Redskins @ Broncos: Preview

London Fletcher will make a record 246th consecutive start in the NFL Sunday night as the Washington Redskins visit Denver’s Mile High stadium.

Fletcher though, won’t have the toughest job of the night on Sunday, that job belongs to Washington’s defensive co-ordinator Jim Haslett.

Haslett has to somehow produce a performance from a defense that is 2nd worst against the pass this season, averaging 8.5 yards per attempt. Tonight’s opposing quarterback – certain hall-of-famer – Payton Manning, has a 71.6% pass completion rating while throwing for 2,565 yards and 25 touchdowns already this season.

The Redskins have to get to Peyton Manning. The wily Broncos quarterback has seen every disguised scheme teams can throw at him and his is the best at reading them. Washington needs to make the most of the absence of Broncos starting left tackle Ryan Clady, who is out for the remainder of the season.

Manning was sacked four times in last week’s loss to his old team; the Andrew Luck led Indianapolis Colts. Winston Justice is not in the same calibre as Clady, and Brian Orakpo and the rest of the Washington pass rushers need to get limit the time Manning has to throw or he will destroy them.

Teams have struggled to limit the Broncos offense this season, Demaryius Thomas, Welker, Decker and the Julius Thomas have proved to be effective weapons for John Fox’s team and limiting the time Manning has on the ball is the key to stopping the Broncos aerial offense, although Knowshon Moreno is still a red-zone threat on the ground.

Cornerback Champ Bailey could miss the game for Denver as he did not practice at the end of the week due to taking a knock against the Colts.

The Good news for Washington is that despite not practicing earlier in the week, Tight Ends, Jordan Reed and Logan Paulsen, should be fit to suit up on tonight.

Robert Griffin III, so often the subject of debate this season seems to be approaching his 2012 form at last. After early season struggles Griffin is now running the ball much better, he gained 84 yards on 11 carries against the Bears last weekend, a season’s best.

With his running game improving this has allowed Griffin’s passing game to find a groove as well. Against Chicago, RG III showed much better zip on the ball and he looks to be nearing his best, which is great news for Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

While Alfred Morris is the number one running back in DC, Roy Helu JR – the third year RB out of Nebraska showed he can be a real threat in the red zone last week against the bears, scoring three touchdowns. While he is not likely to do this every week Helu is looking to be a good back-up option.

Washington will be hoping to get the win against Manning and co. that could see them go on a run to match the unbeaten stretch of last season.

OTP prediction Redskins 24 – Broncos 38

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Redskins @ Raiders: Preview

The Washington Redskins are 0-3 for the first time since 2001 and will be hoping to buck their recent run of defeats tonight against the Oakland Raiders today.

Oakland is 2-1 in the AFC West at this point, having been beaten by the Denver Broncos last week.

Tyrelle Pryor is starting to show promise at the QB position for Oakland but he is likely to be sidelined by injury for today’s game at the O.co Coliseum, meaning a start for free agent signing Matt Flynn.

Both teams will need to stop the opposition running game in this one, with Darren McFadden and Darius Heyward Bey providing a significant threat on the ground, even without Prior under centre.

Denarius Moore will be hoping to give Brandon Meriweather and the rest of the Washington secondary as much trouble as Calvin Johnson did last week, but ‘Megatron’ is a class above. Moore can still be a thorn in the side of Jim Haslett’s defense though.

For Washington Robert Griffin III is slowly starting to look like the player he was last season, with a 21 yard run against Detroit. Although he has to start sliding feet first, as the very same run led to him sliding head first and fumbling the ball for the Lions to gratefully receive.

Ball control, once again has to be key for Coach Mike Shanahan’s team. As well as Griffin’s fumble Aldrick Robinson also lost control of the ball on a 57 yard pass from Griffin that would have been a touchdown.

Alfred Morris would appear to be Washington’s biggest threat tonight, in a game that could go wither way. If Flynn struggles to get going for Oakland they will most certainly rely on the kicking of Sebastian Janiskowski.

Redskins’ tight ends Fred Davis and rookie Jordan Reed could both miss playing time today due to injuries. After tonight’s game Washington goes into a bye week, which might not come soon enough.

Washington is picking up yards in the air – they are fifth in the league with an average of 307 ypg, but the wide receivers don’t look too convincing thus far. This yardage is an almost direct result of Griffin’s decline in running production.

If Griffin can get running again, and it is a big if, Washington could cause the Oakland defense all kinds of problems.

OTP prediction: Washington 21 – 17 Oakland

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Eagles @ Redskins: Preview

Image source: AP

Image source: AP

The Washington Redskins take on their NFC East rivals the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football at FedEx Field.

