FOXBORO — WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Chris Price preview the opening of training camp for the Patriots on Thursday outside Gillette Stadium. On Wednesday, head coach Bill Belichick announced that tight end Rob Gronkowski has been cleared to practice with the Patriots as camp begins.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Let’s take a look at the top 50 wide receivers. I’d planned on ranking just the top 36, which would represent the starters in 12-team leagues, but this year’s group is so deep that more players merit a mention. If you are looking for an even deeper take on this year’s receiving class, go to Rotobahn and check out our Top 300, which includes rankings and comments for over 100 receivers.

Just to be clear, these rankings reflect standard or performance scoring rather than PPR (point per reception) scoring. For a PPR take on the receivers, you can check out my 2014 projections.

Tier 1 (1-6)

These are the monsters. They almost always come through and they’re all healthy. These guys aren’t just WR1 fantasy options, they are high-end WR1 options. You can anchor your receiving corps with any of them. In fact, we think the top five all have a solid shot at being No. 1 by season’s end. While we don’t quite see that high a ceiling for Marshall, we love his high floor and consistency. He also has the complete trust of his quarterback. The Jay Cutler-to-Marshall connection dates back to their rookie season as Broncos in 2006.

Tier 2 (7-10)

There’s not much drop-off from the first tier, but you have some smaller receivers and Jeffery has just the single season of greatness. Nelson is on the cusp of Tier 1, but I still have some concerns about him staying healthy and don’t feel that his top end goes quite as high as the options in the elite tier.

Tier 3 (11-14)

Here’s another group that signifies a small drop-off from the prior tier. Arizona’s Floyd and Fitzgerald are on par with Chicago’s Jeffery and Marshall, but we give the Bears duo a bump because we like Cutler a bit better than we do Carson Palmer. Johnson still is elite, but his quarterback is not … and his offense is in a state of flux. Allen has the look of a potential star, but he has a rough schedule in 2014 that features four contests against NFC West teams.

Tier 4 (15-20)

This group is comprised of players who can be strong second fantasy receivers or WR2s. They all have high-end talent, but with a caveat. Crabtree and Harvin have thick injury histories. Garcon and Jackson are in new offenses, and Jackson probably will have a new quarterback in Josh McCown. Patterson has only half of a season’s worth of NFL production. White is on the decline but still very good.

Tier 5 (21-25)

Big talents, but with some issues. Wallace and Jackson have diva reputations for reasons both fair and unfair. Decker has a quarterback downgrade of rather epic proportions if you go by 2013 statistics … or 2014 projections, for that matter. Hilton still is looking like a great talent, but his team likes to limit his snaps and exposure to punishment … not to say that we blame them, but it affects his fantasy ceiling. Smith is in a new offense, but our guess is that it ends up being a plus. He’s a breakout candidate who only needs to find the zone a few more times to become a high-end WR2.

Tier 6 (26-31)

In Tier 6 we have players trending in different directions. On the way up, we have Tate, Wright and Edelman. Both Wright and Tate get better every year, and Edelman has done the same but finally has found a way to stay healthy. I expect all three to be stable WR3 options in 2014, and Wright has WR2 upside in PPR formats. Edelman obviously gets a value bump because he plays with a future Hall of Fame quarterback. Trending down are Cruz, Colston and Welker. Welker and Colston have age and mileage concerns, while Cruz simply has a nasty downward trend statistically since his breakout season in 2011. Having said all that, all three have solid WR3 value on draft day. Welker and Colston play with all-time great quarterbacks while Cruz still projects to be a No. 1 option for his team.

Tier 7 (32-41)

It’s a big old tier for sure, and I’d feel fine with any of these guys in my lineup. What this tier has in abundance is upside, but also significant roles. The concerns for guys like Sanders, Shorts, Cooper and Maclin are injuries. They’ve all had multiple maladies over their fairly young careers. For Cooks, Stills, Williams, Jones and Evans, we have very young players with little or no NFL experience. Cooks, Stills and Williams represent excellent talent in great situations. Jones and Evans are talented long-bodied guys with solidified starting roles and solid touchdown potential. Randle may end up as the Giants‘ third receiver, but New York can support a third receiver quite nicely, as we’ve seen in the past. And he has some breakout potential as Eli Manning‘s best red zone target.

Tier 8 (42-48)

Tier 8 is all about upside, but there are bigger concerns with roles and quarterback quality. Hopkins, Watkins, Hunter and Austin all have issues with their quarterbacks. Nicks, Hunter and Austin still are trying to establish their roles with their teams, though they should all get a fair shot. Again, what this tier offers is upside. This entire tier is filled with players who could post WR2 numbers. Nicks has shown high-end talent in the past and now plays with a stud quarterback. Hopkins is highly talented and he’s got a nose for the end zone. Sadly, he also has a limited quarterback in the near term. Dobson is a player we like a lot, but we want to see him playing at 100 percent before we consider him for Tier 7 or even Tier 6. After all, he’s got red zone ability and he plays with that Brady guy. Beckham Jr. and Watkins are game-ready rookies with game-breaking ability, but Beckham Jr. has to share the ball in New York and Watkins is in a sketchy quarterback situation. I don’t disagree with the people who think the Rams over-drafted Austin, but that doesn’t mean the guy can’t play. I just think you have to be careful about investing too much into a 174-pound receiver who also carries the football. I think the Steelers got it right this year with Dri Archer, whom people will be talking about at some point this season. Hunter was our “Johnny Bravo” at Rotobahn last year heading into the draft. While he had some diva tendencies and an ACL injury to be concerned about, he also had all the traits we see on today’s prototypical receivers. If Hunter hits, he has the potential to hit big. That upside gets him into the tier.

