Who is most needed in the Patriots' huddle?
The New England Patriots may have elite talents on both sides of the ball, yet viable depth is what wins football games. To be the better team on Sundays, Mondays or Thursdays, it takes a team of 53 men.
The old adage, "you're only as a strong as your weakest link," doesn't really apply here, but franchises need every roster spot to contribute at one point or another.
So the question is: Who is the most and least valuable members of New England's active roster? Here are the Pats' player power rankings at the midseason mark.
Jake Bequette and Trevor Scott have seen limited work on the defensive line.
53. LB Jeff Tarpinian
The 53rd man on the Patriots' roster wears the fitting No. 53 jersey. Jeff Tarpinian is a two-year pro who has helped out primarily on special teams during his time with New England. The Iowa product's 2011 campaign ended when he was placed on injured reserve in late November. Tarpinian was recently signed off the practice squad and is looking to stick on the team this time around.
52. CB Malcolm Williams
According to the Boston Herald, practice squad player Malcolm Williams was promoted to the active roster when Ras-I Dowling fell to injured reserve for the second straight year. Williams has value for his special teams efforts, as well as his willingness to play both cornerback and safety. Although, he may be demoted back to the practice squad very soon.
51. CB Derrick Martin
Veteran defensive back Derrick Martin will be venturing back to Foxborough, as the Patriots signed him on Oct. 31, per ESPNBoston.com's Field Yates . Martin was with the team in training camp before becoming a cut-down casualty. He is an experienced special teams player who can also play safety, but he has drifted around several teams since entering the league in 2006.
50. LB Mike Rivera
The surprise move to waive cornerback Sterling Moore on Oct. 31 also made Mike Rivera's return to New England possible, reports Field Yates. Rivera was cut after making the 53-man roster and participating in two games this September. He provides the Patriots with another inside linebacker, but he will make his greatest mark on special teams.
49. TE Michael Hoomanawanui
The Patriots have used Michael Hoomanawanui as a reserve tight end and fullback option this season. The 24-year-old is a good blocker, but he still finds himself surrounded by other capable tight ends like Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Daniel Fells and even Visanthe Shiancoe, who could soon be activated from short-term injured reserve.
48. DE Trevor Scott
Trevor Scott compiled 12 sacks during his first two NFL seasons with the Oakland Raiders. But since tearing his ACL in 2010, Scott's production has tapered off. With the Patriots, the 28-year-old pass-rusher has provided depth along the defensive line and found a role on special teams.
47. DE Jake Bequette
Jake Bequette was New England's third-round draft choice in April following an impressive college career at Arkansas. Yet the rookie hasn't done much right off the bat, often being listed as a game-day inactive. He's still acclimating to the NFL game, but there's seldom been an opportunity for him to shine thus far.
Undrafted rookie Justin Francis did enough this preseason to earn a roster spot.
46. LB Niko Koutouvides
Much like Bobby Carpenter's situation, Niko Koutouvides was cut after the preseason before later re-signing with the Patriots. He has also been a special teams player during his nine NFL seasons and has done the dirty work for New England.
45. DE Justin Francis
Undrafted rookie Justin Francis garnered a spot on New England's 53-man roster after a nice preseason. The Rutgers Scarlet Knight is a versatile D-lineman who is no stranger to lining up inside. He's seen action in a few games this fall, and has found a role on obvious passing downs.
44. S Nate Ebner
Nate Ebner's rugby roots have been apparent on special teams for the Patriots. The sixth-round draft selection out of Ohio State is a blue-collar worker who can bring down ball-carriers. But the former Buckeye still has a ways to go as a defensive back and a blocker during punt coverage.
43. LB Tracy White
Tracy White is a special teams standout for the Patriots. The Howard alum is in his 10th year as a pro and his third with New England. He's a complementary backup linebacker in the Pats' defensive front. However, he has missed time of late with a foot injury.
Donald Thomas has done well filling in on the offensive line.
42. OL Nick McDonald
Nick McDonald is a position-savvy lineman. The Grand Valley State blocker can line up at center, guard and tackle if needed. McDonald has already played in more games this year than he did all of last year, proving he's a player on the upswing of his career.
41. DT Ron Brace
A former second-round pick out of Boston College, Ron Brace has yet to fulfill expectations in the NFL. Having started just seven contests in four NFL seasons, Brace has struggled to stay healthy and make plays. Although, the 330-pound D-lineman is a sizable reserve who can give Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love a breather.
