Devin McCourty is one of several former college captains the Patriots have drafted over the last few years. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
1. The last four years, New England has made 37 draft picks, and 19 of them were college captains. (That includes 14 of the last 25 picks made in the last three years.) Since 2010, several notable picks who would go on to become key pieces of their success were college captains, including Devin McCourty, Bryan Stork, Stevan Ridley and Dont’a Hightower. Rookies aren’t always asked to be leaders early in their careers, and so being a college captain can be a bit of a superfluous title in the NFL, especially when you’re a first-year player coming into a veteran-dominated team like New England. But the simple experience of having served as a college captain can help instill some important values in a player at the next level — namely, the ability to rally fellow rookies, as well as understanding your place in the pecking order. While Bill Belichick has said that they don’t necessarily go looking for guys who have served as college captains, New England is always well aware of a players’ resume when they select him, and the fact that someone was elected a college captain speaks to their character. Bottom line? You don’t necessarily have to be a college captain to be chosen by the Patriots, but the experience certainly doesn’t hurt when making the transition in New England.
2. Taking a deeper dive into the 2015 NFL schedule reveals a few more interesting things regarding the task ahead for the Patriots, with some of those nuggets here in a really great story by Chase Stuart: New England will play four games against teams with extra rest (defined as playing a game against an opponent that just had a bye or a Thursday game). That’s tied for the second-most in the league, and trailing only the Seahawks and Redskins, two teams who will have five games against teams with extra rest. (On the other end of the spectrum, the Bucs and Panthers do not play a singe opponent coming off extra rest in 2015.) That’s a sizable contrast to the schedule the Patriots had in 2012 and 2013, when they didn’t face a single team coming off of a bye week, and had just one game in those two years against a team coming off of 10 days’ rest. Stuart has a number of other really good scheduling numbers, including the fact that New England and Pittsburgh are the only two teams in the league who will benefit from an extra “mini” bye week. Every team plays a Thursday night game — and will get a few extra days on the other end to prepare for their next opponent — but the Patriots and Steelers get a second one because they meet each other in the regular-season opener.
3. Scott Chandler is one of the newest members of the Patriots, but that doesn’t mean he’s about to turn his back on Buffalo. The former Bills tight end was recently feted at the “Call to Courage” breakfast in his old city. At the event, organized by former Buffalo quarterback Frank Reich, was honored as the yearly award winner, a distinction given to “to an athlete who displays exemplary character through adversity and triumph.” (Former award winners include ex-Patriots Ben Watson, who won the award in 2012, Heath Evans, who was named the winner in 2010 and Don Davis, who was honored in 2006.) At the ceremony last week, Chandler reportedly got a little emotional talking about his decision to leave Buffalo for New England, saying “it was tough, just knowing our time in Buffalo was done,” and adding that “It’s tough to say goodbye to the fans of Buffalo, all the friends we’ve made here, but it’s time to move on.” Whenever a player leaves a franchise for an extended period to come to New England, it’s always interesting trying to glean what sort of individual that player is by the way he left his old franchise. Did he burn bridges? Do his old employers speak well of him? In Chandler’s case, while he’s not an All-Pro talent, by the reaction of the folks in Buffalo, it appears the Patriots are getting an individual of singularly high character.
4. The Colts are taking dead-aim at New England in 2015. As Indy gathered for the first round of its offseason workout program this past week, the singular focus was clear: the Patriots are the team that stands in the way of the Colts eventual goal. New Indy linebacker Trent Cole joked with reporters this past week, “you could just tell when I first got here you just don’t use that word (Patriots) around here,” before adding, “from what I’ve seen that’s happened, I see why there’s a lot of hatred there.” The Deflategate flap aside, the Colts acknowledge there’s a big-brother/little-brother dynamic between the two franchises, and are looking toward their Oct. 18 matchup with New England at Lucas Oil Stadium as a way to start evening the score. “You realize if you want to do anything in the AFC, you’re going to have to figure out a way to beat those guys,” said quarterback Andrew Luck of the Patriots, who have defeated Indy by a combined score of 189-73 in the last four games between the two teams. “It’s a great team, a lot of respect for how they play. We’ll work to try and put ourselves in a position to hopefully have a chance to beat them when we play them.”
5. There’s a developing situation in Denver between the team and Demaryius Thomas, as GM John Elway took a shot at the receiver this week. Thomas, who was hit with the franchise tag earlier this year, is staying away from the team’s offseason program while looking for a long-term deal. That isn’t sitting well with Elway.
“To be dead honest with you, I see absolutely zero value of him being away from here,” Elway told reporters who asked about Thomas, who also bypassed Peyton Manning‘s annual passing camp at Duke earlier this month. “Zero value, for him. There’s no value for him not to be here with his teammates, so as far as negotiations and him and a new deal and what’s going on, we’d like to get something done, but by him being away from here, there is zero value not only to us, but to him.”
The news is interesting on two levels: one, it’s clear that the relationship between the 27-year-old receiver and the team is strained. Thomas has yet to sign his tender, and the longer he’s out, there figures to be more of a delay in the installation of the new offense run by Gary Kubiak. (Thomas would figure to play a sizable role in that offense, as he’s surpassed 90 catches a year the last three seasons.) And two, as a player, Elway basically set the standard for player holdouts when he pushed the Colts to deal him to Denver after he didn’t like the fact that he was drafted by Baltimore. If anyone knows about a player doing anything he can to use leverage, it’s Elway.
