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Monday, April 12, 2021

The Top 10 Patriots Draft Picks of the Past 10 Years

 



The New England Patriots have had their share of great value picks over the past 10 drafts, including Joe Thuney and James White

 

ALAIN POUPART

UPDATED: APR 8, 2021

ORIGINAL: APR 8, 2021

 

Exactly three weeks from now, the first day of the 2021 NFL draft will arrive and the New England Patriots will join every other team in looking for players to help their roster through the seven rounds of the proceedings.

Like every team, the Patriots have had their share of hits and misses over the past 10 years, so we'll rank the 10 best picks from 2011-20.

Before we start, let's clarify that the selections don't necessarily mean the best players but rather the best value for the draft position (because logically first-round picks should produce more than later-round selections).

The one draft that's most represented is the one from 2012 when the Patriots hit on their two first-round picks and found a special teams gem in the later rounds.

So away we go:

1. G Joe Thuney, Round 3, 2016

Thuney was a tackle at North Carolina State and the Patriots landed him in the middle of the third round. While he never has been selected to the Pro Bowl, Thuney was a quality player after immediately being switched to guard and he started every game for the Pats the past five years before leaving this offeason as a free agent.

2. G Shaq Mason, Round 4, 2015

Another hit on an offensive lineman in the middle rounds. Mason arrived from Georgia Tech projected to some draft analysts to play center in the NFL, but he has remained at his college position of guard and done solid work while starting 83 games over the past six seasons.

3. RB James White, Round 4, 2014

Even though he has started only 13 games for the Patriots, White has been a key member of the offense because of his pass-catching ability. And who can forget his Super Bowl-clinching touchdown run in overtime against Atlanta.

4. LB Dont'a Hightower, Round 1, 2012

The Patriots traded up in the first round in 2012 to get Hightower, and they were right in their conviction. He has been a starter since day one, has been selected to the Pro Bowl twice, and had a very good case that maybe he should have been the Super Bowl LIII MVP when the Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Rams.

5. OL Michael Onwenu, Round 6, 2020

Yes, Onwenu has played only one season in the NFL, but starting as a rookie sixth-round pick is impressive enough before you add the fact he played well enough to earn PFWA All-Rookie honors.

6. DE Trey Flowers, Round 4, 2015

Thirty picks before they took Mason, the Patriots landed Flowers, who needed just one year of development to become one of the best pass rushers on the team. Flowers had 21 sacks his final three seasons in New England before he left to join Detroit as a free agent.

7. DE Chandler Jones, Round 1, 2012

Before they traded up for Hightower, the Patriots also traded up to get Jones, and that also worked out very well. Jones made the Pro Bowl in his final season with the Patriots before he went to Arizona, where he blossomed into one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.

8. T Nate Solder, Round 1, 2011

Solder never made the Pro Bowl during his seven seasons in New England, but he also was a very good and durable tackle. He started 15 or 16 games in five of those seasons. Solder was picked 17th overall and it's difficult to complain with what he provided.

9. DB Logan Ryan, Round 3, 2013

Ryan made an immediate impact by getting five interceptions as a part-time starter as a rookie and played about half the snaps on defense his first two seasons before becoming a full-time starter. He had 13 picks in four seasons with the Patriots before leaving as a free agent.

10. DB Nate Ebner, Round 6, 2012

We gave out the last spot to someone who averaged less than two snaps on offense and defense, but was a key member of the special teams during his 111 games with the Patriots. All in all, a good return for a sixth-round pick.

Honorable mention:

T Marcus Cannon, Round 5, 2011; LB Jamie Collins, Round 2, 2013; S Duron Harmon, Round 3, 2013; LB Elandon Roberts, Round 6, 2016; LB Ja'Whaun Bentley, Round 5, 2018


Tuesday, April 06, 2021

A meditation experiment with an NFL player who retired at 24 over concussion fears led to cutting-edge mental training for college athletes

 



Jackson Thompson 

April 5, 2021





















Montee Ball and Chris Borland helped Wisconsin win the inaugural Big Ten championship in 2012. Five years later, they helped the university make a groundbreaking addition to its athletic training staffGregory Shamus/Getty Images

 

Graham Mertz felt more mindful on every snap last season.

The University of Wisconsin quarterback had a unique advantage over every other passer in 2020: The only full-time meditation coach in college sports.

Chad McGehee became the first person in the world to earn the title of Director of Meditation Training last May, when Wisconsin's athletic department approved the groundbreaking hire.

