Give him an A. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
With a quarter of the season completed, it's time to look at the team and how well they've been performing. I've decided to go with the classic grading system in order to give the grades. In order to limit the grades, I only graded players who, according to Pro Football Focus, had around 50 or more snaps.
Tom Brady - A-; Brady has been one of the top quarterbacks in the game this season, but, due to his four interception game against Buffalo that heavily contributed to the loss, Brady can't get a full A grade. He still gets an A- for an outstanding first quarter.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis - B; BJGE has been quiet for the first quarter of the season, but has been a solid contributor. He most likely won't reach the 1,000 yard mark again, but he's filling his role as a committee back very well. The first couple of weeks, BJGE wasn't hitting the holes as hard as he could have, but he seemed to have found his stride against Oakland's weak run defense.
Stevan Ridley - A-; Ridley has burst onto the scene as a great performer. His three 20+ yard runs are the only such plays on the team and he shows a burst that is stronger than BJGE's and speed that is impressive. He should get more touches as the season progresses.
Danny Woodhead - B; Woody's been quiet this quarter and an ankle injury won't help him. Woodhead is the 2-minute drill running back, but the Patriots have been using BJGE as the blocking back more often. He remains a threat as a receiver, but Woody has yet to find his stride from last season.
Deion Branch - B; Branch was great the first couple of weeks, but his contributions have greatly decreased with the loss of Aaron Hernandez. Branch hasn't been receiving any looks or throws over the past few weeks, which greatly hurt his grade. That said, the return of Hernandez should do wonders for Branch's production, which implies that he still has great value as a receiver.
Chad Ochocinco - C+; 85 has been disappointing as a receiver if anyone was expecting him to perform as a #1 receiver. He has done well as a #3 receiver, though, and he's learning the play book. He's on course for a 400 yard receiving season, which isn't terrible for a depth receiver. The more he learns the playbook, the more he can help the team as the season progresses. Look for this grade to improve as the season wears on.
Wes Welker - A; What can be said about Welker? He's an iron man and he's playing the best football of his career. He's added a mid-range route to his receiving repertoire and that makes him all the more dangerous. He's on route to break almost all main receiving records.
Rob Gronkowski - A; Gronk has been phenomenal in the run blocking and in the receiving game. He has been extremely productive and has been Brady's #2 weapon all season. The return of Hernandez will only improve his production.
Aaron Hernandez - A; Hernandez's grade is based on two games of production, but that production speaks for itself. He's a dangerous receiver down the field and he's improved his blocking and has been utilized as an inline blocker to some success. Hopefully, the injury won't hurt his level of production.
Dan Connolly - B; Connolly has done a great job stepping up and replacing Dan Koppen at center. His value has paid for itself over the past couple of seasons as he's replaced Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, and Stephen Neal at all points. Yes, that means that Connolly is the interior line of the Patriots. His versatility is much appreciated, but he still remains as the weak link of the offensive line.
Matt Light - B+; Light has found his stride after two poor seasons. He's still allowing pressure, but he's doing just enough to keep Brady's backside clean. If he remains healthy, he should finish the year and, depending on the health of Sebastian Vollmer, he could return as a key player next season.
Logan Mankins - B+; Mankins hasn't been as dominant as he has been in the past, but the captain should find his stride. He's been lining up against some of the strongest players he'll face all season (the Bills interior line, the Chargers interior line, the Raiders interior line), and he's come out on top. Once he faces some weaker competition, hopefully the dominant Mankins will make an appearance.
Nate Solder - B+; Solder is a rookie and has surpassed all expectation. He's been great at right tackle and has proven his worth as a first round pick. The tackle position looks extremely bright for the Patriots.
Sebastian Vollmer - B+; Vollmer has only played a few snaps, but he looked solid. There was little drop off from Vollmer to Solder and the return of Vollmer will only benefit the team. Look for the line to improve with more continuity.
Brian Waters - A-; Waters has been the most impressive lineman, in my eyes. He's been dominant in both the running and passing game and has seamlessly switched from left guard to right guard. He joined the team late, but has absolutely earned his contract. Should he continue playing at this level, he should be able to guide red shirt rookie Marcus Cannon's transition into the NFL for a year or two.
