New England Patriots: Jamie Collins

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has long maintained that the offseason between a player's rookie and sophomore season is among the most critical of his career.

We've seen Patriots make major strides from Year 1 to Year 2 of late, including defensive end Chandler Jones and running back Stevan Ridley.

Collins
Their progress puts players entering Year 2 in New England under the microscope; perhaps none more so than linebacker Jamie Collins, who made significant strides late last season.

Collins lands at No. 5 on NFL.com's Around the League blog in their "Making the Leap" series, a countdown of 25 players in total.

Gregg Rosenthal, who pens the piece, captures Collins' uniqueness succinctly in his lede:
"Jamie Collins is a cornerback trapped in a 250-pound body. While most linebackers are forced into pass coverage duties, Collins looks at home on an island."


As Rosenthal notes, Collins' role should blossom this season, as he played just 302 defensive snaps in 2013. With that number expected to increase dramatically, so too will expectations.

Just how high will expectations increase?

"Collins' ceiling would be to emerge as the AFC's answer to Lavonte David and Thomas Davis," Rosenthal writes. "In an era of multiple defenses and pass-catching tight ends, every team is looking for hybrids at linebacker. The Patriots found a good one."

Hard to argue with that assessment.

Leftovers from weekly Pats chat

April, 4, 2014
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A few leftovers from our weekly New England Patriots chat:

Evan (NJ): Hi Mike, in the AFC Championship Game last year, our pass rush was nearly nonexistent. I think we definitely need to sign a strong pass rusher to give Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich some relief. Do you see the draft or free agency as being the better option?

Evan, I do think we'll see an addition at defensive end behind Jones and Ninkovich, as the team has explored veteran Will Smith as one possibility. But another point to consider is how a pass rush comes from more places than just the defensive end spot. A better interior push will also be a factor and the team should upgrade in that area if Armond Armstead emerges as a contributor. I could also see Jamie Collins being more of a factor in this area. Better coverage also helps the rush and the Patriots look pretty solid in the secondary right now.

James (England): If, as you suggested, linebacker Ryan Shazier is an option in the first round, do you project him as playing inside or outside?

James, I think Shazier is best suited off the line, so it would depend on what defense the team is in. Part of my thinking with Shazier is that 70 percent of defense is played in sub anyway and he could ultimately be a big part of that. Also, there is a pretty notable dropoff after the top three linebackers of Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins and more quality depth is needed.

Joe (Waltham): Mike, do you think the Patriots draft a QB in this draft? Obviously the visits of Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater were nothing more than educating themselves more on the draft board, but if someone like AJ McCarron falls to the bottom of the 2nd or even the 3rd, do you think they consider it?

Yes, Joe, I think that is a distinct possibility. A late second-round pick seems a bit rich to me for a quarterback but I think anything after that is in play. Just as Ryan Mallett was a third-round pick in 2011, it wouldn't surprise me if the team picked a quarterback that early this year if the right prospect is there (e.g. Pittsburgh's Tom Savage).

Earl (Marlborough, Mass.): I thought that Will Svitek filled in pretty admirably for injuries early on in the season, and he has versatility. What is his likelihood of return as depth on OL?

Earl, Svitek helped the Patriots through an early stretch of injuries in the preseason but by the end of the season, it was notable to me that rookie Josh Kline was thrust into action over him. Part of that could have been due to Svitek battling an injury. My sense is that the plan would be to turn that guard position over to a younger (less expensive) player like Kline or Chris Barker, knowing that the team goes three deep at tackle with Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon.

Carlos (Maine): Mike, why is it just assumed that Ryan Mallett is gone next year?

Carlos, Mallett enters the final year of his contract in 2014 and thus is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at this time next year. With Tom Brady entrenched as the starter here, and signed through 2017, it makes sense to think that Mallett will likely want to pursue a better chance to start elsewhere. The door should never be slammed shut on Mallett's return, but I'd think the odds wouldn't favor it at this point.

Leftover pieces of Patriots mail

March, 27, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- A few leftover pieces of mail from the weekly New England Patriots mailbag:

Darryl Williams in Baltimore, Md., writes: Hey Mike, what would you predict the Patriots do about safety Adrian Wilson as far as a spot on the roster? I think Wilson would complement our secondary very well.

Reiss: Darryl, my feeling on Wilson has been that I'd be surprised if he's on the club. He looked to be on the roster bubble at the end of 2013 preseason (seemed a bit slow in preseason games) and if not for a season-ending injury, I had him on the outside looking in based on performance. That's why I haven't really factored him into the mix upon his return to health.




John M in Atlanta, Ga., writes: Maybe this isn't the most pressing question, but when will we know what number Darrelle Revis is going to wear? I'm sure he's hoping to pick up No. 24. (I ask because I bought a jersey shortly after he signed with the Pats, but I guess they can't start making them till they get the number situation sorted out.)

