With final cuts out of the way, the 53 man roster now looks like this:
QB- Tom Brady #12, Brian Hoyer #8, Ryan Mallett #15 - Tom Brady is the starting QB of the Patriots and is the highest paid NFL player. Coming off a MVP season, expect Brady to get a prolific passer again in the NFL in 2011. Brian Hoyer will be the main backup on the team while Mallett will learn the system as quick as possible. Not much analysis needed here.
RB- BenJarvus Green-Ellis #42, Danny Woodhead #39, Stevan Ridley #22, Shane Vereen #29 - BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the starter and receive the most amount of carries. He will play most of the game on the early downs do to his running style of never getting stopped in the backfield and consistent 4 yard carries with occasional big plays. Not a flashy type runner, but effective in this system. Danny Woodhead is a scat-back type player who makes the sexy plays on offense. He can run outside both in the shotgun and in singleback formations. Give this guy space and he can light up an opposing defense with big runs or yards after the catch. He will valuable as the main 3rd down back. Stevan Ridley is there to give Green-Ellis some plays to rest because both backs are the same type player when running the football. Ridley is a decent pass catcher and is good at blitz pickup and could become the main back in a few years. Ridley is likely to be the team's #2 option at running back on any given down. Shane Vereen isn't really an established player yet in the system after playing the 2nd half of the last pre-season game, but also has decent skills. Vereen is one of the best players in open space and amazingly enough can bench 225 lbs 31 times. Vereen will likely try to take carries from Woodhead on 3rd down plays as he can catch and run like Kevin Faulk did in his early years with New England. This committee has plenty of youth in it and has a lot of potential as 3 of the 4 are starters for most teams (sorry Danny).
TE- Rob Gronkowski #87, Aaron Hernandez #81 - Belichick will likely have Alge Crumpler on speed dial in case he needs a TE on the roster in a pinch (a la Junior Seau). Since he isn't, this will only include the two stud pass catching Tight Ends. Starting with Rob Gronkowski- he is a special talent. He has a god-like combination size (6'6" 265 lbs), speed (4.7 40 in 2010 combine), and ability to catch the football (10 of 42 for TD). He can play at the line of scrimmage both as a blocker and route runner. With Brady as the Quarterback in New England for about the next 4 seasons, except Gronkowski to dominate. There isn't much of a drop off from Gronkowski to Aaron Hernandez. While Hernandez doesn't profile as any type of player, is an athlete period. Aaron Hernandez is on the depth chart at TE, but plays more like a slot receiver than a TE. He is fast and above average speed for a wide receiver and runs routes like a stud wide receiver. Hernandez makes plays- that's as simple as it needs to get.
WR- Wes Welker #83, Chad Ochocinco #85, Deion Branch #84, Taylor Price #17, Julian Edelman #11, Matthew Slater #18 - This position is loaded too. Starting off with the 5'9" Wes Welker, he is the game's best slot receiver. What he lacks in height, he excels at route running and determination. He has caught the most passes in the NFL since 2007 with 432 receptions. Welker can rarely burn a defender deep, but is a very reliable target in crucial situations. Chad Ochocinco is a good receiver for a 33-year old. He can run routes very well and has great hands. While at times can be a headache with Twitter and what Bill Belichick calls "MyFace"- Ochocinco can thrive with good QB play. Deion Branch has been the best receiver Brady had whose name isn't Randy Moss. Their great chemistry can date back to the 2002 season and although he didn't catch a single pass in pre-season, bet on Deion Branch being ready in Miami next week. Taylor Price played very well in his only pre-season game. He played so well to the point of where Tate is now working at the Citgo. He made a great TD grab against the Jags in Week 1 of pre-season. Price has great speed (4.41 40 at 2010 combine) and good size (6'0" 205 lbs) and can be very physical as a receiver. Julian Edelman could be the next Wes Welker in the offense in case Welker leaves after this season. Edelman runs a lot of short routes and has great agility and quickness. He is an option to use in gadget plays and end arounds. He is the main guy for returns due to the departure of Brandon Tate. Expect Edelman to get more snaps this year than last year with the Patriots only having 2 TE on the roster.
