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2012 Team Report: New England Patriots
QuarterbacksStarter: Tom Brady
Backup(s): Ryan Mallett Starting QB: There's very little for Tom Brady to improve upon in 2012, given his career highs in yardage (5,235 total) and yards per attempt (8.6) and his second-highest passing touchdown total in his career (39). Not only does Brady have Wes Welker and the services of the potent tight end duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, but New England acquired a proper No. 1 wide receiver in Brandon Lloyd, who had his best years under Josh McDaniels -- now on a second stint with the Patriots. While Brady is getting older, he's not slowing down at all and this season looks to be more of the same level of production. Brady has some tremendous matchups this season as well, against the Cardinals (Week 2), the Rams (Week 8), the Colts (Week 11), and the Jaguars (Week 16) in addition to a pair of games against what appears to be an unimpressive Dolphins team. Brady looks poised for another tremendous season in 2012. Backup QB: Mallett is still developing and like many rookies, was hindered by last year's lockout but with the surprising release of Brian Hoyer, he's Brady's only backup. He has all the arm strength you could ask for in a quarterback, but his poor mobility and talk of off-the-field concerns hurt his draft stock in 2011. Mallett is still very raw and in the preseason you have seen both his upside and downside in abundance.
Running BacksStarter: Stevan Ridley
Backup(s): Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead, Brandon Bolden [R], Jeff Demps [R]
Fullback(s): Tony Fiammetta, Spencer Larsen, Eric Kettani Starting RB: The Patriots aren't a team with a lead back, so much as many CONTRIBUTING backs. They don't feed just one guy but go with who is hot and view their running backs as interchangeable. Further, this team is clearly built on the arm of Tom Brady. The running game simply isn't that important. After letting Benjarvus Green-Ellis go to the Bengals, the team is hoping second-year player Stevan Ridley can elevate his game. Ridley looked good on the 90 touches he got in 2011 and will get first crack at carrying the ball. He has good burst and runs very hard and has equal success moving the ball for tough yards as he does breaking off a longer run. Ridley's determination has clearly won over the coaching staff. While it's unlikely one specific back breaks out in New England -- that's just not how they operate -- Ridley looks like he has the makings of a nice flex or RB2 player and Vereen might be very good bench depth with upside. Backup RBs: Shane Vereen will likely be the first guy off the bench and so far looks to be getting the bulk of the split carries with Ridley. Vereen is a little smaller and quicker than Ridley, and largely due to injuries received fewer opportunities in 2011. When Vereen did get a chance, he showed a nice combination of speed and power. Danny Woodhead has been a great addition to the offense since he first arrived from the Jets in 2010. Last year saw a little less use than his first year with the Patriots, and with the ever expanding backfield, it would be a surprise if Woodhead played a large role in 2012. Woodhead will always be more exciting watching that using on your fantasy team. Joseph Addai is buried behind much more dynamic and entrenched options in the backfield, but might be a sleeper if one of the other backs goes down. He seems too fragile for long term value though. Brandon Bolden draws a lot of comparisons to Green-Ellis. Both were undrafted free agents, both from Ole Miss and both have similar builds and running styles. The Pats hit pay dirt with that once -- they could easily give Bolden every chance to stick around and prove them geniuses again. Fullback: The fullback position is seen as blockers only in New England. Tony Fiammetta, Spencer Larsen, Eric Kettani are all big guys who can clear a path for the running backs. It's difficult to imagine all three making the final roster though.
Wide ReceiversStarters: Wesley Welker, Brandon Lloyd
Backups: Julian Edelman, Jeremy Ebert, Matt Slater (SS/KR), Greg Salas Starting WRs: In 2012, Welker will look to surpass 1,000 yards for the fifth time in seven years. With the tight ends and now Brandon Lloyd in the fold, it gets harder and harder for teams to commit more bodies to shutting Welker down so he'll continue to find open areas across the middle of the field. Before his bad drop at the end of the Super Bowl, Welker hadn't dropped a pass all season and is Brady's single most reliable target. Brandon Lloyd brings a different dimension to the team, one lost with Randy Moss' departure. During Josh McDaniels' tenure in Denver, Lloyd had a career resurgence. Now that the two are reunited in New England (McDaniels is offensive coordinator and quarterback coach), with the likes of Brady throwing the ball, Lloyd looks primed for a great season. The only question is how targets will get spread around with Lloyd, Welker, and the two tight ends sharing. As Tom Brady threw the third most attempts in the league last year, there should be plenty of balls for everyone. Backup WRs: It's going to be a free for all behind the two primary wide receivers. Julian Edelman is versatile (filling in on defense last year), but he's far from a lock to even make the final squad. The rest are a collection of camp bodies and role players. If Greg Salas plays to his capability, the second-year player should have a chance to develop into a starter in the next 1-2 seasons.