Last year, Washington, led by rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III stunned the league and won the NFC East, along the way outscoring the Eagles 58-26 over both games, with Griffin and fellow rookie phenomenon Alfred Morris rushing for a combined total of over 400 yards.

It is difficult to see Philadelphia being as poor as they were last season. They finished 4-12 after a season of personal tragedy for former head coach Andy Reid, who has since departed for Kansas.

New Philly coach Chip Kelly will be hoping his fast-paced “blur” offense can leave the Redskins defense struggling. The Eagles are an undoubtedly talented team, this year should be different for them than the last one.

Robert Griffin III is fully expected to play on Monday night after successfully rehabilitating his injured knee over the spring/summer. If Griffin’s knee holds up and he is even at 80% effectiveness Philadelphia will have a game on their hands.

Alfred Morris, who leapt to the top of the running back depth chart prior to the 2012 season is firmly entrenched as the number one running back in Washington. Despite competition from Roy Helu Jr, Evan Royster and rookie Chris Thompson, Morris is the clear talent. Holding franchise records for most touchdowns in a rookie season and single season rushing yards with 1613 yards, fans will be hoping for more of the same.

The Washington defense should be stronger this year, particularly in pass rush situations and at the safety position. The defensive backs need to be more consistent and this is one reson several were drafted, including second round pick cornerback David Amerson, and safeties Philip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo.

Against the Eagles the Redskins need to stop Chip kelly’s offense, led by Michael Vick, who beat out Nick Foles for the starting job. Vick has looked good in pre-season. One previous criticism of Vick was that he took too many hits, he has been smooth in pre-season and looks to be making good choices and delivering the ball well. Lane Johnson’s drafting at number four overall in round one should help to keep the pocket from collapsing, giving Vick time to make decisions.

The Eagles wide receivers have taken a knock with the torn ACL and MCL of Jeremy Maclin, although it is debatable whether Riley Cooper is the guy to step up. Cooper has had issues this summer, including being labelled a racist.

Source: Rod Lamkey Photography

Source: Rod Lamkey Photography

LeSean McCoy is still a significant danger at the running back position, and will likely be picked up quickly in many fantasy drafts. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson can stretch the field and pull in some unlikely scores.

The tight end group of the Eagles is reliable, with veterans Brent Celek and James Casey offering some production, which should be supplemented by the addition of rookie Zach Ertz.

Much like the Redskins, the Eagles defense will need to be on top of their game. They got overrun by Griffin and co. at times last year and they will be hoping the addition of safety Pat Chung can bolster the secondary, but keeping healthy has always been the issue for former Patriot Chung.

Special teams and penalty decisions could play a key role in the outcome of this likely fast-paced game.

Outside the Pocket Prediction: Redskins 31 – 28 Eagles.

The Redskins just sneak this open high-scoring game, with a field goal from Kai Forbath taking the points.

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Redskins 2013: The Rookies

This year’s rookie class is unlikely to be as exciting as last year’s RG III led group; though the rookies of 2013 will be aiming to become an integral part of coach Shanahan’s legacy.

While last year’s draft was all about the franchise quarterback and his able deputy, this year Washington were heavily focused on defense.

As part of the 2012 trade with the St Louis Rams for last year’s pick, used to grab Griffin, the Redskins had no 1st round choice this time around.

Rambo, Thomas and Amerson

Image source: Washington Post

With their second round pick Washington took North Carolina cornerback David Amerson. Cornerback is an area of need for the Redskins, with the play in the secondary inconsistent at best at times last year. Amerson will need to improve on the play he showed in pre-season to be truly effective, he has been up and down and occasionally earns silly penalty flags, this will need to stop. Amerson will need to be up to speed quickly with DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson dealing with injuries.

Florida tight end Jordan Reed could come in and do a job for Washington after being chosen in the third round. Reed projects as the fourth tight end on the roster behind veterans Niles Paul, Fred Davis and Logan Paulson. The rookie could jump the depth chart with any injury by the veteran group, in a position not known for its stand-out performers last year.

Fourth round pick, strong safety Philip Thomas definitely has to get healthy to have a chance of regular play time. Brandon Meriweather looked good last year when he could stay healthy but Reed Doughty was inconsistent and with some consistent play Thomas could nail down a spot. Thomas starts the season on injured reserve.

The first pick of the fifth round saw Washington select Florid State running back Chris Thompson. Unlikely to be this year’s ‘Alfred Morris’, Thompson has to improve is ball handling skills if he is to beat out Evan Royster and Roy Helu Jr for the right to back up Morris.

