*Please excuse any spelling or grammatical errors in the below transcript as it was completed by AI, especially names.
Zach Hiduk: Welcome in everyone to the first episode of 32 Beat Beyond the Tweets. I’m so glad that you could join us. My name is Zach Hiduk and I’m going to be your host as we take this journey together speaking with beat writers from all around the league. We have a great one lined up for you today and I’m so excited for who we have to help us kick off our inaugural episode. One quick note, as occasionally happens with podcasting we recorded our show and then some news broke. Make sure to listen to the end of the episode where I’ll quote some words from our beat rider that he posted after it broke to give some context on his thoughts on the news.
Now, on to the interview. Okay everyone, I’m here with our very first guest on the show, Evan Lazar. Evan, welcome to the show, man. Thanks for having me. Good to be here. Yeah, for anyone who doesn’t know, Evan is the beat rider for Patriots.com and also hosts the Patriots Catch-22 podcast. You can listen to him on Patriots Unfiltered over at Patriots.com and if you’re looking for him on Twitter, you can find him at easy Lazar and of course find his written work over at Patriots.com. Did I miss anything there, Evan?
Evan Lazar: No, that was pretty good.
Zach Hiduk: All right, good to know. As a side note, I personally recommend one article that you’ve recently written for under the radar breakout candidates for the Patriots in 2023. Our listeners should definitely check that out after the show. But with that, I guess let’s just go ahead and dive right in here. If you don’t mind, just give us a little introduction. How did you get your start covering the Patriots here?
Evan Lazar: Yeah, sure. I grew up in Boston in the suburbs of Boston. So I have been a Patriots fan my whole life and been basically on this track of being a reporter and being a journalist since I went to college over a decade ago now, unfortunately. But that was always my goal, my dream was to cover the Patriots, to be on the beat, to travel with the team, do all that type of stuff. And thankfully, I think my lucky star is every day that I’m realizing that. But yeah, that’s always been my goal. And I went to school, Ithaca College for journalism. And I started covering the NFL as a producer behind the scenes in 2015 when I graduated from Ithaca and then started covering the Patriots specifically in 2018 before coming over to the team website about a year ago now. So I’ve been doing this for about five years, five seasons, got a few Brady years in there at the end, and then I’ve been here for the rebuild. So it’s been a journey, but it’s been a good time.
Zach Hiduk: Yeah, yeah, that’s a really interesting time to kind of come in and start covering them there with that final Super Bowl then, I assume, and then everything since then, which we’ll get into a little bit here. So before we do that though, is there anything unique about covering the Patriots in your experience or any unique experiences you’ve had with them?
Evan Lazar: Well, I’ve had a really unique experience because I was working for an external outlet for the majority of my time on the beat. And then in the last year, I’m now internal working for the team website. So that in itself has been, I think, pretty unique going from that sort of set of parameters to now having the parameters that we have in-house. So that’s been cool. It’s definitely been different, but in a good way.
And I think the most unique thing about the Patriots is that I think a lot of people are under the impression that they control what we say on the team website and that they are very, very strict about what we can write about and things like that. And that hasn’t really been my experience at all. Obviously, you keep it between the lines, right? We’re not going to necessarily take cheap shots at anybody in the organization or talk in depth about our opinions about certain things that go on off the field. But if it’s football and it’s a valid criticism about the football team, they’ve never told me not to write something, not to say something or whatever. So I think that that’s one big misconception about not only team run websites in general, but I think obviously knowing the Patriots, I think a lot of people would assume, oh, they must be all over making sure that you’re only positive and you’re only talking about certain things. And that really hasn’t been my experience.
Zach Hiduk: Yeah, no, I think there’s definitely a stigma, it seems, from the outside with Bill and everything like that. But that’s good to hear. And I’ve certainly listened into your content and things like that. It seems you guys tend to keep it pretty honest.
So with that, well, as long as I suppose you’re not going to get in trouble for it, we’re good, right? So to kind of get into some of that, Bill O’Brien, obviously, is the biggest story for the offense this year, maybe for the Patriots in total. After last year, what type of realistic improvements do you think we can see for the offense?
You know, they were 26th in yards last year, not that great, but 17th in points, I assume mostly because the defense wasn’t too bad. But with Bill O’Brien, what type of things do you think we can see hopefully improving from last year?
Evan Lazar: Well, I think that they’re going to completely revamp the offensive system that they ran last year is basically in the trash, I would say for the most part. And there are going to be elements of it that I think are going to be similar to what Josh McDaniels ran in 21 with Mack in his rookie year.