Reiss: John, this actually relates to our first question because Adrian Wilson currently owns the No. 24 and paid a "heavy" price to get it (a year's supply of Pampers diapers for cornerback/new dad Kyle Arrington). I think Revis will ultimately get 24, but the team still has Wilson on the roster, perhaps because he's still not 100 percent and a team can't cut an injured player.




Ramin in San Marcos, Texas, writes: Hey Mike, let's just say that we decide not to add another WR to what we already have and then all of them end up staying healthy through camp/preseason next year. Including Matthew Slater we would have to keep seven receivers on the roster unless we cut Kenbrell Thompkins or Josh Boyce. Now I really hope that does not happen so my question to you is, do you think Brandon LaFell is a lock to make the 2014 53-man roster with his $3 million dollar signing bonus, or could you see him being the odd man out (assuming we need the extra roster spot and everyone stays healthy)?

Reiss: Ramin, I'd put LaFell in the 99-percent category for being on the club. I'd be surprised if he wasn't when everything ultimately sorts itself out.




Toni Kemmerle in Brunswick, Maine, writes: After watching Jared Allen sign with the Bears, the Patriots do not seem to be in the running for the services of a high profile free agent defensive end who can rush the passer. Do you think they will try to fill this desperate need through the draft or by signing a number of affordable free agents and seeing what shakes out?

Reiss: Toni, at this point, I'd lean toward the draft as well as internal development with Michael Buchanan. I also think a second-year player like Jamie Collins can be a factor when given the opportunity to rush the passer. That is one of the things I've learned in an offseason study of different teams -- many of them talk about the idea/concept of trying to find the answers from within first. That could be in play here.




Bob K. in Cambridge, Mass., writes: How does the experimental PAT from the 20 during the preseason apply to 2-point conversions?

Reiss: Bob, if the team declares it's going for the 2-point conversion, the ball would be placed on the 2-yard line. If not, it goes to the 20 for the point-after attempt.

Bonds won't fade for Brandon Spikes

March, 17, 2014
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The bonds between players often remain strong -- even with they are no longer teammates, and one such example is with linebacker Brandon Spikes.

Spikes
After signing a one-year deal with the Buffalo Bills on Friday, Spikes spent Sunday with his former New England teammate Jamie Collins.

“I definitely won’t leave those guys behind. They will always be friends of mine. I’ve spoken with them a few times already and I was actually hanging out with Jamie Collins yesterday,” Spikes said on a conference call Monday, when asked about the linebacker corps he leaves behind.

“They’ll definitely be friends of mine forever. I’ll never forget them. They have a great linebacker corps, a lot of young guys, and they’ll be fine over there. I’ll definitely be watching them play and being in contact with them.”

Spikes was also asked how he envisions he’ll feel leading into this season’s Patriots-Bills games.

“It’s going to be emotional for me. Right now, I have dreamed about it already,” Spikes said. “I’ve dreamed about the emotional game; I’ll probably be in tears the entire game. I know it’s going to be a battle, it’s definitely going to be a battle, so I’m looking forward to that. I’ll probably dream about it every night until it comes in the fall.”

Weekly Patriots mail is delivered

January, 28, 2014
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Every Tuesday on ESPNBoston.com, questions from New England Patriots followers are answered as part of a weekly mailbag. Today's mailbag has been posted and includes some of the following topics:

1. Receiver Julian Edelman and his free-agent forecast.

2. Danny Amendola and his future with the Patriots.

3. Starting to outline roster needs for 2014, with an initial focus at tight end.

4. Rookie linebacker Jamie Collins and his growth over the course of the 2013 season.

5. Tight end Aaron Hernandez and potential salary cap relief.

6. Decisions by Josh McDaniels and Nick Caserio to stay in New England.

Pats improve in Kiper regrade

January, 23, 2014
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One of our first instincts following the NFL draft is to assess how teams fared in the process.

Following last year's draft, ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. graded the Patriots' class as a C+, noting at the time: "I don't see a starter out of this draft in the short-term, but they added players with some really good traits. It's just a matter of development now."

With a full season of tape study under his belt, Kiper has re-graded each team's draft class, and the Patriots' mark improved to a B.

"Is there a star in this draft, or even a Pro Bowl-caliber player? Maybe not," Kiper writes. "But that doesn't mean the Patriots didn't do an incredible job of plugging gaps with rookies they drafted and those they picked up as undrafted free agents to keep the ship afloat as long as they did."

"Bill Belichick deserves a lot of credit for utilizing these guys to the best of their ability, but there isn't anyone who wows you in this class," Kiper also writes. "Still, the grade definitely jumps."

He also notes that the Patriots had the second most snaps played by a rookie class in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Info, while the team used 13 rookies in total.

Each of the seven drafted players made the active roster for the Patriots, with Logan Ryan, Aaron Dobson, Jamie Collins and Duron Harmon as the primary contributors.

