New England Patriots: 5 Young Players Bill Belichick Might Give Up on in 2011

Eitan Katz@@EitanKatzAnalyst IIAugust 16, 2011

New England Patriots: 5 Young Players Bill Belichick Might Give Up on in 2011

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    The New England Patriots are on a mission for their fourth Super Bowl ring in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era.

    Unfortunately for teams searching for championships, they sometimes have to give up on talented youngsters who are taking too long to develop.

    The Patriots are no exception.

    New England has five players who have shown glimpses of promise but are in danger of losing playing time or even being released. The reasons vary, but the most common theme is an inability to perform with any sort of consistency.

    With younger players, inconsistency is a given. However, because coach Belichick demands perfection, these gifted players may be on their last legs as members of the Patriots.

    I hate it as much as you so, but that's life in the NFL.

    This is one of the reasons Belichick is successful. He knows when to cut guys who are underperforming, and when to stop expecting someone to reach their potential when they have shown time and time again that they aren't able to.

    As a head coach, he's a cold-blooded assassin, but he's also led the Pats to three Super Bowl wins in the last ten years. Sounds good to me.

    Without further ado, here are five young players who may not have done enough to please coach Belichick and could be on their way out of New England.

Julian Edelman, Wide Receiver, Age: 25

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    It wasn't long ago that we were touting New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman as the "future," and "the next Wes Welker."

    After all, Edelman did finish off the 2009 NFL season with a dazzling 10-catch performance against the Houston Texans in the regular season finale, followed by a silver-lining two-touchdown game in the Pats' blowout loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs.

    That is no longer the case with the shifty, turbo-charged wide receiver.

    Edelman has basically become exclusively a punt returner at this point. Which, by the way, he is damn good at. Unfortunately, on a team seeking a Vince Lombardi Trophy, being an elite punt returner isn't necessarily a guaranteed roster spot.

    I absolutely, 100 percent believe that Edelman should remain on the team. Not only for his punt-returning skills, but because he would be a perfect replacement should Wes Welker choose to leave in free agency next offseason.

    The young receiver didn't instill much confidence in the coaching staff last season, dropping a number of important, catchable balls. If his hands don't improve, the Pats could opt to look elsewhere for a Welker replacement.

    My take: Expect a step-forward from Edelman this year. He has the talent, speed and work ethic to be a Patriot for a long, long time. However, he must improve his connection with Tom Brady.

Mark Anderson, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, Age: 28

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    New England Patriots' defensive end/outside linebacker Mark Anderson has seen this all before.

    Despite a stellar 12-sack rookie season in 2006 with the Chicago Bears, Anderson was cut in the middle of last season. He was unable to rediscover that first-year magic, so the Bears released him. After being picked up by the Houston Texans, Anderson had a revival of sorts.

    He quietly collected four sacks in 11 games, giving the Texans a nice option in their sub-package.

    Following the NFL lockout, Anderson was probably expecting a call from Houston to re-sign. Nope. Instead, Anderson got a call from the Pats where he will be expected to boost a lackluster outside pass rush.

    Originally thought to be on the outside looking in according to Patriots guru, ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss, Anderson's preseason performance has Bill Belichick and the coaching staff reconsidering.

    Here is what Reiss had to say about Anderson after the Jacksonville Jaguars game:

    "Unheralded Mark Anderson looked like the best pass rusher on the field, creating havoc while playing a specialized role in sub packages."

    Obviously, Anderson is headed in the right direction. Belichick is a master at putting specialists in the right position to succeed, and that seems to be the case here.

    My take: As long as he doesn't stink in any of the remaining preseason games, Anderson's spot should be secure. His presence could spell trouble for Eric Moore or Jermaine Cunningham, two outside linebackers who haven't been too impressive thus far.

Darius Butler, Cornerback, Age: 25

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    Darius Butler was taken 41st overall by the New England Patriots in the 2009 NFL draft. A lot of football analysts at the time considered him one of the biggest steals of the draft, and applauded Bill Belichick on a job well done.

    In his first season, Butler displayed many of the qualities that led him to being considered a steal.

