Belichick, Caserio go deep on Ravens receivers

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Belichick, Caserio go deep on Ravens receivers

There was something very obvious about Joe Flacco's play against the Texans. No, not his habit of taking sacks; his happiness in having Anquan Boldin back as a target. The Ravens receiver missed the regular season's final two weeks after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Boldin fell right back into step during last weekend's Divisional playoff, punishing Houston for 132 yards on eight catches.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick couldn't have been encouraged. He spoke Tuesday about the edge a healthy Boldin gives Baltimore.

"Boldin is a tough matchup hes strong, hes really physical, hes got great size, tough guy, tough after the catch. You give him too much space and hes strong and physical and can hurt you with the ball in his hands. You get up there too tight on him and hes big and physical and can throw some of those smaller guys around and get on top of him and go up and get the ball. Hes a tough guy to match up on."

The scope of Belichick's compliments was actually much wider. He said the Ravens have a complimentary offense based on an array of targets available to Flacco. Whether looking to Boldin, Ray Rice -- the NFL's No. 2 regular season rusher, Torrey Smith, or tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, there's someone to step up against the coverage.

Smith, in particular, is someone the Patriots looked over during 2010's pre-draft process. He and Boldin could be a pair to bother New England's inconsistent secondary.

"Torreys probably their top vertical threat," Diirector of player personnel Nick Caserio said this week. "He was an explosive down field player at Maryland; a real productive player. Hes got good size, great kid, and great makeup. Hes come in and has done a nice job and hes given their offense a different dimension.

"They really have players that really can attack all three levels of the field. Smith is maybe a little faster than Boldin, but Boldins ball skills are very, very good, so even if you have him covered they still might throw it up to because the quarterback has quite a bit of confidence in that Anquan is going to go up and make a play."

The message was clear: Neither Belichick nor Caserio is surprised to see Baltimore across the field.

They said it starts at the top. Both men stroked the Ravens' staff, from Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta in the front office, to John Harbaugh down on the front line. While Baltimore's defensive gets most of the attention, its offense did rank in the NFL's top half during the regular season. Nobody will be muttering, "But it's Flacco" in that planning room.

"The bottom line is they have good football players." Caserio said. "Thats really what it comes down to in this league. They find good football players, they bring them in, and they develop them."

The Patriots can afford to underestimate nothing. Especially not for the AFC Championship.

Valentine will be plunked down in heart of D-line

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Valentine will be plunked down in heart of D-line

FOXBORO – The Patriots used the 96th overall pick – a compensatory pick that came to the Patriots after losing Darrelle Revis – on a very large man. Vincent Valentine, a 6-3, 329-pound defensive tackle from Nebraska who is more space-eater than penetrator.

Though Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio said Valentine has played all over the defensive line including 5-technique (outside shoulder of the tackle), he’ll likely be an early-down, middle of the defensive line player for the Patriots at the outset. How does the team go about getting him on the field?

Currently, they are pretty well-stocked with big bodies. Last year’s first rounder, Malcom Brown, is going to play a lot for a long time. Terrance Knighton, added as a free agent, figures to be a major component of the defensive line. And aging Alan Branch showed in 2015 that he’s still got plenty of plays left in him.

The other 300-plus pound linemen in the mix are Marcus Kuhn, a free agent brought over from the Giants, and Joe Vellano, who’s been with the team for four seasons as an end of the roster player.

Valentine had an injury-plagued final season with the Cornhuskers and will need to tune up his body and conditioning for the NFL. He’s not a project but neither is he a plug-and-play type who can be expected to walk in and make immediate contributions. With the 31-year-old Branch nearing the end, it’s reasonable to expect Valentine to be the successor to him in the Patriots interior rotation when they go heavy on early downs and in short-yardage and goal-line.

Examining possible Patriots fits going into Day 3

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Examining possible Patriots fits going into Day 3

The Patriots have eight picks remaining on the final day of the draft. While they may not use all of those selections -- they currently have 80 players on the roster, leaving them with only two slots for undrafted free agents if they use all of their picks -- they still have plenty of opportunities to take chances on talented athletes Saturday. 

Here's a quick look at some of the best players available after they spent their first four selections on a corner (Cyrus Jones, Alabama, pick No. 60), an offensive lineman (Joe Thuney, North Carolina State, No. 78), a quarterback (Jacoby Brissett, North Carolina State, No. 91) and a defensive tackle (Vincent Valentine, Nebraska, No. 96). 

