New England Patriots: Patriots positional review

Patriots positional review: CB

February, 4, 2014
Feb 4
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Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the Patriots cornerbacks, ordered in percentage of defensive snaps played.

Aqib Talib
Age: 27
2013 status: Played and started 13 games. Led all cornerbacks in terms of snaps, playing 73.4 percent.
2013 highlights: Talib had dominant stretches of the season, often being used to line up opposite an opponent’s top wide receiver. Dealt with a hip issue that contributed to him missing time and left the AFC Championship Game with a knee injury. Had 41 tackles and four interceptions, earning Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors.
Current contract runs through: Free agent

Kyle Arrington
Age: 27
2013 status: Played in every regular-season game, starting 12. Played just more than 72 percent of the defensive snaps and was used both as a slot and perimeter cornerback.
2013 highlights: For the fourth straight season, Arrington played in every regular-season game despite working through injury issues of his own. Had some up-and-down moments but contributed a total of 62 tackles and an interception. He was used in anywhere from a second-to-fourth cornerback role, depending on the circumstances of the game and performance.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Alfonzo Dennard
Age: 24
2013 status: Played in 13 games, starting nine. Dealt with a knee issue that forced him to miss three contests.
2013 highlights: Blossomed in his second season, having strong stretches as the team’s No. 2 cornerback. Including the playoffs, finished with three interceptions. Dennard does not have the size and speed to be a pure No. 1 cornerback, but he does have what it takes to be a solid complementary option.
Current contract runs through: 2015 season

Logan Ryan
Age: 22
2013 status: Played in every game, starting seven regular-season contests. Contributed on special teams and played a total of 51.7 percent of the regular-season defensive snaps.
2013 highlights: Had a superb rookie season, leading all first-year NFL players with five interceptions. Returned one pick for a score and displayed strong ball skills throughout the year. An inside/outside cornerback, the third-round pick looked like the real deal in his first pro season. A bright spot for the secondary going forward.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Others on the roster: Justin Green

POSITIONAL NEED: Count Talib among the top priorities to re-sign this offseason, as it’s a debate between he and Julian Edelman. He’ll cost good money, but Talib has established himself as one of the dominant cornerbacks in football and will turn 28 later this month. Beyond Talib, the Patriots have very good top-four depth with Arrington, Dennard and Ryan, as both Ryan and Dennard have a chance to further evolve into standout players. Arrington provides toughness, durability and flexibility. If Talib returns, the secondary once again has a chance to be the strength of this defense.

Patriots positional review: LB

February, 3, 2014
Feb 3
5:00
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Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here's a look at the Patriots linebackers, ordered in percentage of defensive snaps played.

Dont'a Hightower
Age: 23
2013 status: Started 14 of 16 games played, leading the Patriots in both snaps among linebackers (74.5 percent) and tackles (97).
2013 highlights: Thrust into a pivotal role with Jerod Mayo out for much of the season, Hightower became the on-field defensive quarterback for the Patriots. Often wore the green dot as the communicator of signals and play calls. He had some struggles in pass coverage, but came on late in the season. Should be better with the return of Mayo next year.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Brandon Spikes
Age: 26
2013 status: Played in every regular-season game, starting 11. Was placed on injured reserve in advance of the first playoff game, reportedly in part because of missing a day of work.
2013 highlights: Spikes was once again an impact run defender for the Patriots, racking up 86 tackles. Had major struggles against the pass, however, playing sporadically in sub defensive packages. As a free agent this offseason, it's fair to wonder if his days in New England are over after the decision late in the year to place him on IR, which was also tied into his balky knee.
Current contract runs through: Free agent

Jerod Mayo
Age: 27
2013 status: Played in six games, starting them all. Was placed on injured reserve after tearing his pectoral.
2013 highlights: Mayo was his typical self when he was on the field in 2013: he gobbled up tackles with 55 in five-plus games, provided sensational on-field leadership and played virtually every defensive snap. His presence was sorely missed, but he worked hard as a pseudo-assistant coach when he went down.
Current contract runs through: 2017 season

Jamie Collins
Age: 24
2013 status: Played in every game, starting eight regular-season contests. Contributed on special teams and played a total of 25.8 percent of the regular-season defensive snaps.
2013 highlights: Collins was eased into defensive action as a rookie, but exploded in a playoff game against the Colts. His abundance of athleticism shows promise for the future. In a league where passing offenses force defenses into sub packages so often, Collins projects as a possible every-down linebacker in 2014 and beyond.
Current contract runs through: 2017 season

