|Best draft picks of Bill Belichick era, 2015 edition||04.28.15 at 11:00 pm ET|
With the draft around the corner and our last glance at the best draft picks of the Bill Belichick era looking a little dated, we decided to put together a new list of some of the finest draft moments in recent New England history under Belichick.
As was the case the first time around, in putting together the rankings we took several things into account.
One, impact on and off the field. While production clearly figures into the rankings — and is the first and most important measuring stick — many picks (particularly guys like Tom Brady, Matt Light, Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork) would go on to demonstrate terrific leadership skills and, as a result, become cornerstones of the franchise.
Two, overall draft value. Some later-round picks are ranked higher on our list than first-rounders because it says something about a late-round pick if he exceeds expectations. (That’s why you’ll see so many fifth-, sixth- and seventh-rounders near the top of our list.)
And three, something we’ll call intangibles. It could mean a consistent ability to produce in big moments or simply rise above an unfortunate situation to succeed in the NFL.
With all that in mind — and with the understanding we’ll follow this shortly with the worst picks of the Belichick era — here’s our list.
20. Matthew Slater (5th round, 153rd overall, 2008): The UCLA product was a man without a position when he arrived, and was a perennial candidate to be cut before the start of the season in his first few years in the league. But he’s become one of the most highly respected guys in the New England locker room, not just because of his high character and good nature off the field, but for his special teams skills on the field. Voted as a three-time All-Pro by the Pro Football Writers of America, the son of Hall of Famer Jackie Slater has been named the special teams captain four times in his seven years in the NFL. Along with Dan Koppen, the best fifth-round pick in the history of the franchise.
19. Matt Cassel (7th round, 230th overall, 2005): After working as the primary backup to Tom Brady for three seasons — following a career at USC where he was a backup to a few signal-callers, including Carson Palmer — he stepped into the starters’ role in 2008 for a year and demonstrated that he was good enough to compete at the NFL level. Cassel threw for 3,693 yards while helping guide the Patriots to an 11-5 season.
18. Stevan Ridley (3rd round, 73rd overall, 2011) and Shane Vereen (2nd round, 56th overall, 2011): We’ll pair these two together because they had such a significant impact on the New England running game as a duo the last few years. Ridley rushed for 1,263 yards in 2012, and 2,817 yards (and 4.3 yards per carry) in his four seasons with the Patriots before signing with the Jets this offseason. Meanwhile, Vereen was one of only five running backs last year to finish with at least 50 catches and 50 carries, and his 11 receptions in Super Bowl XLIX were a big part of New England’s win over the Seahawks. Vereen inked a free agent contract with the Giants in March.
|Some history behind Patriots and franchise tag||03.02.15 at 1:30 pm ET|
A few notes as we all wait for the 4 p.m. deadline on the franchise tag:
On four of the eight occasions the Patriots hit someone with the franchise tag, they did it on the last day of the window: Wes Welker (2012), Adam Vinatieri (2005), Tebucky Jones (2003) and Vinatieri (2002). The Welker announcement came just prior to the deadline.
Three of the eight tags ultimately led to contract extensions with the Patriots: Logan Mankins (2011), Vince Wilfork (2010) and Vinatieri (2002). Wilfork’s offseason came at the end of the tumultuous few months for the defensive lineman, who was strongly against the idea of being tagged. He eventually acquiesced, and that set the stage for a new five-year deal that made him the highest-paid nose tackle in the league.
In addition, on three occasions, a player played that year under the franchise tag, and then departed as a free agent the following year: Welker (2012), Asante Samuel (2007) and Vinatieri (2005). In retrospect, it was clear that few players wanted to get out of town faster than Samuel. He held out for most of the offseason and into the summer, eventually signing his tender on Aug, 27. He left as a free agent the following offseason – he was in Philly at a press conference announcing his signing with the Eagles less than 18 hours following the start of free agency the next year.