Also in the fifth round the Redskins added to their linebacking group. Florida State alumnus Brandon Jenkins has a chance of grabbing some play time as the fith linebacker on the team, any suspension or injury to Rob Jackson should see Jenkins in as a reserve.

Sixth round selection Bacarri Rambo has made his way to the top of the depth chart at the Free Safety position and is in line to start right away. The 6’0″ Georgia man has questionable tackling ability, but has made progress since being drafted. His determination and work ethic should lead to success, whether it is this year remains to be seen.

Former Rutgers Scarlet Knight and seventh round pick, running back Jawan Jamison, was the only drafted player not to make the cut, but the Redskins have placed him on the practice squad for 2013, along with three undrafted rookies, linebacker Will Compton, offensive tackle Xavier Nixon, offensive lineman Tevita Stevens and wide receiver Nick Williams. Linebacker Jeremy Kimbraugh has been placed on IR.

One practice squad player to keep an eye on is Chase Minnifield. Although not technically a rookie, Minnifield spent last year on IR and is yet to make the field for Washington. He has some time to make up for but is undeniably talented. Expected Minnifield to be activated if one of Washington’s five cornerbacks is ruled out long term.

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Patriots 2013: The Rookies

The Patriots 2012 draft was all about moving up to stock up on defensive studs. Bill Belichick broke with his tradition of stocking up on draft picks, moving up to take both Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower.

This year’s draft saw the team reverting to the usual formula of collecting draft picks.

The Vikings, quite unbelievably, gave up three picks to take New England’s first round selection off their hands.

Until the 52nd pick of the draft, when the team selected linebacker Jamie Collins of , Patriots fans had to sit an wait. Collins has shown glimpses of real ability in pre-season. He is extremely athletic and has been very good positionally. Collins will be hoping to see a lot of playing time this season, especially with the possibility of Brandon Spikes leaving at the end of the year when his contract is up.

With their own pick in the second round New England selected big-bodied Marshall wide receiver Aaron Dobson. The 6′ 3″ Dobson has good hands and adds a real outside receiving presence that the Patriots have arguably lacked since the days of Randy Moss prowling the field.

The third round saw New England draft the first of a bunch of Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Logan Ryan. The cornerback has impressed in pre-season in the backfield alongside fellow alumnus of Rutgers, Devin McCourty and will feature this season.

Next in round three New England took their second member of the Rutgers secondary, and the surprise pick of the draft, Duron Harmon. Many people had a much lower draft grade on Harmon than the third round and he probably could have been picked up at least 1-2 rounds later. Harmon projects as a reserve but he has made the 53 man roster, he clearly has something Belichick likes.

Fourth round pick Josh Boyce, the 2nd wide receiver taken by the Patriots in this draft has slipped more in pre-season than anyone else. Boyce has struggled at times and looked very good at others, and this inconsitency has meant his play has been overshadowed by UDFA rookie, Kenbrell Thompkins and Dobson. (link)

With no picks in round five and six it is not surprising that New England drafted DE/DT Michael Buchanan with their first of two picks in round seven. In the final pre-season game, Buchanan played well and probably helped himself to seal one of the roster spots of the players ‘on the bubble’.

The final selection of the Pats 2013 draft was another Scarlet Knight, linebacker Steve Beaurharnais, whom I can’t help but call “Steak Sauce”. Beaurharnais seems to have the versatility that coach Belichick covets, he has some pass-rush ability, is regarded as a good run blocker and plays special teams.

Three UDFA rookies have made the 53 man roster and a fourth would have been a possibility. Wide receiver TJ Moe has been placed on injured reserve (IR) and will be hoping to make an impact in 2014, if not before.

Each of the three UDFA rookies to make the roster has fought hard and showed genuine skill in pre-season, with each beating out a veteran in the position to make the cut.

Wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins has quickly earned the trust of Tom Brady. While Thompkins does not have ‘stand out’ measurables, he has done everything asked of him in pre-season. Thompkins has arguably climbed above Josh Boyce in the depth chart right now.

Zach Sudfeld has beaten off competition at what was a well stacked TE group, even without Hernandez. Seudfeld had the perennially injured superstar Rob Gronkowski, Daniel Fells, Jake Ballard and Michael Hoomanawanui in front of him. With the Patriots only keeping three tight ends Sudfeld making the roster alongside Gronk and the Hooman should not be taken lightly.

Perhaps the biggest surprise (in some corners) is that rookie Ryan Allen beat out the hugely popular Zoltan Mesko to be the punter for the Pats this season. Allen is a winner of the Ray Guy award for the best college punter in the country, so perhaps at a saving of over $800,000 this season maybe it is no surprise at all?

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Mock draft, what would you do?

