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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,

Man who won bet on Super Bowl safety reportedly plans to donate winnings to charity

02.07.12 at 11:09 am ET
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A typical prop bet turned unusual Sunday evening when the bet on which team would score first and how deviated from the usual touchdown or field goal. Instead, the Giants earned the first lead of the game when Tom Brady was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone, a call that resulted in a Giants safety.

But people sometimes make odd bets, and Giants fan Jona Rechnitz became the beneficiary off an atypical guess when he bet $1,000 that the Giants would score first on a safety. At 50:1 odds, Rechnitz is now owed $50,000 as a result of the freak play.

But according to a TMZ report, Rechnitz wants to donate every cent of his winnings to charity. Rechnitz told TMZ he would donate $5,000 to a charity of quarterback Tom Brady’s choice in the hopes that Brady will match Rechnitz’s donation. Rechnitz also said he would donate $5,000 to the charities of the choosing of all the defensive linemen on the play. Any money remaining will be donated to charities for the less fortunate. In return, Rechnitz said, he simply wants to take Brady out for a falafel dinner.

Read More: Jona Rechnitz, Tom Brady,

At least the Patriots got on a David Letterman Top 10 list

02.06.12 at 9:41 pm ET
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CBS released a Top 10 list on its website, titled, “Top 10 Things Overheard In The New England Patriots Locker Room After the Super Bowl.” (The network cut the list from Monday night’s ‘Late Show’ with David Letterman) Here it is:

10. “Did we win?”

9. “What matters most is we had fun.”

8. “We should have Tebowed.”

7. “When’s Game 2?”

6. “President Bush is on the phone.”

5. “We still get paid, right?”

4. “On the bright side, we still get to shower together.”

3. “Why is Bill Belichick naked?”

2. “Who cares that we lost — I’m married to a supermodel.” (Tom Brady only.)

1. “Well, at least we don’t have to go on Letterman.”

How much longer is the Super Bowl window open for Tom Brady?

02.06.12 at 6:00 pm ET
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Tom Brady will turn 35 in August, still a young age in virtually every walk of life.

But not in professional sports. Even at a position like quarterback, a position that receives more protection in the NFL rules than any other, it is impossible to overlook the inherent vulnerability of a football star. One need look no further than the uncertain future facing 35-year-old Peyton Manning, or the fact that Joe Montana won his fourth and final Super Bowl at age 33, to receive a reminder of that fact.

Despite being on the losing end of Super Bowl XLVI, Brady remains near the top of the mountain. He was the NFL MVP for the 2010 season, and while he did not reclaim that honor in 2011, he was still tremendously effective in guiding his team to a 15-4 season.

Even so, Brady is reaching an age where it becomes increasingly unusual for quarterbacks to lead their teams to titles. Of the 92 quarterbacks to start a Super Bowl, just eight (8.7 percent) have been 35 years old or older. No Super Bowl-winning QB has been 35 or older since John Elway became the oldest quarterback to win a championship at age 38 in 1999.

Here is the complete list of quarterbacks who are 35 or older (Brady’s age for the forthcoming 2012 season) and appeared in the Super Bowl:

Kurt Warner (37, 2009 – lost)
Rich Gannon (37, 2003 – lost)
John Elway (38, 1999 – won)
John Elway (37, 1998 – won)
Jim Plunkett (36, 1984 – won)
Roger Staubach (35, 1978 – won)
Frank Tarkenton (36, 1977 – lost)
Johnny Unitas (37, 1971 – won)

Brady remains under contract with the Patriots through the 2014 season, when he’ll be 37 years old. He has made clear a desire to continue playing for several more years, and the consistency of his success to date has been little short of startling. All of that being the case, what do you think the future holds for Brady?

How many more Super Bowls will Tom Brady play in?

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Read More: Peyton Manning, Super Bowl, Tom Brady,

James Ihedigbo: Patriots can’t blame Wes Welker for loss

02.06.12 at 4:45 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots arrived Monday at Gillette Stadium and promptly left, though defensive backs Antwuan Molden and James Ihedigbo were available to the media Monday afternoon.

Much has been made about Wes Welker‘s drop with the Patriots leading and use over four minutes to go in the Super Bowl. Even Tom Brady‘s wife, Gisele Bundchen, ripped the team’s receivers for not being able to hold onto passes. While many likely have that line of thinking, Ihedibgo said none of the Patriots do.

“You can never point fingers at anyone,” Ihedigbo said. “You look at the plays that [Welker]’s made all year long to put us in this position an dhow he played that game, how hard he prepared that game, and across the board. Look, we wanted it just as bad as they did. They just made some key plays there at the end and came out on top, so hats off to them.”

Added Ihedigbo: “You win as a team. You win and lose as a team. We lost to a good football team.”

Ihedigbo just wrapped up his first season as a Patriot. A native of Northampton and a graduate of UMass, the local product said that the 21-17 loss didn’t take any time to sink in.

“It hit us last night,” Ihedigbo said. “It’s a tough loss against a very good opponent. They made some plays there and put them in position to win the game, and they did that.”

While the loss was disheartening for the Pats, Ihedigbo said that the experience of playing the Super Bowl and coming so close to winning has only increased the team’s desire to win.

Said Ihedigbo: “God willing, we can get back, but it definitely makes have that hunger and desire to get back and really bring the Lombardi trophy where it belongs.”

Read More: Wes Welker,
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