Mike Mayock knows what sort of player Bill Belichick likes to target come draft weekend. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA Today Sports)
1. Predicting what the Patriots are going to do on draft weekend is always a bit of a fools’ errand. At the same time, there are some guys we’ve learned to listen to when it comes to Bill Belichick’s approach. It’s a small group that includes NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, a certified Friend of Belichick who seems unusually dialed in to the coach might do around the draft. (Maybe it’s because Mayock played briefly as a safety for the Giants when Belichick was an assistant coach in North Jersey, and the two have maintained a relationship ever since.) On a lengthy conference call with the media on Friday, Mayock was asked about what sort of player might appeal to the Patriots with the No. 60 overall pick, and whether or not New England is in decent shape because many pundits have suggested there’s not much of a difference in this draft between the 30th and 60th overall pick in terms of talent. He agreed, and listed three different positions and a handful of players who could end up with the Patriots.
Defensive line: “There’s got to be some defensive tackles, I would imagine, that are sitting there that look and smell like New England Patriots. I’m not sure if they’re looking for the three-technique quick guy like a Javon Hargrave from South Carolina State or Adolphus Washington of Ohio State or even a Sheldon Day (of Notre Dame), who is more of a nickel pass-rusher as a three-technique. My point is that they’ve got Malcolm Brown and Terrance Knighton that are big, strong, tough defensive tackles. (The Patriots) probably would like a three-technique type of guy that can get up the field and be really quick in the sub-package, and I think one of those type of guys will definitely be there.”
Running back: “I think the running back position could be interesting. (Utah’s) Devontae Booker, Kenneth Dixon from Louisiana Tech, (Jordan) Howard from Indiana, (Notre Dame’s) C.J. Prosise. I think the running back position could be very interesting there.”
Offensive line: “The offensive line thing is interesting. (Sebastian) Vollmer is 32 years old (and) had a bunch of injuries the last couple years. You start getting down into the bottom of the second round, and if you like the kid (Halapoulivaati) Vaitai from TCU, and (Auburn’s) Shon Coleman, (LSU’s) Gerald Hawkins, Le’Raven Clark (of Texas Tech), there are a bunch of names that could make sense for New England.”
2. While he’s not nearly at the same level as someone like Josh Norman — both from an on-field and contractual situation — the reps for Malcolm Butler must have taken note of the deal that Norman inked Friday night with the Redskins. While many of the details of the deal have yet to be revealed, initial reports indicate that Norman’s contract includes $36.5 million fully guaranteed over the first two years and could reach $50 million in total guaranteed cash, an astounding number for any player. Again, let’s make this clear: Butler isn’t Norman. But the deal is a sign that the market for good cornerbacks will only increase going forward. Put that against a backdrop where linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower are set to become unrestricted free agents following the 2016 season, and it could take some serious financial wrangling on the part of the Patriots to get Butler, Collins and Hightower all signed to long-term deals. Not saying it’s not possible — only that Norman’s new deal and another good year from Butler will really cost New England.
3. Every year, we like to have a little fun with some numerology posts, where we match up some new Patriots with a little history surrounding their new numbers in Foxboro. With the numbers for the new free agents coming out this week, we’ll fold the latest version into this week’s notebook:
53 — LB Ramon Humber
Linebackers Eric Martin and Jeff Tarpinian wore No. 53 the last few years, but the most distinguished No. 53 of the Belichick era was undoubtedly special teams captain Larry Izzo, who had it from 2001-08.
58 — LB Shea McClellin
Our buddy Matt Chatham wore it with distinction from 2000-05, but Jonathan Bostic, Steve Beauharnais and Tracy White all rocked No. 58 as of late.
65 — OL Jonathan Cooper
Not a great history — usually reserved for relatively anonymous offensive linemen. Jordan Devey, Nick McDonald and Wesley Britt have been the only three to wear it since 2008.
72 — DE Frank Kearse
Good number. Akiem Hicks sported No. 72 last year, and before that, it belonged to “Diamond” Joe Vellano for a stretch. But left tackle Matt Light was maybe the most notable No. 72 in franchise history.
83 — TE Martellus Bennett
Good number for a pass catcher — Wes Welker had it from 2007-2012, and Deion Branch wore it from 2002-2006. Bodes well for Bennett’s career in New England.
84 — WR Nate Washington
Another good number. Branch wore it during his second stint with the Patriots (2010-2012). In addition, Benjamin Watson (2004-2009), Shawn Jefferson (1996-99) and Darryl Stingley (1973-77) all wore in while in New England.
88 — TE Clay Harbor
Long a destination number for backup tight ends. Scott Chandler had it last season, while Matthew Mulligan, Sam Aiken and Kyle Brady also had it in their stints with the Patriots. (Shout out to WEEI teammate Christian Fauria, who made it his own when he was with New England from 2002-05.)
94 — DL Markus Kuhn
Ty Warren, Shaun Ellis, Justin Francis and Chris Jones all had No. 94 going back for the last decade or so.
95 — DE Chris Long
Long took No. 95 with the blessing of former Patriots’ defensive end Chandler Jones, who had it the previous four years before being dealt to Arizona this offseason. Our personal favorite — Roman Phifer — also had No. 95 from 2001-04.
96 — DT Terrance Knighton
Those digits have an up-and-down history in Foxboro in recent years: Adalius Thomas (2007-09), Jermaine Cunningham (2010-12) and Andre Carter (2013). A mixed bag, to say the least.