Offensive Final Grade: A-; The offense has managed to post 30 points in every game this season, yet I'll only give them an A-. The team relied on Brady's arm for the first three games of the season, until the reliance came to bite them against the Bills. As soon as they started to use the running game against the Raiders, the offense seemed to find a balance. Of course, the offense "struggled" (for lack of a better term) against the Bills and the Raiders because the loss of Aaron Hernandez had a deep impact on the performance of other players. Hopefully, the return of Hernandez can bump this grade up to a solid A by midterms.
Albert Haynesworth - B+; Haynesworth's contributions to the team are similar to Aaron Hernandez's in the sense that Haynesworth played tremendously for two games, and sat out the next. Due to the rotational nature of the Patriots' defensive line, Haynesworth hasn't had the opportunity to be an every-down impact player like Hernandez. Hopefully his injury is healed and Haynesworth can become a more active and dominant player for the rest of the season.
Kyle Love - B; Love has been a solid rotational player for the Patriots as he develops to be a nose tackle. He doesn't do anything poorly and he's above average in a lot of ways. He's made big plays to allow other players to stop the run.
Myron Pryor - A-; This will be Pryor's only grade, but he had an extremely successful couple of games. Unfortunately, his season is over, but Pryor left his mark. Patriot Nation will await his return next season as he seems much more natural in the 4-3 defense.
Vince Wilfork - A-; Wilfork has been a stalwart. It took a couple games for Big Vince to adjust to the 4-3 and how to play off of the other defensive linemen, but he seems to have figured out how to excel. He does a great job at everything and he's developing into an intriguing defensive back. His value will only increase with the return of the interior pass rushers.
Mark Anderson - B; Anderson has been the only defensive end to generate consistent pressure and an astronomical amount of his snaps (95%) have been as a pass rusher. He hasn't been utilized as a run defender (his weakness), which hurts his grade, but he's been useful in the passing game.
Andre Carter - A-; Carter receives a top grade because he's been extremely valuable to the Patriots' defense. He's been extremely capable at stopping the run and setting the edge, he's been able to push the pocket and generate some pressure. The only thing missing is the sacks and more consistent pressure, and that will (hopefully) come with time.
Shaun Ellis - B; Ellis has been helpful at the defensive end position, but it seems that for every good play he makes, he's a non-factor or a negative impact on another. He has shown an ability to help stop the run, but he's also shown a lack of agility to take down the ball carrier and get into the backfield as a pass rusher. He needs to work on his consistency as a defender and limit his negative plays on defense.
Dane Fletcher - B; Fletcher seemed primed for a larger role in the preseason, but has yet to be released during the regular season. His grade comes from my opinion of poor utilization. He's a great linebacker who can stop the run, defend the pass, and rush the passer. He needs to be used more as a spy on the outlet receiver (normally a receiving running back) in order to see his value fully reached.
Gary Guyton - C-; Guyton has been very disappointing this season. He takes poor angles, makes poor tackles, has been out of place, and has just been beaten in every facet of the game. He's been beaten in the run game and he's been torched in the pass game. He is going to have a larger role due to the injury to Mayo, but Guyton shouldn't see the field as often as he does.
Jerod Mayo - A-; Mayo has done a quality job as a leader on the defense and he has definitely been making more plays and stops. However, he seemed to be limited in his role before his injury. Whether that is due to lack of trust in his fellow linebacker (Guyton), or some other reason, it just seemed that Mayo was having to overcompensate for some aspect of the defense and he couldn't focus his own job. Hopefully he can make a speedy recovery from his injury.
Rob Ninkovich - B+; Ninkovich has been extremely solid and his versatility has added a lot of value to the hybrid defense. He's improved against the run and he's been effective as a pass rusher. However, his usage as a pass defender has decreased as the coaches have opted to go with Guyton. While he's been solid, Ninkovich needs to have a larger impact when he's on the field.
Brandon Spikes - B; Spikes has returned from an injury and has resumed his role as a run defender. He may never be the complete linebacker, but he excels at making plays at the line. Look for Spikes' role to increase as the season continues and look for his energy to spark the rest of the defense. His grade is due to lack of ability in pass defense and his limited use.