Dane Fletcher
Age: 27
2013 status: Played in 15 games, starting one. Was a core special teamer and played roughly 18 percent of the defensive snaps.
2013 highlights: Fletcher continued to provide steady special teams production in 2013 while also serving as a rotational sub package linebacker. He started one game but had his best effort against the Broncos in Week 12, totaling seven tackles.
Current contract runs through: Free agent

Others on the roster: Ja'Gared Davis, Steve Beauharnais (one defensive snap), Chris White (one defensive snap), Taylor Reed

POSITIONAL NEED: While Spikes is among the most notable free agents for the Patriots this offseason, a departure by the former second-round pick would not be crippling to this defense. With Mayo as the anchor and Hightower and Collins to flank him, the Patriots have a trio of solid front-line players. The return to health of Mayo and development of Collins are critical, as if Collins can consistently play on all three downs the Patriots will have a pair of dynamic athletes at the position. Beyond the projected starters, the Patriots have some depth in Beauharnais and Fletcher, but if Fletcher departs in free agency the team would serve itself well to add at least one more body to this mix.

Patriots positional review: DT

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
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Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the New England Patriots defensive tackles, ordered in percentage of defensive snaps played.

Chris Jones
Age: 23
2013 status: Started 11 of 13 games played after being claimed on waivers during Week 2 of the regular season. Played the second most snaps among rookie defensive tackles in the NFL with 786.
2013 highlights: There are two lenses to examine Jones through. One the one hand, he gave the Patriots much more than anyone could’ve reasonably expected, including 54 tackles and six sacks. Conversely, there were times when Jones was overwhelmed as an anchor. Nonetheless, he’s a piece of the puzzle going forward, as he’ll continue to learn from Vince Wilfork and grow within the Patriots’ system. He deserves credit for hanging tough given the unlikely circumstances surrounding his rookie season.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Joe Vellano
Age: 25
2013 status: Played in every game, starting eight in total. Played just fewer than 58 percent of the regular season defensive snaps.
2013 highlights: An undrafted rookie who worked his way on to the roster, Vellano, like Jones, exceeded expectations. He had flashes of both pass-rush and run-stuffing ability, but his modest size also left him susceptible to being run at by the offense. A player that is better suited as a reserve than a starter, but offers developmental depth going forward.
Current contract runs through: 2015 season

Tommy Kelly
Age: 33
2013 status: Started five of five games played, registering 2.5 sacks and playing 221 defensive snaps.
2013 highlights: Became an immediate starter alongside Wilfork after signing as a free agent last offseason. Provided size, girth and discipline along the defensive line to bolster both the run defense and interior pass rush. A reported ACL tear shelved Kelly for the final 11 games of the season, though he should be healthy by the time training camp rolls around, if not sooner. He was a big loss.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Sealver Siliga
Age: 23
2013 status: A late-season riser who ended up playing in the final five regular-season games, starting four. Also started each of the two playoff games.
2013 highlights: Siliga played the fewest snaps among the Patriots’ unheralded young defensive tackles, but by the end of the season he appeared to offer the most long-term value. He plays with a stout base and good leverage along the line of scrimmage, not getting his shoulders turned and not giving ground. Should benefit from learning behind Wilfork for a full offseason.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Vince Wilfork
Age: 32
2013 status: Started all four games that he played before going down with a torn Achilles’ tendon.
2013 highlights: Wilfork’s production according to the box score wasn’t anything to write home about, but the consistent message to convey with his play is that it transcends statistics. He’s a force at taking on double teams and clearing space for his linebackers. The injury ended his season and contributed to a run defense that struggled throughout the season. Has a big salary for the 2014 season, and the team could view him as an extension candidate.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Isaac Sopoaga
Age: 32
2013 status: Acquired via trade from Philadelphia, played in six regular-season games, starting two. Became an inactive player down the stretch.
2013 highlights: Desperate for bodies in the middle of their defense, the Patriots added Sopoaga via a trade. The maneuver didn’t cost them much (essentially about 25 draft spots), but Sopoaga had a limited on-field impact. With a big contract for the next two seasons, he seems like a likely cap casualty.
Current contract runs through: 2015 season

