Final Grades for the 2012 New England Patriots Season
13 total wins and a spot in the final four in the NFL postseason would be considered a successful year for most teams, but not necessarily for the New England Patriots. Playing for a return trip to the Super Bowl, the road to New Orleans came to an end when they suffered a loss to the Baltimore Ravens, 28-13, in the AFC Championship Game.
Two of the Patriots’ four regular-season losses came against the Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, the two teams playing in Super Bowl XLVII. Defensive concerns marked the Patriots’ early-season struggles, but their ultimate demise was an offense that only managed one touchdown in their final defeat.
As B/R’s Patriots game-day correspondent, I had the duty of grading the full Patriots roster after each game this season on their performance in each individual contest. Now with the season in the books, I take one last cumulative look back at the season, grading each player on whether they exceeded, met or failed to live up to expectations.
Note: This slide show only contains players who were on the Patriots’ 53-man roster for the majority of the season and received significant playing time.
Tom Brady: B
Not many quarterbacks can throw for 4,827 yards and 34 touchdowns in the regular season and not be at their best. For Tom Brady, however, this wasn’t one of the better years of his gloried careers.
It was far from a bad season. With just three games remaining in the regular season, Brady was near the top of the discussion for the NFL MVP award, after a 296-yard, four-touchdown performance that led the New England Patriots to a 42-14 victory over the Houston Texans.
He struggled down the stretch, however. In three of his final five games, he completed less than 60 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions in those games. That included his lowest completion percentage and quarterback rating of the season in their season-ending loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Brady built a legacy through the first four years of his career of being a clutch playoff quarterback, but this year, he was the opposite with a terrible fourth-quarter performance in that season-ending loss.
Brady made plenty of big throws this season, and remains among the league’s best quarterbacks, but his surprisingly shaky play in the latter third of his season dropped his grades.
Ryan Mallett: C-
Fortunately for the Patriots, Tom Brady stayed healthy all year which meant that Ryan Mallett didn’t get much opportunity to play. In the few occasions where he did, he did not make an impression to show that he is a viable starting quarterback option for the Patriots or any team going forward.
Mallett completed as many interceptions as he did passes to his team, with one of each on four total passing attempts.
Stevan Ridley: A-
Stevan Ridley made a big step up the depth chart from third-string back to feature back in his sophomore season, and he stepped up to the plate. He brought a strong balance of power and explosion to the lineup when in the backfield, and led the team with 1,263 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in the regular season.
Ridley did not make many big plays, but he was a reliable between-the-tackles runner who could pick up crucial and consistent yards, especially in short-yardage and goal-line situation. He did have some issues with fumbling, with five between the regular-season and playoffs. Overall, however, going from a relative unknown to the NFL’s seventh-leading rusher is a very impressive feat.
Danny Woodhead: B+
Danny Woodhead continued to fill the role of third-down back well in the Patriots’ backfield. While Woodhead did not run the ball often, he was very effective as a receiver out of the backfield.
Woodhead is a terrific route-runner, and he consistently got open when he worked as a receiver while he was also very dangerous off screens. He also consistently did a good job as a pass-blocker in the backfield. He finished the season with 747 yards and seven touchdowns on 116 touches.
Shane Vereen: B-
Shane Vereen has not yet become a consistent performer in his second NFL season, but his production was more impressive than his first season.
Although he was seldom used in many games, he stood out in numerous games. That included his best game of his career yet in the AFC divisional round versus the Houston Texans, when he had a total of 124 yards and three touchdowns as a runner and receiver.
Vereen is a quick back who can run with speed between and outside the tackles. He is also effective as a receiver both out of the backfield and off the line of scrimmage. Vareen showed he can be a playmaker for the Patriots this season, but consistency will be expected next year.
Brandon Bolden: C
Brandon Bolden exceeded all expectations as an undrafted free agent pickup when he had a breakout game against the Buffalo Bills. He ran for 137 yards and a touchdown in that game, giving the Patriots another effective power runner who was expected to continue being a key contributor.
However, he was unable to sustain his performance against one of the NFL’s worst run defenses. He missed time due to a knee injury, and then was suspended for four games for performance-enhancing drugs. Upon his return, he was only used on offense in blowout games.
