Ranking the 2014 Impact of Patriots' Free-Agent Signings so Far
The New England Patriots have signed some big names this offseason, and though their second week of free agency has been more quiet than the first, they have already added quite a few players who will have big impacts in 2014.
Usually, free agency for the Pats is about filling out the middle of the roster with mid-range, inexpensive veterans who will push their draft picks and potentially emerge as significant players in New England's system.
But this year, they've attacked the top of their depth chart, especially at cornerback, with two additions likely to take over as starters. In addition to bringing back their leading receiver from 2013, they've also added another outside threat in the passing game who could become an impact player.
Here's how we're ranking the impact of the Pats' free-agent signings so far.
Michael Hoomanawanui had just 12 catches and one touchdown in 2013, but he started 10 games, more than any other Patriots tight end. The Patriots would certainly like to get more production out of the position, and if Rob Gronkowski can return and stay healthy, that shouldn't be a problem.
But Hoomanawanui will just be 26 years old and now has two full seasons in the Patriots' system. Is it possible he has a breakout year in 2014? That might be a stretch, but at the very least "Hooman" has proven his durability and gives the Pats a baseline of insurance for the oft-injured Gronkowski.
The Pats should continue to add more bodies at the tight end position, and it's possible Hoomanawanui could struggle to make the final roster. But if he stays healthy and continues to improve, he could end up playing a significant role once again in 2014.
Brandon Browner will be suspended the first four games of 2014, but after that, his impact should be immediate and significant.
It's not a stretch to pencil Browner into a starting job at outside corner opposite Darrelle Revis. Browner's size and physicality will bring an element never seen before at the cornerback position under Bill Belichick.
Against teams that like to run quick screens and underneath routes, like their primary AFC rival the Denver Broncos, Browner should be the Pats' main enforcer. Patriots won't soon forget when Browner laid out Wes Welker in 2012 in Seattle.
Browner could find himself matching up against opponents' X-receivers, who are often taller, rather than Revis. With a safety over-the-top and Browner's size, and Revis on the other side taking the Z-receiver out of the equation, the Pats could force teams to beat them with their third and fourth options.
With Revis in the fold, Browner will get his fair share of targets, and thus will be a vitally important player in the Pats' scheme.
While Brandon LaFell played a fair number of snaps from the slot in Carolina, Patriots fans shouldn't worry that he's just another slot receiver to get in line behind Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
LaFell played in the slot because Steve Smith was the unquestioned X-receiver in Carolina and Ted Ginn was unable to play in the slot. So LaFell's time in the slot speaks more to his versatility than his limitations.
He should compete with second-year receiver Aaron Dobson to be the Pats' primary X-receiver. Though Dobson was a second-round pick in 2013, he will not be handed the job in 2014. And coming off foot surgery, he'll have to earn it.
LaFell has improved in each of his first four seasons and sounded the part of a Patriot in his introductory press conference phone call. His size and strength should be an asset to the Pats, as they have struggled in recent years to not only stretch the field vertically, but horizontally.
He could be part of a rotation at wide receiver, or he could become one of Tom Brady's favorite targets. There's no way to predict for sure. But on paper he has a lot of what the Patriots need and has the potential to really break out with a quarterback like Brady.
Julian Edelman had a breakout year in 2013, and if he stays healthy, there's no reason to think he won't put up another 100-catch, 1,000-yard season again in 2014.
Edelman was drafted in 2009 after playing quarterback at Kent State but showed immediate promise as a receiver after being thrust into a starting role in just his second game. He came through with eight catches for 98 yards in that game against the Jets filling in for Wes Welker, but the next three seasons were marred with injuries and unfulfilled potential.
Edelman's quickness and chemistry with Tom Brady are his best assets, and he's also one of the best punt returners in the NFL. With a new contract and some stability, Edelman's confidence should be high. And with more weapons around him, and less attention from opposing defenses, Edelman could even top his 2013 totals.
What matters most is staying healthy.
How do you predict the impact of adding one of the best cornerbacks in the game to your defense?
There's no question that Darrelle Revis was still recovering from his ACL injury and was misused in Tampa Bay. Now, he'll be almost two years removed from the injury and playing for a coach who will maximize what he does best—eliminating top receivers from the game.
While some might see Revis locking down the opponent's X-receiver, there's another school of thought that Revis might be better served taking the second option, while leaving Brandon Browner and a safety to handle the taller, downfield threat in the X-receiver.
If Revis can eliminate most split ends from the game, imagine what he can do to the flankers, and there'd be even less worry about safety help for him.
Regardless of how they use him, Revis is a game-changer and should be poised for an elite season that takes the Patriots defense back into the top 10 of the NFL.
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