2013 Outside the Pocket mock draft

#1 Chiefs – Luke Joeckel – OT – Texas A&M
This could quite easily be Eric Fisher, but I believe Joeckel’s big school pedigree sees him being taken over the slightly more athletic Fisher. Joeckel is in many people’s minds the consensus number one pick.

#2 Jags – Eric Fisher – OT – Central Michigan
Many mock drafts have the Jags taking Dion Jordan here, but with Blaine Gabbert under centre and Chad Henne as the back-up, keeping the QB upright could be key. I’m thinking they take Eric Fisher to help this.

#3 Raiders – Star Lotulelei – DT – Utah
The Raiders could well go for Lane Johnson here making it three offensive tackles taken in the top three draft picks (when did this last happen?) I think the Raiders will try to trade down to stack up on picks, but should they be unable to do so they go for arguably the best defensive tackle in the draft – Star Lotulelei.

#4 Eagles – Dion Jordan – DE – Oregon
Jordan boosts the Eagles pass-rush here. As the Eagles pair him with his college coach Chip Kelly. Don’t rule out another team trading up to get to this spot in order to try to stop the Lions getting the next man.

#5 Lions – Dee Milliner – CB – Alabama
Detriot take Dee Milliner here if he is still on the board, much to the upset of the Browns, and possibly Milliner. Another Nick Saban product, Milliner is the best cornerback of this year’s class.

#6 Browns – Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah – DE/OLB – BYU
Having missed out on Milliner, the Browns add to the work they did in the off-season by bringing in BYU defensive end, and raw talent Ziggy Ansah.

#7 Cardinals – Sharrif Floyd – DT – Florida
Arizona takes highly rated University of Florida DT Sharrif Floyd with the seventh pick in this draft. Some experts view Floyd as the top defensive tackle in the draft and the Cardinals will be happy to have him.

#8 Bills – Chance Warmack – G – Alabama
Many mock drafts have Buffalo taking Geno Smith or Ryan Nassib at this spot. They need to keep Kevin Kolb safe, so I think they will go for the best guard on the board at this point and that is Chance Warmack. There is depth at QB and also the possibility that Nassib may still be around at the top of round two.

#9 Jets – Barkevious Mingo – DE/OLB – LSU
They’d love Tavon Austin but they need pass rushers, so they go for the best one available, hoping Austin will still be around when they use the 13th pick they got from Tampa in the Revis trade – he won’t. The Jets then, pick Barkevious Mingo, the man with possibly the best name in the draft, giving them a high energy player who makes their pass rush better from day one.

#10 Titans – Jonathan Cooper – G – North Carolina
Mingo could’ve been the pick here but instead they add guard Jonathan Cooper in a bid to try to protect Jake Locker and keep him on the field.

#11 Chargers – Tavon Austin – WR – West Virginia
Austin is a playmaker who can make a difference to Phillip Rivers’ performance by opening up throwing lanes and the Chargers can’t afford to let the opportunity to sign someone as dynamic as Austin pass them by.

#12 – Dolphins – Lane Johnson – OT – Oklahoma
The Dolphins need a tackle to replace Jake Long so they take Jane Lonnson and quite frankly they can’t believe he has dropped to number twelve. Johnson has the calibre of a top ten pick, and will be if a team like the Titans go a slightly different way.

#13 – Jets (Via Bucs) – Xavier Rhodes – CB – Florida State
The Jets make their second pick in the round and they opt for cornerback Xavier Rhodes. They have a need following Revis’ departure to Florida, but Rhodes will only be available if the Fins don’t pick him. If he is gone the Jets may try to trade down to stockpile later picks.

#14 – Panthers – Sheldon Richardson – DT – Missouri
Defensive Tackle Sheldon Richardson out of Missouri is rising up a number of draft boards, he is relatively inexperienced but the game tape is there.

#15 – Saints – Cornellius “Tank” Carradine – DE/DT – Florida State
Carradine started the season on fire, but suffered an injury and probably lost a few draft spots for it. Carradine can play in the middle or on the edge and has a knack for getting to the quarterback.

#16 – Rams – Tyler Eiffert – TE – Notre Dame
The Rams are hoping, after the Jets missed on him that no one trades above them and takes their man, athletic tight end from Notre Dame, Tyler Eiffert. The Rams paid Jared Cook and with Eiffert, they get a cheap partner. As well as giving Sam Bradford a player who can create space, make the catches and open up the field. Bradford is happy if this scenario plays out.

#17 – Steelers – Jarvis Jones – OLB – Georgia
The Steelers need to replace James Harrison and Jones by accounts is an ‘Harrison-like player’. This feels like a lazy pick by me, but an obvious one.