But for the most part, this is Bill O’Brien’s show now. And just over the years with Belichick, the best Belichick teams in my mind are the ones that sort of have a CEO of the offense or a head coach of the offense so that Bill can give his input over the top. And he sort of is able to put them over the top in that role by being in the margins, right? And giving them that little extra boost defensively with game planning or coaching on the field or giving them that little extra boost with the quarterbacks, being in their ear and talking about how opposing defenses might game plan and scheme against them. So I’ve always felt like with McDaniels, obviously with Charlie Weiss in the beginning of the dynasty, those guys being in place really allowed Bill to be at his best.
So I think this is really a best case scenario all around. I think they’ll look a lot like the 21 Patriots. We have to go back a little ways to go back to Bill O’Brien’s first stint in New England in like 2010, 2011. I think they’ll look a little bit like that as well. And then I also think they’ll have some Alabama modifications in there too that are crossover from what O’Brien did the last two seasons in Alabama and what Mc did at Alabama as the starting quarterback there for Nick Saban. So I think that’s the best part of it for everybody is that there’s some familiarity. There’s familiarity with the organization with Bill O’Brien. There’s familiarity for Mac with Bill O’Brien with Alabama ties. And so it just sort of made sense for everybody.
And I think that that’s really the main thing other than just schematically what he’s going to bring to the table is a level of competency and a level of professionalism and experience that we didn’t necessarily see last year given the coaching setup and the situation there. You just watch these practices in the spring and they run a lot smoother. They’re a lot more efficient. The ball is not hitting the ground as often. They’re not re-huddling and resetting because people are in the wrong spots or not on the same page. And those are the types of things that I think they’re hoping are going to make this offense go a little bit smoother this year.
Zach Hiduk: Yeah, I think the words that Mac Jones used was normal, right? And so that’s always good to hear in contrast to what we were seeing like last year. At this time, I think we were hearing a lot about zone running schemes and things like that. They kind of did that a little bit at the beginning of the year and then went away from it. So you’re kind of thinking that what we’ve seen in the past is hopefully what we’ll see in the future. We can kind of expect more of like a power running offense and things like that?
Evan Lazar: Yeah, I think that there’s going to be a little bit of both. In the spring, and I think that this is a big part of it too, they didn’t do a whole lot of run game stuff because it’s obviously non-padded practices and we’re really seeing a lot of what you would call like an old school passing camp, right? Where it’s a lot of seven on seven.
It’s a lot of fake 11 on 11, right? With the really no pass rush or blocking going on up front. And so we hadn’t seen a ton of what their goals are going to be in terms of the run game, but we did see some under center play action and how they’re going to sort of marry that up to the run game.
And there was an element of the downhill stuff again, like polars and things like that. There’s not going to be a full back. So they’re not going to go back to two back sets like Josh McDaniels would run and run lead ISO and things like that.
Like I don’t think they’re going to be doing much of that, but I think that there’s going to be a little bit of both. But I don’t see, you know, this time last year, the big thing was it didn’t really start to truly go downhill until we got into training camp last year. The spring was okay. You didn’t really see it being a total train wreck yet until the pads came on and they got into practices in the summertime. The spring, what was weird about it was all the change, you know, it was just all of a sudden we’re going to go from a downhill run scheme that worked for 20 years in New England at a very, very high level to now we’re drilling every other period is an outside zone drill.
And then we went from that to the efficient, short, quick, intermediate passing game that we’re used to in New England to like bombs away and with Mac Jones and the shotgun with the spread formations and throwing the football down the field. And you’re like, all right, like this is not only are we changing coaching staffs, not only is there doubts about who’s in charge, but they’re also just completely fundamentally changing everything that they do offensively. And I think that that led to a lot of concerns, but we didn’t really see it fall apart until we got to training camp. So I’m still wary of, let’s see what it looks like when the pads come on, let’s see what it looks like a couple weeks into training camp, because it wasn’t a total disaster yet last year until he got into the season.
But I think from a run game perspective, I’m expecting them to be a little bit more downhill and traditional like they have been, but I think mainly what you’re looking at is going to be a little bit of the combination because Alabama was always sort of multiple as well and ran some zone and also ran some of those power concepts that we’re used to seeing.
Zach Hiduk: Okay, all right. So it sounds like, yeah, we’ll want to monitor that. I think they start training cap what is it on the 26th or 27th?
Evan Lazar: July 26th is the first day of practice, 25th Veterans Report. They have those couple of days in the beginning where they’re kind of extension of mini camp and OTAs before the pads come on. So I would expect maybe the first week of August to be the true first week of pads and full contact practices. Okay, all right.
