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Why Patriots likely won’t take skill player in early rounds of 2015 NFL draft

02.21.15 at 1:27 pm ET
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Since the Patriots selected Jimmy Garoppolo with their second round pick last year, it's unlikely they take a QB high in this year's draft. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Since the Patriots selected Jimmy Garoppolo with their second round pick last year, it’s unlikely they take a QB high in this year’s draft. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Saturday at the NFL combine is when the skill players (quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs) complete their workouts, usually the most exciting day at the combine because these are the biggest names in Indianapolis.

From a Patriots perspective, this might be the day not to pay as much attention to what is happening because the chances of the Patriots selecting a skill position player with one of their top picks are very low from this viewpoint.

Here’s why the Patriots likely won’t take a skill player high in the draft:

Quarterback

New England selected quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo with their second-round pick (No. 62 overall) in last year’s draft. Some may have questioned the pick at the time, but now it’s becoming clear why the Patriots made the selection when they did. There is no denying the fact that Tom Brady cannot play forever and the Patriots are going to need to find his replacement at some point, and it’s better to have that player be ready too early as opposed to too late.

Garoppolo, out of Eastern Illinois, was the fifth quarterback taken in the entire draft. This quarterback draft class isn’t very strong (in fact NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock said Garoppolo would be the third quarterback taken) and the ones in the years following don’t appear to be that strong either. So, the Patriots got their guy in 2014, as opposed to waiting longer and potentially being too late. With Garoppolo already on the roster and a solid year under his belt, it wouldn’t make any sense for the Patriots to select a quarterback high in the draft.

Running back

The Patriots have a number of running backs already on their roster for 2015: LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray, James White and Tyler Gaffney. With Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen set to become free agents, there is a chance both or one of them won’t return to the team. In that case the Patriots would likely be in need of another ball carrier, but taking one for that reason through the draft may be risky and therefore not worth it. Gray had one breakout game when he rushed for 201 yards and four touchdowns against the Colts, but everyone knows what happened after that, and he was even inactive for Super Bowl XLIX. White, a fourth-round selection in 2014, basically had a red-shirt season in New England, only being active for three games while getting acclimated to the NFL. Gaffney was claimed off waivers from the Panthers during training camp, as the Stanford product was going to miss the season with a torn lateral meniscus and the Panthers tried to sneak him through waivers. The Patriots jumped on him, signing him and then placing him on season-ending injured reserve.

What all these players have in common is lack of experience in the NFL, with the exception of Blount. It seemingly would be a risky move to select a running back high in the draft and expect him to play a major role in the Patriots’ running game in 2015. The Patriots already have a few potential young stars on their roster. Why add another when there are other needs on the roster that could be addressed?

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NFL combine preview: Quarterbacks

02.21.15 at 9:12 am ET
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WEEI_FantasyFootball_2014_hdrToday we look at the most important position — quarterbacks. The 2015 quarterback class is not a great one by any means, but there is some talent worth rostering, both in NFL terms and in fantasy football terms. As always, my rankings emphasize future fantasy value. Of course, there’€™s a strong correlation between success in fantasy and success on the field. Rarely do we see a great fantasy quarterback who is not helping his real life team.

Here’s the positions we’ve broken down over the past few days:

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends

I’€™ve broken my top ten quarterbacks down into tiers as I did with the other skill positions. If you want to check those rankings out, you can access them via the links below. There is good game film on most of these players available at Draftbreakdown.com, so dig in.

Tier One

Who will go No. 1 overall, Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota? (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Who will go No. 1 overall, Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota? (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Jameis Winston, Florida State
Marcus Mariota, Oregon

Is it choose your weapon or pick your poison? There are widely varying opinions on these two quarterbacks and while I’€™d love to offer you some clarity, I’€™m still wresting with it myself. The thing about Winston is that he’€™s playing NFL football already when you watch his game tape. He makes tons of NFL throws, he’€™s got all the physical tools that you want your quarterback to have. All he needs to do is gain a measure of consistency and reduce the mistakes. If he works hard and stays on the good books, the improvements should come with experience and time. If that happens, he’€™ll pay off for the team that drafts him.

Mariota is a different player altogether. He’€™s got all the intangibles you could ask for and he’€™s going to test extremely well in Saturday’s drills. The questions with him are the kind you can’€™t answer without a crystal ball. He almost never plays from under center, so it’€™s hard to evaluate that aspect of his game. More importantly, he is not accustomed to making the number of reads a typical NFL quarterback makes on a typical play. Of course, there’€™s no strong evidence to indicate he can’€™t do this. It’€™s an incomplete grade. Teams will have to project what he would be in their system. Obviously this would not be the case for Chip Kelly, the granddaddy of the Oregon offense, should he decide to make a draft day move or should Mariota somehow fall into his lap. The Jets are another team that may see Mariota as being desirable as currently constructed. Chan Gailey, the team’€™s new offensive coordinator, likes to use a lot of spread formations. A team like the Jets may be in a better position to play Mariota right away compared to a team like the Titans, who project to run a more traditional offense.

