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Preseason Power Rankings No. 4: New England Patriots

Julian Edelman, Ryan Allen, Danny Aiken AP

The Patriots were back in the AFC Championship Game last year, but their bid for another Super Bowl title were dashed by the Broncos.

Making it there was a credit to coach Bill Belichick’s adaptability as he had to fill holes created by injuries while finding a way to keep the offense moving in spite of an underwhelming season by Tom Brady’s wide receivers. That stopped against Denver, but the Patriots made it clear they have designs on staying on top in the AFC East.

They signed cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in hopes of stopping the revolving door at that position, with the Revis acquisition and a growing group of talent in the front seven leading to thoughts of the best Patriots defense in several years.

There were no such additions to the offense, but the hope is that the return to health of tight end Rob Gronkowski serves the same purpose.

Strengths.

When Gronkowski was healthy last season, the Patriots had one of the most potent offenses in the league. When he was out, they weren’t close to the same level as a team and Brady wasn’t as effective as a quarterback. Whether Gronk can stay healthy for an entire year is a matter of some debate, but his impact on the team is certain.

The Patriots had a pretty good defense last season without Revis. Adding one of the best cornerbacks in the game as he looks to restore some luster after a forgettable year in Tampa has the potential to move the defense from pretty good to great in a shift that the Pats would love to see.

Revis won’t be doing it alone, though. Linebacker Jerod Mayo was lost after the sixth week of the season because of a torn pectoral muscle and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork’s torn Achilles made him a bystander as well. Getting both back to go with Jamie Collins, Donta’ Hightower, Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich would make for one of the best front sevens in the conference.

The permanent move to safety was a good one for Devin McCourty, who turned in an excellent year in 2013. With better cornerback play expected, McCourty could be deployed in a more aggressive manner this time around.

Weaknesses.

Julian Edelman caught a lot of passes, but the rest of the wide receivers left something to be desired last season. The Patriots need Danny Amendola to remain on the field and they’d like to see the potential of Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins or Josh Boyce translated into actual production. Without those developments, the Patriots will be relying heavily on Gronkowski remaining healthy once again this year.

Brady was sacked 40 times last year, the second-most of his career, and that number will need to come down this season. Center and right guard are the spots most in need of improvement as Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly were weak links last year.

LeGarrette Blount wasn’t re-signed as a free agent, leaving the Patriots without their battering ram in the backfield from last year. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are on hand, so there’s no reason to panic although the team’s versatility took a little bit of a hit with Blount’s departure.

If everyone is healthy, the defensive line should be pretty good. Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Will Smith and first-round pick Dominique Easley are all returning from serious injuries, though, and the depth isn’t strong enough to keep pressure on opposing quarterbacks if they aren’t in the game.

Changes.

We’ll get to the changes that have been made in a second, right after we discuss the changes that the Patriots hope will take place. After losing Gronkowski, Mayo, Wilfork, Kelly and Sebastian Vollmer to season-ending injuries last year, the Patriots will be hoping that simply being healthier will allow them to push their way back to the top of the conference.

The Pats added three offensive linemen in the draft — center Bryan Stork, tackle Cameron Fleming and guard Jon Halapio — to restock with some young depth up front.

Browner will serve a suspension to start the year, so it will be some time before he and Revis can be deployed as a tandem. Logan Ryan, Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard will be on hand to fill in and then fill out the sub packages.

Brandon LaFell was signed as a free agent after playing out his contract with the Panthers. There’s probably more upside with the younger receivers, but the Pats will take any help they can get at the position after last season.

Camp Battles.

Steve Gregory is gone, leaving an opening at safety next to McCourty. Patrick Chung is back after a spell with the Eagles and he’ll join Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson, Kanorris Davis and rookie Jemea Thomas at the position. Harmon looks like the first choice heading into camp.

The Patriots drafted running back James White in the fourth round and he’ll likely vie with Brandon Bolden for backfield snaps left up for graps after Blount’s departure. Given the fluid nature of running back situations, he could wind up with even more than that if things break right.

New England selected quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round, setting up a competition with Ryan Mallett for backup duties and the role as unofficial heir to Brady.

Prospects.

