Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Curran: Top 50 Patriots Under Belichick, the Top 10


JUN 27, 2021



I don’t think there’s going to be any controversy or discussion on No. 1? Good. The reality that he’s going to finish his career wearing a uniform that’s pewter and gold in a climate that’s reminiscent of a closed mouth is too damn bad. C’est la vie.


Why is Vince Wilfork No. 2 with fewer Super Bowl wins than everyone else in the top 10? Time served and league-wide excellence. Wilfork was a terrific player the minute he got here in 2004. By 2010, he was one of the best players in the league regardless of his position and he stayed that way through about 2013.


But the reason Wilfork is way up here is the intangible of culture cultivation. From learning alongside Bruschi, Vrabel and Seymour, Wilfork took on the mentor role after 2008 when all those players went away. He kind of indoctrinated the next group of high-level leaders -- Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater -- and brought them along to where they could understand what the “program” was about and those players could then lead in their own way.


The next three in the top five are Perfect Patriots. Tedy Bruschi first because of big-game impact in each Super Bowl run (his being plunked down at MLB in the 2001 playoff run was a key move for the SB36 crew).


Julian Edelman next because he’s the second-best postseason receiver in NFL history. Troy Brown third because -- splitting hairs, but we have to -- his postseasons were more modest after 2001 and 2003 and he wasn’t as much an offensive focal point after 2002.


I battled on Rob Gronkowski. Irrespective of who was in the wrong when he got sideways with Bill Belichick beginning after the 2017 offseason and carrying through 2020, Gronk made things hard for the Patriots. He delayed his 2019 retirement decision and that kind of cost the team a shot at a free agent replacement, Jared Cook. Then when he came out of retirement to go to Tampa, he held a figurative gun to the Pats head to force the trade. But I was disabused of my Gronk hesitation (I wanted to leave him at 9) by almost every person I consulted. So up he goes to No. 6.


Matt Light and Richard Seymour came into the league next to each other as first and second-round picks in 2001. They are on this list next to each other. Seymour was obviously the more decorated player and will -- hopefully -- be enshrined in Canton. But Light was one of the league’s best tackles as well and he was another bridge guy like Wilfork, who carried the culture forward along the offensive line and handed it off to the Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly crew. But I couldn’t in good faith drop Seymour from No. 8.


Great debate to close out the top 10. McCourty has been an absolute ironman. He’s missed five regular season games in 11 seasons. He’s played in 23 playoff games. All you need to do is listen to Belichick to appreciate the innumerable ways McCourty has backboned this franchise on the field and off.


And then there’s Mike Vrabel. We got a guy who had 606 tackles, 48 sacks, 13 forced fumbles and 11 picks in 125 games over eight seasons. In 17 playoff games he was even better with eight sacks, 88 tackles, three forced fumbles, one clubbing of Kurt Warner that led to Ty Law’s SB36 pick-six and two playoff touchdown catches. He had 10 career catches, 10 career touchdowns on 13 targets. Greatest receiver of all-time? You can make the case. (Just kidding).

10.  Mike Vrabel


Years in NE: 8 | All-Pro: 1 | Pro Bowls: 1 | SB wins: 3 | SB appearances: 4 | 2015 rank: 6


In 2002, Bill Belichick was discussing Mike Vrabel’s first season with the team. I can’t find the transcript but I remember clear as day him saying, “Mike Vrabel didn’t have a single mental mistake last season.” Big brain, big skill. Maybe the best athlete in the top 10, Vrabel was a pass-rushing force, outstanding in coverage and a tremendous run-stopper. The tight end stuff was no novelty act either. Underrated for his whole career except here.


Editor's note: Tom E. Curran's Top 50 players under Bill Belichick, 2.0, will be released all this week right here on

Monday, June 28, 2021

Pro Football Focus names Marshal Yanda as Ravens' best value pick since 2006


Kevin Oestreicher 


The Baltimore Ravens have had many successful drafts over the course of their franchise history. They’ve built competitive teams year after year with not only quality early round selections, but also great mid-round selections.

When assessing each NFL team’s best value draft pick since 2006, Michael Renner of Pro Football Focus named former third-round draft selection Marshal Yanda as Baltimore’s representative. When explaining his decision to pick Yanda, Renner called him “the best guard of his generation”.

“If PFF had a Hall of Fame vote, Yanda would be a lock. He was quite simply the best guard of his generation. In 13 seasons, he never earned a grade below 80.0. The crazy thing is, two of those seasons came at right tackle, where he earned an 85.9 grade as a rookie and an 80.5 grade in 2010.”

