Why we should be excited about Derek Rivers & 4 Teams That Could Surpass Expectations In 2018

NEPD Staff Contributor: Jeff Fidler

I first heard Derek Rivers name about a month after the 2016 draft. Actually his name was mentioned along with his teammate Avery Moss. Draft season doesn’t end for draftniks and it being it my favorite position to evaluate besides QB, I jumped on the opportunity. I was very impressed with both tbh. Both had active hands but each brought something different and they really complemented each other. Moss is a violent/heavy handed, power DE. He loved throwing clubs and moving offensive linemen back with his bull rush. He is also a very good run defender. Moss is now playing with the Giants and someone to keep an eye for the future too. It was his teammate that stole my heart though. Sometimes you see a person and you just know. They way they move. How good and natural they are with their hands. The butterflies in my stomach were enough, but his burst off the line made it official … I was in love. Crazy, “friend in your head”, Bae & J-type love, with a pass rusher. He really had it all though in my defense. Speed and size. Nuance to his pass rush. The ability to keep his outside shoulder clean and re-set in the run game, an under-rated part of his game. Rivers displayed so many physical qualities and traits on film but also presented a very high football I.Q. His burst, bend and hand work are special but Rivers also understands what’s in what of him.

How can defeat something you don’t understand?

It’s incredibly undervalued but shows up on film and is an attribute you want in all your players. Rivers understands what types blocks and sets his opponents might use from hours of film study he does on top of the work he does with the team. He’s just a very aware player on the field. Here are some plays and highlights to remind us what type of player we’re getting.

Rivers had a great combine. This play demonstrates how those drills translate to the field. His 10 yard split/40 time = his great burst of the line. Hand work is key to disengage from his opponent and his 3-cone (same as Justin Houston) = his ability to turn the corner. All are on display here.


Here is his burst and bend again. He’s the only Patriot that could do this to be honest. This play is key and the type of rush we want to see more from Rivers. He came into the league around 250 and probably will always weight south of 260. To really take advantage of his skills it’s ideal that he rushes “1/2 man”. In other words he decides to take on “half” of his opponent rather than a straight away bull rush and make it a fight with someone who out weighs you by 65-85lbs. You’ll see him attack that way after setting up his man with moves that test the edge and try to catch him off balanced.


Rivers showed he could play with high hands and not let it affect his pad level.



He also very effective in the run/rpo game and isn’t fooled easily


We saw him flow across the line against Jacksonville last year. And showed decent recognition as well, when Yeldon tried sneaking by him.




Here Rivers goes with power at first with a rip move in mind but has the awareness to recognize his man is out of position (OL should have their butts facing the QB, not the sideline) and goes back inside to counter.


Strikes high, long arm to bullrush, keeps legs churning and helps cause an incompletion.


Same type of plan of attack here. I put it in slow-mo to highlight the leverage he gets and strength he has. Explodes off the line, 3 steps and he’s already underneath his man’s pads and lifts Cam Robinson off the ground and back about 3 feet. Might have been a flag at the end but Robinson reset himself well and was pretty good for the Jags all year.



Look, I know these are college and NFL preseason cut ups. We have to see it on the field against real competition. This is just a reminder that we’re not in dire straits up front and have players that can/will make an impact. A healthy Derek Rivers gives the Patriots a weapon on defense unlike any other on the roster at the moment. Someone that can rent a little space in a DC’s head while their game planning for New England and deliver on the field. A healthy 95 is instant pass rush on 3rd downs/obvious passing downs, brings an array of moves to assault defensive linemen en route to the QB and gives us some added versatility along the line. Again players with his traits and gifts don’t come along to often. Look, I clearly feel a certain type of way towards Derek Rivers and I’ve come to terms with the feelings. That doesn’t mean I’m over hyping here. BAErk Rivers checks all the boxes you want. He dominated his competition and holds the sack record at Youngstown State with 41, top 5 in FCS history. Is top five at YSU in tackles for loss, but had most since the 80’s. He also had one of the best combines in the last 20 years and is top tier, near elite in almost every category. It’s always nice when you have Tape + Stats + Measurables, that usually = success. Rivers work ethic and football I.Q. only further make the case for someone to get excited about. He lives in the film room and spent a ton of time studying, learning at Gillette Stadium while rehabbing.



