Sunday, May 11, 2014
Quick-hit thoughts around Patriots, NFL
By Mike Reiss
Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. When it came to tight ends in the 2014 draft for the Patriots, I think it was a case where supply didn't meet demand. There were not a lot of viable options for the team in this year's class as they only saw a fit with a very small number of prospects and ultimately didn't draft at the position. It's amazing, in some respects, to think that the team had the position seemingly solidified in the short- and long-term two years ago with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Now, it's one of their bigger question marks on offense.
2. On the trade front, I don't think things materialized the way the Patriots hoped this year late in the first round. Unlike 2013 when the team received a 4-for-1 haul for its No. 29 pick, my sense is that there were much more moderate discussions this year and this is reflected by the compensation exchanged in other first-round deals made around the NFL (teams weren't giving up a lot to move up, in part because of the depth of the draft). I do believe the Patriots still would have liked to trade down, but in the end, there just wasn't a partner willing to dance with a worthwhile enough offer. So given the dynamics in play, they were happy to turn in the card with Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley.
3. In 15 drafts, I can't think of a riskier first-round pick by Bill Belichick and the Patriots. No one is denying that Dominique Easley is a big-time talent. At the same time, a player with bilateral ACLs -- a.k.a. torn ACLs in both knees over the last three seasons -- comes with a medical file not usually associated with the team's top pick. One could argue that medical advancements have reached a point where players are now coming back stronger after reconstruction. Still, if everyone thought that way, Easley wouldn't have lasted until the 29th pick. The Patriots are hoping that Easley can do what 49ers running back Frank Gore did -- tear both ACLs in college before becoming one of the NFL's most durable players at his position.
You have to wonder why a team such as the Texans didn't bite on Jimmy Garoppolo before the Patriots did.
4. Whether it would have actually unfolded that way is only known by the key decision-makers in Seattle and Houston, but I think the Patriots felt they scooped both teams with their top picks, defensive lineman Dominique Easley (first round, No. 29) and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (second round, No. 62). Specific to Garoppolo, the link between what the Patriots value in a quarterback and what the Bill O'Brien-led Texans do is obviously similar. O'Brien ended up with Tom Savage in the fourth round. That may work out just fine in the long run, but I wonder if he's second-guessing the Texans not being able to pull off a minor trade back into the bottom of the second round to leapfrog the Patriots and land Garoppolo. The quarterback is the type of film junkie and lives-football-all-the-time type of guy I think he wants to be aligned with as he builds his team.
5. I thought the Bills' aggressive moves reflected an administration that believes it has a short window to win, perhaps because of ownership uncertainty. General manager Doug Whaley followed his conviction in trading a 2014 first-round pick, 2015 first-round pick and 2015 fourth-round pick to Cleveland to move up five spots in the first round to select receiver Sammy Watkins, in part because he believes it will be a low first-round pick next year. The Bills haven't made the playoffs since 1999 and now they're putting all their chips on second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel. Based on what we saw last year, would anyone be surprised if that's a top 10 pick? Not me.
6. From the "I'm not sure what to make of it" department: Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork held his annual draft party Thursday night to benefit his charitable foundation, but he declined comment from all reporters. In an offseason in which we've heard from top players on defense such as Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Devin McCourty, Jerod Mayo, Darrelle Revis, Dont'a Hightower and even Jamie Collins, Wilfork is keeping a low profile. Maybe it's that he doesn't want to talk about his rehab from a torn Achilles or his restructured contract. Still, it strikes me as a bit outside the norm from one of the leaders of the team.
7. It was hard not to feel a little bit bad for former Patriots quarterback Brian Hoyer on Thursday night when the Cleveland Browns traded up for Johnny Manziel in the first round. The Browns didn't draft Manziel 22nd overall to sit for long, which narrows the window for Hoyer, who is coming back from a torn ACL after finally earning the starting role he coveted, to be on the field. But then two things came to mind: Hoyer isn't one to back down from competition, and he's also still in a much better situation now than 18 months ago. It's easy to forget, but Hoyer was out of football for most of the 2012 season. While he obviously desires a starting role, there's also something to be said for being on the Matt Cassel track as a backup who has the chance to stick in the league for 10-plus years. There were doubts about that with Hoyer not too long ago.
8. From inside the scouting/medical circles, one thing that was repeated to me multiple times in the pre-draft process is how players from Alabama often enter the NFL more banged-up when compared to most of their contemporaries. One line of thinking is that Alabama players might feel pressure to play through ailments because there is usually a top-shelf recruit behind them waiting to take their job if there is an opening. Interesting insight to me that I hadn't heard before.
9a. My favorite story of the three-day draft: Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman taking part on the third day via Skype so he could be in Worcester, Massachusetts, to attend his son's graduation from Becker College. Gettleman explained that there are certain life events that shouldn't be missed. My admiration for Gettleman grows greater when hearing this.
9b. Along those same lines, Jaguars general manager David Caldwell makes Friday his day to come to the office a bit later than the norm so he can drop off his son, David II, at school. He said it's something he learned from one of his mentors, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who does something similar with his son Mason in Atlanta. Work-life balance can be a challenge for many, especially in the around-the-clock, big-business NFL, but I like hearing these types of stories. It doesn't always have to be so serious.
10. With the NFL draft now concluded, there should be plenty of changes to monitor in the scouting ranks around the league and I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots are affected. My eyes will be on director of college scouting Jon Robinson, who arrived in New England in 2002 as an area scout, in part because of a strong recommendation from then Patriots national scout Jason Licht. With Licht now the Buccaneers' general manager, I could envision Robinson being a target for a top position in his administration, perhaps in an assistant general manager type role. Robinson's work with the Patriots was recently praised by director of player personnel Nick Caserio.