The Patriots have advanced at least as far as the conference title game in each of the last three seasons. When you survey the AFC at this point, another trip to that round feels like the expectation once again in New England.

We can’t know which Patriots might be injured this season or which teams might come together to form a whole better than anyone is predicting in July, but, outside of Denver, there aren’t any teams in the conference that are safe bets to be better than the Patriots. And there certainly aren’t any in the AFC East, where the question again appears to be how many weeks it will take for the Pats to sew up the crown.

Getting beyond the conference title game and earning another Lombardi Trophy is a different matter, however. They’ll need better health than last season, development from a young receiver or two and no noticeable slippage from key veterans to add a fourth ring for the Belichick era.

There’s a lot that needs to break right, but the Patriots are in position to capitalize if things do go that way.

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Jaguars trade up to take Myles Jack at No. 36

FILE - In this Sept. 19, 2015, file photo, UCLA linebacker Myles Jack in action against BYU during an NCAA college football game in Pasadena, Calif. Jack is one of the top defensive players available in the NFL Draft, which starts April 28 in Chicago. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok, File) AP

The Jaguars have added two of the top defensive players in this year’s draft, although one of them comes with major question marks.

The Jaguars gave up a fifth-round pick to move up two spots in the second round to take UCLA linebacker Myles Jack 36th overall.

Jack would have likely been a top 10 pick if not for concerns about his knee, and the fact he admitted he might need microfracture surgery. That scared off plenty of teams, and the Jaguars in the first round.

But by pairing Jack with cornerback Jalen Ramsey, they’ve added a pair of playmakers to a defense that needed them. If Jack is healthy enough to play for long, they have a chance to make the kind of strides on defense they did on offense last year.

Coupled with last year’s first-rounder (defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., coming off a torn ACL), the Jaguars are crossing their fingers and hoping for health.

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Cowboys take Jaylon Smith with 34th pick

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 19: Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates with Cole Luke #36 after recovering a fumble against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on September 19, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Georgia Tech 30-22. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Jaylon Smith isn’t expected to play a down in 2016 and there are some questions about what will happen from there, but if he does get on the field he’ll do it wearing a Cowboys uniform.

The Cowboys made Smith the third pick of the second round on Friday night, 34th overall, and the selection backs up a report from Adam Schefter of ESPN this week that there was interest in taking him before the more common predictions of the third round for the Notre Dame product.

Smith suffered a severe knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl and there are serious concerns about nerve damage to sort out, leaving the Cowboys to take a gamble on a player that would have been gone in the first 5-10 picks if he was healthy. That’s a bet that could pay off handsomely given the kind of playmaker Smith was in South Bend, but there’s a way to go before we’ll have any idea if he’ll still be that kind of player.

Taking that risk won’t help them turn things around in 2016, however, so the defense will still need to be addressed as the draft progresses for the Cowboys.

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Broncos won’t sign Hoyer; Sanchez to get No. 1 reps

DETROIT MI - NOVEMBER 26: Quarterback Mark Sanchez #3 of the Philadelphia Eagles warms up prior to the game against the Detroit Lions on November 26, 2015 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty  Images) Getty Images

The Broncos notified free agent quarterback Brian Hoyer on Friday that they won’t be signing him, Mike Klis of News9 in Denver reported.

For now, anyway, the Broncos will go with Mark Sanchez as their No. 1 quarterback. First-round pick Paxton Lynch will work as a backup alongside Trevor Siemian, a seventh-round pick last year.

The Broncos traded up five spots in Thursday night’s first round to select Lynch. The report said Broncos general manager John Elway only wants three quarterbacks for the team’s offseason practices so all three can get reps.

Sanchez has not been a full-time starter since 2012. The Broncos acquired him in a trade in March.

Hoyer had visited the Broncos last week after being released by the Texans.

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Titans get defensive end Kevin Dodd at No. 33

during the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. Getty Images

The Titans teased at the possibility of trading out of the 33rd pick.

But they apparently liked Kevin Dodd too much to pass up.

The Titans took the Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd with the second pick of the second round.

The 6-foot-5, 277-pound Dodd was overshadowed by teammate Shaq Lawson last year, but had 12.0 sacks and attracted plenty of attention in his own right. He wasn’t there to shake the commissioner’s hand, as he left after not being chosen in the first round last night.

