2014 NFL Draft Targets: TE Eric Ebron, UNC

1o9ROG.AuSt.156Ebron is a tight end with ideal size (6’4”, 245lbs) and excellent speed (4.60 40yd dash). He also had good production on a team with shaky quarterback play (62 for 973yds and 3 TDs). Ebron is an extremely talented athlete that can make big plays with his feet and is difficult to tackle. A very versatile player, he can line up next to the O-line, in the slot, or on the perimeter. He plays similarly to 49ers TE Vernon Davis, although Ebron needs to work on his hands (a few too many drops) to reach that comparison. That being said, Ebron is still an incredibly gifted player. He was able to dominate any and every defense that he played in college. He has no issues catching the ball running in traffic, or going up to catch the ball at the highest point. Ebron’s blocking is average, but not bad for a pass-catching tight end. He would give Tom Brady an extremely effective weapon in the passing game to complement the often-injured Rob Gronkowski. That combination would be a matchup nightmare for any defense. Although he was projected to be picked by the Patriots in some early mock drafts, Ebron is unlikely to be unavailable when the Patriots pick. His meteoric post-season stock rise would force New England to move up into the mid to late teens to grab him.

Pro Comparison: Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers

2014 NFL Draft Targets: DT Aaron Donald, Pitt

Aaron-DonaldAlthough he is undersized (only 6’0”, 285lbs), Donald had a very productive career at Pitt. He totaled 47 tackles, 16.0 TFL and 11.0 sacks in 2011, 64 tackles, 18.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks in 2012, and 59 tackles, 28.5 TFL and 11.0 sacks in 2013. His first step is good, and he creates consistent pressure in the pocket by utilizing an extremely powerful bull rush. Donald can use his hands very effectively to knock an O-lineman of balance, and occasionally displays good swim and spin moves when he chooses to use them (not often enough). The biggest knock on Donald is his size; because he is smaller he isn’t able to wrap up running backs and quarterbacks like a taller DT could. This results in the occasional missed tackle, as is evident in the FSU game. Donald put together an excellent combine performance, running a 4.68 40 yard dash and benching 35 reps of 225 pounds. He was also one of the top performers for his position in the 3 Cone Drill (7.11 seconds), which is a drill the Patriots value highly. His outstanding workout, however, may have pushed him out of the Patriots range. But, if he falls, which is possible, expect the Patriots to jump on the opportunity to pair Vince Wilfork with a pass rushing DT.

Pro Comparison: Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals

Top Ten Days on the NFL Calendar (From a Fan’s Perspective)

1. Super Bowl

The two best teams in football facing off in the biggest sporting event of the year. Not only is the game itself great, but when play is stopped, you’re either watching hilarious commercials or an amazing musical performance. There is not much that needs to be said about the Super Bowl, only that it is football’s high and holy day.

 

2. Divisional Weekend

What makes the Divisional Round better than the Championship Round is simple; there are four games instead of two. Some people may ask why the Divisional playoffs are better than Wild Card weekend, and the easy answer to that is the quality of the teams is so much better. The playoff’s weakest four teams have already been eliminated, and now it’s down to the true contenders.

 

3. Championship Weekend

The incredible joy and heartbreak of Championship weekend is equal to that of the Super Bowl. The quality of these games is easily as good as the Super Bowl because the winning teams get their tickets punched to the Big Game. In recent years the Championship round has provided fans with some intensely exciting games, such as last years Falcons-49er’s matchup, or the previous years Patriots-Ravens thriller.

 

4. Wild Card Weekend

Hopes are high for all fans coming into Wild Card Weekend. It doesn’t matter how your team performed during the regular season, because an entire year of preparation comes down to one game. Upsets are frequent because of the one-and-done format of the playoffs. A perfect example of that was in 2010-11, when the 7-9 Seahawks upset the heavily favored 11-5 Saints. Anything can happen in the playoffs, especially during Wild Card Weekend.

 

5. Week 1

Are you ready for some football! The date circled on every football fan’s calendar finally arrives. The entire 16 game season lies ahead, and hopes are high for every team. What happened the previous season doesn’t matter, whether you won the Super Bowl or didn’t make the playoffs. Week 1 is the only time of the season when each team has the same record, and has the same odds of making the playoffs. Hopes are always high during Week 1.

 

6. Week 17

For some teams, week 17 can be a bore. Teams who have already clinched playoff spots tend to play cautiously, sometimes putting in backup players to prevent injury. There also are the teams who have already been eliminated from playoff contention, and are just competing for pride, and roster spots. However, there still are games which have major implications to the playoff standings. Just last season, Adrian Peterson carried the Minnesota Vikings into the playoffs with his 199 yard rushing performance. That same day, division rivals the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys battled for the division title, and a chance to perform in the playoffs. Although every game may not be an instant classic, week 17 does produce it’s fair share of amazing games.