Tight EndsStarters: Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez
Backups: Daniel Fells Call Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez TE1 and TE1a. Hernandez and Gronkowski both are extraordinary tight ends, tall and athletic and able to go get the ball wherever Brady throws it. Both are tough players as well and unafraid of contact or catching the ball in traffic. The Pats use a two-tight end set often, and this makes for consistent production from both guys. The only issue is who will have the big day. Both will produce but figuring out which guy will hit it big on which day is a difficult thing to do. Still, they are both reliable tight ends for any fantasy team. Fells was used sparingly in both Denver and St Louis, and things will not be much different here unless there is a severe injury to one of the starting tight ends. Even then, he's not in their class so don't expect a duplicate amount of production.
Place KickerStephen Gostkowski, Chris Koepplin : In 2011, kicker Stephen Gostkowski showed no ill effects from his torn quad suffered in 2010. He made 28 of 33 (84.8%) field goals and was perfect on his 59 extra point attempts. The long snapper is Matt Katula, who came on board in 2010 after Gostkowski's injury, and the holder is once again punter Zoltan Mesko. For the second straight year, Chris Koepplin from UMass is serving as the camp leg. The Patriots have ranked in the Top 10 in kicker scoring opportunities for five straight years, the longest active streak in the league.
Kick and Punt ReturnersKick Returners: Danny Woodhead, Julian Edelman, Matt Slater New England added UDFA Running Back Jeff Demps, who will likely be utilized as a kickoff returner and possibly as a punt returner. Running Back Danny Woodhead should also factor the kick return mix, but the Patriots signed Demps to man this role. Punt Returners: Julian Edelman, Wes Welker Wide receiver Julian Edelman should continue as the primary punt returner, but could be replaced by newly added UDFA Running Back Jeff Demps, who flashes excellent speed, quickness and has a knack for big plays.
Offensive LineProjected Starters: LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connoly, RT Sebastian Vollmer
Key Backups: T Marcus Cannon, G Brian Waters (out), C Matt Tennant, G Donald Thomas, G Nick McDonald UPDATE: Sebastian Vollmer was activated from the PUP list and appears to be ready for the season opener. Logan Mankins is still recovering from offseason surgery and Brian Waters is still missing from camp. Even if all players return for week one, cohesion has to be concern. This line should be among the league's best but there's uncertainty right now and they are slightly downgraded from a top three ranking to a top seven ranking. PRESEASON OUTLOOK: Left guard Logan Mankins is a four time All-Pro and an absolute beast of a player. Mankins is recovering from an ACL tear, however, so we should watch his progress in preseason. Left tackle Nate Solder steps in for retiring Matt Light, and should actually be an upgrade in the pass blocking department. Solder is a former college tight end with Pro Bowl potential. Right guard Brian Waters is a six time Pro Bowl selection (two time All-Pro) but is rumored to be considering retirement. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer was actually a second team All-Pro selection in the past and should be watched closely for a drop in form. Center is somewhat cloudy situation as Dan Koppen will be competing with last year's starter Dan Connolly for the job. Koppen is projected to win this job and hopefully recapture his former Pro-Bowl form, but this is another situation that bears close watching. Marcus Cannon has recovered from his bout with cancer and should win the swing tackle position. Line coach Dante Scarnecchia is known as one of the most resourceful coaches in the business, and he has more tools than ever. The Patriots offensive line is outstanding on paper but suffers from a low cohesion score due to shuffling. Even with the cohesion concerns, this line is one of the league's best, especially at pass blocking. Keep in mind there are several positional battles (right guard, center) that could change the situation.
Team DefenseFar too often the Patriots allowed opposing offenses to move up and down the field at will -- the failure to stop the pass was problematic, mitigated by the extremely dynamic offense. Overall though, the Pats continued to employ a bend-but-don't-break style of defense where they would allow offenses to gain a lot of yards, but stop them before the end zone. They did allow the 10th-most touchdowns in the league, but they were also able to generate turnovers. As with Miami, the sum of this defense is greater than the totality of its parts. While they are effective, the Patriots don't currently have that one huge star, but instead a group of solid players. They have been able to play above their heads for years, but as a whole they were unable to do so last season. The secondary has been the biggest issue, as they had so many injuries in 2011 that they had wide receiver Julian Edelman lined up at cornerback. They have depth now, and it's healthy. It is up for debate whether that will continue once contact begins.
