The New England Patriots are not as good as they were a month and a half ago, but they’re still the best team in the AFC.
Patriots fans need to calm down. Great teams get worse every offseason. There’s no way to retain every single free agent while staying under the salary cap and filling other needs. The Seattle Seahawks learned this same lesson last offseason, when they let a starting wide receiver, cornerback, pass rusher and offensive tackle walk in free agency. None of those players has the same impact as Revis, but the Seahawks still made a Super Bowl and were one bad play-call away from beating the Patriots.
Even without Revis, the Patriots have a stacked roster, led by Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Devin McCourty, Julian Edelman and the NFL’s best starting linebacker corps. They’re not as good as last year, but that’s what the salary cap is for.
Before the Patriots sign another free agent whom no one has heard of, let’s get into this week’s mailbag:
@DougKyedNESN What position do you think the patriots will target in the first round of the draft?
A lot can change in the next month, but sources indicate that the Patriots are spending a lot of time looking at nose tackles during pro day scouting. Oklahoma’s Jordan Phillips and Clemson’s Grady Jarrett are two names that have been mentioned. The Patriots also met with Washington’s Danny Shelton and Texas’ Malcom Brown at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Florida State’s Eddie Goldman and Iowa’s Carl Davis could be in play at No. 32 overall, too.
The Patriots just drafted Dominique Easley in the first round last season, but he’s a three-technique defensive tackle, not a one-technique nose tackle, and with Vince Wilfork out of the picture, the Patriots need the latter.
The Patriots also could address their needs at guard, running back or cornerback with their first pick.
@DougKyedNESN who out of the futures signings do you think could make the roster or have an impact next year?
The Patriots signed running back Dion Lewis, defensive tackle Antonio Johnson and defensive end Rufus Johnson to future contracts after the 2014 regular season concluded. All three players were out of the league in 2014, so in all reality, it’s unlikely that they will contribute in 2015.
Lewis is interesting because he caught 52 passes in two college seasons at Pittsburgh, and it appears the Patriots will have an open competition to fill the third-down back role.
Antonio Johnson is a 30-year-old, 6-foot-3, 328-pound nose tackle who spent six seasons with the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts. With Wilfork gone, it’s possible Johnson could impress in training camp and win a role as a rotational run-stuffing lineman.
@DougKyedNESN Who is our starting running back next season?
I expect LeGarrette Blount to be the Patriots’ early down starter unless they add a running back in the first three rounds of the NFL draft. Blount is only under contract for one more year, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Patriots plan for the future.
I expect James White to get the majority of third-down opportunities, but Travaris Cadet could steal the role with a solid spring and summer, despite his lack of pass-blocking experience.
@DougKyedNESN do you think BB has one big move planned up his sleeves that would trump everything the rest of the AFC East has done so far?
I know Patriots fans want Bill Belichick to trade for a cornerback, but NFL trades are so infrequent that I’d have to say it’s unlikely.
That being said, if any NFL coach could pull off a trade to complete his roster, it’s Belichick. The first team to always look to when it comes to trades with the Patriots is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have Alterraun Verner, one of the league’s best zone cornerbacks. Verner is on a team-friendly deal, however, so it’s unclear why the Bucs would want to part with him.
@DougKyedNESN will Brock Lesnar re-sign with WWE or go to UFC again?
I think he re-signs with the WWE, and he retains the belt at WrestleMania. In that circumstance, however, I’m not sure what happens with Seth Rollins and the Money In The Bank briefcase. I suppose it’s possible that Rollins cashes in and doesn’t win the belt, but that seems like a waste.
Confession time: Every WWE fan despises Roman Reigns so much that I’ve gone the other way. I like the guy. I hope he beats Brock Lesnar and all of the Internet wrestling fans have a conniption fit. Sorry guys, I just turned heel.
@DougKyedNESN Will Edelman get to reprise his role as Belichick anytime soon? Looking at you, SNL!
Oh man. This would be incredible, but unfortunately, there’s no way it will. Edelman had a month-long window of time where he was just barely famous enough to make a “Saturday Night Live” cameo. I believe that time, unfortunately, is up.
Start a petition, Patriots fans: Edelman for SNL host.
