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Yesterday we took a pre-combine look at this year’€™s crop of receivers. Today we’€™ll tackle the running backs. I still have plenty of film to watch on this year’€™s class, and I suspect that I’€™ll be adjusting and tightening these rankings over the next two months as we move towards the draft. Still, I wanted to give a feel for the position before the backs workout.

One thing I want to make very clear, is this year’€™s running back class is outstanding. A player does not need to be ranked in the top two tiers to have starter potential at the next level. In fact, almost every back on this list has the ability to carry the ball in the NFL. This is obviously good news for a team like the Patriots, who can play hardball with a lot of their current runners, knowing full well that they can supplement their backfield and not even need a premium pick to do so. As a side note, it’€™s also worth remembering that the Patriots stole a quality prospect from the Panthers last season.

Check out my 2014 scouting report on Tyler Gaffney if you don’€™t know his story. He could be the next low profile Patriot skill player to make a splash in the league. I’€™ll be posting reports of all the backs listed below in the coming weeks. In addition to the scouting reports, Jim Hackett and I will be breaking down all the skill players on the Fantasy Football Podcast, sponsored by our friends at DraftKings.

Alright, let’€™s break down the backs. The top twenty players are grouped into four tiers. I’€™ve included film for most of the backs. Just click on their name to view.

Tier One

Todd Gurley, Georgia

At the top we have Gurley all by himself just to underscore his upside as a potential franchise back. He’€™ll be a very limited participant this weekend, but his film tells the only story you need to know. Gurley is such a potential monster that I will refrain from any of the obvious Hans and Franz jokes out of respect. If not for his recent ACL injury, I’€™d bet money that he’€™d be a first round draft pick. Maybe he’€™ll still sneak in there anyway, but the depth of the position, both in this draft and in the NFL, will work against him and all the other backs as well. This is the new reality in the NFL.

Tier Two

Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
Duke Johnson, Miami
Mike Davis, South Carolina
TJ Yeldon, Alabama
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
Jay Ajayi, Boise State
Tevin Coleman, Indiana

Tier two is a magnificent seven. Gordon has the buzz, and it’€™s well deserved. He has the potential to be a three-down guy at the next level. Johnson is Rotobahn’€™s favorite back in this year’€™s class, but at 206 pounds, he has some things to prove in terms of durability. Davis is the sleeper of this group, but at Rotobahn we love the diversity of his game, and it comes in a large 220 plus pound package. Yeldon has that size and speed thing and he’€™s also an underrated receiver. He may surprise some people with his combine performance. The Alabama star looks plenty fast on film.

Abdullah is a tremendous all-around player. The only thing keeping him from being the best in this class is his lack of size. Having said that, I expect an impressive overall combine performance from the former Nebraska captain. Ajayi may not be all that well known, but he has an NFL skill set and the kind of receiving ability that will make PPR-leaguers salivate. Coleman’€™s inclusion is honorary as he will not participate in drills this week due to a foot injury. The ex-Hoosier star is a good fit for a team who runs a lot of zone or stretch and we expect him to participate in Indiana’€™s pro day.

Tier Three

David Cobb, Minnesota
David Johnson, Northern Iowa

Cobb is just a bit below the tier two options, but he’€™s an NFL back based on his film. Johnson is a small school guy, but we’€™ve seen plenty of talent come out of Northern Iowa in the past, so take him seriously. The thing we love about Johnson is his receiving ability, and that includes routes and quick feet. He had a good week at the Senior Bowl and he’€™ll be a hot name if he performs well in Indianapolis. Fantasy players in PPR leagues need to know about this guy. He reminds me of Theo Riddick, but in a bigger frame.

Tier Four

Javorius Allen, USC
Zach Zenner, South Dakota State
Josh Robinson, Mississippi State
Jahwan Edwards, Ball State
Malcolm Brown, Texas
Jeremy Langford, Michigan State
Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn
Karlos Williams, Florida State
Dominique Brown, Louisville
Matt Jones, Florida

Allen, also known as ‘€œBuck’€, might stand out in a typical draft class. He’€™s multi-skilled and he proved that he can carry the load last season with 276 carries. Zenner, while being little known, has big ability to go with a big 220-plus pound frame. Robinson must answer questions about his speed on Saturday, but his game tape is reminiscent of Maurice Jones-Drew. He makes outstanding cuts and is very hard to get to the ground. Edwards ran very well for Ball State over a four year span, and is one of the more underrated talents at the position. I’€™m ready to move him up if he tests well. Brown lacks buzz right now and that’€™s understandable after a disappointing senior year, but his game film shows a back with NFL ability. Langford is smaller than the rest of the tier, but he had a strong senior season while proving he can be a workhorse when needed.