Others on the roster: Marcus Forston, Armond Armstead, Cory Grissom

POSITIONAL NEED: During an interview this past season, Bill Belichick referenced the team’s “top three” defensive tackles being on injured reserve. The first two -- Wilfork and Kelly -- were obvious, but the third was Armstead, a former Canadian Football League standout who had surgery on an infection just before training camp. If all three return next season -- each is coming off of a serious injury -- the Patriots will have very good depth and talent at the position. Wilfork and Kelly are both in their 30’s and entering the final year of their contracts, so this could still be an area where the Patriots look to add a young body. But while some might perceive this to be the first area of need for the team entering 2014, getting healthy would go a long way towards resolving the woes of the run defense from last season.

Patriots positional review: defensive ends

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
5:00
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Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the Patriots defensive ends:

Chandler Jones
Age: 23
2013 status: Played and started every game this season, totaling 79 tackles and 11.5 sacks.
2013 highlights: Blossomed as a second-year player, making the leap after a promising rookie season. Led the Patriots with 11.5 sacks and had dominant stretches. Was an every-down player who logged an astonishing 98.1 percent of the defensive snaps. Looks like a cornerstone along the line for years to come.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Rob Ninkovich
Age: 29
2013 status: Played and started every game this season, racking up 91 tackles and eight sacks.
2013 highlights: Was part of a bookend pair of ends with Jones that anchored the edges for the Patriots. The team’s belief and commitment in Ninkovich was cemented with a contract extension early in the season that keeps him in New England through 2016. One of the team’s most consistent players. Exceptional in run defense, tough and a leader who was named a team captain after injuries to Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Andre Carter
Age: 34
2013 status: Played nine games without a start. Third among defensive ends with 13.4 percent of defensive snaps played.
2013 highlights: Carter was brought back after a year away, as he spent the 2012 season with the Oakland Raiders. He chipped in two sacks but was an emotional leader in the locker room. Carter played mostly in sub packages and has indicated that he’ll only continue his NFL career if it is with the Patriots.
Current contract runs through: Free agent

Michael Buchanan
Age: 23
2013 status: Played in all but one regular-season game, logging 121 defensive snaps.
2013 highlights: A seventh-round pick that had a larger defensive role early in the season, Buchanan showed some flashes of pass-rushing presence. His role was eventually shifted to almost exclusively special teams, where he played on core units. Given the lack of depth at this position, Buchanan’s development is critical for 2014.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Jake Bequette
Age: 24
2013 status: Played just 1.2 percent of the defensive snaps. Has appeared in eight games over two pro seasons.
2013 highlights: Hardly a factor on defense or special teams. Bequette was drafted in the third round in 2012 but it isn’t too soon to wonder whether or not he’ll be on the roster again next season. He needs a strong offseason of growth to ensure his future.
Current contract runs through: 2015 season

POSITIONAL NEED: Around this time last year, one of the positions that we believed the Patriots may address during the offseason was their depth at defensive end. The team courted both John Abraham and Dwight Freeney in free agency, but neither veteran was signed. Marcus Benard flashed during offseason workouts but was eventually waived, as was former second-round pick Jermaine Cunningham. While the team has its rock-solid duo in Jones and Ninkovich as starters, depth remains an area of need. A veteran with pass-rushing juice to play in a situation role -- similar to what Carter did this season -- would be a big boost.

Patriots positional review: TE/FB

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
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Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the Patriots tight ends (ordered by percentage of snaps played)

Michael Hoomanawanui
Age: 25
2013 status: Led tight ends in snaps (57.6 percent), started 10 of 13 games
2013 highlights: Had 12 catches for 136 yards and a receiving touchdown, making timely catches and displaying reliable hands. Made a more salient impact as a blocker. Hoomanawanui was thrust into a big role, and though his receiving production was modest, he did admirable work.
Current contract runs through: Free agent

Rob Gronkowski
Age: 24
2013 status: Second among tight ends in snaps (32 percent), started 6 of 7 games. Placed on injured reserve after suffering torn ACL.
2013 highlights: After recovering from offseason back and forearm surgeries, Gronk returned and reestablished himself as the best tight end in the league. He had 39 catches in just over six games, making the Patriots' red zone offense substantially better and adding punch to the passing game. Ultimately, the injury against Cleveland defined the late part of his season, and the Patriots are hopeful his latest setback wont cost him any time to start the 2014 season.
Current contract runs through: 2019 season