Wes Welker: A-
It is unknown whether the New England Patriots will make the investment needed to bring Wes Welker back next season, but he continued to show how valuable he is to the team’s success. Even with some untimely drops, he was the Patriots’ most consistent offensive playmaker.
From big downfield receptions to making defenders miss off of screen passes, Welker was once again among the league’s elite wide receivers. He finished the season with 118 receptions for 1,354 yards and six touchdowns.
Welker proved once again this season that if the Patriots do not re-sign him, replacing him will not be easy.
Brandon Lloyd: B
Brandon Lloyd didn’t quite become the big-play threat that he was expected to be for the Patriots offense, but he was still one of only two consistently productive receivers on the team.
Used mostly as an intermediate receiver, Lloyd was mostly reliable and made a lot of plays, finishing the season with 911 yards and four touchdowns on 74 receptions. While Welker remained the team’s go-to receiver, he became a consistent option who Brady could rely on and who defenses had to account for.
Julian Edelman: C+
Julian Edelman made some big plays this season as a receiver, punt returner, and even as a runner on some unique plays, but injuries eventually derailed his season.
In total, Edelman only played nine regular-season games, and ended up on injured reserve in early December with a foot injury. He had some big plays in the games he did play, including a 56-yard receiving touchdown, 47-yard run and 68-yard punt return touchdown. His lack of durability, however, will hurt his value as a player set to hit unrestricted free agency.
Deion Branch: C-
The New England Patriots struggled to find depth at receiver all season, and the only other receiver who had any volume of playing time on offense for the Patriots this year was Deion Branch. Branch had two separate stints with the team, but was never very productive.
In 12 total games (regular season and postseason), Branch only had 18 receptions for 161 yards. He made a positive contribution at times as a perimeter run-blocker, but he did not prove to be much help as a passing target, as he appeared to have lost a step from his prime.
Rob Gronkowski: Incomplete
There really isn’t an accurate grade for Rob Gronkowski’s season. Through 10 games of the season, Gronkowski was the NFL’s best tight end by a wide margin. Unfortunately, Gronkowski missed five games with a fractured forearm, then after returning for one game, he re-injured the forearm in their first playoff game, ending his season.
When Gronkowski was on the field, he played at an A level. However, he was unavailable down the stretch when the team needed his help most. It wouldn’t be fair to give Gronkowski an A when he wasn’t there to help his team down the stretch, but it would be unfair to give him a lower grade considering he was the NFL’s best tight end when healthy.
Aaron Hernandez: B
Aaron Hernandez suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 2, and he did not look to be 100 percent until near the end of the season. After being brought back too early for two games, he missed more time before finally coming back for good in Week 12.
Hernandez started playing well again toward the end of the season, but never returned to being the big playmaker in the passing game that he usually is. Blocking is not his strength, and he struggled in that capacity too.
Hernandez showed his toughness by fighting back through an injury, and finished the year with 66 receptions for 651 yards and five touchdowns in 12 total games. He didn’t quite have his usual quickness in getting open all season; however, and he will look to return to full form for 2013.
Michael Hoomanawanui: B+
Michael Hoomanawanui only caught five passes all season, but he was not signed to the team to be a receiving threat. Hoomanawanui was signed to be an extension of the offensive line as a blocker, and he excelled in that role.
Hoomanawanui is a terrific run blocker, and he consistently helped up open up holes in every game. At times, he was able to make big plays as a receiver by catching the defense off guard, but on the active roster each week specifically for his role as a blocker, he did exactly what he was expected to do.
Daniel Fells: D-
With Hernandez and Gronkowski both missing significant portions of the season due to injury, the New England Patriots should have been able to count on Daniel Fells to step up and contribute as a second receiving tight end. That simply was not the case, with Fells catching only four passes over the course of the entire season.
Nate Solder: A
Going into the season, there was some concern over whether Nate Solder was ready to take over for Matt Light at left tackle. He quickly quelled those concerns and had a very good and consistent season leading the New England Patriots’ offensive line.
Solder had a fantastic season in pass protection, allowing just four sacks all season according to Pro Football Focus (subscription site). He was also a dominant run blocker, often opening up big holes on the left side to lead the power ground game.