4. Our final Sunday pre-draft note deals with leadership. In the last five years, New England has made 48 draft picks, and 24 of them have been college captains. Last year, that included second-round pick Jordan Richards, fourth-rounders Trey Flowers and Shaq Mason and seventh-round selection Darryl Roberts. Over the last few years, the former college captains who have gone on to bigger and better things with the Patriots include Devin McCourty and Dont’a Hightower.
5. For those of you still holding out hope the Patriots will be able to figure out a way to beat the system on draft weekend, it’s important to remember that New England isn’t just prohibited from picking at No. 29. When it came to the punishment, the league added the wrinkle that if New England added a first-round pick via a trade, it would be forced to forfeit the better of the two picks. (Either the No. 29 pick or the one stripped by He Who Shall Not Be Named.) That being said, even with the Deflategate penalty, the Patriots could theoretically trade for the 30th, 31st or 32nd pick of the first round. Regardless, this is the fourth time in the Belichick era the Patriots have been without a first-round pick — they also were without one in 2013, 2009 and in 2000. “Our philosophy is we control the things that we can control,” Patriots personnel chief Nick Caserio said earlier this week when asked about not having a first-round selection. “Our job is to prepare for the draft and whatever our picks are, then be prepared to pick. A lot of that is out of our hands. There’s nothing we can do about that, so there’s no sense in spending extra time on it. … We’re just going to try and prepare for the draft and take advantage of our opportunities when we pick.”
6. Speaking of “integrity,” the Chiefs got the bad news this week that their third-round pick won’t be returned following a thumbs-down from The Ginger Hammer on a potential appeal of their tampering case involving wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. Kansas City loses a third-rounder this year and a sixth-rounder next season, the harshest sanctions ever handed down in a tampering case. Per usual, the commish was the one who imposed the penalties, and also heard the appeal before going all Roman Emperor on Kansas City. Following the news, the Chiefs issued a statement. “We appreciate the opportunity to make our appeal on this matter, and we acknowledge the minor reduction in fines imposed,” team chairman Clark Hunt said. “However, we continue to believe that the facts of this case combined with the league’s inconsistent enforcement of its tampering policies do not warrant the most severe penalty for player-related tampering in league history.” Curious if there were any phone calls between Foxboro and Kansas City this week to commiserate about the situation.
7. It was an excellent round of free agency for the players this year, as the dollars were flowing at a record rate this spring. According to the NFLPA, an just over six weeks, 338 total players were signed, with 236 of those as unrestricted free agents, 20 as restricted free agents and 82 as “other” free agents. The total guaranteed money to players through this period was $1,026,095,000, an increase of 14.1 percent from last year and an all-time record for NFL free agency. With all that being said, there are a handful of free agents who are still on the market. Here’s a look at how a current roster of unsigned (and unrestricted) free agents might look. (You put this roster in the AFC South, and it could win you between six and eight games.)
Offense: Quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Hoyer; running backs Arian Foster and Reggie Bush; wide receivers Anquan Boldin, James Jones, Roddy White, Andre Johnson and Wes Welker; offensive linemen Jahri Evans and Will Beatty.
Defense: Defensive linemen Dominique Easley, Greg Hardy and Kroy Biermann; linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Donald Butler; cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie, Leon Hall and Jerraud Powers; safeties Will Hill, Donte Whitner, Dashon Goldson and Brandon Meriweather.
8. Speaking of free agent quarterbacks, the Jets continue to do an interesting dance with Fitzpatrick and Hoyer. Last week, reports indicated that while Fitzpatrick was out with some of his teammates from last year at a hockey game, Hoyer was dining with New York brass. Not to suggest that either one of them are Pro Bowlers, but with the draft looming, the Jets are playing a dangerous game when it comes to Hoyer and Fitzpatrick — fundamentally, New York finds itself as one of a few teams still playing musical chairs at quarterback. Depending on what happens over the next week with the draft, if the Jets aren’t careful, they could find themselves with neither one when the music stops. Two more things worth noting: one, the early returns on the QB Class of 2017 aren’t good. And two, in previous years, New York hasn’t been shy about pushing all its chips to the middle of the table and trading up for a guy they believe to be a franchise quarterback. Could the Jets trade up into the top 3 at the last moment to land either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz? It would cost a sizable portion of their draft capital, but with New York and the draft, no matter the GM, you never say never.
9. While we’ve written a lot about the relationship between the Patriots, the 3-cone drill, and their scouting of defensive backs and wide receivers, it appears that you can also draw a line between Seattle, the broad jump and offensive linemen. It appears that the Seahawks favor offensive linemen who perform really well in the broad jump, with the understanding that it’s a drill that measures explosiveness. According to this story, since 2012, the Seahawks have not drafted a single offensive lineman that has jumped less than a nine-foot broad jump. More food for thought when it comes to Seattle’s draft approach: since 2012 the Seahawks have not selected any of the 15 best O-line performers in the short shuttle or 3-cone at the combine. (In short, explosiveness trumps agility.) For a team that is undergoing a bit of a reboot across the offensive line, these are all stats worth keeping in mind when the Seahawks are on the clock.
10. This week on “NFL Sunday,” we’ll break down the draft with Josh Norris of Rotoworld and NBC Sports, and we’ll also talk with Northwestern’s Dan Vitale, considered the top fullback in the draft and a prospect that has drawn the attention of the Patriots. Join me and Mike Giardi from 9-11 a.m. on Sunday morning, only on WEEI.