Fantasy or Reality: Patriots season expectations

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Fantasy or Reality: Patriots season expectations

Opening day of the Patriots regular season is less than two weeks away, so what better time to make some predictions for key players on this team?

The "Uno Sports Tonight" crew did that Thursday, with Mike Flynn of 98.5 The Sports Hub and the Boston Herald's Steve Buckley stopping by to make some predictions on important questions involving Patriots skill positions.

The first question:  Will Stevan Ridley will surpass 1,300 yards rushing this season?

Flynn was not convinced.

"I got fantasy. I think he has the ability to do, the line to do it, but I think Blount is going to make the team and he's going to take away a lot of those  carries, Bolden will take those carries," Flynn said. "Vereen's your third-down back and they run so many different packages, just when you think you can tell who is the running back, they throw somebody else in there."

The next query moved over to the defensive side of the ball, and pondered the impact Chandler Jones could have in year two.

Following an opening six-sack season cut short by injury, can Jones reach double-digit sacks in his sophomore campaign?

Buckley was emphatic with his answer.

"I think it's a slam-dunk reality because I think he is going to be a great, great player and I believe most of those sacks were early in the season." Buckley said. "So, when you factor in a year's experience and a year's health, I think he gets it."

Finally, the issue of Danny Amendola's health came to the table. 

The former St. Louis Ram has been no stranger to injury and if such ailments pop up again, the Patriots receiving corps could be in deep trouble.

Asked if Amendola can remain on the field for at least 14 games, Flynn would not even commit to that.

"I'm going to say fantasy. You know last couple years, has been injured," Flynn said. "You look at a couple of games, especially his big games, stuff over the middle, he may play 13, I think I'm going to go fantasy."

Do you agree with these takes? Any of these suggestions that you feel differently about? Have your say in the comments section below.

For future reference: Pats have history of acquiring players they face in joint practices

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For future reference: Pats have history of acquiring players they face in joint practices

Now is when things get interesting. 

On Wednesday, the Patriots finished up their joint practices with Houston. Last week, they wrapped up three days of work with Jacksonville before their preseason opener. They have a one-day walkthrough scheduled with the Lions next week, but for all intents and purposes their joint practices for 2017 are over.

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So why is now when things get interesting? Because now we can start taking stabs at which Jaguars and Texans will someday be Patriots.

If history is any indication, at some point Bill Belichick and his staff will be more than willing to work with players who participated in the joint sessions. Just have a look at Patriots joint-practice opponents year by year. Using the practices as a chance to do a little advanced scouting, they've plucked at least one player from every joint-practice opponent they've seen since 2010

Last year, the Patriots worked against the Saints and the Bears. No one remembers former Bears tight end Rob Housler's brief tenure with the Patriots after he signed a future deal with the club last winter. But how about Brandin Cooks? The Patriots got their second close look at Cooks in 2016 -- he was with the Saints during joint practices with the Patriots in 2015 -- and then traded a first-round pick to acquire him the following offseason.

Here's a full rundown of the Patriots joint-practice opponents who were eventually acquired by New England . . .

2016 vs. Saints: WR Brandin Cooks, acquired in a trade in 2016.

2016 vs. Bears: TE Rob Housler, signed to a future contract in 2016.

2015 vs. Saints: DL Akiem Hicks, acquired in a trade in 2015; LB Ramon Humber, signed as a free agent in 2016; Cooks.

2014 vs. Redskins: DL Frank Kearse, signed as a free agent in 2016; CB EJ Biggers, signed as a free agent in 2016.

2014 vs. Eagles: CB Bradley Fletcher, signed as a free agent in 2015.

2013 vs. Buccaneers: LB Jonathan Casillas, acquired in a trade in 2014; TE Tim Wright, acquired in a trade in 2014.

2013 vs. Eagles: S Patrick Chung, signed as a free agent in 2014; WR Damaris Johnson, claimed on waivers from Houston in 2015; CB Bradley Fletcher, signed as a free agent in 2015.

2012 vs. Saints: RB Travaris Cadet, signed as a free agent in 2015; Casillas; LB Ramon Humber, signed as a free agent in 2016;  DL Akiem Hicks, acquired in a trade in 2015.

2012 vs. Buccaneers: RB LeGarrette Blount, acquired in a trade in 2013; CB Aqib Talib, acquired in a trade in 2012; Biggers; LB Dekoda Watson, signed as a free agent in 2015.