Zach Hiduk: So we’ll make sure to keep out a lookout for that then. Along with those running game comments, you know, going back to last year, Stevenson had 210 attempts on the ground and then he had 88 targets. Now, of course, that was with Damian Harris out there for a considerable chunk of time with some injuries and things like that. Now with the OC change, what do you expect his workload to look like and who’s the main guy behind him if there is one? I know recently you’ve mentioned people like Ty Montgomery. I know he got a little bit of plug last year. We’ve got the rookies from last year, so the sophomores. Do we expect him to shoulder that whole load again or what do you think?
Evan Lazar: Well, historically speaking, the Patriots have never relied heavily on one running back like they did last year. That was definitely an outlier. Like you have to go back to probably like Corey Dillon in the early 2000s or maybe like one LeGarrette Blount season when he was in his peak Patriots to truly get a running back. That was 66 % snap rate in the backfield for the Patriots last year, which is what Rhamondre was. And Rhamondre has been open about the fact that it wore him down that late in the year. He wasn’t the same guy that he was at the beginning of the season. We saw it.
It was tangible. You could see it with your eyes, but at the same time to hear him say that, I think really tells you that they have to internally address the fact that he cannot play 70 % of the snaps again like he did last season. As much as that might kill fantasy football owners, and I get this question all the time because of the fantasy crew of what’s everybody’s talking about Ramon Dre’s workload being reduced, and I know that drives the fantasy football people nuts.
But that’s just the reality of the situation that they’re in now. It’s more tricky when you start to project who’s going to step into that second role, that RB2 role or even the third down role. You mentioned Ty Montgomery. This is the second straight off season where Ty Montgomery has looked like the best fit, most natural guy for their receiving back role that we’ve known to be very successful here in New England from James White and Kevin Fualk and Shane Vereen.
He fits that mold and he’s been a reliable sort of safety blanket for them when he’s out there. But I think that what I’ve come to realize as we start to do roster projections and training camp previews and things like that, Time Monk Hummery hasn’t been a productive NFL player in five years. It’s really, you have to go all the way back to 2018 since the last time that he put up more than 200 scrimmage yards in the season. So to sit here and say that Ty Montgomery is going to be this huge factor in the Patriots offense is certainly putting a lot of risk, I would say, in the fact that he’s struggled to stay healthy, struggled to carve out roles in other places. So you can’t deny what you’re seeing out at practice, which is that he’s being used all over the place. He’s been active in these practices. He’s been reliable.
And the fact that he just hasn’t been that player in actual NFL games. So we’ll see if it translates. We’ll see if he stays healthy. I’m still bullish and hoping that they’re going to give as many opportunities to Pierre Strong as possible.
You drafted this guy in the fourth round. He’s got 4.38 speed. He’s got big playability. You’ve seen the big playability in flashes as a rookie in some of the touches he had last year. And then you see it out at practice that he’s an explosive guy. So I would really like to see them continue to give him all the opportunities in the world to be the RB2 behind Rhamondre. Kevin Harris is the other sophomore running back.
He fits more of their early down mold. He’s 225 pounds. He’s built like a Mack truck. He’s a big guy. Can run between the tackles. He’s not going to give you as much of that explosive playability as Pierre Strong, but he’s somebody that just fits their prototype in terms of toting the rock between the tackles on first down, that type of guy.
So between those three guys, can they muster up a two and a three, a receiving back and maybe somebody that can carry the ball five to 10 games to give Rhamondre a breather every once in a while? I don’t know.
I think that there’s still a lot of uncertainty there, a lot of inexperience there. Obviously, with the sophomore guys, I think they totaled 27 touches between the two of them last year. That’s it. That’s the only sample that we have to go off of with those two guys. So to wrap it up, I would just say I would not rule out the Patriots being in the running back market for a true experienced RB2 behind Rhamondre or maybe even forming a a one-two punch with Rhamondre.
You just look at the names that are still out there. Dalvin Cook, Leonard Fournette, Zeke Elliott. Like these are guys that are big brand name players in the league. James Robinson not working out. I could definitely see them kicking the tires on one of those guys and maybe even signing one of those guys before camp.
Zach Hiduk: Okay, well you had me all excited with the Pierre Strong talk and your hopes there because I drafted them on my dynasty team last year late in the rookie draft. But now you’re telling me that there might be interested in Dalvin Cook and that was one of the things I wanted to ask about. So you think that there would be legitimate interest in Dalvin Cook? I think he maybe retweeted something or liked a tweet about the Patriots or something a day ago. Like do you think that, so that’s something you see as a possibility?
