Midseason Grades for All 53 New England Patriots

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIINovember 4, 2012

Midseason Grades for All 53 New England Patriots

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    The New England Patriots have the luck of a very generous bye week, as they get a week off directly in the middle of the season coming off of a 5-3 start. The Patriots are certainly looking ahead to the second half of the season rather than back on what went right and wrong in the first half, but here on Bleacher Report, we do both.

    In lieu of regularly scheduled live grades with no Patriots game on the schedule for this week, I have instead given midseason grades to every player on the New England Patriots for their first half of the season.

    Note: Cornerback Aqib Talib, who was acquired Thursday from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is not included. Talib has yet to play a game for the Patriots and is not yet on the 53-man roster as he still has to serve one game of his four-game suspension for Adderall use.


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    Tom Brady: B+

    Tom Brady may be 35 years old, but he has proven this season that he is still among the league’s elite quarterbacks.

    Brady has been passing the ball as strongly and accurately as ever and has looked cool and composed. As a result, Brady leads the league with 2,408 passing yards this season, while he has completed 65.3 percent of passes and thrown 16 touchdowns with only three interceptions.

    Dropping Brady out of the A-range, however, is that he has not been as clutch late in games as he once was.

    In losses to the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks, Brady’s inability to put together a late-game drive played a big role in the team losing fourth-quarter leads. In the Patriots’ win over the New York Jets, Brady finally led his team to game-tying and game-winning field goal drives, but not before his struggles through much of the fourth-quarter allowed to the Jets to rally back and take the lead.

    Ryan Mallett: C

    Backup quarterback Ryan Mallett did not see the field in the Patriots’ first seven games, but he finally got his shot to play in garbage time versus the St. Louis Rams last week. He attempted three passes and completed only one, a screen pass to Shane Vereen that went 17 yards.

    The sample size of Mallett’s season is way too small to give him an accurate grade, but his brief stint against the Rams did nothing to quell the concerns Patriots fans may have among their team’s insurance plan at quarterback. Mallett struggled with accuracy and looked uncomfortable in his first regular-season appearance.

Running Backs

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    Stevan Ridley: A-

    Stevan Ridley was expected to become the feature back of the New England Patriots once BenJarvus Green-Ellis left via free agency, but he has certainly exceeded expectations as a second-year back. After gaining just 441 yards in his entire rookie season, Ridley ranks fourth in the NFL with 716 rushing yards through his first eight games.

    Ridley has been a consistent source of offense for the Patriots this season, although he was mostly shut down in losses to the Ravens and Seahawks. He has four 100-yard games already this season and is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, which ranks fourth among running backs with 100 or more carries this season.

    Ridley is a well-rounded runner, as he packs size and power but combines that with speed. That has allowed him to emerge as one of the league’s top backs through the first half of his first season as a starting running back.


    Brandon Bolden: B-

    Undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden had his breakout game against the Buffalo Bills, rushing for 137 yards on just 16 carries over a weak Bills run defense. Since then, however, he has not made much of an impact, in large part due to a knee injury that kept him out for the past two games.

    Bolden is a physical, strong runner who also has some moves, which could make him a very reliable second back behind Ridley if he can stay healthy. The Patriots will hope he can return to the field and making an impact in the Patriots’ ground game following the bye week.


    Danny Woodhead: B

    Danny Woodhead has not put up big rushing numbers at any point this season, but that is not why he continues to be a part of the Patriots’ lineup. As the team’s third-down back and a tremendous route-runner, he is used often as a pass receiver out of the backfield, and he has made many important plays in that capacity already this season.

    Between rushing and receiving, Woodhead has 364 yards on 67 touches through the first half of the season. He has also been reliable when used as a pass blocker.  


    Shane Vereen: B-

    Early in the season, when Shane Vereen was consistently inactive and buried on the depth chart, I was about ready to write him off as another second-round draft pick bust for the Patriots. His play has made significant strides, however, with Bolden out of the lineup the past two weeks, as he has shown what he can do when the team has gone to him.