Defensive LineStarters: DE Chandler Jones [R], DE Jermaine Cunningham, NT Vince Wilfork, DT Kyle Love
Backups: DE Trevor Scott, DE Rob Ninkovich, DT Brandon Deaderick, DE Jake Bequette [R], DE Markell Carter, DT Jonathan Fanene, DT Myron Pryor Starting DL: The Patriots switched to playing primarily a 4-3 front last season but have lost a couple of key players this offseason. Andre Carter put up 10 sacks but suffered a season-ending leg injury and remains an unsigned free agent. Mark Anderson also put up 10 sacks but left to sign a free agent deal with the Bills. The most likely scenario is that the Patriots will employ a rotation up front that includes some combination of young players and veterans. The player with the most upside is 1st round pick Chandler Jones. Although considered by some draft experts as a project, he looked great in the preseason and will likely begin the year as a starter. Jermaine Cunningham was a second-round pick a couple years ago who has not lived up to expectations with just one career sack so far. He may be a better fit in the new scheme, however, and looks like he is going to get a chance to show it early on. Vince Wilfork continues to play at an elite level and is one of the few nose tackles in the league that have legitimate fantasy value. Kyle Love is a former undrafted free agent who emerged as a starter last year and played well inside. Backup DL: The Patriots have moved Rob Ninkovish from OLB to DE this year so he figures to see some time as a pass-rush specialist. Trevor Scott is an athletic player signed from Oakland who put up 12 sacks over his first two years in the league. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2010 that limited his effectiveness last year, but the Patriots believe he can replace some of the pass rush production they've lost. Brandon Deaderick is a late-round pick who has flashed some nice potential as an all-around end. He could be ready for a bigger role either inside or outside. Third-round pick Jake Bequette has drawn some comparisons to former Patriot Mike Vrabel and posted 10 sacks in the SEC last year. Markell Carter spent last year on the practice squad but has added weight and could be ready to contend for regular playing time. Jonathan Fanene is a quality veteran signed from the Bengals who can line up inside or outside and provide a strong presence up front. Myron Pryor is a young player who has shown some potential as an inside pass rusher.
LinebackersStarters: WLB Jerod Mayo, MLB Brandon Spikes, ILB Dont'a Hightower [R]
Backups: OLB Bobby Carpenter, OLB Niko Koutouvides, ILB Tracy White, ILB Dane Fletcher (IR), Starting LBs: The Patriots have upgraded the talent of their linebacking group in recent years. Jerod Mayo has clearly established himself as one of the league's best linebackers, although his production took a pretty big dropoff last year as he dealt with a knee injury. As long as he is healthy, he should lead the team in tackles and contribute a handful of big plays. Brandon Spikes missed half the season last year with ankle and knee injuries, but he is a strong presence inside and should be healthy to start out 2012. If he improves his cover skills and earns a spot in the team's nickel package, Spikes could be a breakout candidate this year. The Patriots added a second potential impact player in the draft this year when they selected Dont'a Hightower with the 25th overall pick. Hightower was one of the most dominating linebackers in college football over the past couple years and should be able play any linebacker position, but it looks like he'll begin on the strongside. Backup LBs: Bobby Carpenter is a former first-round pick who is on his fourth team in four years, but the Patriots lack great depth here. Niko Koutouvides is mostly a special teams ace who also could fill a role as a nickel backer due to his cover skills. Tracy White looks like a backup inside but they'd most likely move Mayo or Hightower inside first. Dane Fletcher was an undrafted free agent who quickly made a successful transition from playing defensive end in college to inside linebacker as a pro, but he was placed on injured reserve.
Defensive BacksStarters: SS Patrick Chung, FS Steve Gregory, CB Kyle Arrington, CB Devin McCourty
Backups: S Tavon Wilson [R], S Sergio Brown, CB Ras-I Dowling, CB Sterling Moore Starting DBs: The Patriots secondary was a clear weak spot in 2011, but they hope to see improvement thanks to some added depth at the safety position. Patrick Chung is a potential star at strong safety, but he missed half the season with injuries and will likely need to stay healthy for the defense to reach its full potential. Steve Gregory has been a long-time starter in San Diego, so he'll bring some much-needed experience to the secondary. He's not a typical free safety and doesn't make a lot of plays, but just having a steady presence out there should help the outside corners do their jobs better. Kyle Arrington enjoyed a breakout season last year and finished with 66 solo tackles and seven interceptions. He's a sound tackler and the type of player who always seems to be around the ball, but don't expect a repeat of those big numbers. Devin McCourty looked like a future superstar when he posted seven interceptions as a rookie in 2010, but he regressed badly in 2011 and was even moved to safety late in the year. The Patriots have upgraded their depth at linebacker and safety this year so improved play from those around him should lead to a bounce back year. Backup DBs: The Patriots selected safety Tavon Wilson in the second round out of Illinois. He was considered a reach by most draft experts, but the Patriots like his combination of size, speed, and cover skills. Sergio Brown was forced into a bigger role than he was ready for last year when the team cut loose players like Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders. The corner position again appears to lack sufficient depth, but the team spent a second-round pick on Ras-I Dowling last year and hopes he'll be able to make a significant contribution this year. Sterling Moore was an undrafted rookie free agent who wound up starting for the Patriots late last year. He also is the guy who knocked a sure touchdown out of Lee Evans' hands in the AFC Championship game that helped the Patriots get to the Super Bowl. Last modified: 2012-09-03 12:10:14