Artis-Payne was finally given a chance to shine and shine he did — €”carrying the rock 303 times as a senior after sitting behind Tre Mason as a junior. Williams is a massive talent with off the field baggage. He needs to impress in the interview room and in his individual meeting with teams. He has the potential to be a versatile weapon at the next level if he can mature and find the right situation. Brown and Jones are both huge backs. Jones is the more game-ready of the two, but Brown has intriguing athleticism for a man his size. Both men are expected to weigh in at 230 pounds or more.

All the players in this group have a chance to move up. I’€™m still watching and looking for more film on this group, but I like what I see so far. The combine is a great place for all of these backs to separate themselves from a talented pack. None of these players can afford to run slow or post a dreadful agility score. This class is simply too deep and competitive. The pressure is most certainly on.

Blog Author: 
Peter Davidson

ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter joined Dennis & Callahan Thursday morning to talk about his recent report of an NFL employee being fired for a sting of stealing game balls intended for charity, and also everyt

Adam Schefter

Adam Schefter

ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter joined Dennis & Callahan Thursday morning to talk about his recent report of an NFL employee being fired for a sting of stealing game balls intended for charity, and also everything else involving the recent case surrounding the AFC championship game. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Schefter said with everything that has happened surrounding Deflategate, and the most recent special teams football situation, it is extremely complex, and with everything that’s happened, including an NFL employee being fired, it is going to be hard to prove anything. He said ultimately the NFL looks bad by the way everything has been handled.

“It is going to difficult to prove anything and anybody,” Schefter said. “Maybe they deflated footballs, maybe they didn’t. I have my own ideas. That is up for Ted Wells to determine and we will see what the facts in the case turn out to be. It is also indisputable here that the league screwed this up. They didn’t control the balls the right way. They didn’t have one guy in charge. One guy embezzling footballs. You have to be kidding me. Good luck proving something. I mean, they might. They might have something on Tom Brady or something that went on the in the bathroom. I don’t know. Again, it’s up to Ted Wells. We’ll see what he determines.”

An Outside the Lines report said the unapproved special teams football was tried to be introduced in the first half of the AFC championship. Schefter said people became suspicious when Adam Vinatieri was attempting an extra point with 4:54 left in the second quarter and he noticed they were on the No. 2 ‘K’ ball.

Schefter was asked why the NFL employee was working the AFC championship game with a reported history of suspicious behavior with potentially stealing footballs intended for charity, but he said the league didn’t know the severity of things until after this particular game.

“The NFL has declined comment because it is an ongoing investigation,” Schefter said. “The way it has been explained to me, is this is a guy they were on to. At some point there, in the first or second quarter, he took one of the footballs, took it out of the game because he works for this group that is part of charitable endeavors. I didn’t even know this went on, to be honest with you. There are things I am learning about during this process that I never knew and I have covered the NFL for 25 years. …

“This one particular individual, this one NFL employee. An NFL employee, a game day employee, who would hand the balls to an equipment manager or whatever it may be, at one point he took the balls out of the game and was going to continue on in his pattern of behavior that the league had been on to and he recognized — for some reason they noticed that one of the balls was missing.

Adam Vinatieri tried an extra point and they were on to the No. 2 ‘K’ ball and not the No. 1. [Vinatieri] said, ‘What happened to the No. 1 ball?’ No. 1 was gone because the league employee had taken it out of the game to go [sell] it on the side. … It sounds like this game was probably the final straw that the [NFL] figured it out. They had been on to him. It was a pattern of behavior. It wasn’t for his behavior in this one particular game where a controversial Deflategate ball went missing, that is not it.

“This guy had been under their microscope and apparently they figured it out after this game. They have subsequently fired this particular NFL employee who worked on game days and gave the balls to the various ball boys — [Jim] McNally or the Patriots other equipment ball boys.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

On Roger Goodell and how he’s viewed among owners: “I think beleaguered is a very good word to describe Roger Goodell. I have not heard that word, not that it is some revolutionary word, but it is an excellent word to describe the state that he is currently existing in. I think the league has taken a lot of shots. I think this is another shot. It shows the lack of unity, security, organization, just basic things involved in such a key game. In that particular case, that falls under his umbrella. I don’t know that he is directly responsible for, even though there will be people that say he is, and so I think he has lost some support among ownership. I don’t think it is enough to topple his regime at this time, but you wonder how many more of these Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy, Deflategate, piping noise into the stadium incidents, there will be before people start to lose patience among NFL owners. I think, my sense will be, some have lost some patience and trust and whatnot, but not enough to topple him.”

