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2011 Team Report: New England Patriots

Quarterbacks

Starter: Tom Brady
Backup(s): Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett [R]

Starting QB: Since Tom Brady returned from his injury shortened 2008 season, he has not missed a game and he has not missed a beat. As a matter of fact, his last three seasons played (2007, 2009, and 2010) have been his best statistical seasons. Over that three year period, he has completed almost 67% of his passes, averaged 8.01 ypa, 273 yards per game, and 38 TD passes per season. For this year, his two TEs, Gronkowski and Hernandez, who were very successful a year ago are entering their second season and should know the offense even better. Similarly, Deion Branch should also be more comfortable and they added Chad Ochocinco. Brady remains one of the elite QBs in the league and his receiving options are definitely improved over a season ago when he had 3,900 yards and 36 TDs.

Backup QB: The backup QB remains Brian Hoyer, who has spent two years with the Patriots, but played only sparingly in ten games. In his limited action, he has completed 61.9% of 42 passes and averaged 6.3 ypa. He has thrown one TD pass and has one interception. The Patriots added Ryan Mallett with a third round selection in this year's draft. Mallett was thought by many to have an NFL arm, but the questions and concerns allowed him to slide during the draft. New England could be a great learning opportunity for him if he pays attention.

Running Backs

Starter: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Shane Vereen [R]
Backup(s): Danny Woodhead, Stevan Ridley [R], Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: Step right up and place your bet on the wheel, round and round she goes and where she stops nobody knows. Green-Ellis, an undrafted fourth year RB from Ole Miss led the team in rushing in 2010 with 1,008 yards and a 4.4 ypc. He has spent his entire career in New England and just signed a new one year contract for $1.835 Million. He may be harder to move out of the starting position than expected. Shane Vereen was drafted in the second round and could play a significant role in this year's version of Patriot RBBC. After redshirting his freshman season at California, he averaged 5.1 ypc and totaled 2,834 yards rushing in three seasons. He also caught 74 passes and scored 35 total TDs.

Backup RBs: Danny Woodhead led Patriot RBs in receptions a year ago with 34 catches and seemed from the outside to be their Kevin Faulk third down replacement, but he only had touches on 23 third down plays. Woodhead also is an undrafted player, hailing from Chadron State and is entering his third season. Stevan Ridley was also drafted this year, but taken in the third round after Vereen. Ridley played at LSU, but had only two starts before his junior season, when he rushed for 1,147 yards and 15 TDs and then declared for the draft. At this point in the preseason, both Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris remain with the Patriots, but at the ages of 35 and 34 respectively, it would be surprising if they both make the final roster.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Wes Welker, Chad Ochocinco
Backups: Deion Branch, Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman, Taylor Price

Starting WRs: Wes Welker is an efficient route runner with excellent hands. He is extremely reliable for Tom Brady. Chad Ochocinco begged for a trade from the Bengals and finally got his wish this summer and his landing spot could be great news for him and the Patriots. He has signed a contract that pays him $6 Million for this year and will be an unrestricted free agent next year. Ochocinco will be motivated and his excellent route running is more good news for Brady. He has caught less than 67 passes in only two of his ten years in the NFL and he missed games in both of those years.

Backup WRs: Deion Branch was the second most targeted WR a year ago and he only played in 11 games. He has been an effective player for the Patriots for five of his nine years in the league, typically averaging about four catches per game. He should continue to be heavily involved in the offense. Brandon Tate, a former third round pick enters his third season and showed some improvement a year ago catching 24 passes and three TDs. He may have trouble seeing the field as often this season. Edelman seemingly only gets opportunities when Welker is out. Taylor Price may be hard pressed to make the final roster.

Tight Ends

Starters: Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez
Backups: Lee Smith, Will Yeatman

A season ago, the team's TE position experienced a renaissance with their two rookies, Rob Gronkowski, drafted in the second round and Aaron Hernandez in the fourth. In seasons 2008 and 2009 combined their TEs caught only 74 passes. Last season, the two rookies combined to catch 87 passes for 1,109 yards and an amazing 16 TDs. Early reports out of camp say that Gronkowski has been a man among boys, basically being uncoverable. Hernandez really plays a lot like a slot receiver so these two could continue to be used in tandem. When you have two talented TEs that are both basically starters, especially when Gronkowski is also a force blocking, there may not be much playing time for either Lee Smith or Will Yeatman. Lee Smith is a 6'-6" 269 pound rookie that was drafted in the fifth round. He plays physical and loves to block, but also had 75 career catches at Marshall. Yeatman is an undrafted rookie that played both TE and lacrosse for Maryland. He has identical size at 6'-6" and 268 pounds.

