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Cameron McGrone is Patriots’ latest gamble on prospect with medical risk – New England Patriots Blog

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — One of the most notable things coach Bill Belichick said at the conclusion of the 2021 NFL draft was the New England Patriots are prepared for fifth-round pick Cameron McGrone to miss his rookie season.

McGrone, the linebacker from Michigan who in a best-case scenario could potentially succeed Dont’a Hightower at the heart of the defense, sustained a torn ACL in a Nov. 21 win.

“We’re not really sure what the expectation of availability is for him, but we’re prepared certainly to not have him available this year,” Belichick said. “There are no false expectations here. He should have a good recovery and be a good player; we’ll just have to see what the timing is on that.”

This isn’t the first time the Patriots have selected a player with the idea they might not initially see him on the field. The longer-range vision reflects how Belichick, now in his 21st season as coach, balances current roster needs and an always-keeping-an-eye-on-the-future approach.

Patience, and the willingness to assume some medical risk, can be rewarded in big ways.

One of the greatest examples in franchise history was running back Curtis Martin, the Patriots’ third-round pick in 1995 whose final season at the University of Pittsburgh was limited to two games because of an ankle injury. He eventually ran right into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, albeit having spent the majority of his career with the New York Jets.

As for those drafted in Belichick’s tenure (2000-present), the results of players whom McGrone follows has been mixed (listed by most recent):

Yodny Cajuste, OT, 2019 Round 3 (No. 101)

The former West Virginia player had quad surgery three weeks before the 2019 draft, and while initial reports indicated he might miss three months, he ended up being placed on the reserve/non-football injury list in August and didn’t play as a rookie. He also didn’t play in 2020, landing on injured reserve in September because of a knee injury, which sets the 2021 season up as make-or-break for him.

The 6-foot-5, 310-pound Cajuste had been a three-year starter in college, playing in 31 games, with 30 starts. He had suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season opener of his sophomore year.

Sony Michel, RB, 2018 Round 1 (31)

Michel’s production in his final season at Georgia was never in question, as he had run for a career-high 1,227 yards and scored 16 touchdowns while averaging 7.9 yards per carry. But some teams reportedly had some concerns about a torn ACL that he suffered in high school and a knee injury in 2017 during the SEC title game against Auburn.

While Michel missed some time in training camp his rookie season after undergoing a procedure to drain fluid from the knee, and later injured the knee after getting twisted on a tackle, he missed only three games that season while playing a leading role in the team’s Super Bowl championship season. Overall, he has played in 38 of a possible 48 regular-season games, as well as four playoff contests. The team declined his fifth-year option for 2022.

Malcolm Mitchell, WR, 2016 Round 4 (112)

Unlike some others on the list, Mitchell was healthy enough to participate in the Senior Bowl entering the draft, and he had played in every game his final season at Georgia. Some scouts had questions about his future durability, following multiple knee injuries suffered in college.

Those concerns ultimately derailed Mitchell’s career after 16 total games (six starts), but not before he played an instrumental role in the Patriots’ 2016 Super Bowl championship season, with an epic performance in the second half of Super Bowl LI against the Atlanta Falcons.

Dominique Easley, DT, 2014 Round 1 (29)

The Patriots projected that Easley’s knee issues at Florida wouldn’t follow him to the NFL after he tore one ACL at the end of his sophomore season and tore the other ACL during practice in the third week of his senior season. If not for the injuries, the disruptive Easley likely wouldn’t have been available to New England late in the first round. But Easley ended up playing 22 games (three starts) over two seasons before the Patriots released him in 2016.

Had it not been for a non-Hodgkins lymphoma diagnosis leading into the 2011 draft, Cannon likely never would have lasted until the fifth round. He opened his Patriots career on the reserve/non-injury list and wasn’t activated until Nov. 15 of his rookie season, which was the springboard to a solid, productive Patriots career at right tackle. His nine-year pro career included 115 regular-season games (69 starts), 19 playoff games (11 starts), and three Super Bowl championships.