On Robert Kraft and Roger Goodell’s relationship: “I think every relationship goes through different stages and dynamics at various points. I would imagine at this particular moment, it is not exactly as it once was, and that is not to say it wouldn’t get back to what it once was. Robert Kraft said what he said at the Super Bowl. He was very clear with his feelings. He spoke his mind and I don’t think anyone using those words could feel the exact same way about somebody that he squarely was in the corner of. Now, I still think he supports him. I still think Mr. Kraft is happy Roger Goodell is his Commissioner. I don’t think it is this unwavering support that once existed, I would guess.”

On if NFL executive Mike Kensil has something against the Patriots: “I don’t know. Everyone has their theories. I’m sure there are people who believe that, that he has got it out for Bill [Belichick]. There are people who think they can prove that. I don’t know whether that is right or not. That is up to the league to defend. That is up for Mike Kensil to defend. I can tell you that theory is out there and people have said that, you’re asking me about it. The idea that that perception exists is out there, we’ll say that.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
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Navy long snapper Joe Cardona was the only long snapper invited to the NFL combine. (Michael Chang/Getty Images)

Navy long snapper Joe Cardona was the only long snapper invited to the NFL combine. (Michael Chang/Getty Images)

It’s not often long snappers get invited to the NFL combine, but Navy long snapper Joe Cardona was fortunate enough to get an invite to Indianapolis this week. But, that isn’t the reason why Patriots coach Bill Belichick might be a fan of Cardona — it’s his background.

Belichick has a well-known history with Navy, as his dad coached there for 33 years and was where Belichick got into coaching — following his dad around and breaking down film with him. Not only did Cardona play at Navy, he was also a pretty good lacrosse player in high school, the sport Belichick excelled in during his college days at Wellesyan.

A California native, Cardona led his high school, Granite Hills to the 2010 conference title in lacrosse and was named the conference MVP as a midfielder his senior year and picked up second-team All-San Diego high school honors.

“I wasn’t a better lacrosse player than I was a long snapper,” Cardona told reporters at the combine Wednesday. “I definitely considered playing lacrosse in college.”

Cardona served as Navy’s starting long snapper for all four years, becoming just the second ever player to start at long snapper as a freshman in program history. He is grateful for being the only long snapper in the country to be invited to the combine this year.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s a pride thing. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to get to come here and compete. It’s a tremendous opportunity for me to showcase what I’ve worked so hard for.”

Not only is he the only long snapper at the combine, he may be the only player at the combine who even if he gets drafted, might not be able to play in the NFL next season.

The Navy requires five years of service, although there are some exceptions, including Eric Kettani who Belichick signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009, but then placed on the NFL’s Reserve/Military list. He was re-signed by the Patriots to their practice squad in 2011, but then called back to the Navy. He was then re-signed again by the team in 2012 before being let go from the team’s practice squad early in the year. He’s also seen time on the Redskins, Chiefs and Jaguars practice squads.

Cardona understands his situation and will do whatever the Navy asks.

“Well, anybody who goes to Naval Academy the service commitment is five years,” Cardona said. “But there’s been exceptions. Ultimately, it’s whatever the Navy wants to do with me and I’m ready and willing to do whatever they ask.”

He doesn’t know what the Navy will ask of him after graduating in May, and doesn’t have a timetable for their decision either.

“I can’t really comment on what their decision is going to be and when it will come,” Cardona said. “All I can say is that I’m excited for whatever comes next. Getting the opportunity to play football is a dream come true and I hope it comes to fruition. Ultimately, I’m excited to serve my country in May as a Naval officer.”

From a Patriots perspective, Cardona said he has actually spoken to Patriots long snapper Danny Aiken.

“I’ve gotten to meet Danny a couple of times it’s been awesome hanging out with him and getting to bounce ideas off of him and really talk about long snapping,” Cardona said.

The Patriots did bring in a long snapper to compete with Aiken this past preseason in Charley Hughlett, so it would not be out of the question to see the Patriots bring in another one this season, even through the draft.

With Cardona’s Navy and lacrosse background, as well as Belichick’s history in signing Navy players even with their potential commitments, it would not be a total shock to see the Patriots call Cardona’s name sometime on draft weekend.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

Even though John Harbaugh and the Ravens were not involved in the AFC championship game between the Patriots and Colts, doesn’t mean they haven’t been linked to Deflategate.

Jets head coach Todd Bowles doesn't seem to be concerned with the Patriots. (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Jets head coach Todd Bowles doesn’t seem to be concerned with the Patriots. (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Former Jets head coach Rex Ryan loved to talk about the Patriots, and wasn’t afraid to let it be known he wouldn’t back down to the team led by Bill Belichick.

New Jets head coach Todd Bowles seems to have a different approach, as the new coach said Wednesday at the NFL combine the rivalry doesn’t mean anything right now.