The Titans needed all the pass-rush they can get to make Dick LeBeau’s defense work, and Dodd gives them a chance to improve there.

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Browns start the second round with Emmanuel Ogbah

STILLWATER, OK - NOVEMBER 28 : Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah #38 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys takes the field during Senior Day activities before the game against the Oklahoma Sooners November 28, 2015 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Oklahoma defeated Oklahoma State 58-23.(Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images) Getty Images

The second day of the 2016 NFL draft is underway, and in a bit of a surprise, the Cleveland Browns actually made a pick, rather than making a trade.

The Browns took Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah with the 32nd overall pick, a selection that they think will provide them with a powerful pass rusher for years to come.

Cleveland’s primary priority in this year’s draft has been to stockpile more picks, and they’ve already acquired an extra 2017 first-round pick, 2017 second-round pick and 2018 second-round pick. But while there was talk that the Browns had offers for the 32nd pick, they liked Ogbah enough that they decided to stay put and take him.

A native of Nigeria, Ogbah as the Big 12 defensive player of the year in 2015, and he’s a big part of a rebuilding effort in Cleveland.

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Ravens had inside information that Chargers wanted Joey Bosa

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  (L-R) Joey Bosa of Ohio State holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #3 overall by the San Diego Chargers during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) Getty Images

In preparing for the draft, NFL teams always try to find out whatever they can about other teams’ draft boards, while staying quiet about their own draft boards. This year, the Ravens were able to find out a secret that the Chargers kept from the public: They loved Ohio State’s Joey Bosa.

Everyone was surprised when the Chargers took Bosa with the third overall pick in the draft. Everyone, that is, except Ravens Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta, who announced the pick in advance to everyone in the Ravens’ draft room.

San Diego is taking Bosa. Bosa was on the phone for two hours on Tuesday night with [Chargers Owner] Dean Spanos,” DeCosta told the room, according to the team’s website.

“How good is that information?” coach John Harbaugh asked.

“Guy who told me has not been wrong through the years,” DeCosta replied.

The guy wasn’t wrong last night, either. But the Chargers will surely be interested in knowing who spilled the beans.

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Brady Quinn sums up Sam Bradford’s mindset: He’s never had to compete

bradford-sam082315-getty-ftrjpg_6qwfldz8wmio1w7qdzj8hpebh Getty Images

Many have been confused by Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford’s desire to leave Philly. Former NFL quarterback Brady Quinn isn’t. Quinn explained Bradford’s mindset during a Friday visit to PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio.

“He came into the league being a guy who got paid $60 million to be a starting quarterback and to play and really didn’t have to deal with any sort of competition throughout his career because economically he was paid so much,” Quinn said. “I think he finds himself now in a situation where that’s what he comes to expect and that’s all he knows. He’s never had to necessarily grind it out and compete against someone else on the roster.

“So he signs a new contract and he’s thinking, ‘Alright, I’m the guy for this team for at least the next couple years.’ He feels like, ‘Well, I don’t have to deal with worrying about the second overall pick in the first round to compete with and hear the fans clamor for him the second that I throw an interception, the second I end up playing bad.’ He’s never had to adjust to that before in his career, so he doesn’t know how to deal with it and he wants to go somewhere where he feels like he can be the guy. He probably feels that way because he had his best statistical season last year for the Philadelphia Eagles. Even though he hasn’t been healthy for 16 games throughout his career he still wants to be the guy. He still thinks he has the ability to be the guy so he’s just looking for that opportunity. So you could see why he would feel that way, unfortunately that’s just not the position that he’s in anymore in the NFL. It’s not like he’s the first pick overall coming in the draft, like a Jared Goff, who has some time to prove himself. He now has to prove himself even among his own roster and his own quarterback room.”

Quinn makes a lot of sense. Hopefully, Bradford will see what Quinn had to say and take it to heart. While it may take some time to get Eagles fans back on Bradford’s side (if they ever were), Bradford’s best bet is to accept his changed circumstances and commit to competing. It’s something many quarterbacks far more accomplished than Sam Bradford have had to do.