Evan Lazar: Yes, absolutely. I do think it’s a possibility and I think that the main thing is I mentioned the Patriots have always been leaning towards more of like a running back by committee. They’ve never wanted to give one guy in 200 carries and 66 % snap rate like they did with Ramandre last year. That’s just not their cup of tea. And I also think with New England, people always talk about how the Patriots don’t usually spend a whole lot.
And I agree that that’s not true. Usually their spending model is not to go out and free agency like they did a few years ago and spend a ton of money. But when they can see a deal to be had, that’s when they tend to pounce. And Dalvin Cook being available on June 28th and maybe not having as robust of a market as he would, let’s say in March, because the salary cap space has dried up across the league. I could see the Patriots looking at that and saying, well, this is like a market deficiency.
This is a bargain now. Like this is, we’re getting a depressed asset because he’s not a free agent at the right time and he’s still only 27 and he’s a pro bowler. So I could definitely see Dalvin Cook, the Patriots being interested in Dalvin Cook. Well, they went in bidding war for Dalvin Cook. I don’t think so, but if Dalvin Cook doesn’t have a lot of multi-year offers out there, then maybe there’s a possibility that New England would kick the tires and be interested. I think they’re already interested, but in terms of actually signing him, I do think it’s a possibility if the money is right.
Zach Hiduk: Okay, yeah, I’m not sure how many people were expecting that to be the case. Like you mentioned, just with the stinginess, it seems, or the stigma around that stinginess and free agency, but I mean, even if they don’t sign Dalvin Cook, like you mentioned, there’s Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott, so we’ll see what happens there. And yeah, I’m a little bit surprised, so it’s good to get that information based on what you’re saying here.
Moving on just to the sophomore wide receiver here that we have in Tyquan Thornton. How has he looked this off season? It seems like I know he was injured a bit, right? And so he didn’t participate a ton. I’m curious to know if you think that he can step up from what he did last year. He had 45 targets in 13 games. He’s got that four to eight speed. Can he take any stress off of Mac Jones? And if we’re gonna do a game here, like would you put the over or under on 80 targets? What do you feel about that?
Evan Lazar: 80 targets, I don’t know. That seems like a little bit high just because I don’t think his role is necessarily gonna be high volume. It’s more gonna be big plays and hoping that he averages 18 yards per catch, right? I don’t know if he’s gonna be a hundred target guy, but he might be a 65 target guy that is targeted a lot down the field and hopefully makes big plays out of those targets. But I think the biggest thing with Taekwondo is you just look at Bill O’Brien as being somebody that could unlock his speed in this offense and use him a little bit more creatively to get him open and get him advantageous opportunities down the field to beat coverage.
I think one of the things that he struggled with last year was that finishing through contact, obviously, with his size, he’s 6’1″, 180, soaking wet. He’s a skinny kid, he’s real thin. And asking him to play like the backside X-Roll and just go up against press corners and win that battle against NFL press man corners is not necessarily, I don’t think, going to produce the results that the Patriots need him to produce because of his lack of physicality or lack of play strength. So moving him around the formation more, playing him more inside, playing him more out of splits like bunches and trips alignments or stack alignments, things like that, using him in motion. Like I think that those are things that can allow him to just basically make it a game of flag football for him, right?
Where he’s just out there running around and using that speed. So I’m optimistic that they’re gonna use him correctly. I think the biggest thing with him is health and durability. Last year he missed the first month of the year with a collarbone injury.
Then we get out there, he has this spring, he has one great practice right off the bat in the spring OTA’s circuit. And then he goes down to the rehab field with a hamstring injury or a soft tissue injury, excuse me. I’m not sure exactly if it’s a hamstring, but a soft tissue injury that held him out for the rest of the spring. So is this a guy that’s just gonna be dinged up all the time and isn’t gonna really realize his potential because of injuries, it’s possible. But I really like the idea of looking to Bill O’Brien pass, you know, guys like Will Fuller, Jameson Williams, like those types of burners that Bill O’Brien’s been able to unlock.
I think that Tyquan has similar skills. They just need them out there. And he needs to be out there because they really don’t have another field stretcher in this group.
They don’t have another burner in this group. You know, Davonte Parker is a contested catch guy, you know, he can make big plays on jump balls, but he’s not running by anybody. Juju and Kendrick Bourne are intermediate guys. And then there’s Tyquon. So the only guy that’s stretching the field in their current receiver room, even if they get DeAndre Hopkins is Tyquan. So they definitely need him to be out there. Yeah.