The Patriots appear to have their left tackle for the long term with the way Solder played in his sophomore season.
Logan Mankins: B
Left guard Logan Mankins had surgery to repair a torn ACL following last year’s Super Bowl, and he did not look to be fully healthy for the start of this season. He continued to battle injury for most of the regular season, missing six of the season’s first 12 games while playing far from his usual form in the others.
Late in the season, Mankins regained form and was the Patriots’ best offensive lineman cumulatively between the team’s final four regular-season games and two postseason games. For most of the season, however, he was arguably the weak link of the line when he was in the games as he clearly did not look to be fully healthy.
Mankins was named a second-team All-Pro, but he earned that award off of reputation: He was not among the Patriots’ best offensive linemen this year.
Ryan Wendell: B+
Ryan Wendell took over as the Patriots’ starting center this season, and had a very good year. He did a terrific job leading the power run game up the middle all season, and was very steady in interior pass protection as well.
Wendell had no issues snapping the ball this season, and if not dominant, was a steady presence in the middle of the offensive line. Wendell as the starting center was a bit of a concern coming into the season, but he proved to be a strength.
Dan Connolly: C+
Right guard Dan Connolly is a decent starter, but was the least impressive of the Patriots’ five starting offensive linemen this season. Connolly gave up the majority of the team’s interior offensive line pressure when the five starters were on the line, and he did not overpower as a run blocker.
Connolly also had some issues with durability this season. He missed two games, and left a number of others early due to injury or illness. Connolly appeared to be a better fit at center in 2011 than at right guard this season, but if any starting offensive lineman’s job is in danger going into next season, it would be Connolly.
Sebastian Vollmer: B+
Another key free agent the Patriots will want to re-sign is right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Vollmer did a very good job both at holding off the pass-rush on the right side and opening up run holes, proving himself to be a right tackle well worth bringing back for the long term.
Vollmer missed one game due to injury and was limited in a couple games early in the season, but aside from getting dominated by Cameron Wake in the Patriots’ game with the Miami Dolphins, Vollmer was consistently good when in the lineup.
Donald Thomas: A-
One free agent who the Patriots will have a tough time bringing back is guard Donald Thomas. With Mankins and Connolly both battling injuries this season, Thomas had to step in often as relief, and he played like a starter when in the lineup.
Thomas was consistently good as both a lead run blocker and as a pass protector, and succeeded at both left and right guard. He played like a starting-caliber guard, and will likely get that shot with another organization next season.
Marcus Cannon: B-
Marcus Cannon took over at right tackle when Sebastian Vollmer was out of the lineup, and he held up surprisingly well in pass protection.
He may be viewed ultimately as a better guard than a tackle, but in one brief stint in the lineup at guard, he struggled. He proved to be a steady third offensive tackle this season, however, using his power as a lead run blocker while not giving up much pressure.
Nick McDonald: C-
The one offensive lineman who struggled the most when forced into the lineup was backup guard Nick McDonald. McDonald is a decent player for a fourth guard, but struggled within interior pass-rush when in the lineup.
McDonald performed decently as a run blocker, but his shaky play in pass-protection makes him better suited to be a career backup.
Rob Ninkovich: A
Rob Ninkovich always seemed to have a knack for coming up with the big play at the big time this season. From a game-ending strip sack and fumble recovery in overtime against the New York Jets, to his only interception of the season coming against the Houston Texans in the playoffs, Ninkovich was the most clutch player on the Patriots’ defense this season.
The Patriots’ defensive line struggled to bring pressure up front this year, but Ninkovich was their most consistent pass-rusher. He led the team with eight sacks, while he is also very solid against the run.
Most impressively, Ninkovich tied for a league-leading four fumble recoveries, while also being about the top NFL players in fumbles forced with five. Ninkovich may have been unheralded coming into the season, but he made a name for himself with big plays this year.
Chandler Jones: B
Chandler Jones’ rookie season got off to a great start. He had six sacks and three forced fumbles in his first eight games, and was showing the makings of a great up-and-coming pass-rusher. Unfortunately for Jones, he never fully regained form after suffering an ankle injury against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 11.
