|Free agent snapshot: Mike Iupati||02.26.15 at 1:52 pm ET|
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, Dane Fletcher, Roy Helu, Rey Maualuga and David Harris. Today, it’s Mike Iupati.
Position: Offensive lineman
Age: 27 (May 12, 1987)
Weight: 329 pounds
The skinny: A first-round pick out of Idaho in 2010, Iupati has become one of the best run blockers in the game, having received an All-Pro nod in 2012. Working as the left guard for the Niners over the last five seasons, he’s expected to hit the market early next month, and could command top free-agent dollars as the premiere offensive lineman available. (NFL.com’s list of top 25 potential free agents had Iupati seventh on the list, far and away the best offensive lineman.) There are flaws in his game — while he can overwhelm most defensive tackles with his size and strength, he’s not the best or most patient pass blocker. But given the market and his past resume when it comes to the power running game, expect Iupati to have plenty of suitors if he gets to March 10 without a new deal from San Francisco. He’s already been linked to the Redskins and the Dolphins, and that list should continue to grow as free agency nears.
By the numbers: 6 – After committing a career-high nine penalties in 2012, Iupati has been flagged for just six in the last two years, according to NFLpenalties.com. It’s one of the lowest totals for any offensive lineman who has played more than 1,800 snaps (according to Pro Football Focus) the last two seasons.
Why it would work: Iupati is a veteran left guard with an edge. He’s a mauler in the run game — Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus have consistently rated him as one of the best run blockers in the league the last few seasons, as he’s helped create wide-open running spaces for one of the best ground games in the league the last three seasons. That sort of toughness and veteran presence is always welcome in Foxboro.
Why it might not work: Iupati has had an impressive run with the Niners, but with one notable exception in Brian Waters, the Patriots have never gone after veteran offensive linemen, especially ones who are likely to command serious money so late in their careers. In that context, while he’s not necessarily injury-prone, a guard in his late twenties who missed four games in 2013 and one game (as well as a handful of snaps here and there) in 2014 could be a sign that a physical breakdown is coming sooner rather than later.
Quote: “We’ll see in a couple weeks or a couple months. It’s going to suck if I do go somewhere (else). This is my home. I really want to stay here, and I’m sure we’ll try to work something out.” — Iupati, when asked about his possible free agency following the end of the 2014 season
Our take: Iupati’s credentials as a run blocker are without question. He’s smart and tough, and given the expected free-agent market for offensive linemen, he’ll probably command a hefty payday, even with his occasional deficiencies when it comes to his pass-blocking skills. But when you take into account the presumed demand for his services, as well as his age and the fact that this is supposed to be one of the better drafts for interior offensive linemen over the last few years, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Patriots ultimately pass on Iupati’s services and look elsewhere for any potential upgrades along the interior.
|Could any of combine 3-cone stars be draft fit with Patriots?||02.26.15 at 9:00 am ET|
When it comes to evaluating the performance of a potential Patriot draftee at the combine, it always has to be taken as part of a bigger picture, one that includes the interview, as well a big picture snapshot of what that individual can bring to the table. But at the same time, it’s undeniable that the Patriots put more stock in some drills than others, including the 3-cone drill.
We’ve written extensively about New England’s connection with the 3-cone drill, a workout that examines a prospects quickness and agility as opposed to simple, straight-line speed. While Bill Belichick dismissed it last year as not being “football-specific,” history tells us that more often than not, the 3-cone performance plays a role in New England’s scouting process with it comes to scouting defensive backs and wide receivers.
