Dec 28, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels tight end Eric Ebron (85) runs after a catch during the third quarter against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Belk Bowl at Bank of America Stadium. Carolina defeated Cincinnati 39-17. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots Roundtable 2/27/14

Welcome back to another instalment of our New England Patriots roundtable, where we take questions about our beloved Patriots, the AFC East, the NFL, the draft etc. This week we talk more NFL Draft, the Combine, Tom Brady’s potential heir and our writers most anticipated home game of the season. But first we start with some fantasy football…

Q. Fantasy Football question: In this year’s NFL Draft class, who’s going to be the one player that you must have next year?

Jed: The talent at wide receiver is probably the deepest of any position in this draft and I think a number of rookie receivers will have an immediate fantasy impact. Of course, a player’s fantasy value really depends on which team that player ends up on, but at this point I think Mike Evans out of Texas A&M has the most potential to make an immediate fantasy impact.
Hal: Rookies in fantasy football can be a hit-or-miss proposition. Last year, 14 of the first 15 players picked were NOT skill position players (wide receiver Tavon Austin to St Louis at #8).  This year, there is a much bigger expectation of skill position players flying off the board at a better than 2 of the first 20 picks or 3 of the first 26.Rookie quarterbacks do not often have a lot of success in their rookie season. Therefore, tight end Eric Ebron looks ready to jump from North Carolina to whatever team gets him in the first half of the NFL Draft and contribute immediately. Soft hands, quickness, speed, and size make for an intriguing prospect.  With pass catching tight ends always a tough find in fantasy football, Ebron looks like a must-draft.
Cyrus: It’s hard to predict a rookie that will have a productive year in February, but I’m going to go with Sammy Watkins. The dude has all kinds of talent, and he has the potential to really break out at the next level.
Matt: I think I’ll have to go with Sammy Watkins here. He’s the best wide receiver in the draft, and so long as he has a semi-competent quarterback throwing the ball to him, he’ll have a huge year. I’d also be looking at Mike Evans as well like Jed mentioned above, and Jace Amaro is also another to watch.
If I were to pick a bit of a sleeper, I’d have to go with Carlos Hyde. If he goes to a team without a running back in place, he could be a guy to carry a load. He’s probably the best running back in the draft right now, and could be a guy to get a full time job for a team in the backfield.

Q. How much stock do you put into what a player does at the combine in terms of reps or 40 time? Can it cause you to really change opinions on a prospect?

Jed: It’s important to know how fast or strong a player is, but many of these exercises just don’t emulate what happens on a football field at game speed. Football movements are very different than just sprinting and jumping and that’s why the Patriots and other teams put more stock in exercises like the three cone drill that judge a player’s ability to move both laterally and vertically. Being a good football player has a lot more to do with decision making, so interviews with prospects are probably more important than their raw athletic ability.
Hal: It does very little for me. I think the combine 40 times and more are a little showmanship. The teams need to see the players in person, interview them, measure them (college media guides always lie!) and see if the player in front of them fits what the tape shows. Last year’s top pick, linebacker Jamie Collins is a great example. The Patriots liked what they saw on tape and needed to see if it was due to the player or the competition. His fantastic pre-draft workouts likely gave them a little more confidence to pick him and know better he could play at this level.
Cyrus: I put a little stock into their performance, but I base most of my opinion on a college prospect on his production in college, and his game tape. Running a fast 40 certainly helps, but it won’t make me immediately think someone is a top five pick.
Matt: I’ve always felt that the combine should never swing your thoughts on a player. All it should do is reinforce your beliefs on a player, whether you like that player or you don’t like that player. It’s too easy to get sucked into loving a prospect based just on his great 40 time. Taking a stat from Mike Loyko, “of top 15 40 times posted by a WR in last 5 years.. only 1 has had a 1000 season.” Just don’t let a good or bad 40 make or break a prospect for you, Tom Brady would be on of the worst quarterbacks of all time if that was true.

Q. Outside of the obvious one (Denver Broncos), which New England Patriots home game are you looking forward to most?

Jed: I’m looking forward to the NFC Central matchups the most. It will be fun to see Megatron stack up against Aqib Talib (hopefully).
Hal: The Detroit Lions. Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, Reggie Bush, Matthew Stafford and that awesome defense that looked unstoppable against the Patriots offensive line in the 2013 preseason is a great game just waiting to happen. That could be the most entertaining game on the schedule all year, home or away.
Cyrus: When they play Detroit. Who doesn’t want to see Megatron tear it up?
Matt: I think I’ll stick with the Detroit Lions trend here, that’s a team looking to seriously bounce back, and has all the fire power to do so. Calvin Johnson Jr. is a player that you must watch because he can do something special at any time on the field. Matthew Stafford is one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, and Patriots fans know all about Reggie Bush after his stint in Miami a year ago. I’d put the Bears as a close second.

Q. Many analysts have suggested the New England Patriots take a quarterback in this years draft, in the later rounds. What are your thoughts on the Patriots potentially taking Tom Brady’s heir apparent?

Jed: If the Patriots are able to move Ryan Mallett, it will be essential for the Patriots to take a quarterback in this draft. The team has invested a lot in Mallett’s development, but if they can find a quarterback they like available in the fourth round and bring in some more picks for Mallett, that’s probably the right thing to do for the future. Like it or not, Tom Brady only has a few more years left.
Hal: Still too early to waste a high draft pick (Kevin O’Connell anyone?).  They need to find Ryan Mallett’s replacement at backup QB. Tom Brady has 3 good years left at minimum where he would beat out almost any competition. The Patriots have too many needs to fill (interior offensive line, defensive end, defensive tackle, tight end, running back, depth linebacker, etc.) to waste any draft picks. Way. Too. Early. Still.
Cyrus: If someone like A.J. McCarron is available in the later rounds, then I say go for it. Brady still has a good three or four years left in him, but it is never too soon to become grooming his successor.
Matt: I don’t feel like they have to take a quarterback in this draft, but if someone they really liked were to fall to them in the 4th or even 5th rounds, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murry, Zach Mettenburger, then I feel like it would provide some really good value. But if nothing is there, then there’s no reason to waste a higher draft pick on one.

Q. Michael Lombardi was announced as a hire for the New England Patriots organization last week. What will Lombardi bring to the table in your opinion?

Jed: Lombardi brings another trusted set of eyes to the personnel department, which is important. While he took a lot of heat for his performance in Cleveland, the fact is that nobody leaves Cleveland popular. He has very little pressure on him in New England and will be a valuable asset to Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio in evaluating both potential draftees and free agents.
Hal: Michael Lombardi is a great pickup for New England. He is respected by Bill Belichick and the Patriots sorely need another voice in the front office that Belichick will listen to. Last year he grabbed interior defensive lineman Desmond Bryant and (until injury struck) he was one of the best free agent signings in the league. In addition, Lombardi targeted pass rushers Paul Kruger in free agency and Barkevious Mingo in the first round of the NFL Draft.  He needs to bring that urgency to target players who get after a quarterback to New England.
Cyrus: He won’t instantly become the most important guy in their front office, but according to everything I have heard, he is a smart football mind, and Bill Belichick values his voice.
Matt: I feel like his incredible preparation, and draft day prowess are the best things he bring to the Patriots. He’s always super prepared for the draft, and that’s something you know that Belichick values. He helped build a star defense in Cleveland despite how despised he was leaving. His extensive knowledge should be put to good use in New England, when it was rejected in Cleveland.
Thank you to Jed, Hal and Cyrus for helping out this week. If you’d like to have a question answered by us on this roundtable, then feel free to send a tweet to @Musket_Fire or @MattyWinPats.
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