“I don’€™t think it means anything to us right now,” Bowles told reporters at the combine. “Right now, we’€™re trying to become the New York Jets and we’€™re trying to become a winning ballclub. We’€™re going to concentrate on us. You can’€™t beat the Patriots in February. Just beating the Patriots is not going to cut it if you lose to everybody else. We’€™ve got to have a growth process of how to win while we’€™re winning and trying to win and beat more than just the Patriots”.

With New York coming off a 4-12 season, the Jets have a lot of things to worry about besides the Patriots.

Bowles said the team first off needs to come together as one, working together to improve on a rough 2014 season.

“€œI would say belief. Belief,” Bowles said. “We’€™ve got to get them to play together. We’€™ve got to have accountability. We’€™ve got to jell as a team. They’€™ve got to be allowed to let the coaches coach them and we’€™ve got to understand what our players can and can’€™t do. The faster we can get that done, hopefully the faster we can turn this thing around.”

It would seem the first issue Bowles will need to address is what to do at quarterback, and if he wants to continue with Geno Smith, who turned the ball over 14 times this past season. Bowles said ultimately he will need to sit down and see him first-hand in order to make any kind of long-term decision.

“Right now, just watching film, he has a good arm, he’€™s a good athlete and he can throw the ball and make all the throws,” he said. “Without seeing the intangibles and not being able to talk to him personally, you’€™re not allowed to see what he knows and where his strengths are and how those things are. So as we go forward, when we get him in there, we’€™ve got to sit him down and see what he can and can’€™t do, what he’€™s good at, what he’€™s not good at, what kind of intangibles he has going forward.”

As for bringing in another quarterback, Bowles said there’s a chance of that happening.

“It’€™s possible,” he said. “It’€™s possible after we evaluate the draft picks and see where we are from there. We still have the free agency guys that we may try to bring in. A lot of it is getting to know Geno once we bring him in there. Obviously, we’€™d like to have somebody in place be it a veteran or a rookie right there.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
John Harbaugh said the Ravens were not part of Deflategate (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

John Harbaugh said the Ravens were not part of Deflategate (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Even though John Harbaugh and the Ravens were not involved in the AFC championship game between the Patriots and Colts, doesn’t mean they haven’t been linked to Deflategate.

Some believe the Ravens tipped the Colts off that the Patriots may have been using illegal footballs, as they had just played the Patriots the week before in the divisional round. Although during Super Bowl week Harbaugh admitted some Ravens had been interviewed as part of the investigation, Wednesday speaking at the NFL combine, Harbaugh said the Ravens were never involved in Deflategate.

“I wasn’t a part of that, per se,” Harbaugh said to reporters when asked if he had been interviewed. “As far as any other parts of that, or who was or wasn’t … first of all, I don’t know very much about it. And anything I do know I can’t comment on it. I really don’t care to to be honest with you. It’s in somebody else’s hands. We were never involved with it to begin with. We’ll just leave that for the people that are involved with it.”

Harbaugh was very adamant his team wasn’t involved at all, and doesn’t like the reports that have stated Baltimore had some connection.

“I already answered that at the Super Bowl pretty clearly,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t know who believed what or why. You’d have to ask them why they would believe something like that, or whoever put that out there why they would put that out there. There’s not one shred of any kind of fact that would in any way lead any reason to believe that’s true. It’s been a long time since that report’s been put out. There was nothing there. Didn’t happen. I’m not sure why it hasn’t been recanted, to be honest with you. I really don’t care about it. It means nothing to us. It’s a non-issue for us.”

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

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

Tuesday night ESPN’s Outside the Lines had a report of a Gillette Stadium locker room attendant giving an unapproved special teams football to an alternate referee to be put into play during th

Tuesday night ESPN’s Outside the Lines had a report of a Gillette Stadium locker room attendant giving an unapproved special teams football to an alternate referee to be put into play during the AFC title game against the Colts. Wednesday it’s being reported an NFL official was the one who gave the locker room attendant the football, as part of a sting of stealing game-used footballs intended for charity, and instead being sold for a profit.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the referee locker room attendant, Jim McNally, who tried to introduce the unapproved special teams football into the AFC Championship game was actually handed the football by an NFL official. One of the special teams balls went missing and an NFL official who is in charge of collecting game balls for charity gave another ball to McNally.

McNally then gave the football to Greg Yette, the alternate official who was in charge of putting the special teams balls into play. It was then Yette noticed the ball wasn’t one approved by head official Walt Anderson prior to the game, and it was then NFL officials in the press box were alerted.

The NFL official who gave the unapproved football to McNally has been fired for selling the footballs meant for charity for a profit over a period of time, according to Schefter.

Schefter will join Dennis & Callahan Thursday morning at 8:30 to discuss this story.

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

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable