|10 most intriguing veterans on Patriots roster||05.07.13 at 12:43 pm ET|
This spring, there are several notable names on the Patriots roster who are starting an important period in their careers for one of four reasons. One, because they might be on the hot seat this year as part of a looming positional battle. Two, they’ve been on the shelf for an extended stretch and are a question mark when it comes to how much they might be able to contribute. Three, they have yet to take a snap in the Patriots system, which makes it difficult when it comes to gauging how they might fit in Foxboro. And four, they are entering a contract year and could have their fortunes down the road tied to their performance in 2013.
With that in mind, here’s our list of this spring’s 10 most intriguing veterans on the New England roster.
Cornerback Aqib Talib: Talib, who was acquired from the Bucs in a November trade, wasn’t an elite corner by any stretch, but his presence allowed the Patriots to move Devin McCourty to safety and install Kyle Arrington in the slot. With that personnel combination in the secondary, the Patriots pass defense had great improvement across the board. (The continuity of having the same five guys at the same spots in the defensive backfield also helped, and with his return, should help going forward.) Despite some injury issues — his departure in the AFC title game, combined with New England’s lack of a coverage linebacker, left the Patriots struggling to defend against Joe Flacco — Talib became a key part of the defense. He re-signed with the Patriots on a low-cost, one-year “prove it” deal that creates incentives for both him and the team. If he has a terrific year, he gets to return to the open market with a chance to really cash in, and the team gets a top-level corner for a year at relatively low cost.
Tight end Jake Ballard: The former Giant was plucked off the New York roster last June and spent the entire 2012 season on the shelf after suffering a knee injury in Super Bowl XLVI against the Patriots. A 6-foot-6, 275-pounder, he was undrafted out of Ohio State in 2010 but turned himself into an effective downfield threat in 2011 with New York (38 receptions for 604 yards and four touchdowns). Ballard is intriguing for a couple of reasons. One, he hasn’t been on the field for a year, and remains a bit of an unknown commodity because of his inactivity. And two, if Rob Gronkowski is on the shelf for any amount of time, Ballard (provided he’s healthy) should see an increase in reps, as his game has some elements of Gronkowski.
Defensive lineman Armond Armstead: One of the most intriguing veteran prospects the Patriots have brought in this spring, this CFL import — who stands 6-foot-5, 300 pounds — could provide a boost to the New England pass rush. The 22-year-old, a USC product, was a three-year star for the Trojans in college. After a junior year spent at defensive end — where he had 43 tackles, six of which were for a loss (three sacks) — he was set to open his senior year at defensive tackle but suffered a heart attack before his senior season and never was cleared to practice. As a result, he went undrafted last spring and ended up with Toronto of the Canadian Football League, where he led the team with 44 tackles and six sacks to help the Argonauts to a Grey Cup championship. (Armstead and Jason Vega are the two CFL imports who joined the New England roster this offseason.)
(When it comes to making the transition from the CFL to the NFL, Marc Trestman — a former CFL coach who was named coach of the Bears this offseason — thinks it can be done. “There are some players up there certainly that have shown they can play in the NFL, that’s been proven over time. There haven’t been many, but the guys who have shown up down here did a pretty good job of fitting in,” he said. “Players up there are very similar to the guys down here in terms of their character. They want to master their craft, they want to be the best they can be, and some of them have had the opportunity south of the border and have done well. These guys love football up there and have dreams of wanting to do it down here, and those who can, will give it a try. Those who can’t have experienced a lot of exciting football up there.”)
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|Resetting depth chart in Patriots backfield||03.19.13 at 2:10 pm ET|
We hit the reset button on the Patriots’ defensive back depth chart the other day, and with a few changes over the first week of free agency at the running back spot, we’ll do the same thing now for the New England backfield. With the understanding that things can change dramatically between now and the start of the season, here’s a look at the Patriots’ depth chart at running back as it stands right now.
