Patriots tight ends pile up accolades

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Patriots tight ends pile up accolades

FOXBORO -- The Patriots never brag about individual achievements. But as their regular season concluded with a 49-21 win over the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, those individual achievements continued to pile up.

And this time, they actually admitted that was the purpose -- for one of those personal achievements, at least.

Rob Gronkowski set an NFL record for single-season receiving yards by a tight end on Sunday. He finished the season with 1,327 receiving yards, surpassing San Diego's Kellen Winslow's 1980 record of 1,290. New Orleans' Jimmy Graham also broke Winslow's record with 97 receiving yards on Sunday, but when the Patriots got the ball back with 1:30 left in the game -- thanks to an Antwaun Molden interception -- backup quarterback Brian Hoyer found Gronkowski down the left sideline for a 22-yard pass on the first play of the drive.

The goal was to have him surpass Graham, Belichick admitted. Gronkowski appreciated the nod.

It means a lot, man, that theyre willing to do that when we could've taken a knee and just make sure no one gets hurt," said Gronkowski. "Its just an honor to play here. Thats why I love playing here, great teammates, great coaches, and everyones just a team here and nothing would get accomplished here without everyone here -- all the veterans and everything.

"Everyones just great teammates. All the praises to my teammates and everything and the coaches definitely and playing with Aaron Hernandez beside me, too. He balled out today and its great having him. He didnt play the last time against Buffalo and that just shows how big of a difference he is coming back and playing against them.

Gronkowski finished the game with eight receptions for 108 yards and two touchdowns. But he wasn't even the tight end with the most reception yards on his team. That distinction went to Hernandez, who finished the game with seven receptions for 138 yards and a touchdown.

With the big game for each, both Gronkowski and Hernandez have now combined for the most single-season receptions by a tight end duo in NFL history.

"Our offense, we really never get worried," said Hernandez. "We don't care if we're down 30 points. We feel like we can come back. And like you've seen in the past, for four or five weeks, we've been down in the beginning, and then came back.

"We know that we're going to put up about 30 points, as soon as our offense starts clicking. Whether we start in the third quarter, fourth quarter, we know how to put points on the board.

"How could you panic? You got Tom Brady, Deion Branch, Chad Ochocinco, Gronkowski the best tight end in the game, me, Wes Welker," added Hernandez. "You've got a whole bunch of people that can make plays. How can you get nervous? Tom Brady's going to put you in the right play and make a great pass. And we've got a lot of people that can get open."

Report: Patriots sign nine undrafted free agents

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Report: Patriots sign nine undrafted free agents

The Patriots have reportedly added nine undrafted free agents after selecting nine players in the 2016 NFL Draft.

DJ Foster, RB/WR, Arizona State
Shaquille Powell, RB, Duke
De’Runnya Wilson, TE/WR, Miss State
Steven Scheu, TE, Vanderbilt
Woodrow Hamilton, DT, Mississippi State
CJ Johnson, LB, Mississippi State
V’Angelo Bentley, CB, Illinois
Jonathan Jones, CB, Auburn
Cre’Von LeBlanc, CB, Florida Atlantic

Foster is arguably the highest profile player the Patriots signed and was filmed celebrating the moment.

Foster has the versatility the Patriots looks for. He played running back over his first three collegiate seasons before shifting to wide receiver. He finished his career at Arizona State with 666 total touches for 4,813 yards and 32 touchdowns.

Stay tuned for more…

'Football makeup' central to Pats draft picks

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'Football makeup' central to Pats draft picks

FOXBORO – The Patriots added nine players through the draft this weekend.

And when you looked at their resumes and backstories, almost all of them had one of those “Patriot markers” on them. Some had a character trait. Some were from a program that the Patriots particularly trust. Some showed the ability to overcome adversity or be adaptable. And there weren’t any guys that seem to present off-field risks.

None of these markers, of course, are guarantees of anything. They’re all in their early 20s, still in their formative years. There’s no way to project how money, geography, opportunity and competing at this level will change them.

The football, said Nick Caserio, obviously comes first. But who a young player is has to be a big part of the equation.