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Son of Ray Lewis charged with sexually assaulting two women

Ray Lewis AP

The son of ESPN analyst and former NFL linebacker Ray Lewis is facing third-degree criminal sexual conduct charges.

Ray Anthony Lewis III, a sophomore defensive back at Coastal Carolina University, turned himself in Friday. Two alleged victims told police he assaulted them on Jan. 23 at an apartment near the Coastal Carolina campus.

His arrest warrant alleges knowledgeable sexual battery of an 18-year-old female who was incapacitated from the use of drugs and/or alcohol.

Lewis III, 20, transferred to Coastal Carolina after playing two seasons at the University of Miami, his father’s alma mater.

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NFLPA president warns players of NFL: “They are not your family”

Super Bowl Football AP

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell might have found Laremy Tunsil’s fall “exciting,” but the president of the players union found it offensive, and hopes generations of young players learn from what happened to the new Dolphins tackle.

NFLPA president and Bengals tackle Eric Winston took the league to task for the mixed messages they were sending players at the draft this weekend, as Goodell exulted in how the drama surrounding Tunsil’s being hacked, shamed and losing millions of dollars was good for (his) business.

In a series of messages on Twitter that threatened to turn into a Jerry McGuire-style mission statement, Winston made it clear the difference between the union’s feelings and the league’s.

I have been stewing over what happened last night and what was said earlier today. This is what I think:,” he wrote. “Last night everyone saw a young man’s dream turn into a nightmare. The mistakes he made in the past were released out there to millions with an intent to harm him. What did the NFL do? Nothing. In fact, if Roger is to be believed, they loved it because it made the draft “so exciting.”

“The NFL invested big on this marketing campaign of ‘family.’ It was all over Chicago on every billboard.
Let me dish out some free advice to the young men coming into this league this weekend: they are not your family. This is a business.”

“I hope that what Laremy said is true and that he learned from his mistake. I wish him good luck and hope every drafted player is wise to what it takes to make it in the NFL and who really has your back.”

Between Winston’s admonition and executive director DeMaurice Smith’s “SMH” to Goodell for other comments, it’s clear the gulf between the players and the league isn’t getting any smaller.

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Tunsil hacker faces potential criminal, civil liability

Zz1hODFlMjY3ZWMxOGFiYTk3ZjlhZjk4OTAyNTM2NmIwYg== AP

Largely lost in last night’s Laremy Tunsil limbo was the fact that someone violated his privacy and, in turn, broke the law.

As explained by Jason Lisk of TheBigLead.com, whoever hacked Tunsil’s Twitter account and posted video of Tunsil smoking marijuana with a gas mask and a bong faces up to five years in prison under the Stored Communications Act, if “the offense is committed for purposes of commercial advantage, malicious destruction or damage, or private commercial gain.”

As best we can tell, if the person who invaded Tunsil’s Twitter account also hacked his Instagram account, the second violation ups the ante to a punishment of up to 10 years.

Even without an improper purpose, the potential sanction consists of not more than one year for a first offense and up to five years for a second offense.

The improper purpose apparently need not actually result in harm. As written, the statute refers only to purpose not effect. And common sense suggests that whoever was getting into Tunsil’s social media account(s) wanted to harm his draft stock.

Deadspin notes that someone had been trying to sell the Tunsil video for weeks. Whoever had the video either knew or guessed Tunsil’s password, hacked his Twitter account, and in turn broke the law.

Getting in may have been easy. Covering it up could be impossible. Here’s hoping that the relevant federal officials quickly swoop in to investigate. If the hack committed in Major League Baseball justified the devotion of federal resources last year, the misconduct directed at Tunsil merits a similar response.

Tunsil also should be ready to pursue civil liability. However, the person who did it quite possibly doesn’t have the resources to even begin to compensate Tunsil for the damages resulting from however many spots he fell due to the hacking.

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Browns change their minds, cut Saalim Hakim after four days

New York Jets v Cincinnati Bengals Getty Images

Well, the Browns did take a wide receiver last night, and that was apparently enough to change their minds about another one.

According to the league’s daily personnel notice, the Browns have released veteran wideout Saalim Hakim.

