FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots knew it would be a challenge to fill the void created by Rob Gronkowski’s retirement in 2019, but they couldn’t have envisioned it would be this hard.
Patriots tight ends ranked last in the NFL in receptions and targets, according to research by ESPN’s Stats & Information, and New England was tied with the Chicago Bears for the fewest receiving touchdowns from tight ends (two).
Limited production from the position was one factor in the Patriots’ season ending earlier than it had in a decade, with a home loss in the AFC wild-card playoff round to the Tennessee Titans on Jan. 4. It highlights how tight end is a major priority for the team in 2020, which could mean anything from a run at potential free agents such as Hunter Henry (Los Angeles Chargers) and Austin Hooper (Atlanta Falcons) to targeting the position in the NFL draft.
If there was a silver lining to the abrupt end to the season, it’s that coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had open dates to attend this year’s Senior Bowl. While there isn’t a tight end currently projected to be a first-round pick, Belichick and McDaniels had an up-close look at some of this year’s best prospects.
What did they see?
Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy, a former Patriots scout, breaks down the Senior Bowl tight ends, with some crossover at the fullback spot as well:
Jared Pinkney (Vanderbilt, 6-foot-4, 260 pounds): “If you go back and look at his numbers in 2018 [with 50 receptions, 774 receiving yards, a 15.5-yard average and seven TDs], he was a top producer in the SEC. But they lost [quarterback] Kyle Shurmur and consistent quarterback play, and his numbers suffered [20 catches for 233 yards and two TDs in 2019]. I told him coming into the week that I thought his situation was very similar to O.J. Howard when he was coming out of Alabama [in 2017]. O.J. … went back to Bama and [quarterbacks] didn’t target him much [in 2018]. With Jared, this is a talented guy with size to play on the line of scrimmage, he can be an effective in-line blocker, and he’s shown what he can do in the pass game. He’s not a super athlete, and I wouldn’t expect him to be a combine star, but he’s really fluid and he knows how to get open. Going into this process, over the summer, he was our No. 1-rated tight end.”
Stephen Sullivan (LSU, 6-5, 229 pounds): “They listed him as a tight end, and also as a wideout. But really, he’s a mismatch player. He is really, really fluid. For a guy his size, he can really run routes. He has a really generous catch radius; he can go up and get the football. I’ve equated him all along to [the Raiders’] Darren Waller … coming out [of college], they are very similar prospects. He’s a Day 3 player [Rounds 4-7], but with a creative coaching staff that can get guys mismatched, he’s that type of player. He only had 12 catches [in 2019], but the benefit now is you can cut these [clips] up and sort it. When you looked at that cut-up, that’s when you really got more excited about him.”
Josiah Deguara (Cincinnati, 6-2⅜, 239 pounds): “We brought him in to play fullback as he has the right frame to line up in the backfield. He can get through the hole and strike people with good pad level. He’s a good bender. He is similar to [West Virginia’s] Trevon Wesco from last year’s game. More athletic than Trevon, but not quite the same in-line blocker as an attached ‘Y’ [lined up next to a tackle] that Trevon was. But really similar in the sense that they are both scrappy, highly competitive, tough guys. They are the kind of guys you want on your team at some point — Wesco went in the fourth last year — because they play on special teams. [Deguara] can really, really run. He’s going to be someone’s starting fullback and you can do a lot with him in the pass game. He’s a good route runner who has a really nice skill for setting up routes and getting open.”
Harrison Bryant (Florida Atlantic, 6-4⅜, 240 pounds): “He was the Mackey Award winner [as the nation’s top tight end], and is a really athletic guy. He’s a little undersized, so he isn’t the 6-5/6-6 on-the-line guy but he’s athletic in space, so you can get him on the move and do things. He’s scrappy. He’s willing to block and … he did a nice job Senior Bowl week in the run game — better than people probably expected. But he won the Mackey because of his production as a receiver. Where you really get excited about him is after the catch. Even though he didn’t run a lot of different routes at FAU, you knew he could do it because of his change-of-direction with the ball in his hands. He’s going to be a playmaker in the pass game and he has a good enough feel.”
Adam Trautman (Dayton, 6-4⅞, 256 pounds): “He’s done nothing but climb and climb. He had a great week at the Senior Bowl. He went [to Dayton] as a quarterback and just kept growing. He has the measurables, is a crisp route runner, has good quickness. He has a basketball background, he can catch the ball over people. Adam was truly a man among boys at that level this year [70 catches for 916 yards and 14 TDs]. Then to come down to the Senior Bowl and show out like he did, he might be the first tight end taken. He’s going to test well and he’s a great kid. He’s hungry. What he really showed [at the Senior Bowl] was what he can be as a blocker. Everyone knew what an athlete he was and what kind of player he was in the pass game, but here he is going against SEC-level guys, some really good ones in the game this year, and he just fought his tail off and got into people and showed a level of physicality and competitiveness. Someone is going to draft this guy to be their starter.”