Defensive tackle Chris Jones, a sixth-round pick of the Texans, and undrafted defensive tackle Joe Vellano also played extensively.

To see Kiper's full take on the draft re-grades (Insider content), click HERE.

Double Coverage: Patriots at Broncos

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
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And then there were two -- two teams that know most of what there is to know about each other, two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks who add to their legacies with every pass, all with a Super Bowl trip on the line.

The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, who have faced each other in each of the past three seasons and in the divisional round of the 2011 season, took it to overtime Nov. 24. The Broncos let a 24-0 halftime lead get away, and the Patriots won 34-31 after a punt bounced off Broncos cornerback Tony Carter's leg in overtime on a frigid night in Foxborough, Mass.

ESPN.com Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss Sunday's AFC Championship Game in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Legwold: Peyton Manning and Bill Belichick yet again. Do you think, in all your time around Belichick, that he tries to bring something new to the table every time he faces Manning? Or does he assume Manning has done the homework and put his efforts into getting people in the right position?

Reiss: I'd say there's always a new wrinkle or two, Jeff. Belichick has said in the past that Manning is too smart to just do the same thing over and over again -- both within a game and from matchup to matchup. Part of that discussion is also the state of the Patriots' personnel entering the matchup. A player like rookie linebacker Jamie Collins, for example, might give Belichick the flexibility to introduce something unique based on his breakthrough since the Nov. 24 meeting between the teams.

The weather forecast looks promising for Manning. No icy cold forecast. How do you think he approaches this game compared to the Nov. 24 contest? Do you think he will be less reluctant to hand the ball off?

Legwold: It will be a postcard day Sunday with the temperature expected to be 58 degrees with 0 percent chance of rain and light winds. So any decisions the two teams make on offense will have to do with what's in front of them on defense only. Manning will be inclined to hand the ball off if he sees the Patriots in some of those lighter personnel groupings deployed to handle Denver's three-wide-receiver look. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase has a run option built into most things Manning can change into at the line of scrimmage. The Broncos certainly like how Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball are trending in the run game. They have split carries down the stretch, and both run with tackle-shedding power.

Gase, with coaching DNA that includes his time with Mike Martz, is an aggressive sort. With the next-generation numbers the Broncos' offense has put up this season, it's easy to forget they still averaged 28.8 carries per game and topped 30 carries per matchup nine times this season. If they get a look from the New England defense that calls for a run, the Broncos will be inclined to pound away.

Where is Tom Brady's game and the offense right now after some rough moments early in the season? Has Brady benefited from a run-heavy approach down the stretch and into the postseason?

Reiss: The biggest benefit for Brady with the run-heavy approach has been how it opens play-action opportunities. Danny Amendola's 53-yard catch in the divisional round is one of the best examples. Also, part of the reason the Patriots have gone so run-heavy is that it's the area where they have their most assets. They are limited when it comes to pass-catchers who create consistent separation at tight end and receiver. As for Brady's game, there have been no signs of decline in arm strength, accuracy or decision-making. The main reasons for the struggles early in the year, from my view, were more about the changes around him. That's not to say Brady didn't make his mistakes, but it's sort of interesting to look back on some of the media-based discussion around Weeks 6 to 8 about how maybe Father Time had caught up to him.

Now that we're a full season in, how would you sum up the Wes Welker signing? Just as the Broncos hoped for? Better? Worse?

Legwold: Welker finished the regular season with 73 catches for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns. His presence in the slot, along with Julius Thomas at tight end, is part of the reason the offense had a historic season. With the Broncos lining up in a three-wide-receiver set the majority of the season -- and every snap of the divisional round win over the San Diego Chargers -- they force defenses into some difficult choices. Thomas is often in the slot on one side of the formation, and Welker is in the slot on the other side. When Thomas missed two games earlier this season with a knee injury, both the Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs (Dec. 1) elected to double-team Welker. He missed three games after suffering his second concussion in a four-week span Dec. 8 against the Tennessee Titans but played last week against the Chargers without issue.

Welker did have some spells this season when he had a cluster of dropped passes -- three against the Patriots on a frigid night to go with drops against Washington and San Diego in the regular season. Overall, though, he was exactly what the Broncos hoped he would be in their offense. He meshed with Manning quickly and was a big part of the plan right from his nine-catch performance against the Baltimore Ravens in the season opener.

The Patriots did not face Thomas in the Nov. 24 meeting. Do you think they will try to match up Collins on Thomas this time around?

Reiss: That seems like the natural matchup, especially after seeing Collins splitting out wide on Colts tight end Coby Fleener on Saturday night and playing very well. Collins is unique in that, at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, he is fast enough to be competitive down the field in coverage (e.g., fourth-quarter interception versus the Colts) but powerful enough to play in the box and deliver a blow in the running game and as a pass-rusher. The Patriots' top draft pick in 2013, selected 52nd overall out of Southern Mississippi, he is an intriguing player whom Patriots fans really got their first extended look at Saturday as he played every snap against the Colts. He had been groomed behind the scenes up to that point, playing just 25 percent of the defensive snaps on the season in more of a reserve role.