Jones started to look the part again against the Miami Dolphins in Week 17, a game in which he had two tackles for loss and two pass deflections. He re-injured his ankle, however, in their first postseason game, and never returned in the postseason.
As a rookie who came in with unknown possibilities for his first season, his year was largely a success. Unfortunately, he was unable to sustain his early performance due to injury issues.
Vince Wilfork: A
Nose tackle Vince Wilfork was named a first-team All-Pro this season, a well-deserved distinction. One of the best defensive linemen in the NFL, Wilfork had a dominant season.
Wilfork looked as quick as he ever has in his career at penetrating gaps and making plays in the backfield. Although not a natural pass-rusher, he finished the season with three sacks, and was dominant as a run-stopper inside.
Kyle Love: C-
Even though they have Wilfork, the Patriots may very well look to use their first-round pick on a defensive tackle who can start next to him in their four-man front. That is because the team could really use an upgrade over Kyle Love in the starting lineup.
What the Patriots need next to Wilfork is a quick, pass-rushing defensive tackle, and Love simply isn’t that player. When Love was in the lineup, he brought little to no pressure inside, which resulted in him being benched midseason for Brandon Deaderick.
Love was solid against the run, but not overly stout. Love’s playing time diminished over the course of the season, and that was because he did play well enough to warrant staying in the lineup.
Brandon Deaderick: C+
Brandon Deaderick took over for Love in the starting lineup midseason, but he did not prove to be much of an upgrade. While Deaderick was slightly more effective at bringing pressure inside, he did not make much impact in that department and was less stout against the run.
Neither Love nor Deaderick is a starting-caliber under tackle in the 4-3 next to Wilfork, and Deaderick did nothing this season to change that notion.
Justin Francis: B
The Patriots usually find at least one productive undrafted free agent each year, and they got that out of defensive end Justin Francis this year. Francis’ playing time gradually increased over the second half of the season, and he ended up developing into a valuable rotational player.
While Francis may never be an impact pass-rusher, he did a decent job bringing pressure both off the edge and on inside rushes. He also used his size well and was solid against the run. He proved himself to be a player worthy of a spot going forward in the rotation, and should remain a part of the Patriots’ long-term plans.
Trevor Scott: C-
Trevor Scott was brought in to be a pass-rush specialist at defensive end, but he was not even particularly effective at that, notching just three sacks for the season.
He played poorly against the run, making him not much of a positive factor on defense. One area where he did succeed was on special teams, where had a made of number of tackles over the course of the season, but his first year as a Patriot was relatively disappointing.
Jermaine Cunningham: C
Jermaine Cunningham seemed to have finally turned the corner in his development, performing well as both a defensive end and an inside-rush defensive tackle. His season was derailed, however, by a four-game performance-enhancing drug suspension.
Cunningham was ineffective upon his return to the field, not making much of an impact as either a pass-rusher or run-stopper.
Jake Bequette: F
One year is too soon to write off a draft pick, but 2012 third-round pick defensive end Jake Bequette didn’t make a strong rookie year impression. Bequette was seldom active during the season, and when he was, he made no impactful plays. He finished the season without a single tackle.
Jerod Mayo: B+
Jerod Mayo is the most productive playmaker among the New England Patriots linebackers, consistently getting in position to make plays on the football. Mayo did that throughout the 2012 NFL season, and finished the regular season with 147 total tackles, fourth-most in the NFL.
Mayo had his struggles at times: He missed a considerable amount of tackles although he made many, and he struggled with covering passes to the flats on the outside. He is terrific at making plays in run defense though, and improved this past season in making plays as a blitzer and pass-rusher.
Mayo had four forced fumbles, one interception and one fumble recovery this season.
Brandon Spikes: B+
Brandon Spikes had his best season yet as an NFL player in 2012. Although inconsistent, he overcame a few bad games with many great games full of big stops.
Spikes is a very good run-stopping middle linebacker, and he made many big plays with stops near or at the line of scrimmage, along with five forced fumbles over the course of the season. Although coverage continued to be his weakness, he made strides in dropping back and not getting beat over the middle this season.