Zach Hiduk: You mentioned DeAndre, which of course, you know, everybody’s curious about too, but just putting, you know, assuming he doesn’t sign, which it sounds like he might that, you know, the recent information on the last couple of days seems like he’s at least interested. But assuming he doesn’t, who would have the most targets in yards? Do you think if it’s not going to be Tyquan then you think it might be Juju or?
Evan Lazar: Yeah, I definitely think that that’s what they hope. You know, Juju has had a little bit of a weird spring too. He’s been coming back from a knee injury, apparently, that he had that he played through last year in the playoffs and hasn’t been out there very much in the spring. Hopefully that’s just precautionary and playing the long game with him. And he’ll be out there full till comes training camp, but we haven’t really seen him yet in terms of open practices to the media. He’s been out there a little bit throwing with Mac Jones from what we understand behind the scenes, but not a whole lot in front of the media yet. So we’ll see. But he’s supposed to be the Jacobi Myers replacement. He’s supposed to be the high volume guy.
You know, if you’re going to project a guy to get over a hundred targets in this offense, it should be Juju. If it’s not, then they’re in trouble. You know, I don’t really know where they go offensively at that position. Maybe it’s to Kendrick Bourne and they try to unlock Kendrick Bourne like he was in 2021 at a higher volume. But I think that that’s really gets dicey at that point. If Juju is not the guy they thought that they signed in free agency, I guess you could sort of connect Hopkins to that. Like maybe they are a little bit concerned about Juju. And that’s why they’re showing so much interest in DeAndre Hopkins is to get a hedge of their bet there a little bit. But they need Juju to be healthy. They need him to be a chain mover. They need him to be a targets machine. And hopefully he is back out there in training camp.
Zach Hiduk: We’ll have to monitor that then. And, you know, getting to Hopkins then if they sign him, how much of a game changer is that if it happens? And do you think anybody else on the wide receiver, you know, lineup gets cut because of that?
Evan Lazar: So in terms of the game changer, I’ve been really high on them signing DeAndre Hopkins. I admit fully that it’s partially selfish because it’s just more exciting to cover the team. If they have DeAndre Hopkins on the team and the fan interest is definitely going to be a lot higher. But just in general, they have not had anybody mainly like, you know, I guess Edelman and Gronk at the end of their careers, or maybe like Brandon Cooks in 17, that has that sort of potential that has 1300 yard 1500 yard potential when healthy.
And that was the pace that Hopkins was on last year. If he didn’t have the suspension and some of the issues with Arizona going on. So I think that he’s somebody that can certainly demand some extra attention, tilt the coverage his direction, command top coverage assignments, like when they get out there in week one against Philadelphia and DeAndre Hopkins is on the roster, like we know who Darius lay is covering, it’s going to be DeAndre Hopkins. And if you go into that game without him, you don’t really need to worry about that. If you’re the Eagles, like where does Darius lay play?
It doesn’t really matter. He just plays, right? And now you get that guy. And I’ve always been big on, you know, something that Mike Lombardi talks about a lot, the Tuesday meeting guy, like who’s the guy when you get into the game plan meeting with the coaching staff that they put up on the white board in circle and say, we got to devise a game plan to stop this guy. The Patriots don’t really have that guy in their offense right now.
You maybe could make the argument that the Rhamondre could be that guy, but that’s basically out of, well, there’s nobody else. So like, we’re just going to key in on the running back. So I think with Hopkins, he does that. I even at this point of his career, I still think his, his, you know, production last year, his name recognition and just cash a around the league, he’s going to draw some extra coverage. He’s going to draw top assignments. And I’m almost higher on it from that perspective than his actual individual production. I just think the trickle down effect on the rest of the offense, it just kind of puts everybody in the proper pecking order to have him at the top.
So I think it would really make a big difference. The odd man out question is when we get a lot too. I think the biggest thing with you know, the odd man out is not necessarily that it’s in the Patriots best interest to move on from one of the veteran receivers. If Hopkins signs, I think it’s more about in the player’s best interest because he’s not going to play. And if you’re Davonte Parker or Kendrick Bourne, and you’re barely going to play here, but you can be traded and maybe play in the top three someplace else, I think that that’s going to be where one of those guys is going to lean.
It makes more sense for them to move on from Parker at that point, I think just because I believe that Hopkins will play that X role and that Parker is currently holding down. But Kendrick Bourne’s had some issues internally with the team, with the coaching staff, certainly last year just really outspoken about how much of a mess that thing was last year. And you know how the Patriots and Bill Belichick work, you know, you keep that stuff in-house.
