Ranking the 7 Biggest Upgrades the Patriots Made This Offseason
Like any NFL team, the New England Patriots are not a static entity. Players come and players go. Franchises want to get young talent to help their teams. Players want long-term monetary security, playing time and a chance to win a ring.
Some seasons the net effect is negative. Other times—like in 2014—the Patriots end the offseason much better than they started it.
Here are seven ways the Patriots upgraded since ending the 2013 season.
1. Darrelle Revis (CB)
Likely Upgrade Over: Aqib Talib
I'll let them jabber about who is on top, but Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman are the two best cornerbacks in the NFL. Talib is easily in the top 10, but his inability to stay healthy during key games contributed to exits earlier than the New England Patriots would have preferred the last two years.
Revis can effectively contain a No. 1 receiver like Calvin Johnson or completely erase a No. 2 receiver. That gives defensive coordinator Matt Patricia some flexibility in determining where he can most efficiently deploy double-teams and safety help.
At times Talib struggled against top receivers—Josh Gordon (seven catches for 151 yards) for example—and with Johnson, Brandon Marshall and others on the schedule in 2014, Revis' addition will go a long way to shoring up the secondary.
2. Brandon Browner (CB)
Likely Upgrade Over: Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan
Dennard and Ryan are very good young cornerbacks and have skill sets that are far more diverse than Brandon Browner. However, Browner's ability to get physical at the line of scrimmage comes at a premium with the way the New England Patriots defense is being put together.
Browner's ability to hold up the receiver at the line of scrimmage puts less pressure on the safeties and gives the defensive linemen an extra beat to get to the quarterback.
While Ryan or Dennard will likely begin the season opposite Revis, look for Browner to begin a new element to the defense after his four-game suspension is up.
3. Dominique Easley (DL)
Likely Upgrade Over: Chris Jones
Jones racked up six sacks as a rookie last year, but they didn't come without a cost. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Jones was the worst defensive tackle in the league against the run.
The addition of Dominique Easley will bring a more balanced presence alongside Vince Wilfork. The rookie has an even more explosive get-off than Jones and, despite giving up almost 20 pounds to Jones, uses his quickness and active hands to hold up better against the run.
While Tommy Kelly may give Easley a run for his money, expect Easley to get a starter's share of snaps in a variety of situations starting early in the season.
4. James Anderson (LB)
Likely Upgrade Over: Brandon Spikes
Even if the New England Patriots didn't sign James Anderson, it may have been an upgrade to jettison the mercurial Spikes. His intimidating presence on Sunday was important at times, but it didn't make up for his distractions and unreliability Monday through Saturday.
Anderson isn't great against the run; his 236-pound frame makes it easy to get enveloped by bigger linemen. However, he brings exactly what the Patriots need—sure tackling and coverage ability.
With Dont'a Hightower, Jerod Mayo and Jamie Collins manning the base defense, Anderson will be able to step in with one of the three starters in the nickel package, helping him hide his deficiencies.
5. Bryan Stork (C)
Likely Upgrade Over: Ryan Wendell
Wendell ranked 31 out of 35 centers ranked by Pro Football Focus in 2014. Despite those ugly figures, he may be a bit more agile and better on the move than rookie Bryan Stork.
Stork, however, weighs in at 315—Wendell is closer to 300—and has a much stouter anchor in pass protection. He keeps his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and works well in tandem with his guards.
In the AFC East—with Mo Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Marcell Dareus, among others—having a little bit of extra weight in front of Tom Brady is a good strategy. An extra one-tenth of a second is all he may need to get rid of the ball and avoid a sack.
6. Jemea Thomas (CB/S)
Likely Upgrade Over: Nate Ebner, Tyler Wilson
Ebner has been a steady performer on special teams over the last two years, always seeming to be in the right place at the right time. However, he logged only 41 snaps—just five in 2013—over the same time frame.
Wilson has had a similar career path, although he has made more of his snaps, logging five interceptions in his short career.
Jemea Thomas, despite his 5'10" and 194-pound frame, can fill the shoes of both players. He can excel on special teams—both as a gunner or returner—while offering a diverse skill set on defense. He rushes the passer like Kyle Arrington, while delivering intimidating hits in coverage and run support.
He and Browner will cause receivers to think twice about catching the ball in New England.
7. Will Smith (DE)
Likely Upgrade Over: Andre Carter, Michael Buchanan
Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones had to do the job themselves. The defensive end duo accounted for just under 50 percent of total quarterback pressures (including hits and sacks), according to Pro Football Focus.
Carter and Buchanan—even though they played in known passing situations—tallied only 23 pressures on 235 rush attempts, clocking in at just under 10 percent. Their run defense didn't make up for their lack of pressure either.
If Will Smith is healthy, he has shown the ability to rush the quarterback at the same rate as Carter and Buchanan, while being more of a two-way player.
Rookie sixth-round pick Zach Moore might be the future at the position, but Smith should be able to serve as an adequate stopgap.