Dont’a Hightower: B-
Dont’a Hightower’s rookie season definitely had its ups and downs. Much of the first half of this season was derailed by missed time and then a continued battle with a hamstring injury, but he came along strong late in the year.
With the Patriots often using nickel formations, Hightower was not a three-down player in most games this season, but he was a difference-maker when on the field. He made 10 tackles for loss, including four sacks, over the course of the season.
Hightower needs to become more consistent with his angles to the football, and he struggles dropping back into coverage, but he had a solid rookie campaign playing situationally. He had some very poor games while still recovering from his injury, but played well down the stretch.
Aqib Talib: B
The New England Patriots’ midseason trade for cornerback Aqib Talib went a long way in solidifying the team’s secondary. But while Talib was the No. 1 cornerback they needed him to be when he was on the field, he didn’t actually play too much for the Patriots this year.
Talib still had to complete a four-game suspension in his first game week with the Patriots, and due to injuries down the stretch, Talib only played five full games, leaving three others early due to injury.
Talib was the Patriots’ best cornerback when he was healthy and on the field, but his contributions were limited by the lack of games he actually played.
Alfonzo Dennard: A-
The New England Patriots selected five other players before they drafted Alfonzo Dennard in the seventh round of last year’s draft, but he may have been the team’s best rookie this season.
After missing the first four games of the year due to a hamstring injury, Dennard proved to be an immediate upgrade in the team’s starting lineup at cornerback. He used his length and physicality well in pass coverage as well as being very solid in run support.
Dennard looks to be a major draft steal, and should continue to be one of their starting cornerbacks going forward to next season.
Devin McCourty: B+
The first six games of Devin McCourty’s season were a bit of a roller-coaster ride as he was the team’s top cornerback. He alternated big plays of his own with giving up big plays. But once the New England Patriots shifted McCourty inside to free safety in Week 7, he excelled and became a stabilizing force at safety.
McCourty made an immediate and strong adjustment to his new position. He is very good as a deep cover safety, and was often used in that capacity while also serving as a last line of defense. He is a sound tackler who often had to clean up big plays on the back end, but rarely gave up big plays on his own.
McCourty was unspectacular as a kick returner over the course of the season, but he did have a 104-yard return touchdown against the New York Jets in that same Week 7 game.
Steve Gregory: C
Steve Gregory proved to be an upgrade at strong safety over Patrick Chung, but only slightly. As has been the case with far too many defensive backs in recent years for the Patriots, Gregory’s play was very inconsistent.
Gregory was often solid in coverage, and did have one terrific game on Thanksgiving night against the New York Jets, intercepting a pass and returning a fumble for a touchdown. On the contrary, he also had a good amount of blown coverages in coverage, and while he made some big hits in run support, he also had a high number of missed tackles.
Kyle Arrington: C+
If there is one player on this slideshow who commenters are likely to call for having a lower grade, it would be Kyle Arrington, whose season was unfortunately characterized by his badly blown coverages. With a closer look, however, there are more positive takeaways that can be had from Arrington’s season as well.
While Arrington struggled mightily as a member of the starting lineup in the first half of the season, he improved his play significantly when he was moved inside to play as the nickel slot cornerback. He often shut down his opponents in the slot, and when he had to move back outside late in the season due to injuries to Talib and Dennard, he stepped up and performed decently.
Arrington did a very good job in run support, was a key contributor on special teams and he had 11 pass breakups in the regular season. He cannot be excused for the big plays he allowed, some of which played a role in costing them games, but he actually played decently well for much of the season.
Tavon Wilson: B-
Tavon Wilson did not play a lot in his rookie season, but he showed promise when he did. Playing mostly at the “star” position and receiving most of his playing time against teams that run two-tight end passing sets, Wilson was decent in pass coverage and did a good job helping out in run support.
Wilson was infamously beaten by Sidney Rice on the Seattle Seahawks’ 46-yard game-winning touchdown in Week 6, but was solid in coverage for the most part. Against the run, he is an aggressive hitter who can make plays in the box, and he also was a key contributor on special teams.
