The New England Patriots have acquired seven players via trades this season, but none have been as great as defensive tackle Akiem Hicks.
On August 11th, the Patriots traded 6th round linebacker Matthew Wells to the Bears for offensive guard Ryan Groy. Groy was released on September 4th.
On August 18th, the Patriots acquired tight end Asante Cleveland from the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for offensive lineman Jordan Devey. Cleveland spent most of the season on the practice squad.
On August 26th, the Patriots acquired tight end Michael Williams from the Detroit Lions. Williams has played the whole season as the team's #2 tight end and blocking specialist.
On September 1st, the Patriots acquired wide receiver Jalen Saunders from the New Orleans Saints, but the receiver was released on September 5th.
On September 17th, the Patriots acquired wide receiver Keshawn Martin from the Houston Texans. Martin has served as the team's #4 wide receiver for much of the season, before elevating to the #2 wide receiver due to injuries to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
On September 29th, the Patriots acquired linebacker Jonathan Bostic from the Chicago Bears. Bostic has been a key special teams player for much of the year.
On October 1st, the Patriots acquired defensive tackle Akiem Hicks from the New Orleans Saints in exchange for tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, who had lost his job to the aforementioned Michael Williams. Hicks has quickly become a key figure in the defensive tackle rotation.
Hicks might have been the last player added, but his impact has been the greatest over the course of the season. The 6'5, 325 lbs defender uses his frame to disrupt the rushing game and he uses his sheer strength to break down passing plays.
"I think he's kind of gotten better each week with the communication, the understanding of the game plan," head coach Bill Belichick said about Hicks. "We change things a little bit fairly regularly, so there is definitely an element of game planning and things we do specific to one team that don't necessarily carry over from the week before, so I think that's an adjustment for a lot of players that come in here. But he's done a good job, he works hard, he's certainly improved and gotten a lot better in all those areas."
Hicks is still growing into his role with the Patriots, but his talent has been showing up down the final stretch of the season. He gets more and more comfortable and disruptive and the idea of grouping him with fellow defensive tackle Malcom Brown and defensive ends Jabaal Sheard and Chandler Jones is especially tantalizing.
"I think he has versatility. He's played outside. He's played end, he's played out at five-technique and he's played all the way in to the zeros. For us we've played him more inside because that's where we want him to play, but could he play outside or have we ever put him out there?," Belichick said about Hicks. "Yeah, I'd say absolutely."
Hicks is set to be a free agent after this season, but if the Patriots can lock the 26-year-old up for a longer term contract to create a young core of Dominique Easley, Malcom Brown, and Hicks, the New England defense would be top tier for next five seasons.
On the other hand, if Hicks hits the open market he could fetch a contract that would allow the Patriots to recuperate a compensatory pick, likely in the 5th round range. If you could trade Hoomanawanui for a 2017 5th round pick, you'd take that trade every day.
Which acquisition has been your favorite?