Kyle Arrington - B+; Arrington has done well for himself this season. He started the season fourth on the depth chart, but injuries to Bodden and Dowling have forced Arrington to the starting line-up. He's played admirably and seems to have improved over last season. He leads the team in interceptions and passes defended, but Wilfork is sure to catch-up quickly. Arrington isn't a full time starter, but he's been very helpful on the field.
Leigh Bodden - B; Bodden isn't at the same spot he was before his injury. He will recover with time, but for now he hasn't been himself. He's still a solid player and he helped control Davone Bess against Miami, but he isn't physical enough to take on the larger slot receivers. Hopefully he will improve as the season takes away his rust.
Ras-I Dowling - A-; Dowling has been the surprise of the secondary. His physical style of play helped eliminate the big receivers on his side of the field and in the red zone. However, an injury sidelined him for a considerable amount of time. Hopefully he can pick up where he left off and continue to thrive.
Devin McCourty - B; McCourty has come down to earth from where he left last season. He was torched against Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson, and then was beaten by the Bills' receivers. However, the amount of yards he's allowed has decreased with each game and he's never really been out of location. Hopefully, he'll find his groove. Until then, though, his grade takes a hit.
Josh Barrett - B; Barrett started off the season, but has been benched due to poor play against the Dolphins and Chargers. While he wasn't a drop off from Brandon Meriweather, he definitely wasn't an improvement. Perhaps Barrett will get another chance, but he definitely struggled early on. That said, Barrett is the best cover safety on the roster, not named "Chung".
Sergio Brown - B-; Brown had high expectations due to his success last season, but when he took the starting spot away from Barrett, he didn't do much with it. Brown was taking poor angles from the safety spot and was struggling. Brown needs to learn the fundamentals before he takes the step forward.
Pat Chung - B+; Chung has been the heart of the secondary and he's a necessary piece. He brings a physicality to the secondary that has been missing. He's been solid in all phases of the game. Hopefully his health comes back and he can take another step forward.
James Ihedigbo - B; Ihedigbo plays primarily on special teams, but has seen time as a back-up safety. He's been solid in all phases of the game, but has thrived on special teams. However, injuries have forced him to play up in the depth chart, so hopefully he can emerge as a better defensive player if the opportunity shows up.
Defensive Final Grade: B; Some may be surprised by this seeming above average grade for one of the most statistically terrible defenses in the league. They allow a 48% conversion rate in 3rd down defense. They are last place in yards/game. They are in the bottom tier of the league in points allowed. Despite all of that, they are still forcing turnovers, they have been mostly successful eliminating the opposing team's main weapon, and they've had to overcome numerous injuries. They're a defense that's transitioning styles and is looking for an identity. Taking all that into account, they're allowing some of the lowest scoring rates per statistic in the league (ie: They're top 3 in points/yard allowed). They're giving up yards, but not giving up points. I still don't think this is a sustainable defense, but opposing offenses have only broken 25 points in 7 games out of the past 20 regular season games, and in the three losses (Bills, Browns, Jets), the offense has turned the ball over three or more times. No defense can overcome that.
Basically, the defense hasn't cost the team any games by playing terribly on their own. In all the losses, the offense has contributed with numerous turnovers. So maybe we should start believing in this defense?
Julian Edelman - A-; Edelman has been a star in the return game and has helped with great field position.
Stephen Gostkowski - A-; After missing a field goal early in the season, Gostkowski has been perfect. His kick-offs have forced opposing teams into the worst starting field position in the league.
Zoltan Mesko - A; Mesko has a cannon for a leg. He's a star. Enough said.
Matthew Slater - A-; Slater has not only helped in the return game as an elite defender, he's also provided additional support in blocking as a receiver on offense and as a deep threat.
Tracy White - A-; White is still a special teams ace, although he may see more time on the defensive side of the ball with Mayo out with an injury.
Incomplete (25-50 Snaps):
DE Jermaine Cunningham - Track for a D
DT Gerard Warren - Track for a B+
CB Antwaun Molden - Track for a C
Overall Team Grade: B+/A-; This team has yet to reach its full potential, but it has given fans plenty to be excited about for the rest of the season. Keep in mind that the Patriots are still no pace for a 12-4 season, which is still fantastic. Hopefully they keep growing as a team and keep winning, one game at a time.