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2013 Team Report: New England Patriots


Starter: Tom Brady
Backup(s): Ryan Mallett, Tim Tebow

Starting QB: Coming off a stunning 2012, Tom Brady had his second highest yardage total in his career and fourth highest touchdown total in 2013. It did take him the most attempts he's ever thrown to do that, but overall Brady played just like Brady - making the most out of the tools at his disposal. Those tools no longer include Wes Welker, who has left for the Denver Broncos, Aaron Hernandez, awaiting his murder trial, and Brandon Lloyd who is, as yet unsigned. Welker has been replaced by Danny Amendola though, and Brady still has his tight end Rob Gronkowski, so Brady might not lose a step this year, as long as Amendola and Gronkowski can stay healthy.

Backup QB: Ryan Mallett remains Brady's one and only backup and there were rumors that the team was trying to trade him (or at least open to it). As that hasn't happened and the free agency cupboards are bare, Mallett is likely to remain in New England. A strong armed third year player who has improved each season, Mallett is still very untested. If the team needs to rely on him, they have to hope he's another Matt Cassel. Tebow was brought in as a quarterback and at least on paper, will hold that title as the Patriots could use a number three. He'll also take practice snaps at tight end, which will help a team who has some injury issues at the position.

Running Backs

Starter: Stevan Ridley
Backup(s): Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, LeGarrette Blount, Leon Washington (KR/PR), George Winn [R]
Fullback(s): Tony Fiammetta, James Devlin

Starting RB: In 2012, Stevan Ridley emerged as something very unusual for the New England Patriots - a classic lead back. Ridley carried the ball 290 times for 1,263 yards and a dozen touchdowns. The Patriots will continue to lean on him, perhaps not exclusively, but a majority of the time. He's able to move the ball in any number of situations from first downs to goal line work. If there is one place he could improve it would be in the receiving game where he dropped a few balls and caused him to leave the field on many third downs. If he can improve on that and stay on the field, he'd be a dynamic all around back.

Backup RBs: While still dealing with some injury issues, Shane Vereen blew up during the playoffs last year against the Houston Texans, where he scored three times (only the third Patriot to ever do so behind Curtis Martin and Rob Gronkowski). This is something which has fans and the team excited, especially with Danny Woodhead leaving. Vereen should end up with Woodhead's third down role and see his overall touches go up. Brandon Bolden played well early in 2012, but injuries derailed his year. He's likely to get some work behind Ridley while Vereen (and to a lesser extent, Leon Washington) get passing down work. LeGarrette Blount lost his job from the moment the Buccaneers drafted Doug Martin and he struggled from then on. Blount had already seen a decrease in production for every season he was in the league. While he can be a good runner on occasion, he struggles as often and ultimately isn't a lock to make the roster, much less contribute. If he does make the team, it could be at the expense of Bolden.

Fullback: In New England, fullbacks are blockers and nothing more. Tony Fiammetta is a holdover from 2012 and a reliable player, while James Devlin was signed last November and has stuck around since. Both will get their chances to help open holes and protect Tom Brady, but not many and nothing more than that.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins
Backups: Aaron Dobson [R], Julian Edelman, Michael Jenkins, Josh Boyce[R], Matt Slater, Andre Holmes, T.J. Moe, Perez Ashford, Quentin Sims

Starting WRs: Wes Welker is gone, but the Patriots have replaced him with a younger (if not quite better) version in Danny Amendola. It shouldn't take long for Tom Brady and Amendola to get on the same page and the receiver's fantastic run-after-the-catch ability will be a fine replacement for Welker's. This could prove to be even more of a factor for the offense with tight end Rob Gronkowski's continued injury issues and Aaron Hernandez's legal issues. Kenbrell Thompkins had started off the summer lower on the depth chart, but the last few weeks have seen tremendous chemistry develop between he and Tom Brady. Thompkins had a huge first preseason game, though was much quieter the second week. Right now it appears he has a leg up over the other receivers for the No. 2 spot, though.