2011: No joint sessions following NFL lockout.

2010 vs. Saints: Humber; DE Will Smith, signed as a free agent in 2014.

2010 vs. Falcons: WR Michael Jenkins, signed as a free agent in 2013.

Of course there's no guarantee the Patriots will ever snag any of the Jaguars or Texans they practiced with this summer. But here's a look at a handful of players Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio could be interested in trading for or signing down the line.

CJ Fiedorowicz, TE, Texans: The Patriots would probably have to pay up to land Houston's top tight end, but Fiedorowicz is in the final year of his rookie deal and Houston just re-upped with tight end Ryan Griffin on a three-year contract. Maybe the Texans would be OK with the future of their tight-end group without Fiedorowicz if they got something of value in return. The Patriots seem set at the position now with Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen and perhaps one of James O'Shaughnessy, Matt Lengel and Jacob Hollister to round things out. But as we saw last season, that depth can evaporate quickly should anything happen to No. 87. The Patriots hosted Fiedorowicz on a visit when he was coming out of the draft in 2014, and he played at Iowa under former Belichick colleague Kirk Ferentz.

Lerentee McCray, OLB, Jaguars: The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder is pretty far down the depth chart in Jacksonville behind Dante Fowler, Yannick Ngakoue, Calais Campbell and Mallciah Goodman. He's in his fifth year out of Florida and currently on a relatively inexpensive one-year deal that he signed this offseason. McCray seems like a low-risk option to give the Patriots some depth not only on the edge but also in the kicking game, where he has a wealth of experience going back to his days with the Bills, Broncos and in college. In last week's preseason game against the Patriots, he made a tackle on Jacksonville's kickoff team, stuffed DJ Foster for no gain, recovered a Foster fumble, and sacked Jacoby Brissett. 

Hunter Dimick, DE, Jaguars: Here's another option from Jacksonville if the Patriots want some depth up front -- which they could be seeking. Dimick went undrafted this spring out of Utah despite leading the nation in quarterback pressures with 83, according to Pro Football Focus. He doesn't offer much as an athlete, and he's essentially the closest thing in this year's draft class to the opposite of Derek Rivers in terms of flexibility. But maybe the Patriots saw something in the 6-foot-3, 265-pounder's game during practices that will allow his college production to transfer to the NFL. He had two hurries in last week's preseason game.

Ufomba Kamalu, DE, Texans: With the Patriots hurting on the edge, Kamalu isn't a perfect fit, but he may be worth a closer look. The 6-foot-5, 295-pounder has 35-inch arms that could make him an intriguing match, in a similar mold to 6-foot-4, 305-pounder Lawrence Guy. Kamalu seemed to showed up with effective reps in one-on-one work this week against the Patriots, and during an 11-on-11 period on Wednesday he broke through the Patriots line to sack Jimmy Garoppolo. In last week's preseason game against the Panthers, he recorded a quarterback hit, per Pro Football Focus.

Avery Williams, LB, Texans: Bill Belichick has long liked Texans linebacker Bernardrick McKinney's game, but don't expect the Texans to be willing to part ways with him any time soon. If the Patriots are looking for some depth at that spot and in the kicking game, Williams showed them some things during this week's joint practices. He dominated a punt-team drill where he put both Patriots Nate Ebner and LeShun Daniels on their backs after squaring them up one-on-one at the line. Williams wasn't an eye-popping athlete coming out of Temple this spring, but he was productive, earning second-team all-conference honors. Dylan Cole, an undrafted rookie linebacker out of Missouri State, is a better fit for the Patriots in terms of his athletic profile, but Cole seems to have impressed coaches at Texans training camp and may not be going anywhere for a while. 

Breno Giacomini, OT, Texans: On a one-year contract in Houston, the Patriots could be interested in the veteran tackle who hails from Malden, Mass. Belichick's club has been hurting at tackle lately with Nate Solder, Tony Garcia and LaAdrian Waddle all missing time injured. The Texans have an intriguing rookie, Julien Davenport, who is currently listed as the team's backup left tackle, and whenever Duane Brown returns from his holdout, Giacomini could be the team's fifth tackle on the depth chart. Giacomini started for the Jets in Week 12 against the Patriots last season, played every snap, and held his own. 

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Who's the most overrated Patriot?

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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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