It happens every year. Around this time, us bloggers get together and begin to target players that could potentially break out or take "the leap" from being good players to becoming great players. In this article, I will attempt to break down what players are potential "leap" and breakout candidates for the Patriots by breaking the players down into four groups, "Ready to Take the Leap," "Could Be Their Year"," "Don't Count Them Out," and "Make or Break." I opted not to include rookies in this article, for obvious reasons.
Ready to Take the Leap - These players have already found a niche for themselves on the team. They have shown solid, even at times great ability. These players are targeted as players who can make the final step in becoming team leaders, all-pro worthy players, etc.
Jerod Mayo, ILB: In 2008, Jerod Mayo showed greatness. In 2009, in just his second season, people expected him to become the heart and soul of the defense. However, a torn MCL suffered in the season opener held him back. In 2010, Mayo will likely be moving back to his more natural position of WILB (Spikes or McKenzie may start on the strong side). He will finally be healthy, and will have a year under his belt as a leader of this team. Jerod Mayo could very well make the "leap" and become an elite NFL player in 2010. Breakout Factor: 9.7
Brandon Meriweather, S: Brandon Meriweather has been steadily improving since his rookie season, when he couldn't catch a single interception that went his way. He has shown flashes of being an elite player at his position, with the potential to have the impact of an Ed Reed. In 2009, we saw those flashes. But we never really saw Meriweather put it all together on a week to week basis. Heading into 2010, I expect Meriweather to really focus on the mental aspect of his game. If he can make the right reads, and cut out the occasional bad angle he takes to the ball, Meriweather could become an elite player for the Patriots. I really love the attitude he brings to the field each and every game, an attitude that had been lacking in New England much of last season. I just can't wait to see when he puts it all together. Breakout Factor: 9.5
Very Well Could Be Their Year - These players are players that have shown flashes in the past, and are expected to step up their contributions in 2010. These players may already be good, but the pressure might not be there for them to be great yet.
Sebastian Vollmer: In just his second season, I truly contemplated placing Sebastian Vollmer in the "Ready to Take the Leap" category. That's how good his play was in 2009 as a rookie, whether it be on the right or left side. In 2010, expect Vollmer to take over the left or right side (I would put money on the right though) of the offensive line. And I wouldn't count out Vollmer becoming a great player in just his second season as a professional. Breakout Factor: 8.6
Julian Edelman, WR: Julian Edelman burst on to the scene in his first preseason game, catching five passes, returning a punt return touchdown and showing Welker-esque quickness. By the end of the year, Edelman was a primary target for quarterback Tom Brady. In 2010, the Patriots will be relying on Edelman to help replace the injured Wes Welker, and hopefully even provide more downfield speed and a more physical presence. While Edelman still isn't polished as a receiver just over a year after he began the transition from quarterback to receiver, 2010 could be the year he truly emerges as a top receiving threat for the Patriots. The expectations are certainly high for the new #11, although I doubt anyone can replace Wes Welker. Breakout Factor: 8.5
Darius Butler, CB: Yes, the Patriots drafted Devin McCourty, but the starting left cornerback spot is arguably his to lose. For a rookie, Darius Butler played pretty well in 2009. He played a fair amount of snaps (58.7%), and was pretty consistent. He also came up with three interceptions, and never seemed fazed, even when teams consistently targeted him. Butler could be a very solid starting cornerback with the Patriots for years to come (and I believe there really are three starting cornerbacks in today's league), and he would be a real nice asset for the Patriots if he could improve in 2010. Breakout Factor: 7.8
Pat Chung, SS: Patrick Chung will be a really interesting player to watch for the Patriots in 2010. While Chung showed some ability in 2009, he didn't really get onto the field as much as you would like for the team's top pick (less than 20% of total stops). Still, as I said, he did show some flashes (Tennessee game, Miami game, special teams). If he can become the communicator and leader that James Sanders is for the secondary, Pat Chung could make the leap into become a real solid starter for the Patriots this season. However, he really needs to get his head into the game to beat out a player as intelligent and hard working as James Sanders. Breakout Factor: 7.5
Rest of the "breakout" candidates after the jump!
They might not break out, but don't count them out - These players are guys who have shown some flashes but have been inconsistent, have been held back by injuries, or have just been floating under the radar. While there is a good chance they might not break out, they shouldn't be counted out headed into next season.