And two players were tagged and then traded: Matt Cassel (2009) to the Chiefs and Jones (2003) to the Saints. While a few different scenarios could play out between now and the end of the offseason if one of the Patriots is tagged between now and the deadline, this is probably not one of them.
|Buccaneers GM Jason Licht: ‘We think the world of Logan [Mankins]’||02.18.15 at 2:09 pm ET|
Long-time Patriots guard was traded to the Buccaneers just a few weeks prior to the 2014 season — a move which ultimately kept Mankins from winning his first Super Bowl ring, after coming so close in his nine seasons with the Patriots.
While his new team Tampa Bay went 2-14, good for the worst record in the league and the No. 1 overall draft pick, Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith raved about their new guard Wednesday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
“We think the world of Logan,” Licht told reporters. “He’s part of the solution, wasn’t part of the problem. Having him for another year, the full offseason which he’s already told me he wants to be there for the whole offseason, and having him in the room — I think it’s going to be extremely valuable to this football team moving forward. Yeah, he has a future with us.”
Being an 11-year veteran, Mankins is a player some of the younger players can look up to and learn from, as the former Patriots guard is one of the hardest working, true professionals in the game.
“[Logan Mankins] was everything I hoped he would be and I’m talking about a veteran who played at a high level, leadership, Logan is a good player,” Smith said. “Logan played well for us. We need to get others play up to his level.”
Mankins opened up to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan about his season towards the end, admitting it was a tough transition going from one of the best teams in the league, to one of the worst teams in the league, but going on what members of the Buccaneers are saying, the guard will be a major part of the team’s turnaround.
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|Nate Solder: Urgency is ‘extremely high, as high as it can get’||10.01.14 at 4:43 pm ET|
“Extremely high, as high as it can get,” Solder described the urgency of the offensive line and team going into Sunday’s game with Cincinnati. “Moving forward we have to improve. We have to get better, we have to play better.”
Through four games this season quarterback Tom Brady has been sacked nine times and hurried another 38 times in 147 drop backs, per Pro Football Focus. Brady hasn’t put up the numbers he has in the past, as his 59.1 completion percentage is 14th in the AFC with only E.J. Manuel and Jake Locker being worse. Part of the reason for his low numbers is the pressure he’s been under and feeling uncomfortable in the pocket.
The team changed things up last week with starting two rookies in center Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming, who moved to right guard from right tackle for the first time in his entire football life, and deactivated guard Jordan Devey who had started the first three games of the year.
When asked how the unit was operating without their former captain in Mankins, Solder explained it’s a group effort.
“We all work together,” he said. “We have a captain with Dan [Connolly] and we have several guys that have played a lot of ball so we’re moving forward.”
He added: “We keep moving forward. We have plenty of guys that can do it.”
|Tedy Bruschi on D&H: ‘Right now, [Tom Brady] isn’t one of the elite quarterbacks’||09.30.14 at 4:14 pm ET|
In the aftermath of the Patriots’ 41-14 demolition at the hands of the Chiefs on Monday Night Football, former Patriots linebacker (and current ESPN analyst) Tedy Bruschi pulled no punches in examining the state of his former team. He suggested that the Patriots were out-coached when they were on defense (praising Chiefs coach Andy Reid for using misdirection plays to open up the field, particularly the weak side of the line for the running game) and simply beaten up when their offense was on the field.
“You’re comparing the world championship teams, of course there’s a major talent deficit,” Bruschi, in his weekly interview on WEEI’s Dale & Holley show, said. “They’re not playing at a world championship level.”
He noted that Chandler Jones can be coached to improve his technique and do a better job of holding his ground on the weak side of the line for runs, while adding that he felt that Vince Wilfork had performed adequately at the point of attack, with the issue being the large holes emerging next to him on the line. Bruschi said that he felt the defense would have to be the defining presence of the team given some of the offensive shortcomings on display that show little possibility of immediate resolution.
No one was beyond blame for the offensive woes. Asked if Tom Brady remained an elite quarterback, Bruschi was candid.