The bonanza of all bonanzas. Gronkowski had missed his entire junior season at Arizona in 2009 after suffering a back injury that required surgery. His medical situation led to some teams taking him off their draft boards entirely, but the Patriots felt comfortable early in the second round and traded up two spots to secure the tight end.

In 2013, while speaking on Sirius XM NFL Radio, former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian highlighted the situation when he said: “I remember our [medical personnel] explaining to us what the significance of a disc injury is and how that left you susceptible to further injury — and if there was further injury there was likely surgery and that it didn’t bode well for longer careers.”

Gronkowski, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has defied those odds, putting together a Hall of Fame caliber career.

Brandon Tate, WR, 2009 Round 3 (83)

A dynamic return man at North Carolina early in his career, Tate was putting together a solid senior season that could have resulted in him being one of the top wide receivers in the 2009 class before tearing an ACL and MCL with seven games left in the season. Because he was rehabbing the injury, he didn’t work out at the NFL combine that year.

Having already selected four players in the second round in 2009 — defensive backs Patrick Chung and Darius Butler, defensive tackle Ron Brace and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer — the Patriots drafted the speedy Tate midway through the third round. Tate opened his rookie season on the non-football injury list before being activated in Week 7. After two games, he landed on IR again because of a knee injury before emerging the following season (two kickoff returns for TDs; 24 receptions, 432 yards, three TDs).

But he was released prior to the 2011 campaign and went on to have his greatest success with the Cincinnati Bengals (2011-15) as a return specialist.

Antwoine Womack, RB, 2002 Round 7 (237)

The Virginia running back had totaled an ACC-best 1,028 rushing yards as a junior in 2000, but the following season he suffered a high ankle sprain in the opener that required surgery and sidelined him for seven games. The Patriots took a late flier on him, but Womack never appeared in a regular-season game for the team.

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For Broncos’ Jerry Jeudy, neighborhood runs about more than social media – Denver Broncos Blog

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Jerry Jeudy of the Denver Broncos is just your friendly neighborhood wide receiver trying to go about the business of turning his flash-of-brilliance, flash-of-struggles rookie season into much, much more.

Jeudy is often economical with his words, but his actions — in the form of training videos — say plenty. Last offseason it was his feet. This offseason, on social media, Jeudy can be seen sprinting down the middle of his neighborhood with a Broncos helmet on.

“What happened was … I was training and I felt like, ‘Man, I need some conditioning’ [and] I was already home when I thought about it,” Jeudy said. “I was like, ‘I need some more conditioning.’ I just threw my helmet on, went out there and ran. That was basically it. I hadn’t planned to go outside and run. It just happened like that. … The neighbors came [out] as you can see on the video.”

The video provides a glimpse into Jeudy’s offseason as he tries to turn a mostly productive rookie season into something that is far more to his liking in 2021. Jeudy finished with 52 catches for 856 yards and three touchdowns last season. His yardage total was fourth among a historical rookie class of receivers, behind Justin Jefferson (1,400 yards), Tee Higgins (908) and Chase Claypool (873). And his yards per catch average — 16.5 — was second among rookies, behind only Gabriel Davis (17.1).

He also had more than a few drops, including a cringe-worthy five during a Week 16 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

“I think a big thing that happened with Jerry — like I told you guys back when it happened — in the 15th game last year when he had some drops in that game, I thought it was going to be a defining moment in his career,” said Broncos coach Vic Fangio in recent days. “… Then in our last game, he had a very good game and caught a bunch of balls for a bunch of yards. I think that was a very defining moment in his career. I see a more focused and more diligent receiver on the details. He knows he can’t slack. I see a much more mature guy right now.”

Part of the optimism is Jeudy, drops or not, seemed to have handled the most difficult part of being a rookie receiver in the league — running routes with enough precision to create space against more physical NFL cornerbacks. He repeatedly got open against front-line cornerbacks, even after Courtland Sutton was no longer in the lineup due to a Week 2 knee injury. With Sutton out, Jeudy often found himself tracked by the No. 1 cornerback.

“I think he handled it well,” said Broncos wide receiver Tim Patrick. “Obviously, he could have handled it better at some points, but he was a rookie. He puts a lot on his shoulders, and he wants to be great really bad. Stuff happens. Going into Year 2 — I’ve said it already, Jerry Jeudy is really good, like really, really good. For him, it’s all mental at this point. He knows he can get open against anybody in this league.”

