The Sporting News ranked their top sports analysts, and Jessica Mendoza was ranked as the best baseball analyst. Glenn, Lou and Christian rip the list and just wish people were honest when assessing Mendoza's performance.
Current roster: Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Shea McClellin, Jonathan Freeny, Jon Bostic, Ramon Humber, Rufus Johnson, James Vaugthers, Tony Steward and the one they call Kevin Snyder
Positional overview: You make a case that linebacker is a lower priority on a team that now plays five defensive backs as a base defense. Not to mention Hightower and Collins are two of the best football players on the roster and they’ve added McClellin. But you would be wrong. The Patriots have been scary thin at this position for years, and the retirement of Jerod Mayo (even a Mayo that was a shadow of his former self) makes them even more so. And, while I hate to focus on possible apocalyptic scenarios, both Hightower and Collins will be coming to the end of their rookie contracts soon. And this is a team that always addresses a position a year before it has to address a position. And while I’m not about to tar anyone with the words “injury” or “prone,” in the seven combined years those two have played, they have a total of two complete seasons between them.
For the purpose of this breakdown, I’m going to assume the Pats will feature a predominantly 4-3 set. So when I refer to inside vs. outside, I’m talking about your basic stacked linebackers as opposed to a Willie McGinest 3-4 defensive end type. That said, Bill Belichick’s “type” has to be the kind who is tough, can move around, can stop the run, can play up on the line, can bring pressure from the A-gap and on occasion line up in the slot. Above all else, the kind of football beautiful mind where the film shows you diagnosing plays pre-snap and flowing to the ball before the runner even has it. That’s the stuff that makes him send you the friend requests on MyFace.
Inside linebacker who will go in the first round:
Reggie Ragland, Alabama 6-foot-1, 247 pounds, 4.74 40 time
Ragland is your prototype inside linebacker who could either play Sam in a 3-4 or Mike in a 4-3. He’s a physical presence who gave Bama 102 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and seven passes defensed. No one would accuse him of being a decathlete, but he has instincts enough to have played well in zone coverage. Most gurus think he projects as a three-down back in the NFL, which is odd because Nick Saban didn’t play him that way, taking him off the field in most sub-packages. Still, he’s a top half of the first round pick, no question.
Outside linebackers who will go in the first round:
Myles Jack, UCLA 6-foot-1, 245 pounds, 4.52 40 time
Jack’s biggest issue is he only played three games in 2015 due to a knee injury. But he’s the kind of natural athlete who has scouts wagging their tails, twitching their paws and barking while they’re sleeping on the rug in the living room. He’s athletic enough that they put him in the slot, including trusting him one-on-one against then-USC (now Jaguars) receiver Marqise Lee in zero coverage.
Leonard Floyd, Georgia 6-foot-6, 244 pounds, 4.60 40 time
Whatever you need to know about Floyd starts with that height and weight. He’s a tall, rangy guy with arms and legs like Spongebob, and many scouts wonder if he can put on the weight he’ll need to stand up to the gargantuans he’ll be lining up against. He’ll probably land a job on the edge in a 3-4 or as a matchup pass rusher. But in this era of football, there’s plenty of work to be had when your specialty is passing downs.
Darron Lee, Ohio State 6-foot-1, 232 pounds, 4.47 40 time
You know how Prince would find some unknown woman, start dating her, then give her a makeover until she looked like a Prince chick? How no matter what they were like before, he sort of shaped them into that Vanity/Sheila E./Apollonia look he liked? Lee could be that girl for whichever team picks him up. Put weight on him and he could play inside-the-box linebacker. Have him drop weight and he could be a strong safety. Or he could fit a 3-4 Will role because he’s so similar to Deone Bucannon of the Cardinals. It’s going to be interesting to watch where he goes and what his team does with him. But it won’t be Foxboro because he’ll never make it to the 60th pick.
Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame 6-foot-2, 235 pounds, 4.60 40 time
Healthy, there’s no question Smith is the best linebacker in this draft. As a matter of fact, he could have been the No. 1 overall pick had he not blown out his knee, suffering tears to his ACL and MCL and nerve damage at the Fiesta Bowl. Prior to that he was the total package. Versatile enough to have played outside as an edge rusher early in his career, played with power in the run game, with elite change of direction and sideline-to-sideline speed. Against Stanford he dominated highly regarded O-line prospect Joshua Garrett. He was also a team captain for the Irish, which is among the Patriots’ most prized qualities. It is a total crapshoot how far Smith’s injuries will allow him to drop. But if his medicals are decent and he makes it to the 60s? I don’t see how they can pass him up.