    Vereen has the most speed and agility of any running back on the Patriots’ roster, and that has been evident on limited touches. Vereen has also been reliable in goal-line situations this year, scoring two touchdowns from the 1-yard line.

    Whether Vereen will ever play a large role in the Patriots’ offense aside from when other backs are injured remains to be seen, but he has been making significant progress over the course of his second year.

Wide Receivers

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    Wes Welker: A

    Remember after the Patriots’ win over the Tennessee Titans in Week 1, when Wes Welker caught just three passes for 14 yards, that he was supposedly being phased out of the Patriots’ lineup? If you don’t, he made that easy to forget, as he is currently tied for the NFL lead with 60 receptions, and his second in the league with 736 receiving yards.

    Welker has once again become Tom Brady’s go-to receiver in the Patriots’ offense, as he has been on an annual basis since he joined the team in 2007. As arguably the league’s best route-runner, Welker has a way of getting open consistently and making plays on intermediate throws and screen passes. He has played a big role in the Patriots’ offense being the league’s most prolific through eight games. 


    Brandon Lloyd: B-

    With 37 receptions for 435 receiving yards and three touchdowns through the first half of the Patriots’ season, Brandon Lloyd has certainly been an asset in his first season with the team. He has made some spectacular catches and been the team’s only true downfield receiver among wideouts.

    Lloyd is graded somewhat low, however, because it is clear he can do better. He has had some issues with drops and numerous games this season where he has disappeared for the most part. Additionally, he hasn’t quite been the deep threat the Patriots were expecting: His longest play of the year is only 27 yards.

    For the most part, Lloyd has done what he was brought in to do, which is be the team’s go-to downfield receiver, and his numbers are good. The expectations for him, however, are higher than his production thus far. 


    Deion Branch: C

    Deion Branch was one of the team’s most shocking preseason cuts, but he was brought back to the roster after the team’s first two games. Branch, however, has made very little impact as a receiver, catching just five passes for 50 yards in six games.

    Branch has been an asset as a perimeter run blocker, but he has not given the team another significant receiving threat. 


    Julian Edelman: C-

    It seemed going into this season that Julian Edelman was slated to make a bigger impact as a wide receiver, but that hasn’t been the case. Through midseason, Edelman has just 13 receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown.

    To be fair to Edelman, he did miss three games with a hand injury, but he has not done anything special when he’s been on the field anyway. Edelman has been decent as a punt returner, with 79 yards on nine returns, but he has not done anything to stand out.

Tight Ends

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    Rob Gronkowski: A-

    Rob Gronkowski has been dealing with a hip injury for much of the first half of the season, but that has not shown up in his play. Gronkowski has continued to be a star of the Patriots’ offense and leads all NFL tight ends with 580 receiving yards.

    In addition to being the Patriots’ best offensive playmaker as a intermediate-to-deep receiver, he has also been a big asset as a run blocker.

    Gronkowski has had some surprising issues with drops this season (six through the team’s eight games according to Pro Football Focus), which have cost the team at times, but for the most part, he has been making as many big plays as ever.


    Aaron Hernandez: Injured

    Aaron Hernandez’ season got off to a great start when he caught seven passes for 59 yards and a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans in the Patriots’ season opener. He suffered a serious scare in the team’s next game, however, with a high-ankle sprain that took him out for the next three games as well.

    Hernandez returned to the lineup against the Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets, but he didn’t look to be back at 100 percent, and as a result, he did not make the overseas trip for the team’s last game versus the St. Louis Rams.

    The Patriots will hope to have him back healthy and as good as ever in the second half of the season, but it is tough to give his first half of the season a fair assessment as he was injured for most of it. 


    Daniel Fells: D+

    With Aaron Hernandez injured, Daniel Fells was expected to step up and become a factor in the Patriots’ offense as their third tight end, but that has not been the case. Fells has just two receptions for 53 combined yards.

    Fells has done fairly well as a run blocker, but his lack of receiving production equals a low grade. 