They just signed Hakim Monday, after he had taken part in a weekend minicamp as a tryout player. He has spent time with the Jets, showing some degree of promise as a return man.

But whether the addition of first-round wideout Corey Coleman had anything to do with the decision to release Hakim or not, they had a sudden change of heart.

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Tunsil appears in Miami, declines to address social media issues

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  (L-R) Laremy Tunsil of Ole Miss walks on stage after being picked #13 overall by the Miami Dolphins during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) Getty Images

After a brief absence due to an allergic reaction, Dolphins first-round draft pick Laremy Tunsil appeared in Miami this afternoon but declined to discuss the issues that arose during last night’s draft.

Asked who hacked his Twitter account to post a video showing him smoking a bong while wearing a gas mask, Tunsil answered, “I don’t know nothing about that. I’m here to talk about the Miami Dolphins.”

Asked about the text messages that appeared on his hacked Instagram account appearing to show Tunsil asking an Ole Miss coach for money, Tunsil answered, “I’m here to talk about the Miami Dolphins.”

Asked about Ole Miss releasing a statement about potential NCAA violations involving him, Tunsil answered, “I’m just here to talk about the Miami Dolphins.”

Are you sensing a theme yet?

Tunsil did say he’s looking forward to being a Dolphin and grateful to be drafted at all, even if he slipped from a projected Top 5 pick to No. 13 overall.

“It’s exciting just to be a part of this organization,” Tunsil said. “I got drafted in the NFL so I’m happy.”

Tunsil said that with a smile, suggesting that he’s enjoying his first day in the NFL after a rough entrance to the NFL.

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Panthers add another defensive tackle

during their game at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 1, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Getty Images

The Panthers added a defensive tackle to the roster on Thursday night when they made Vernon Butler the 30th overall pick of the draft and the position group got a little deeper on Friday.

PFT reported Friday afternoon that the Panthers claimed Robert Thomas off of waivers from the Dolphins and the team made the move official a short time later.

Thomas was waived by the Dolphins on Thursday after the conclusion of a three-day minicamp. Thomas played one game for the Dolphins last season after the team signed him off of the Patriots practice squad in early December, but wound up on injured reserve after assisting on one tackle in a Week 13 victory over the Ravens. Thomas has also spent time with the Redskins and Seahawks since entering the league as an undrafted free agent out of Arkansas in 2014.

The Panthers now have Butler, Thomas and Paul Soliai behind Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei. Short is set to be a free agent after next season while the team has exercised its fifth-year option on Lotulelei’s contract.

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Bills release linebacker who announced retirement

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 29: Alex Smith #11 of the Kansas City Chiefs slides down before getting hit by A.J. Tarpley #59 of the Buffalo Bills at Arrowhead Stadium during the third quarter of the game on November 29, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

Linebacker A.J. Tarpley announced his retirement earlier this month, and now he’s officially a free agent.

The Bills released Tarpley and tight end Jacob Maxwell on Friday.

Tarpley made the Bills as an undrafted rookie last year and played in 14 games, starting two. In announcing his retirement he said he suffered his third and fourth concussions last season.

Maxwell initially joined the Bills via their practice squad last December. Undrafted in 2014, he got his first NFL shot with the Bears, then spent parts of the last two training camps with the Lions.

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Kevin Dodd won’t be at draft on Friday night

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 31:  Samaje Perine #32 of the Oklahoma Sooners carries the ball as Kevin Dodd #98 of the Clemson Tigers attempts to tackle him in the first quarter during the 2015 Capital One Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on December 31, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

UCLA linebacker Myles Jack won’t be the only player opting to watch the second night of the draft from a different location than the green room at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd will also pass on a return visit after he went undrafted in the first round. Dodd will be back in South Carolina with his family instead.

Dodd’s name was frequently included as a first round pick in mock drafts along with college teammate Shaq Lawson, who went 19th overall to the Bills, over the last few months, but NFL teams didn’t share those opinions when it came time to make their selections. It seems likely that he’ll hear his name called in the early part of the second round.

A trio of Alabama defenders – linebacker Reggie Ragland and defensive tackles A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed — and Mississippi State defensive lineman Chris Jones were the other players left in the green room when the first round concluded.

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