Starting line are the first 5 players listed. The main issue is the RG position after long stalwart Stephen Neal retired during the offseason. There are reports indicating that former Chiefs LG Brian Waters has signed with New England. On this fanpost, he will not be included for now. But the signing doesn't bode to well for the health of Connolly or Wendell- who are capable players in this system. Back to the starters, Matt Light is entering his 11th season as the LT and blindside protector of Brady. He has been beaten a few times on speed rushes, but that problem can be fixed if Ridley/Green-Ellis can aid him with the Freeneys and Harrisons of the world. Logan Mankins is a beast at LG, and the Patriots rewarded him with a 6yr/$51M contract during training camp. He has held up steady on almost every play in his career and is in his peak physical shape at 29 years old. Dan Koppen is getting up there in years- but for what he lacks in being able to stop behemoth nose tackles, he makes up for in football IQ and always being on the same page as BB and Brady. The right guard position has been discussed already. At RT, Sebastian Vollmer is a big body with plenty of skills. Vollmer is 27 and starting to enter his physical peak. He can play very well at both LT and RT and is a mauler for only 315 lbs. Nate Solder is the top backup at both tackle positions and could see the field as the 6th OL in a 3 TE set. Solder is 6'8" and 319 lbs with some of the best athleticism for an OL. He will eventually take over the LT position for Matt Light. Ryan Wendell is on the roster, but is currently dealing with injuries and could be inactive for the first couple of games. He played on the line when Connolly was injured or playing fullback. If Waters does take over at RG, then expect Connolly to be practicing at FB and kick returns (Most exciting play for a OL).
DL- Andre Carter #93, Albert Haynesworth #92, Vince Wilfork #75, Shaun Ellis #94, Jermaine Cunningham #96, Mark Anderson #95, Mike Wright #99, Myron Pyror #91, Kyle Love #74, Gerard Warren #98 - Andre Carter has impressed this pre-season and by the end of the Tampa game, had sealed up the RDE position. With two planets to his left in Haynesworth and Wilfork, expect Carter to have a productive season. Carter can play both 4-3 DE and 3-4 OLB, but prefers the 4-3 more. Haynesworth is big, but hates the 3-4- which BB has abandoned this year. If he can play like he did in 2008- Haynesworth will be a huge boost to the DL. Wilfork is one of the best run stoppers and can push the pocket back. The stats don't tell the story with Wilfork- but the way he is gameplanned does. Shaun Ellis will play as a Jumbo DE at 6'5" 285 lbs. He was constantly in Brady's face in the playoff game and looked good against the Giants, including a 7-yard sack of David Carr on 3rd & 5 to force a missed field goal attempt. Jermaine Cunningham will likely play snaps if BB doesn't want to use the Jumbo DE. Mark Anderson is the pass rush specialist on the team and will play a lot of 3rd and longs. As a rookie, he tallied 12.0 sacks in a similar role to what he has now. Mike Wright is essentially the backup to Ellis. At 6'4" 295 lbs, he can play the Jumbo DE to keep Ellis fresh. Wright can also kick it inside as a rushing DT in sub-packages. Kyle Love and Gerard Warren will be the backups to Wilfork and Haynesworth. Myron Pryor will be insurance, but will likely not dress for most games this season. With G Warren, the only concern for him is what # is he going to wear this season.