Thomas may not have played in the first game between the teams, but Von Miller did. How does Miller's season-ending knee injury affect the Broncos' defense?

Legwold: Of all the players who were signed in the weeks after the initial leaguewide binge in free agency, the Broncos' signing of Shaun Phillips was easily one of the best. Denver signed Phillips to a one-year, $1 million deal during the draft weekend in April, well over a month after free agency had opened, a deal that didn't have a signing bonus but did have some incentives based on sack totals.

Phillips was initially how the Broncos planned to deal with the loss of Elvis Dumervil in free agency. When Miller was suspended for the first six games of the season, Phillips had 5.5 sacks in those games to lead the way. He finished the regular season with 10 sacks to lead the team. In Sunday's win, with Miller on injured reserve, Phillips had two sacks against the Chargers. He is the single-most important player in the Broncos' pass rush in Miller's absence. Denver may have to take more risks without Miller on the field, and that's always a tough choice against someone like Brady, who can easily find the holes in coverage. But if Phillips can consistently create pressure -- with both sacks on three-man rushes against San Diego -- it allows the Broncos to move things around a little more and cover more of the bases.

Did Belichick make a conscious effort to get big backs like LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley in the lineup when he knew he would get smaller defensive personnel against the team's passing attack?

Reiss: That's fair to say, as the Patriots pride themselves on creating those matchups during the game, with coordinator Josh McDaniels finding his groove in recent weeks. They refer to themselves as a "game plan" offense because they tailor their plan weekly based on what they perceive to be the weakness of the opposition. They'll shuttle in different personnel groupings early -- multiple receivers, two backs, two tight ends, etc. -- to get information on how the opponent is matching up and then focus on the one they like best. This week, what's fascinating to me is that I think they probably see vulnerability in the Broncos' secondary, but I wonder how they feel about their own personnel in being able to exploit it. So that could keep them grounded.

The Patriots have been running the ball very well. How is the Broncos' run defense?

Legwold: In a year when the Broncos have been forced, by injuries and Miller's suspension, to mix and match on defense, their run defense has likely been more consistent in comparison to some of the other issues they've had. When defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson went to injured reserve Nov. 27 with a hip injury, they did wobble a bit, surrendering 159 yards rushing to the Chiefs and 177 yards rushing to the Chargers in two of the three games that immediately followed.

They have regained their balance a bit since, moving Paris Lenon into the middle linebacker spot in the base defense, and rookie defensive tackle Sylvester Williams has played better each week. Overall, the biggest issue for the Broncos will be how they defend the run if the Patriots get them in nickel or dime personnel on defense and then run the ball at the smaller looks. The Broncos' safeties will have to tackle and tackle well to make it work.

Belichick has always tried to make "other" people beat him and take away an offense's front-line players. How do you think he would rank the Broncos' threats in the passing game, and where do you think the one-on-one matchups will be?

Reiss: One insightful point that ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi made in his weekly chat was the idea of defending the Broncos from the inside-out. Manning is still an accurate marksman, one of the greatest of all time, but I'm guessing that even he would agree that some of the downfield and outside-the-numbers throws he used to make don't come as easily to him. So it makes sense that the Patriots would focus more resources on the inside part of the field, where it would seem we would most likely see Welker and Thomas. With this in mind, I could envision the Patriots matching up cornerback Aqib Talib with Demaryius Thomas on the outside and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard with Eric Decker and taking their chances that those one-on-one matchups will be competitive. Trusting those cornerbacks in those one-on-one matchups would allow the defense to focus extra attention/personnel to the inside part of the field.

Any X factors or special-teams contributors we should keep on the radar?

Legwold: The Broncos have usually been lockdown tight on special teams -- opening the season with two touchdown returns and two blocked punts, one of those returned for a score, in the first four weeks of the season. Those normally reliable units, however, have wobbled plenty down the stretch. The Chiefs' Knile Davis had a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the Titans' Leon Washington had a 95-yard kickoff return, and the Texans' Keshawn Martin had a 51-yard punt return. Toss in the first blocked punt of Britton Colquitt's career in Oakland to go with Trindon Holliday's occasional adventures catching the ball, and it's been an unpredictable stretch. But Holliday is always a threat to uncork a return because of his breathtaking speed. The Broncos used wide receiver Decker as the primary punt returner against the Chargers last week, and he had a 47-yarder. So the Broncos have the potential to pop one at any time, especially in Denver, where Holliday returned both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in last January's playoff loss to the Ravens.