With the understanding that anything under 6.8 is considered extremely quick, it’s easy to draw a line between the 3-cone and the Patriots scoring process. They wound up with three of the top 10 finishers in the drill from the 2013 combine — third-round pick Logan Ryan (6.69), fourth-rounder Josh Boyce (6.68) and undrafted free agent T.J. Moe (6.53). Going back through the years, Julian Edelman posted a 6.62 as a collegian. Deion Branch was 6.71. Chad Jackson checked in at 6.74. And Wes Welker was at 7.06. (That also translates to the defensive side of the football — including Ryan in 2013, Nate Ebner was also quick as a collegian with a 6.59, and Devin McCourty‘s 6.7 at the 2010 combine put him second among all cornerbacks.) Not all the times were posted at the combine, but you certainly get the idea.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the top 3-cone finishers at this year’s combine, and how they might fit with the Patriots:
1. Tennessee CB Justin Coleman: 6.61 – The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder blew away the rest of the corners in the 3-cone, beating his nearest positional competition by .16 seconds. He was at or near the top of most of the other major categories at his position, and certainly helped his draft stock with a solid performance across the board. Working primarily in a nickel capacity with Tennessee, he had the best season of his collegiate career last year with the Volts, finishing with 42 tackles, five pass breakups and a career-best four picks. While the Patriots are probably not in the market for a corner in the early-going, Coleman — known as a fast and aggressive defensive back who can play both inside and outside — would make an intriguing fit for New England if he did somehow last until the middle rounds.
|Pro Day schedule starting to take shape||02.25.15 at 1:18 pm ET|
With the combine in the books, one of the next phases of the evaluation process involves the Pro Days, where players get a chance to work out in a more controlled environment on their own campus. While every school has yet to announce their information and schedule, here’s a look at what has been announced to this point. (Expect more updates in the coming days.)
March 2: Wake Forest
March 3: Pitt, Auburn
March 4: Mississippi State
March 5: Nebraska, Clemson
March 6: Arizona State
March 11: Southern Cal, Louisville, Oklahoma
March 12: Oregon
March 13: Ohio State, West Virginia
March 18: Michigan State, Georgia
March 19: Stanford
March 23: Iowa
March 24: Texas
March 27: LSU
March 31: Florida State, UConn
April 2: Miami, Washington
April 7: Florida
|Free agent snapshot: David Harris||02.25.15 at 12:00 pm ET|
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, Dane Fletcher, Roy Helu and Rey Maualuga. Today, it’s David Harris.
Age: 31 (Jan. 21, 1984)
Weight: 250 pounds
The skinny: He’s not the most well-known of the potential free agents — Patriots fans might know his previous starring role as “Guy Who Broke Tom Brady’s Interception-Free Streak” in the 2010 Divisional Playoffs, a pick that set the tone for New York’s upset of the Patriots. But over his eight seasons in the NFL, all of them with the Jets, Harris has distinguished himself as a smart and heady veteran who brings a nice consistency, poise and professionalism to the field and the locker room. Harris is one of the last men standing in Rex Ryan‘s really talented defenses of roughly a half-decade ago, and the second-round pick out of Michigan has made his mark as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, becoming a second-team All-Pro in 2009. He’s had some issues in coverage over the last few years, but is a stout presence in the middle, and over the last few years, played a very nice complementary role while working with New York’s outstanding defensive front when it comes to slowing the run. In New England, he’d likely work as a complementary piece to linebackers like Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins.
By the numbers: 3,249 – the number of defensive snaps played by Harris over the last three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s the highest total on the Jets roster in that time.
Why it would work: Harris is a smart, dependable veteran who could be had relatively cheaply. He’s registered at least 123 tackles in three consecutive seasons and has 30 career sacks. He’s known as someone who is stout against the run, and while no one is questioning the bonafides of defenders like Hightower and Collins after 2014 the idea of a thumper on the inside as a two-down defender against the run who comes off the field on passing downs would effectively make him Brandon Spikes without the Twitter baggage. (Something that’s appealing to the Patriots.) And as someone who has played eight years in the league but has missed out on the playoffs the last three seasons, the idea of being a part of a team that goes deep into the postseason on a fairly regular basis would also figure to hold some sort of appeal. He clearly passes the Rosevelt Colvin test in the sense that Bill Belichick has spoken very highly go him in the past on a fairly regular basis. (More on that shortly.) And it would represent a nice opportunity for the Patriots to poach a quality veteran from a divisional rival.
Why it might not work: If he does hit the market, Harris could be one of the more underrated gems of free agency on a few levels, including the fact that the veteran could have his choice of a few potential landing spots, including with his old boss Ryan in Buffalo (as a guy who could replace Spikes, at least on a semi-regular basis). Rumors also had the Falcons and Bears showing interest in the vet. (That doesn’t begin to take into account the idea of him staying put with the Jets.) And then, there’s also the fact that if the Patriots are able to bring back Hightower, Mayo and Collins, there probably wouldn’t be a lot of playing time available to a guy like Harris — who has carved out a tremendous niche as an iron man — in New England, even if he would acquiesce to play more of a two-down, run-stuffing role with the Patriots.
