sacks again as a junior, and seemed poised for a big senior year before it was cut short by injury. Crick was limited to only five games this season due to a torn pectoral muscle, which he suffered on Sept. 17 against Wyoming. He played two more games through pain, but the team shut the senior down for the season in October, so he finished his final year with just one sack.

Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina

Where he might go in the draft: Second round

The Patriots lack a big, tall receiving option, and it seems they’ve been shell-shocked when it comes to drafting receivers high. Given how bad their track record has been, perhaps their reluctance to draft at the position is justified. The last three receivers drafted in the the first three rounds (Chad Jackson, second round ’06; Brandon Tate, third round ’09; Taylor Price, third round ’10) have each lasted less than two seasons with the team before being released.

At 6-foot-4, Jeffery’s body is more filled out than Stephen Hill‘s (see below), as the South Carolina product weighs in at 232 pounds. Jeffery possesses good enough speed for such a big receiver and has very good hands. Jeffery’s best season came in 2010 as a sophomore, when he reeled in 88 catches for 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns. There also is no injury history with Jeffery, so for what the Patriots need at receiver, he seems to be a logical fit.

Rueben Randle, WR, LSU

Where he might go in the draft: Second round

The fact that Randle declared for the draft and is now in a rather crowded group of big receivers is only good news for teams in need, but another year at LSU may have made him a first-round prospect.

Route-running is Randle’s biggest weakness, but he is big and fast, and having both he and Rob Gronkowski on the field at the same time would create nightmares for defenses when the Pats get in the red zone. Randle had nine touchdowns as a junior.

Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech

Where he might go in the draft: Late second or third round

The 208-pound Hill stands at 6-foot-4 2/8, and, like Demaryius Thomas and other receivers to come from Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense, wasn’t a focal point of his team’s offense in college. That doesn’t mean that some coaching and improvement in route-running can’t make this Yellow Jacket into a legitimate NFL receiver. Just look at Thomas and Calvin Johnson, both of whom came from Georgia Tech and have established themselves as two of the best young receivers in the game. Unlike Johnson and Thomas, Hill probably won’t cost a team a first-round pick.

Mark Barron, S, Alabama

Where he might go in the draft: First round

Assuming Belichick plans on using Devin McCourty as a cornerback, the team will need more help at safety. That’s a position Belichick certainly hasn’t been afraid of early in the draft, as he drafted the likes of Brandon Meriweather and Patrick Chung in the first two rounds.

Barron might be a Belichick type of player simply because he’s good at everything. He’s got solid timed speed for his size (6-foot-1 4/8, 223-pounds and projects to run the 40-yard dash in the 4.5 range), is a strong tackler and plays well against both the pass and the run. Also, you can never discount the Nick Saban connection.

Barron does have a history with the law, as he was arrested last March on a second-degree charge of hindering the prosecution. Barron allegedly was unwilling to identify his cousin as the driver in a car accident in which the driver had fled the scene.

Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse

Where he might go in the draft: Second round

At 6-foot-5 and 247 pounds, Jones has a similar body to Pats defensive end Mark Anderson. He was actually recruited as a tight end, but developed into a star defensive end in his time at Syracuse.

Jones is a good enough athlete, but he was by no means the feared pass-rusher that Crick was in college. Still, he has the size to potentially contribute at defensive end or outside linebacker for the Patriots. Belichick needs to grab at least one of these guys in the first two rounds, and both Crick and Jones fit the bill with their potential positional versatility. Jones missed time during his junior season with a lower body injury.

Cam Johnson, DE/OLB, Virginia

Where he might go in the draft: Second or third round

When looking at players who potentially could play both defensive end and outside linebacker, experience at both is something that not all prospects have. Johnson does have that experience. He was originally an outside linebacker in the 3-4, and he played defensive end when the team switched to 4-3. Given that the Pats go back and forth between the two schemes, having someone who could switch seamlessly would be advantageous.