Backup WRs: Rookie Aaron Dobson. A small school receiver with good size, Dobson is very raw but has a ton of upside. He couldn't ask for a better quarterback to throw him the ball, but it remains to be seen if he can overcome NFL corners. Dobson is a great prospect, but a long way to go to refine his talent. Dobson may have to get up to speed in the New England offense quicker than imagined, but with Kenbrall Thompkins excellent August, the team might be able to bring him along more reasonably. Julian Edelman could be the backup to the oft-injured Amendola, if he can get over a foot injury of his own. He was playing ahead of Wes Welker early last year, so he could be important if the Patriots pass offense is short-handed at any point this year. Michael Jenkins and Lavelle Hawkins are probably fighting for one spot. Michael Jenkins continues his underwhelming tour of the NFL, arriving from Minnesota after two sub-par years and may not make the final roster, although he was one of the bright spots of OTAs and could be a surprise starter with a good summer. Hawkins was signed by the Patriots after the draft when the Titans released him. Rookie Josh Boyce fell in the draft in part due to a foot injury sustained in 2012. He is a fast receiver with the build of a running back. Undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins had a terrific spring and has found himself in the middle of a battle for the outside spot with Jenkins and Dobson. The winner of that battle would be replacing Brandon Lloyd, who totaled 900+ yards in 2012.. Another UDFA, TJ Moe, had promise as a Welker/Amendola clone, but he tore his achilles and was waived to the injured reserve list. He could get a shot in 2014. Perez Ashford and Quentin Sims were signed in mid July. Ashford went undrafted in the 2013 NFL draft, despite running a 4.5 40 time. He then landed with the Browns, but was cut May 30th. He did a lot of different things at Northern Illinois, returning kicks and running the ball as well as catching it. Sims only played a pair of years at the FCS level (at Georgia Tech) before leaving for Tennessee-Martin. He's got size at 6'3" and 208 lbs but whether he can use it against NFL talent is a huge question mark. Normally these two would have issues making the final roster, but with the amount of question marks at receiver for New England, both Sims and Ashford have a better than normal shot with a strong camp.

Tight Ends

Starters: Rob Gronkowski
Backups: Jake Ballard, Zach Sudfeld [R], Daniel Fells, Michael Hoomanawanui

Rob Gronkowski is still dealing with the aftermath of his broken arm, and is finally recovering from his fourth surgery. Unfortunately he's now added back surgery to the laundry list of issues he has to deal with this summer which will put him on the PUP to start training camp. He is no sure lock to be ready by Week 1. When Gronkowski plays, he is still the ridiculously athletic and gifted tight end he has always been and assuming he can stay healthy, will be one of Tom Brady's go-to guys again this year. Jake Ballard was a value grab when the New York Giants cut him due to injury after the 2011 season and now he might be a necessity. If he stays healthy, he'd be great insurance against Gronkowski not being available. Ballard is going to get a chance to show his stuff this summer with Gronkowski's injuries likely keeping him off the field, and he could get a lot of playing time in two tight end sets. Currently he has been named as filling a "Gronkowski type role" as long as Gronkowski is out, while rookie Zach Sudfeld will take the role Aaron Hernandez used to fill. Daniel Fells saw little action last season and is just extra insurance, as is Michael Hoomanawanui.

Place Kicker

Stephen Gostkowski: Returning starter Stephen Gostkowski made 29 of 35 (82.9%) field goals and was perfect on his 66 extra point attempts last year. His long snapper will again be Danny Aiken. He'll be working with a new holder this year, as punter Zoltan Mesko lost a preseason battle with rookie Ryan Allen from Louisiana Tech who was dded shortly after the draft. Allen won the Ray Guy Award the past two years. The Patriots have ranked in the top ten in kicker scoring opportunities for six straight years, the longest active streak in the league. Last year they were number one.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Josh Boyce, Devin McCourty, Roy Finch [R]

The Patriots bounced from one kick returner to another in 2013 despite LaGarrette Blount having the fifth best yards per return in the NFL. Blount has departed in free agency to Pittsburgh, leaving New England with less appealing options. Joyce Boyce was the next best kickoff returner, and may take the lead in a group that will likely include Shane Vereen and Devin McCourty. A longer shot would be undrafted rookie Roy Finch, whose size might draw comparisons to Trindon Holliday though he can also run with a physical style reminiscent of larger backs. If Finch can make the team, do not be surprised if he is prominently in the mix for returns. Other options could include Patrick Chung and Brandon Bolden.

Punt Returners: Julian Edelman, Josh Boyce

In contrast to the merry-go-round at kick returner, the Patriots seemed happy with Julian Edelman who handled all but one of New England's punt returns in 2013. Edelman has the kind of agility and short space quickness that are a necessity for punt returners. One rookie that the Patriots could look to as a backup would be Jeremy Gallon. Gallon's best attribute is the sure-handedness that he developed after initial ball security problems in his early years in college.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Sebastian Vollmer
Key Backups: T Will Svitek, T Marcus Cannon, T Markus Zusevics, C Nick McDonald

Left tackle Nate Solder is an up-and-coming player at his position, known for rare agility. Solder still has some lapses but he makes a fearsome tandem with perennial All-Pro Logan Mankins, and a great deal of the team's run production happens over this left side of the line. The Patriots' line missed Mankins for the first half of 2012 (departed Donald Thomas saw many reps) and is a much better unit with him in the lineup. The lost of Thomas should not affect the Patriots, as long as the guards stay healthy. Ryan Wendell has been a surprisingly decent option at center, and is especially known for his run blocking. Right guard Dan Connolly is another option at center and his versatility is a plus for this unit. However Connolly is probably the weak spot of the line, as he can be beaten in pass protection. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is a former All-Pro performer who was re-signed for good money in the offseason. This signing was key to the Patriots' spring, as doing so kept the same five starters together, good for a perfect cohesion score. Former Falcons tackle Will Svitek was an interesting depth signing, as he has legitimate starting experience, should any starter succumb to injury. Line coach Dante Scarnecchia continues to be one of the best positional coaches in the game. Marcus Cannon is a developing right tackle prospect with size apparently in good health. Still, the signing of Vollmer doesn't speak much to Cannon's future with the team. Other depth names include Nick McDonald and Markus Zusevics. Overall this line starts the season as one of the league's best units, and should remain high in the rankings if they can avoid injury.