Stevan Ridley: After finishing the 2012 season with 290 carries, 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns, if he stays healthy the LSU product figures to be the closest thing to a lead back again for the Patriots in 2013.
Shane Vereen: Displayed enough of a multidimensional flair late in the year to render Danny Woodhead expendable (Woodhead signed with the Chargers as a free agent). Vereen figures to take over many of the responsibilities that fell to Danny Woodhead over the last few seasons, particularly when it came to serving as the third-down and changeup back.
Leon Washington: More of a third-down back and option in the passing game than a traditional between-the-tackles runner, Washington — who projects as more of a special teamer at this point — will likely provide depth for Vereen, at least as things stand right now.
Brandon Bolden: The undrafted free agent out of Ole Miss had one terrific game (he rushed for 137 yards in Buffalo against the Bills), but wasn’t used much late in the season for several reasons, including a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. He finished the season with 56 carries for 274 yards, and right now, projects to be Ridley’s backup as the big, between-the-tackles back.
Jeff Demps: A bit of a wild card at this point because of his reported interest in working part-time in track and field (we got into his situation here), he could serve as a multipurpose threat in the same mold as Washington if he does end up sticking around.
James Develin: The Brown product was a fringe guy last season, spending time with both the Patriots and Bengals before being added to the New England practice squad in September and the active roster in December. At 6-foot-3 and 251 pounds, probably more of a fullback type.
Tony Fiammetta: The fullback was just reinstated to the active roster on Monday after spending all of 2012 out of the game.
|Revisiting Patriots’ rookies: Measuring overall impact of this year’s group||01.22.13 at 9:04 pm ET|
This year’s group of Patriots’ rookies collectively made more of an impact in their first season than any other group of first-year players since the 2003 class. (While the 2010 draft class will likely have a greater long-term impact, the 2012 and 2003 groups were asked to do more in their first full season in the NFL — for more on that breakdown, check out the comparison I did on each draft class here.) With their first season now done, let’s take a player-by-player look at how each one of them did.
Chandler Jones: The 6-foot-5, 220-pound defensive end — the first of two first-round picks made by the Patriots last spring — started out on a great note. With eight games in the books, the Syracuse product was leading the team with six sacks (including two in a loss to the Seahawks) and 11 quarterback hits. He also had three forced fumbles (including one in the first quarter of his first game as a professional), and was named AFC Rookie of the Month and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for September. (We wrote about him as a possible candidate for the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award because of his fast start.) But over the last eight regular-season games, Jones had no sacks, no forced fumbles and one quarterback hit. A sizable portion of that was likely due to an ankle injury he suffered in November that left him on the shelf for a stretch, and probably caused a dip in his play when he did return. (While he wasn’t overwhelming statistically in the regular-season finale against Miami, he did play very well against the Dolphins, looking aggressive while doing a good job setting the edge.) He indicated Monday that he could be facing offseason surgery for his ankle issues.
Dont’a Hightower: After being slowed by a hamstring problem in September and October, the Alabama product became a steady and dependable member of New England defense, and ended his rookie season with 75 tackles (51 solo), four sacks, nine quarterback hits and three passes defensed. He managed to grow into a complimentary piece at linebacker, alongside veterans Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes. No reason to think that the 6-foot-2, 270-pound defender won’t be a consistent presence at linebacker for the Patriots for years to come.
Tavon Wilson: The 6-foot, 210-pounder out of Illinois started strong, with four interceptions in his first 10 games, as well as a 10-tackle performance in an October win over Denver that likely marked the high-water mark of the season for the defensive back, who certainly surpassed the expectations of many who initially called him a second-round reach. However, the acquisition of Aqib Talib affected his playing time maybe more than anyone else — the trade for Talib meant the Patriots moved Devin McCourty from corner to safety, and left Wilson on the sidelines. (Wilson was still part of an occasional rotation in sub packages, but his overall snap count drastically decreased.) Overall, he finished the regular-season with 48 tackles (32 solo), but one of the most impressive things you can say about Wilson and what he brought to the field was a nose for the ball: in addition to his four picks, he had six passes defensed and a pair of fumble recoveries.
|Setting the scene: Patriots-Bills||11.11.12 at 10:55 am ET|
FOXBORO — It will be unseasonably warm and comfortable at Gillette today as the Patriots and Bills meet for the second time in 2012. Temperatures in the mid-60s and mostly sunny skies are expected for the Veterans Day matchup.