You don’t go talking to the media about it. And I think that that has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way with Kendrick Bourne. So if it had to be like which guy fits the Patriot way more, I definitely go with Devonte Parker. But in terms of roles and skill sets and overlaps and things like that, I would say Parker would probably be the odd man out.
So I don’t know, it’s a difficult one to project just because how do they truly feel about Kendrick Bourne in terms of the person and the culture more than anything?
Zach Hiduk: That makes sense. For anybody who hadn’t seen this already, go check out Evan’s 53-man roster projection that he just posted. I was scanning the wide receiver room there and you kind of mentioned some of those things. It also seems like the rookie, Kayshon Boutte, who had some hype last year, you know, really fell in the draft. It seems as though you’re thinking he may not make this team either.
Evan Lazar: Yeah, look, he can’t make the team if you’re not out there. And he hasn’t been out there a ton. And there was one practice in the spring, and I hate to put a ton on one practice in the spring with no pads and things, but it’s all we have to go off right now. And there was one practice where the top four veteran receivers all sat out to practice. It was a voluntary session. They all didn’t practice. And it was Keshon Booty, DeMario Douglas, Trey Nixon, like all their depth guys.
And Boutte just did nothing. Like he just didn’t do anything to pop or do anything to really take advantage of getting some reps with Mac Jones and getting some reps with the pseudo ones that day. And you just would have liked to have seen one catch, one play, like something in that practice with all that opportunity coming his way. And it just didn’t really pop for him. I think we’ve seen some of the explosiveness and suddenness that he’s known for in positional drills. And like he does look like an athlete, but he just didn’t really do anything to stand out in the spring. And on top of that, you just, you can’t make the team if you’re not healthy and you’re not out there. So we’ll see with Booty.
I still think that he’s got a chance. And this often happens, you know, you get hyped up about somebody in the spring and then it completely does a 180 once the pads come on in the summer. So maybe that’s how it goes for Keshon Booty. And I’m willing to like leave that door open. But if I had to project it today, I would have him off the roster.
Zach Hiduk: All right. We’ll keep an eye on that then. Looking at the defense then, just shifting gears a tiny bit. It was pretty good last year, but it did have its struggles against good quarterbacks, right? You’ve got Aaron Rodgers in the division now with the Jets. So it seems as though they’re going to end up playing three top 15 offenses about six times. I mean, I don’t know how everybody’s going to shake out, but if Aaron Rodgers is what he’s supposed to be, we’re going to have three other good teams in the division, right?
So how do you think the defense does? Obviously, Jack Jones, that whole recent drama, we don’t know if he’s going to be there or not. But in the draft, you know, they got a couple extra guys, Christian Gonzalez, Keon White. What do you think they look like this year? Hopefully, if Bill can focus his full attention on that and leave the offense to Brian.
Evan Lazar: Yeah, it’s a fun defense on paper because they really do have a solid depth and really good contributors at all three levels of the defense now. And they should take that next step. But there’s a lot of pressure, I would say, on Christian Gonzalez and that rookie class to be the missing pieces, the final pieces to the puzzle. And putting that all on a 21-year-old rookie is a lot. But at the same time, it’s not, I don’t think he needs to go out there and be Revis, day one. He just needs to go out there and be a starting caliber corner on the outside, which I think is more than fair to ask him to do. So I’m not expecting him to be an All-Pro out of the gate or have a season like Sauce Gardner had last year or something like that. But I’m definitely expecting him to be a starter and to be heavily involved and play a ton of snaps. So we’ll see what ends up happening with Gonzalez.
But in general, you mentioned it, and I think it’s a really good point. They beat up on a lot of bad offenses over the last couple of years, a lot of bad quarterbacks, backups, Sam Darnold’s, those types of guys. And then they get up against Josh Allen, and Allen just does whatever he wants. And at some point, they have to be a good defense against everybody, not just a good defense against those teams at Belichick, just as better than, you know, still at this point of his career, his game planning, the system itself, I think, is maybe even more important sometimes in the game plan. They’re just fundamentally sound. They don’t beat themselves. They don’t bust coverages.
They don’t, you know, run out of gaps. They don’t like do all those types of things that bad defenses do to give up a lot of points. So they’ve been really, really good against really, really bad competition. And they’ve been okay to bad. You know, I would say okay to bad at times against good competition. And for this team to win 10 games and be in the playoff on they need the defense to win some games against good quarterbacks.