Some I took a look at a few rosters, win totals and projected a bit schedule-wise. These teams jumped out for having the capability to exceed current win total expectations.

1)Chicago Bears – The Bears offense was embarrassing at times last year. A step up to the 20th century would actually be an improvement. Fortunately for the windy city, Matt Nagy is far & away ahead of John Fox when it comes to the offensive side of the ball. So the offense should land in 2018. Even with a legit run, run, pass approach and a lack of weapons Mitch Trubisky looked very promising last year. The Bears not only upgraded his weapons in landing Allen Robinson through free agency and Anthony Miller via the draft but Nagy should also get the most out of their players from previous regimes too. Like Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. I think Miller will be Trubisky’s bestie real quick though. He was my #3 WR this year and has a pro ready game. He can run really neat, crisp routes and isn’t afraid to go over the middle with good hands. He’s also a very tough blocker, that should help keep him on the field. The Bears also added to their already promising defense and have a low-key, pretty sweet interior OL with the addition of James Daniels. This team doesn’t have the toughest of schedules either. If you’re a Bears fan you have like how things are shaping up. This year and in the future.


2)San Francisco 49ers – They might not be a sleeper team but I’m bullish on SF. Tbh I have been even before they traded for the sexiest man alive. Right now I think their a top 4-6 team in the league. The Rams are right there but I think San Fran belongs right there with them. I actually love the moves they made on defense the past few years and see something brewing on that side of the ball. Buckner, Thomas, Foster, Witherspoon and Tartt are all guys I loved coming out.  Thats a great corp to build around. If Foster has his head on straight they could be special. I think Sherman is a great addition as well. He really fits what they want from the position and will be a great mentor for their secondary. Especially Witherspoon, who is a resembles the vet in s many ways on and off the field. Their offense is ready to run as well. The league probably saw about 10-15% of Shanahan’s offense. So I’m not worried about the league “catching up” or “figuring out” that side of the ball. That’s actually silly talk considering they added Jerick McKinnon. He’s perfect for Shanahan’s outside-zone system with his stop on a dime, one cut ability and versatility. Jimmy Sweetheart also has a bundle of versatile targets to throw to in Pierre Garcon, George Kittle, Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, Richie James and Trent Taylor. This team is talented, explosive and balanced. I believe in the Rams but don’t think there’s a gap between the two teams. The 49ers could be pretty special in peak form. I think they are a SB contender.


3)Cleveland Browns – The Browns are another team I’m a lot higher on than most. Fwiw I’m not a believer in Hue Jackson or Greg Williams (Williams had Peppers playing 30 yards off the ball last year lol). Neither have impressed as of late and I have a feeling both will be gone soon. After that glowing endorsement, the Browns have a ton of talent all over the place. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if their competing for that division in the next 2 years along with the Ravens. Both the Steelers and Bengals look to be trending down or treading water. And for the first time … ever? The Land has a good QB problem. They drafted Baker Mayfield #1 overall and have Tyrod Taylor as a bridge if they want to go that way. I’ve been a enormous Baker fan for years and think he’s legit, so I expect him to be taken snaps by week 1 tbh. He brings a no backdown attitude, kick in the door-type mentality to the field on every play. They offense could absolutely work with Taylor as well I believe but just think it’s peak is with Mayfield at QB. And when that happens he’ll be taking over a squad, the rest of the team is pretty much all set. The Brownies have an + interior offensive line and look good there even though their HOF LT, Joe Thomas retired. Their skill positions have the potential to be some of the best weapons in the league. Cleveland has a backfield of Carlos Hyde, Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson. Pretty good if you ask me. Hyde and Chubb are bruising slashers that will gash and wear down defenses. While Johnson is a chess piece that can do major damage in the passing game. He’s a very under-rated played and a weapon in the passing game.  Josh Gordon is the best WR in the game when hes on the field and Landry is a bulldog in the slot. They might be the best two receivers at working crossers and the MOF (middle of the field) Those two alone will create serious matchup problems but also factor in David Nkoju and Corey Coleman. Their defense has this irish guy excited as well. Myles Garrett will be competing for the DPOY for the next decade and their LB corp looks to be quite good after the Kendricks signing and Genard Avery draft pick. I wouldn’t be shocked if we saw Jamie Collins attacking the QB a lot more as well. I think the Browns are finally on the right path and wouldn’t be shocked to see them make some noise this year.


