|Rating the Roster, Training Camp Edition (Part 1)||07.23.10 at 1:42 am ET|
The first time we engaged in “Rating the Roster,” it was at the end of the 2009 season, roughly a week after the playoff loss to the Ravens. That exercise (check it out here and here) generated a flood of e-mail and comments, both positive and negative. There was also some concern — mostly sparked by my fellow “NFL Sunday” co-host Christian Fauria — that I had suffered some sort of debilitating neurological injury because I put a long snapper ahead of two offensive linemen, two cornerbacks and a linebacker.
Clearly, I didn’t learn my lesson, so here’s a pre-training camp edition. As was the case with our previous list, we settled on the rankings by considering a combination of factors, including overall ability, positional versatility, expectations, contract situation and place on the depth chart. We also looked at what might be best described as intangibles — loosely defined as a mixture of clubhouse character and willingness to work. In all, it helped us determine the overall value of each player within the Patriots system.
Currently, the Patriots have 82 players on the roster, and the plan is to start the countdown today with a look at Nos. 82 through 71, checking off 10 more every day until Thursday, the first day we have access to training camp:
82. Quarterback Zac Robinson: The rookie, a seventh-round pick out of Oklahoma State, had an inauspicious debut this spring in New England, struggling to connect with his wide receivers. After a great spring, Brian Hoyer appears well-entrenched at the No. 2 quarterback spot, so Robinson’s best shot at making the team is likely as a practice-squadder, but even that might be a reach.
81. Wide receiver Buddy Farnham: Anytime a New England kid gets his chance to step on the field with the Patriots, it’s a great story. (“Growing up, always being a fan of the Patriots, it’s pretty cool,” the 6-foot, 200-pound Farnham said this spring. “I used to come here every year and sit in the stands with my dad. Now getting to be on the field is a pretty cool experience.”) But the Brown product, an undrafted free agent who turned down what would have undoubtedly been a better situation for him in Tampa Bay to sign with the Patriots, is the longest of long shots to stick at the wide receiver spot. It’s worth mentioning that his template is Sean Morey, another undersized wide receiver from Brown who ended up sticking around the league for a lot longer than anyone thought he could.
80. Safety Ross Ventrone: He’s the defensive counterpart to Farnham, an undersized longshot. An undrafted free agent out of Villanova, the 5-foot-8, 190-pound Ventrone is the brother of former Patriots’ defensive back/special teamer Ray Ventrone. No one is disputing the fact that he’d be a great story if he made the team, and if he makes it, it’d be a good bet that they would be the only time two brothers ever played for Bill Belichick. But at this point, the practice squad is the best possible scenario for him.
79. Defensive back Terrence Johnson: The California University of Pennsylvania product does have plenty of special teams experience as a collegian, and will likely be lining up there throughout most of the preseason. Working against him? The fact that he’s 5-foot-9, and is probably one of last men on the depth chart at a busy cornerback spot heading into camp this month.
78. Tight end Rob Myers: For one surreal stretch this offseason, after the Patriots parted ways with Chris Baker and let Benjamin Watson and Robbie Agnone walk, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Myers was the only tight end in Foxboro. But then, the Patriots signed Alge Crumpler and drafted Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and Myers returned to scout-team anonymity.
77. Running back Thomas Clayton: Signed in June as an unrestricted free agent, the 5-foot-11, 222-pound Clayton has been unable to stay healthy over the course of his pro career. Ultimately, his fortunes could be tied to Chris Taylor, another fringe running back who managed to stick around Foxboro all last season on injured reserve despite suffering a shoulder injury and going on injured reserve in early September. (Taylor didn’t play a meaningful down all season but the Patriots kept him around all year, which should tell you a little something about what the organization thinks of him.)
76. Defensive lineman Kyle Love: The 6-foot-1, 310-pound Love has some positional versatility, having played defensive tackle and nose as a collegian at Mississippi State, but the Patriots went out and got a few veteran defensive linemen (Gerard Warren, Damione Lewis) and drafted a couple of others (Brandon Deaderick, Kade Weston). And we haven’t even talked about the young defensive linemen they drafted last year (Myron Pryor, Ron Brace, Darryl Richard). You get the picture.
75. Offensive lineman John Wise: The former college wrestler is returning to a game he last played competitively in 2004. (He played two seasons with Western Illinois before transferring to Illinois and becoming part of the wrestling team.) He’s a long shot to remain with the team as anything more than a practice squadder, but he’s managed to win over Stephen Neal, a fellow college wrestler who has made himself into a premier guard. “I really like the guy,” Neal said of Wise, who could be seen working with him on several occasions over the course of spring practice. “He’s a tough kid, a strong guy. Athletic. I’m just trying to tell him … I don’t try to tell him what to do, I just try to … if he asks me a question, I just say ‘Hey, you could have your stance a little bit better this way or that way.’ Just a few little things that i see that might be able to help him. That’s about it.”
74. Safety Sergio Brown: Probably a little low here — we saw the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder make a few nice plays in spring practice. But the rookie free agent also has a really big plus working in his favor — his college coach was current New England safeties coach Corwin Brown, which will certainly ease the transition. He’ll struggle to see the field on defense in 2010, but if things come together for him, he could make his bones as a special teamer and go from there. Almost every year, a relatively unheralded defensive back makes his mark as a special teamer and ends up beating the odds and sticking around. Last year in was Kyle Arrington. This year, it could be Brown.
73. Linebacker Dane Fletcher: This was a tough one. Fletcher, who is sort of a defensive end/linebacker hybrid, made some great plays in spring practices, including a pass breakup on a ball intended for tight end Aaron Hernandez in a 7-on-7 session. And there’s a lot to like about the level of intensity he brings to the field. But because the Patriots drafted so many players (12) it will make it very tough for any rookie free agent like Fletcher to stick. At the same time, Fletchers’ approach was a good one — if New England is able to sneak him through, the 6-foot-2, 244-pounder has a chance to be a practice squad success story.
72. Offensive lineman Ted Larsen: Larsen is likely a long-term project, meaning the only way he’ll see the field this year is because of emergency. The first member of the Patriots’ rookie class to sign a contract, Larsen (6-foot-3 and 304 pounds) started his collegiate career as a defensive tackle for N.C. State until he moved to center as a junior, where stayed there his final two years as a collegian. He took a few penalty laps in spring practices, likely the result of some growing pains as a professional.
71. Wide receiver Darnell Jenkins: Like everyone on this end of the roster, Jenkins faces long odds. However, the 5-foot-10 and 191-pound Jenkins, who was signed to the practice squad last December, has a leg up on the undrafted and rookie free agents in the system because he’s been around since last winter, and does have more of a level of familiarity with the system than the first year players who got their first taste of the Patriots (and pro football in general) this past spring. The Miami product, who has bounced from Houston to Cleveland to Tampa Bay and New England since he entered the league in 2008 as an undrafted free agent with the Texans.
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