Johnson isn’t as tall (6-foot-3 6/8) as Crick or Jones, but he has better bulk than Jones at 267 pounds. He also has good speed, which could potentially help his draft stock if he runs well at the combine.

Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia

Where he might go in the draft: Second round

The Patriots hope to see what a healthy Ras-I Dowling can do next season, but his history of injuries is significant enough that the Pats shouldn’t feel comfortable leaving the cornerback position unaddressed in the draft this year. Boykin isn’t the biggest guy in the world (5-foot-9 2/8, 183 pounds), but considering that McCourty, Kyle Arrington and Sterling Moore are 5-foot-10, height evidently is not a deal-breaker for New England. Despite his suboptimal size, Boykin should warrant selection early on Day 2 due to his athleticism.

Boykin can also contribute in the return game, and his contributions on offense both running and catching the ball earned him the 2011 Paul Hornung award for being the nation’s most versatile player. He figures to be a factor only at corner and as a return man in the NFL, but if there’s one thing Bill Belichick likes, it’s versatility.

George Iloka, S, Boise State

Where he might get drafted: Third round or later

Iloka is a giant in the secondary at 6-foot-3 5/8 and 222 pounds and is a good enough athlete to not be limited by his big frame. He isn’t nearly the complete safety prospect that Barron is, but he does have some experience playing cornerback. Given that Belichick is no stranger to moving guys around in his defensive backfield, that could be a good thing.

Read More: 2012 NFL Draft, alshon jeffery, brandon boykin, cam johnson

Tiquan Underwood, Ross Ventrone, 5 others signed to future contracts

02.07.12 at 6:04 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots have signed seven players to future contracts, including Tiquan Underwood and Ross Ventrone.

Underwood was released last Saturday, on the eve of Super Bowl XLVI, to make room for the signing of defensive end Alex Silvestro off the practice squad.

Ventrone was the human yo-yo this season for the Patriots, with over 20 transactions from the waiver wire to the practice squad to the active squad.

Underwood played in five games for New England in 2011 and caught three passes for 30 yards. Underwood, 6-1, 183 pounds, originally entered the NFL as a seventh round draft choice (253rd overall) by Jacksonville in 2009 out of Rutgers. After beginning his rookie season on the practice squad, he joined the 53-man roster and appeared in three games, mainly on special teams. In 2010, he played in 10 games and caught eight passes for 111 yards and returned 24 kicks for 561 yards, including a career-long of 53 yards in the season-opener vs. Denver (Sept. 12). He was released by Jacksonville on Aug. 25, 2011 and was signed by the Patriots on Aug. 29. Underwood was released by the Patriots on Sept. 3 before being signed back on Nov. 24.

Ventrone, 5-8, 190 pounds, was originally signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent out of Villanova on April 29, 2010. He was waived by the Patriots on Sept. 4 and then signed to the practice squad on Oct. 19 where he spent the rest of his rookie season. Ventrone spent time on the 53-man roster and the practice squad this past season. He played in eight games and finished with 1 tackle and 2 special teams tackles.

Also signed to future deals were linebackers Markell Carter and Mike Rivera, defensive end Aaron Lavarias, wide receiver Britt Davis and offensive lineman Dan Kopa.
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Read More: Markell Carter, New England Patriots, nfl, Ross Ventrone

Publicity stunt takes shot at Wes Welker after missed connection in Super Bowl XLVI

02.07.12 at 1:51 pm ET
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You knew it was coming — it was only a matter of when.

After Wes Welker‘s failed connection with quarterback Tom Brady on a fourth-quarter pass play in Sunday’s Super Bowl, an online pawnshop called “Pawngo” delivered 900 pounds of Butterfingers on Tuesday to Wes Welker. Of course, they didn’t bring them to Welker’s house — instead, they dropped them in the middle of Copley Square, and encouraged “everyone in the area stop to take pictures, grab a bar, and have a laugh.”

Click here for a few pics of the relatively classless stunt.

Read More: Tom Brady, Wes Welker,
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