 

Ups and downs for the Patriots

January, 11, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- At an initial glance, a look at who is "up" and who is at the opposite end of the spectrum in the New England Patriots' divisional-round playoff win against the Colts:

Williams
Blount
Up
LeGarrette Blount -- Running back totals four touchdowns, including a 73-yard scoring jaunt in the fourth quarter. The four rushing touchdowns sets a franchise record as the offensive line, tight ends and fullback James Develin also get a tip of the cap for opening the holes.

Jamie Collins -- Rookie linebacker rises up to the challenge with extended opportunity after Brandon Spikes is placed on season-ending injured reserve, as Collins is all over the field.

Alfonzo Dennard/Aqib Talib -- Starting cornerbacks don't win every one-on-one challenge, but are generally up to the task as Talib lines up across from T.Y. Hilton consistently and Dennard opens the game with a big interception and ends the game with one as well.

Stephen Gostkowski -- Kicker does an admirable job filling in for injured punter Ryan Allen.

Down
Danny Aiken -- Snapper fires a delivery over the head of punter Ryan Allen in the second quarter that results in a safety.

Kyle Arrington -- Nickel cornerback is replaced by rookie Logan Ryan near the end of the second quarter after having some struggles in the slot.

Devin McCourty -- As the last line of defense, second-team All-Pro safety lets LaVon Brazill get behind him for a 35-yard touchdown.

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

January, 11, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing thoughts on the New England Patriots' 43-22 divisional-round playoff victory Saturday over the Indianapolis Colts:

What it means: The Patriots advance to the AFC Championship Game for the eighth time in Bill Belichick's 14 years as head coach, which continues a remarkable run of success for Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. Many of the faces around them have changed over the years, but Belichick and Brady have been the constants, and one could make a case this has been their most impressive season as a tandem. The Patriots have been hit as hard by injuries as any team in the NFL, but they've willed their way to put themselves in position to win their first Super Bowl championship since the 2004 season.

Running game sparks attack again: For the third consecutive game, the Patriots' ground attack was the difference-maker, led by hard-charging LeGarrette Blount (franchise-record four rushing touchdowns). The Patriots split snaps at running back evenly among Blount, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, and sliced up the Colts with strong work up front by the offensive line -- left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Logan Mankins, center Ryan Wendell, right guard Dan Connolly and right tackle Marcus Cannon -- as well as tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan and fullback James Develin. When the Patriots run it like this, it brings back memories of the 2004 Super Bowl championship team for which bruiser Corey Dillon was the lead back.

Injuries to monitor: Punter Ryan Allen left the game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury and did not return. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski handled the punting duties, and Brady handled the holder responsibilities as part of the field-goal operation. If Allen is unavailable in the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots would almost certainly bring in another punter. Former Patriot Zoltan Mesko isn't an option, as he punted for the Bengals in the playoffs and isn't eligible to join another team. ... Elsewhere, rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins left the game in the fourth quarter with a head injury (presumably a concussion) and did not return. Veteran Austin Collie was his replacement.

Stock watch: Jamie Collins -- up. The Patriots' top pick in the 2013 draft (52nd overall) was thrust into an expanded role, in part because linebacker Brandon Spikes was placed on season-ending injured reserve earlier in the week. Collins had played just 25 percent of the defensive snaps during the regular season, but he didn't come off the field and made his presence felt as a tackler, pass-rusher and in coverage with an interception. He was all over the field in what was a coming out party for the ultra-athletic defender from Southern Mississippi.

What's next: The Patriots will play in the AFC Championship Game against the winner of Sunday's game between the visiting San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos (4:40 p.m. ET). If Denver beats San Diego, the AFC Championship Game will be played in Denver. If San Diego beats Denver, the AFC Championship Game will be played in New England. Regardless of location, the game will be played at 3 p.m. ET next Sunday.

Revisiting draft-day trade with Vikings

January, 4, 2014
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When news came that Vikings rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson had been named to the Pro Bowl, it generated feedback on Twitter. The common refrain was that the Patriots, who had the 29th pick in the draft, would've been well served to select Patterson rather than trade the pick to Minnesota in a deal that netted them four selections.

Patterson
And while Patterson has proven to be a dynamic playmaker for Minnesota, he still has work to do as a receiver, and some wonder if his game was suited to the complex offensive system we've seen some receivers struggle to pick up in New England.

The truth is that we don't know exactly how Patterson would fit in New England, but we can assess what the Patriots made of the four picks they acquired in the deal.

Below is a rundown:

Second round pick, No. 52 overall: Used on linebacker Jamie Collins, an eight-game starter and improved performer down the stretch. The Patriots viewed Collins as an upside pick in the second round, as his natural movement skills are obvious. He projects as a full-time starter as soon as 2014.

Third round pick, No. 83 overall: Used on cornerback Logan Ryan, who led all NFL rookies with five interceptions this season. Though not an every-week starter yet, Ryan has turned out to be one of the better values in the third round and a keeper in the secondary.

