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Mock Draft, Take 2: Patriots get help at safety

03.05.12 at 6:25 am ET
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Every year the combine impacts the outlook of the NFL draft, and this year is no different. Workouts and interviews change opinions of players, and as a result, names move up and down draft boards.

This year had its fair share of impressive and not-so-impressive performances. Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill was the top performer at his position, but we still don’t have him in the first-round mix just yet. Montana corner Trumaine Johnson is in the first-round picture now, and teams interested in trading up for Robert Griffin III now have to give up a lot more.

Not surprisingly, there’s no change with the top pick …

1. Indianapolis (2-14), Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

Nobody expected the combine to change anything regarding Luck’€™s status, and nothing did. That’€™s not to say Luck, who did not throw, didn’€™t wow scouts. His 4.67 was impressive, but he also finished eighth among all quarterbacks, receivers and running backs in the three-cone drill. His first of what should be many performances at Lucas Oil Stadium did not disappoint.

2. *PROJECTED TRADE* Cleveland (from St. Louis), Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

There’€™s nothing worse than a mock draft with projected trades, but this year you’€™d have to be a fool to project anyone but RGIII going second overall. The 4.41 40 time doesn’€™t really change my expectations of Griffin at the next level. We all knew he was fast, so a great time in the 40 shouldn’€™t come as a surprise. The sweepstakes for the Rams’€™ pick should be fascinating to watch, and while it would probably cost the Browns another first-rounder to move up two spots, we won’€™t project the 22nd pick to the Rams just yet. The Browns aren’€™t the only team interested, of course, so we’€™ll see what they, the Redskins, Dolphins or some other team does to land the pick.

3. Minnesota (3-13), Matt Kalil, OT, USC

The Vikings seem committed to Christian Ponder, so they should protect him by landing the best offensive lineman in the draft. Football is in Kalil’€™s blood, as his brother Ryan is the highest-paid center in the league and his father Frank was a draft pick of the Bills.

4. St. Louis (2-14), Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

This is the other half of the projected trade, so I’€™ll take this opportunity to once again apologize for projecting a trade. The beauty of the Rams trading with the Browns (if they do), is that they could very well land whomever they may have planned on drafting second overall anyway. If that player is Blackmon, it still might be a bit high for the receiver, but giving Sam Bradford a future No. 1 receiver to grow with might be worth it.

5. Tampa Bay (5-11), Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

We tried to get Claiborne to say he’€™s better than former LSU teammate and 2011 fifth-overall pick Patrick Peterson, but he didn’€™t bite. Instead, he spoke about ‘€œCornerback U,’€ which has become LSU’€™s nickname given that it’€™s turned into a factory for top corners. The Bucs certainly could use one, even with Aqib Talib getting a clean slate with new coach Greg Schiano.   Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2012 NFL Draft, alshon jeffery, mark barron, Robert Griffin III

Free Agent Snapshot: Brandon Carr

03.04.12 at 7:21 pm ET
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We continue our look at 15 possible fits for the Patriots in free agency this offseason with a breakdown of cornerback Brandon Carr. With the understanding that the NFL’€™s franchise tag window is from now until March 5 (which means some of these players we list could ultimately be retained by their team) here are some players worth keeping an eye on that might be a fit in New England when free agency begins March 13:

Brandon Carr
Position: Cornerback
Age: 25 (turns 26 on May 19)
Height: 6-foot
Weight: 207 pounds

At the combine late last month, Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel was asked about the possibility of a Patriot free agent adjusting to life with the Chiefs relatively quickly because, at least on the surface, there are some similarities between the two systems. The question came in the context of free agent New England running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis possibly signing with Kansas City, but that situation is a two-way street when you’€™re talking about some of the Chiefs’€™ free agents, like Carr.

With Brent Grimes now franchised and Cortland Finnegan likely to command a big deal (if he’€™s not franchise quickly), Carr could represent the best value on the market if he doesn’€™t get the franchise tag. He’€™s going to get good money if he’€™s available, but he had a lot in his favor: he’€™s the youngest premiere free agent corner available, he has excellent coverage skills (he had four picks last season and has eight over the course of his career) and has shown himself to be extremely durable (he hasn’€™t missed a game in his four seasons in the league with the Chiefs).

