Everyone knows that the Patriots have a young team. The roster is littered with players who only have a few years in the league. These young players have been stepping up every week and have been essential to the team's success. How big of an impact have these players had? You decide.
1. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (3 years in the NFL), 4.4 yards/attempt, 6 Touchdowns, 27 first downs on 85 attempts
2. Danny Woodhead (3 years), 4.9 y/a, 3 Touchdowns, 14 receptions
These are two young players who are looking to get extensions at season's end. The Law Firm already has more 20+ yard runs this season (3) than any running back had last season. Woodhead has been a spark in the backfield, helping with blitz coverage, as well as being a fantastic draw option and outlet receiver. With veterans like Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk out with injuries and Sammy Morris not playing, these young backs have been asked to balance the Patriots offensive attack. When these players have solid offensive games, the Patriots offense manages to click on all cylinders and becomes a potent crew.
Find out more stats after the jump!
1. Aaron Hernandez (rookie), 29 receptions, 37 targets, 7 receptions for 20+ yards, 50% of yards are after the catch
3. Brandon Tate (2 years), 15 receptions, 8 first downs
7. Rob Gronkowski (rookie), 10 receptions, 3 Touchdowns, 6 first downs
Herndo has quickly emerged as one of Tom Brady's favorite targets and is good for 3-5 catches every game for 60 or so yards. He's a YAC machine and is in the running for top offensive rookie. Tate, the dynamic punt returner, has been asked to be a viable receiving target and has converted over half of the passes in his direction into first downs. Gronk, while assuming a smaller role in the receiving game, is still a big target in the red zone and is a crucial piece in the Patriots run game as a blocker.
With the trade of Randy Moss, and with Wes Welker and Deion Branch still not fully healthy, these young players will be asked to take on a larger role as receivers. As it stands, they're doing a fantastic job and they'll continue to improve.
1. Jerod Mayo (3 years), 86 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 pass defended
2. Pat Chung (2 years), 48 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 passes defended, 2 interceptions
3. Brandon Spikes (rookie), 39 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 pass defended
5. Devin McCourty (rookie), 31 tackles, 7 passes defended, 2 interceptions
6. Kyle Arrington (2 years), 31 tackles, 1 pass defended
13. Jermaine Cunningham (rookie), 17 tackles, 1 Sack, 4 TFL, 1 FF, 1 pass defended
These are 6 young players who are having a large impact on the defense- and I'm not including still young players like Brandon Meriweather, or unproven young players like Brandon Deaderick, Ron Brace or Darius Butler. Just look at those numbers. Mayo leads the league in tackles and has been a force against the run. Chung is a leading candidate for strong safety in Pro Bowl voting and has played like a star. Spikes has used his tremendous instincts to stop run plays all over the field.
McCourty has played like the #1 cornerback from his draft class and is on pace to post similar defensive numbers to last year's Leigh Bodden. Arrington has been a surprise as the #2 corner and has shown ability to cover vertical receivers. Cunningham leads the team in tackles for loss and has been a dominant player in all facets of the defensive game. These young players are the cornerstone of this defense and, surprise, they're only going to get better. Playing alongside a veteran like Vince Wilfork will only make this squad even more powerful.
Kick Returner - Brandon Tate: 25 returns, 28.9 yards/return, 2 Touchdowns
Punter - Zoltan Mesko: 25 punts, 40.6 Net Yards, 7 Punts in the 20, 10 Returned
Tate is #1 in the league with return average out of players with 25+ returns and is #1 in the league in returns for touchdowns. Compared to last year, no other player on the Patriots roster (apart from himself) averaged over 24.5 yards/return on kickoffs last season. That's an improvement of almost 4.5 yards/return, which helps the offense play in the open field, as opposed to having its back against the goal line.
Mesko ranks 3rd in the league in average net yards/punt, which is an incredible feat for the rookie. A rookie punter hasn't averaged over 40 net yards/punt since 2006, when the Seattle Seahawks's Ryan Plackenmeier and the New Orleans Saints Steve Weatherford averaged over 40. Mesko has been a massive improvement over Chris Hanson, who ranked 33rd in the league in net yards/punt last season.
It's great to see this young team playing so well. The #1 players in rushing, receiving, tackling, returning and punting are all in their first 3 seasons in the league- and these are just the stars; there are many other young players who have adopted role positions on this team.
Guess what? That means they're still getting better.