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Sunday NFL Thoughts: Patriots scouting Clemson, 2015 draft class, and kick returns

The Patriots are looking at running backs that will likely be selected in the second or third round of the NFL Draft.

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1. The New England Patriots were one of 16 teams to send scouts to this week’s game between Boston College and Clemson, per’s Chase Goodbread. Boston College, out of the kindness of their heart, allowed Clemson to win 56-10 (so selfless of BC!).

BC was “about as all-around bad a performance as I’ve graded all season offensively,” per Pro Football Focus, but has three legitimate prospects on defense in junior DE Harold Landry, S John Johnson, and LB Matt Milano.

Landry has a chance to go on day two of the NFL draft if he wants to get the heck out of BC, and the 6’3, 245 pound defensive end will be an excellent pass rusher and run stuffer at the next level. Johnson is a 6’0, 200 pound coverage safety that could find a fit in the NFL. Milano is an undersized 6’0, 215 pound linebacker that doesn’t fit in the Patriots plans.

Clemson has more NFL prospects, but QB Deshaun Watson and WR Mike Williams are probably gone before the Patriots’ first draft pick. 6’0, 200 pound CB Cordrea Tankersley is a good press player and 6’0, 215 pound RB Wayne Gallman is a strong runner.

2. The Patriots need to have production out of the 2015 and 2016 draft classes to compensate for the weak 2014 class. CB Malcolm Butler is the best addition from that year, while QB Jimmy Garoppolo, RB James White, and OT Cameron Fleming are the top back-ups at their roles. Teams need around 3-4 contributors out of a draft to call it a success.

The 2015 class has been great with DT Malcom Brown, DE Trey Flowers, and CB Justin Coleman on defense, OG Shaq Mason and C David Andrews on offense, and LS Mean Joe Cardona and ST Brandon King on special teams. There is still a gap, though, where 2nd round pick S Jordan Richards, 3rd round pick ED Geneo Grissom, and 4th round OG Tre Jackson haven’t really been able to contribute.

The Patriots went and acquired former 2nd round pick CB Eric Rowe from the Eagles for a conditional 2018 4th round pick (which, per trade time value, is the equivalent to a 2016 6th round pick). Rowe is finally off the injury report and if he can step up and beat out Coleman or rookie CB Cyrus Jones for playing time, then he’ll have a pretty defined role in 2017.

Rowe could go a long way in supplementing the 2nd-4th round gap from Richards to Jackson.

3. There are fewer than a dozen players that should ever consider returning kickoffs from inside the end zone.

25 players average 25.0+ yards per kick return (YPKR) since the start of 2015 (min. 5 returns)

16 players average 26.0+ YPKR

12 players average 27.0+ YPKR

6 players average 28.0+ YPKR

4 players average 29.0+ YPKR

And only the Vikings Cordarrelle Patterson averages 30.0+ YPKR (Patterson averages 31.87 YPKR).

Kudos to the Colts, Bears, Packers, Jets, and Steelers for having multiple returnmen with 25.0+ YPKR.

As a general rule, if the returner catches the ball inside the end zone, they’re probably a yard or two deep and they should just down it and take the 25 yards because they’re not going to get back to the 25-yard line with a return on a consistent basis.

4. So with my analysis in mind, here’s a relevant quote from Patriots HC Bill Belichick:

“When you're looking at multiple things that a player and several teammates are involved with, the hard part is getting them all on the same page, doing the right thing when you get several different looks or circumstances that you have to deal with,” Belichick said on Friday. “I try to do what's best for the team, but I would say my advice to you and to the fans to everybody else would be not to be too quick to decide who's right and who's wrong when you don't really know what's going on.”

In short, we don’t know the play call and what keys Jones or Matthew Slater read that led them to return the ball out of the end zone.

5. Get ready for TE Rob Gronkowski to come off the leash against the Browns:

I feel like it’s clear that the Patriots wanted Gronk to return in line with Tom Brady. Yes, Gronkowski has been dealing with his hamstring injury, but the Patriots allowed him to use the first quarter of the season as an extension of the preseason.

6. If you’re interested in DeflateGate, an award-winning documentary filmmaker is working with the likes of MIT professor John Leonard and NYU law professor Robert Blecker to “examine the science behind the Deflategate scandal, the process that was utilized to manufacture the scandal, and possible implications the court decisions may have for future arbitration and on the collective bargaining agreement.”

They also want to explore. “the science behind the ‘Deflategate’ allegations, the people behind the ‘Wells Report,’ and how the scandal may have been used to deflect attention from some of the more important issues plaguing the NFL.”

They’re hoping to get it out before the end of the season. You can read more about it here.