“Right now, he’s not one of the elite quarterbacks, just based on performance. I can’t say that,” said Bruschi. “Based on numbers, wins and losses, accuracy, throws down the field — no. He’s not. He’s not playing like it.”
|Tom Brady on D&C: ‘It’s a collective problem by our entire offense’||09.22.14 at 7:43 am ET|
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady made his weekly appearance on Dennis & Callahan on Monday morning to talk about Sunday’s surprisingly close 16-9 victory over the lowly Raiders. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
Although they won, the Patriots continued to struggle offensively, putting up just 16 points at home against an unimpressive Raiders team.
“It’s great that we won the game. Obviously, offensively we’re just not doing as good a job as we’re capable of doing. We left a lot of points out there yesterday and made it a close game there. We just have some issues we’re going to have to try to fix here, and we’re going to have to try to fix them fast, because it only gets tougher from here.
“We’ve got a smart team, we’ve got a tough team, we’re physical, we’ve just got to execute better. I think we’ve done a good job with not turning the ball over, which has helped. We talk about that every week. But too many penalties, too many missed opportunities to score, it’s just not what our expectations are. We’re going to go back to work and see if we can do better.”
Some people have pointed the finger at the offensive line, which is without longtime coach Dante Scarnecchia, who retired after last season.
“For us to think about a bunch of hypothetical situations, it doesn’t serve us well,” Brady said. “That’s really for you guys, all the listeners and the fans. All those things that make for great sports talk aren’t necessarily what are in the minds of our team. Whether Dante’s here or not here, whether a player’s here or not there, it doesn’t matter, because we’re faced with what we’re faced with.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in the offensive line, I’ve got a lot of confidence in coach [Dave DeGuglielmo] and what he’s doing. This goes back to us players, and us players doing a better job. I don’t think it has anything to do with the people who aren’t on the field. The people who affect the wins and losses in the game are the players, and we’ve got to go out there and throw the ball, catch the ball, run with the ball, block, tackle — all the things that it takes to win the game. I’m not going to sit here and say that it has anything to do with anything other than that, because that’s where I feel the responsibility always lies.”
|Tim Hasselbeck on D&C: Patriots offensive line was ‘worn out’ against Dolphins||09.08.14 at 10:00 am ET|
Former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Tim Hasselbeck joined Dennis & Callahan on Monday to discuss the Patriots’ loss to the Dolphins. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
The Patriots offensive line had trouble throughout the second half against the Dolphins defensive front. Hasselbeck said Miami’s hits on Tom Brady in the second half changed the complexion of the entire game.
“You look at hits on Brady in the first half, to hits on Brady in the second half, it was a different game. It goes to show you that Tom didn’t have a chance in the second half. Whether it was Jared Odrick beating [Dan] Connolly, whether it was Cameron Wake on a tight end and a back, whether it was Cameron Wake on Sebastian Vollmer. I’ve got three plays where you’re either dealing with a sack-fumble or a hit on the quarterback where [Brady] doesn’t have three seconds to get rid of the football. When you look at it in that regard, there has to be something with that offensive line, which by the way has been a concern for them throughout training camp in terms of the combination that they were going to play with. I think they were worn out. … They got tired.”
Some wondered whether the Patriots should have used more creativity to get the ball out of Brady’s hands quicker. Hasselbeck said the Patriots did an effective job of that in the first 30 minutes.
“In the first half, as I’m taking notes on stuff, I was impressed with the creativity of some of that stuff — how they were using [Julian] Edelman, and how they were doing things where, like the jet sweep a great example. To get that from them you start to say, ‘OK, I like the creativity of it.’ ”
The trade of offensive lineman Logan Mankins for tight end Tim Wright has been a source of controversy since it occurred, and many blame the deal for the line’s struggles on Sunday. Hasselbeck said the trade was not the cause of the issues.
“Logan wasn’t going to be blocking Cameron Wake. Cameron Wake gave them fits. Dan Connolly is blocking his man, and he gets beat by his man. Is the outcome of the game is different? I don’t think there’s any shot the outcome of the game is any different.”