Quick-hit thoughts/notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. To suggest that Patriots first-round draft choice Malcom Brown will fill the sizable void created by Vince Wilfork’s free-agent departure is optimistic at this point, but I do think there’s another strong connection between the two. In 2004, the Patriots were legitimately surprised that Wilfork was still available to them with the 21st pick of the first round. He was supposed to be long gone at that point. In 2015, the same was true of the 6-foot-2, 320-pound Brown at pick No. 32. The wheel-and-deal Patriots had a few trade offers to consider at No. 32, but ultimately felt the value of those deals didn’t trump the quality of player in Brown, who surprisingly slid down the board like Wilfork did in 2004. Could lightning have struck twice for the Patriots at such an important position?
2. We know how Bill Belichick feels about weather forecasts so maybe he won’t agree, but I figured he had to be smiling when checking his radar and seeing steaming hot New England temperatures of 95 for Wednesday, 93 for Thursday, 90 for Friday, 90 for Saturday and 91 for Sunday. Just in time for the start of training camp and the all-important stretch of getting players into football shape -- both physically and mentally.
3a. It’s been one year and two days since NFL commissioner Roger Goodell decided on a two-game suspension for then-Ravens running back Ray Rice, which he later amended and admitted was a mistake (after video of Rice’s actions surfaced). As we consider that, as well as running back Adrian Peterson beating the NFL in court, and now wait for Goodell’s decision on Tom Brady’s appeal, I’m left to wonder: Has any commissioner ever had a worse year as it relates to player discipline? There are so many layers to digest in Deflategate, but the one I keep coming back to is how Goodell and some underlings have buried Brady -- who in many ways has represented everything the NFL should be about over the past 15 years -- with such a clear lack of evidence of him being involved in any wrongdoing. For anyone with an interest in fairness, and what it means to have a reputation affected by such actions, how does that not leave a bad taste? We hear a lot about “integrity of the game” from Goodell, but I’d like to hear him and some of his top staffers be more transparent about their several Deflategate missteps as it relates to integrity of the league office.
3b. Strong take by award-winning Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel on Deflategate, who calls it “one of the dumbest scandals in sports history.”
4. The Patriots will have their first practice of training camp Thursday, although the first official media access comes Wednesday with Belichick holding a news conference (scheduled for 9:30 a.m.), followed by safety Devin McCourty and special teams captain Matthew Slater shortly thereafter. Until Brady’s appeal is decided, I’m not expecting to hear from him at camp. And even then, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brady goes the Marshawn Lynch route and decides he’ll be forgoing media interviews altogether (and potentially being subject to a fine) until there is some official resolution to his situation.
5. Here’s a statistic that Belichick is likely to mention to Patriots defenders with the NFL opener against the Steelers in mind: Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown has at least five receptions and at least 50 receiving yards in every game over the past two seasons. That 32-game streak is an NFL record, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information and 23 games ahead of the next closest active streak (Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr.). As an aside, when McCourty was on ESPN’s “First Take” program in early July, he listed Brown as his top NFL receiver.
6. I recommend checking out Comcast SportsNet's Tom E. Curran and his ongoing list of the top 50 players in the Belichick era (2000-present), which is down to its final two spots. It’s been a great read on a daily basis. On a lighthearted note, my favorite was No. 24.
7. Patriots second-round draft choice Jordan Richards, the safety from Stanford, has sparked debate as it relates to value. Richards is clearly a Patriot-type player based on traits alone, but from a pure physical standpoint, draft analysts and some officials from other NFL clubs I spoke with generally felt New England reached to select him at No. 64. From the Patriots’ standpoint, I think they view Richards as worth the value based on the way the game is played today; specifically how the team is in 5-plus defensive back packages for a majority of snaps (73.5 percent in 2014) and thus a safety that helps a defense match up in various ways is perhaps more important than ever before.
8. If Richards was the Patriots’ pick that generated the most debate, tabbing long snapper Joe Cardona in the fifth round was probably next in line. To me, that had some similarities to 2006 when the Patriots selected kicker Stephen Gostkowski in the fourth round as the club’s draft intelligence indicated that if it didn’t pounce at that time, Gostkowski wouldn’t have been available by the time it picked again. This year, I believe the Patriots were convinced Cardona wasn’t going to be around if they passed on him at pick 166 and waited until their next choice at 178. Carolina, Kansas City and Baltimore all had multiple picks between 166-178 and perhaps the Patriots had one of those clubs in mind, or old friend Bill O’Brien in Houston (175) as a possible threat.
9. Former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan once commented that undersized defensive end Elvis Dumervil’s unusually long arms made it seem like he was 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5 instead of 5-foot-11. That thought came to mind when researching Patriots rookie defensive end Trey Flowers of Arkansas, who at 6-foot-2 might be considered undersized for the position but combines that with unusual 34.25-inch arm length that contributes to him playing with good leverage. This isn’t to say that Flowers (4th round, 101st overall) is the next Dumervil, but just making a point that productive players don’t always fit the traditional prototype. If Flowers was two to three inches taller, I wonder if he would have slipped to the fourth round.
10. Did You Know: According to ESPN’s Stats & Information, running back Shane Vereen – who signed a free-agent deal with the Giants in March -- was on the field for 252 third-down passing plays in his Patriots career. None of the running backs currently on the Patriots’ roster have more than 81 snaps of NFL experience on third-down passing plays.
EXTRA POINT: It's time to hop on the football treadmill and begin another season of coverage; sharing a few personal thoughts after a short break away.