@DougKyedNESN AFC East is gonna be most entertaining Division IMO..Which team do you think poses biggest threat to #Pats??
The Dolphins, but I’m not ready to say they’re anywhere close to knocking off the Patriots.
The Bills improved their offense and already had a great defense, but they still don’t have a quarterback. The Jets also don’t have a quarterback. Their best hope is to draft Marcus Mariota and wait a few years until he emerges.
The Dolphins at least have Ryan Tannehill, who isn’t a top-tier QB, but he’s at least middle of the line. If Tannehill continues to improve, and if Joe Philbin can make strides as a head coach — that’s a big if — then the Dolphins have the talent on their roster to make the playoffs.
@DougKyedNESN you’ve talked about the pats going to a zone cover 2 scheme. Could you talk about pros/cons and who fits best?
With the Patriots’ current personnel at cornerback, it seems like the best fit. Kyle Arrington is a great slot cornerback in man coverage, but when he’s asked to play outside, he’s better in zone. Logan Ryan also is better in zone, where he can make plays with the ball in front of him. Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon could play either scheme at safety, while Patrick Chung and cornerback Malcolm Butler fit better in man coverage.
Whether the Patriots switch to a zone-heavy scheme or not actually might depend on Butler. If the Patriots believe Butler can start, and if they believe Bradley Fletcher or a rookie can be a starter, then they could get away with playing Cover-1 man while depending heavily on McCourty at free safety.
If the Patriots don’t believe Butler and Fletcher can start, then they’re better off playing zone with Arrington and Ryan as the starters and either Butler, Fletcher, a rookie or Robert McClain coming onto the field during nickel snaps.
The Patriots’ secondary situation isn’t as bleak as some fans would have you believe.
@DougKyedNESN if you think the Pats will draft a DB in the first few rounds who do you think some of their options are?
That’s a good question, but I’m not really sure what the Patriots will be looking for in a cornerback. During Belichick’s first 11 years with the Patriots, he drafted smaller, shiftier zone cornerbacks. In 2011, his drafting philosophy seemed to take a big shift by selecting Ras-I Dowling, an over-6-feet, man-coverage cornerback.
If the Patriots still are looking for big man-coverage corners, then Washington’s Marcus Peters, LSU’s Jalen Collins, Florida State’s Ronald Darby and UConn’s Byron Jones are great fits. If they’re looking for smaller zone corners, then Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon State’s Steven Nelson and Mississippi’s Senquez Golson are solid options.
It’s risky to try to play man coverage when you don’t have the right pieces, but if Belichick believes a prospect at the end of the first or second round has the upside to be a top-end player, then it’s worth the risk of drafting a big corner.
@DougKyedNESN Do you like Logan Ryan or Malcolm Butler at No. 1 CB?
I don’t think the Patriots necessarily need a No. 1 cornerback, especially if they go with a zone-heavy scheme. In that case, they’ll likely just let their starters play sides.
If the Patriots roll with a man-coverage-heavy scheme, then Butler has more upside as a No. 1 cornerback, but his lack of experience is concerning.
Just sitting on my couch, watching “Cutthroat Kitchen,” eating an omelet and waiting for the NCAA Tournament to start. You?
@DougKyedNESN What players from Patriots team last year do you see having a “breakout” or step up this season?
I think there are four possibilities. White could really emerge if he grabs hold of that third-down back role. He has great hands and is a solid pass blocker. He could have a big season if he takes the starting job.
Butler could have a breakthrough season after his big Super Bowl-winning play. Belichick had enough faith in the young cornerback to put him on the field in the red zone on the most important play of the season, so as long as he has a good summer, he could take a starting role.
Offensive lineman Cameron Fleming has a chance to emerge, too. The Patriots showed interest in moving him to guard last season, and it was a failure, since he had never played the position before. With a full offseason to learn the new role, Fleming could be in the mix to grab a starting job.
Finally, Easley could really emerge in Year 2 with a full offseason to recover from his 2013 knee injury. Easley didn’t do much as a rookie, but he also didn’t really have training camp or the preseason to prepare for his first NFL season.
Thumbnail photo via Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports Images