    Michael Hoomanawanui: B+

    Like Fells, Michael Hoomanawanui only has two receptions this season, but he is not on the team for his ability to catch passes. Hoomanawanui is a blocking specialist, and when he has been as a run blocker in short-yardage and goal-line situations, he has been superb.

    Both of his receptions have been a result of catching opposing defenses off guard, because when he is usually, he is usually going to be playing to his strengths, which is lead blocking. He has been a great addition for his ability to do that, as well as playing on special teams.

Offensive Line

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    Nate Solder: A

    After a shaky preseason, left tackle Nate Solder has been rock-solid throughout the regular season. Solder has done a terrific job in pass protection, helping keep pressure off of his quarterback, while he has been even better as a powerful run blocker on the left side.

    If the first half of the Patriots’ season is a sign of things to come, they have found their franchise left tackle for the long term. 


    Sebastian Vollmer: B+

    Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer has battled lingering back issues this season, but as he is getting healthier, his play has improved, and he has returned to be one of the league’s top right tackles.

    At times, he has struggled with allowing pressure, but in the past few weeks, his play has really improved both as a pass protector and as a powerful run blocker on the right side. 


    Logan Mankins: B-

    The fact that Logan Mankins has even played in the first half of the NFL season is an achievement in itself, as he had surgery on a torn ACL following the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss. Mankins, however, has not looked healthy in the first half of the season and has been a shell of his usual self.

    Usually one of the league’s best guards, Mankins has not been dominant when on the field. Mankins has not looked as agile as usual, nor has he generated his usual power, and he has missed three games as he continues to deal with lingering injuries.

    The Patriots will certainly hope that Mankins can return to his healthier form following the bye week. 


    Ryan Wendell: C+

    In his first season as the Patriots’ starting center, Ryan Wendell has been solid but unspectacular. He has been good for the most part as a run blocker, but has struggled with allowing pressure from blitzing, athletic defenders through the middle of the line.

    Wendell can also be overpowered at times, as he is fairly undersized for a center. He is a sound technician who has done a fine job in a very important offensive line position, but the Patriots will hope for more progress from him in the second half of the season. 


    Dan Connolly: C

    Of all of the Patriots’ starting offensive linemen this season, Dan Connolly has been the least impressive. He has held his own but has given up too much inside pressure, which has caused problems with opposing defenders blowing up plays in the backfield.

    Connolly has been a solid run blocker this year, but the Patriots will be looking for him to improve upon his subpar pass protection in the second half. 


    Donald Thomas: B+

    With Mankins and Connolly both having missed games this season, the Patriots have turned to Donald Thomas to be their go-to fill-in at guard. Fortunately for the Patriots, Thomas has played well when called upon and has not looked like a fill-in often.

    His first full-game fill-in, which came against the Arizona Cardinals, went poorly, but since then, he has really gotten acclimated to stepping in and holding his own as both a pass protector and run blocker, especially at left guard. When Thomas been in the lineup for Mankins, it has not stood out as he has made few mistakes. 


    Nick McDonald: C-

    The bulk of Nick McDonald’s playing time this season came against the New York Jets, when Connolly left the game after one series due to an illness. In that game, McDonald struggled considerably with giving up interior pressure, and unlike Thomas, he looked like a fill-in.

    McDonald is OK as a backup, but if the Patriots need him to make any more starts in the future, they will have to hope his play improves. 


    Marcus Cannon: B

    Marcus Cannon had considerable playing time spelling Vollmer at right tackle in the season’s first two games, but as Vollmer has gotten healthier, Cannon has not had to play often. With that said, he has been steady whenever he has been called to come off the bench and come into the game, a big step ahead from a dismal preseason.

Defensive Line

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    Chandler Jones: A

    Chandler Jones may only be a rookie, but he has been the star of the Patriots’ defense through the first half of the season. Jones has established himself as a disruptive pass-rusher who commands double teams, and he leads both the Patriots and all NFL rookies with six sacks this season.