"As soon as he got on staff, you could see a difference in guys just being more in the moment." Mertz told Insider.

McGehee joined Wisconsin just in time for Mertz's redshirt freshman season, a hiring that Mertz said was critical to the team coping mentally during the COVID-19 pandemic. The added mindfulness training helped Mertz lead the Badgers to a Duke's Mayo Bowl victory over Wake Forest in his first year as the starter. 

For Mertz, the training has helped him keep a short memory on the field and build a new layer into his relationships with teammates. 

"It's a little reset for me," Mertz said. "How can you reset every play to be ready for the next coverage, the next blitz? Chad always talks about being in the eye of the hurricane, and that's his metaphor for 'you got a lot of uncontrollable stuff going on around you, and how can you ground yourself in how you think and how you act?' And that's truly just being in the moment."

Now, with a year of meditation experience under their belts, Mertz and his teammates are becoming an example that other programs might follow soon. 

"Lots of people have reached out, and I think there's growing interest," McGehee told Insider. 

"Sixty years ago, most athletes weren't lifting weights. They thought it would wear their bodies out. Now, of course, it's central to every athletic training program at every level," he added. "I see what we're doing at Wisconsin as being on a similar trajectory, where we'll look back in five, 10, 15 years, and training the mind in this way will be just as normal as training the body."

Chris Borland's shocking NFL retirement set the stage for a key experiment 

The university's decision to invest in McGehee was based on a 2017 pilot program conducted by the Center for Healthy Minds – a research institute at Wisconsin focused on studying the mind and emotions. The program involved 17 former football players recruited by Wisconsin football alum and former NFL player Chris Borland, who devised and planned the program.

Borland, a third-round draft pick out of  Wisconsin in 2014, stepped into a starting linebacker role for the San Francisco 49ers as a rookie. But after his first NFL season, Borland retired at 23 due to concussion concerns – making him the highest-profile NFL player to quit the sport at a young age because of worries about head injuries.

Borland pitched his vision for a group meditation experiment with athletes to Richard Davidson, the founder and chair for the Center for Healthy Minds. 

"Athletes will do anything that works ... whatever gives you that 1% edge," Borland told Insider. "Thanks to Richie's groundbreaking research, I didn't have to do a lot of that transitional work. I said, 'look, it might sound funny or strike you as strange or sound entirely new to you, but here are the brain scans, here are the testimony from people that have gone through similar work ... It's physiological. It's effective.'"



















Chris Borland Barry Brecheisen/Getty Images

 

Borland and Davidson spent the next year planning a first-of-its-kind experiment that would train former the former football players unlike any physical training regimen ever devised for athletes. 

"It was almost like a rookie class or a freshman class because 14 out of 17 guys were completely new to the practice and never formally meditated," Borland said

McGehee, a former Division III soccer player turned meditation specialist, was assigned as the main instructor. 

McGehee's passion for the practice stemmed from experience during his own athletic career in college, when he struggled to balance it with his ongoing grief for his father, who'd died during McGehee's senior year of high school. 

"It was a tremendous amount of suffering I was dealt with, and then I go off to college, and I was playing soccer," McGehee told Insider. "How do I manage my life? Manage the demands of being a college athlete, including the academic demands? It just kind of all felt like too much. I really wished I would have had someone who could have been slowly working with me to develop skills to deal with those things."

McGehee first took a step toward specializing in meditation training for athletes with a session for field hockey players at Kent State University and his experience as an athlete made him an ideal candidate for what Borland and Richardson were looking to achieve. Borland said McGehee could relate to athletes better than other meditation specialists.

Athletes were unprepared for the program's surface-level exercises

After the program's second session, McGehee wasn't sure if the participants would be back for a third. 

"I was asking these guys to do practices, to kind of get closer to the experience of what was happening in their own minds and bodies," McGehee said. "Which is a radical thing for most athletes to train to do, especially if there's any level of pain or difficulty."

For McGehee, the goal was to help the participants build endurance mentally, just as they already had for physical challenges. All 17 returned in week three. 

"Pain plus resistance is suffering. So it's the mind that has a whole lot of that resistance, and by seeing that, by shifting our relationship to it, then a lot less suffering happens," he said.

Former running back Montee Ball, a Heisman candidate for Wisconsin in 2011, was one of the participants who came to the program without prior meditation experience.


