 

7. NFL Draft

A wild flower in the barren dessert of the NFL offseason, the NFL Draft gives fans something to be excited about while they agonizingly count down the days until Week 1. Although the draft may not be the most exciting event to the casual fan, it can be entertaining to more devoted fans who are eager to see the new potential stars for their teams. The April draft date is life changing to the players who are selected, having achieved their goal of making it to the NFL. The draft is also a bridge between college football and professional, uniting the two different football worlds.

 

8. NFL Free Agency Starting Date

Free agency can be pleasing to some fans, whose team acquires a high-profile free agent, but can also be devastating to the team that loses that same player. Not all teams are exceedingly active during free agency, but those that are create a serious amount of buzz among the fan base. For example, the Miami Dolphins signed multiple highly touted free agents this year, such as Mike Wallace, and they have been one of the most talked about teams so far this offseason. Signing the right free agents can make or brake a franchise, and free agency provides something for fans to be excited about, similar to the NFL Draft.

 

9. Training Camp Opening Day

Although the official starting date to each NFL season is at the beginning of the draft, opening day at training camp seems like the more realistic date. Thousands of diehard fans show up to the first few days of training camp, which are opened to the public, to get a first glimpse of their team.

 

10. Any Given Sunday

Every Sunday, or Thursday or Monday, when your favorite team is playing is a great day. Whether you’re at the game or watching from home, football is always a great time. Although most people associate Sundays with the Christian religion, there is another religion that is worshipped on the same day. Football. Every week of football proves to be exciting, and you never know what’s going to happen on any given Sunday.

Two a Day: Patriots Free Agency Preview 1/24

Now that the Patriots season has come to an unfortunate end, it’s time to look ahead to free agency, which starts on March 12th.

To begin, let’s take a look at the Patriots on the current roster who are set to become unrestricted free agents this year.

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Wes Welker: Although he seems to be the number one priority for the Patriots to deal with this year, Wes Welker’s contract situation with the New England remains unclear to an outsider’s perspective. After unsuccessful negotiations last off season, the Patriots and Welker will look to try to get a deal done before free agency gets under way. If they are unable to do that, I see the Patriots letting Welker test the market, and then trying to match an offer made by another team. It’s possible that the Patriots use the franchise tag on him, but that’s unlikely, and they will use the franchise tag elsewhere. New England feels that they can succeed without Welker, so they are not going to overpay to keep him, but I’m sure they will do their best get Wes Welker back in a Patriots uniform for next season given that he has been one of the most productive players in the league since he joined New England in 2007.

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Aqib Talib: Talib has had his fair share of off-field issues, but proved to the Patriots why he was Tampa Bay’s first round draft pick back in 2008. It seems as though Talib has molded to the “Patriot Way” and dealt with his off the field problems, and is focused on contributing to the New England secondary. He has had an immediate impact on the Patriots defense since debuting against the Colts, a game in which he returned an interception for a touchdown. Talib allows New England to move Devin McCourty from corner to safety, where he is better suited because of his great range and instincts. Talib’s man coverage abilities also allow the Patriots to use more variety in their defensive packages, given his solid one-on-one play. It is clear the impact that Aqib Talib has when he is on the field, and he is a must to resign for the Patriots, regardless of him being somewhat injury prone.

*Images from http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1414000-colts-vs-patriots-aqib-talib-could-bring-new-englands-secondary-together, http://gomadden.com/content/fantasy/fantasy-free-agent-wes-welker-2013/*

The New England Review

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I am going to be reviewing the five best Patriots players to play since 2000. This is in honor of the Patriots playing in the Super Bowl this weekend. I chose after the year 2000 for one reason, and that is because that is when the Patriots starting winning Super Bowls. To assess how good the players are, I came up with a rating system. The qualities that I look for in a player are skill, athleticism, clutch play, football smarts, attitude, and most of all, leadership. I took all of these aspects and set a maximum amount of points for each, depending on how important I think each quality is. The maximum skill is 15, athleticism is 12, clutch play is 15, football smarts are 10, attitude is 20, and leadership is 20. Primarily, the reason that attitude and leadership are so high is because to play for the Patriots, you have to play the “Patriots way”, and those are the most important things in embodying the “Patriot way”. To decide whom the five players would be, I chose six players who I thought would make the cut. Those players were Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Troy Brown, Teddy Bruschi, Vince Wilfork, and Rob Gronkowski. Only five of them can be the best Patriots players to play since 2000, but I was surprised to see who didn’t make it.

First off, the fifth best player on the Patriots since 2000 is Troy Brown. He was an excellent athlete, and had an excellent attitude on and off the field. Also, Brown was an excellent leader, and he was selected to be an honorary captain for the Patriots this postseason. Brown’s incredible athleticism allowed him to play both offense and defense in the same game. He was extremely versatile. Brown received an 11/15 in skill, 12/12 in athleticism, 12/15 in clutch play, 8/10 in football smarts, 17/20 in attitude, and 16/20 in leadership for a total of 76/92. It was always a pleasure to watch Troy Brown with his incredible speed that gave him a tendency to break of for big plays. He was one of the most versatile Patriots ever.