Matthew Mulligan
Age: 29
2013 status: Third among tight ends in snaps played (22.9) percentage
2013 highlights: Made a critical touchdown catch against the Falcons in Week 4, one of two receptions this season. Largely a run blocking tight end.
Current contract runs through: Free agent

D.J. Williams
Age: 23
2013 status: Played 11 offensive snaps
2013 highlights: Had a minimal role after being added in the middle of the season.
Current contract runs through: Free agent

James Develin
Age: 25
2013 status: Played 25.8 percent of offensive snaps, starting 6 of 16 games at fullback
2013 highlights: A hammerhead who brought unique toughness to the offense this season and was roundly respected by his teammates. Made his contributions most primarily as a lead blocker in two back sets, though he also chipped in with a rushing touchdown against Houston.
Current contract runs through: 2014

POSITIONAL NEED: At this time last year, we would have declared the tight end position to be in as good of shape as nearly any other on the team. Gronkowski’s string of surgeries and the release of Aaron Hernandez casts a different outlook now, as this is, in our estimation, the greatest need for the Patriots to address this offseason. Even if Gronkowski returns fully healthy for the start of next season, a complementary tight end to play alongside him and provide insurance as a pass-catcher would be beneficial. With a deep draft at the position, it could be on the team’s radar.

Patriots positional review: WR

January, 27, 2014
Jan 27
5:00
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Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the Patriots wide receivers (ordered by percentage of snaps played:

Julian Edelman
Age: 27
2013 status: Played 86 percent of offensive snaps, started 11 of 16 games
2013 highlights: A remarkable, 105-catch season. Became the team’s most reliable and trusted receiver. Was a complete steal with a contract that paid him just more than $1 million for the season and has launched himself onto the national radar. Also contributed as a punt returner. Will be a coveted free agent.
Current contract runs through: Free agent

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What's the biggest priority for the Patriots' receiving corps this offseason?

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Kenbrell Thompkins
Age: 25
2013 status: Played just more than 49 percent of the offensive snaps, starting 8 of 12 games played
2013 highlights: Was a surprise during the preseason after going undrafted, and added some youth to the receiving corps. A talented route runner with a slight frame, Thompkins contributed 32 catches and one of the most important touchdowns of the season in a thrilling win against the Saints. May not be a high-ceiling wide receiver, but a pleasant surprise this year.
Current contract runs through: 2015 season

Danny Amendola
Age: 28
2013 status: Played just more than 48 percent of offensive snaps, starting 6 of 12 games
2013 highlights: A Week 1 groin injury impacted Amendola all season and seems likely to require offseason surgery. That being said, he didn’t meet preseason expectations, though he did have exceptional moments highlighted by three 100-plus yard games. A better barometer of Amendola as a player will be discovered next year, assuming he stays healthy.
Current contract runs through: 2017 season

Aaron Dobson
Age: 22
2013 status: Fourth among wide receivers with 46.4 percent of offensive snaps played
2013 highlights: Had one of the better years among rookie Patriot wide receivers in recent memory, with 42 catches in 12 games. Offered unique size and a catch radius that played a part in the red zone. Looked like a difference maker before the first of his two foot injuries. A critical part of the development of the Patriots’ passing game going forward.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Josh Boyce
Age: 22
2013 highlights: Rookie fourth-round pick had nine catches for 121 yards, while also serving as part-time kick returner. Eventually landed on injured reserve with an ankle injury.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Austin Collie
Age: 28
2013 status: Played 113 snaps as he bounced back and forth from being on the roster.
2013 highlights: Made timely catches for the team in a limited role. Was released on two occasions and re-signed each time. Played well in AFC championship game. Reliable veteran who quickly picked up the system.
Current contract runs through: Free agent

Matthew Slater
Age: 28
2013 status: Totaled 15 offensive snaps but was a top special teams coverage player, earning Pro Bowl honors.
2013 highlights: Captained and once again led the Patriots as a special teamer. Impacts the game as a coverage player on the punt and kickoff teams. Locker room leader too.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

POSITIONAL NEED: One postseason narrative for the Patriots has been the need to add more weapons for Tom Brady. That’s true -- plus re-signing Julian Edelman -- but the development of young players is equally critical. Dobson has such intriguing raw skills, while Boyce is a precise route runner. If those two make the proverbial year one-to-year two stride, the outlook in the Patriots’ receiving corps could be much brighter. Amendola must be better next season, but we get the sense that the groin injury impacted him more than he would let it be known.