Laurence Maroney, RB: There was no way I could put Maroney into the "Very Well Could Be Their Season" category, because we have been waiting on Maroney to break out for the past three seasons. Still, there's no denying he COULD break out in 2010. With the age the Patriots have in their backfield, and Maroney's improved health, young age (just 25 with under 600 career carries), and hard work he showed last year, there is no possible way you can write Maroney off. Still, this is it for LoMo. Either he puts it together this year, or he's gone. Breakout Factor: 7.2
Mike Wright, DL: I'm in the group that believes Mike Wright should be the starting right defensive end for the Patriots in 2009. Unlike Gerard Warren and Damione Lewis, Wright has real experience playing the position. Also, like Richard Seymour, Wright can stay in and rush the passers on third downs. The question with Wright becomes, does he evolve into the next Jarvis Green as a full-time starter? Or can he hold down the defensive end spot and still do what he does best (make plays in the backfield)? Breakout Factor: 7.0
Myron Pryor, DT: You might be surprised to see Myron Pryor this high on my list, but if you saw Pryor in 2009, you shouldn't be. In 2009, Myron Pryor, a sixth round pick, carved out a niche for himself along the Patriots defensive line. He could come in during pass rush situations, play defensive tackle in four man situations, and even play end or nose tackle in the 3-4. For a rookie, he made a surprisingly high number of big plays. While I don't think he has the size for defensive end, he has a good chance to improve in 2010, see a higher number of snaps, and make more big plays. Breakout Factor: 6.9
Brandon Tate, WR: Brandon Tate missed nearly all of 2009 while recovering from a knee injury suffered at North Carolina. So he really is a wildcard. However, Tate reportedly put in some hard work, and has looked sharp in the early going. He has a great opportunity. If he can return to form, he has a chance to seize the #3 receiver spot, with Wes Welker recovering from injury. Right now, I'm only hearing good things. Breakout Factor: 6.8
Tyrone McKenzie, ILB: Tyrone McKenzie "missed" his entire rookie season due to a torn ACL suffered in rookie mini-camp last season. However, during his time away from the field, he was able to bulk up, and learn the playbook/scheme inside and out. So mentally, McKenzie is ready. And he will have an opportunity to compete with Gary Guyton and Brandon Spikes for time at inside linebacker. Breakout Factor: 6.4
Gary Guyton, ILB: Unfortunately for Gary Guyton, he doesn't quite match the personnel the Patriots need at inside linebacker. While Guyton had a very solid season starting for the Patriots in 2009, I don't think the Patriots will start Guyton at WILB in 2010, as they probably want Jerod Mayo moving back to that position. Still, Guyton will likely have a big role in sub-packages, and could possibly play a pinch at outside linebacker (or more than a pinch if the team runs a lot of the 4-3). When you have a player as skilled and as young as Guyton, it's hard to count them out.Breakout Factor: 6.0
Jonathan Wilhite, CB: I had Jonathan Wilhite on my breakout radar in 2009. While he showed some occasional flashes, he rarely made plays on the ball. He as tremendous athleticism, recovery speed, straight line speed, and even decent physicality. But he's got to make plays on the ball. With the Patriots are crowded at corner, Wilhite will probably fly under the radar at training camp, but I wouldn't be all too surprised to see him improve his game and become a solid cornerback in pass coverage situations next season. Breakout Factor: 5.9
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB: BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a tough in between the tackles runner who never hesitates hitting a hole. He is a hard worker who will most likely never be a great NFL player. Still, with his style of play, he could become a nice option for the Patriots, especially considering the age they have at running back. While Green-Ellis will be a restricted free agent after 2010, the Patriots may be looking at him as a future option at the position. I wouldn't be surprised if he saw increased snaps this season. Breakout Factor: 5.8
It's Make or Break Time - These are players who may be on the verge of being disappointments and/or have not lived up to their potential thus far. 2010 could be considered a "make or break" year for them. For some of these players, the pressure is high and it is "now or never."
Shawn Crable, OLB: Shawn Crable is the ultimate flirt. Blessed with tremendous size and athleticism for the outside linebacker position, Crable whose name even rhymes with former Patriots outside linebacker Mike Vrabel, teased us like no other in the 2008 preseason. He showed an ability to get to the passer, drop in coverage, and be an every down linebacker. But he never played in the regular season, and was eventually placed on injured reserve. So heading into 2009, we thought, "well maybe this is the year." However, Crable never saw the field past the first preseason game, landing on injured reserve again. Now in 2010, this is his last chance. He needs to stay healthy and be consistent. He's lucky to still have a spot on the team. Crable could easily be a camp casualty, but he could still actually surprise and has the potential to earn a starting spot. Breakout Factor: 5.5
Ron Brace, DL: It may be a shocker to see Ron Brace this low on my list, but he didn't show anything in 2009 to make me put him higher. When a second round pick hardly sees any snaps at a position that was deteriorated by injuries, it's saying something. His play in his limited snaps didn't suggest much either. I'm certainly not counting out Brace in the future, and I'm pretty sure he'll have a spot on the 53, but Brace really needs to show something in training camp and the preseason to show the coaching staff he's worth having around for the future. Breakout Factor: 5.3
Terrence Wheatley, CB: It's disappointing to see a second round pick in this group just over two years after he was drafted. But honestly, that is where we're at with Wheatley. He certainly isn't a lock to make the team, as Belichick won't keep him around just because he was a second round pick. He will have to compete with Jonathan Wilhite for playing time, and will have to show something on special teams, as Kyle Arrington may get a spot for his play in that facet of the game. With the potential Wheatley showed early in 2008, you have to think if he stays healthy he will have a shot. If he can't, he may be looking for a new team in September. Breakout Factor: 5.2
Matthew Slater, WR/S: Matthew Slater hasn't been the great kick returner the Patriots envisioned when they drafted him in the fifth round in 2008. While he has been solid on special teams, he's never developed into a threat at wide receiver, and I don't know if he ever will. With guys like Devin McCourty and Brandon Tate who can return kicks as well as cover them, Slater will have to show something in training camp to retain a spot with the Pats in 2010. Breakout Factor: 4.7