Team Defense

It wasn't that long ago when the Patriots were loaded with stud defenders like Willie McGinest, Rodney Harrison, Richard Seymour, and Lawyer Milloy. Those guys are long gone, but the Patriots have been able to restock the cupboard with the likes of Chandler Jones, Jerod Mayo, Donta Hightower, Devin McCourty, and Aqib Talib. After a couple of seasons of mediocrity, look for all of this young talent to come together for a solid 2013 campaign. They should be a decent starting option most weeks.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, DT Vince Wilfork, DT Tommy Kelly
Backups: DE Jermaine Cunningham, DE Jake Bequette, DE Michael Buchanan (R), DE Marcus Bernard, DT Brandon Deaderick, DT Kyle Love, DT Armond Armstead (R)

Starting DL: Chandler Jones quickly established himself as a key player for the Patriots in his rookie year, but he failed to record a sack in his last eight games. Look for him to come back stronger after a full offseason of training and make a push to join the league's elite. Rob Ninkovich made a successful conversion from 3-4 OLB to 4-3 DE last year and was remarkably consistent with at least a partial sack in 10 different games. Vince Wilfork has been one of the league's best nose tackles for some time, but he had his best fantasy season yet in 2012 thanks to an increased number of big plays. The Patriots signed Tommy Kelly in free agency this offseason after he was released by the Raiders. Although his level of play seemed to slip last year, he should provide an upgrade and benefit from the attention Wilfork receives.

Backup DL: Jermaine Cunningham is a former 2nd round pick who hasn't lived up to expectations so far with just 3.5 sacks over his 3-year career. They will hope to get some contributions from a group of prospects. Jake Bequette was a 3rd round pick last year who barely saw the field. Michael Buchanan was a late round pick out of Illinois who has some potential as an edge rusher. Marcus Benard did have some success in Cleveland a few years ago, but nothing since then. On the interior of the defensive line, Brandon Deaderick and Kyle Love both have starting experience and provide quality depth. Armond Armstead was a promising player at USC who had his career sidetracked by a medical issue, but he went to the CFL and won a championship last year.


Starters: WLB Jerod Mayo, MLB Brandon Spikes, SLB Donta Hightower
Backups: ILB Dane Fletcher, OLB Jamie Collins (R), OLB Niko Koutouvides

Starting LBs: Overall, this is a young but talented group who should help anchor the Patriots defense. Jerod Mayo is an elite fantasy option who can play in all situations and consistently puts up great tackle numbers. Brandon Spikes is a solid thumper in the middle of the defense who can struggle in coverage, which limits his upside. The Patriots upgraded their linebacker talent with the selection of Donta Hightower in the 1st round a year ago. He is a versatile player who can do a little bit of everything and should take on more responsibility in his second season.

Backup LBs: Dane Fletcher missed last year with a knee injury but is a capable backup who can also contribute in coverage. Jamie Collins is a very athletic player who could contribute as a situational pass rusher right away. Niko Koutouvides is valuable primarily for his play on the special teams units.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS Adrian Wilson, FS Devin McCourty, CB Aqib Talib, CB Alfonzo Dennard
Backups: S Steve Gregory, S Tavon Wilson, CB Kyle Arrington, CB Ras-I Dowling, CB Logan Ryan (R)

Starting DBs: Patrick Chung had trouble staying healthy and will be replaced this year by veteran Adrian Wilson. Although he has clearly lost a step and will likely be a liability in coverage, Wilson brings toughness and leadership and can be a valuable asset playing up in the box. Devin McCourty helped stabilize the secondary with a move from corner to safety and is a great playmaker. Aqib Talib was acquired via trade last year and provided a huge boost to the Patriots pass defense. He's an aggressive and physical corner and the Patriots kept him around with a one-year deal so he'll be motivated to stay out of trouble. Alfonzo Dennard is the favorite to start at the other corner spot after an impressive rookie season.

Backup DBs: If Adrian Wilson proves too slow to hold up as a starting safety, the Patriots can turn back to the veteran Steve Gregory who started 14 games for them a year ago. They also have 2nd year player Tavon Wilson available who should be able to contribute in subpackages and passing situations. The depth at corner seems to be as good as it has been in awhile with Kyle Arrington serving as an ideal nickel corner. Ras-I Dowling needs to stay healthy, but he figures to be the top backup outside. Logan Ryan was a 3rd round pick out of Rutgers who should compete for playing time right away.

Last modified: 2014-05-15 23:30:39