Yanda was taken 86th overall in 2007 and would go on to become one of the best offensive linemen in Ravens history. He established himself as an extremely physical player, was as tough as they came, and also was a steady veteran presence.

Baltimore certainly felt the absence of Yanda during the 2020 season after he retired from the NFL. While there’s no replacing a player like Yanda, the team will look to get good production from new right guard Kevin Zeitler in 2021.

While there are plenty of other Ravens players who could be deemed the best value draft pick, Yanda was an absolute steal for the team and provided over a decade of Hall of Fame play at a tough position. He’s destined for a gold jacket in the coming years, and he’ll be remembered in the Baltimore history books forever.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Notes: T.J. Hockenson makes’s All-Under-25 Team


Hockenson is undoubtedly one of Detroit’s brightest, youngest stars.


Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports


2021 could be a huge year for Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson. Though he’s already coming off a Pro Bowl season, many are expecting him to take his game to a new level this upcoming season. With a new offensive system in place, a burgeoning relationship with quarterback Jared Goff, and a shortage of other receiving options around him, Hockenson could be one of the centerpieces of this offensive attack.’s Nick Shook is predicting big things for Hockenson’s future too, as he listed the Lions tight end on his 2021 All-Under-25 Team, featuring only players who will be under 25 years old when the regular season kicks off on September 9.

“For now, he’s the best tight end under 25, and it might not be long before he’s considered one of the premier players at the position, regardless of age,” Shook wrote.

No other Lions made the list, but one other was considered. Punter Jack Fox, currently 24 years old, was nearly the selection, but Shook went, instead, with Patriots punter Jake Bailey, who was first-team All Pro last year.

You can view the entire All-Under-25 team here.


2021 All-Under-25 Team: Lamar Jackson leads NFL's rising stars


Published: Jun 22, 2021 at 03:24 PM

Nick Shook

Around The NFL Writer


Who are the most promising rising stars in the NFL? Nick Shook compiled a roster of the top players under 25 years old heading into the 2021 season.


NOTE: To be eligible, players must be younger than 25 years old on Sept. 9, the day the season kicks off.



Our options at tight end were fairly thin, so why not go with a 2020 Pro Bowler. Hockenson enjoyed a relative breakout in 2020, finishing third in receiving yards among tight ends behind established stars Travis Kelce and Darren Waller.


Lions tight ends coach Ben Johnson thinks it's just the beginning for the 2019 draft's eighth overall pick, recently telling reporters "there's plenty of meat still on the bone" with Hockenson, and adding that "the sky's the limit for this kid."


What is, in fact, the limit for Hockenson? We'll leave that to the future, but for now, he's the best tight end under 25, and it might not be long before he's considered one of the premier players at the position, regardless of age.


Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Wrestler Turned Lineman 'Tougher Than Crap'


Adam Coon has a lot to learn but also has shown numerous attributes that Tennessee Titans coaches find appealing.



16 HOURS AGO (June 21, 2021)


NASHVILLE – Everyone involved agrees that Adam Coon has a lot to learn.

However, he also has a few things going for him that can’t necessarily be taught.

“He’s athletic. He’s tougher than crap,” Tennessee Titans offensive line coach Keith Carter said. “He works his butt off. He’s smart. All those things. He’s got all those really outstanding characteristics.

“Well, let’s go see how far we can take him from a technique standpoint and understanding standpoint, really.”

While his chances to make the 53-man roster at the start of the regular season are admittedly slim, Coon will be one of the most intriguing players on the Titans’ 90-man roster throughout training camp and the preseason.

An All-American wrestler at Michigan from 2013-18, he was a three-time NCAA All-American, a two-time NCAA finalist and won 116 of his 131 career matches. He signed with Tennessee as an offensive lineman earlier this month after he failed to make the U.S. team for the Olympics in Tokyo. Never mind that the last time he played organized football was 2012, his senior year in high school.

“He’s starting from scratch, man,” Carter said. “How you read a playbook. How you get in a stance. All that staff. But I’m excited. He’s the right guy for the job in the sense that he’s going to work his butt off (and) he’s going to keep coming back for more.”

Head coach Mike Vrabel has seen first-hand that what Coon is attempting is possible, which is why he saw fit to use a roster spot on a 26-year-old rookie who checked in at 6-foot-5, 294 pounds after he signed.