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Read More: 2015 NFL combine, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota,

Pete Carroll appreciates Bill Belichick’s support after Super Bowl: ‘He gets it’

02.20.15 at 6:10 pm ET
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Pete Carroll said Friday he appreciated Bill Belichick's support following Super Bowl. (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

Pete Carroll said Friday he appreciated Bill Belichick‘s support following Super Bowl. (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

Following the Super Bowl Seattle coach Pete Carroll took a lot of criticism for his play call at the end of the game on Malcolm Butler’s interception.

One of those was criticisms was not from Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who actually defended Carroll’s play call.

On Dale & Holley in his season-ending interview, Belichick said the criticism was “totally out of line.”

Friday, speaking at the NFL combine, Carroll appreciated the support from Belichick.

“€œIt is important, and I really care about that,” Carroll said to reporters. “Bill’€™s an extraordinary coach, and anything he says, people should listen to. In this case, he’€™s just respecting coaching. He understands the game. he knows what was going on exactly … he knows. He gets it.

“€œI’€™ve always respected the work Bill has done, the accomplishments, the achievements. For him to take the moment to do that, it’€™s very gracious of him. I think, we all care a lot coaches, we all care about the game. I think he made a statement, just to try and let people know, if they’€™re curious, what he feels about it. And I appreciate that.”

Carroll also noted the Patriots threw on second down inside the 10-yard line in the game as well, so he wasn’t the only one calling a pass play down by the goal line.

‘€œThey’€™re in their sequence on the 6-yard line, when they scored, they ran on first down, made a few yards, they threw the ball for a touchdown on second down,” Carroll said. “It was a great play, great concept, got them ahead, all of that. We were kind of in a similar kind of mode.”

Now that a few weeks have gone by since the game, Carroll said he and the rest of the organization have moved on, and are now focusing on 2015.

“We’re in a situation that is notable, because of the way our game finished, coming off a Super Bowl, all of those things,” Carroll said. “We shared the experience with the world, and in that I feel there’s responsibility for us to really extend a message of accountability. Let’s get into the truth of what happened and then move on constructively and competitively and immediately as soon as you possibly can.”

Read More: 2015 NFL combine, Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll,

Jameis Winston plans on winning Super Bowl next year, wants to be viewed with Tom Brady

02.20.15 at 5:49 pm ET
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Speaking at the NFL combine Friday, Jameis Winston said he plans on winning the Super Bowl next year. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Speaking at the NFL combine Friday, Jameis Winston said he plans on winning the Super Bowl next year. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

When meeting with the media Friday at the NFL combine, quarterback Jameis Winston certainly didn’t lack confidence.

The Florida State product said he plans on winning the Super Bowl next year and wants to be viewed with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

This came up when he was asked if he saw it as a competition between he and Marcus Mariota as to who would be the No. 1 overall pick.

“I’€™m not into no competition type of thing,” Winston told reporters. “I’€™m in it to win games and be the face of someone’€™s franchise. This is no competition between just me and Mariota, because one thing about me, I plan on winning the Super Bowl next year so it’€™s going to be me vs. Peyton Manning and Jameis vs. Tom Brady. I want to be viewed like that.

“After all this combine stuff, you’€™re not going to hear no more about Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. I want my name to stay relevant for the next 15 or 20 years of my career.”

Before taking any questions, Winston admitted he’s had some issues in the past and he’s putting them behind him.

“First off, before we start anything, I want to let you all know I know made mistakes and I know I have a past but right now it’€™s about me moving forward and earning the trust of all these 32 teams out there,” Winston said. “And by saying that, I’€™m a competitor and I know what I’€™m capable of doing so I will be throwing [Saturday] at the combine.”

A picture surfaced on the internet this week of Winston working out, which caused some people to question his conditioning and overall shape. Winston isn’t worried about what his critics think.

“A lot of people thought I was fat, but I’€™m here, I’€™m proving everybody wrong,” said Winston. “I look good and I know it.”

Winston won the 2014 National Championship with Florida State before losing to Oregon in the Rose Bowl this past January.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Read More: 2015 NFL combine, Jameis Winston, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady

Could Patriots start pipeline of selecting players from Florida State?

02.20.15 at 2:49 pm ET
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Dante Scarnecchia remains an advisor to the Patriots, even in retirement. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Dante Scarnecchia is close friends with Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The Patriots struck gold last year when they selected Florida State center Bryan Stork in the fourth round.

Stork started at center in 11 games and was a key piece to the offensive line, specifically their turnaround after a rough first few weeks of the season, as Stork made his starting debut Week 4 in Kansas City.

Retired offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who has helped the Patriots out at the draft the past two years, including this year, has a long-time friendship with Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett, which played a role in the Patriots selecting Stork last year.

With the Patriots potentially in need for another interior lineman this year, the Patriots could be targeting another Seminole this year.

One of those could be guard Tre Jackson, who reportedly had a meeting with Scarnecchia and the Patriots this week in Indianapolis. at the NFL combine.