Inside ‘backers who should be available when the Patriots pick:
Scooby Wright III, Arizona. 6-foot-0, 239 pounds, 4.90 40 time
This Funny Name Society member missed all but three games with a torn meniscus. Even without the injury, the jury is out about his athleticism. But they did reach a verdict on his production. And they found him guilty on all counts of making plays. Lots and lots of plays. As a sophomore in Tuscon, he had an insane 163 tackles, led the nation in tackles for loss (29) and forced fumbles (six) and was fourth in sacks with 14.5. His lack of size and speed probably make him a liability in the passing game, but his energy and toughness will earn him a Day 2 selection.
Kentrell Brothers, Missouri. 6-foot-0, 245 pounds, 4.89 40 time
Missouri lined him up at Will in its base package and slid him to the middle in nickel. He’s a terrific run defender who plays with pop and power, especially when he’s able to run downhill and aggressively attack the line. The problem is everything I just described would make a bigger physical specimen elite, but at only 6-foot-nothin’, he may just be a smaller Brandon Spikes.
Prospects the Patriots met with and will be on the board when they pick:
Su’a Cravens, USC. 6-foot-1, 226 pounds, 4.69 40 time
Cravens is another tweener guy who could play a hybrid linebacker/safety at the next level. Big enough to trust against tight ends and backs, agile enough to put on slot receivers. Though he’d likely be nothing more than underneath bracket help against top receivers. He’s excellent in run force, with just the right blend of fearlessness mixed with lack of self-preservation instinct to dive at blockers’ legs to take them out and free up teammates to make the tackle. You can see where the Pats would spend one of their allowed visits, because this kid could be a folk hero.
Kamalei Correa, Boise State 6-foot-2, 243 pounds, 4.69 40 time
This is an interesting choice to meet with because he doesn’t really seem to be a system fit. He projects as a DE/OLB in the pros and doesn’t meet the Pats’ 6-4, 4-6 criteria (6-foot-4 or bigger, 4.6 or faster) at the position. But he did run really well at the Lucas Oil Olympics and has the burst to have repeatedly caught people from behind in college. More of a rush specialist than anyone you’d let drop into coverage. But he comes from the same program as McClellin, so they must like how the Broncos run a system.
Most intriguing late-round prospects Patriots met with:
De’Vondre Campbell, Minnesota 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, 4.58 40 time
Campbell is a physical specimen whose game tape hasn’t always matched his tools. He’s raw, but also the team leader type with big special teams production, both of which the Pats covet. He doesn’t have much experience given that he transferred from community college. But there’s definitely some potential there for a team in no gigantic hurry. He could contribute right away on special teams, and a project to be coached up for a role down the road.
C.J. Johnson, Ole Miss 6-foot-1, 234 pounds, 4.81 40 time
After three years at defensive end, the last of which was on the nation’s leading scoring defense, the Rebels moved him to inside linebacker last season. The results were not great. As you might imagine for a guy making such a move, at times he got caught in the wash on misdirections and bit badly on play action. Still, coaches loved his intangibles. He might not be able to make it at inside linebacker in the pros, but to a team that values versatility as much as the Patriots do, he can contribute.
The perfect Patriot:
Jaylon Smith. It goes without saying I’m talking about a healthy, top-of-the-draft Jaylon Smith and not “spending New Year’s Day being carted off to the emergency room with a ripped-up knee and shattered dreams” Smith. But how can you not be tempted by all that upside? The Patriots are more predisposed toward taking chances with elite players who drop due to medicals than any staff in the league. Sometimes the results are a kick in the groin (Dominique Easley, Ras-I “IR” Dowling), sometimes they are spectacular (Rob Gronkowski). And if there is any chance he falls to them, I absolutely see them jumping at the chance to get the next (read: 2017) great Patriots linebacker.