40. OT Marcus Cannon
Once a touted lineman out of TCU, Marcus Cannon had to overcome more than just the rigorous grind of the NFL draft; he had to battle non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Now healthy, the 6'5", 340-pound tackle is striving for more playing time. However, he's struggled with consistency when spelling right tackle Sebastian Vollmer.
39. OG Donald Thomas
Donald Thomas has been a proficient backup guard for the Patriots. The former Miami Dolphin and Detroit Lion hasn't missed a game this season, even notching a few starts due to injury.
38. CB Marquice Cole
Marquice Cole is a veteran defensive back with a knack for special teams. He's played in every game, but not very often at cornerback, totaling two tackles and two pass deflections.
Daniel Fells is a respectable third tight end.
37. TE Daniel Fells
Daniel Fells is a block-first, catch-second type of tight end. Fortunately, that's the kind of player the Patriots have needed him to be. On the season, the six-year pro has caught two balls for 56 yards.
36. LS Danny Aiken
Danny Aiken is a long snapper. The less you know about him, the better. Aiken hasn't botched a snap this season beyond repair, so it's safe to say he's playing well.
35. DT Brandon Deaderick
Brandon Deaderick is a 6'4", 305-pound defensive lineman who can play end in a 3-4 defensive front and tackle in a 4-3 scheme. He's a good run-stopper, but despite starting five games in 2011, he finds himself behind superior talent on the depth chart.
34. WR Deion Branch
When Deion Branch was released during the final cuts this year, many thought it was the end of the road for the former Super Bowl XXXIX MVP. Yet a couple weeks later, he was back in the locker room like nothing had changed. Branch has sure hands and a great rapport with quarterback Tom Brady, which makes him hard to let go. The 33-year-old wideout is not what he once was, but he's a dependable receiver behind Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker.
Ryan Mallett has the tools, but he's still a mystery as the Pats' No. 2 QB.
33. QB Ryan Mallett
Ryan Mallett is a physically gifted quarterback with great size and a cannon for an arm. Yet the former Arkansas gunslinger known as Big Tex still is new to the NFL game. He saw his first live action against the St. Louis Rams in Week 8, and went 1-of-3 passing for 17 yards. After beating out Brian Hoyer for the backup job in camp, hopes are high for the former third-rounder.
32. HB Shane Vereen
It's tough to wage potential over proven ability. Shane Vereen was selected in Round 2 of the 2011 draft, and he has fought off injuries and positional battles. Vereen has the speed and hands necessary to be a threat out of the backfield, but it just hasn't panned out for him yet. So far in 2012, Vereen has totaled two touchdowns on 20 touches.
31. CB Kyle Arrington
Kyle Arrington was a playmaker last season, nabbing seven interceptions. Although, the veteran from Hofstra has yet to pick off the pass this year and his coverage has left much to be desired. Arrington still is playing plenty of snaps in the secondary, in part because he's an excellent open-field tackler. But he's been targeted far too much by quarterbacks, which is concerning.
30. OC Ryan Wendell
Ryan Wendell has seized the starting center job, which seemed unlikely when Dan Koppen and Dan Connolly were the front-runners this summer. Nonetheless, Wendell has started every game this year and he's held up fine.
Julian Edelman has been a factor in the passing game.
29. OG Dan Connolly
A utility man along the Patriots offensive line, Dan Connolly has replaced Brian Waters at right guard and looked the part. He's capable of playing center, as well as fullback, which only adds to his worth.
28. WR Julian Edelman
Julian Edelman is seeing a significant workload at wide receiver for the first time in his career. He's a nice slot option behind Wes Welker, and he's also a factor in the return game.
27. S Steve Gregory
Steve Gregory is an experienced starting safety, but he once made a living playing special teams. The Patriots struggled when he missed a couple weeks due to injury, which only emphasizes his importance to the secondary.
26. P Zoltan Mesko
Zoltan Mesko is a top-tier punter, which is why the Patriots used a draft pick on him a few years ago. He may not be making catches or tackling rushers, but he's pivotal in the game of field position.
25. DE Jermaine Cunningham
Jermaine Cunningham has found his job after all the uncertainty surrounding him last offseason. The former second-rounder from Florida is now thriving when he's in the game as a situational pass-rusher and undersized defensive tackle. It was Cunningham, along with Rob Ninkovich, who broke through the New York Jets offensive line in Week 7 to force the game-winning strip-sack on Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez.
When it comes to running hard in and out of cuts, few are better than Danny Woodhead.