According to Pro Football Focus, Carr allowed fewer than half the targets into his coverage area to be completed (39 of 79, or 49 percent), and yielded 511 yards in coverage over 1,030 snaps over the course of the 2011 season. As was the case with Richard Marshall‘€™s numbers, the closest example to a New England defensive back was the model presented by Kyle Arrington, who saw 54 of the 100 passes in his direction be completed (54 percent), and allowed 810 yards in 991 total snaps.

The Chiefs just added former Oakland corner Stanford Routt in free agency, which clouds Carr’€™s future in Kansas City. As for Crennel, he’€™s on record as saying the Chiefs would love to have Carr return. ‘€œWe would still like to have Carr back, because Carr is a good player for us and he did a good job for us,’€ he said at the combine. ‘€œBut he’€™s in that unrestricted free agency pool. We’€™re going to try to keep him, but we’€™ll have to see how it goes.’€

This is not the sort of signing that will lead sportscasts. But Carr represents an upgrade in several areas from the current group of New England cornerbacks. He has experience in both man and zone schemes, and would give the Patriots some positional versatility if they chose to move Devin McCourty to safety (and possibly bump someone like Arrington to slot corner) at any point during the 2012 season.

Why it might not work: There’€™s still a lot of moving parts when it comes to Kansas City and free agency: the Chiefs could still franchise Carr, but that would leave Dwayne Bowe available. Then, there’€™s the fact that if Carr does get to free agency, the Cowboys would make him their top priority. In addition, New England has had mixed success when it comes to picking up veteran corners in free agency.

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Brandon Carr, Brent Grimes, Cortland Finnegan

Another reset of our ‘Free Agent Snapshot’ series

03.04.12 at 5:01 pm ET
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Here are the players we’ve profiled so far as part of our free-agent snapshot series:

Defense
Safety Jim Leonhard
Cornerback Cortland Finnegan
Cornerback Brent Grimes
Defensive back Richard Marshall

Offense
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne
Offensive guard Carl Nicks
Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd
Wide receiver Mike Wallace
Wide receiver Vincent Jackson

What do you think of this group so far? Which one of these guys — other than Grimes, who has already been franchised — do you think the Patriots have the best shot at landing when free agency begins on March 13?

Here are the players who have been franchised so far:

Arizona: Defensive end Calais Campbell
Atlanta: Grimes
Baltimore: Running back Ray Rice
Chicago: Running back Matt Forte
Cincinnati: Kicker Mike Nugent
Cleveland: Kicker Phil Dawson
New Orleans: Quarterback Drew Brees
Oakland: Safety Tyvon Branch
Philadelphia: Wide receiver DeSean Jackson
San Francisco: Safety Dashon Goldson
Washington: Tight end Fred Davis

Read More: free agent snapshot,

Free Agent Snapshot: Richard Marshall

03.01.12 at 11:26 pm ET
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We continue our look at 15 possible fits for the Patriots in free agency this offseason with a breakdown of cornerback Richard Marshall. With the understanding that the NFL’€™s franchise tag window is from now until March 5 (which means some of these players we list could ultimately be retained by their team) here are some players worth keeping an eye on that might be a fit in New England when free agency begins March 13:

Richard Marshall
Position: Cornerback
Age: 27 (turns 28 on Dec. 12)
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 198 pounds

Full disclosure here: this idea was planted during an episode of the ‘€œIt Is What It Is’€ Podcast with Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus, which was taped earlier this week (and should be released on Monday). But the more you look at Marshall, the more you ponder his numbers and how he might possibly fit into the New England defense, his acquisition would make sense. A solid veteran corner who would come relatively cheaply, he played for Bill Belichick pal Pat Hill at Fresno State, and was someone the Patriots sniffed around before the 2006 draft. Last season with the Cardinals, he played on the outside as a corner, in the slot and at safety.

