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2010 Team Report: New England Patriots

Quarterbacks

Starter: Tom Brady
Backup(s): Brian Hoyer

Starting QB: Tom Brady had another solid fantasy season in 2009, but missing almost an entire season with a knee injury and the loss of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had a negative impact on the Patriots offense overall. Brady struggled at times, did not look as sharp, and played tentatively and made poor decisions on several occasions. Ultimately, the Patriots were crushed in the playoffs by the Ravens, with Brady having his worse post season game in his career, turning the ball over four times. Brady should continue to get his mojo back and trust his surgically repaired knee more. Compared to their record 2007 campaign, the Patriots play-calling paled in comparison and became very vanilla and predictable. Many people felt Brady and the offense would pick up where the 2007 team left off, but the Patriots version 2009 scored 10 fewer points per game than the record breaking 2007 squad did. With several new faces added to the receiving corps, Brady will have more weapons than he did last year. However, his favorite target, Wes Welker, will be sidelined for the early part of the season, so Brady will need to get comfortable spreading the ball around more at least until Welker returns.

Backup QB: Brian Hoyer fits the mold of other recent Patriots quarterbacks: a lesser known player (in this case an undrafted rookie out of Michigan State) who absorbed the offense quickly. A lot of people expected the Patriots to add a veteran backup over the past year or two, but they seem intent on riding it out with Hoyer. He fared fairly well in limited action, completing 70% of his passes playing mostly in blowouts. The Patriots obviously would prefer to avoid another season-long injury to Brady, as Hoyer has had very little live action at the NFL level.

Running Backs

Starter: Lawrence Maroney
Backup(s): Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, BenJarvis Green-Ellis
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: New England really doesn't have a true starting running back, as they have been leading the charge in adapting a RBBC model that has become prominent in the NFL. Maroney has been disappointing since coming into the league as a first round pick. He may not start the season as the main ballcarrier, but with an injury or two to the older backs, he will likely again earn the bulk of the carries by default. Maroney has struggled with injuries in his own right and last year developed a penchant for fumbling at the goal line. He got benched at the end of the season, and he seemingly finds ways to get in the doghouse. After four years of so-so production, expect more of the same in 2010.

Backup RBs: Oddly enough, the backups over the years seem to do better on a per touch basis than Maroney. Kevin Faulk returns as the consummate third down specialist, frequently getting just enough yardage to keep the chains moving. His bobble on the infamous 4th-and-2 against the Colts changed the face of the Patriots' season. Fred Taylor got banged up early on and did not get much chance to show what he has left in the tank. At 34, he cannot be expected to carry the load. Ditto for Sammy Morris, who has played well when given the opportunity, but he too has been beset with injuries. Green-Ellis is on the bubble and might not make the final roster with New England having so many young players and needing spots to stash them.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Torry Holt
Backups: Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, Taylor Price (R)

Starting WRs: Despite being banged up throughout much of the 2009 season, Randy Moss still led the league in TD receptions and ranked 5th in receiving yardage. The press has made it a point that he sometimes takes plays off and doesn't always give 100%, but the numbers show he is still one of the most productive receivers in the league. Welker is coming off three consecutive 110-catch seasons but won't make it a fourth. He tore his ACL and MCL in a Week 17 game and is not expected to be fully back until mid- to late-November. New England has added some new faces to the receiving mix. Wiley veteran Torry Holt was brought in, and paired with Moss will make up one of the most prolific receiving tandems in history, reminiscent of the Raiders' Tim Brown and Jerry Rice. The Pats swung and missed on Joey Galloway last year and are hopeful that Holt has more to offer. He won't produce like he did for the Greatest Show on Turf a decade ago, but he should be more productive than the motley crew of characters the Pats rolled out opposite Moss last year.

Backup WRs: Julian Edelman was a huge surprise last season. A late-round pick converted to WR, he stepped in for Welker and produced similar numbers and even looked like Welker on the field. He stands to benefit the most while Welker rehabs his knee and shoulder injuries. Brandon Tate did not see the field much but should have a better knowledge of the playbook than rookie Taylor Price. These three could someday be replacements for Moss-Holt-Welker, but they are a long way from that at this point.

Tight Ends

Starters: Alge Crumpler
Backups: Rob Gronkowski (R), Aaron Hernandez (R)

The Patriots jettisoned their other tight ends and will start anew with a nine year veteran and a pair of rookies. Ben Watson, another player with so-so production as a first round pick, was not resigned and Chris Baker was released. Alge Crumpler was picked up for a short term, low value deal and will be used primarily as a blocker. Since Welker's arrival and the implementation of three receiver sets, New England has not utilized their tight ends very much. Those expecting a resurgence from Crumpler to his glory days of Atlanta will most likely be disappointed. Rob Gronkowski may have been a first round draft pick if not for his injuries. He missed all of the 2009 season recovering from back surgery but has proclaimed himself healthy and ready to get back on the field. He set University of Arizona records for receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns as a sophomore the year before. He carries a lot of risk but a lot of upside as a pass catching tight end, something the Patriots haven't really had in recent seasons. Gronkowski appears to be the most likely candidate to lead the TEs in receiving. Aaron Hernandez also set a new mark for most receptions at his school (Florida) and could give Brady a second receiving threat from the tight end position.