24. HB Danny Woodhead
Danny Woodhead offers a similar skill set to Shane Vereen. The difference is that Woodhead has already established himself as New England's third-round back. And with all the screen passes Woodhead has taken advantage of, Vereen must show that he can do the same on a steady basis. Unfortunately, there's only one ball to go around.
23. CB Alfonzo Dennard
The seventh-round draft pick is looking like a true steal for the Patriots. Alfonzo Dennard has finally gotten his share of reps, and he's covered well. The rookie has batted down a handful of passes this season and has also grabbed the first two interceptions of his career.
22. WR Matthew Slater
Matthew Slater is a do-it-all special teams ace. As a result, he's a team captain and a Pro Bowler. He's an unselfish leader, no matter if he's catching a pass, returning a kick, tackling a kick returner or standing on the sidelines.
21. HB Brandon Bolden
Undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden was no lock to make the team during training camp, but he's taken the chance and ran with it. The Ole Miss Rebel has racked up 234 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Although, he has been hampered with a knee injury of late.
20. S Tavon Wilson
A surprise second-round pick this year, Tavon Wilson has proved his doubters wrong. He's looked like a true ball hawk in the secondary, snagging three interceptions and picking up two fumbles. Yes, he's not ready for full-time duty and must stay in better position, but the future is bright for the rookie out of Illinois.
Kyle Love has fought to become a starter at defensive tackle.
19. DT Kyle Love
Kyle Love was once an undrafted prospect out of Mississippi State. What a difference a few years makes. Now, Love his a run-stuffer and a starter next to Vince Wilfork on New England's defensive line.
18. S Patrick Chung
Once a high-draft choice from Oregon, Patrick Chung has seen his ups and downs. He's a starting safety for the Patriots, but he's encountered injuries in three of his four NFL seasons. Chung has experienced woes in coverage as well, but he certainly racks up the tackles. The Patriots need his leadership in the defensive backfield, even if he's not on the top of his game.
17. K Stephen Gostkowski
Stephen Gostkowski faced the challenge of replacing legendary kicker Adam Vinatieri in New England. By the looks of it, he's helped people forget Vinatieri. Gostkowski is currently the ninth-most accurate kicker in NFL history, per Pro-Football-Reference.com. His confidence hasn't wavered, even after some critical misses this season.
16. CB Devin McCourty
Devin McCourty is improving, week after week. He had a rookie year to remember, picking off seven passes on his way to the Pro Bowl. In his second season, things regressed. But now in his third campaign, McCourty is gaining ground on his old self. The Rutgers product has intercepted two passes and returned a kick 104 yards for a touchdown.
While he's played mainly cornerback during his career, McCourty's versatility and ball skills have allowed him to dabble at safety, where his range can be utilized.
15. RT Sebastian Vollmer
Sebastian Vollmer doesn't get the recognition he deserves. The Pats' right tackle shores up the right side of the line and keeps defensive ends at bay, but because he's not protecting Tom Brady's blind side, people overlook how well he has performed. Vollmer is coming off an injury-riddled season in which he played just six regular-season games, but he seems to have recovered well.
Rob Ninkovich is on a tear.
14. LB Dont'a Hightower
In the early going of the 2012 season, Dont'a Hightower has been no stranger to the injury report. The Alabama thumper missed two games with a hamstring injury before being eased back against the New York Jets in Week 7. Yet, make no mistake, Hightower is the real deal. The first-round pick already has a couple sacks and a touchdown on his NFL resume.
13. DE Rob Ninkovich
Rob Ninkovich moved from outside linebacker to defensive end this offseason, and it's paid off for him. The Purdue Boilermaker has hauled down quarterbacks for four sacks, forced four fumbles and recovered two loose balls. He's quickly emerging as one of the unsung heroes on New England's defense.
12. LT Nate Solder
Second-year left tackle Nate Solder had some big shoes to fill when Matt Light retired in April. But through eight games, the 2011 first-round pick has done his job admirably. Ben Muth of FootballOutsiders.com attributed Solder's early success to his varying techniques:
One play he’ll jump set a guy and lock-on with his punch, then the next play he’ll take a vertical set straight back and shove the guy on his punch (trying to knock him past the quarterback), and after that he’ll set and cut. He has a lot of tools in his arsenal.
11. WR Brandon Lloyd
Brandon Lloyd is what highlight reels are made of. The 10-year journeyman has made several spectacular catches during his short tenure with the Patriots, and he has also reached the end zone three times. There have been a couple quiet games from No. 85, but he's absolutely what New England's receiving corps has needed.
Chandler Jones makes plays all over the field.
Chandler Jones never had a real breakout year at Syracuse, so some were surprised to see the Patriots trade up for him at pick No. 21 in April's draft.
