New England Patriots: Report Card Grades for Every Positional Unit on the Roster
Here comes the magnifying glass. Top to bottom, this investigation highlights the good, the bad and the ugly of the 2012 New England Patriots.
The makeup of this roster is extremely audacious. It's a diverse assortment of elite champions, dynamic underdogs, wise veterans, razor-sharp rookies, dazzling athletes and unsung heroes.
They're about to embark on a long and treacherous road to the crown which slipped through their fingers a few months ago. The talent is there and the journey is quickly approaching, so let's get started.
Here are report card grades for every positional unit on New England's roster.
Chandler Jones brings venom to the defensive line. The combination of his length, wingspan, bulk and burst makes him a walking nightmare. He's a perfect blend of aggression and charm, with a highly-coachable demeanor which makes him worth his weight in gold.
Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love are coming off great seasons. Wilfork is a monster at the top of his game and Love is a tank with feet. Both are animalistic, productive and consistent.
Jonathan Fanene and Trevor Scott were excellent offseason additions. Fanene takes full advantage of his meaty frame to boggle the quarterback, which makes him gel with this new-look line of savages. Scott is a vintage weapon who brings a healthy dose of fury and experience.
Also, keep an eye out for defensive end Jake Bequette. He's a smart kid, always on alert and has a knack for wreaking havoc and efficiently defending the run. Could be an unsung hero.
With so much excitement surrounding Chandler Jones, there's a risk of getting suckerpunched by reality. Jones is a game-changer, but it may take time before this kid actually changes the game. As such, it might be wise to temper expectations for the upcoming season.
Oh, who am I kidding? I'm psyched about Chandler Jones. This kid's a beast.
Overall Grade: A-
In one fell swoop, the Patriots addressed their offensive gaps by signing Brandon Lloyd. He's a tremendous athlete who routinely makes difficult catches and big plays.
Lloyd provides Brady with deep and limitless options. More importantly, he pads the offense by providing insurance in the event of an injury to Wes Welker or Rob Gronkowski.
Jabar Gaffney's return to New England is a welcome one. He possesses a complete comprehension of the Patriots' system and has an excellent relationship with Tom Brady. He's cut from a similar cloth as David Givens and David Patten, two of Brady's former favorites.
Wes Welker continues to move the chains at a feverish pace. He's totally in sync with his quarterback and is coming off a prolific season where he registered a whopping 1,569 yards.
Wes Welker is only a few seasons removed from blowing out his knee, which causes me to wince every time he gets tackled. He doesn't take over games in a dominating fashion. Despite Lloyd's addition, I'd still like to see Welker prove that he can make the big play.
Julian Edelman needs to evolve. After a long and fruitful offseason, the Patriots shouldn't be running low on chess pieces. Logic dictates that Edelman should now be free to focus on one position instead of three.
I appreciate Edelman's versatility, but I'd rather have a receiver who can put points on the board.
Danny Woodhead can catch the ball, run the ball and return kicks. Problem is, he's good but not great at any of those things. He needs to pick a role and deliver on a consistent basis.
My infatuation for versatility was murdered in Super Bowl XLVI. Now, I want results.
This is a great collection of football players with diverse skill sets. Can't wait to see them in action.
Overall Grade: A-
Cornerbacks and Safeties
Kyle Arrington tied as the league leader in interceptions last season, while Devin McCourty was one pick shy of tying Ed Reed for the top spot in 2010. These are two great pieces to have in place.
Why do I love Sterling Moore? Because he made me believe in heroes again. Ranks No. 1 on my list of reasons to be excited about the Patriots in 2012.
Four unique players to keep your eyes on: Tavon Wilson, Alfonzo Dennard, Nate Ebner and Marquice Cole. The raw athleticism of this motley crew is enough to intrigue even the most pessimistic analyst.
I'm digging this collection of underdogs. These are the kind of misfits who take the league by storm and wind up with a nickname like "The Wild Bunch."
Though Ras-I Dowling continues to recover from the hip injury which derailed his rookie season, I remain only modestly confident in his long-term effectiveness. Can he get through the entire season and still be ready for the playoffs? I have my doubts.
Patrick Chung's health continues to worry me. I love the guy, but I can't recall a time where he looked totally healthy. He's a vocal leader and a dynamic piece of this backfield, but I'll continue to be nervous when I see him hobbling all over the field.
On paper, this isn't a spectacular group of guys. But it's certainly an interesting one, isn't it? Guys like Will Allen, Sergio Brown and Steve Gregory only add to the uncertainty and excitement of this backfield.
It's a rag-tag bunch, but it may just be crazy enough to work.
Overall Grade: B
Chiefs vs. Patriots was my favorite game from the 2011 season. Part of it had to do with Julian Edelman's sensational punt return, but mostly, it had to do with Shane Vereen's dramatic touchdown.