There will be a military fly-over and a large American flag covering the field during the national anthem as service men and women are honored.
The Patriots will be without tight end Aaron Hernandez, who is again sitting out due to an ailing right ankle, initially injured against the Cardinals on Sept. 16. Hernandez missed three games and returned for games against Seattle and the Jets. His ankle, which is limiting his ability to cut on routes, flared up and kept him out of the Rams game in London. Today will be the second straight game he will be inactive.
Today could mark the debut of tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who was activated off injured reserve on Saturday, taking the roster spot of Brandon Bolden, who was suspended Friday for four games for a violation of the NFL performance enhancing drug policy.
One thing always seems to be certain when the Patriots play the Bills, wild momentum swings at the beginning and ends of games.
And more often than not, it’s the Patriots who come out on the winning end.
On Sept. 23 in Buffalo, the Bills raced out to a 21-7 lead in the third quarter, only to have the Patriots run off 38 straight points en route to a 52-28 win.
Last year, it was the Patriots who shot out to a 21-0 lead, only to lose 34-31 on a last-second field goal in Buffalo. Then, on the final week of the season last year, it was the Bills who jumped out 21-0 only to see the Patriots run off 49 unanswered in a season-ending win.
The Patriots are 10-0 lifetime against the Bills at Gillette Stadium and have won two straight in the series since having their 13-game winning streak snapped against Buffalo in Sept. 2011.
Bill Belichick is 9-3 after the bye week, with six of those wins coming against the Bills in the last 10 seasons.
|Fantasy Football: Week 5 starts, sits||10.12.12 at 11:29 am ET|
Welcome to Rotobahn’s Week 6 starts and sits. There are plenty of quality options on the bye this week, so feel free to go to Rotobahn.com and use our full lineup rankings if we don’t highlight your key lineup choices here. As usual, we’ve done our best to avoid the obvious choices and to talk about players that are on the fringe of lineups in 12-team leagues. Good luck to all in Week 6!
Andrew Luck, Colts at Jets
He should be able to find the holes in the Jets defense. He’s also a good bet to pick up points with his feet against New York’s slow linebackers. Luck has a solid fantasy floor in Week 6.
Andy Dalton, Bengals at Browns
The Browns get top CB Joe Haden back, but we like Dalton enough to play him as a bye week replacement. The key is that he has been using all his weapons, so if they take A.J. Green away, guys like TE Jermaine Gresham and WR Andrew Hawkins can make big plays. Dalton is our 13th ranked QB in Week 6.
Christian Ponder, Vikings at Redskins
If you have bye issues at QB, Ponder can help. The Minnesota passer has been steady all season long. He should post high-end QB2 numbers in Week 6. Start him with confidence.
Alex Smith, 49ers vs. Giants
Smith is capable of having a big game against a good defense, but this game could be a defensive struggle and there are better options out there this week. If you need to play Smith, go for it, but we’d at least check out some other options. Check out our lineup rankings at Rotobahn.com if you need any more ideas.
Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins vs. Rams
I like the Dolphins rookie, but this is a rough matchup, so consider other options before playing Tannehill on a less-than-average week for him. The Rams have been playing some very solid defense in 2012.
|Patriots running backs have made Tom Brady’s work easier||10.10.12 at 1:38 pm ET|
FOXBORO – Tom Brady joked Wednesday that the pressure is rarely off him as quarterback of the Patriots, but he’ll be the first to admit that his life has been made easier by the Patriots’ multi-faceted running game this season.
