Spotlighting the Most Unappreciated Players on the New England Patriots' Roster

James DiMaioCorrespondent IJune 27, 2012

Spotlighting the Most Unappreciated Players on the New England Patriots' Roster

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    The New England Patriots' roster is one of the most impressive in the NFL, boasting household names like Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork and future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady.

    However, it's nearly impossible for an NFL roster to be filled head to toe with perennial Pro Bowlers and future Hall of Famers.

    For a roster to be truly special, it has to include role players, depth enhancers and behind-the-scenes leaders that often go unnoticed by fans.

    The following slides will bring to light some of the most unappreciated players on the Pats' roster.

Kyle Love

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    Kyle Love made a giant jump in his sophomore season, leapfrogging veterans Albert Haynesworth and Gerard Warren for a starting spot at defensive tackle next to Vince Wilfork.

    For all the blemishes in the Pats' defense last year, running up the middle was no easy task for opposing running backs.

    Love was great up front against the run, taking up space with his imposing 310-pound frame and earning himself 34 takedowns.

    What was even more impressive was Love's three sacks in 2011—something Wilfork hadn't accomplished up until last season.

    One could argue that Love benefited greatly from being alongside Wilfork, giving him more one-on-one battles. But by the same token, one could just as easily argue that Wilfork's career-high sacks in 2011 (3.5) had a lot to do with Love's presence.

    No matter how you look at it, it's hard to deny that Love had an impressive season, and with all the attention that Andre Carter and Wilfork got in 2011 (deservedly so), Love was rarely talked about.

Matthew Slater

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    Since being drafted by the Patriots in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL draft, Matthew Slater has been nothing short of spectacular on special teams.

    Slater tied for third in the NFL last season with 18 special teams tackles (according to TeamRankings.com) and earned his first Pro Bowl nod.

    Additionally, prior to the start of the 2011 season, Slater's leadership was rewarded when he was named a team captain by his teammates, something he described as "'the highest point of [his] career'" (as noted by ESPNBoston).

    While he may not grab the headlines like many of his Patriots counterparts, Slater certainly gets the job done on special teams and has solidified himself as an integral part of his team going forward.

    Fans may overlook Slater's elite level of play at times, but as evidenced by his recent three-year, $5.4 million contract extension (per ESPNBoston), Bill Belichick certainly hasn't.

Dan Connolly

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    Dan Connolly has slowly emerged as the designated patch of New England's offensive line, filling holes at multiple positions on numerous occasions.

    When Logan Mankins held out in 2010, Connolly stepped into the starting left guard spot. The Pats went 6-1 with Connolly starting at left guard before Mankins returned in Week 9.

    Connolly would again answer the bell later in the 2010 season, this time filling in for an injured Stephen Neal at right guard.

    Connolly's display of versatility wouldn't stop there. Last season, when longtime starting center Dan Koppen was lost for the season after breaking his leg in the season opener in Miami, Connolly assumed the starting center role and hung up an impressive season.

    Had Connolly not been there to fill in at pivotal spots on the line, there's no doubt that this offense wouldn't have enjoyed as much success as it has over the last two seasons.

Kyle Arrington

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    In what was an injury-plagued, talent-lacking, erratic and overall disappointing secondary in 2011, there was a lone bright light named Kyle Arrington.

    Arrington had his best season as a pro in 2011, collecting 15 pass defenses, 88 tackles and tying for first place in the NFL with seven interceptions—not bad for a former undrafted free agent and longtime practice squad player.

    With Devin McCourty battling through a sophomore slump and Patrick Chung spending most of his time on the injured list, Arrington was the most consistent defender in the secondary.

    Something that isn't talked about nearly enough is Arrington's performance in Super Bowl XLVI, in which his primary assignment was covering 2011 All-Pro wide receiver Victor Cruz in the slot.

    Although he reeled in a pass for a touchdown, Cruz was held to just four receptions and 25 yards in the Super Bowl—one of his least productive outings of the season.

    After recording Pro Bowl numbers throughout the season and putting together a fantastic performance in the biggest game of his career, it's surprising that there seems to be a lack of praise and appreciation for Arrington among Patriots fans.