Patriots positional review: RB

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
5:00
AM ET
Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the Patriots running backs:

Ridley
Ridley
Stevan Ridley
Age: 24
2013 status: Led backs in snaps (28 percent), started 6 games.
2013 highlights: Ran for 773 yards and scored seven touchdowns, though his season will be in many ways remembered for a string of three straight games with a fumble that led to being inactive for a game. Ridley has the most pure running talent on the team, but he must overcome ball-security issues.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Shane Vereen
Age: 24
2013 status: Second among backs in snaps (24.3 percent), started 1 of 8 games active
2013 highlights: Missed 8 games because of a Week 1 wrist injury, but became a pass-catching force in his return. Had 47 catches during the regular season, establishing himself as a top pass-catching back in the role previously held by Danny Woodhead. Had some critical drops, but realized potential in third pro season.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

LeGarrette Blount
Age: 27
2013 status: Third among backs in snaps (23.3 percent), started 7 games
2013 highlights: Came on like a freight train late in the season, surpassing 300 total yards during the regular-season finale. A bruiser who bounced back after a disappointing 2012 season in Tampa Bay. Not always electric, but flashed big play explosiveness down the stretch. Had 8 rushing scores in last four games (playoffs included).
Current contract runs through: Free agent

Brandon Bolden
Age: 23
2013 status: Fourth among backs in snaps (23.2 percent), started 2 of 12 games played
2013 highlights: Was a part of the running back rotation during the middle of the season, playing a critical role in the Week 12 win against Denver. Made more pronounced impact on special teams as a core coverage player.
Current contract runs through: 2014

James Develin
Age: 25
2013 status: Played 25.8 percent of offensive snaps, starting 6 of 16 games at fullback
2013 highlights: A hammerhead who brought unique toughness to the offense this season and was roundly respected by his teammates. Made his contributions primarily as a lead blocker in two-back sets, though he also chipped in with a rushing touchdown against Houston.
Current contract runs through: 2014

Others on the roster: Jonas Gray, Sam McGuffie (RB/WR)

Positional need: New England’s approach at running back has often been by committee, and 2013 was no different. Vereen cemented himself as the go-to option when the team pressed the up-tempo button, while Ridley and Blount were more of the bellcow types. While Blount’s performance late in the season makes him a player of interest to bring back, NFL teams are becoming judicious in paying big bucks to backs because of their "replace-ability." That being said, bringing Blount back would solidify the depth at the position, with three quality starter types and Bolden as insurance.

Patriots positional review: QB

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
10:00
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With the 2013 season in our rearview mirror, the Patriots have quickly moved forward to preparing for next year, as was evidenced by Bill Belichick taking in practice Tuesday in Mobile, Ala., the site of the Senior Bowl.

But before we move full bore onto 2014, let's use 2013 as a springboard to identify areas of need for the Patriots, while also reviewing some pertinent highlights of last season.

We'll look at the roster by position, starting with the quarterbacks.

Brady
Tom Brady
Age: 36
2013 status: Starter
2013 highlights: Played every offensive snap for the first time in his career, throwing for 4,343 yards and 25 touchdowns. Endured a slow start to the season before a late tear that included 16 touchdown passes in a six-game stretch. Elected to Pro Bowl, though he has passed on playing.
Current contract runs through: 2017 season

Mallett
Ryan Mallett
Age: 25
2013 status: Backup
2013 highlights: Did not log a single snap this season.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Positional need: For the third time in four seasons, the Patriots carried just two quarterbacks on the active roster. That allows the team flexibility on the back end, while also serving as a sign of confidence in Mallett, a developing young player. While Mallett has reportedly generated interest as a trade chip in previous offseasons, our sense is this: The Patriots are always open for business (if the price is right), but aren't actively shopping Mallett. Given that he is due to be a free agent next offseason, the Patriots may look to add an arm to the pipeline, be it in the draft or otherwise. Brady continues to play at an extremely high level and though he'll be 37 by the start of next season, it's not time to ready a new starter. With a contract that runs for four more seasons, Brady has good football left in the tank.

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