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2013 NFL Team Previews, AFC East: New England Patriots - 1st

by Shasky Clarke on Aug. 5, 2013

2013 NFL Team Previews, AFC East: New England Patriots - 1st

 

OFFENSE

 

Quarterback:

Very few quarterbacks could turn a tight end-led passing game, with no true number one wide out or deep threat, into one of the most efficient and prolific passing attacks in NFL history. The live-armed Tom Brady continues to do a top-notch job running his offense, making quick decisions, seeing the field, subtly extending plays and protecting the ball. While he did not connect on all his deep balls, he still had a top two quarterback season in 2012. Brady will now experience yet another core group of pass catchers in 2013, and the offense will take on a different form. But Brady is the ultimate reliable constant. Behind him, Ryan Mallett shares some of Brady’s physical tools but must prove himself to be consistently accurate. Tim Tebow’s role will likely not be more substantial than as some form of short yardage back.

 

RB:

The Patriots sport one of the best running back committees in the league. Stevan Ridley is a smooth, down hill back with underrated open field moves and elusiveness. Shane Vereen and Leon Washington are speedy, quick and versatile players capable of being great weapons out of the backfield and contributing heavily on special teams. Brandon Bolden possesses a great blend of size, power and speed. LeGarrette Blount has performed on a Pro Bowl level at points in his career. The interesting question is how many are able to make the 53-man roster.

 

WR:

This group saw more upheaval than any other on the team. While the shifty Julian Edelman returns, gone are Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. Nonetheless, the receiver group will finally see more speed and explosiveness as well as size and physicality. Danny Amendola happens to share much of Welker’s skill set, displaying excellent short area quickness and sharp route running underneath. If he can stay healthy, he should replace a lot of Welker’s lost production. Michael Jenkins is a big, veteran, reliable possession receiver. But the upside and excitement here at this position resides in the rookie additions. Aaron Dobson is the most likely to make an impact early and brings excellent size, great speed and a terrific ability to smoothly make spectacular catches. Josh Boyce also provides field stretching speed, even if he lacks elite ball skills. Kenbrell Thompkins has surprised with his speed and polish early in practices. The late bloomer here might be the huge undrafted Mark Harrison, a fast, big play guy who, if his conditioning is right, should be a steal.

 

TE:

After all of the offseason hoopla and recurring surgeries, the Patriots’ tight end position will look very different. Until Rob Gronkowski returns from his injuries, the team will have to find someone who can fill a pass-catching role. Jake Ballard, returning from a season ending injury, has been productive in the past. Daniel Fells, though, is the guy who has the smooth athleticism and route running ability to create separation in one on one situations. Michael Hoomanawanui has played a versatile third tight end or fullback roles at times. Undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld was a big, productive and underrated pass catcher at Nevada and could be one to watch.

 

OL:

One of the best offensive lines in the NFL, the Pats line is especially great at left tackle, left guard and right tackle with Nate Solder, Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer. Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly enter another year at center and right guard. Wendell may be the relative weak link and may not be the most stout, but it didn’t really affect the group’s performance. The offensive line played a critical role providing tremendous pass protection for Brady and spearheading one of the most productive running games in the league. The Patriots opted for stability and consistency with this group while adding depth with guard Tyronne Green and tackle Will Svitek.

 

Best Offensive Rookie: WR Aaron Dobson

Best Offensive Second-Year Player: RB Brandon Bolden

2014 Draft Offensive Position of Need: Center

2014 Draft Suggestion: C Weston Richburg, Colorado State

 

 

DEFENSE

 

Defensive Line:

Get ready for lots of bodies. The Patriots have a fairly deep defensive line, though with really only one premier player. The pass rush has been inconsistent for a long time but the team continues to add young talent to compete, especially on the outside. Versatile Rob Ninkovich and second-year Chandler Jones are quick, high motor guys especially effective in run defense. New England believes Jones can be a great pass rusher and he has certainly shown flashes, hurrying quarterbacks and batting balls at the line of scrimmage. Jermaine Cunningham is an athletic player with really good size but has been a disappointment, failing to secure a substantial role on the line. Inside, DT Vince Wilfork is still a dominant interior presence on his way to what should eventually be a Hall of Fame induction one day. Unfortunately, the Patriots lack a ton of great talent around him on the interior. Veteran Tommy Kelly brings a great frame and decent rushing ability. Justin Francis, yet another versatile piece, should create some match up issues for interior offensive linemen but could be a liability versus the run. Rookies Joe Vellano and Cory Grissom will have every opportunity to carve out a substantive role.

 

LB:

 

One of the long time steady strengths of the Patriots has been the linebacker group. Former SEC stars Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower possess prototypical size, athleticism, tackling and playmaking ability and are two reasons, along with massive MLB Brandon Spikes, that the Pats have enjoyed a strong run defense. Dane Fletcher and rookie Steve Beauharnais further contribute speed and special teams prowess. The biggest question is how OLB Jamie Collins contributes. An elite pass rusher best standing up at the line of scrimmage, he could be a strong answer to their pass rushing inconsistencies. Look for some hybrid looks and creative sub-packages utilizing there.

 

Secondary:

The secondary was the subject of the most significant criticism in 2012 and took the blame for a poor defensive statistical showing. What went unnoticed was the philosophical change in scheme down the stretch and the substantially improved play of the unit. After the Patriots began using much more press man principles as well as aggressive blitzing, opposing teams at times struggled getting separation on the outside. Devin McCourty was very productive making plays as a deep, rangy free safety. Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington displayed tight coverage at cornerback. The secondary now adds strong safety Adrian Wilson who should rotate with Steve Gregory. Second year player Tavon Wilson will still have a role as a versatile piece in the defensive backfield. A more healthy Ras-I Dowling still carries promise as a long, physical, playmaking corner. Rookie Logan Ryan may struggle to find a roster spot to start the season. The secondary is the main reason this defense is primed to have an above average season.

 

 

Best Defensive Rookie: OLB Jamie Collins

Best Defensive Second-Year Player: OLB Dont'a Hightower

2014 Draft Defensive Position of Need: Defensive Line

2014 Draft Defensive Suggestion: DT Taylor Hart, Oregon