    Jones is no one-trick pony; he is also very solid against the run. He is an all-around force at defensive end, who has given the Patriots their first star pass-rusher in years. If his first eight games are any indication, he will be a star defensive lineman in the NFL for many years to come. 


    Vince Wilfork: A-

    Another Patriots defensive lineman who has been dominating the trenches this season is nose tackle Vince Wilfork.

    Whether it has been shutting down the run game, bringing interior pass-rush pressure, impressively moving out into space to make tackles, forcing a safety against the New York Jets or even dropping back into coverage to make a big hit on Buffalo Bills wide receiver Donald Jones, Wilfork has stood out with his play in every game this season. 


    Kyle Love: B-

    Kyle Love has been solid playing next to Vince Wilfork in the middle of the defensive line this season, but he has not been a difference-maker. Love is a good run-stuffer, but he has not generated much pressure into the backfield this year.

    Love does not hold the Patriots back as a starter, but he does not make a big difference for their defense either.


    Rob Ninkovich: A

    Rob Ninkovich has had the best season of his career thus far and has been the most clutch player on the Patriots’ defense. Ninkovich has four sacks and four forced fumbles this season, including a strip sack in overtime against the New York Jets that clinched a Patriots victory.

    Ninkovich has a tremendous motor, and it shows as he makes play all over the field. He has a knack for coming up with big plays in big moments and being in the right place at the right time. That has helped him make big plays all season, including two recovered fumbles as well.

    Ninkovich’s versatility has also been a huge asset to the Patriots, as he has shifted back to outside linebacker for the past three games while Dont’a Hightower has battled back from a hamstring injury. Ninkovich has continued to play excellent football even outside of his natural position.

    Ninkovich’s contributions this season have gone beyond statistical measure, and his big plays in big moments should not go unappreciated. 


    Jermaine Cunningham: B-

    Jermaine Cunningham’s game has made big strides this season, and he has become an important player in the Patriots’ defensive line rotation as a result. Cunningham started out as the team’s top situational pass-rusher and has been a starter for the past three games with Ninkovich at linebacker.

    Cunningham has done a very good job of bringing pressure off the edge and getting into the backfield, although he only has 1.5 sacks. He has struggled, however, against the run, which hurts his grade for the season. 


    Brandon Deaderick: C+

    Brandon Deaderick has been receiving more snaps in recent weeks as the Patriots’ third defensive tackle and has done a solid job as a run-stuffer in that position. He has not brought anything to the table as an interior pass-rusher and has a small sample size on which to grade, but he has been one of the better Patriots’ defensive linemen off the bench. 


    Ron Brace: C-

    Ron Brace’s snap totals have decreased in recent weeks, and that is not without reason. Brace has failed to make a significant impact when he was played in games, in large part due to poor leverage which has had him pushed back in run defense, while he has not been a playmaker as an interior pass-rusher. 


    Trevor Scott: C-

    Trevor Scott was signed to be an asset to the Patriots’ pass-rush rotation, but he has hardly played on defense. Scott has played well on special teams, but he gets a low grade for he has made little to no impact as a defensive end. 


    Justin Francis: C-

    After being inactive for the first six games of the season, undrafted rookie Justin Francis finally got into the rotation the past two weeks. He has not made a noticeable impact in either game, however, and is unlikely to be much of an asset to the Patriots’ defense in his first season. 


    Jake Bequette: D

    The Patriots certainly expected some first-year production out of Jake Bequette as a third-round draft pick, but they have not gotten any. Bequette has only appeared in two games and has made absolutely no impact when he has gotten in games.


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    Jerod Mayo: A-

    No defensive player on the Patriots has been more consistent than outside linebacker Jerod Mayo. Mayo, the leader of their defense, is a consistent tackler who makes plays all over the field, and as a result, he ranks second in the NFL with 79 tackles at midseason.

    Mayo has not been the defense’s biggest playmaker this season, but he’s been their most reliable player.  