Whom they’ll take if Smith is off the board:
Su’a Cravens. As the big nickel hybrid role they tried to fill for years and finally found in the Pat Chung 2.0 era, Cravens would have multiple chances to contribute right away.
Dino, Gerry and Kirk complain about not being able to go to Cleveland for the Republican National Convention.
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WEDNESDAY’S BROADCAST HIGHLIGHTS:
MLB: Braves at Red Sox, 7:10 p.m. (NESN; WEEI-FM)
MLB: Padres at Giants, 3:45 p.m. (MLB Network)
MLB: Yankees at Rangers, 8:05 p.m. (ESPN)
NBA playoffs: Hornets at Heat, 8 p.m. (TNT)
NBA playoffs: Trail Blazers at Clippers, 10 p.m. (NBA TV)
NBA playoffs: Rockets at Warriors, 10:30 p.m. (TNT)
NHL playoffs: Islanders at Lightning, 7 p.m. (NBCSN)
NHL playoffs: Predators at Ducks, 10 p.m. (NBCSN)
MLS: Timbers at Revolution, 7:30 p.m. (CSNNE)
Soccer: UEFA Champions, Bayern Munich at Club Atletico de Madrid, 2:30 p.m. (FS1)
AROUND THE WEB:
— A bad week got worse for the Clippers on Tuesday, as Blake Griffin was ruled out for the rest of the playoffs after aggravating his partially torn left quadriceps tendon, and Chris Paul underwent surgery on his broken hand that will sideline him indefinitely.
Both players were injured in Monday’s Game 4 loss to the Trail Blazers that left the first-round series tied heading into Wednesday’s Game 5. One day after it appeared things might finally be lining up for a long playoff run after three years of disappointing finishes, the team appears headed for another frustrating ending.
“It’s bum’s luck three years in a row,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “What can you do? All you can do is you’ve just got to keep going.”
It seemed likely that Paul would not return this postseason after he got his hand caught in Gerald Henderson’s jersey and suffered a broken third metacarpal in his right hand. However, now there is speculation that he might return in a few weeks, if the team was able to reach the Western Conference finals.
“It’s not as long as I think some may think it would be,” Rivers said. “That’s the good news, but we don’t know how long yet.”
Rivers attempted to stay positive despite the setbacks, insisting: “We have won games before without key guys, and I think we can win games in the future without key guys.”
Added Rivers: “I get down for like five minutes, and I was [Monday] night, but you wake up in the morning and you feel like we’re going to find a way, and it’s my job to try to get them to feel like I feel. If we do that, I think we’ll have a fighting chance.”
— Assuming Tom Brady’s four-game suspension holds, one of the games he’ll miss will be a home game against the Dolphins. But there is no rejoicing in Miami, as the Dolphins have their own issues.
Reshad Jones, the highest-paid strong safety in the league, is skipping offseason workouts because he wants a new contract, the Miami Herald reported. Jones is entering the third year of a four-year, $28 million contract, and he wants a raise.
Controversial defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh also was absent, as he apparently prefers to work out at Nike headquarters in Oregon. The Herald reports that his teammates are not pleased with Suh’s approach, a continuation of his behavior from last season, his first with Miami after departing Detroit as a free agent.
“I’m not going to get upset about anything on the first day of voluntary veteran minicamp,” Gase told the Herald when asked about Jones. “We’ll see how everything goes once we get to June.”
— If anyone thought Curt Schilling would go away quietly after his firing from ESPN, the former Red Sox pitcher made it clear this week that would not be the case.
One of his reposts this week featured a picture of Prince with a quote attributed to the recently deceased music star in which he criticizes Democrats and says he votes Republican. However, no one has been able to verify that Prince actually spoke those words. In fact, it’s been widely discredited as a hoax.
Schilling did not immediately respond to the latest round of criticism.
ON THIS DAY TRIVIA (answer below): On April 27, 1950, Red Auerbach was named coach of the Celtics. Which coach did he replace?
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “They put two or three guys on me every time I touched the ball. Their game plan was to let the other guys beat us. It should be a sign of disrespect to my teammates to put two on the ball every time I have it. Other guys have to step up and make plays, that’s what it comes down to.” — Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas, after scoring a season-low seven points in Tuesday’s 110-83 loss to the Hawks