Marshall is not considered an elite corner, but has built a rep as a dependable presence over the course of his six seasons in the league (five with Carolina, one with Arizona.) Last season with the Cardinals, per PFF, in 848 snaps, he allowed 394 receiving yards, 95 of which came on one play. In all, he was only thrown at 54 times all season and yielded 28 receptions represents, an impressive 51.9 percent mark. (By way of comparison, the closest Patriots’€™ model was probably Kyle Arrington, who played 991 snaps, was thrown at 100 times and allowed 54 receptions and 810 receiving yards.)

As we’€™ve stated on several occasions, New England has some decisions to make on what to do with their secondary going forward. But the low-risk addition of a versatile, relatively consistent performer like Marshall who could presumably step in and play significant snaps in 2012 would be an intriguing one, and likely represent something of an upgrade from the rest of the nickel corner possibilities that are currently on the roster.

(One story that’€™s worth remembering when it comes to Marshall and the Patriots: As a member of the Panthers in 2009, he and teammate Chris Gamble were critical of Randy Moss‘€™s effort against in a Carolina-New England game, one where the Patriots won, 20-10. The day after the game, Belichick took a shot at Marshall and Gamble, saying, ‘€œI think Randy is a great player. Most teams we play think the same thing. I guess these two guys from Carolina didn’€™t think so after they lost again.’€)

Why it might not work: The Patriots have gone down this road before with veteran corners in a similar situation, and it can be a mixed bag. Sometimes, you get a guy who can be a perfect fit, even for a brief time (like Leigh Bodden was in 2009). Other times, not so much (like Shawn Springs the same year). There’€™s also the fact that all of those positive things about Marshall have caught the eye of the Cardinals, which would mean they’€™d push to sign Marshall to a multiyear deal. (He just finished up a one-year contract with Arizona.) In that same vein, Arizona will be under the cap, but not so much that they’€™ll be major players in free agency.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Chris Gamble, free agent snapshot, Kyle Arrington

Eagles slap DeSean Jackson with franchise tag

03.01.12 at 5:01 pm ET
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Cross one possible free-agent wide receiver off the Patriots’ wish list.

DeSean Jackson, the occasional mercural pass-catcher, was hit with the franchise tag by the Eagles on Thursday afternoon. Jackson was the first player franchised in the available window that runs between now and March 5. While it’s expected that the two sides will continue to discuss a long-term deal, the tag means the 25-year-old Jackson is now currently under a one-year contract with Philadelphia at the franchise tag rate, which is roughly $9.4 million.

‘€œWe want DeSean to be an Eagle for the long haul and this is a step in the right direction to accomplish that,’€ Eagles GM Howie Roseman said of Jackson, who finished last season with 58 catches, 961 yards and four touchdowns. ‘€œDeSean is a talented player and a proven playmaker in this league and we look forward to him continuing his career in Philadelphia. It’€™s our understanding that he has the same desire.  We will continue our efforts on getting a long-term deal done with him.’€

Jackson was one of several receivers who were free-agent possibilities this offseason for New England, a group that includes Reggie Wayne, Marques Colton, Dwayne Bowe, Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd. (In addition, New England’s Wes Welker and Deion Branch are slated to become free agents, but it’s expected that Welker will also be slapped with the franchise tag between now and March 5.)

Read More: Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch, DeSean Jackson, Dwayne Bowe

NFL Films producer Greg Cosell discusses impact of Rob Ninkovich, Brandon Spikes on Patriots defense

03.01.12 at 3:58 pm ET
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Had the opportunity to sit down with longtime NFL Films producer Greg Cosell (who watches more game film than just about anyone) at the combine last week in Indianapolis, and we talked a lot about the past, present and possible future of the Patriots, including what he thought of a couple of New England linebackers, Rob Ninkovich and Brandon Spikes.