The Patriots have one fourth-round pick, five sixth-round picks and two seventh-rounders remaining.

 

RUNNING BACK: KENNETH DIXON, LOUISIANA TECH

Listed as one of our top players available after Day 1, Dixon is still hanging around after nearly 100 picks have gone off the board. Perhaps his level of competition at Louisiana Tech has worked against him. Perhaps his fumbling issues have come back to bite him. Perhaps this is simply an indication of how the rest of the league considers this position. Only four backs have been drafted through the first three rounds. 

Other top running backs available: Jordan Howard, Indiana; Devontae Booker, Utah; Paul Perkins, UCLA; Jonathan Williams, Arkansas; Alex Collins, Arkansas. 

RECEIVER: DANIEL BRAVERMAN, WESTERN MICHIGAN

If ever there was a player who stood out as a potential Patriots pick, it would be Braverman. At 5-foot-10, 177 pounds, he is a prototypical slot receiver whose skill set resembles that of Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola or Troy Brown. He's very shifty in and out of his breaks, he does a great deal of his work while risking big hits over the middle of the field, he catches just about everything thrown his way, and he churns out yards after the catch with speed and good vision. 

Other top receivers available: Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia; Rashard Higgins, Colorado State; Devon Cajuste, Stanford; Keyarris Garrett, Tulsa; Keenan Reynolds, Navy.

LINEBACKER: JOSH PERRY, OHIO STATE

This Buckeye seems to fit the size profile the Patriots typically like in their receivers at 6-foot-4, 254 pounds. He runs well enough to be able to track ball-carriers from sideline-to-sideline, and he has a ton of experience coming downhill to make big hits in the running game. Perry will need some work before he's a reliable defender in coverage, but on first and second downs he could be a force. 

Other top linebackers available: Scooby Wright III, Arizona; Kentrell Brothers, Missouri; Stephen Weatherly, Vanderbilt; Blake Martinez, Stanford; De'Vondre Campbell, Minnesota. 

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: HASSAN RIDGEWAY, TEXAS

A college teammate of Patriots defensive tackle Malcom Brown, Ridgeway is considered by many to be more physically talented than Brown was when he declared for the draft. Injuries hurt Ridgeway's productivity last season, and there are some who question his conditioning, but he understands how to be a disruptive force on the interior, both in the running game and in the passing game. If he's in shape and can maintain the level of fitness that will be expected of him as a pro, he could turn into an immediate contributor.

Other top defensive tackles available: Andrew Billings, Baylor; Sheldon Day, Notre Dame; DJ Reader, Clemson; Dean Lowry, Northwestern; Justin Zimmer, Ferris State.

Patriots hatch latest backup plan at QB

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Patriots hatch latest backup plan at QB

Tom Brady needs a Hail Mary at this point to get himself on the field for the first four games of 2016. The Patriots are more aware of that than anyone, so Friday night they grabbed a little security, using a third-round pick on North Carolina State quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

The 6-4, 235-pound Brissett was a two-year starter for the Wolfpack and had 23 touchdowns and five picks in his senior season. He’s lauded for his leadership, has outstanding physical skills and is a tireless worker.

All that said, he’s not going to beat out Jimmy Garoppolo. Brissett isn’t in Foxboro to be the long-term No. 2 in 2016. But if he shows a high level of competency between now and the end of August, the Patriots will likely go into the four-game Brady-less stretch with Garoppolo as the temp starter and Brissett as the temp backup.

When Brady returns, everybody moves back down the ladder again.

But a look at the contracts of Garoppolo and Brady shows that, after 2016, Garoppolo may become expendable. Brady is signed through 2019 and isn’t going anywhere. Garoppolo is up after 2017 and will be a free agent. If Garoppolo plays well enough to impress the rest of the league in his four-game audition, the Patriots could look to deal him prior to the 2017 season.

The return on the former second-rounder isn’t relevant right now. What is relevant is that the Patriots are going to have to carry three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster in 2016: Brady, Garoppolo and Brissett. For a team that’s always churning the end of its roster to get the best players ready for every week’s matchup, the team will have one less roster spot to deal with than it’s had in past seasons.

The only way around carrying Brissett all year on the 53 would be to release him, hope he passes unclaimed through waivers and then sign him to the practice squad. It’s likely someone would claim him. So the Patriots will be working with three quarterbacks on their 53 for 2016. Forecasting, it’s not likely they’d do that two years in a row.

The addition of Brissett is a signal that the team isn’t preparing for life after Brady, but life after Jimmy G.