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2014 Team Report: New England Patriots

Quarterbacks

Starter: Tom Brady
Backup(s): Jimmy Garoppolo [R]

Starting QB: It was a bit of a rough year for Tom Brady, especially at the start. With Danny Amendola hurt almost immediately (and then banged up for much of the season), Rob Gronkowski unavailable for most of the year and Aaron Hernandez released due to connections to multiple disturbing homicides, Brady lacked any reliable weapons outside of Julian Edelman. This all led to his lowest touchdown total since 2006 (ignoring the year he was on injured reserve). Amendola is supposed to be back, Gronkowski is on the mend and the rookie from last year are now experienced veterans so Brady will have better and more consistent weapons at his disposal. His touchdowns should go back up this season along with his completions and yards per attempt. Brady will be 37 at the start of this season and is closer to the end of his career than the beginning, something definitely on the mind of the front office, who drafted Jimmy Garoppolo as a potential replacement in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft. Still, Brady will go when he is ready and he still has the skill to play for another few years.

Backup QB: Ryan Mallett was finally traded for a late round draft pick, which had been predicted since prior to the 2014 NFL draft, leaving rookie Jimmy Garoppolo as Tom Brady's backup. After landing in the perfect situation, Garoppolo had a very solid training camp and preseason, which allowed the Patriots to move on from Mallett. There is some risk here as he is a rookie with a solid arm who gets the ball out quick, but often makes just one read and will occasionally struggle with pressure. Garoppolo could also do with some mechanical tweaking. That said, he has a lot of upside and with Brady nearing the end of his career (though who knows when), in time has the overall skill to take over down the road.

Running Backs

Starter: Stevan Ridley
Backup(s): Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, Jonas Gray, James White [R], Stephen Houston [R], Roy Finch [R]
Fullback(s): James Develin

Starting RB: Stevan Ridley came out of the 2013 season with a bad case of fumblitis, which resulted in a loss of carries and a sub-1,000 yard season to follow his outstanding 2012. As of the start of offseason activities Ridley still remains the lead back, as he runs well and is a good compliment to the shiftier Shane Vereen, running with a little more power between the tackles. There are other backs on the roster capable though, and if he cannot hold onto the ball, he'll get pushed by them for the starting job.

Backup RBs: Shane Vereen once again had injury issues, otherwise he would have seen a lot more carries considering Stevan Ridley couldn't hang onto the ball. While Vereen tends to play a different role in the offense than Ridley, catching the ball and running outside, he can run between the tackles and could see more carries early on if Ridley continues to struggle with ball security. Brandon Bolden has struggled with injuries and when he has been healthy, more often than not is inactive. He's a decent runner, but nothing special and one wonders if he'll make the cut come August. Former Dolphin Jonas Gray is a decent short yardage back, who was actually better than current Dolphin Daniel Thomas last summer. He runs with a bruising style and could be the replacement for LaGarrette Blount. Rookie James White was a fourth round selection who runs smart, and is patient behind his blockers. He's not the most explosive players but he has decent speed and could end up as a third-down back. Fellow rookie Stephen Houston looks better in workouts than tape, but could fill a special teams role quite nicely and is a soft-handed receiver out of the backfield. He's not much of a pass protector though. Finally, Roy Finch is a rookie who only carried the full load at Oklahoma once and wasn't terribly effective. He has flashed some decent hands but in this crowded backfield he may struggle to stay on the roster,

Fullback: James Develin was already cut once for a blocking tight end (Matt Mulligan last September)so his spot is far from secure. The Pats use fullbacks as blockers only so expect nothing more from him.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman
Backups: Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, Brandon LaFell, Josh Boyce, Matt Slater, Jeremy Gallon [R], Mark Harrison, Greg Orton, Reggie Dunn

Starting WRs: It was a disappointing first season as a Patriot for Danny Amendola as he battled injury all season long. When he played and was healthy, rare though that was, he could be very effective, but you don't get to see that when he's not on the field. The Patriots need him to find a way to stay off the trainer's table - or injured reserve - if he is going to be worth his contract. Julian Edelman was always haunting the fringes of reliability for the Patriots and last year the converted defensive back as he was the one consistent option for Tom Brady. This resulted in a massive uptick in production as Edelman had his first 1,000 yard season (his previous best was 359 yards) and highest total touchdowns with six. Edelman proved he can be a solid wide receiver and while it is unlikely he sees 151 targets again, Brady is likely to look for him early and often.