Jackson said Stork was part of the Florida State offensive linemen coming together leading into their National Championship in 2014.

“I believe Bryan Stork’s last year is the year that brought us all closer together,” said Jackson to reporters at the combine this week. “We all had some adversity that we were facing, and our chemistry wasn’t as tight at the start of fall camp. Things that we went through it brought us all closer together. That bonded us and molded us into a brotherhood.”

Also reportedly meeting with the Patriots this week from Florida State was tackle Bobby Hart, another offensive lineman who the Patriots could target given their Seminole connection.

Another possible player from Florida State the Patriots could target is tight end Nick O’Leary, as a possible complement to Rob Gronkowski. O’Leary, the grandson of golfer Jack Nicklaus, is known for his great hands as he hauled in 48 passes for 618 yards and six touchdowns this past year.

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Read More: 2015 NFL combine, Bryan Stork, Dante Scarnecchia, Nick O'Leary

Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah on Shane Vereen: ‘Oh man, he’s nasty’

02.20.15 at 1:11 pm ET
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Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah raved about Shane Vereen at the NFL combine this week. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah raved about Shane Vereen at the NFL combine this week. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

With the Patriots potentially losing two running backs via free agency in Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, the team could be in the market for a running back in the draft.

One of those backs could be Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah. He ran for over 1,000 yards in his final three seasons at Nebraska, including 1,611 yards on 264 carries in his senior year. He also can catch passes out of the backfield if needed, as he finished his career at Nebraska with 73 receptions.

If the Patriots were to select Abdullah (would seemingly have to be with one of their top picks as he is projected to go in Rounds 2 or 3), he would be replacing Vereen — someone who Abdullah thinks is very talented.

“Oh man, he’€™s nasty. He’€™s nasty,” he told reporters at the NFL combine. “I watch a lot of his film to help myself out on route running. He runs the best option route, I feel like, in the NFL right now. He does a good job of stemming the linebackers, snapping them off, using his head to get some separation. Outstanding hands. A guy who’€™s going to be in the league a long time if he continues to do that.”€

As for a potential role in the NFL, Abdullah said he would do whatever is asked of him.

“I never like to put myself just in a role,” he said. “I like to be a guy who can play first down, second down, third down, but if a team drafts me and says, hey, this year, this is what we need you to do, yes sir, I’€™ll do that.”€

The one issue Abdullah has is fumbling. The 5-foot-9, 195-pounder fumbled 24 times and lost 17 of them during his four years as a Cornhusker, something that would not go over well in New England with how much Bill Belichick values ball security.

He sees this as easily correctable.

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Read More: 2015 NFL combine, Ameer Abdullah, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley

Free Agent Snapshot: Roy Helu

02.20.15 at 12:22 pm ET
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Roy Helu will be a free agent for the first time of his career. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Roy Helu will be a free agent for the first time of his career. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. With the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag, here are a few possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that all of these guys aren’€™€™t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they’€™€™re players we think would be a good fit in New England. We already featured C.J. Spiller,  Hakeem Nicks, Torrey Smith, Rahim Moore, Charles Clay, Jerry Hughes, Pernell McPhee, Orlando Franklin and Dane Fletcher. Today we’ll feature Roy Helu.

Roy Helu
Position: Running back
Age: 26 (Dec. 7, 1988)
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 215 pounds

The skinny: The running back has spent his first four seasons in the league with the Redskins, but a change of scenery might do Helu a world of good. After his rookie season where he ran for 640 yards on 151 carries, and also caught 49 passes for 379 yards, he hasn’t done much in his last three years partly because he’s shared duties with Alfred Morris. In 2012 he only played in three games because of Achilles and turf toe injuries. Although he was placed on season-ending injured reserve, he did bounce back in his last two seasons to not let the injuries affect his durability. He played in 16 and 14 games the last two seasons respectively — although he wasn’t as productive as in his rookie season.

Over the past two seasons Helu has totaled 490 yards rushing and five touchdowns. He’s also caught 73 passes for 728 yards and two touchdowns. Helu’s strength is catching passes out of the backfield, something not many running backs can do. Helu has also played on special teams throughout his career, adding to his potential value.

By the numbers: 11.4 – Average yards per catch for Helu in 2014, a very impressive number for a running back.

Why it would work: With Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen set to become free agents, the Patriots could potentially be in need of a running back, especially a veteran as they have LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray, James White and Tyler Gaffney already on their roster, but besides Blount all will be entering either their first or second year in the league. Coach Bill Belichick always seems to find a veteran at each position at a low cost to bring in during training camp and see how things work out. With the three running backs currently on the roster all very young in age, bringing in a veteran as opposed to filling the need through the draft might be the better route to go. Also, with Helu’s experience on special teams and how much Belichick values that, it’s just another reason he could be appealing to the Patriots.

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Read More: 2015 Free Agent Snapshot, Alfred Morris, Roy Helu, Shane Vereen
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