Welcome Bleacher Creatures to the first (and hopefully not the last) installment of Patriots Mailbag.
Please feel free to send your questions via whatever media tool you're most comfortable with, I'm reachable through just about all of them.
- Alex Hall, Cowboys Featured Columnist asks: For all of the hype surrounding the additions of Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth, in the end, it seemed Andre Carter was the Patriots' biggest contributor. Who do you think had the biggest impact out of all the free agents, rookies and trade pickups?
A tough question, Alex.
Carter was an absolute menace for the first half of the season, collecting 10 sacks, but I think Mark Anderson deserves major credit here too.
Anderson stood right in for Carter when he went down for the year with a torn quad. Anderson even graded out well against the run and played nearly wire-to-wire in the season's last two games.
With all that said, Brian Waters is probably my pick for best free agent. He started every game after signing extremely late in the offseason and graded out very well in a completely new position as a 12th-year veteran.
Best rookie performance goes out to Nate Solder, who also adjusted to a few new roles on the offensive line. The 6'8" rookie lined up at both tackle positions and even acted as the team's third tight end in some packages. With expectations relatively softened prior to his rookie year, Solder proved early and often that he was worthy of the 17th overall selection.
Ochocinco barely edges Haynesworth in the trade pickup department but only by means of disqualification (Haynesworth was released).
- Chris D. asks: Here's a question, do you think Chad Ochocinco can still produce on the same level he did while with the Cincinnati Bengals? I'm not talking about just moving the chains, can he still be a true threat?
I'll be the first to admit I'm not the biggest Ochocinco fan; I immediately shot down rumors of his impending arrival in New England. With that said, I do believe he's still capable of contributing, so the short answer is yes.
However, there's a stipulation to that statement.
In order for that production to occur in New England, Ochocinco is going to need playing time. In other words, he's going to have to overtake Deion Branch to assume the role of outside receiver. And as of right now, Ochocinco is the one with the contract, with Branch on the outside looking in.
Branch is no talent to scoff at, though, especially in New England's system. The team may very well take a long and hard look at the 10th-year veteran next season.
If not, they may choose to give 85 a shot, if he can survive initial roster cuts. I'm confident that if he can get on the field as a legitimate starter, he should be fine, I just don't know whether that will be with the Patriots next season.
- Chris D. asks: I've got another one I've been mulling over myself. The Patriots have an obvious need for a deep threat, playmaking receiver for Tom Brady. So should they go after the "out of retirement" Randy Moss? Or perhaps, make a play at DeSean Jackson if the Eagles make him available?
Those are certainly the "sexy" options.
Knowing New England, though, it's highly unlikely either of those scenarios play out. The Patriots would have to give up a king's ransom to pry Jackson out of Philly, and I just don't see that happening.
You have to consider that the deal would need to be good enough to convince the Eagles to ship him and then the contract offer would have to be in line with what the player is after. This would be a monster investment in a player who just doesn't seem like a perfect fit for the "Patriot Way" experience.
Moss is a heck of a lot more likely, but I still wouldn't put any money on it. I'd rather have a youngin on the roster than a 35-year-old Moss just about any day of the week, and I think the team sees the situation in a similar light.
He was a stop gap back in 2007 and is no closer to being a long-term solution at wideout five years later.
It's debatable whether he could even be a short-term solution at this point in his "restarted" career anyway.
- Matt D. asks: What should Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez be rated in Madden 12? I was thinking it should look something like Gronkowski at 97 and Hernandez at 90.
Great question Matt, definitely a different angle to look at.
I like Gronk at or above 96 and Hernandez right at 90. Taking into objective consideration both players' strengths and weaknesses (however minimal) should get you around those numbers.
Hernandez is much faster, more agile and fits the field-stretching tight end mold, while Gronkowski edges him in blocking skills, jumping ability, strength and with his ability to break tackles.
Keep in mind these two are both 22 years old and only completed their second pro season. To say there's still room for improvement is an understatement (Potential: A).
And here's a little Madden tip for all the players out there. Edit the Patriots' depth chart at receiver and throw Hernandez into the mix. I usually have Branch ranked first, Welker in the slot and Hernandez as the second wideout, mimicking New England's real offense.
- Matt D. asks: If the Patriots had a Randy Moss-type outside receiver, what do you think the Patriots offense would look like? I’m thinking at least equivalent to the record-setting 2007 offense!
I think we can make some assumptions as to what the Patriots offense will look like next season. The only real question marks involve the outside receiver position, the center and guard positions and the status of BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead, Gronkowski, Hernandez and the majority of the line will be right back on the field for New England in 2012. So the idea of adding a "Randy Moss-type" receiver would essentially require replacing Branch on the outside.
I do feel like there's quite a bit more production to be had outside of the numbers, and vertically, given the right personnel. It's going to be hard to replicate the numbers of the 2007 season no matter who you have though.
It's certainly not impossible, but the Patriots would again have to focus on down-the-field attacks and largely ignore the run game. 2007 saw Brady throw for an NFL record 50 touchdowns and he threw for 39 this season while Green-Ellis ran for 11, so the opportunities to reach some of those records are absolutely still there.
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