Fourth round pick, No. 102 overall: Used on wide receiver Josh Boyce, who finished with nine catches this season, while also providing value as a kickoff return man. Boyce was recently placed on injured reserve, though he will add value as a wideout next season, perhaps as a slot man.

Seventh round pick, No. 229 overall: This may have turned out to be the most important piece of the deal as it relates to 2013, as this pick was sent along with Jeff Demps to Tampa Bay in exchange for running back LeGarrette Blount, nearly the team's leading rusher (he rushed for one yard less than Stevan Ridley).

It's easy to make knee-jerk reactions to deals at the time they are made. It's also easy to look at the contributions of one player and wonder, "what if?" as has become the case with Patterson.

But given what the above players have meant to the Patriots for this season -- and could mean beyond this season -- this deal likely qualifies under the label of "one we'd make again."

Picked-up pieces from 1st-quarter review

November, 25, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Picked-up pieces from the first quarter of the New England Patriots' 34-31 overtime win over the Denver Broncos:

1. Some of the Patriots’ struggles defending the run were evident from the first play -- a 12-yard Knowshon Moreno run up the middle. Rookie defensive tackle Joe Vellano was double teamed by right tackle Orlando Franklin and right guard Louis Vasquez, while fellow rookie Chris Jones was handled by center Manny Ramirez, with a little help from left guard Zane Beadles. It didn’t help that linebacker Dont'a Hightower didn’t seem to fill his gap decisively. The Broncos won these battles consistently. Vellano and Jones play with great effort and are giving the Patriots everything they have. They were just outplayed at times, which created big running lanes for Moreno.

[+] EnlargeBill Belichick
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesPatriots head coach Bill Belichick says there are different types of fumbles, citing some are just football plays that happen and others are a result of poor technique or skills.
2. Strong work by top Patriots draft pick Jamie Collins, who opened the game with three tackles on the game’s first five plays. Collins was part of one version of the 4-2-5 nickel, playing 22 snaps replacing Brandon Spikes at linebacker in some sub situations. In a spread passing game, it seemed the coaching staff liked Collins’ athleticism in the matchup. “I thought he was active,” Bill Belichick said of Collins. “He was in on a number of plays. It looked like the last third-down play, he was in on breaking up passes, jamming receivers, had a couple big tackles for us there.”

3. One of the topics that has come up in weekly mailbags and chats is if left guard Logan Mankins might be slipping. The Patriots’ first running play (Stevan Ridley for 7 yards) is a good example of why the answer is no. While Mankins leads the Patriots with seven penalties and has had some protection breakdowns, he still showcases the athleticism to pull, combined with impressive power that was evidenced as he drove linebacker Danny Trevathan on to his back.

4. Bill Belichick talked about the difference between fumbles that are good football plays and those that could be avoided with better discipline. We'd put Ridley's in the latter category. As he attempts to spin, he is upright and opens himself up while exposing the football to contact. Some credit obviously goes to Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard for creating the fumble, and it appeared right guard Dan Connolly might have been late coming off his initial block in a failed attempt to deter Woodyard, but with better fundamentals Ridley should be able to hold on to that ball.

5. On LeGarrette Blount's fumble, we'd put it closer to the "football plays" category as Blount seemed initially dazed by safety Duke Ihenacho’s helmet making contact with his helmet (not a penalty because he isn't a defenseless player). Blount was also attempting to protect the ball as Ihenacho arrived, which from our view, showed more awareness than Ridley's miscue.

6. Explosive rush by Broncos defensive end Von Miller to get around left tackle Nate Solder to the outside to create the Tom Brady strip sack with 9:30 remaining in the first quarter. Miller does that to a lot of left tackles. We'd imagine offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia would also point to Solder’s technique breakdown on the play, as the third-year pro didn’t get his hands on Miller early enough in the rush, which allowed Miller to dictate as Solder found himself in a compromising position.

7. Right defensive end Chandler Jones, who now has 10.5 sacks, was one of the Patriots' top defenders. He continues to evolve, mostly playing forward but also showing athleticism to drop into coverage at times. He plays out of both a 3- and 2-point stance and his sack on second-and-goal was a big play that ultimately contributed to a red-zone hold. We don’t want to undersell the strong 1-on-1 rush against left tackle Chris Clark, but there was also an important coverage element to the play as Kyle Arrington played outside leverage and took away Wes Welker, who appeared to be Peyton Manning's first read as the middle receiver in a three-wide alignment to the left. Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard also had solid man coverage on that side. Specific to Arrington, his work in the slot against Welker warrants mention as similar to Mankins, he’s been subject to criticism in some mailbags and chats this year. The feeling here is that Arrington is a solid slot corner. When asked to do more, that's when some struggles arise.