“[It’s] mostly concentration and focusing on the ball,” Jeudy said. “I’m so quick to catch and run to hurry up and make a play instead of catching first, then run. That’s mostly what is, just trying to make a play too fast.”

Ultimately, that was the big picture takeaway across the board. Nobody, with Jeudy leading the way, was happy with the drops, especially the that-was-right-in-his-hands variety. Not from a guy taken with the 15th pick of the draft.

But Jeudy’s five-catch, 140-yard performance in the season finale against the Las Vegas Raiders, seven days after what we had called the worst day of his football life, included a 92-yard catch-and-run touchdown. It was the longest pass play in the league last season.

Jeudy said he took that close-out game of his rookie season into his offseason work. He said he believes he has a better feel for the nuances of each pass play and how he fits with Sutton expected to return to a prominent role in the passing game as well.

“I feel like I’ve matured,” Jeudy said. “You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into [during] your first year of doing something. This is my second year and I feel like I have learned a lot from my first year. I know how to overcome whatever I had in past years to make this year better.”

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Seattle Seahawks WR DK Metcalf ‘focused on football,’ lauds track and field stars after running debut

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RENTON, Wash. — Most of the Seattle Seahawks‘ veteran players are back at team headquarters this week after staying away for much of the voluntary offseason program.

For DK Metcalf, that means being back at his day job after his head-turning foray into track and field. The Pro Bowl wide receiver ran a 10.37 in the 100 meters at a USA Track and Field event last month, a better performance than some expected but not good enough to meet his goal of qualifying for Olympic trials.

In his first comments to reporters since his post-race interview, Metcalf hinted that he may give it another shot down the road.

“My goal was to try to qualify for the Olympic Trials but who knows what my future holds,” he said Tuesday. “I’m living everything day by day, taking it day by day and right now I’m just focused on football and OTAs.”

Metcalf said he follows USA Track and Field on Twitter and will be keeping up with the upcoming trials. His interest in the event was sparked when USATF’s account tweeted a light-hearted invitation for NFL players to test their speed “against real speed” at the Olympic trials. That tweet was a day after Metcalf’s instantly-famous chase-down of the Arizona CardinalsBudda Baker last October.

“Once they sent the tweet out, I thought it was an open invitation for me to take it and I went with it,” he said.

Metcalf said he spoke with coach Pete Carroll and new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron at least once a week leading up to his participation in the USATF Golden Games and Distance Open, adding that the Seahawks were behind him “100 percent.” Linebacker Bobby Wagner, vice president of player engagement Mo Kelly and equipment director Erik Kennedy attended the event in Walnut, California.

“I thought it was a marvelous challenge that DK took on,” Carroll said last month. “DK’s a very special individual and it would take a special person to even think about doing that.”

The commonly cited time that Metcalf would have likely needed to run in order to qualify for Olympic trials was 10.2 or better. But Metcalf’s time of 10.37 was generally considered impressive given that he’s much bigger (6-4, 235 pounds) and much less experienced that the professional sprinters he was competing against.

The most surprising thing Metcalf learned in his sprinting endeavor?

“That those are some fast human beings,” he said. “They are very fast and very good at what they do, and I’m going to stick to football for right now.”

Metcalf, Wagner and quarterback Russell Wilson were among several Seahawks who reported Monday for the team’s seventh of 10 OTAs. Seahawks players released a statement in April saying they would not take part in voluntary in-person work this offseason. But with mandatory minicamp scheduled for next week, the team’s leaders recently decided to show up for the final week of OTAs..

A handful of veteran players — including safeties Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs, left tackle Duane Brown, running back Chris Carson, receiver Tyler Lockett and defensive end Carlos Dunlap — were not seen at Tuesday’s OTA. Metcalf said more players will arrive this week.

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Saints’ Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill supporting each other but focused on winning job as QB competition looms

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METAIRIE, La. — Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill both spoke highly of one another Tuesday, insisting that they are supporting each other as they battle to become Drew Brees’ successor with the New Orleans Saints.

