Stopping Seattle's Lynch is key to Patriots defense

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Stopping Seattle's Lynch is key to Patriots defense

FOXBORO -- Give Vince Wilfork credit. At least he was diplomatic.

On Thursday, when given the opportunity, he spoke glowingly about the talents of Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and the play-making ability of Seattle's receivers. All along, though, Wilfork knew that they were of peripheral importance to the real key for the Patriots defense on Sunday.

"It's going to be one of those games," Wilfork said, "where it's going to come down to can we stop Marshawn Lynch and this running attack."

Lynch is currently third in the NFL in rushing with 508 yards. How he accumulates those yards is what's concerning to New England.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick has often said that the ability to get yards after contact makes a good running back, and by that logic, Lynch is great. At 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds, he is one of the strongest runners in the NFL, and, according to ESPN, he leads the league in yards after contact with 229.

"The number of yards that he gets after contact is very impressive, whether he runs through a tackle or just uses his quickness to make the guy who really should make the tackle miss it," Belichick said Wednesday. "But, yeah, Lynch is outstanding. He's got great feet, good balance, he's a powerful guy and there are times that he does get tackled, but a lot of times it's with three or four extra yards because of his good pad level and ability to maintain his leg drive through contact. And by the time the defender gets him on the ground, it's an extra two, three yards that Lynch has created on his own. Absolutely, he's one of the best."

Although the Patriots haven't played Seattle in four years, they are familiar with Lynch's style. At the beginning of his career, he spent three seasons and part of a fourth with the Buffalo Bills. The last time Lynch played New England he was in September of 2010 when he ran for 79 yards on 13 attempts -- a 6.08 yards-per-carry average.

"We have a lot of history with that guy when he was in Buffalo," Jerod Mayo said. "He's a tough runner. It'll take 11 guys to get him down."

Watching the film this week, Wilfork was reminded just how tough it was to bring Lynch down at times.

"He breaks a lot, a lot of tackles. A lot of tackles," Wilfork said. "He's been running hard ever since facing him in Buffalo. He's just a tough, tough back. He's strong. He's a physical runner. He's quick, shifty. He's well put together. You talk about backs, an elite back, I don't think he gets enough credit. He's probably one of the tougher backs in the league because he can go anywhere. Sometimes he don't even need blocks. He can go out there and take on the defense himself."

Against a runner like Lynch, Wilfork said, it's important that no one on the defensive side of the ball gives up on plays early when it looks like Lynch is about to go down. Odds are, he's not.

"Everybody's gotta go to the ball," Wilfork said. "Just because you're backside . . . the play is not over with a guy like this."

Seattle is seventh in the league in rushing and possesses two other talented backs: Leon Washington and rookie Robert Turbin. Washington is a shiftier back (and a focal point on special teams for the Seahawks), while Turbin is built similarly to Lynch.

"They have different styles," Belichick said. "But when Turbin is in there, he makes a lot of yards too on contact and avoiding guys too. If you're not really studying the backs, you're just kind of watching them, I don't want to say you can't tell them apart, but both guys run hard, both guys make yards after contact, both guys are very good runners, and so is Washington, so it doesn't really matter who is in there. All those guys, that's a very good group."

But Lynch is their horse, and the Patriots know that stopping him will be key to keeping Seattle's offensive production down.

"We've faced some good runners, but this guy is probably -- he's at the top," Wilfork said. "We have our work cut out."

Belichick seemed to enjoy Faulk's draft-day Deflategate protest

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Belichick seemed to enjoy Faulk's draft-day Deflategate protest

FOXBORO -- When Kevin Faulk's name pops up in a Bill Belichick press conference, it's no surprise that a smile crosses the Patriots coach's face and a complimentary comment crosses his lips. Faulk helped Belichick and the Patriots win three Super Bowls and he's a finalist for the Patriots Hall of Fame this year. 

When Faulk's name pops up in a Belichick press conference one night after protesting Deflategate on a national stage during the second day of the NFL draft? You can expect much of the same. 