Chris Borland and Montee Ball Dan Sanger/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

 

"My first ever time doing a meditation practice was in that group." Ball said. "We lied down in the middle of the floor and just looked up at the ceiling ... we were then instructed to focus on parts of our body that were in pain, and it was actually my left knee. And after about five minutes, the pain had significantly decreased."

After Ball's NFL career ended in 2016, his post-retirement commitment to mental health and a friendship with Borland from their playing days at Wisconsin led Ball to delve into mindfulness.

"When I was in college, I would not have been receptive to it," Ball said. "I wish I would have; I wish it was available then, but unfortunately, it wasn't."

Meditation could spread to more athletes and schools

Wisconsin's incoming classes will have McGehee as a resource, as well as athletes like Mertz who've gotten a year of their own meditation experience to share. 

"I will definitely try to get everybody on it," Mertz said. "It won't be really forced on anyone, but it's an option, and it's a great option, and a lot of guys will go with it." 

Mertz admitted he would even be willing to participate in programs similar to the one led by Borland to help spread meditation training to more athletic programs in the future.

Meanwhile, the 17 members of the original 2017 pilot program are scheduled to meet for a Q&A with The Center for Healthy Minds later this month to reflect on their experiences.

"We want the center to keep working in sports, so we're just checking in on the guys and just having a Q&A about what they think was good, what could be improved, and how to continue," Borland said. "As it gets more press and people realize the benefits, I see that being replicated elsewhere. I just think they've started something that will catch on."

 


Five Things to Know About New Chiefs' Center Austin Blythe

 





The Chiefs signed Blythe on Monday

Apr 05, 2021 at 12:47 PM

Matt McMullen

Chiefs Reporter



The Kansas City Chiefs continued to reshape their offensive line on Monday, signing veteran center Austin Blythe.

 

Here are five things to know about the newest member of the Chiefs' offensive line.

 

1. Blythe spent the last four seasons with the Los Angeles Rams.

 

The six-foot-three, 298-pound Blythe entered the NFL as a seventh-round pick (No. 248 overall) of the Indianapolis Colts in 2016. He appeared in eight games with one start for the Colts that season, but after being waived by Indianapolis that ensuing offseason, Blythe found a home with the Rams and was a regular on their offense in the four seasons since.

 

He appeared in 63 games (48 starts) for Los Angeles since 2017 and also saw action in six playoff games with five starts.











2. He's been a durable and reliable starter over the last three seasons.

 

Blythe has started 47 of 48 possible games over the past three seasons, establishing himself as a reliable and consistent contributor along the Rams' offensive line. In fact, Blythe played every offensive snap for Los Angeles in two of the last three seasons (2018 and 2020).

 

His 1,120 offensive snaps in 2020 ranked third among all centers, trailing only the Chargers' Dan Feeney (1,174) and the Eagles' Jason Kelce (1,126).

 

3. Pro Football Focus ranked Blythe as the No. 13 overall center in the NFL last season.

 

The advanced metrics compiled by PFF reflected a solid campaign in 2020 for Blythe, who earned the No. 13 overall blocking grade among centers and the No. 9 run-blocking grade.

 

Additionally, Blythe was flagged just once all year in 2020. He was one of only three centers in the NFL last season to play at least 80 percent of their team's snaps and draw no more than one flag.











4. He's versatile and has the ability to play both center and guard.

 

Blythe has positional flexibility along the interior of the offensive line, suiting up at both center and guard for significant snaps during his career.

 

He was almost exclusively a right guard during his brief tenure with the Colts in 2016, recording 77 of his 83 snaps at that spot. Blythe then split time between center (107 snaps) and left guard (89 snaps) in 2017 with the Rams before logging 1,281 snaps at right guard in 2018.

 

He once again split time between center (534 snaps) and right guard (449 snaps) in 2019, but settled into the starting center role in 2020 with 1,242 snaps at the position.

 

The guy can play anywhere along the interior of the offensive line and has plenty of experience doing so.

 

5. Blythe played his college ball at Iowa.

 

A four-year starter for the Hawkeyes, Blythe started the final 45 games of his career and was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy as a senior, which is annually awarded to the best center in college football.

 

He'll recognize a couple of familiar faces in the Chiefs' locker room, too, as Blythe was teammates with linebacker Anthony Hitchens at Iowa from 2011-13 and linebacker Ben Neimann from 2014-15.

And now after four seasons in the NFC, Blythe is heading back to the Midwest to join the two-time defending AFC champions.

 


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