4)Tampa Bay – The Bucs have assembled one of the most talented rosters in football over the last 3-4 years. Through free agency and the draft. Their two deep almost everywhere and you have to start with the big boys on the front 7. Vea and McCoy might not be Suh and Donald but they will be a great duo. McCoy has always been great at knifing and sliding through gaps, Vea only helps that by demanding a double but has some pass rush to his big ole’ self as well. Their games really complement each other and are fun players to watch. I know Vea was a favorite at PatFans (every Pats fan should check that site out btw) Tampa upgraded on the edge as well bringing in JPP and Vinnie Curry. All these guys are extra grande and quick to unbutton the pants after a quick meal. So both the run and pass game should improve. And whatever sneaks by them doesn’t have much luck coming at them because Tampa is three deep at linebacker. Beckwith, Alexander and David are among the best in the league. Its the secondary I’m looking at. And the team was too. They drafted  M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis this year to bolster the unit. Stewart is an aggressive, tough, smart corner that will come up big in run support. Davis is big, physical defensive back that should make his bones in man while on a learning curve in zone. The offensive side of the ball looks like a fantasy football lineup. Desean Jackson, Mike Evans, Cameron Brate and  O.J. Howard are about as good as it gets. And they didn’t hesitate to fill Doug Martin’s spot with Ronald Jones from USC. This is the NFL though, it’s all about the QB. Unfortunately for Tampa that position has been too shaky at times. To be fair Winston definitely isn’t alone in deserving blame. Many players and coaches could be named but the bottom line is Winston has to step up his play pronto. If that happens its hard not to see them at least fighting for a playoff spot.



10 Responses to “Why we should be excited about Derek Rivers & 4 Teams That Could Surpass Expectations In 2018”

  1. Hobbes says:

    Would be really surprised if they moved Gronk at this juncture.

    He’s their only dominant man to man weapon. Cooks tried to be that last year, and it never quite worked out. Hogan disappears against man, Matthews and Britt are unproven.

    Hoping against hope that Dorsett carves out a role. High on him for some reason.

    • steve earle says:

      Agree with your opinions but not high on Dorsett for some reason. He seems to have all the skills but has never been able to make much of an impact. This year could be different with Cooks gone but even so I’m not to excited about his chances. Mitchell is another guy that I can’t feel good about because he can’t stay healthy. With that I’m hoping a couple of these new guys can surprise. One thing I’m thinking is our run game could be more dominate given O-line additions and drafting Sony who is a break away threat. I like our RB group and see it as one of the tops in the NFL.

  2. Daniel Sullivan says:

    About Gronk I actually thought this with Johnny Manzel was recently but 2014. Why bring this
    up now?

  3. Daniel Sullivan says:

    Good comments Steve. I have to realize they are not the old Pats that wouldn’t
    put up with much. The team does seemvery talented this year but always you have to watch out for injuries.

    Looking forward to the Patriots season.

  4. Daniel Sullivan says:

    Time to get a pass rusher for Gronk. Offense looks very strong without Gronk.

    • steve earle says:

      Don’t think Gronk is going anywhere Dan it would just leave to big a hole in the offense. At this point I suspect we will have an improved pass rush I’m still not sure about LB though. Hightower will be back but for how long? As for the new guys there they are on my prove it list, have to wait and see.

  5. Daniel Sullivan says:

    I think Edelman will win his case. He is clearly a guy that extreme hard work has
    gotten him were he is.

    Patriot Players to keep an eye on.
    Adam Butler DL
    Ryan Izzo TE
    Damarious Travis S
    Christian Sam ILB

    Celtics Draft.
    Trade pick 1 #27 to Philadelphia for picks 38 and 39 of second round and select.
    Malik Newman SG Kansas
    Devonte Graham PG Kansas

    • steve earle says:

      How many guys have won their cases on PED charges Dan? It would be nice but. Will keep a lookout for your keep an eye on guys and hope they do well. Also hoping Harvy Langi will be a factor somewhere. Should be fun, looking forward to it.

      • Daniel Sullivan says:

        One that I know of Richard Sherman I believe won his appeal.

        • steve earle says:

          Your right, I forgot. Still don’t trust Goodall who seems to have a vendetta against the Pats.

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