LB- Jerod Mayo #51, Brandon Spikes #55, Rob Ninkovich #50, Dane Fletcher #52, Gary Guyton #59, Tracy White #58, Jeff Tarpinian #53 - Mayo is a beast at LB, enough said. If Mayo can roam about the field using his good speed and instincts- this could be another breakout season (if 2 was not enough). Brandon Spikes can be somewhat of an enigma. When he is on the field, there is no mystery to what he can do. The problem is keeping him on the field. Rob Ninkovich is the starting Sam backer like he was in the 3-4. He can set the edge decently and will see a lot of snaps at the Line of scrimmage although he is a 4-3 LB. Dane Fletcher could push someone into a backup role once he is back on the field in 2-3 weeks. Due to injuries to Spikes and Fletcher, Guyton for now is the started at MLB. Guyton can be exposed at times, but has good speed and size for covering TE's and RB's. Tracy White and Jeff Tarpinian are expected to play mostly on special teams, but they can help out on the defense in a pinch. They both have good tackling form and do a decent job of reading plays.
CB- Devin McCourty #32, Leigh Bodden #23, Kyle Arrington #24, Ras-I Dowling #21, Darius Butler #28, Antwaun Molden #36 - Devin McCourty was an All Pro and Pro Bowler as a rookie. If he makes a year 2 jump, he can cement himself as one of the best CB's in the league. Leigh Bodden has plenty of height and if he can return to where he was in 2009, should be able to form a nice tandem with McCourty. Kyle Arrington is the main nickel CB and will play a lot of special teams. Bodden and Arrington can play both outside and inside. Ras-I Dowling is the team's 2nd round pick (#33 overall) and has length and speed. When healthy, he can stick to his man like glue and break up passes. He will play a lot of special teams but could see some time at RCB towards the end of the season. Darius Butler is on his last legs on the roster and could be cut if he doesn't perform like he did in 2009 where he had more good moments than bad. Antwaun Molden was picked up waivers last week and his chances of making the roster were good otherwise BB wouldn't have gotten him at all. Molden is the same size as Ras-I Dowling and looked good on a few plays against the Giants. Dowling and Molden could be safety projects in the future, but will be at cornerback for now.
S- Patrick Chung #25, Sergio Brown #31, Josh Barrett #30, James Ihedigbo #43 - Patrick Chung is the only proven player among this group. Chung can play in the box against the run and medium depth over the middle on passes. He can hit people hard and the right way. Sergio Brown look good on special teams and on defense. He will most likely be the starter at Free Safety since he had the most reps with the starters during pre-season and looked decent. Josh Barrett is an unknown since he spent 2009 on the Broncos practice squad and 2010 on IR. He and Ihedigbo will be on special teams and will try to push Brown and Chung for playing time.
ST- Danny Aiken #48, Zoltan Mesko #14, Stephen Gostkowski #3 - Aiken will be the long snapper unless he struggles like Jake Ingram did last year or Matt Katula did in pre-season. Aiken is a UDFA from UVA and was claimed off of the Buffalo Bills during final cutdowns. Zoltan Mesko is a great punter but can be inconsistent at times. His best punt in his career pinned the Ravens back inside their own 20 for a 65-yd punt. He also can shank a few punts and outkick his coverage. Stephen Gostkowski is one of the leagues best kickers as he is very accurate and can kick long distance. He is very reliable and is not yet Adam Vinatieri as he hasn't had a game-winning or game-tying FG attempt with less than 10 seconds left in the game in his career.Overall, this roster is much improved over the 2010 team. More weapons for Brady to throw to and the Patriots can use a multiple formation attack on offense and hurt opposing defenses in 3 different ways. The pass rush will most likely improve and could cause more sacks and turnovers. The secondary looks solid and although they won't record 25 INT next year- will be difficult to throw against. Concerns are the issue of the lack of depth at TE, OL, and DB. There are 2 TE (Solder #3 as a 6th OL), 8 OL (2 injured RG), and 3 safeties that have not been really battle tested. Bringing in a new long snapper after pre-season may be an issue early, but could get ironed out because the Patriots don't play until Monday night at Miami. I predict the roster will go 14-2 and win the #1 seed and go to the AFC Championship.
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