Next, the fourth best player on the Patriot since 2000 is Rob Gronkowski. Gronk, as fans like to call him, is a second year tight end for the Patriots. Both of his first two seasons have been memorable, tying the record for touchdowns by a tight end in his rookie season, and setting the records for both touchdowns and yards for a tight end in a season this year. Gronkowski’s combination of size and speed give him a huge advantage over smaller defensive backs. Quite suddenly, Gronkowski has developed into one of the best tight ends ever. Gronkowski got 14/15 in skill, 11/12 in athleticism, 12/15 in clutch play, 8/10 in football smarts, 17/20 in attitude, and 15/20 in leadership for a total of 77/92. In the future, Gronkowski’s score could be even higher, but he is so young that nobody knows what he is fully capable of, as well as how good of a leader he is.

Next, the third best Patriots player since 2000 is Vince Wilfork. “Big Vince” is a legitimate force of nature. He weighs in excess of 300 pounds, but still runs a 5.08 40-yard dash, according to 40-yard-dash-times.com. He is one of the best run stuffers in the league because he clogs up the middle with his size. Wilfork is also an excellent leader. He has grown well into the leadership position given to him. Wilfork has led the maligned Patriots defense through this season with a little dignity. He is a great example of the “Patriot way”. Wilfork got a 13/15 in skill, 10/12 in athleticism, 12/15 in clutch play, 8/10 in smart, 18/20 in attitude, and 19/20 in leadership for a total of 80/92. Wilfork got a high amount of points in every area because he is great at everything he does in football.

At last, the second best player on the Patriots since 2000 is Teddy Bruschi. Bruschi is one of the best linebackers of all time. He was highly aggressive, but also extremely smart. He is probably the best enforcer for making his team play the “Patriot way”. Bruschi did not become famous right away, but slowly climbed up to the top.  Also, he helped lead the outstanding defense of the 2001 season, when the Patriots won their first Super Bowl. Bruschi got a 13/15 in skill, 10/12 in athleticism, 14/15 in clutch play, 10/10 in football smarts, 20/20 in attitude, and 20/20 in leadership for a total of 87/92. Bruschi is legend in the minds of Patriots fans. The fan favorite was one of the biggest pieces to the three Super Bowl titles in 2001, 2003, and 2004. The only bigger piece is the next player I am going to talk about.

Finally, the number one player to play for the Patriots since 2000 is Tom Brady. Brady is almost a surefire future hall of famer, even though he was drafted 199th in the NFL draft. Peyton Manning was drafted 1st. Brady began his career as a third string quarterback for the Patriots, and slowly climbed his way up to back up. When Drew Bledsoe went down in 2001, Brady made the most of his opportunity and led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl victory. Tom Brady surpassed all odds and became one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history because he is so competitive. Also, Tom Brady is aware that if a better quarterback shows up in New England, he will lose his job. This makes him play and practice harder. Tom Brady received a 15/15 in skill, 9/12 in athleticism, 15/15 in clutch, 10/10 in football smarts, 20/20 in attitude, and 20/20 in leadership for a total of 89/92. Tom Brady would have a perfect score if he was a little more athletic, but he makes up for that with his quick decision-making, and excellent pocket awareness. Tom Brady is one of the best football players ever.

Each one of these players is very deserving to be considered the best Patriots players since 2000. All of them are excellent at what they do. It is surprising not to see Randy Moss on this list, given that he is one of the most talented players ever to put on a Patriot uniform. Unfortunately, his attitude and leadership were abysmal, especially his attitude, so he didn’t make the list. All of these other players made the list because they are, or were, extremely talented football players, and embody the “Patriot way”.

The Patriots Are Going to the Super Bowl!

ImageWow. The New England Patriots are headed to Indianapolis to play in the Super Bowl. It was most definitely not a pretty game. Tom Brady was not playing at his best, throwing two picks. This was a defensive game, and all though the Patriots defense gave up a lot of big plays, they came through with a few clutch plays at the end. I feel badly for the Ravens  kicker, Billy Cundiff, who missed the game tying field goal with 11 seconds left, but, it happens to all of us, and it sealed the Patriots victory. I can’t describe how happy I am right now. Tom Brady was right in his speech, he “sucked pretty bad”, but we still came out with the win.  I am confident that he will perform well in the Super Bowl. Like I said in my keys to the game, Vince Wilfork had a great game with six tackles and one sack. The most important play of the game was when Lee Evans caught a pass from Joe Flacco in the end zone, but Sterling Moore stripped him. Also Sterling more made a nice pass block a moment later. I am excited to see who the Patriots are playing next after the 49er’s-Giants game.

*Picture from http://www.espn.go.com/nfl*

Ravens at Patriots Prediction