Tier 9 (49-50)

This small tier closes out the top 50 receivers as things currently stand. Bowe is the clear No. 1 for a mediocre quarterback, while Wayne is coming off major injury but plays with a great young quarterback. I think Wayne lacks the upside he had before his injury, but with Luck he still has a chance to produce WR3 numbers if things go well. Bowe also has a shot at WR3 performance.

The depth and quality of the receivers available in 2014 is stunning. There are still plenty of fantasy-relevant receivers who missed the cut. As I said earlier, head over to Rotobahn and check out our Top 300. I’ll be back in this space again next week with an in-depth look at the quarterbacks.

Blog Author: 
Peter Davidson
WEEI.com's Mike Petraglia and Chris Price discuss the start of Patriots training camp. Players began arriving for camp on Wednesday, and Bill Belichick broke the news that Rob Gronkowski has been cleared to play.

[0:00:00] ... Welcome back to football 2014. The New England Patriots are about to open up training camp. Here outside Gillette Stadium. I'm Mike to -- a long time no see partnered Christopher ...
[0:03:17] ... one. We're not talking about the same kind of turn -- that Wes Welker and went from 20092010. That was an eight month turnaround you're looking at a ten month turnaround. It's not Blake Welker but ...
[0:04:47] ... Wednesday morning on the eve of training camp here at. Gillette Stadium Bill Belichick back and shouldn't be surprised by this was asked about. The text messages between Aaron Hernandez. And several members of the patriots ...
[0:07:29] ... who ended last year and injured reserve. Mayo Wilfork. Those guys to Tommy Kelly exactly Tommy Kelly to see where those guys are -- their overall level fitness. Don't wanna see how Revis is able to be incorporated into ...






FOXBORO –  Ever since Rob Ninkovich signed with New England prior to the 2009 season, he’s been one of the most consistent players on the Patriots defense. The defensive end has been durable and versatile — a player who can be depended on each and every week.

Ninkovich has been inactive for just one game in his five seasons, and that occurred during his first season. Including the postseason, he has played in 79 straight games.

For an eight-year veteran, training camp might be a tedious few weeks, but not for Ninkovich, who knows it’s the building block for having a successful season.

“You have to go through it to get to the ultimate goal, and that’s having a winning season,” Ninkovich said. “This is the time that you put in — the hard work, it all pays off. Being an older guy, I’ve been through the doubles, all the hard days before. I know what they are like, so I know what to expect. This is where you set the tone for the season.”

With the addition of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to a team that is coming off an AFC championship game loss last season, expectations are high for this year’s team. This is nothing new for Ninkovich, who has played in nine playoff games in his career.

“I know what the expectations are, but every year there are always high expectations just because we’re on one of the best teams in the NFL,” he said.

As for his personal outlook on the season, like his consistent and dependable play on the field during his time in New England, Ninkovich keeps it simple, as he just wants to improve on the season prior.

“For me personally, there’s always an expectation for what I did the previous season,” the 30-year-old said. “I’m always trying to improve and be a better football player. That’s every year of experience you get, you want to maximize your abilities and continue to improve as you get older because everyone knows when you get older your speed and talent fades away, but experience grows. I’d say that my experiences here have helped me become a better football player and more productive on the field. Goals for me this year are just be a better football player than I was last year.”

Ninkovich, the longest-tenured member of the defense aside from Vince Wilfork, once again will be relied upon as a three-down player who can move all over the field.

“I’m 30. I still feel young, but when they put the nine next to you at experience, that puts you up there,” he said.

Last season, due to a number of injuries to teammates, Ninkovich was forced to play more than 90 percent of the defensive snaps, which is a fairly high percentage for a defensive end of his age. He doesn’t pay attention to those things, though, as he’s just out there to make plays for the team.

“I’m not a guy to make any excuses, so whatever amount of plays I’m out on the field for I need to be out there and play well,” he said. “So whatever it is, it is I’ll go out there and I’ll make plays.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

FOXBORO — For the past few seasons there has been one consistent issue with the Patriots defense — getting off the field on third down.

According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, dating back to the 2010 season there hasn’t been one year in which the Patriots finished higher than 20th in the league in third-down defense. Last year the unit got off the field 42.7 percent of the time, 25th in the league, so on a little more than half of the third-down plays, opponents were successful. 2010 was the worst season of all, as New England allowed opponents a success rate of 47.1 percent, dead last among all 32 defenses in the league.