But both quarterbacks are fully intent on making the most of this opportunity.

“One year not playing has just made me even hungrier to get back at the (helm) and lead a team,” said the 27-year-old Winston, who backed up both Brees and Hill last year after spending his first five years as a starter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “My about-to-be seven years in this league has been a blessing, because I worked my whole life to have the opportunity to be a starting quarterback in this league.”

Hill, meanwhile, said he has focused fully this offseason on playing quarterback after the 30-year-old played multiple roles on both offense and special teams over the past four years.

“I’ve really been able to tailor all my workouts and everything to just being a quarterback … just knowing and feeling like I won’t have to take on as much as I did last year. So that’s been the emphasis. But the mindset of getting better every day and improving on what you’ve done in the past, that hasn’t changed,” said Hill, who said he has focused heavily on his footwork and decision-making process after the experience he gained from his four starts while Brees was injured in 2020.

Hill said Winston was “super supportive” during that time when he filled in for Brees, and said the two of them “had a lot of conversations through that process.”

“I think there’s obviously a lot of conversation here about this competition and everything else — but I’m super supportive of him, and I’ve felt nothing but support from him as well,” Hill said.

Winston, for his part, said he and Hill “have the same mentality” — that being to win and “be our best selves.”

“That is what I respect about Taysom, because he’s a man who can do so many great things for this team, and he has done so many great things for this organization since he’s been here,” Winston continued. “So just trying to find ways to serve him and work with him is going to make both of us better in terms of leading our teammates and working with them as well.”

The QB competition is not yet fully underway in New Orleans, since the Saints haven’t been conducting traditional practice sessions during OTAs or minicamp this spring.

But coach Sean Payton said he is prepared to adapt his offense around either quarterback’s strengths and weaknesses.

“We’ll build it a little bit around that player accordingly. That’s something that we did when Drew first arrived here and that we would do with either of these two players,” Payton said Tuesday after the first day of the Saints’ mandatory minicamp, which he said included 100% attendance from players.

Obviously an offense centered around Hill would feature his rushing ability, since he ran for 457 yards last year while starting four games at QB and appearing in most others in read-option packages. An offense centered around Winston would certainly feature his downfield arm strength. And a big priority for both would include cutting down on turnovers.

When asked how their unique styles will affect their competition in training camp — whether each QB will run different plays during their reps, etc. — Payton suggested that the differences won’t be substantial.

“There’s certain things that you might do just specific to one or the other. And yet there’s still an overall philosophical approach that these guys will have learned to play offense,” Payton said. “It’s not a whole different game plan for each one of them.”

Both Winston and Hill are scheduled to be free agents after this season, which further raises the stakes in their competition.

Winston is trying to revive his reputation as a former No. 1 overall draft pick and Heisman Trophy winner. The Buccaneers let him go in 2020 and moved on to Tom Brady after Winston infamously became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw at least 30 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in the same season, while also leading the league with 5,109 passing yards.

Winston signed a one-year deal with the Saints in 2020 worth $1.1 million plus incentives to learn under Payton and Brees. He then re-upped with the Saints as a free agent this offseason, signing another one-year deal worth between $5.5 million and $12.5 million, based on incentives.

Hill began his career as an undrafted free agent with the Green Bay Packers in 2017 before being claimed by the Saints off waivers that year and ultimately developed into a versatile QB/TE/WR/RB/special teams ace. He signed a two-year, $21 million contract as a restricted free agent in 2020.

Also Tuesday, the Saints announced the signing of their entire 2021 rookie class after they created some much-needed salary-cap space by restructuring the contract of cornerback Marshon Lattimore, as first reported by NFL Network.

Lattimore is heading into the final year of his rookie contract and declined to comment Tuesday on the state of any possible long-term extension talks. But a source confirmed that Lattimore agreed to convert most of his scheduled $10.2 million salary into a bonus this year and add automatically-voiding years to the end of his deal — which should give the Saints a few million dollars’ worth of breathing room.

The Saints began the week with less than $1 million in cap space. But now they can afford to add a possible veteran free agent or two, in addition to the rookie class.

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