After the Patriots had an impressive pair of victories against the Steelers and the Colts, it's great to look back at all the players who have had a positive impact on the team. Some players were expected to play well- Quarterback Tom Brady, Nose Tackle Vince Wilfork and Inside Linebacker Jerod Mayo- but some players came into this season with little expectations. Which player has been the best surprise?
Kyle Arrington - Began the year as a special teams ace, but was not expected to be any better than #6 corner going into camp. And then Leigh Bodden was injured. Terrence Wheatley was injured. Jonathan Wilhite was Wilhite. Darius Butler played very poorly. All of a sudden, Arrington was the #2 corner and played pretty well.
Ron Brace - Entered the season with zero expectations, especially after failing the team physical conditioning test. Ty Warren gets injured and now Brace has been a pretty lock-down defensive end against the run.
Deion Branch - He entered the season as injured product; he's been injured ever since he left the Patriots and appeared past his prime. The Patriots traded away a 4th round pick for Branch, after only receiving a 3rd for an all world player in Randy Moss. He's returned to the offense and it looks like he hasn't missed a step.
Pat Chung - While Chung may not be a surprise, it's certainly surprising how positive of an impact he's had on the defense. He's become the enforcer and brings energy to the defense.
Dan Connolly - A back-up his whole career, Connolly was thrust into the starting left guard slot and exceeded most expectations. Now he's currently the starting right guard as Stephen Neal nurses an injury.
Alge Crumpler - The blocking All Star is now a captain of the offense. I don't think anyone was expecting anything, but he's been an extremely positive influence on the younger players and have performed at a high level as a blocker.
Jermaine Cunningham - Cunningham was made known to everyone as the head scratching second round pick. Who is this guy? Well, "this guy" has developed into the best outside linebacker on the team.
Brandon Deaderick - A 7th round pick, it wasn't even sure that Deaderick would make the practice squad, never mind the roster. Well, Deaderick's now a starter opposite of Brace. He's played very well against the run and has opened lanes for the inside linebackers to make tackles.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis - Entering camp as the 5th running back, behind Fred Taylor (injured), Laurence Maroney (traded), Kevin Faulk (injured) and Sammy Morris (houdini'd), there was little hope for BJGE. Well, he's become a solid runner for this offense and has helped keep the team balanced.
Rob Gronkowski - 2nd round pick with back injuries, it was unknown how Gronk would contribute. He's been a solid blocker and a solid receiver and improves every week.
Aaron Hernandez - A 4th round pot head. Oh boy. His role has decreased in recent weeks due to his case of the dropsies, but he's still one of the top receivers on the squad.
Devin McCourty - A lot of people were upset with this McCourty selection. Why take a cornerback when the team had so many other needs? Well, McCourty has been elevated to the #1 corner slot and has excelled.
Zoltan Mesko - Well, to be fair, we had no expectations for the punter position anyways. Mesko has become a reliable option at punter and has helped win a couple games with his leg. He's also a great holder who had to adjust to plenty of poor Jake Ingram snaps.
Brandon Spikes - He's too slow, right? Spikes has been a demon against the run and has been a solid contributor to the young defense.
Brandon Tate - He was coming off an injury and everyone had thoughts of Chad Jackson and Bethel Johnson running through their mind. Well, he's been a great special teamer and a pretty good deep threat as a receiver.
Danny Woodhead - The diamond in the rough. Snagged from the waiver wire after being released by the New York Jets, Woodhead has been one of the most reliable players on the Patriots offense. A huge running threat, a great chain mover as a receiver and the top blitz blocker, Woodhead is one of the most useful offensive players.
My selections after the jump!
5. Dan Connolly - Connolly has been one of the most solid linemen for the Patriots and has proven his versatility as a starter on both the left and right side. It was known that he was an average lineman as he was the top interior lineman backup last season, but it was a pleasant surprise when he stepped into the left guard spot as Logan Mankins was in contract dispute and the offense still operated at a high level and the run game excelled.
4. Ron Brace - He had no expectations. Everyone was ready to declare him a bust, but he continued to perform and is now outperforming is draft counterpart Myron Pryor. Brace has become a solid starter and has made the loss of Ty Warren almost forgettable.
3. BenJarvus Green-Ellis - I thought the season was over when the Patriots lost their top 3 running backs. No run game meant opposing defenses would just have to slow the offense and the Patriots wouldn't be able to perform. Enter BJGE who has beaten my expectations with a wooden stick and a lot of touchdowns. He has emerged as one of the top short yardage backs in the league, but has a nose for the end zone and a knack for not fumbling the ball. Maroney who?
2. Devin McCourty - McCourty was expected to be the #3 corner in training camp, behind Butler and Bodden. Now, it seems like Bodden might have to fight for the #1 spot. McCourty has been asked to cover receivers on an island and has done a pretty darn good job of it. He's let up some pretty bad rookie plays, but he's always rebounded with solid fundamentals. He's knocking away balls and picking off quarterbacks. He's stopping running backs and is a four down player who is a great player with a great future.
1. Danny Woodhead - Woody. Toy Story. Buzz. He's a monster. He cannot be seen and he cannot be tackled. He has eased the loss of Kevin Faulk and, to be honest, has allowed the Patriots move on from Faulk. When the Patriots snagged Woodhead off the waiver wire, I thought they were just going to milk him for information on the Jets. Man, he's proved me wrong. He seems like he'll be a franchise running back player in the mold of Brian Westbrook, as a player who can compliment any running back and is a multi-threat player. I hope the Patriots sign him to a long term deal as soon as possible.