Brycen Hopkins (Purdue, 6-3¾, 238 pounds): “He’s the son of [longtime Titans offensive lineman] Brad [Hopkins], NFL bloodlines. He’s a phenomenal kid. Really bright. He had a big senior year statistically [61 catches, 830 yards, seven TDs]. He was going down to the wire with Harrison Bryant for being the most productive tight end in the country this year at the FBS level; Trautman was the most productive at the FCS level. Hopkins is a really good route runner. Hands were a little inconsistent on tape during the fall, but I thought he caught it really well Senior Bowl week and answered some of those questions. He’s going to do a really nice job at the combine. He probably will be the best tester at the position. They didn’t ask him to do a ton as a blocker at Purdue, so the physicality, that will be where he needs to make his biggest [jump]. But I think he will play on special teams and will have a role in sub packages early, because he can really run and is a mismatch.”
Charlie Taumoepeau (Portland State, 6-2¾, 248 pounds): “We used him at fullback. He was kind of the favorite small-school guy of the West Coast area scouts in the fall. He really got our attention last year as a junior, in the two games they played up in competition against Oregon and Nevada. He really went off. He is a really fluid athlete who can run. A really natural catcher. He [shined] down here in Senior Bowl week and did a really nice job blocking — even in pass pro. Charlie is another guy you can get production from in the pass game. He’s a really smooth route runner and has quickness at the top of the break, so he can get open.”
Sean McKeon (Michigan, 6-5, 248 pounds): “He was injured early in the week and didn’t play in the game. Sean is a legit ‘Y’-sized guy, which makes him a little different from some of the others. He has a nice, big frame. Good blocker. He can come in and be functional on the line of scrimmage pretty quickly. He’s a really solid kid whose ceiling is probably as a really good No. 2. He’s not the pass-game player that some of the others are. Hands were a little inconsistent at times, but he’s a big target who runs well. He’s tough, competitive. I don’t know if McKeon will get drafted higher than the fifth [round], but … it shouldn’t be any lower than that for him.”
Perception that Tom Brady can’t throw deep ball ‘just wrong’
TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians wants to clear up a few things about his new quarterback Tom Brady, particularly the perception that he can’t throw the deep ball at age 42, and that he’s only capable of carving teams up underneath.
“I think the perception is just wrong,” Arians said Wednesday. “I thought his deep ball was outstanding last year. Through their play-action game, they hit a lot of deep balls. And our quarterback — I thought he put it as good as anybody — throw it to the guy who’s open.”
Arians also thinks there might be some misunderstandings about his offense, which is known for attacking the field vertically. But that’s not all he does.
“We do have reads that start deep and come in short, but I’ve had a couple quarterbacks that just keep looking deep — they won’t throw the check-down,” Arians said. “Tom Moore has the best saying in the world: ‘You don’t go broke putting money in the bank. Take the damn check-down.’
“We don’t have to teach Tom that. But I think the freedom of looking downfield on certain routes and in certain situations, when the matchup’s perfect — take it, don’t be afraid to take it — some quarterbacks are afraid to take it. I’m not looking for a ‘checkdown Charlie’ quarterback.”
Brady’s 43% completion rate in 2019 on passes of 20 or more air yards was his third-highest since it’s been tracked and the seventh-highest in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The league average was 38%.
He also threw seven touchdown passes of 20 or more air yards last year, his most since 2006. His 3.50 touchdown-to-interception ratio on passes of 20 or more air yards was also his third-highest since 2006.
As far as Arians’ offense, last season Jameis Winston attempted 102 passes of 20 or more air yards, most in the league. When Carson Palmer was healthy in Arizona, even as he crept closer and closer to age 40, he never attempted fewer than 65 passes of 20 or more air yards in a season and was always in the top eight in the league in this category.
But when Palmer suffered an injury in Week 7, and Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert both stepped in, Arians’ QBs went from averaging 7.27 yards per pass attempt with Palmer in Weeks 1-7 (11th in the league), to 6.10 yards per attempt in Weeks 8-17 (30th in the league), showing that his offense is flexible enough to adjust to his passer’s strengths, if need be.