8. On the second sack of Brady, the Broncos came with a six-man blitz and it looked like a case of the Broncos having the perfect call for the play. Connolly was pulling on the play as part of creating some play-action, but the issue was that defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson was too quick to shoot the gap vacated by Connolly before center Ryan Wendell could get over to him. Easy sack. NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth quickly pointed out that it was a similar protection that resulted in a sack in last Monday's game against the Panthers and wondered the Patriots might remove the protection from the playbook. That could be the case. At the same time, we wondered if it was just a result of the Broncos matching a perfect call against it.

Weekly Patriots chat recap

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
2:00
PM ET
Every Thursday on ESPNBoston.com, there is a Patriots chat in the late morning/early afternoon. Today's chat kicked off at 11 a.m. ET, can be recapped here and included some of the following topics:
  1. Top draft pick Jamie Collins and if he's a disappointment.
  2. Julian Edelman as a kickoff returner. Why not?
  3. Defensive tackle Armond Armstead and if he will play this season.
  4. Initial impressions of the next opponent, the Carolina Panthers.
  5. Thoughts on Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin as it relates to the Patriots.
  6. Thoughts on Andre Carter and Isaac Sopoaga, new additions who have contributed on defense.

Progress report: Rookies chip in

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
12:00
PM ET
The New England Patriots have received significant contributions from their rookie class this season. In Bill Belichick's 14 years as head coach, this season ranks near the top of the list, if not at the top, in this area.

Following up Field Yates' progress report on second-year players from this morning, here is a rookie breakdown (alphabetical order):

Allen
Punter Ryan Allen: The undrafted free agent ranks 10th in the NFL with a 46.4 average and 16th in net punting (39.9) as he's proven to be up to the task of replacing veteran Zoltan Mesko. He's also the holder on field goals, and Stephen Gostkowski is 22 of 23 this season. Allen's eight touchbacks are tied for the NFL high, which is an area for improvement.

Guard Chris Barker: Claimed on waivers from the Dolphins at the final roster cutdown, the undrafted free agent from Nevada dressed for the first three games of the season as veteran backup Will Svitek was working his way back from a knee injury, but hasn't played on offense. This looks like a red-shirt year for him as the Patriots have avoided the risk of another team claiming him on waivers (Dolphins?) should they try to move him to the practice squad.

Linebacker Steve Beauharnais: The seventh-round draft choice from Rutgers has dressed for three games, but hasn't played on defense. This appears to be more of a red-shirt year for him.

Receiver Josh Boyce: The fourth-round draft choice from Texas Christian played in the first five games (1 catch, 24 yards) but has been inactive for the past four as veteran Austin Collie was viewed as a more consistent option. Boyce is one of the fastest receivers on the team, but appears to need a little more time to put it all together.

Defensive end Michael Buchanan: The seventh-round pick from Illinois opened the season as the primary right defensive end in sub packages, but a few struggles with rush-lane integrity (Oct. 6 vs. Bengals and Oct. 20 vs. Jets) led to the signing of veteran Andre Carter, who has since taken over that role. Buchanan contributes on special teams and is now No. 4 on the overall defensive end depth chart, with obvious upside.

Linebacker Jamie Collins: The second-round pick from Southern Mississippi has been a core special teams player and was integrated a bit more defensively after linebacker Jerod Mayo was lost to a season-ending injury Oct. 13. But after flashing a bit Oct. 20 vs. the Jets, he was pushed around in the first half against the Dolphins on Oct. 27 and has played sparingly on defense since. He has all the tools, but appears to need a bit more time.

Dobson
Receiver Aaron Dobson: The second-round pick from Marshall has come on strong in recent weeks, elevating to the top spot on the depth chart as the X outside target. He has 31 receptions for 454 yards with four touchdowns, and at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds gives the Patriots a combination of size and speed that they haven't had at the position since Randy Moss.

Safety Duron Harmon: Considered a reach as a third-round pick, the Rutgers product has been a top backup behind starters Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory, playing in some sub packages. He also filled in on special teams when core player Tavon Wilson was out with a hamstring injury. Teammates have talked about his smarts and his professional approach.

Defensive tackle Chris Jones: Claimed on waivers from the Buccaneers on Sept. 11, he earns our vote for Patriots "rookie of the first half" with five sacks in six games played. At 6-foot-1 and 309 pounds, his quickness has been an asset as an interior rusher, and he's been competitive from a strength/physical standpoint on run plays. Waived by the Texans, who drafted him in the sixth round, he briefly landed in Tampa before the Buccaneers let him go and the Patriots pounced. He has proven to be a steal.

Ryan
Cornerback Logan Ryan: The third-round pick from Rutgers has made some big plays, such as an interception return for a touchdown against the Jets on Oct. 20, as he's been thrust into a top reserve role in recent weeks with Aqib Talib out. At 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, he has mostly been competitive in coverage and shown a willingness to play the run.