“I thought two guys who played really well down the stretch and helped their defense play better — it clearly played better — were Ninkovich and Brandon Spikes,” said Cosell, who serves as the producer for ESPN’s “NFL Matchup.”

“I thought he played real well, particularly down the stretch,” Cosell said of Ninkovich, one of only two NFL defenders to finish the regular season with at least six sacks and two interceptions. “I think Ninkovich, he became a really versatile player. He’s not a dynamic, explosive playmaker, play after play. I don’t think he’s a guy who offenses say, ‘We better account for Rob Ninkovich.’ But I thought he played really well down the stretch.”

As for Spikes, Cosell has been an advocate of his for a long time, writing on Twitter that the Florida product is a dynamic presence against the run who is a unique player in this day and age.

“I’m a huge Spikes fan, for what he is. I’m not going to ask him to run with Jimmy Graham, but for what he is, I think he’s really good,” Cosell said. “There aren’t many guys in the league like him who play downhill. He takes on blocks with violence. That’s a dying breed in the NFL. A passing league, a spread league, now, you have linebackers that run around blocks. He took on blocks this year, and he usually won.”

Late in the season, Patriots coach Bill Belichick compared Spikes to former Giants linebacker Pepper Johnson (currently New England’s defensive line coach), a comparison Cosell wholeheartedly agreed with.

“That’s a great comparison,” Cosell said. “Pepper Johnson was the unsung hero of the defense he was on. Bill is all about filling roles and doing your job. He doesn’t get caught up in the media BS. And to him, Pepper Johnson is a critical piece of a defensive puzzle. Brandon Spikes is a critical piece of their puzzle. He may never be an All-Pro, but he’s a good player for them. For what [Belichick] wants and he needs, he does his job and he does it well.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Brandon Spikes, Greg Cosell, Jimmy Graham

Free Agent Snapshot: Vincent Jackson

03.01.12 at 1:06 am ET
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We continue our look at 15 possible fits for the Patriots in free agency this offseason with a breakdown of wide receiver Vincent Jackson. With the understanding that the NFL’€™s franchise tag window is from now until March 5 (which means some of these players we list could ultimately be retained by their team) here are some players worth keeping an eye on that might be a fit in New England when free agency begins March 13:

Vincent Jackson
Position: Wide receiver
Age: 29
Height: 6-foot-5
Weight: 230 pounds

If he somehow shakes free of the Chargers — that is to say, if San Diego doesn’€™t franchise him (which is still a serious question between now and the March 5 deadline) — Jackson appears to be the biggest name available among the free agent wide receivers. Big, strong and fast, Jackson has topped 1,000 yards three of the last four seasons, including 60 catches for 1,106 yards and nine touchdowns for San Diego last year. (According to Pro Football Focus, his 18.4 yards per catch was fifth in the league for wide receivers who played at least 50 percent of their teams snaps.)

Recent reports indicate that Jackson could be on the Patriots’€™ short list. In addition, there was plenty of talk about a Jackson-to-New England trade when he was going through his latest contract flap in San Diego in 2010. Jackson is also used to playing with an elite tight end (Antonio Gates), and has been a key part of a high-powered passing game for the last several years.

Jackson has always done well against the Patriots. In last year’€™s Week 2 matchup, he finished with 10 catches for 172 yards (both season highs) and a pair of touchdowns. In his three career games against New England, he has 19 catches for 359 yards (tops for any opponent he’€™s faced outside the AFC West) and three touchdowns).

Why it might not work: If the Chargers franchise him, he’€™ll stick with San Diego for another year. But if he does hit the open market, he’€™ll likely draw top dollar for free agent wide receivers, which could ultimately leave the Patriots looking elsewhere. It’€™s going to be a fluid market for wide receivers, and depending on who gets tagged, it could create some market uncertainty for elite receivers like Jackson, Wes Welker, Reggie Wayne, DeSean Jackson, Marques Colton, Dwayne Bowe, Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd, who are all still possibilities to hit the open market.

Read More: Antonio Gates, Brandon Lloyd, DeSean Jackson, Dwayne Bowe
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