During his eight seasons as a linebacker with the New England Patriots, Vrabel was teammates with guard Stephen Neal, who was a four-time All-American and two-time national champion wrestler at Cal Bakersfield where he went 156-10. Neal did not play football in college but had a 10-year career with the Patriots during which he appeared in 86 games and started 81. Of course, it took more than a year before he got on the field in a regular season game and two full seasons before he became a starter.

“Wrestlers, especially at that elite level have unbelievable balance, core strength, things that I think would translate well into being an offensive lineman,” Vrabel said. “But having not played the game, there’s a lot of development that has to go on pretty quickly for him to compete. But he’s [Coon’s] got a great attitude. He shows up. He competes. He goes hard. He just might not know what to do all the time.

“I think we just have to continue to coach him, develop him and see what we can get out of him and how he develops.”

At the conclusion of his college career, Coon’s sole focus was on his Olympic bid. Initially, the goal was to be in Tokyo in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the Games for a year.

In 2018 and 2019, he was a member of the U.S. Greco Roman team at the World Championships, and he won a silver medal in 2018. This April, he earned a spot on the national team once again, but the U.S. was not guaranteed a competitor in his weight class. At a last-chance qualifier tournament in May, he lost to a Ukrainian in the quarterfinals, which left him out of the Olympics.

One month later, he officially was an NFL hopeful.

“The fact that he’s out here shows that he wants to be here,” veteran guard Rodger Saffold said. “I see him working on drills off to the side, just constantly trying to learn. He seems to have a good attitude. Very critical of himself, which are good qualities to have as an offensive lineman.”

Right now, no one is willing to say for sure whether or not Coon actually is an offensive lineman or if he is a guy who is just kidding himself.

What is clear is that Titans coaches take his attempt to make it in the NFL quite seriously.

“You kind of sit back and ask yourself, ‘OK, who are the players (and) what ingredient do they have outside of technique that have a chance to make it?’” Carter said. “Adam checks all those boxes. … It will kind of be fun to see how far he can take it.”

Monday, June 21, 2021

Hockenson continues to impress as he builds rapport with Goff


Jun 20, 2021 at 08:23 AM

Tim Twentyman

Senior Writer


Third-year tight end T.J. Hockenson is coming off a Pro Bowl season in 2020, and has quickly become one of quarterback Jared Goff's favorite targets this offseason in OTA and minicamp practices.


Hockenson factors heavily into Detroit's plans on offense this year, and it won't be surprising, based on what we've seen this spring, if he's one of Detroit's leaders in receptions and touchdowns this fall.


"T.J. did some nice things last year and I think his ceiling is even higher," new Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said this offseason. "I know he made the Pro Bowl and all that, but he can play even better and that was the encouraging part."


New Lions general manager Brad Holmes took notice of Hockenson's progression this offseason, and feels like Hockenson's on the verge of something special.


"T.J. was a guy I was obviously high on when he came out of Iowa," Holmes recently told "But I will say watching him now, and even last year and in year's past, he is one of the better balanced tight ends that can contribute in both phases.


"He's got the athletic ability and the route savvy and the quickness and the agility. He's got all that to be a threat in the passing game, but the way he can contribute in the run game as well, sometimes you're not getting both."


Hockenson caught 67 passes last season for 723 yards and six touchdowns. He was also a plus run blocker based on Pro Football Focus grading, and allowed just three total pressures all year as a pass blocker.


"He's not just a Y or receiving tight end," Holmes said of Hockenson. "Out here this offseason he's felt more like a mismatch and I think he's off to a good start. Him and Jared seem like they have a nice rapport going."

Hockenson knows his ceiling is still high, and said this offseason he's preparing to be the best player he can be. He wants to be in the same conversation as the elite tight ends in the league, players like his close friend George Kittle and guys like Travis Kelce and Darren Waller.


Hockenson has shown more of his personality this offseason and appears to be having more fun playing the game.


"I think he wants to be recognized as one of the better tight ends," Holmes said. "It's good that he's coming out of his shell. You should be who you are and enjoy playing this game."

Friday, June 18, 2021

Ranking NFL's top 10 tight ends for 2021


The best of the best at the tight end position entering 2021


Jun 17, 2021 at 8:45 am ET

The tight end position is one of the most interesting positions in the game of football. On certain downs they are expected to be a physical run blocker. On others, they are expected to serve as the security blanket for quarterbacks who can't get a good look at their receivers downfield. Still, on other plays, they are expected to be a playmaker who can catch a 50-50 ball 20 yards down the field.