Quote: “I have a lot of respect for David Harris. That guy, first of all, he never comes of the field — not just this year, but any year. The guy is like a 98, 99 percent playtime player for them every year, year after year. It’s obviously a defense that has a lot of communication and adjustments, and he’s certainly at the center of that. Both as the signal caller and then at the line of scrimmage, you can see him adjusting the front or making some type of communication calls to his teammates. He’s a very instinctive player, which unfortunately we’ve seen that first-hand. He does a good job for them. He’s been very consistent, durable, dependable, productive over a long period of time.” — Belichick on Harris, Dec. 19
Our take: On the surface, this seems like the sort of guy the Patriots take a flier on on a semi-regular basis: veteran defender who is looking to put the capper on his career with a chance to go to (or win) a Super Bowl. However, as previously mentioned, Harris is likely to find several suitors on the market — if he does get that far — most of which would likely allow him to continue to work as a three-down player, as opposed to the two-down specialist he’d likely be if he came to New England. (There’s also the question about just what can be expected out of Hightower next spring and summer because of a late-season injury and recent surgery.) Still, if the idea of working in occasional relief of presumed starters like Mayo, Hightower and Collins and the chance to get back to the playoffs sooner rather than later appeals to Harris, then he could certainly find a home with the Patriots, as long as the dollars were competitive.
|Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Defensive line||02.17.15 at 8:00 am ET|
With the Patriots done for the season, we’ve got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the Patriots stand. We’ve looked at special teams, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends, quarterback, offensive line, safety and cornerback and linebacker. Now, we wrap it up with defensive line:
Depth chart (regular-season stats via coaches film review): Chandler Jones (43 tackles, 6 sacks, 10 quarterback hits, 2 passes defensed), Alan Branch (14 tackles, 2 quarterback hits, 1 pass defensed), Sealver Siliga (27 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 quarterback hits), Vince Wilfork (47 tackles, 1 quarterback hit, 1 INT, 2 passes defensed), Chris Jones (27 tackles, 3 sacks, 7 quarterback hits), Rob Ninkovich (56 tackles, 8 sacks, 16 quarterback hits, 1 INT, 2 passes defensed, 1 fumble recovery), Joe Vellano (6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 quarterback hit), Zach Moore (4 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery), Michael Buchanan (1 tackle), Dominique Easley (9 tackles, 1 sack, 3 quarterback hits) and Akeem Ayers (15 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 quarterback hits, 1 INT, 1 pass defensed). Jake Bequette remains on the practice squad.
Overview: The heart of the New England defense, the line was able to hold strong after a sluggish start and really one together nicely as the year developed and into the playoffs. At the center of it all was a resurgent Wilfork. The veteran had to knock a little rust off at the start of the season, but he was a huge part of the defensive success enjoyed by the Patriots over the course of the 2014 season, not only from an on-field perspective but as a leader and mentor to a group of younger defensive linemen. Along the interior, Wilfork was ably backed by youngsters Siliga and Jones, who returned to their roles as mostly complementary players.
On the edge, Ninkovich and Chandler Jones weren’t an overwhelming pass rush duo, but Ninkovich became the first member of the Pats to register three straight seasons of at least eight sacks since Hall of Famer Andre Tippett. Jones struggled with a hip injury and missed roughly two full months in the middle of the year, but Ayers — acquired from Tennessee in October — was able to provide relief as a pass rusher while holding up relatively well against the run. And Branch, who was plucked off the street in October, managed to find a role as a run-stopper and steadying part of the rotation up front.
Ultimately, it wasn’t an overwhelming defensive front, but in the spirit of good complementary football, it was more than enough to lift the Patriots over the top: In six of their final 11 games (including the playoffs), the Patriots held opposing teams under 100 yards rushing, and finished ninth in the league in rush defense (104.3 yards per game allowed).
Going forward, one of the offseason storylines worth monitoring will be what happens with Wilfork and his contractual situation. The veteran could be one of several players who might be asked to have his deal restructured in hopes of creating more financial flexibility. At the same time, most of the rest of the key parts are under contract for 2015, including 2014’s first-round selection Dominique Easley, who had recurring knee issues through the year and ended the season on injured reserve. Count on him to be a major part of New England’s defensive plans in 2015.