Place Kicker

Stephen Gostkowski : After an unmemorable rookie season, Gostkowski has proven to be a reliable kicker over the last three years. In 2008 he hit a career high 36 of 40 (90.0%) on field goals. He made 3 of 4 attempts from 50+ yards the past two seasons. His only missed PAT came in the first year. Gostkowski has done very well on kickoffs, with career highs of 67.8 yard average and 21 touchbacks last year. The Patriots followed up back-to-back number two rankings in kicker scoring with a 7th place finish last year -- making them one of only three teams with three straight top tens.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Matt Slater, Laurence Maroney, Julian Edelman, Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, Brandon Tate, Darius Butler, Devin McCourty, Wes Welker, Sammy Morris, Terrence Wheatley

As usual the Patriots have a large committee of experienced options for the kickoff return game. WR Matt Slater scored 3 TDs on 34 kickoff returns for UCLA in 2007. His 29.0 yard average ranked 12th in the NCAA. Last year for the Pats he averaged 24.5 yards on 11 returns. RB Laurence Maroney was the starter the first part of 2006 (28 returns, 28.0 avg.), and last year he averaged 21.5 yards on 13 returns. Joining the mix last year were WR Julian Edelman (11 returns, 21.9 avg.) and CB Darius Butler (5 returns, 20.8 avg.). Versatile RB Kevin Faulk had an impressive year in 2002 (27.9 avg., 2 TDs), although his numbers have since dropped off (6 returns, 24.0 avg. last year). WR Brandon Tate racked up 2,688 yards on kickoff returns during his college career at North Carolina and scored three TDs. After recovery from a torn ACL he had four returns (26.5 avg.) as a rookie late last year. First round draft pick CB Devin McCourty averaged 25.4 yards on 14 kickoff returns and scored once for Rutgers last year. WR Wes Welker handled almost all of the returns for the Dolphins from 2004 to 2006. Last year with the Patriots he had two returns (22.5 avg.). RB Sammy Morris is a potential backup/upman (2 returns, 18.5 avg. in 2008). CB Terrence Wheatley averaged 24.8 yards on 37 returns for Colorado in 2007.

Punt Returners: Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Kevin Faulk, Brandon Tate, Buddy Farnham

Although Wes Welker handled both return roles for the Dolphins, his strength was punt returns. He has handled the majority of the punts for the Patriots the last three years (27 returns, 12.5 avg. in 2009). If fully recovered from injury, he will presumably continue in that role. The likely backup is Julian Edelman (6 returns, 10.5 avg.). Kevin Faulk led the team in 2004 (20 returns, 6.7 avg.) and in 2006 (31 returns, 10.6 avg.). Last year he averaged 6.2 yard on five returns. Brandon Tate scored a punt return TD in each of his last three years of college. He was averaging 22.6 yards on punt returns in 2008 before getting injured. Undrafted rookie WR Buddy Farnham handled both some punt and kickoff returns during his career at Brown. The Patriots ranked 19th, 11th, and 12th in fantasy returns the past three years.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Matt Light, LG Dan Connolly, C Dan Koppen, RG Stephen Neal, RT Nick Kaczur
Key Backups: T Sebastian Vollmer, G Rich Ohrnberger, C Ryan Wendell

The Patriots have a great, veteran offensive line. Pro Bowler Logan Mankins wants a long-term / big contract deal. He will start at left tackle if and when he signs. Matt Light is in his 10th season and is a good veteran presence at left tackle. However the team really likes young tackle Sebastian Vollmer who filled in at both right and left tackle last year. There is a chance the Patriots cut Light before training camp and insert Vollmer into the starting position. Either way the team is in great shape at left tackle. Nick Kaczur isn't a tremendous talent but works hard and is a dependable fixture at right tackle. He could be in a battle with Vollmer if Light sticks around. Stephen Neal is a horse at right guard although he has fought injury issues over the past four years. He is one of the best in the League at his position. Dan Koppen has missed just one game over the past four seasons and is the anchor of this unit. With Mankins on board, the Patriots may be the best offensive line in the league and are certainly one of the top-five.