Backup WRs: Aaron Dobson came on in the middle of the season as he caught three touchdowns and 190 yards in two games against Miami and Pittsburgh before fracturing his foot. He has quickness and can make great catches against press coverage. Dobson could see plenty of targets this year if he's healthy. He'll be fighting with former Carolina Panther Brandon LaFell. LaFell has never fulfilled the potential he has, never catching more than 49 balls in a season or topping 700 yards. Meanwhile, Josh Boyce might be fighting Thompkins for a roster spot, according to the Boston Globe. Boyce was hurt a lot last season (most of the receivers were) and will have to stand out in camp if he's going to win that fifth roster spot. Matt Slater was hurt part of last season and is merely a special teams player. According to ESPN Boston, Jeremy Gallon has been watching tons of tape on Julian Edelman and Wes Welker and can make plays and was productive at Michigan, but with the glut at the slot, will have to use his special teams ability to hang on the roster. ESPN Boston also reports that Mark Harrison could be converted to tight end. At a big 6'3" 230 pounds he could be a great replacement for the talent they've lost at tight end. He also had health issues last season. Greg Orton was great with Denver last offseason but had a high-ankle sprain last August and was waived. Orton was on practice squads and in the arena league the last few years and while he is a decent receiver, isn't very fast nor a particularly special player. He's a long shot to make the roster. Reggie Dunn runs a fast 40 and was a solid kick returner in college who hasn't been able to reproduce that at the pro level.

Tight Ends

Starters: Rob Gronkowski
Backups: Tim Wright, Michael Hoomanawanui

Rob Gronkowski wasn't healthy for the bulk of the 2013 season but he's cready for Week 1 of the 2014 NFL season, which is great news for Tom Brady and the team. Brady gets his favorite and most reliable target back because when healthy, we know Gronk is one of the best tight ends in the game. If he can avoid the freakish injuries he's had to deal with in the last few years, he should quickly remind us all that he is one of the best tight ends in the NFL. Behind him is a lot of competition from some questionable talents. A lot of talk will now center on recently acquired Tim Wright, who arrives from Tampa Bay in return for guard Logan Mankins. Wright gets compared to Aaron Hernandez in terms of skill, but is really just a pale shadow. Remember that Bill Belichick doesn't need to have a two-tight end set and Wright was on the roster bubble in Tampa. That doesn't bode well for his impact in New England. Hoomanawanui is effective in very short bursts, decent catching passes and mediocre blocking.

Place Kicker

Stephen Gostkowski: Returning starter Stephen Gostkowski made 38 of 41 (92.7%) field goals and was perfect on his 44 extra point attempts last year, to once more lead all fantasy kickers. His holder will again be punter Ryan Allen. His snapper will probably still be Danny Aiken, although thatís not a certainty. The team added rookie Tyler Ott from Harvard shortly after the draft. Ott was one of the top three snapping prospects in this yearís class. The Patriots have ranked in the top ten in kicker scoring opportunities for seven straight years, the longest active streak in the league. They were number one the past two years.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Danny Amendola, LaGarrette Blount, Patrick Chung, Matt Slater

The Patriots often bounce from one kick returner to another early in the season before finally settling on a returner. In 2013 it was LaGarrette Blount who ended up as the primary returner, while last season it was receiver Danny Amendola. Blount spent time on Pittsburgh's roster last season, but was released and re-signed in New England. Though Amendola held on to the returns, both could be in play as returners this year. Patrick Chung and Matthew Slater have also seen a few returns in the past, but never been the team's primary returner.

Punt Returners: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Robert McClain

In contrast to the uncertainty each year at kick returner, on punts the Patriots seem to quickly settle down to just one or two options. Julian Edelman handled all but one of New England's punt returns in 2013, and split the duties with Danny Amendola last season. The addition of cornerback Robert McClain will give the Patriots another option. McClain maintained a 10.2 yard average as a punt returner in Atlanta before Devin Hester's addition to the team.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Sebastian Vollmer
Key Backups: T Marcus Cannon, C Bryan Stork [R], T Cameron Fleming [R], G Jon Halapio [R],

The Patriots line grades out as a mid-tier unit, which is down from where it ranked in previous years. Itís currently a mixed bag across the front for the Patriots, some good, some bad. Starting with the good news, left tackle Nate Solder has evolved into a steady pass protector over the last few seasons and the Patriots have recently picked up his option for a fifth year. Solder isnít perfect and can be beat but in general heís one of the better left tackles around. Left guard Logan Mankins is a bit of a flash point for Pats fans. On paper, heís the lineís best player (by far), the captain of the team, and coming off of another All-Pro season (the fifth of his career). However some observers complain about his mistakes, and point to his salary as an expectation for better play. One particular stat that is troubling is that Brady led the league in sacks recorded in less than 2.5 seconds. Mankins isnít totally to blame for this; the entire interior is on notice. It will be interesting to see if the Patriots sign him to another extension, as he is currently carrying a cap number over ten million dollars a year. For now we are still grading him out as an elite player. At center, Ryan Wendell was average at best, sometimes looking downright bad. The same can be said of left guard Dan Connolly, who is also considered, overpaid at over four million per season. These players will face immediate competition from rookies: Bryan Stork was drafted in the third round to push Wendell and Jon Halapio was drafted in the sixth round to push Connolly. Stork seems the best bet to win a starting job early, but we will still project Wendell as the starter (for now). At right tackle Sebastian Vollmer returns from a broken right leg that placed him on injured reserve half way through last season. When healthy, Vollmer can be counted among the better right tackles in the game. Vollmer seems like a solid bet to start but he will also face competition. Last yearís utility man Marcus Cannon (who also saw time at right guard last season before getting injured) could challenge for either Connolly or Vollmerís starting spot. It's tough to predict at this point but Cannon is currently projected as the swing tackle in our rankings. Fourth round selection Cameron Fleming is also in the mix for the swing tackle role. Fleming was a productive right tackle at Stanford and fits the Patriotsí profile of cerebral linemen. Overall this line is currently ranked just outside the top units but could climb up the rankings with better consistency from their interior positions.

