Tag:New England Patriots
Posted on: December 2, 2010 1:31 pm
 

Rare BCS "Diamond in the Rough" prospect

I typically try to highlight "small" school prospects for my weekly "Diamond in the Rough."

This week, however, I'm highlighting a prospect from the Big Ten, one of the six automatic qualifying conference for the BCS bowl games.

So how does a Big Ten player qualify as a "Diamond in the Rough."

Well, to start, he plays for Minnesota.

That isn't meant as a slam to the Golden Gophers. They've had their share of highly touted prospects over the years, including wideout Eric Decker (drafted No. 87 overall last year by Denver) and a trio of talented running backs earlier this decade, including current Patriot Lawrence Maroney and Cowboy Marion Barber III.

Still, with Minnesota losing this season to the likes of South Dakota and Northern Illinois on their way to a 3-9 season that got their head coach Tim Brewster fired last month, it is easy to understand why few realize they boast an intriguing NFL prospect -- even if he plays at the game's most important position.

Quarterback Adam Weber is hardly the NFL prototype at 6-1, 221 pounds.

As he demonstrated in Minnesota's upset win over Iowa Saturday, however, Weber possesses the moxie, mobility and short to medium range accuracy to potentially surprise at the pro level.

Weber wasn't spectacular against the Hawkeyes. He completed 13 of 25 passes for 164 yards and no touchdowns in the 27-24 victory.

What scouts like, however, is how he handles the game. Having started all 50 games of his career, Weber is rarely surprised by defenses and does a nice job of anticipating the action. On numerous occasions against the Hawkeyes, Weber would push the safety to one corner of the field with his eyes before dumping the ball off in the other direction. He did the same as a runner, picking up gains of 20 and 13 in the first half to pick up first downs when the defense was keying on his receivers.

Weber appears capable of making every NFL throw, though he doesn't own a howitzer. A few of his passes fluttered in the cold wind Saturday, but often this was the result of poor technique by Weber. He has a tendency to throw flat-footed, a correctable flaw that will add velocity to his throws.

Weber made some flashy throws last year that jumped off the film when I was scouting Decker. He's been one of the few bright spots on a struggling Minnesota team this season.

Scouts certainly know of him.

They should, considering that he ranks behind only one other quarterback in Big Ten history for most career yards gained from scrimmage.

Due to a lack of preferred height, some questioned whether he'd make in the NFL.

Drew Brees has done fine since leaving Purdue, wouldn't you say?

I'm certainly not forecasting that Weber will be the No. 32 pick of the draft (as Brees was) or earn Super Bowl MVP honors. He is, however, a legitimate prospect who hasn't garnered much national media attention. He might when he makes an NFL roster.
Posted on: December 1, 2010 1:32 pm
 

Bradford, Pierre-Paul earn Rookies of the Week

There have been few weeks this season easier to pick out my NFL Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Week than this past weekend's action.

St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford was spectacular in the Rams' defeat of the Denver Broncos. In completing 22 of 37 passes for 307 yards, a career high three touchdowns and zero interceptions, Bradford has passed the Rams into first place in the NFC West. St. Louis is currently tied with Seattle atop the divisional race at 5-6, but owns the tie-breaker after having beaten Seattle earlier this year.

The strong performance continues what has been a spectacular rookie campaign for Bradford. As Sports Illustrated's Peter King noted, Bradford appears well on his way towards unanimously winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award considering the spectacular performance he's put on lately while the Rams battled back into first place. Over the past six games, Bradford has completed 64.3% of his passes for 1,307 yards and a sparkling 11-1 TD to INT ratio.

This type of production is nothing new to  Bradford, of course, who used a dazzling 50-8 TD to INT ratio his sophomore season to win the Heisman Trophy and take Oklahoma to the 2009 BCS Championship game.

Unlike Bradford, who has started every game for the Rams, the Giants' first round pick, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul had struggled to make a consistent impact this year.

Playing against a Jacksonville team that many thought would consider Pierre-Paul (and ultimately selected defensive lineman Tyson Alualu), the former South Florida product was spectacular, doubling his previous career highs in tackles (eight, including six solos) as well as registering the first two sacks and forced fumbles (two) of his young career.