They just do. And we’ll see if they’re able to make that next step. But you mentioned White, Gonzalez, their third round pick, Marty Mapu is probably the star of the spring for them. He is a safety linebacker hybrid. And we know how much the Patriots love using those types of guys. But I think he’s using a little bit more towards linebacker and they really haven’t had a 225 230 sideline the sideline linebacker, you know, a Fred Warner type, a Matt Milano type in this defense, they typically play the old school guys like Joanne Bentley or the Thumpers, the 250 pound guys, the high towers, the Bentley’s, the Kyle Van noise. That role has not really been something that they’ve highlighted or used a ton.
But Mapu is terrific in the spring, played a lot of different positions, wore a lot of different hats, showed that sideline to sideline ability and explosiveness. So if you can put him on the second level of the defense next to Joanne Bentley, that gives him a lot more range. It gives him a lot more coverage upside, I think, in the middle of the field.
And then obviously with guys like Allen in the division, somebody that maybe he can run down those quarterbacks as well. So I really think that Mapu is as much of a potential missing piece, if you will, as Christian Gonzalez, just based off of his skill set and what he showed us in the spring. So that’s the defense, other than that, is pretty much intact from last year. The only guy that they lost, and it’s a big loss in Devin McCourty, him retiring, but he’s the only starter that’s not returning from the defense last year. That was top five in DVOA, number one in weighted DVOA. So they were a good defense last year on itself.
And then you bring pretty much everybody back and add some of the rookies. So I’m bullish on the defense. I think everybody is, but we still got to see it against Allen, against Rogers, against Mahomes, against Hurts in Week One. If we don’t, then they’re still kind of in the same boat they have been the last couple of years. Yeah, it sounds like, based on what you’re saying with the addition of the rookies, we can hope that maybe they improve.
Maybe Kyle Duggar steps up to help lead that, where maybe McCourty not going to be anymore. But so from a fantasy angle, sounds like maybe just start them against the people who you know are bad, but stay away until we get some proof here in the beginning, maybe. So… Yeah, I think they’re going to be a good fantasy defense, I do, because they’ll turn the ball over like they always do. They’ll score some defensive touchdowns like they always do, just because Belichick is still really, really good on that side of the ball in terms of disguising and giving them opportunities to get turnovers and things like that. So if they’re playing a backup quarterback one week and you’re fantasy league, then I would definitely be starting the Patriots.
Zach Hiduk: All right, we’ll go ahead and do that then. With the tight ends, now I personally believe, I have a hard time with fantasy tight ends, they tend to be a purgatory that I just, I don’t love getting into, but for our sake here, the Pats let Jonnu Smith go, that leaves Hunter Henry, and now of course Mike Gesicki from the Dolphins. They seem to be the most fantasy relevant options and the ones who are going to stick to the roster here. How do you expect those guys to be utilized and how do they differ from one another? What different roles do they have?
Evan Lazar: Well, I think what they’re hoping for is that they will be a little bit more complimentary and on the surface, Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry seemed really complimentary because John, who was more of this like Swiss Army knife, you know, blocker slash ball carrier type of tight end and Henry was more your natural pass catcher, traditional why, but when it really got out on the field, Jonnu Smith just didn’t fit their offense. He didn’t fit what they do because he’s not a great route runner and he’s not really like a natural pass catcher. He’s kind of this gadget tight end and it’s a unique skill set that I don’t think that they ever really figured out of how to optimize it in this offense. What we’ve seen from Gesicki, both in Miami and his early stages and also in the spring, is just a lot more of a natural fit, a natural pass catcher, a route runner, a good hands, catch radius, we know that good straight line explosiveness. And I think that traditionally how they use their tight ends, like we’ve seen in the past run the seam, run across the field on play action concepts, like that fits Gesicki a lot more than it ever fit Jonnu Smith. So I think that they have a much better system fit with Gesicki that makes you excited about what that duo can do.
Is that duo going to tap into each other’s production from a fantasy angle? Yes, absolutely. But I do think that by the end of the year, and maybe it’s a little bit of a hot take, I think Gesicki might pass Hunter Henry in some of the traditional 11 personnel, third down situations. Henry is a really crafty receiver, is a veteran guy, he knows his spots, he knows how to get open, but his speed and his explosiveness has taken a little bit of a downturn, I would say, certainly last year. Maybe that changes with the coaching staff changing and things like that. He’s a little bit more free and confident out there, but based off of what we saw last year. He wasn’t moving, I don’t think the same way that he had moved in the prime of his career, whereas Gesicki was already out there running the seam and creating big plays in the spring and getting up the field and being explosive. So I think that they could pivot a little bit to Gesicki.