#18 – Cowboys – Vacarro – S – Texas
Vacarro is arguably the best safety in the draft and the Cowboys need one.

#19 – Giants – D.J Fluker – OT – Alabama
The Crimson Tide’s former tackle is good against the run and would add something to the Giants defense. Fluker is strong and is used to having his way with defenders on the field. The Giants will hope his recent twitter “hack” means he falls to them here.

#20 – Bears – Alec Ogeltree – ILB – Georgia
Many mock drafts predict Manti T’eo to go to the Bears here, but I think they will select Alec Ogeltree, if they don’t trade down. Their biggest area of need is linebacker but they have more needs, so if Ogeltree is gone, they may trade back, get extra picks and still pick Manti T’eo.

#21 – Bengals – Matt Elam – S – Florida
Like the Cowboys, the Bengals need a safety and University of Florida player, Elam fits the bill. Elam is versatile and can play a number of positions in a nickel defense, which sort of means he fits Bill Belichick’s type, but the Bengals take him first.

#22 – Rams (via Redskins) – Justin Hunter – WR – Tennesee
With their second pick in the first round the Rams aggressively go for another offensive player. Hunter is a quick receiver who would complement the core group of young guys they have at the position, saving the need to pick a WR next year. This pick will probably be Hopkins now I’ve said Hunter but oh well.

#23 – Vikings – DeAndre Hopkins – WR – Clemson
The Vikings need to replace Percy Harvin, Hopkins won’t do that immediately but he will give Ponder someone to aim at.

#24 – Colts – Eric Reid – S – LSU
Cornerback makes sense here, as would another player to fill the offensive line to give Andrew Luck a bit more protection. While I could see Sylvester Williams or Manelik Watson going here, I don’t think they will. Williams could be available to a team in round two, as could Watson, who projects as being a bit more of a project, so could fall to the Colts in round three if they are lucky. With that in mind I think they select the second best safety in the draft, Eric Reid of LSU.

#25 – Vikings (Via Seahawks) – Bjoern Werner – DE – Florida State
The big German-born defensive end out of Florida State can play as an outside linebacker or a defensive end. The Vikings get a productive player with good upside.

#26 – Packers – John Cyprien – S – Florida
I think the Packers wanted Eric Reid, but they get the next best thing in safety John Cyprien of Florida International. Reid is a big tackler who impressed at the Senior Bowl and has seen his stock rise even further off the back of a great combine performance.

#27 – Texans – Robert Woods – WR – USC
The other guy in the Matt Barkley led USC Trojans offense, the one not named Marqise Lee, he’s pretty good too. Woods wasn’t targeted as much as Lee in 2012, and has been known to lack concentration at times but the 6’1″ Woods was superb in 2011 and the Texans take a chance they can rekindle that form.

#28 – Broncos – Datone Jones – DE – UCLA
As Jordan, Ansah, Floyd are off the board, Denver decide to go for the next best defensive end. They have a need after the whole Elvis Dumervil debacle in the off-season. Bjoern Werner and Margus Hunt have also likely been considered.

#29 – Patriots – Desmond Trufant – CB – Washington
The Patriots draft cornerbacks. They hit with some and miss with others, but it is a need. Dennard and Talib should be a solid starting point this season but the Pats need someone to complement these two and Desmond Trufant is that player. Trufant is possibly the third best corner back in the draft, so may not be available here. In that case expect Bill Belichick to look to trade down if possible, or to select D.J Hayden.

#30 – Falcons – Zach Ertz – TE – Stanford
The Falcons need to think about replacing Gonzalez, who could be in his last season, or not. Ertz is talked about as the second best tight end in this draft behind the slightly more athletic Eiffert, but Ertz has good hands and comes up with the goods on third down.

#31 – 49ers – Margus Hunt – DE – SMU
The 49ers needs are slim, but a good pass rusher is never a bad thing. Taking Estonian discuss thrower Hunt will give an already tough defense another edge.

#32 – Ravens – Manti T’eo – ILB – Notre Dame
The reigning Superbowl champions lost several key figures in the off-season. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in particular won’t be easy to replace. Much has been made of T’eo’s performance in the championship game against Alabama and rightly so, although T’eo had an exceptional season and finished among the Heismann trophy candidates, he could be a bit of a project.

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Patriots offseason moves 2013: Defense – free agency tracker

The Patriots have made a number of moves defensively so far this offseason.

One of the most important was retaining Aqib Talib for another season. While not placing the franchise tag on Talib they saved themselves $5.6m for the season. Talib appeared to solidify the cornerbacks when he came in to the team in November and he gives Alfonzo Dennard support as Dennard enters into his second year starting for New England.

Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib resigned for 2013

Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib: image source http://www.bleacherreport.com

The Pats resigned Kyle Arrington to a four year contract, which is not a move I was hoping for, but I’m assured by people I’ve spoken to that Arrington is not entirely useless as an inside corner. Time will tell.

There has been no word as yet on cornerback Marquice Cole, but Cole projects to be a second string back at best, so his signing is not really imperative. Ras-I Dowling is still under contract and is expected to return and play a part, providing he can stay fit.

Adrian Wilson has been signed to give the secondary some stability and the seemingly ever injured Pat Chung has been released. Chung played well for the Patriots at times over the course of his four seasons at the Gillette stadium but his injury history spoke louder than his play. Wilson will add experience at safety and won’t cost the earth.

Patriots new safety Adrian Wilson

Patriots new safety Adrian Wilson: image source http://www.bleacherreport.com

The rest of the core group of safeties remain in tact. Devin McCourty will look to get back to his best, while Steve Gregory will be hoping to build on a largely successful first season in New England, the AFC Championship excluded, and Tavon Wilson will hope to develop further in year two.

New England have been quiet on the pass rush front, but it is believed that there is interest in either Dwight Freeney of the Colts, the Falcons John Abraham and perhaps most interestingly Elvis Dumervil of the Denver Broncos.

Falcons DE John Abraham - a potential target for New England

Falcons DE John Abraham: image source http://www.bleacherreport.com

I believe that Dumervil will work something out with the Broncos despite last week’s monumental mess up with the contract. Still, if they can’t work it out it’d be nice to have a player of Dumervil’s ability rushing the passer for the Pats. Abraham is possibly the most likely of the three players mentioned to sign, but demand is there for him and he is testing the market, though if reports are to be believed Abraham has a meeting scheduled with New England for Friday.

Defensive End Trevor Scott is out of contract but it is unknown if the desire is there to retain him, after all, Scott only registered three sacks and 14 tackles in 14 games this season. That is hardly productive.

Linebacker Tracy White is also a free agent and I don’t see any real reason for keeping White around unless there is no one else available, White could possibly still do a back up job but he isn’t anything more. While Niko Koutouvides has signed for a year, the Patriots still need to add some linebackers to back up Hightower, Mayo and Spikes.

So, with the cornerbacks and safeties looking reasonably solid this year it seems New England will look to improve areas of the defense while leaving the defensive backs largely unchanged.

The Patriots also need a couple of pass rushers to allow Chandler Jones to blossom, as well as giving Vince Wilfork some talented help in the middle, wouldn’t you say?

New England did sign DT Armond Armstead in January from the CFL but it remains to be seen if Armstead can make the step up.

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Patriots offseason moves 2013: offense – free agency tracker

It has been an interesting offseason for Patriots fans so far, as far as free agency goes. In this post I will look at the offensive moves.

First, we had the news that New England had not retained the services of diminutive slot receiver Wes Welker. While this is something I called for , it is with a tinge of sadness that we say goodbye to Brady’s favourite weapon and wish him well as a Denver Bronco, though not too well.

Patriots Wes Welker

Wes Welker. Image source: http://www.patriots.com

Unsurprisingly this news was followed up by the announcement that the Patriots had replaced Welker with Danny Amendola of the St Louis Rams. Amendola is seen as a more fragile, younger facsimile of Welker. This move is another I had urged the Pats to get done, partly because I like Amendola as a fit for New England but also in the hope that Julian Edelman would see more playing time.

Danny Amendola. image Source: AP / Tom Gannam

Danny Amendola. image Source: AP / Tom Gannam

There is little news thus far as to whether Edelman will be offered a new contract by the Pats, but they say no news is good news, so here’s hoping.

Further changes to the wide receiving unit came about with the news that Brandon Lloyd has been released. Lloyd wasn’t a disaster in New England, but I feel the management probably felt they could replace him more cheaply. Replace him they must though as the WR chart feels a little thin, even with the arrival of Donald Jones from the Buffalo Bills.

Jones is relatively young at 25, compared to Lloyd’s 31, but is less of an outside threat. Jones has potential but Deion Branch isn’t getting any younger. At this rate it seems the Pats may hope to run a lot of three tight end sets with Gronk, Hernandez and Jake Ballard providing the mis-matches with linebackers, but an outside threat is required.

Emmanuel Sanders has been brought in from the Pittsburgh Steelers for a chat, but New England would have to give up a third round pick for him, as well as offering a wage the Steelers were unwilling to match. This year there seem to be a decent amount of mid-level receivers in the draft so this route is not one I would go down. If the Patriots don’t get Tavon Austin in the first round, and more likely trade back, maybe for a second and fourth or fifth round pick, they could possibly get Texas A&M’s Ryan Swope or Virginia Tech’s Steadman Bailey, teammate of Tavon Austin. Admittedly all three of those guys are probably slot guys, but the 6ft Swope could possibly play on the outside, as could Aaron Hernandez.

