Who's the most overrated Patriot?

Who's the most overrated Patriot?

Covering the NFL for almost 20 years allows you to make relationships with a bunch of people. So I thought I'd tap into some of those people as we gear up for New England Patriots training camp for a series of pieces about topics we've been kicking around.

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The panel consists of one former Pats player still in the game, two scouts of AFC teams, one front-office member in the AFC, and one NFC scout. They all requested anonymity for obvious reasons (as the player said, "hey, I might want to end up back there!") I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I had talking to these guys.

Today's topic: Who's the most overrated Patriot?

Scout 1: It’s Malcolm Butler. If you’re an elite corner in this league, you have to be able to cover all kinds of receivers. He can’t. You don’t put him on Julio Jones in the Super Bowl. He doesn’t draw AJ Green. Sure, he has the quicks to step inside and deal with Antonio Brown, but there’s no size disadvantage. To me, that’s why you don’t pay him the money [Stephon] Gilmore got. To me, that’s why Gilmore is here. Listen, it’ll work this year because now you have the big guy and an excellent number two. But if Butler thinks he’s going to make the same time of cash Gilmore did, he’s either a) getting bad advice or b) about to prey on some sucker in free agency. Would you want $7 million a year to win? Or $10-plus to be on a shitty team?

Scout 2: Mike Gilislee. What they ponied up for him doesn’t amount to a whole lot, but if you think he’s going to be an upgrade from what you had (LeGarrette Blount) or what you have (Dion Lewis and James White), then I think someone is fooling themselves. How important is durability? It may not mean everything, but it means a hell of a lot more than Gilislee can provide. He’s always dealing with something. He may be able to go laterally in a way Blount couldn’t or can’t, but will that matter when he’s inactive for six to eight weeks?

Scout 3: David Harris used to be that player you put in the lineup and never had to worry, but his ability has waned some and at this point, I think he’s a two-down linebacker and even that I’m not totally sold on. I don’t think he runs well. I know he doesn’t cover well. If I saw him out there and trusted my quarterback, I’d have him spread it out and isolate Harris. Guaranteed to scheme him right off the field. We’ve been able to do that in previous meetings. I can’t imagine it will get any better. I would have just stuck with [Shea] McClellin and [Kyle] Van Noy. Not as stout but more versatile, and isn’t that what a coach wants?

Ex-Patriot/Current Player: I’m always amused when I hear how much the game planning or scheme or coaching adjustments is always a “thing” week after week with you guys (read: media). How about the players? We’re the ones who have to process the info, then do it on the field. Sometimes we get asked to do something in a game that we never practice. Or haven’t in years. That speaks  to the intelligence of the guys I played with and the talent too.

Exec: It’s all about what you value. I may look at a player who two gaps and say, ‘I have no use for that.’ But they may look at that same player and say ‘we have to have him.’ Part of my job, part of our scouts job, is to identify who works for what we do, who else values that and who won’t get anywhere near the player. Truly, I don’t even like that word, overrated. (Okay then, what player on that roster wouldn’t you have any interest in?) Kony Ealy, but not because of a scheme fit.. He didn’t get it coming out of Missouri. Then Carolina gives up on him. Why would I trust him now?

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Belichick on poor NFL offensive line play: It's hard when you can't practice

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Belichick on poor NFL offensive line play: It's hard when you can't practice

FOXBORO -- When the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and NFLPA limited the number of padded practices that teams could organize, it was seen as a win for player safety. And it probably was. But the shortage of padded reps has had other ramifications that is hurting the on-the-field product. 

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When Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about what is becoming billed as an offensive-line-play epidemic in the NFL, he told reporters on a conference call Wednesday that it's hard to expect linemen to be able to execute their techniques when the amount of time they have to practice those techniques is so limited.

"I just think in general, fundamentally it’s difficult to play on the offensive and defensive line," Belichick said. "You’re playing a contact position with pads, and you’re practicing it without pads the majority of the time. That usually develops a lot of bad habits, and a lot of the techniques that a player would have the chance to work on and improve with pads, that opportunity just isn’t there without pads. So, it’s hard to improve at those positions when, a lot of times, you’re practicing techniques that are really not the ideal technique or, in some cases, incorrect, and it just develops bad habits, especially on the offensive line.

"I think that . . . without being able to practice, favors the defensive players a little more, whereas the offensive unit has to work together and be able to block things at more of a game tempo with pads and penetration and combination blocks and things like that. It’s just hard to simulate those and hard to get the timing of those when you’re just standing up watching each other without pads on a lot."

The Patriots are in pretty good shape. They have an offensive line unit that returned all five starters from last year's Super Bowl-winning squad. They have two experienced tackles. They have three athletic and intelligent interior offensive linemen. The results in 2017 haven't been perfect, but how many teams around the league would get on their hands and knees and beg for a group like the one in New England?

Take a look at Seattle, where one of the best quarterbacks in the game resides. According to Pro Football Focus, he has the third-worst offensive line in the league when it comes to pass protection, and in two games the Seahawks have scored 21 points. 

The worst pass-blockers in the league? They currently reside in Houston, where starting left tackle Duane Brown is still holding out for a new contract. 

There are multiple factors that are impacting line play in the NFL. Coaching could be one. College players coming into the league from spread programs with no pro-style offense experience could be another. 

But practice time is right up there near the top of the list, if not right at the top, according to Belichick.

"I mean, look, we’re all coaching under the same rules, but I think it’s harder, especially at that position, to improve when you really can’t practice your skill," Belichick said. "It’s like, you go out to the driving range and hit drives and hit balls, but you can’t go on the putting green. And then, to think that your putting is going to be at the same level as your driving when you can’t really practice it, it’s not really realistic.

"But, again, all teams are operating under the same set of rules, so it is what it is. But, it’s hard. It’s hard at that position. It’s hard to tell a guy, ‘This is what you should do,’ but he really can’t go out and practice it."