Patrick Chung: D-
It became pretty clear by the second half of the season that this would be Patrick Chung’s last year with the Patriots. While Chung began the year as a starting safety and did start two games late in the season due to injuries, he played only three total defensive snaps in two playoff games, according to Pro Football Focus.
The reason for Chung’s reduced snaps is his poor play when he was in the secondary this season. Coverage has never been Chung’s strong suit, and he continued to give up big plays this season. And while he did make some big stops against the run, he also had some costly missed tackles and penalties.
Chung was a solid contributor on special teams when he was taken out of the lineup, but he will not be missed much next season assuming he goes to a new team as an unrestricted free agent.
Marquice Cole: D+
In six seasons as an NFL player, Marquice Cole has played mostly on special teams and has only been emergency depth at cornerback. When injuries pushed Cole into the lineup at cornerback this season, he showed why that was the case.
Cole made a few big plays in coverage, but gave up far more big plays than he made. Although impressive in his first game with significant playing time as the slot cornerback against the St. Louis Rams, he looked like a scrub when put in the same position in the AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Cole made positive contributions on special teams over the course of the year, but the Patriots need to have a deeper secondary next season that does not force them to turn to Cole when injuries hit at cornerback.
Ras-I Dowling: D
Ras-I Dowling was unable to consistently hold playing time over the first half of the season as he made mistakes in coverage and failed to earn the trust of the Patriots’ coaching staff. He was placed on injured reserve with a thigh injury before midseason, leaving Patriots fans to wonder if the 2011 second-round pick will ever materialize into anything more than an injury-prone bust at cornerback.
Stephen Gostkowski: B
Stephen Gostkowski had some uncharacteristic misses this season, including a 42-yard kick against the Arizona Cardinals that turned what would have been a win into a loss. That said, he bounced back strong and continued to be among the NFL’s best kickers, making his final 12 field goals of the season (including postseason), finishing the year having made 33 of 39 total field goal attempts.
Gostkowski made game-tying and game-winning field goals in the New England Patriots’ overtime win over the New York Jets. He was also solid throughout the year on kickoffs.
Zoltan Mesko: B+
Zoltan Mesko had the least punting yardage among all 32 regular punters in the NFL this regular season, but numbers can be deceiving.
Many of Mesko’s punts came on a short field, as a result of playing on a team with the NFL’s No. 1 offense. He did a terrific job using that short field to put punts inside the 20-yard line: Only two punters (Dustin Colquitt and Andy Lee) had a higher percentage of their punts downed inside the 20.
Mesko was also superb in two postseason games, downing six of 10 punts inside the 20. For a team whose punter needs to excel in working with a short field and pinning teams deep with good hangtime on his punts, Mesko did the job very well.
Danny Aiken: A-
Long snapper Danny Aiken did not make any significant mistakes snapping the football on either field goal, punt or extra point attempts this year.
Matt Slater: B+
Matt Slater did not make quite as much of an impact as he did on special teams the previous, yet was named a PFWA All-Pro for the second consecutive year as the league’s best special teams player. He did make a positive impacts as a special teams regular, leading the team with 19 special teams tackle.
Nate Ebner: B
Nate Ebner was drafted to be a special teams standout, and he looked the part for the most part as a rookie. He was a consistent playmaker on special teams, and finished the season with 14 tackles on special teams.
He was responsible for a missed block on the only blocked punt against the Patriots this season, but he had a solid rookie season and looks like a long-term piece on their special teams units.
Mike Rivera: C
Mike Rivera was on the Patriots’ defense to provide depth as a backup middle linebacker and play on special teams regularly. He did both, but did not make a big impact in either area. He only played out of necessity on defense, and he was not a regular playmaker on special teams.
Tracy White: C
Another linebacker on the Patriots’ roster who spent most of his playing time on special teams was Tracy White. Like Rivera, White only played defense when injuries hit at linebacker, and he was not much of a difference-maker on special teams.
Niko Koutouvides: D+
Niko Koutouvides was active for all but two games this season, but he could have easily gone unnoticed. He played only nine snaps on defense this year according to Pro Football Focus, and was not much of a playmaker on special teams, finishing the year with just four special teams tackles.
Dan Hope is an NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, and was the Patriots gameday correspondent for the 2012-2013 NFL season.