Texas A&M's Ryan Swope

Texas A&M’s Ryan Swope

Receiver is not the only area undergoing changes on the offensive side of the ball, with the O-line and running backs seeing some change. Guard Donald Thomas has left New England to join the Colts and will be missed. The futures of guard Logan Mankins and tackle Sebastian Vollmer are uncertain, so New England needs to bring in fresh blood in the offensive line, as well as re-signing Mankins and Vollmer, or at the very least, just Vollmer.

AFC divisional round win over the Texans - Donald Thomas

Donald Thomas. Images Source: Kirby Lee / USA Today

Veteran Seahawks running back and kick returner Leon Washington has been brought in, allowing Danny Woodhead to leave for the Chargers. While I am sure Washington will add something at KR, allowing Devin McCourty some time off the field, I’d have liked to have seen Woodhead stay.

The next post will focus on the defensive side of the ball. Be sure to let me know what you think below.

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Patriots offseason moves: signings and releases

This offseason the Patriots have plenty of work to do, with contracts that need renegotiating and assessments to be done on players that just aren’t good enough. Free Agency and the draft also need close inspection.

Offense may not be the biggest area of concern for the high scoring Pats – Brady and co. racked up a league leading average of 34.8 points 427.9 yards per game, but there are concerns.

Free agency centres need to be looked at, as the Pats are relying on Ryan Wendell after releasing Dan Koppen prior to last season.

Running back seems to be a strong area for the Patriots, although it remains to be seen whether New England will retain the services of versatile back Danny Woodhead, whose contract is up. Brandon Bolden and Jeff Demps could both become factors in their second seasons, while Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen will hope to build on their productive seasons. A veteran could be brought in, somebody like Jackson of the Rams would fit.

There are two areas where the Patriots could be making moves, both the offensive line and wide receivers could see a change in roster line up. Although Tom Brady’s recent contract re-structure means Wes Welker is more likely to get a new deal, I can still see him leaving with the Rams’ Danny Amendola signing as a free agent, and along with Julian Edelman, filling the void. Edelman’s contract is up but the Pats should re-sign him, as I stated previously. I’d like to see the Pats bolster their offense by drafting either Notre Dame’s athletic tight end Tyler Eiffert or Virginia Tech wide receiver Tavon Austin in the first round of this years draft but in all honesty that is quite unlikely, Bill Belichick will probably trade down. Tight end may not seem a need, but there are durability concerns with both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Daniel Fells is not a first team player and Michael Hoomanawanui didn’t show enough to threaten to be the third tight end.

Two names that could prove pivotal in the off-season are Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer. Both guys have injury worries, Mankins missed a chunk of games and Vollmer has just undergone knee surgery, prior to possibly hitting free agency, with Nate Solder on Brady’s left, it makes sense to try to keep the big German at the right tackle position, health willing. Marcus Cannon did a decent job opposite Nate Solder but a replacement for Vollmer could be needed as well as a guard, should Mankins struggle for fitness again. Keeping Brady on his feet is key to this offense, whichever way you look at it. Nick McDonald and Donald Thomas may not have been terrible but neither of the Pats back-up guards is near the player Mankins is.

Defense is the real worry for New England though, they ranked 25th in yards allowed and 271.4 yard passing. One of the keys is the defensive backs. The cornerbacks looked better when Aqib Talib was on the field, and getting him to re-sign is important, although Talib only made one interception this season, he did return it for a touchdown, and let’s not forget he only joined the team of the first of November. Also relevant is that up until Talib left the AFC Championship game the Baltimore Ravens offense was causing the Pats secondary little trouble, after Talib’s exit the Ravens took over.

Talib seemed to help out Alfonzo Dennard too, who seemed more comfortable than earlier in the season. When you factor in Ras-I Dowling being seemingly made of glass and Kyle Arrington’s frankly uninspiring play it easy to see why Talib was the difference maker. I can see one or two of the current cornerbacks moving on, if offers are made for them. I can’t see teams lining up to take either Dowling or Arrington but I could be wrong. Marquise Cole and Will Allen were non-factors this year and I don’t expect that to change.

At the Safety position one of the big names the Patriots may be eyeing up is Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens, but I’m not convinced Reed would be as productive as he was in a defense with Suggs and Lewis in it. Devin McCourty looks to be a viable option at safety and Tavon Wilson showed he has potential but another safety is a must. Nate Ebner didn’t show much in his rookie year, Steve Gregory looked good but had injury concerns and Pat Chung is one big walking injury concern.