I think both of these guys are gonna play a ton together. I think that’s an easy projection. In the last two years, they were 25th in the league and 12th personnel usage, despite paying Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith huge contract. It was super weird. It was, you’re paying both these tight ends, 10 plus million dollars, and you can’t play them together. So like, what’s the point? And I think that was sort of the realization that they came to this offseason was, what is the point? If we’re not gonna be able to play the two of them together, then what good is it to have them? I think they’re hoping that they can play these guys a little bit more together. And like I said, I could definitely see Gesicki being the primary 11 personnel tight end down the road.
Zach Hiduk: Wow. Yeah, I do think that’s interesting. And hey, we’re okay with hot takes here. It sounds like he might be a little flyer to take as a dark horse candidate down the stretch there for you and your fantasy drafts, if you’re looking at that. We’re gonna try something here. I’m gonna give you a few minutes, however long you want to take here, on just like a soap box issue that you feel like you have with the Patriots. So like, what’s something you don’t believe is discussed enough with the team or is there something that you believe that most people aren’t looking at correctly here?
Evan Lazar: All right. So I think the main thing with the team right now is the quarterback situation and with Mac Jones. And what is the, what are the Patriots gonna get out of year three and Mac Jones? And I think that there’s a lot of people out there, and this is gonna maybe come off as a little bit negative, but there’s a lot of people out there, in my opinion, that just think that Bill O’Brien’s gonna come in. It’s gonna be competent again for Mac Jones and everything is gonna be hunky-dory, right? Like they’re just gonna drop Bill O’Brien in and he’ll be back to at least his rookie year production and looking like a serviceable game manager or beyond. And I think the biggest thing with Mac that I struggle with is, is he ever going to be beyond a game manager?
Is he ever going to elevate his game to the point where it’s not just like, you know, Alex Smith, Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, Derek Carr, like those guys are fine. You can win with those guys. You can make the playoffs with those guys.
The Patriots are not winning any Super Bowls with those guys, right? And I think that’s gonna be the biggest thing still to me is that Mac Jones needs to prove to me that he is not just along for the ride. It, you know, is he, is he a trailer or is he a truck?
Is he driving the bus or is he sitting passenger, right? And I need to see something more from Mac Jones to elevate this entire team. I think the Patriots roster is playoff caliber, even in this division, I think that they could make the playoffs at 10 wins. I’m not gonna sit here and say they’re gonna go, you know, 14 and three, but I think that they can win 10 games with this roster. But in order to do that, they’re gonna have to win some games that are a little bit higher scoring. They’re gonna have to win a game 35-31 that they probably shouldn’t win. And that’s gonna come down to the quarterback.
And I’m still, I’m not 100 % sold that the quarterback is up for it yet. And we got to see that from Mac Jones this year. So I’d ultimately think that you get a much more competent, a much more put together Mac Jones. But it’s not good enough to just be the rookie version of himself. Like that was a good rookie year. That’s all it was.
It wasn’t like, oh, this is our guy for the next decade, you know? So I need to see more from Mac.
Zach Hiduk: All right. Well, we’re gonna get a good test of that here. Like you said, Week One, they face the Eagles. And then of course, all those high-powered offenses in the division. We’ll see if he can keep up there. Thanks so much for the insight, Evan, to our listeners. Please make sure to check out all of his work over at Patriots.com. And for the most up-to-date news on the Patriots. Thanks so much for joining us, Evan. We appreciate you being our first guest here on the show.
Evan Lazar: Anytime, Zach. Thanks for having me.
Zach Hiduk: So if you’re paying attention to the news on Wednesday, you are aware that Devante Parker was signed to a three-year extension. This unfortunately happened after we recorded our interview. So I just wanted to give you some context on Evan’s thoughts. He posted an article later on Wednesday regarding Parker’s resigning and said this. As for how this relates to New England’s pursuit of Deandre Hopkins on the surface, it might seem unlikely that the Patriots would extend Parker and add Hopkins to the mix. And it’s now a guarantee that Parker won’t be pushed off the roster by Hopkins.
However, Parker’s new deal likely creates cap space for the Patriots, which could free up money for the Pats to continue talks with Hopkins and secure Parker for the long term. Now, of course, he had a lot more to say, so make sure to check it out in the article. Thanks for listening, and don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts. And also follow us on Twitter at 32beatriders to keep up with everything happening in the league this offseason. We’ll see you next week.