Tight ends don't get the credit that they deserve, so a few of them have created "Tight End U," which is expected to be an annual meeting of the minds in Nashville, Tennessee with the greatest tight ends in the world. They want to further the position, and the NFL world has definitely started to realize how important a good tight end is to an offense. Below, we will rank the top 10 tight ends in the NFL when it comes to their outlook this season. We factor in their abilities as an athlete, a blocker and of course how dynamic they are in the passing game. Some names may surprise you this year, so let's go ahead and jump in.

T.J. Hockenson

Hockenson is not a household name just yet, but that could change very soon. The Detroit Lions weren't fun to watch in 2020, but in his first full season, Hockenson caught 67 passes for 723 yards and six touchdowns. He ranked fourth among all tight ends in receptions, third in yards and tied for ninth in touchdowns. Hockenson was dangerous working the middle of the field and effective in the red zone. Additionally, he's a solid run blocker. 

Some may think Hockenson's stock could drop a bit in 2021 considering he lost quarterback Matthew Stafford, but you have to remember the Lions downgraded in a big way at the wide receiver position. Breshad PerrimanTyrell Williams and then maybe the rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown are going to be the top wideouts, which leaves the door open for Hockenson to be Detroit's leading receiver in 2021. The best is yet to come for Hockenson, and he's going to be a top tight end for years to come. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

Can Titans OL Adam Coon be the next Stephen Neal?


Published: Jun 12, 2021 at 09:03 AM

Grant Gordon | Digital Content Editor


Julio Jones has been the talk of the Tennessee Titans as of late.

However, the reigning AFC South champions have brought in another addition recently with a decorated past in Adam Coon.

Tennessee recently signed the former University of Michigan All-American and Team U.S.A. champion wrestler with Titans head coach Mike Vrabel seeing a project ahead that could pay off in the same fashion that one of Vrabel's former teammates did.

"Just wanted to try to take a look at Adam," Vrabel explained of the signing of Coon when the coach spoke with the media on Thursday. "I followed his wrestling career for a while. Something we looked at and, again, I was a part of as a player taking a former wrestler and they developed into an offensive lineman with Stephen Neal."

Vrabel played with the New England Patriots from 2001 to 2008 and Neal played for them from 2002 to 2010. Just like Coon, Neal played high school football but never in college, concentrating and flourishing in wrestling.

"Wrestlers, especially at that elite level, have unbelievable balance, core strength, things that I think would translate well to an offensive lineman," Vrabel said.

 Coon, having claimed Greco-Roman and freestyle championships and medals throughout a decorated college and Team U.S.A. tenure, notably was a two-time NCAA finalist (2015, 2018), a 2018 Senior world silver medalist, two-time Senior World Team member and a 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials runner-up.

Neal, meanwhile, was a four-time All-American at Cal State Bakersfield and a two-time NCAA champion who, as a senior, memorably defeated Brock Lesnar in 1999 for the heavyweight national championship. Lesnar would come back to win the crown in 2000 before going on to become a superstar in the WWE and UFC, holding titles in the predetermined and legitimate fighting arenas and perhaps more importantly becoming a top draw in both and a very underrated businessman.

Perhaps if the world of mixed martial arts wasn't in its dark ages when Neal moved on from Bakersfield he would've found his way to the UFC and fighting notoriety thanks to his wrestling pedigree. Instead, he found his way to Foxborough and was a staple for the better part of a decade at right guard for the burgeoning dynasty.

That's perhaps the ceiling Vrabel's hoping Coon, his 26-year-old prospect/project, will reach.

However, another mention of Lesnar is warranted. Following his first run in the WWE, Lesnar, having no college football experience either, gave the NFL a shot. The Vikings didn't like him enough to give him a regular-season roster spot, but he was offered a shot to play in NFL Europe as a Vikings representative. He declined.

It was a project that didn't come to fruition, but Lesnar's sheer athleticism and wrestling base made it happen.

One would surmise it's much the same with Coon.

While plenty of NFL players have wrestling on their high school resumes, there are a few such as Lorenzo Neal and the late Carlton Haselrig who starred on the college mat, as well.

Coon could be the next. His athleticism and ability to compete at a high level are positives. However, he is aiming to play a sport he hasn't played in roughly eight years, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound-plus Coon projecting to be an interior offensive lineman.