While I was among Pierre-Paul's biggest critics heading into the draft, Pierre-Paul deserves credit for his breakout performance. The Giants, blessed with one of the league's best collections of pass rushers, have often moved Pierre-Paul inside to defensive tackle on obvious passing downs. There, Pierre-Paul's marginal hand technique and marginal strength is exposed and his best attribute -- his spectacular speed and overall athleticism -- has been more easily contained by opponents. This, of course, wasn't the case against an injury-depleted Jacksonville offensive line.

It is worth noting, however, that prior to Pierre-Paul's strong game against the Jags, he'd recorded only 11 tackles in 11 games.

Pierre-Paul's stellar play beat out New England cornerback Darius Butler, who on Thanksgiving Day against the Lions put on a show. McCourty's two interceptions in the Pats' 45-24 road victory showed off the athleticism, IQ and ball skills that made him one of the best all-around corners in the 2011 draft.


Posted on: November 18, 2010 12:03 am
 

Pats TE Gronkowski, Browns SS Ward Top Rookies

New England Patriots' tight end Rob Gronkowski and Cleveland Browns' strong safety T.J. Ward earned my Rookies of the Week for their big time performances in high profile matchups Sunday.

Gronkowski, whom the Patriots selected with the 42nd overall pick last April, caught five passes for 73 yards and three touchdowns to help New England beat Pittsburgh. Whereas some teams elect to use their tight ends only on short yardage plays near the end zone, the former Arizona star's first and third scores of the game came from 19 and 25 yards, respectively. His first touchdown reception of the game came from a pass from Tom Brady zipped down the seam. Gronkowski had to dive to make what was his most difficult reception of the game. In the third quarter, Gronkowski got his easiest catch, as the Steelers, guessing run, left him wide open on a quick drag to the outside. Finally, Gronkowski caught his third score of the game in the fourth quarter with Brady lofting a beautiful corner fade towards the left pylon.

Gronkowski's hat-trick made selecting the Offensive Rookie of the Week relatively easy. While there were solid performances from other rookies, including Dallas wideout Dez Bryant, Tampa running back LeGarrette Blount and Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy (among others), Gronkowski's plays stood out.

As has been the case recently, choosing a defensive rookie of the week was tougher. Among those considered were another Patriot -- cornerback Devin McCourty -- and Dallas' cornerback Bryan McCann. However, with yet another strong performance, the Browns' Ward earned my pick.

Ward, the 38th overall pick of the 2010 draft and previously honored with this recognition after an 11 tackle and forced fumble premiere in the season opener.

Against the Jets Sunday, Ward posted eight tackles and two passes defensed. His tackle total now gives him 75 on the year -- 25 more than any other rookie at any other position thus far this season and only four behind Buffalo's Donte Whitner as the leading tackler among AFC defensive backs.
Posted on: November 17, 2010 12:04 am
 

Toledo C Kowalski earns Diamond in the Rough

Typically when I list a Diamond in the Rough prospect I focus on D-II or D-III prospects. Toledo, currently in second place in the West Division of the MAC and already eligible for their first bowl game since 2005 is hardly "the rough."  That said, their talented senior center Kevin Kowalski isn't generating enough national attention in my opinion, considering that NFL scouts tell me he is a legitimate draft selection and, in fact, worthy of being listed among the top five senior pivots in the country. Kowalski currently is NFLDraftScout.com's third-rated senior center prospect for the 2011 draft.

I was impressed with Kowalski's play last week in a nationally televised MAC showdown with West-division leader Northern Illinois. While the NIU Huskies ultimately prevailed in this contest, Kowalski legitimized the chatter about him in scouting circles with his performance.

The 6-3, 299 pound Kowalski started at center for the Rockets, as he has for the past 21 games. Kowalski started the 12 games of his sophomore season at right guard and has now started 44 games for Toledo.

Kowalski's intelligence, strength and balance stand out on film. He has the agility and size to potentially slide back outside to guard at the next level, though as he demonstrated with his line calls, he has the smarts to remain inside. He did a nice job of combo blocks, taking on one defender and sliding off to hit another.

Though Toledo operates out of a spread offense, Kowalski was at his best as a drive blocker, demonstrating good upper body strength to latch onto the defender and eliminate him from the play. Northern Illinois ran various defensive formations at him, lining up a nose guard, three-technique and blitzing linebackers throughout the night.

Kowalski plays with good knee bend and his school-high 465 pound bench press is evident in the way he can absorb the bull rush. He has good lateral agility and balance to mirror in pass protection, though he has a tendency to resort to cut blocks a little more often that I'd like. One other concern is that Kowalski only showed moderate overall agility when asked to block on the move. While he can get to the second level, he struggles to break down and hit the moving target. He does provide good effort, however, and understands blocking angles, forcing defenders to run around him before getting to the ball-carrier. Still, scouts would like to see Kowalski improve his effectiveness in this area.

