Wilfork skeptical of 'experts' who made Texans big underdogs

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Wilfork skeptical of 'experts' who made Texans big underdogs

FOXBORO -- Vince Wilfork knows his team isn't being given much of a chance to win Saturday's matchup with the Patriots. When asked about being double-digit underdogs during a conference call with New England reporters Tuesday, he didn't quite play the Rodney Harrison "disrespect" card. But he made his feelings known all the same.

"I think last night we [saw] a game in Alabama-Clemson, these so called experts had Clemson as the underdog," he explained. "In '07 the experts had the New York Giants as underdogs, and both those teams went out to win the Super Bowl and national championship. It goes to show you what these experts know.

"We don't pay attention to outside what people have to say about us or how good or how bad we are. I think this team is a close-knit group. We play well together, and we keep everything as a family. We approach everything the same, win or lose. We win as a team, we lose as a team. I don't think anything outside . . . [will impact] how we'll go up there and how we feel because of what somebody else said. We're going to go out and play our tails off."

If they don't they'll be going home, leaving their 2016 season in the rear-view. For Wilfork, who has hinted at the possibility of retirement this offseason, it could mean he plays the last game of his 13-year career in the stadium that he called home for 11 seasons.

"At this point in my career, that's something that I'll think heavy about once the season ends, and see what I really want to do," he said. "It's hard to walk away from something that you love and have been playing for so long. But we can't play the game forever. That's a decision I'll make at the end of the season and give it some time and some thought and I'll weigh different things and go from there.

"But whenever I make that decision, I'm full-fledged making the decision. I won't be one of those ones to say no I'm not retired and coming back and play that game. When I hang my cleats up, I'm gonna hanging them up for good."

Prototypical Patriots: Foreman's size, athleticism ideal for 'big back' role

Prototypical Patriots: Foreman's size, athleticism ideal for 'big back' role

The Patriots may have their "big back" for 2017 and beyond by Monday if the Bills decide not to match the offer sheet Mike Gillislee received from New England. Maybe Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio feel as though Rex Burkhead can handle that role. Who knows? Maybe they end up bringing back LeGarrette Blount and use him as their between-the-tackles hammer. 

PHIL PERRY'S PROTOTYPICAL PATRIOTS DRAFT PREVIEW

However it shakes out, it's looking less and less like the Patriots will need to draft a big body to serve as their bruiser on first and second down. But at the moment there is enough uncertainty at that position that it's worth rolling through the series of names who fit what the Patriots typically like in their early-down runners.

Having the size to withstand the punishment associated with that role is obviously crucial. Drafting someone who looks like Blount (6-feet, 250 pounds) won't happen this year, but the Patriots have manned that spot with smaller players in the past. Stevan Ridley (5-foot-11, 225 pounds) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (5-foot-11, 220 pounds) are some of the more recent examples of Patriots "big backs" who weren't exactly built like tanks yet were entrusted with that job. 

Athleticism helps, too. Backs that size who can run a 40-yard dash in the 4.6-second range with a three-cone drill time of under seven seconds and a broad jump of about 10 feet? They're not your run-of-the-mill plodders, and would be intriguing fits in the Patriots offense. 

D'Onta Foreman, Texas, 6-feet, 234 pounds: Perhaps the best combination of size and athleticism that this class of running backs has to offer, Foreman ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash at his pro day. According to Gil Brandt of NFL.com, who has combine data going back to 2003, no running back weighing 232 pounds or more has ever run a 40 that quickly. He also recorded a 33-inch vertical and a 10-foot broad jump. Foreman fumbled seven times in 323 carries during his 2,000-yard season for the Longhorns, a number that might force the Patriots to look elsewhere if they're in the big-back market, but after the season he claimed he played with a broken hand that impacted his ability to secure the football. 

Kareem Hunt, Toledo, 5-foot-10, 216 pounds: Another eye-opening combination of power and explosiveness, Hunt ran a 4.62 40-yard dash in Indy, jumped 36.5 inches in the vertical (fifth-best among backs at the combine) and 119 inches in the broad jump. He ran for 1,475 yards and 10 scores last season while proving he has some value as a receiver out of the backfield as well with 41 grabs for 403 yards and a touchdown. Always falling forward, Hunt may not be quite as imposing as past Patriots early-down backs, but he plays bigger than his size.

Corey Clement, Wisconsin, 5-foot-10, 220 pounds: The former Badger checks just about every box from a physical standpoint: At his pro day he posted a 4.57-second 40-yard dash, a 6.91-second three-cone drill and a 10-foot broad jump. The Patriots may shy away for other reasons, though. Per Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, his 2015 was a wash due to "injury, attitude and an off-field incident."

Brian Hill, Wyoming, 6-foot-1, 219 pounds: A first-team All-Mountain West selection after running for 1,860 yards and 22 touchdowns last season, Hill stood out among running backs from bigger programs at this year's combine. He finished the week in Indy with a 4.54-second 40-yard dash, a 10-foot-5 broad jump, a 7.03-second three-cone drill, and his 11.29-second 60-yard shuttle time was second only to Christian McCaffrey who measured two inches shorter and almost 20 pounds lighter. He may require a Day 2 selection, but if the Patriots are still without a true big-back on the roster going into the draft, Hill could be the pile-mover they're looking for.

Wayne Gallman, Clemson, 6-feet, 215 pounds: The lightest player on this list, Gallman still runs as hard as any of them. His 4.6-second 40, 120-inch broad jump and 4.28-second 20-yard shuttle could be enticing for the Patriots. He was a first-team All-ACC player in 2015 after rushing for 1,527 yards. Last season he ran for more than 500 fewer yards but saw 87 fewer carries and still set a career-high for scores with 15. 

James Conner, Pitt, 6-foot-1, 233 pounds: Conner's athleticism (4.65-second 40-yard dash, 29-inch vertical, 113-inch broad jump, 7.41-second three-cone) doesn't quite stand up to the thresholds the Patriots have for their backs, but his frame, his hard-charging style and mental toughness may earn him a look in the later rounds. He overcame Hodgkin's lymphoma to rush for 1,092 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. Prior to his illness, he was named ACC Player of the Year in 2014 when he ran for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns.

Aaron Hernandez's funeral will be Monday in Connecticut

Aaron Hernandez's funeral will be Monday in Connecticut

The funeral for Aaron Hernandez, the ex-Patriots tight end who committed suicide in prison this week, will be Monday in his hometown of Bristol, Connecticut.

The ceremony and burial will be private.

Hernandez's family issued a statement Saturday:

The family of Aaron Hernandez wishes to thank all of you for the thoughtful expressions of condolences. We wish to say goodbye to Aaron in a private ceremony and thank everyone in advance for affording us a measure of privacy during this difficult time.

Hernandez, serving a life sentence for the murder of Odin Lloyd, hanged himself Wednesday in his prison cell, five days after he was acquitted in a 2012 double murder in Boston. He was 27.