The New England Patriots' first game is still three months away, but it’s never too early for some bold predictions.
It is the NFL offseason, after all. How else are we football fanatics supposed to stay sane?
Let’s get right to it.
Chandler Jones Will Have 14 Sacks
Eight games through last season, Jones already had six sacks and three forced fumbles. Had he not been slowed down by an ankle injury, Jones was on pace to finish the season with 12 sacks and six forced fumbles.
With a full season and a second offseason under his belt, there is no reason to think this rookie standout won't take it a step further in his sophomore year.
Jones recently told Pro Football Weekly in Progress (via Patriots.com) that he is up to 270 lbs after weighing 260 lbs last season. That bulk should aid in manhandling tackles.
We've seen other pass-rushers like Jason Pierre-Paul and J.J. Watt do less in their rookie campaigns (4.5 sacks and 5.5 sacks, respectively) and then have monster performances in their second season (16.5 sacks and 20.5 sacks, respectively).
It's logical to think that Jones could have similar results in his sophomore year.
Honestly, 14 sacks might even be a little low.
Ras-I Dowling Will Emerge as a Starter
Dowling has been the biggest story of organized team activities so far, as a number of spectators have noticed how good he looks.
Luke Hughes of NESN.com thinks the third-year man has stood out among the current group of cornerbacks, writing:
From a pure spectator standpoint, Dowling looked like the best of the bunch. He appeared crisp in his backpedal, changed direction with supreme fluidity and even broke up a few of Tom Brady's passes along the sideline...for my money at least, Dowling appeared to be the best player out on the corner.
Others like Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald have also been impressed with Dowling so far in OTAs.
With news that Alfonzo Dennard was injured during practice (per Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston) and could possibly miss some time, Dowling may be given an even larger opportunity to showcase his skills.
He has all the makings of a high-caliber corner, and this season, that is what he’ll become.
Aaron Hernandez Will Be Voted to the Pro Bowl
If Hernandez could play a full season, he probably would have been voted to the Pro Bowl already, most likely after his 2011 season when he caught 79 balls for 910 yards and seven touchdowns in 14 games.
So this prediction comes with the caveat that he stays healthy for the entire season—something he has yet to do in his young career.
It's purely a hunch, but I think this is the season Hernandez plays all 16 games.
With Rob Gronkowski’s availability for the beginning of the season in jeopardy and Wes Welker now catching footballs from Peyton Manning, Hernandez will be a familiar face in a crowd of unfamiliar pass-catchers for Tom Brady.
Hernandez should become No. 12’s go-to guy and because of that, the 2013 season will be Hernandez’s best.
Devin McCourty Will Be Voted to the Pro Bowl
I’ve been reminding readers left and right about this statistic, but it bears repeating. According to Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus, when McCourty was lined up at safety last season, quarterbacks had just a 10.1 quarterback rating when throwing in his direction—which was best among all safeties.
Manning the free safety spot allows McCourty’s greatest strengths, which are his range and ball skills, to shine through.
With a full offseason to further develop at his new position, McCourty could become one of the best free safeties in the NFL in 2013.
Adrian Wilson Will Win the Strong Safety Battle
Bill Belichick hasn’t had a seasoned vet roaming his secondary in a long time.
With Wilson on the field, Belichick will have over a decade of NFL experience on his defense, diagnosing plays and getting the young guys lined up. I don’t see Belichick ignoring that know-how in favor of a younger defender.
Though Tavon Wilson flashed in his rookie season (four interceptions) and rookie Duron Harmon will certainly get a long hard look, the defense will be at its best with the elder Wilson in the starting lineup, showing the young'uns the ropes along the way.
Wilson has the veteran savvy, but he’s also one heck of a football player (and yes, he can still cover). Here’s a snapshot of his resume:
Five-time Pro Bowl selection (2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011)
Four-time All-Pro (2006, 2008, 2009, 2011)
27 career interceptions
25 career sacks
At 6’3’’ and as aggressive as they come, he's also the physical enforcer the secondary has lacked for what feels like a lifetime. Wilson will be the starting strong safety in 2013—and a very good one at that.