Receiver Kenbrell Thompkins: The undrafted free agent from Cincinnati has slid down the depth chart the past two weeks after serving mostly as the primary X option on the outside (23 catches, 334 yards, 4 TDs) through the first seven games. He made the big game-winning catch against the Saints on Oct. 13, but has since been passed on the depth chart by Dobson.

Defensive tackle Joe Vellano: The undrafted free agent from Maryland is one of the surprises of the season. After opening the season as the No. 3 option behind Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, he has been thrust into a starting role as both veterans have been lost to season-ending injuries. At 6-foot-2 and 300 pounds, he might be viewed as undersized by some, but he wins with technique and scrappiness.

Snaps: How Patriots filled Mayo void

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
1:20
PM ET
A look at the snaps played by New England Patriots' defenders in Sunday’s 30-27 loss to the New York Jets, while analyzing what it means (as charted in press box, small margin for error):

DE Chandler Jones – 92 of 92
S Devin McCourty – 92 of 92
DE Rob Ninkovich – 92 of 92
CB Alfonzo Dennard – 90 of 90
DT Chris Jones – 87 of 92
LB Dont’a Hightower – 85 of 92
DT Joe Vellano – 77 of 92
LB Brandon Spikes – 73 of 92
S Steve Gregory – 66 of 92
CB Logan Ryan – 66 of 92
CB Marquice Cole – 61 of 92
CB Kyle Arrington – 34 of 92
S Duron Harmon – 30 of 92
DT Marcus Forston – 26 of 92
LB Jamie Collins – 15 of 92
DE Michael Buchanan – 14 of 92
LB Dane Fletcher – 7 of 92
DT Andre Neblett – 5 of 92

(Includes penalties. Not including kneel-down at the end of the fourth quarter.)

ANALYSIS: One of the big storylines entering the game was how the Patriots would replace LB Jerod Mayo, and it was a multi-layered approach that was dictated by what personnel the Jets put on the field. The Patriots inserted rookie Jamie Collins into the game at Mayo’s weakside linebacker spot in the 4-3 base defense, but the Patriots trended toward a 5-2 base for a bigger front seven instead of the 4-3. Most notable was when the Jets often had fullback Tommy Bohanon on the field in a specific grouping, the Patriots played with linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Brandon Spikes, and instead of bringing on Collins elected for extra bulk up front with Marcus Forston as a third defensive tackle in the 5-2. Otherwise, the Patriots were mostly in their 4-2-5 nickel or 4-1-6 dime with Hightower/Spikes the primary linebacker combination in nickel and Hightower staying on in the dime. Hightower and Spikes are bigger linebackers and they looked a step behind in the passing game at times. That’s probably where the Patriots missed Mayo most – his range and speed in the sub. … Cornerback Kyle Arrington was essentially benched after the third series, as he struggled against receiver Jeremy Kerley. He only played three snaps the rest of the game, replaced by Marquice Cole. … Former Patriots tight end Zach Sudfeld played one offensive snap for the Jets. … The 92 snaps were easily a season-high. Even if the game didn’t go to overtime, when the Patriots were on the field for 13 defensive snaps, it would have been the most defensive snaps played in a game.

Quick-hit thoughts after first quarter

October, 20, 2013
10/20/13
1:50
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- After 15 minutes of play, the New England Patriots lead the New York Jets 14-7. Passing along quick-hit notes and observations from the first quarter.

1. Gronk watch. The Patriots didn't wait long to utilize tight end Rob Gronkowski, as he was on the field for the first offensive series, catching his first pass on a second and 10 play and extending for the first down. He would later catch a 29-yard seam route that came up about a yard short of a touchdown, though his impact was felt immediately. He also had an edge-setting block on the team's first touchdown of the game, a run by Brandon Bolden. Safe to say Gronkowski came ready to play. He played 9 of the team's 12 offensive snaps.

2. Jets score easily on first drive. The Jets started the game with a 25-yard gain on a pass from quarterback Geno Smith to tight end Jeff Cumberland and didn't stop after that. They easily cruised down the field, converting three third downs, capped off with a touchdown throw to slot man Jeremy Kerley. All too easy for New York on their first drive. But...

3. Ryan makes first career pick. Rookie cornerback Logan Ryan made his first career interception, picking off Geno Smith and returning it 79 yards for a score on the Jets' next drive. It was a particularly sweet moment for Ryan because it came in his home state, as the Berlin, N.J., native also attended Rutgers. The Patriots have forced a turnover in 34 straight regular-season games, best in the NFL.

4. Defense turns to Collins. The Patriots have turned to linebacker Jamie Collins to replace Jerod Mayo in the starting lineup, as he's been the third linebacker alongside Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower. The team has also opted for a heavier front, using three defensive tackles and Chandler Jones along the defensive line, with Rob Ninkovich used in stand-up alignments.

5. Penalty box. No Patriots were flagged for penalties during the first quarter.

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