"Having not played the game, there's a lot development that has to go on pretty quickly for him to compete," Vrabel said. "But he's got a great attitude. He shows up, he competes, he goes hard and he just might not know what to do all the time. I think we just have to continue to coach him and develop him and see what we can get out of him and how he develops."

The odds are long and the road ahead is an arduous one, but it just might be that Adam Coon develops into the next Stephen Neal.

Friday, June 11, 2021

‘BrewFest’ added to Boys & Girls Clubs’ annual Celebrity Golf & Walleye Classic


Dakota News Now staff | June 10, 2021

(Dakota News Now) - The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sioux Empire is set to bring back its Celebrity Golf & Walleye Classic event, with a big addition this year.

The 2021 event will include “Celebrity Classic Crafted: Wine, Spirit & Brewfest,” a taste test featuring beer, wine, and spirits from a number of local breweries and distributors.

Cincinnati Bengals lineman and South Dakota native Riley Reiff is returning as a celebrity guest. He’ll be joined by UFC fighter Devin Clark and professional bodybuilder Austin Kjergaard.

The event serves as a major fundraiser for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sioux Empire. The Celebrity Golf Classic is June 11 at Lake Region Golf Club in Arlington. The Celebrity Walleye Classic is the same day at Lake Poinsett. The BrewFest takes place June 12 at Lakes Region Golf Course.

You can find more information, including how to get tickets, at the event’s website.

Copyright 2021 Dakota News Now. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 07, 2021

Anthony Lynn: T.J. Hockenson 'Can Be a Matchup Nightmare'


Read more on new Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn's thoughts on tight end T.J. Hockenson.



UPDATED: JUN 4, 2021


Expectations are seemingly rising by the day for Detroit Lions third-year tight end T.J. Hockenson. 

The 2019 first-round pick of the Lions (No. 8 overall) is coming off a Pro Bowl campaign, during which he amassed 67 receptions for 723 yards and six touchdowns in 16 games. 

So, many Detroit fans and pundits alike are expecting Hockenson to take another step forward this upcoming season, with the thought that he's on the verge of becoming a perennial Pro Bowl TE. 

Add first-year Detroit offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn to that ever-growing list. He told reporters Thursday that he believes the 6-foot-5, 247-pounder "can be a matchup nightmare" for defenders in 2021. 

"I have to be honest with you. Watching the tape last year, you know, I thought he was a good tight end. But, getting him here in person and just being around the young man, I think the sky's the limit for him, and I think he can be a matchup nightmare," Lynn said. "I love the way he's working right now. His work ethic is off the charts. But, just his explosion, his route savvy, ability to get open, read coverages, it's been really good and impressive." 

© Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports


Hockenson, with the Lions' receivers room not being nearly as strong as it was a year ago, has the opportunity to emerge even further on to the scene in his junior season as a pro. 


Detroit's pass-catchers group has since been depleted, most notably with the offseason departures of Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. 


Subsequently, Hockenson has a chance to be the go-to target in Lions signal-caller Jared Goff's first season in the Motor City. 


And, already working in favor of Hockenson is the fact that he worked out with Goff earlier this offseason. The two got together in Huntington Beach, Calif., at a well-known quarterback training facility called 3DQB to start developing their chemistry with each other. 


It could lead to a great connection between the new teammates. 


Lynn has been pleased with what he's seen from Detroit's new starting quarterback so far in Organized Team Activities. 


"He's doing fine. He's learning the system. He's picking it up pretty fast, and boy, his arm strength is really good," Lynn said. "You know, he's thrown some really accurate balls. I thought he had his best practice yesterday (Wednesday), and hopefully, he just continues to get better."  

Friday, June 04, 2021

Titans sign former college wrestler Adam Coon


Posted by Josh Alper on June 4, 2021, 4:39 PM EDT

Getty Image


When Titans head coach Mike Vrabel played for the Patriots, one of his teammates was guard Stephen Neal and Neal’s path to the NFL may have influenced a move that the Titans made on Friday.

The Titans announced the signing of Adam Coon to their 90-man roster. Like Neal, Coon was a wrestler rather than a football player in college and, like Neal, he will be playing on the offensive line.

Coon was a three-time All-American at the University of Michigan and failed to qualify for the Olympics at a meet last month. He played football in high school before fully dedicating himself to wrestling.

The Titans waived tackle Anthony McKinney with an injury designation in a corresponding move.

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