I came away from that game feeling like that touchdown was a glimpse into the future. Ever since then, I've been itching to see Vereen play a consistent role on the team. Come 2012, he'll get that opportunity.
Stevan Ridley will get the same opportunity. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry last season, and his natural athleticism is definitely piquing my interest. In the absence of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, I'm intrigued to see how Ridley responds to the added pressure of being "the man."
Joseph Addai was a great addition. He understands the rigors of a complex system and knows the game. He's made a living by working with an elite quarterback and running the ball at a consistently high level for a championship team.
At 29 years old, Addai is only six years older than Vereen and Ridley. Granted, six years is a lifetime in the career of a running back, but that age span is close enough for me to believe that he can relate to the younger guys, provide guidance and contribute in a meaningful way.
As soon as BenJarvus Green-Ellis left, Danny Woodhead should've had this position on lockdown. It was his for the taking. Problem is, Woodhead continues to take one step forward and one step back in his development.
For that reason, this continues to be an open position.
Vereen and Ridley are competing for a chance to be the Patriots' top running back. That's a ton of pressure for two kids who haven't seen much action. I know they can run, I know they're tough, but I don't know if they can protect the ball. That'll be a huge issue moving forward, especially when you consider the fact that the previous occupant of this job never fumbled the football.
I can't wait to see Vereen and Ridley put their skills on display. They have a full season to show us what they've got.
Overall Grade: B+
Dont'a Hightower is a threatening pass-rusher who gives this unit an immediate boost in viciousness, strength and confidence. When his name was called in the draft, every Patriots fan jumped for joy.
Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes are playing phenomenal football right now. Both are flirting with elite status and are primed for career seasons in 2012.
Mike Rivera, Jeff Tarpinian and Tracy White are effective weapons in the arsenal. If Rob Ninkovich and Dane Fletcher can take the next step in their development, there's nothing this unit can't accomplish.
Slightly concerned about Hightower's weight, which seems to fluctuate in odd ways. At times, he doesn't appear to be in shape. Other times, he looks razor-sharp. It's Paul Pierce syndrome.
Love this group. These pieces really fit together nicely.
Overall Grade: B+
Simple summation: Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are the best tight end tandem in the league.
Rob Gronkowski has a nice new contract; Wes Welker does not. It just feels odd.
Welker has been consistently performing from year to year without a sweet contract. It's conceivable that his lack of security has forced him to stay sharp and productive.
With his pockets now lined with gold, Gronkowski will need to find a way to stay hungry.
Gronkowski and Hernandez proved to be an effective tandem in 2011. If they stay healthy, there's nothing they can't do.
Overall Grade: A
I'm excited to see Nate Solder become the left tackle of this franchise. With the retirement of Matt Light, Solder has a great opportunity to settle into his role and establish himself as an elite player.
Robert Gallery was a great offseason pickup. He's a versatile warrior who can shift from tackle to guard and have an impact. Plus, he's got a crazy look in his eyes. I like that. He's got John Matuszak's eyes.
The biggest positive for the offensive line continues to be the development of Marcus Cannon.
This is a very solid foundation upon which to build.
Logan Mankins had ACL surgery over the offseason, Sebastian Vollmer has issues with his back and ankle, and Markus Zusevics has an issue with his pectoral muscle.
Brian Waters is coming off a great season and there's plenty of depth with the likes of Jeremiah Warren, Ryan Wendell, Donald Thomas and Nick McDonald. All in all, a very respectable group.
Overall Grade: B+
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski continued to demonstrate his athletic prowess last year.
During the regular season, he nailed 84.8 percent of his field-goal attempts and 100 percent of his extra-point attempts.
In the postseason, he nailed 100 percent of his field-goal attempts and 100 percent of his extra-point attempts. Impressive.
Gostkowski has never experienced his "Adam Vinatieri moment," meaning that he's never had a chance to make the kick heard around the world.
However, this hardly qualifies as a concern, seeing as how those kicks are a matter of circumstance. No reason to believe he won't shine in that moment when he gets the chance.
In other words, I have no reason to believe he'll ever have a "Billy Cundiff moment."
Simply put, there's nobody else I'd rather have than Gostkowski. Same goes for punter Zoltan Mesko. This tandem is cold-blooded and highly efficient.
Overall Grade: A
Simple summation: Tom Brady is the best quarterback in the league and possibly the best quarterback in the history of the game.
We simply don't know what Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett are capable of. We can only base our projections on their college careers and their progress in training camp, which is a flawed method of analyzing how they'd save the Patriots' season in a pinch.
Until we see them on the professional stage, the mystery will continue to linger.
A+ for Brady, but I'm inclined to demote the overall grade because of the mystery involving Hoyer and Mallett. If Matt Cassel was still the backup, or if we had someone like Matt Flynn who has displayed flashes of brilliance on the professional stage, this wouldn't be an issue.
But as it stands, the unknown is still unknown.
Overall Grade: A