    Brandon Spikes: A-

    Brandon Spikes’ season started out with some rough performances, as he graded out in the D-range in their win over the Tennessee Titans and loss to the Baltimore Ravens. On the other hand, however, Spikes has also graded out in the A-range for five games, including an A+ in the Patriots’ Week 2 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

    When Spikes is on top of his game, he is a superstar. He has been an excellent run stopper in the middle of the defense this year, while he is having the best season of his career as both a pass-rusher and playing in pass coverage.

    Spikes has made some huge plays this season as well. He forced a fumble in the game versus the Cardinals that should have salvaged the Patriots, but a potential game-winning field goal was missed. Against the Bills, Spikes made a massive stop by forcing a fumble just two yards out of the end zone. 


    Dont’a Hightower: B

    Dont’a Hightower’s rookie season got off to a great start but lost some steam when he injured his hamstring in the Patriots’ Week 4 contest against the Buffalo Bills, which kept him out of the team’s next two games. When he has been on the field, he has been a playmaker.

    Hightower has made a difference as both a run-stopper and a pass-rusher as the team’s starting strongside linebacker. A big but also very athletic linebacker, Hightower even returned a fumble for a touchdown in his NFL debut in Week 1 versus the Titans. 


    Tracy White: C-

    Tracy White started against the Denver Broncos in place of the injured Hightower, but he suffered a foot injury in that game and has not taken another snap on the defense since. White has made very little impact this season. 


    Niko Koutouvides: D

    Niko Koutouvides has taken a few snaps at linebacker this season and has played often on special teams, but has yet to record a tackle in either capacity.  


    Jeff Tarpinian: N/A

    Jeff Tarpinian was signed by the Patriots from the practice squad prior to their Week 7 matchup versus the New York Jets, but his only playing time has come in garbage time versus the St. Louis Rams. There is not enough of a sample size to grade him off of. 


    Mike Rivera: N/A

    Mike Rivera was signed by the Patriots on Wednesday and has yet to play a game for them this season.

Defensive Backs

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    Devin McCourty: B

    Devin McCourty has been the Patriots’ best playmaker in the secondary this season. He has made a number of big plays, including nine recorded pass defenses, and effectively shut down one of the NFL’s best wide receivers, Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals.

    He has had a season of ups and downs, however. He has had nearly as many blown coverages as he has had big plays, and those blown coverages played a big role in losses to the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks.

    McCourty is the Patriots’ best cornerback, and while he has made too many mistakes, his big plays also count for a lot. In the past two weeks, the Patriots have moved him to safety with both of their starters injured, and he has played well at that position, which may continue following the team’s acquisition of Aqib Talib.

    McCourty has also been the Patriots’ lead kickoff returner, a duty in which he also experienced major ups and downs against the New York Jets. He returned a first-quarter kickoff 104 yards to the end zone for a touchdown but fumbled a return later in the fourth quarter which nearly cost his team the game. 


    Kyle Arrington: C-

    Kyle Arrington has been a liability as a starting cornerback this season. He has been consistently beaten as a slot cornerback, and he has had far more blown coverages than he has made plays on the football.

    NFL quarterbacks have a near-perfect 155.8 passer rating against Arrington according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), which is the league’s worst for a cornerback. Also according to PFF, Arrington has allowed completions on 80.6 percent of passes thrown against him, and 451 receiving yards.

    Arrington’s worst gaffe through the first half of the season may have actually come on a pass that was not complete. On an overthrow by Joe Flacco when the Patriots had their backs against the wall by the Ravens, Arrington was in perfect position to make a game-saving interception but tripped over himself. 


    Alfonzo Dennard: B+

    After being inactive for the first four games of the season, Alfonzo Dennard has been a very pleasant surprise over the past four games. While he has had his ups and downs, he is doing very well for a rookie seventh-round draft pick and was the most solid cornerback on the Patriots’ defense in their win last week versus the St. Louis Rams.

    Dennard has been beaten badly a few times, but he has also made big plays and has done a good job of playing physical coverage and tackling well. Dennard looks like he has what it takes to be a starting cornerback for the rest of the season for the Patriots and could be a real steal as a seventh-round pick.