Stevan Ridley has emerged as one of the league’s most effective runners, as the second-year back is fifth in the league with 490 rushing yards. Ridley has rushed for 100 or more yards in three of New England’s five games this season, while rookie Brandon Bolden has also been able to produce more than expected (206 yards) and Danny Woodhead has continued to be valuable in both the running and passing game.
Both Ridley and Bolden have broken runs of 20 yards are more, giving the Pats a greater threat on the ground that they’ve had in recent years.
“I think we’re doing a great job of changing field position handing the ball off,” Brady said Wednesday. “It’s different handing the ball off and getting four yards or six yards, which is a good run, but it’s different when you hand off and get 25 and you say, ‘Man, that was easy. Let’s do that again.’
“You get backed up against your own goal line, you run it out there, you’re on the seven yard line 1st and [goal] and you run it for a touchdown like we did, I think we were on the nine yard line. That’s good football. That’s hard to stop. If you can run it and force them to tackle you and force them to get their run fits and worry about run support and then ‘Bam!’ You play action pass on them, I think that’s what makes good football.”
On Sunday, the Pats will go up against one of the league’s stingier run defenses in Seattle. The Pats are third in the league with 165.4 rushing yards per game, but the Seahawks’ 66.6 rushing yards allowed per game makes them third in the NFL against the run.
“We’ve just got to continue to do it,” Brady said. It’s only been five weeks, and we’re certainly doing great in the running game, but it really means nothing if we don’t do it this week.”
|Fantasy Football: Week 6 waiver wire||10.09.12 at 10:52 am ET|
Welcome to the Week 6 waiver wire. The bye weeks are in full swing, so it’s always a good idea to keep your bench strength at a maximum, and that’s what we are here for. Go to Rotobahn.com for full free agent rankings if you play in deeper leagues. We’ll be adding players all day as we continue to work through the Week 5 film.
Carson Palmer, Raiders
If he was dropped on his bye week, we suggest that you pick him up. He’s been playing pretty good football and the Raiders will be throwing a lot in 2012.
Christian Ponder, Vikings
He’s getting more love in the marketplace, but he’s still available in a lot of leagues and he makes a fine QB2 or matchup QB if you lack a strong No. 1 option.
Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins
He stands tall in the pocket and gets it done with marginal personnel. The Dolphins have finally found their quarterback. Tannehill can be a solid backup for you in most formats.
Brandon Weeden, Browns
He was impressive again in Week 5. We like Weeden, as we said in preseason, and he is starting to show it on the field. He can be your QB2 in a deep league. Grab him if he’s available. The Browns have more offensive talent than they are given credit for.
Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
This one is obvious, but he is still unowned in some Yahoo leagues … and after last week, he needs to be owned everywhere. He looked pretty darn good in his first action since knee surgery.
Alex Green, Packers
He’s our guy for those of you who go back with us. He may finally get his chance this week after filling in well for Cedric Benson in Week 5. It appears that Benson could be out long term, so pick up Green in any league where you need a starter for Week 6 and beyond. He has a chance to make a name for himself now. Green is a great fit for the Packers offense. Tons of upside here. Check out this article I wrote on Green last year before his season-ending injury.
David Wilson, Giants
He’s a potential star. His upside alone makes him a guy you should want on your roster. Is he going to be given a bigger role after last week’s touchdown run?
Brandon Bolden, Patriots
He looks really good toting the rock, and Ridley now has fumbled in consecutive games. That is a risky way to keep your job under Bill Belichick. Bolden is a guy to own, especially in deep formats and long term. This kid is not a fluke.
Kendall Hunter, 49ers
He’s flashed his talents the last few weeks with the 49ers holding big leads and we expect him to be a bigger factor as the weeks wear on. The big reason to own Hunter is that Frank Gore is oft-injured and Hunter would start in his absence. Hunter is a very good handcuff option.
Pierre Thomas, Saints
He is playing well right now and he makes solid flex or bye week replacement in medium to large leagues. Thomas is involved in the passing game too, so he has PPR appeal too.
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