Place Kicker

Stephen Gostkowski, Chris Koepplin : Kicker Stephen Gostkowski is back after missing the second half of last year with a torn quad. ST coordinator Scott O'Brien noted, "(We're) starting him off with the field goals because we want to get him back in the timing, the operation of everything. When he goes to kick off, it's just him and the ball, and he's got his rhythm. He can do that on his own. The priority was to get him back and evaluate where he is at, but also to (work on his) timing, to get him back with the snapper, get him back with the holder, and start with that." The long snapper is Matt Katula who came on board last year after Gostkowski's injury and the holder is once again punter Zoltan Mesko. Undrafted rookie Chris Koepplin from UMass has been handling kickoffs early in camp. The Patriots have ranked in the top ten in kicker scoring opportunities for four straight years, the longest active streak in the league.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Brandon Tate, Matthew Slater, Sammy Morris, Jeremy Ross

Punt Returners: Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, WR Wes Welker, WR Taylor Price

WR Julian Edelman, the primary punt returner, had two kickoff returns in the preseason opener, while WR Taylor Price had two punt returns. Although WR Brandon Tate scored two TDs as the primary kickoff returner last year, he could actually be on the roster bubble this year -- given the devaluation of kickoff returns due to the new rules and the Patriots' glut of receivers. As always, the team has numerous other capable returners - including WR Matthew Slater, WR Wes Welker, and RB Sammy Morris.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Matt Light, LG Logan Mankins, C Dan Koppen, RG Dan Connolly, RT Sebastian Vollmer
Key Backups: Nate Solder [R], Marcus Cannon [R], Rich Ohrnberger, Chris Morris

Team Defense

They don't rebuild, they reload. The Patriots are the masters of replenishing their defense year after year. After the retirements of the Bruschi's and the Seau's of this world, they added talent and made a near seamless transition. The biggest splash made by the Patriots on the defensive side of the ball this offseason was undoubtedly the addition of Albert Haynesworth. The former Pro Bowl DT figures to play DE in the Patriots 3-4, but there are growing sentiments that the team may employ more 4-3 looks. Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes form a steady duo at linebacker. Ras-I Dowling was drafted to bolster the secondary, which suffered from inconsistent play last year at times. However, Devin McCourty is entering his second season after a phenomenal rookie campaign during which he shone. Bill Belichick knows defense and will get the best out of this unit. They also profit from the fact that the Patriots' opponents often have to play from behind.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Andre Carter, DE Shaun Ellis, DT Albert Haynesworth, NT Vince Wilfork
Backups: DE Mike Wright, DE Mark Anderson, DT Gerard Warren, DT Myron Pryor, DT Kyle Love, DT Ron Brace, Brandon Deaderick

Starting DL: The Patriots completely revamped their defensive line over the offseason and appear ready to make a shift to a 4-3 base defense. They traded for DT Albert Haynesworth and then signed a couple of DEs in Andre Carter and Shaun Ellis to 1-year deals. Carter was a poor fit for the Redskins 3-4 defense last year, but did post 11 sacks as a 4-3 DE the year before and could be an interesting sleeper. Ellis has been one of the more productive 3-4 DEs in the league during his time with the Jets and should get more pass rushing opportunities as a LDE here. Haynesworth is another reclamation project for the Patriots, and a player who can certainly dominate inside when he's motivated. Vince Wilfork also returns to hold down the NT position, although he'll probably see a dropoff in production given the upgrades around him.

Backup DL: Mike Wright missed some time last year but still managed to post 5.5 sacks in 11 games and should be effective as part of a DE rotation. Mark Anderson has never been the same since his rookie season with the Bears, but he provides some experienced depth and could contribute in nickel situations. Gerard Warren is the biggest name of the interior backups and is back after a solid season in 2010. Myron Pryor and Ron Brace have shown promise at times while other young guys like Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick will also fight for a spot in camp.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Jerod Mayo, MLB Brandon Spikes, SLB Rob Ninkovich
Backups: ILB Gary Guton, OLB Jermaine Cunningham, OLB Eric Moore, OLB Tracy White

Starting LBs: Unlike the linemen, the Patriots linebackers are not an ideal fit for a move to a 4-3 front. Jerod Mayo has quickly established himself as one of the best inside linebackers in the league, but he could probably slide outside and still be very productive. Brandon Spikes is a natural inside linebacker and a strong defender against the run, but it's not clear if he has the range to control the middle of the field. Rob Ninkovich is a hard worker and former special teams standout who developed into a quality starter last year.

Backup LBs: Gary Guyton has starting experience and provides quality depth inside. Jermaine Cunningham was a 2nd round pick last year who could see time at DE to take advantage of his pass rush ability. Eric Moore and Tracy White are a couple veterans that the Patriots re-signed, but neither figures to have much fantasy value.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Devin McCourty, CB Leigh Bodden, SS Patrick Chung, FS Brandon Meariweather
Backups: CB Darius Butler, CB Kyle Arrington, CB Ras-I Dowling, CB Jonathan Wilhite, S James Sanders

Starting DBs: The Patriots have a very strong and deep secondary, particularly at the corner position. They hit a home run with their first round pick last year as Devin McCourty hauled in 7 interceptions and looks like a future star. Leigh Bodden also picked off 5 passes last year and is an experienced vet who figures to start on the other side. Patrick Chung saw a big jump in his production and level of play last year. If he continues to show improvement, he has a chance to produce like one of the best fantasy DBs in the league. Brandon Meriweather is another former high draft pick who has generally played very well, but he seemed to struggle at times in 2010 and needs to be more consistent.

Backup DBs: The preseason will be needed to figure out who the #3 cornerback will be this year. Darius Butler hasn't made the impact he was expected to, but much of that is because he doesn't get the playing time he might on another team. Kyle Arrington is a physical player who started last year and signed a 2-year extension to stick around. Ras-I Dowling was a 2nd round pick this year and could also be in the mix depending on how quickly he adapts to the speed of the NFL. James Sanders is a versatile safety who can play either spot, and he also tends to get significant playing time in various subpackages.

Last modified: 2011-08-20 06:19:54

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