Halfway through the regular season, it seems like the Patriots made the right move.
So far in 2012, Jones has pursued quarterbacks for six sacks, forced three fumbles and collected over 30 tackles.
With the help of his 6'5", 260-pound frame and his freakish athleticism, Jones has cemented New England's starting right defensive end spot.
Brandon Spikes is one of the most painful hitters in the game.
Between injuries and suspensions through his first two NFL seasons, Brandon Spikes has traveled a rocky road.
Yet now, the former Florida Gator is undoubtedly one of the top players on the Patriots defense, and one of the rising linebackers in the NFL.
Spikes is well on his way to eclipsing the career-high 61 tackles he had as a rookie. This year, he has recorded a sack, forced three fumbles and been a stout run defender.
Mankins has battled through injuries, and defenders.
Logan Mankins is, if nothing else, tough as nails.
After playing the entire 2011 season with a torn ACL, Mankins has had to fight off calf and hip injuries this season.
Yet this time around, the Patriots opted to play a safer approach with their Pro Bowl left guard. In fact, the Fresno State Bulldog has missed the last two games, per Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald.
Nonetheless, when Mankins is in the game, very few pass-rushers are able to break through the left side of the line. He remains one of the best blockers in the game, and the most durable.
Ridley has taken the reins.
Stevan Ridley has been phenomenal out of the Patriots' backfield this season.
The 2011 third-round pick has put up potent numbers that rival the most elite backs in the league. Ridley has rushed for 716 yards and five touchdowns, while also catching six passes for 51 yards.
The LSU Tiger may not be a bell cow back, but he's made the most of his carries and the rest of the offense has benefited.
Mayo is an anchor in the middle.
Year in and year out, Jerod Mayo is a sure bet for posting 100 tackles.
This season is no different. The 2008 first-round pick is well on his way with 79 total tackles. In addition, Mayo has picked off a pass, forced two fumbles and recovered a fumble.
Although, Mayo's greatest asset is not what shows up on the stat sheet, it's his leadership. The former Tennessee Volunteer is the one with an earpiece in his helmet who relays the plays to the rest of the defense. Without him, New England's defense would be in a tough spot.
Making it rain is Aaron Hernandez's specialty.
Put him at tight end, slot receiver, fullback or tailback; it doesn't matter. Aaron Hernandez will make plays.
Hernandez's speed makes linebackers vulnerable. On the same token, his height makes defensive backs vulnerable. All in all, he's a Swiss Army knife who can put defenses on edge when he plays.
However, playing hasn't been easy for Hernandez of late. The severe ankle sprain he suffered against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2 has slowed his production and held him out of games.
In four games this season, Hernandez has caught 17 passes for 143 yards and two scores. For what it's worth, he also has gotten one rush for five yards.
Welker runs full speed, all the time.
Wes Welker's odds of catching a pass from quarterback Tom Brady are excellent. How excellent? Well, he's caught 60 of 83 passes thrown his way in 2012.
That consistency goes a long way for the Patriots. On Welker's 60 receptions this season, he's totaled 736 yards and two touchdowns.
Laying low in his underneath routes allows Welker to get open and get yards, something he's been able to do relentlessly.
Wilfork is disruptive in the center of the defense.
Vince Wilfork is the glue that keeps the defensive front together.
When he's not attracting double-teams and clogging lanes, the Miami Hurricane is tackling rushers in the backfield and batting down passes.
Wilfork's numbers don't jump off the page, but he's a stellar roadblock in the heart of New England's defense. On the year, he's produced 22 tackles and deflected three passes.
It takes a lot to bring Rob Gronkowski down.
Rob Gronkowski, the other half of New England's two-headed tight end monster, is enjoying another powerful season.
The 6'6", 265-pound target has grabbed 43 passes for 580 yards and seven touchdowns.
He's great in the red zone—he's great anywhere, really. Gronkowski is one of the best in the game because of his soft hands, tremendous size and his downhill running style.
Tom Brady is always eyeing the road ahead.
Chances are, as long as Tom Brady is starting for the Patriots, he'll be the best player on the team.
The former NFL and Super Bowl MVP is putting together another great season under center for New England. To date, Brady has completed 209 of 320 passes for 2,408 yards, 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Near the goal line, Brady has also found pay dirt, falling forward for two scores.
Brady may never throw for 50 touchdowns in a season again, but the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL draft has done well for himself in 2012. He's a field general out there for the Patriots, the cornerstone of the franchise and the absolute No. 1 man on the roster.