Scouts will question Kowalski's level of competition -- just as they did former Toledo standout offensive linemen Nick Kaczur (Patriots) and John Greco (Rams). Like each of these former Rockets, however, Kowalksi should emerge as an NFL contributor relatively early in his pro career, likely earning a mid round selection.

 
Posted on: November 10, 2010 12:44 pm
 

Colt McCoy, Eric Berry Rookies of the Week

With all due respect to Oakland Raiders' receiver and kick returner Jacoby Ford (who was spectacular in the Raiders' 23-20 overtime win over the Chiefs) and San Diego rookie Seyi Ajirotutu (two touchdown receptions against the Texans), it is time to recognize the play of Colt McCoy with Offensive Rookie of the Week honors.

I've acknowledged the gutty play of Cleveland Browns' rookie quarterback Colt McCoy the past two weeks, but his performance against the New England Patriots demands attention.

In a surprisingly close loss to the Steelers and the Browns' stunning road win against the defending Super Bowl champion Saints, McCoy's Browns played well -- but almost in spite of their rookie signal-caller, not because of him.

The stellar running of Peyton Hillis and the inspired play of the Cleveland defense certainly played critical roles in beating the Patriots, but McCoy was deadly efficient as a passer (completing 14 of 19 passes for 174 yards) and his mobility kept the Patriots' pass rushers frustrated. McCoy's biggest play was his 16-yard scramble for a touchdown on the Browns' first drive of the third quarter. That score gave the Browns a 24-7 lead that proved too much for the Patriots to recover from.

While there were several standout rookie performances on the offensive side of the ball, the pickings were slim among defensive prospects.

New England inside linebacker Brandon Spikes had his moments in the loss to McCoy and the Browns, collecting eight tackles in the loss.

Kansas City safety Eric Berry , however, continues to prove he's a young star in the making for the Chiefs. After recording a career-high 10 tackles and his second interception of the season two weeks ago in the home win over Buffalo, Berry showed off his versatility, collecting two sacks on the afternoon.

Berry, the No. 5 overall pick, now has 45 tackles, four passes broken up, two sacks, two interceptions, and a fumble recovery on the season.
Posted on: September 28, 2010 2:07 pm
 

Bills' Spiller, Hawks' Thomas Rookies of the Week

Each Tuesday I'll list two first year players -- one on offense, one from the defense -- as my official NFLDraftScout.com's Rookies of the Week.

Various rookies enjoyed strong performances in Week Three. On offense, it was tough to look past Sam Bradford's first career win (over the Redskins), the continued stellar play of Kansas City tight end Tony Moeaki (who I've listed as a finalist each of the first three weeks!) and Indianapolis receiver Blair White an undrafted free agent who was signed from the practice squad due to injuries and responded with three catches for 27 yards and his first NFL touchdown.

In the end, however, the versatility and explosiveness of Buffalo rookie C.J. Spiller won out.

Spiller, playing behind veterans Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson, didn't get many carries. In fact, he only rushed four times (for 29 yards) against the Patriots. The versatility he showed while starring at Clemson, however, was very much on display against New England, however, as he caught three passes for 10 yards and a touchdown and returned a kick 95 yards for another score. Spiller's ability to make impact plays were one of the reasons that the Bills were able to remain surprisingly competitive against New England, which won 38-30.

It wasn't a particularly strong week for rookies on the defensive side of the ball. Two defensive backs I had high hopes for entering the week -- Bucs' safety Cody Grimm and Broncos' cornerback Perrish Cox -- were torched for touchdowns. Sean Weatherspoon led the Falcons with seven tackles, but other highly touted 2010 linebackers Brandon Spikes (one tackle) and Rolando McClain (four tackles) weren't as statistically relevant nor able to make any big plays in close games.

Big plays, however, was exactly what Seattle free safety Earl Thomas made for the Seahawks, Sunday afternoon in a 27-20 win over the favored San Diego Chargers.

Thomas recorded six tackles, but it was his two interceptions over Pro Bowler Phillip Rivers that helped prove the difference in this game. Thomas' second interception came with only seconds left on the clock and the Chargers in position to tie the score. Thomas read the eyes of Rivers, cut in front of receiver Legedu Naanee and swiped the ball, putting a disappointing end (for San Diego, at least) to Rivers' career-high 455 yard passing day.