6. Linebacker Shaq Thompson remains one of the more interesting prospects in this draft, and has been mentioned on more than one occasion as the sort of versatile chess piece that might intrigue Belichick and the Patriots. Thompson is a multidimensional player who can be moved around the field in a number of different ways, having played linebacker, safety and even a little running back as a collegian at Washington. He won the 2014 Paul Hornung Award as the most versatile player in college football, but has told teams he plans on making his bones as a linebacker in the NFL.
In some ways, he compares to current New England linebacker Jamie Collins in that both possess undeniable physical gifts and both have shown a flair for versatility. Collins started his college career at safety, and then eventually transitioned to linebacker. Thompson went in the same direction, going from nickel back (and part-time running back) as a freshman to linebacker as a sophomore, and then, becoming a full-time linebacker last year as a junior.
The biggest difference? Size. Collins is a 6-foot-3, 250-pounder who has the speed and ability to change direction usually found in smaller players. Meanwhile, Thompson is 6-foot-1 and 228 pounds. That two inches and 20 pounds doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re talking about playing linebacker in the NFL and having to take on guards at the second level, it can make a world of difference.
There’s no question that Thompson, a former Red Sox farmhand, has the physical abilities and the football IQ to succeed — a look at his film while playing at a high level confirms that. It’s whether or not he gets into the system that plays to his strengths. While he might not be a first round pick of the Patriots, his versatility and physical attributes certainly make him a prospect worth considering for New England in the early to middle rounds as a potential strong safety.
7. According to our friend Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, Navy long snapper Joe Cardona worked out for the Patriots as part of the pre-draft process earlier this month, which might be the most Belichick pre-draft thing of all time. The former Maryland native, whose father served in the Navy and was an assistant coach and scout for the Midshipmen, has always had an affinity for Navy players (like Kyle Eckel), and so the idea of working out Cardona does seem to make sense, at least from a practical perspective. (Especially when you consider that the incumbent long snapper Danny Aiken is a free agent who has yet to sign with anyone.) Cardona was a four-year starter, and the only long snapper invited to the combine in February.
However, Cardona does face an uncertain future, as he has a pending military service commitment — he’s required to serve five years in the Navy as an officer, and will be commissioned in May. There are exceptions (this story from Rick Gosselin explains some of the options that might be available to Cardona) but given his skllls, the uncertain nature of New England’s long snapping situation at the moment and Belichick’s obvious love of all things Eastern Maryland, you figure Cardona has a shot at landing with the Patriots in some form or fashion.
8. Our five favorite stats from the Patriots pre-draft press release:
a) In Belichick’s 15 seasons with New England, the Patriots have drafted in the top 10 twice — Richard Seymour sixth overall in 2001 and Jerod Mayo 10th in 2008. (From one of our own stories, that’s tied for the second-fewest top 10 picks in that span. By way of comparison, since 2000, the Lions and Jaguars have had the most top 10 picks with 10 each, while the Colts, Steelers, Broncos and Giants have had the fewest with one each.) In addition, New England has drafted just four times in the top 20. (In addition to Seymour and Mayo, Ty Warren was taken 13th overall in 2003 and Nate Solder was selected 17th overall on 2011). That’s second best in the league in that span, trailing only the Colts, who have chosen twice in the top 20 since 2000 (Luck first overall in 2012 and Dwight Freeney 11th overall in 2002).
b) Belichick has engaged in 53 draft-day trades in his 15 drafts with the Patriots. (In the 15 drafts prior to 2000, New England engaged in 24 draft-day trades.) Since 2000, the Patriots have traded up 17 times, traded down 17 times and dealt for players or future considerations 19 times.
c) We know that the Patriots go after a quarterback almost every year. But in 54 drafts total, the Patriots have selected 43 quarterbacks. That includes eight in the Belichick era — only the Jets, Niners, Ravens and Redskins have selected more quarterbacks than New England has since 2000.
d) Since 1970, the Patriots have drafted 88 offensive linemen, the most from one single position, one more than the 87 defensive backs during that time. The smallest groups drafted since 1970? One long snapper and eight punters.
e) The Patriots have taken 23 Boston College players in their draft history, more than any other school. However, just two Eagles were selected during the Belichick era — Dan Koppen (2003) and Ron Brace (2009).
9. Defensive lineman A.J. Francis was only with the Patriots for a short time (a few months in 2013), but the Maryland product distinguished himself as a guy who was a little different than most of his teammates. He has an active Twitter feed where he comments on just about anything in the world, he’s a big WWE fan, and the self-described “Fathlete” was always good for an interesting quote. That’s why it was no surprise this week to see Francis say he was going to sign up to be an Uber driver. Francis, who said he was doing it for the money, took issue with some people who questioned his decision about how he might spend his time, including Time Magazine and ESPN’s Jemele Hill. In my limited experience with Francis, he’s a guy who likes to have a good time with the media, but he’s also a diligent, intelligent individual who is completely likely to follow through on something like this. While the league has all sorts of very serious issues, from this viewpoint, I’m not sure why some people might have a problem with someone like Francis having some off-field fun and picking up a few bucks in the process.
10. Look for plenty of NFL types to show up next weekend in Louisville for the Kentucky Derby. The guest list for the Barnstable Brown Kentucky Derby Eve Gala was released this week, and it’s going to have a heavy Patriots’ presence, including Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Matt Cassel and Wes Welker, as well as Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb. The party is set for Friday night, and the race will take place on Saturday. If past years are any indication, look for plenty of current and former Patriots to make a wide array of … interesting … fashion choices. (Check out the full guest list here.)