“He can make every throw,” Arians said of Brady. “He can do everything we want to do in our offense.”
Sources — Ndamukong Suh expected to return to Buccaneers
Suh, who signed a one-year deal with the Buccaneers last offseason, may not have put much of a dent in the stat sheet — finishing with 41 combined tackles (22 solo), 2.5 sacks and 4 passes defensed — but his impact was certainly felt.
In arguably the Buccaneers’ biggest win of the 2019 season, a 55-40 road victory over the Los Angeles Rams, Suh scooped up a fumble and returned it 37 yards to seal the game.
Suh was constantly double-teamed while lining up across the defensive line as the Buccaneers switched to a 3-4 defense under coordinator Todd Bowles. Suh’s 261 snaps against double-teams — third most in the NFL last season behind Aaron Donald and Kenny Clark — allowed other members of the defense to be freed up as Tampa Bay allowed the fewest rushing yards in the league (73.8 per game) and tied for seventh with 47 sacks.
“I wanted the entire defense, if we could, to stay together,” coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday. “They played so well together. Each piece of the puzzle knew each other. Suh was a big, big part of it. Not as much in the sack game as much as his interior pressure and the great job he did last year against the run. I mean, we were No. 1 against the run in the league last year, and a lot of it was because of him and Vita [Vea].”
While Suh had drawn significant criticism for penalties earlier in his career, he was flagged just five times in 2019.
Suh, who turned 33 in January, was selected second overall by the Detroit Lions in 2010. He played five seasons in Detroit and was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time All-Pro.
In 2015, Suh signed a six-year, $114 million contract, with $60 million guaranteed, with the Miami Dolphins to become the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history at that time. In three seasons with the Dolphins, Suh recorded 15.5 sacks and forced two fumbles. He then played one season with the Rams before joining the Buccaneers.
Suh has 58.5 career sacks and in 10 seasons has missed only two starts, both in 2011, when the NFL suspended him two games for on-field conduct.
ESPN’s Jenna Laine contributed to this report.
Eric Dickerson to speak with Rams about fans’ logo concerns
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson has offered to be the voice of Los Angeles Rams fans who have been angered about the new team logos that were released earlier this week.
Dickerson, who currently holds the title of Rams vice president of business development, considers himself among the people who are unhappy with the new look.
On Wednesday, Dickerson said on Twitter that he would speak with the Rams about fans’ concerns.
“@RamsNFL fans, I reviewed your comments regarding new logos and share in your disappointment,” Dickerson tweeted. “I’ll be speaking with the Rams on our behalf. Please like if you prefer the logo on the left and retweet to vote for the logo on the right (Rams booster club). – The Rambassador.”
.@RamsNFL fans, I reviewed your comments regarding our new logos and share in your disappointment. I’ll be speaking with the Rams on our behalf. Please like if you prefer the logo on the left and retweet to vote for the logo on the right (Rams booster club).
-The Rambassador pic.twitter.com/wZuzCzwdER
— Eric Dickerson (@EricDickerson) March 25, 2020
Dickerson’s post includes two alternate logos created by fans and shared across social media.
Last Monday, the Rams revealed the first of a two-part rebranding effort as they prepare for the 2020 season inside their new home at SoFi Stadium. The Rams unveiled updated team colors and logos, while new uniforms are expected to roll out later this spring.
The Rams have moved on from the navy blue, light gold and white color scheme that they adopted in 2000 in St. Louis. Their new colors are similar to their throwback royal blue and gold, but with a brighter twist. The Rams are calling their new hues, “Rams Royal” and “Sol.”
Before the reveal, Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff acknowledged that for some fans, the new look would require an adjustment period.
“I’m sure it will be a surprise, it will be change,” Demoff said. “But lots of things are and I think it’s a change that our fans will come to know and love over time.”
During a virtual telethon the Rams hosted Tuesday on a local television station to raise funds for coronavirus relief, Demoff said that if more than $2 million was raised he would read the top 10 mean tweets he received about the new logos. The telethon raised more than $2,045,000, according to the Rams.
Rams fans also have created an online petition to change the new logo. More than 6,200 signatures have been collected.
This is not the first time Dickerson, a star player for the L.A. Rams in the 1980s, has voiced his displeasure in regard to matters within the organization.
In 2016, during the Rams’ homecoming season in Los Angeles, Dickerson voiced criticism across several media outlets, including ESPN, about coach Jeff Fisher as the team stumbled to a 4-9 record.
Fisher, whose job already was in question, was fired with three games remaining. The Rams finished the season 4-12.
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