“It’s everything,” said the Patriots Director of Player Personnel. “I mean, it really is. We try to look each position on the board, each position they have their own particular factors and position skill set that we evaluate and we go through and we assign a grade …There’s certain things that a corner’s going to have to be able to do. There are certain things that a tight end’s going to have to be able to do. Everyone has their own particular skills that they’re going to have to do. Will he check every box? Well maybe not but does he check enough?

“The most important thing is to take the strengths of a player and try to put him into position to where he can utilize those strengths. Not ‘well he doesn’t do this’. Then we won’t put him in that position hopefully. So [we] try to identify what the skill is, how well they do it, and then put them in a position where they can actually see it. So there’s the physical component.”

Then, Caserio said, there’s the projection of how the person will perform.

“Call it ‘football makeup’ component is a central part of it as well,” he said. “Look, we’re not perfect. Some players work the way we think (others don’t). It comes with the territory. But you’re trying to create a profile of the player within our building and then how he’s going to handle everything that comes along with being a New England Patriot. Being in the program, the demands that we place on those players, so you factor everything in. Some players, they may check every single place both from a physical standpoint and from a football-makeup standpoint and you have others that maybe they check enough of them and then you feel comfortable about that level.”

Rolling through the players they took, it’s interesting to try and see what may have been a “football makeup” draw with each. Second-round corner Cyrus Jones played for Nick Saban at Alabama. He’s played in the biggest games and shown well in them. He’s a film junkie. He tackles well. He plays with a chip on his shoulder. He’s not the biggest corner. But he’s got an edge and he excels on special teams.

Third-rounder Joe Thuney is “very productive, very durable, very bright; probably as intelligent as anybody at that position,” said Caserio. He also can play anywhere on the line. Smarts and versatility are highly valued by the Patriots.

Third-round quarterback Jacoby Brissett is a gifted, charismatic leader who’s had a relationship with Bill Parcells since Brissett was in high school. “I can't even describe what type of person he is and what he's meant to my life,” said Brissett. “Just him grooming me as a man and preparing me for tough times, hard times, good times. He's been so helpful to me throughout this process and just keeping my steady and keeping a good head on my shoulders and you know I just can't thank him enough.”

Third-rounder Vincent Valentine from Nebraska? Versatile big man who can play all over the defensive line.

Malcolm Mitchell, the Georgia wide receiver? You couldn’t find a more likable and genuine kid, it seems. And the scouting report offered by longtime draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki? “A tough, passionate, crafty slot receiver who can be trusted to move the sticks in critical situations … Brings similar energy, toughness and attitude as Steelers 1998 third-round pick Hines Ward. Smart and versatile enough to contribute in multiple roles perhaps even at cornerback where he began his Georgia career and could be most attractive to a veteran coaching staff such as the Patriots or Steelers.”

Kamu Grugier-Hill? A safety who can play at the linebacker level and has huge special teams upside that comes with a recommendation from Eastern Illinois college teammate Jimmy Garoppolo. Another sixth-rounder, Elandon Roberts? Big-time character guy who doesn’t have great measurables but had great production. Seventh-rounder Ted Karras? A four-year starter at guard in the Big Ten with Illinois. Seventh-round wideout Devin Lucien? Dedicated student who was able to switch from UCLA to Arizona State as a graduate transfer and still go out and be very productive with the Sun Devils in his final collegiate season.

There aren’t any real injury dice rolls.

There aren't any character dice rolls.

The “football makeup” seems to be there.

Now?

“They have no idea what they’re getting into,” said Bill Belichick on Saturday night. “It’s not their fault. We all had to go through it at some point or another. They’re going to get a big dose of what they probably haven’t had a whole lot of, certainly any time recently. It’s a big load. The competition level is going to step up. The volume is going to step up. It’s not a scholarship. In college they can’t take them away from you. In the NFL you’re fighting for a job so it’s a whole new ball game.”

In the end, football ability will be the main determinant as to whether they stay or go. But the Patriots made sure that – at least on the surface – they all appear to have the ability to withstand what’s going to be coming at them.