"Love Kevin," Belichick said when asked about Faulk wearing a Tom Brady replica No. 12 jersey underneath his suit jacket while announcing New England's second pick of the draft on Friday night. "He always makes good decisions. Looked sharp out there."

As part of an NFL initiative that had former players announce picks for their teams this weekend, Faulk was asked to announce the No. 78 overall selection, which was made on North Carolina State offensive lineman Joe Thuney.

"With the 78th pick in the 2016 NFL draft," Faulk said proudly, "the New England Patriots and Tom Brady select . . . Joe Thuney."

Brady is facing a four-game suspension, which was reinstated by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this week. He and his lawyers have a little over a week to petition the Second Circuit for a rehearing. 

When Belichick was asked about the latest Deflategate news on Saturday, he declined to comment, opting to focus on the draft instead. 

"I’ll talk about the draft," he said. "You good on that?"

The Patriots draft was of course affected by the Deflategate punishment issued by the league. They were the only team to begin the draft without a first-round pick, but Belichick said that the absence of that choice didn't neccessarily alter the team's philosophy going into the weekend. 

"No. You control what you can control," he said. "What we had, we tried to do the best we could. That’s how we approach it, whether it is picking guys or moving positions or trading into next year, whatever it was, we just tried to make the most of it. We traded up, we traded down, we [acquired a fourth-rounder in 2017]. Not saying it was great or anything, we just tried to do the best we could."

Patriots select Arizona State WR Lucien in seventh round

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Patriots select Arizona State WR Lucien in seventh round

The Patriots haven't had a ton of success drafting wide receivers in recent years, but one of their few home runs came in the seventh round back in 2009. 

No one will expect Devin Lucien to produce at the same level as Julian Edelman, but if he can provide the Patriots with some measure of depth after being selected with the No. 225 pick overall on Saturday -- the team's final pick of the draft -- it would be considered good value. 

The 6-foot-2, 195-pounder transferred from UCLA to Arizona State for his final collegiate season when he recorded 66 catches for 1,074 yards and eight touchdowns. In his last three games, he racked up 534 yards and five scores, firmly establishing himself as a draftable prospect. 

Pro Football Focus game Lucien a third-round grade going into the draft and said he "may have the best hands" in the class. According to PFF, he dropped just five passes in the last two seasons. 

Though he has good size and he tested well at his pro day (4.42-second 40-yard dash), he's considered to have underwhelming speed. Still, given his collegiate numbers and his dependable 10-inch mitts, he was certainly worth a flier late on Day 3. 

Lucien joins Malcolm Mitchell of Georgia (fourth-round) as the two receiver prospects selected by the Patriots in this year's draft class. The pair will compete for time with veterans Juilan Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Keshawn Martin, Nate Washington and second-year wideout Chris Harper. 

Patriots add pair with special-teams relevance in late rounds

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Patriots add pair with special-teams relevance in late rounds

The Patriots added a good-sized safety from Jimmy Garoppolo’s alma mater in the seventh round, Kamu Grunier-Hill. The 6-1, 215-pounder from Eastern Illinois selected with the 208th pick will have his first relevance as a special teamer then will try to find a spot in the regular defense.

With his size, he figures to be a who can play some box-safety when the Patriots go to six DB sets. He’ll do well to keep an eye on Patrick Chung because Chung – a much smaller player – is very skilled playing at the linebacker level. Grunier-Hill has great measurable – a 4.45 40 and 38.5 inch vertical.

The Patriots are deep at safety with Devin McCourty, Chung, Jordan Richards and Duron Harmon. Grunier-Hill wasn’t a highly-analyzed prospect in the process leading up to the draft so the Patriots’ interest level in him may have been higher than most. It’s very likely he finds his way to the team’s practice squad.

Right after taking Grunier-Hill, the Patriots got a similar-sized player named Elandon Roberts at 214. The 6-foot, 235-pounder comes in as a linebacker out of the University of Houston. He’s not the explosive athlete that Grunier-Hill is but he’s a hugely productive player who had 88 solo tackles for the Cougars last season. Regarded as a great leader, Roberts is another guy who’s going to have to make hay as a special teams guy first.