Team Defense

This was a very talented defense that became even more so after the signing of Darrelle Revis. Revis should shut down one side of the field leaving Devin McCourty free to roam and help on the other side of the field. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich provide a dynamic defensive end duo that can get to the quarterback and support the run. Donta' Hightower is a solid young MLB but there are some question marks at OLB. A healthy Jerod Mayo would answer one of those questions and make this a very solid unit. With Revis in the mix and a very good pass rush this should be a unit that provides a lot of sacks and big plays on the back end.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Chandler Jones, DT Vince Wilfork, DT Tommy Kelly, DE Rob Ninkovich
Backups: DT Chris Jones, DT Dominique Easley, DT Armond Armstead, DE Jake Bequette, DE Michael Buchanan, DE Will Smith

Starting DL: Chandler Jones broke out with an 11.5 sack season during his second year as a pro and it looks like he will join the ranks of the elite pretty soon. He give the Patriots a much-needed young anchor on their defensive front and is a player that opponents will have to game plan around. Vince WIlfork is not as dominant as he used to be and the torn Achilles that limited him to 4 games last year probably wonít help. That makes him a question mark in 2014, but itís probably not wise to count him out yet. Tommy Kelly looked like a nice pickup from the Raiders last year as he put up 2.5 sacks in just 5 games, but his year was also cut short by injuries and at 33 he might not have that much time left either. Rob Ninkovich is consistently one of the most underrated fantasy players because he puts up big tackles numbers for a defensive lineman while also providing decent sack numbers. Last year was no different as he posted almost 100 combined tackles with 8 sacks thanks in part to the emergence of Jones on the other side.

Backup DL: After both starting DTs went down with injuries last year, Chris Jones filled in admirably. That experience should be valuable for him and showed that he can play a bigger role if either of the starters arenít quite 100%. The Patriots drafted Easley in the first round who has a reputation as a dominant run stuffer, but he also tore both ACLs during his college career. The other players on the roster are most likely depth options at this point.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Jerod Mayo, MLB Dontía Hightower, SLB Jamie Collins
Backups: ILB Chris White, OLB Steve Beauharnais

Starting LBs: WLB Jerod Mayo is another veteran who had his year cut short by an injury as a torn pectoral muscle put him on IR. Heís expected to be ready for the season this year and if healthy should continue to be on one of the most productive linebackers in the league. Mayo is the type of linebacker who can do everything well and heís a focal point of the Patriots defense. With Brandon Spikes moving onto the Bills in free agency, Dontía Hightower now is the unquestioned starter at MLB. Unfortunately, he doesnít appear to be a lock for nickel back duties just yet so his fantasy value could still be somewhat limited. Jamie Collins was drafted for his versatility last year and he should provide more big plays from the strongside linebacker spot as he takes on a bigger role.

Backup LBs: A lack of depth at linebacker appears to be a glaring weakness for the Patriots as Chris White and Steve Beauharnais are both little-used backups who could be thrust into a larger role if injuries hit.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Darrelle Revis, SS Duron Harmon, FS Devin McCourty, CB Alfonzo Dennard
Backups: CB Brandon Browner, CB Logan Ryan, CB Kyle Arrington, S Tavon Wilson, S Patrick Chung

Starting DBs: The Patriots lost Aqib Talib in free agency but wasted little time signing a potential upgrade in Darrelle Revis, who was cut loose after just one year with the Buccaneers. Revis has not been 100% healthy in recent years, but he is certainly capable of playing a shutdown role. The strong safety position is one of the only question marks on this defense, but Duron Harmon was a 3rd round pick a year ago and figures to get a chance to make the position his own. Devin McCourty has made a seamless transition from CB and has helped solidify the backfield for the Patriots in recent years. The corner spot opposite Revis should be up for grabs but Alfonzo Dennard looks like an early favorite to begin the year as a starter after starting 9 games a year ago.

Backup DBs: Brandon Browner fell out of favor with the Seahawks before he was suspended for performance-enhancing substances, but he has the size to match up with some of the bigger receivers and tight ends around the league. Heíll miss the first four games of the year to a suspension though so that figures to give other players an advantage. Logan Ryan had a very promising rookie year and there has been some discussion of possibly moving him to safety. Kyle Arrington is a reliable veteran who works well as a nickel back. Tavon Wilson and Patrick Chung are both solid safety options who can fill in if Harmon is not ready for the full-time job.

Last modified: 2015-05-10 17:38:20