Team Defense

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Ty Warren, NT Vince Wilfork, DE Mike Wright
Backups: DE Damione Lewis, DE Gerard Warren, DE Brandon Deaderick [R], NT Myron Pryor, NT Ron Brace

Starting DL: Although the Patriots have seen quite a bit of turnover on the defensive line over the past year starting with the trade of Richard Seymour, two stalwarts still remain. Ty Warren's level of play and fantasy value has slipped in recent years, but he's still a reliable starter who fits well in the 3-4 defense. Vince Wilfork remains one of the best nose tackles in the league, and the Patriots were probably smart to lock him up with a 5-year, $40 million contract that included $25 million in guarantees. Mike Wright had his best season as a pro last year with 25 solo tackles and 5 sacks, but he was inconsistent and will likely be pushed for the starting spot by some of the new players the team brought in.

Backup DL: The Patriots lost perhaps their best pass rushing lineman when Jarvis Green signed with the Broncos so they picked up a pair of castoffs. Damione Lewis was released from the Panthers and Gerard Warren was cut loose by the Broncos, but both have been quality starters in the past and should provide excellent depth here. As a 7th round pick, Brandon Deaderick may need to spend some time on the practice squad but he's a good run defender. Myron Pryor was a late round draft pick last year who wound up not only making the roster but becoming a key contributor as the primary backup to Wilfork. Ron Brace was a highly regarded 2nd round pick last year who struggled to adapt to the NFL game and barely saw the field as a result.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Tully Banta-Cain, ILB Jerod Mayo, ILB Gary Guyton, OLB Rob Ninkovich
Backups: ILB Brandon Spikes [R], ILB Eric Alexander, OLB Jermaine Cunningham [R], OLB Pierre Woods, OLB Marques Murrell, OLB Shawn Crable

Starting LBs: Unlike what they did in the past, the Patriots are rebuilding their linebacking unit with youth. They cut ties with Adalius Thomas in the offseason and added a couple of potential impact players in the draft. Among the holdovers, Tully Banta-Cain was the only player capable of putting consistent pressure on opposing QBs last year as he finished with 9.5 sacks. He was rewarded with a 3-year contract and is the only sure thing at OLB right now. Inside, 24 year old Jerod Mayo remains the focal point of the defense but his production dropped off last year after he posted 100 solo tackles as a rookie. Gary Guyton is the incumbent at the other inside spot after starting all 16 games last season, but he is no better than average and could certainly be replaced. The other starting OLB spot will be an open competition in training camp, but the initial favorite could be Rob Ninkovich, a former 5th round pick of the Saints who contributed as a backup and special teams player with the Patriots last season.

Backup LBs: The Patriots added one of the best inside linebackers in the draft when they selected Brandon Spikes in the 2nd round. Although he doesn't have ideal straight-line speed and may struggle in coverage as a result, Spikes is a classic thumper in the middle who should compete for a starting spot next to Mayo right away. Eric Alexander's contributions are mostly limited to special teams, but he could fill in for a starter in the event of an injury. Jermaine Cunningham was a disruptive DE for Florida who the Patriots nabbed in round 2, and he projects to be the long-term starter at OLB once he has some time to develop his skills. Pierre Woods played in all 16 games and started 5 of them at OLB last year but failed to record a single sack. Marques Murrell is another special teams player who spent the last two years as a backup with the Jets. Shawn Crable was once a promising 3rd round pick who has yet to play in a game while missing most of the past two seasons with injuries.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Leigh Bodden, SS Patrick Chung, FS Brandon Meriweather, CB Darius Butler
Backups: S Brandon McGowan, S James Sanders, CB Devin McCourty [R], CB Jonathan Wilhite, CB Terrence Wheatley

Starting DBs: After playing on a 1-year contract, Leigh Bodden proved himself and was given a 4-year, $22 million deal this offseason. Although his tackle numbers were down, he's an aggressive and physical corner who led the team in passes defensed and tied for the team lead in interceptions. Patrick Chung was a high draft pick last year who should be ready to compete for a starting safety spot after showing flashes of his potential in 3-safety sets. Although Brandon Meriweather is known primarily for his range and cover skills, he often lines up as the strong safety. He's a lock for one of the starting safety spots, but he could see a drop in value if Chung emerges since he's more of a prototype at SS than the others. Darius Butler was another high draft pick a year ago who played well when given an opportunity, and he should be able to win the starting spot opposite Bodden this year.

Backup DBs: Brandon McGowan won a starting safety spot to being last season and played very well for awhile before wearing down late in the year. James Sanders took over for him at that point and the defense played much better over the last month or so. Both safeties are experienced veterans who will be able to step in and play a major role if Chung isn't quite ready. Shawn Springs made 8 starts at corner last season, but he was 35 years old and the team released him in May, although they left open the possibility of re-signing him. Devin McCourty was a 1st round pick this year who will most likely be brought along slowly as the Patriots tend to do with most of their young players. Jonathan Wilhite started 8 games in 2008, but he struggled with inconsistency at times. Terrence Wheatley is an undersized corner who has failed to make an impact over the past two seasons and it looks like he might have trouble making the final roster.

Last modified: 2010-06-09 19:08:30

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