    Patrick Chung: D

    Patrick Chung is a hard-hitting tackler, but he has been a liability this season in pass coverage, before missing the last two games prior to the bye week. Chung has been responsible for many big passing plays over the middle of the defense, especially in late-game collapses.


    Steve Gregory: C

    Starting free safety Steve Gregory did not have any badly blown coverages to give up big plays in the first four games of the Patriots’ season, but he did not make any big plays either, with the lone exception of a 36-yard return off an interception thrown directly to him.

    Gregory’s play in the first four games was average at best, and he has missed the last four games while dealing with a hip injury. He has not turned out to be the upgrade at free safety, at least not yet, that the Patriots needed from him. 


    Tavon Wilson: B

    Most of second-round pick rookie Tavon Wilson’s play at safety this season has been a pleasant surprise. Wilson stepped in immediately as a playmaker in Week 1 with two pass defenses and an interception. He looked like the Patriots’ best safety on the roster from the beginning.

    Since Wilson has had to step in as a starter in Week 5, however, his play has been more up-and-down. Wilson has continued to make big plays in both pass defense and run support, but he has also given up some very big plays, including the game-winning, 46-yard touchdown to Sidney Rice by the Seattle Seahawks.

    Wilson has been promising for a rookie and has the potential to be a very good starting safety for the Patriots for the long term, which is why he still grades out fairly well, but he needs to improve upon his inconsistency. 


    Marquice Cole: B

    Marquice Cole played his first significant role on defense last week versus the St. Louis Rams, stepping in as the slot cornerback when Kyle Arrington left the game with a head injury. Cole stepped up in a big way by breaking up two passes and could see more playing time in the second half of the season.

    Cole has also been a key player as a gunner on special teams. 


    Nate Ebner: B-

    Nate Ebner has not played much at safety this year, and when he has, he has struggled in pass coverage. That should be expected, however, of a player who played almost exclusively on special teams, and not on defense, in college.

    While Ebner is not ready to play a significant role at safety, he has not looked out of place when he has been in the game, and he has been a big playmaker on special teams. He leads the Patriots with six special teams tackles.


    Malcolm Williams: N/A

    Malcolm Williams was brought back to the Patriots before last week’s game versus the St. Louis Rams but played only on special teams, where he had one tackle. There is not enough sample size to make a grade on Williams. 


    Derrick Martin: N/A

    Derrick Martin was signed by the Patriots on Wednesday and has yet to play a game for them this season.

Special Teams

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    Stephen Gostkowski: B+

    Stephen Gostkowski has had a very good season for the Patriots, making 17-of-20 field goal attempts thus far this season, while he has also been one of the NFL’s best on kickoffs.

    Gostkowski won the Patriots a game this season by making game-tying and game-winning field goals from 43 and 48 yards out to beat the New York Jets. His grade drops into the B-range, however, because he also cost the Patriots a win by missing wide left what would have instead been a game-winning 42-yard field goal against the Arizona Cardinals. 


    Zoltan Mesko: B+

    With only 42 yards per punt, Zoltan Mesko ranks 29th in the NFL in punting average. That statistic is deceiving, however, for Mesko has actually had a fairly strong year punting, but most of his punts have come with decent field position.

    Mesko has downed 60 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line and has only had eight punts returned this season, which is the least for any punter who has punted in all of his team’s games. Mesko has gotten great hangtime on his punts, which has nullified most return opportunities, and he has only had one punt blocked this season. 


    Danny Aiken: B+

    Danny Aiken has been very solid as the Patriots’ long snapper thus far this season. He has not made any noticeable mistakes, with clean snaps for both field goals and punts. 


    Matt Slater: B-

    Matt Slater has continued to be one of the Patriots’ special teams standouts. He is almost always one of the first players down the field in kickoff and punt coverage, and he has seven special teams tackles already this season.

    Dan Hope is the New England Patriots game day correspondent and NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. For more coverage of the Patriots, follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.