New England Patriots: 6 Defenders Who Will Scare AFC East in 2012
Even though the New England Patriots failed to bring home the NFL's prized possession at the end of last season, they still continue to solidify their dominance of the AFC East year after year. The Patriots have won eight of the last nine AFC East titles and have also made their presence known during the postseason as well, winning three Super Bowls over the last 10 years.
New England is mostly known for their future Hall of Fame quarterback, Tom Brady, and his ability to run a near-perfect offense with various levels of talent at his aid. The high-powered offense has been a key factor to the Patriots' success over the last few seasons, especially since the defense has been below average.
Last season, New England had the most offensive yards per game in the league but also had the second-worst defense in terms of yards allowed per game.
This season has to be different, and it seems like management feels the same way as they drafted six defenders while only taking one offensive player.
If the Patriots want to make another trip to the Super Bowl in 2012, they have to play better defense. That being said, here are six defenders who could scare the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills in the AFC East.
Vince Wilfork, Defensive Tackle
2012 Statistics: 52 TOT, 29 SOL, 3.5 SCK, 1 FF
One of the best defensive players in recent Patriots history, Vince Wilfork is a force on the New England defensive line. Listed at over six feet tall and a whopping 325 pounds, Wilfork has had plenty of opportunities over his Patriots tenure to give opposing quarterbacks and offensive lines a headache.
Known mainly for his ability to rush the passer, it was impressive last season when Wilfork came up with two interceptions. It's not every game you get to see a defensive tackle pick off a QB.
Wilfork had a very solid regular season but was even better during New England's run through the 2011 postseason. In three games, Wilfork had 12 tackles and 2.5 sacks, which propelled the Patriots into the Super Bowl.
As long as he doesn't lose any weight, there's no reason he won't be just as good next season.
Chandler Jones, Defensive Line
2012 Statistics: 38 TCK, 30 SOL, 4.5 SCK, 2 FF (Syracuse Orange)
Chandler Jones was New England's first selection in this year's NFL draft coming out of Syracuse. He's a very tall defensive end who only got to play in seven games during his senior season after an injury held him out of the other five regular season games.
Jones has a ton of upside, and fellow Bleacher Report writer Drew Bonifant thinks that he could be another Jason Pierre-Paul. If that's the case, New England made a very smart decision since we all got to see what JPP was capable of this season.
Bonifant writes that he might not be an immediate presence in the opposing backfield, but I think that after watching guys like Wilfork, Mike Wright and Gerard Warren for a couple of practices, he should have no problem jumping right in and getting some sacks for himself. And if he gets going, good luck to anyone that tries to stop him.
Sterling Moore, Cornerback
2012 Statistics: 7 TCK, 6 SOL, 0 SCK, 0 FF
You must think I'm crazy by putting Sterling Moore on this list, but I'm not. Sure, he only played in six regular season games, but he seemed to get more comfortable as he kept getting more time.
This is a cornerback who didn't see any time at the start of the season, and yet played in all three postseason games for the Patriots. Don't forget about that Week 17 performance where he came away with two pass deflections and two interceptions.
Trust me, if Moore comes into this season ready to play, Bill Belichick won't hesitate to give him a shot. You give him time and he'll produce for you.
Dont'a Hightower, Linebacker
2012 Statistics: 83 TCK, 42 SOL, 4 SCK, 0 FF (Alabama Crimson Tide)
Another first-round draft selection by the Patriots who could have an immediate impact in New England. Playing for one of the best defenses in college football and also one of the best coaches, Dont'a Hightower should be ready for Belichick and his defensive schemes.
It's still up in the air as to whether he'll play inside or outside linebacker, but he'll definitely learn a lot from Jerod Mayo, who I think he compares a lot to. He gets a ton of tackles and is actually bigger than Mayo, but could project as the same type of player.
If he is a lot like Mayo, which could be a stretch early in his Patriots career, New England would have a great find on their hands. They did trade up to get him, and hopefully it pays off with a lot of tackles and sacks against guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick and Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow.
Julian Edelman, Wide Receiver
2012 Statistics: 18 TCK, 13 SOL, 0 SCK, 0 FF
I don't care that Julian Edelman is primarily a wide receiver. He's a football player, and if Belichick says go play safety or corner, that's exactly what he's going to do. That's also exactly what he did last season when New England had virtually no depth at defensive back.
We already know that he's a speedy guy who has great hands; perfect for a defensive back. He can keep up with the some of the fastest receivers in the game and is a threat for an interception on every pass that comes his way.
Do we really care who he's catching passes from? If he catches a pass from Tom Brady, great. If he catches a pass from Mark Sanchez, even better. If Edelman does play defense this season, even if it's part-time, it'll be a nightmare for opposing coaches.
Jerod Mayo, Linebacker
2012 Statistics: 95 TCK, 58 SOL, 1 SCK, 1 FF
Despite having a rather big drop in tackles this season, Jerod Mayo still managed to put up nearly 100 tackles. Over the last four seasons he has over 500 tackles. That's really impressive.
He's already one of the best linebackers in the game and should continue to rack up the tackles against AFC East teams this season.
The only thing that will keep Mayo from making those tackles will be if he gets injured, which New England cannot afford to have happen. He's one of few defensive stars on this team and is a big reason why they haven't given up many points over the last few years.
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