Best moment: Lots of moments to choose from here, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the work that the defensive front did over the course of the six-game gauntlet against (mostly) division leaders that would come to define the Patriots as the physical bunch they turned out to be. In that series, New England yielded an average of 81 rushing yards per game and just one rushing touchdown.
|Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Linebacker||02.16.15 at 6:11 pm ET|
With the Patriots done for the season, we’ve got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the Patriots stand. We’ve looked at special teams, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends, quarterback, offensive line, safety and cornerback. Now, it’s linebacker:
Depth chart (regular-season stats via coaches film review): Jamie Collins (109 tackles, 4 sacks, 7 quarterback hits, 2 INTs, 3 passes defensed, 4 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries), Dont’a Hightower (92 tackles, 6 sacks, 12 quarterback hits, 2 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble), Jerod Mayo (52 tackles, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hits, 1 fumble recovery), Jonathan Casillas (21 tackles, 1 quarterback hit, 1 forced fumble), Deontae Skinner (10 tackles, 1 sack, 1 quarterback hit), Darius Fleming (5 tackles), Chris White (9 special teams tackles)
Overview: After losing Mayo to a season-ending knee injury in October and letting go of vets like James Anderson in the early going, the linebacker position appeared to be perilously thin just six games into the season. But the work of Hightower and Collins throughout the bulk of the season and into the playoffs was, for the most part, excellent. There were occasional missteps here and there, but the two did an excellent job working in tandem as the Patriots utilized a 4-2-5 look for large portions of the season.
Collins possessed the speed to run with backs and tight ends who were occasionally split wide. He also had the strength to work inside, not only against the run, but also as a pass rusher coming up the gut as a blitzer in the A gaps. Likewise, Hightower showed a knack for getting after the quarterback, setting a career-high when it comes to sacks and quarterback hits. The duo were augmented by the addition of Casillas, who was utilized most as a special teamer, but also played significant snaps (51 of a possible 57) when Hightower was inactive with a nagging shoulder injury prior to the win over the Chargers. Meanwhile, Skinner, Fleming and White worked most as special teamers and occasional depth additions over the course of the season.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see what sort of role Mayo will have with the team in 2015, as well as whether or not he’s a possibility to have his contract re-done. Figure that Collins and Hightower will continue to work as playmakers, and given his positional flexibility, Collins could be used in a variety of roles next season. But as long as they stay healthy, this positional grouping should continue to be one of the best on the roster.
Best moment: Collins had several impressive games over the course of the season, but it’s hard to argue with his impressive performance on Dec. 7 against the Chargers in San Diego. Without Hightower in the lineup, Collins was all over the field — he finished with a team-high nine tackles, to go along with two sacks, three tackles for loss and a pair of quarterback hits.
Worst moment: While there weren’t too many on-field moments that were overly troubling, the loss of Mayo to a season-ending knee injury in an October win over the Bills in Buffalo was a sizable blow to the New England defense. The work of Hightower and Collins down the stretch and into the postseason was excellent, but Mayo’s leadership, knowledge of the system and abilities to defend the run was tough to replace.
By the numbers: 3 – Collins was only one of three defenders to finish the regular season with at least four sacks and two interceptions, joining Green Bay’s Julius Peppers and Seattle’s Bruce Irvin.
Money quote: “I think Jamie is really developing as a great young player. He’s obviously learning the NFL game and trying to improve on just the fundamentals and the understanding of the different looks and the awareness and things like that that he’s seeing. That’s all starting to come together for him, and he’s a very, very smart guy. He’s quiet, so sometimes, you’re hard-pressed to figure it, but he’s pretty smart. He studies a lot and he has a good grasp of what we do. Obviously, athletically it’s unbelievable — his size, his length, and his speed is very rare.” — defensive coordinator Matt Patricia on Collins and how he’s developed within the New England defense
|Old Tom Brady combine video from 2000 remains amazing||02.16.15 at 12:10 pm ET|
With the combine set for this week, here’s our annual look at Tom Brady, taking part in the 2000 combine at the old RCA Dome in Indianapolis.