The Patriots didn’t have much in the way of pass rush last season, and haven’t for a few years but it’s not all bleak. Rob Ninkovich is proving to be a very useful player, with an ability to get to the quarterback at times and an understanding of the requirements Bill Belichick and the coaching staff have of him. Defensive end is a must for upgrade this time around, although Chandler Jones showed production, he slowed down after a decent start, while Jake Bequette never really got going and Justin Francis looks to need more work. Jermaine Cunningham and Trevor Scott didn’t exactly light it up either. One option could be to bring back Andre Carter on a one year deal. Carter recorded ten sacks in 2011 as a Patriot.

Linebacker is another area that needs upgrading. Jarod Mayo was selected to the Pro-Bowl and Brandon Spikes had a good season, alongside rookie Dont’a Hightower, aside from Tracy White though, the remaining players don’t add up to much. Dane Fletcher, Mike Rivera and Niko Koutovides are nothing more than back-up players.

Vince Wilfork is the anchor of this defense, and should continue to be so for a few more seasons. Wilfork though could do with some support, Kyle Love was decent this season, but nothing special.

The franchise tag deadline passed this afternoon and it seems New England didn’t tag a player. This will leave teams sniffing around the top Patriots free agents, Welker, Vollmer and Talib. Time will tell what happens next.

Feel free to tell me how wrong my assessments are, by commenting below.

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Why the Patriots should let Wes Welker go.

Welker drops catch

Wes Welker: Image source – http://www.espn.go.com

At the risk of alienating some of my fellow Patriots fans I’m going to come out and say it, I don’t think the Patriots should spend a bucket load of money on keeping Wes Welker.

There, I’ve said it. I know many people will disagree with me, but that’s what makes sport so great.

I don’t think the Pats should give Brandon Lloyd another contract either, but that’s a different matter.

Patriots WR: Wes Welker

Source: nfl.com

Here are the reasons I believe the Patriots should let Wes go.

Firstly, there is the matter of key drops. Now I know this is not all on Wes as some of the drops have been down to Brady forcing the ball into tight windows, but all the same, it seems as though Wes occasionally takes his eye off the ball at the crucial moment.

The drops are not the main reason I wouldn’t pay the man. As Bill Belichick doesn’t keep players based on sentiment this purely comes down to money as the primary reason. Prior to signing for the Patriots for a second and a seventh round pick in 2007 from the Miami Dolphins Welker was not exactly hugely productive.

I’m sure teams will line up to offer Wes a huge paycheck based on his recent flurry of 1,000+ yard receiving seasons, as there is no doubt he still has the ability to get open and often brings the ball in when in traffic.

The Patriots though, may think they have Welker’s replacement already on the roster, at a significantly lower cost contract. That man is the number 11, Julian Edelman.

Patriots WR: Julian Edelman

Source: nfl.com

Edelman is five years younger than Welker, who will be 32 come the start of the next season.

There is no denying that Wes is a statistical beast, but he only caught six touchdown passes this season as the Patriots No. 1 receiver. Edelman, largely as a special teams player, arguably had a breakout season this year, averaging 11.2 yards per carry, just 0.3 less per catch than Welker. He also scored three touchdowns off just 21 receptions.

Both players have a similar stature, with Edelman having the slight edge in size.

Last season the Patriots placed the franchise tag on Welker at a cost of $9.5m. This was short of his desired wage and to franchise him for a second successive season would cost in excess of $10m.

Julian Edelman is not the only reason I think it is financially sound to release Welker. There are a Few wide receivers hitting free agency this off-season. While Mike Wallace could be one of them, I think he is unlikely to be cost effective, one possible option could be Danny Amendola of the St Louis Rams.

The majority of the wide receivers entering the draft may not be draft-able for the Patriots, due to them drafting low, or due to team needs. Other positions need drafting first, but I’ll go into that in another post. There could be a couple of value options low down in the draft though. Steadman Bailey or Chad Bumphis, for example, may be deemed viable ‘projects’.

New England could also have three quality tight ends available next season, providing Gronk-andez and Ballard can remain fit. Daniel Fells remains a decent back-up, particularly in the blocking game and Josh McDaniels may decide to vary the offense to suit the personnel available to him.

McDaniels and Bill Billichick may also use more screen passes, with both Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead showing they can offer something in the passing game. If Jeff Demps can see the field this will allow Vereen and Woodhead to play this dual role of receiving and passing the baton with Demps and Ridley in the running game.

Think I’m a complete idiot who knows nothing? Or less likely, agree with me? Let me know below.

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