    He had good recovery speed, solid instincts and showed promise. That's about as much as you can ask of a rookie cornerback. Butler finished the season with 35 tackles, three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and eight passes defensed.

    Nothing spectacular, but with New England's issues in the secondary, Butler had secured himself a starting job for the 2010 NFL season.

    And that's when things started to unravel.

    By Week 3, Butler had been replaced by special teams ace, Kyle Arrington. It's never a good thing to be replaced by a special teamer. Despite Arrington's frustratingly inconsistent play, Butler remained on the bench until New England's Week 16 matchup versus the Buffalo Bills.

    Butler regained his confidence in that game, recording two batted passes, one passes defensed, and not allowing a single completion. It was a great game for Butler, but unfortunately it was not a sign of things to come. His play came back down to earth, and is once again fighting for a roster spot this preseason.

    The Pats drafted cornerback Ras-I Dowling with the 33rd pick in the 2011 NFL draft, and they will also be getting Leigh Bodden back after he missed all of 2010 with an injured shoulder. Things are not looking good for Butler's chances this season.

    My take: His skill set and athleticism call for more production, but it just isn't happening on the field. Between Butler and Jonathan Wilhite, one young Pats cornerback will be sent packing in the next few weeks. I'd say Butler is safer than Wilhite, but with Belichick you just never know.

Brandon Tate, Wide Receiver, Age: 23

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    Brandon Tate was blessed with blazing speed, lightning quickness and much like the Energizer Bunny, the ability to keep going and going.

    Unfortunately, the New England Patriots' young receiver was not blessed with good hands. As in, he can't catch anything. Keep in mind, as a wide receiver, he is paid to catch the ball.

    Tate did show some flashes in 2010, including this gem from quarterback Tom Brady.

    While that touchdown was definitely nice, it just reinforces the problem: Tate is really only effective in open space. He doesn't catch well over the middle, doesn't catch well down the field and will never be confused for a possession receiver.

    On a bad team, that could be fine. Tate could be used as a deep threat, and just be his usual, awesome self on kick returns. However, on the Patriots, it's a whole different story.

    With the emergence of Taylor Price (five catches for 100-plus yards in the first preseason game), and the existence of Chad Ochocinco, Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Julian Edelman, Tate's value as a receiver has severely diminished.

    What about his value as a kick returner?

    Well, even as a kick returner, Tate may be overvalued. After his phenomenal 103-yard return against the Miami Dolphins in Week 4, Tate's longest return was 35 yards. Also, with the new kickoff rule (kickers now kick from the 35-yardline as opposed to the 30-yardline), all kick returners have lost a ton of value.

    My take: You never want to say this about a player who is only 23 years old, but Tate is most likely finished in New England. He's not needed as a receiver, and there are plenty of other options at kick returner. Too bad, I really liked the kid.

Brandon Meriweather, Safety, Age: 27

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    It's not often that teams consider relegating a two-time Pro Bowler—in his prime—to the bench. Well, that is what is apparently happening with the New England Patriots and their star safety, Brandon Meriweather.

    If you aren't a Pats fan, this would seem extremely far-fetched. However, anyone who has followed the Patriots the past few seasons would know that Meriweather's play has been maddeningly inconsistent.

    For every one of his spectacular plays or tremendous big hits, there is an awful play (took the wrong angle, should have forced the runner inside) and a bone-headed hit (he was fined $50,000 for this helmet-to-helmet hit on then-Baltimore Ravens' tight end, Todd Heap).

    Fact of the matter is this, Meriweather has talent, but he has been unsuccessful at harnessing that talent to become the best player he can be.

    Bill Belichick doesn't stand for that kind of garbage. Belichick expects that each player not only meets expectations, but exceeds them.

    Meriweather hasn't done that.

    With five-time Pro Bowler Darren Sharper coming in for a tryout, some people are speculating that Meriweather's time in the starting lineup is coming to an end.

    My take: If number 31 can get his head on straight, I'm sure the Pats would love to keep him. However, with Meriweather becoming a free agent at the end of this season, I would be shocked to see him on the team come 2012.

    Let me know what you think in the comments section below.