Leftovers from the weekly Patriots mailbag:
Jake (Portland, ME): Hi Mike, a lot of talk about improvement from the "2nd year receivers", and it always seems to be Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. I guess Boyce finished well, but thought Kenbrell put up far better numbers (and one beautiful catch against the Saints). Is there reason for so much optimism on Boyce or is it just because he was the higher pick over Thompkins?
Mike Reiss: Jake, Thompkins should be in the discussion as well. If he was in this draft this year, I think he'd be a mid-round consideration but since he went undrafted in 2013, that probably has a small factor in the current expectation level. But more than that for me, it's Boyce's speed and potential to also emerge as the top kickoff returner that is the biggest part of the projection. He spoke last year about the mental side of the game, and he's a smart player, so if that mental side marries up with the physical gifts he has, there is some promise there.
Acton E. (Austin, Texas): Mike, you seem to excuse the Patriots poor drafting by pointing to mistakes by other teams. However, I would wager that in rounds 1-3, you would have made better picks than the Patriots in almost every draft. As an exercise before this draft, can you go back a few drafts to when you started looking at prospects and compare your preferred choices to the Patriots choices. For example, you preferred Jabaal Sheard and Brooks Reed over Ras-I Dowling. I would guess you would have picked Sean Lee or Carlos Dunlap over Jermaine Cunningham. If your picks perform better than the Patriots, then wouldn't you say it is more than fair to criticize the Patriots draft picks?
Reiss: Acton, I think it's fair to criticize some of the selections the team has made, and I feel like I do that. You'd like to get more out of some of those second-round picks in recent years, such as Patrick Chung, Darius Butler, Ron Brace, Jermaine Cunningham and Tavon Wilson. At the same time, my only point is that any criticism should be placed in the proper context, bringing in other teams' success rate as well. For example, we often hear Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome praised for his team-building work, and with good reason. But if you look at their top picks from 2010, for example, it would be comparable to some of the Patriots players listed above -- linebacker Sergio Kindle (second round) and defensive lineman Terrence Cody (second round). Like the Patriots, they've had plenty of hits. But they're not perfect either, and neither are media analysts/reporters. I think that is important to point out.
Gary (Maine): Surprised that you and Field Yates did not pick Stephen Gostkowski as an important player to extend past this year. He is a reliable kicker, except for a brief period last year. Not to mention one of the NFL's best at kicking off IMO. Do you feel he is someone the Pats can replace easily?
Reiss: We were limited to three players apiece there, Gary, and Gostkowski certainly should be in the discussion. I don't think he's so easily replaced, especially given some of the conditions in which the Patriots play here in the Northeast. I was just thinking the other day after listening to him speak at the Patriots Hall of Fame, it's hard to believe he's going into his ninth season already.
Jason K. (Mexico): In mocks and draft simulators, Missouri DE Kony Ealy and Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan keep popping up as available. At the 29th pick. If the Pats had their choice, who do you think they'd go with and why?
Reiss: Jason, I'd lean toward Ealy if it was a choice between the two. Jernigan is a good prospect but I think his style of play duplicates what they already have in Armond Armstead and Chris Jones. Ealy would fill that void on the defensive end/outside linebacker depth chart behind starters Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich and is one of the better pass-rushers in this year's draft.
Zeb C. (Glasgow): I keep hearing that Teddy Bridgewater may slide out of the first round. Could you see the Patriots using their late first-round pick on him?
Reiss: I'd be surprised at that, Zeb. But if Bridgewater is on the board, I could see the Patriots potentially receiving desired trade interest in the selection. I think that's too early for the Patriots to be picking a quarterback.