This is one of the areas in which the defense as a whole knows it needs to get better as preparation for the 2014 season begins with training camp opening on Thursday.

“We have to get off the field, that’s huge,” defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. “Some of the third-and-long situations we weren’t able to get off the field. I know third-and-long screens hurt us, too. Specifically that play and third and long as a whole, we need to do a better job. Obviously everything is working together, so coverage-rush, rush-coverage, everything works together. That’s just one area we definitely need to work on this year.”

A good amount of the conversions have come on screen plays, some even going for long yardage. Stopping the play comes from not just one specific group of players, but the entire defense.

“It’s just different things you can work on,” defensive back Devin McCourty said of how to stop the screen. “I think one of the greatest things here is we have coaches that find any and everything we can do to get better. I think one of the big things is getting to the ball. It’s a play you try and get the linemen up field and guys drop into coverage, so just effort and everything on that simple basis can help improve the screen game.”

A number of players who figure to play dominant roles this season were either injured or on different teams last year, but that doesn’t mean they won’t look at film to see what the New England defense had trouble with last year.

“You can’€™t focus so much on last year, because like you said, some of the people when we’re watching film weren’t even here last year,” McCourty said. “So it’s just trying to improve scheme things. What some of the guys did last year that are still on the team — how to view things, how to see it better, how to anticipate it better, so for third down it’s always the key.

“Every game and a lot of the time it comes down to your season on third down and a key situation. We’ll definitely watch that and try and improve and like [Ninkovich] was saying, we’ll look at different plays that happened to us. You always want to look at those things and see how you can get better. That started in the spring, trying to develop those things and look at them just so all the players can be aware of what hurt us last year and what we need to be ready for this year.”

The defensive unit added a few players, specifically Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in the secondary, and will get some key contributors back who suffered season-ending injuries last season. This certainly will give the other players more assurance, especially on third down.

“We have some of guys back,” Ninkovich said. “Last year it was tough when we lost [Jerod] Mayo, Vince [Wilfork], Tommy [Kelly], those were some big blows. Having those guys next to you definitely gives you more confidence.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

FOXBORO -- He didn’t talk with the media on Wednesday, but Rob Gronkowski was the lead topic at Gillette Stadium.



FOXBORO — Bill Belichick was not in the mood to talk anything but football on Wednesday, on the eve of training camp opening outside Gillette Stadium.

Bill Belichick had no further comment Wednesday on texts with Aaron Hernandez (above). (AP)

Bill Belichick had no further comment Wednesday on texts with Aaron Hernandez (above). (AP)

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick was not in the mood to talk anything but football on Wednesday, on the eve of training camp opening outside Gillette Stadium.

A TV reporter asked the Patriots head coach if he were concerned about the text messages exchanged between Aaron Hernandez and members of the Patriots organization, including Belichick himself.

“I think that was addressed by a lawyer last week and I don’t have any further comment on it,” Belichick said, referencing the statement put out last Friday night by Andrew Phelan, a partner at Bingham McCutcheon. Phelan clarified that there were not 33 pages of texts between the two sides but rather a total of 34 texts.

“Earlier this week, a report indicated that an exchange of text messages between the team’s head coach and Mr. Hernandez totaled 33 pages,” Phelan said in Friday’s statement. “While it is unknown how the texts were printed or displayed, I thought it was important to clarify that during an early investigation conducted by state prosecutors, the team produced a total of 34 text messages (not pages of texts) spanning a period of five months (December 2012 – April 2013) between the head coach and Mr. Hernandez.”

On Tuesday, Michael Fee, an attorney for Hernandez, said the dispute over text messages had been resolved.

Hernandez is in a Boston jail awaiting trial in two separate murder cases. Hernandez is accused of killing Odin Lloyd in June 2013. He was released by the Patriots before the calendar turned to July. Hernandez is also accused in the double homicide in Boston in Feb. 2012, just weeks after taking part in the Super Bowl loss to the Giants in Indianapolis.

Still, the reporter continued her line of questioning with Belichick Wednesday morning at the end of the 12-minute news conference.

Is it something you routinely do with your players, texting back and forth?

“I don’t have any further comment on it,” Belichick said.

Do you approach your new players differently now based on what [Hernandez] allegedly did weeks before camp [in 2013]?

“No further comment,” Belichick said before the news conference came to an end.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick said Wednesday that Rob Gronkowski has been in the facility in the days leading up to training camp, and has been “cleared to play.”

As a result, the tight end — who ended last year on injured reserve after a knee injury against the Browns — apparently will not start the year on the physically unable to perform list.

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick said Wednesday that Rob Gronkowski has been in the facility in the days leading up to training camp, and has been “cleared to play.”

As a result, the tight end — who ended last year on injured reserve after a knee injury against the Browns — apparently will not start the year on the physically unable to perform list.

“Rob has always worked hard. He worked hard as a rookie,” Belichick said of the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski. “He’s been consistent.”

In four seasons with the Patriots, Gronkowski has 226 catches for 3,255 yards and 42 touchdowns. However, he’s been dogged by injury issues, including problems with his knee, back and forearm.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price