Posted on: August 30, 2010 11:25 am
 

2010 class looks worth the hype so far

We told you prior to the draft the 2010 crop of talent looked like one of the best in a long time . Once the underclassmen came on board, the class was being compared by some to the famous 1983 group that included Hall of Famers John Elway, Eric Dickerson, Bruce Mathews, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino and Darrell Green.

Comparing this class to the 1983 crew is, of course, vastly premature.
 
At least throughout the weeks of preseason, however, the class looks every bit as good as advertised.

Most years, by this time, we've already identified a half dozen or so highly drafted rookies who are struggling to acclimate to the pros. Sure, Colt McCoy isn't setting the world on fire, but we should have known to expect that a bit considering that he slipped into the 3rd round. Most of the players drafted in the first round are already establishing themselves as either immediate starters or quality backups... exactly what first-round picks are supposed to do.
Think of the top ten this year. Sam Bradford, Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Trent Williams, Eric Berry, Russell Okung, Joe Haden, Rolando McClain, C.J. Spiller and even surprise top ten choice Tyson Alualu have shown flashes of brilliance for their respective teams, already.

The first round picks that have struggled have mostly been due to injuries. Tim Tebow, Demaryius Thomas, Derrick Morgan, etc. have reportedly looked good when practicing, but various injuries have, thus far, slowed their advancement.

Exciting middle, late round and even undrafted free agents have emerged already .

But don't just take my word for it. Check out the stats.

Rookie Anthony Dixon, San Francisco's 6th round pick and the No. 173 player taken overall leads the NFL with 220 rushing yards. 

Rookie Victor Cruz, an undrafted free agent for the Giants, leads the league with 251 receiving yards, as well as receiving touchdowns (4). The only player in the league with as many as three TDs? Another rookie. Patriots' tight end Rob Gronkowski, a second round pick taken No. 42 overall.

So, offensively the rookies are doing well. What about the defense, you ask?

Thanks for asking.

Rookie Pat Angerer, the Colts' second round pick and the No. 63 player taken overall leads the NFL with 24 tackles.

Defensive tackle Geno Atkins, a fourth round pick taken at No. 120, leads the league with 4.5 sacks.

I can hear the dispute already. Yeah, rookies see a lot of playing time, and therefore more opportunities to post numbers in the preseason.

True. But the facts remain the same.

This 2010 class of rookies has a chance to be special.

Posted on: August 20, 2010 1:53 pm
 

Brandon Spikes a future star in New England

When Brandon Spikes was clocked at 5.05 seconds in the all-important 40-yard dash during his Florida Pro Day, some immediately questioned whether he could be effective in the NFL.

After all, few linebackers have ever run that slow and still been high draft picks. The only middle linebacker from the 2010 draft to have anything close to the two-time All-American Spikes' production in college and his slow time in the 40-yard dash was former Kentucky star Micah Johnson, who went undrafted, was signed by the New York Giants as a free agent and is now a member of the Miami Dolphins.

The slow time did force me to re-evaluate whether he could be effective as a true middle linebacker in the 4-3 scheme, but if protected in a 3-4 alignment, I thought he could continue the spectacular play in the NFL that he'd enjoyed throughout his career with the Gators. His sideline to sideline speed had concerned me even prior to Spikes' senior season.

If his first two preseason games in the NFL are any indication, the Patriots may have a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate with Spikes, the 62nd overall pick of the draft.

Spikes "only" contributed three solo tackles in the win over Atlanta last night, but his physicality in the hole and timing as a pass rusher makes him an ideal fit for this scheme, especially when you consider that the Patriots already feature one of the game's better young inside linebacker in Jerod Mayo -- who captured 49 of a possible 50 votes to win the 2008 award.

In the first preseason game, Spikes was much more statistically impressive, leading the team with eight tackles against the Super Bowl champion Saints.

Spikes' impressive performance has drawn relatively "rave" reviews from Bill Belichick, who, of course, is rarely complimentary.

"Now that he’s in our defense, some things he does are a little bit different than the way we would teach it, but he still does them well,’’ Belichick was quoted by Robert Mays of the Boston Globe.

Wow. Acknowledgement from Belichick? For a rookie?

That's about as rare as a linebacker running a 5.05 second 40-yard dash and still making the second round... 
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com