The injury bug hit the New England Patriots worse than any other team in 2015 and led to the team's ultimate demise. When you ignore special teams players (props to Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, and Matthew Slater for playing in every game), only a handful of Patriots made it through the entire season.
Quarterback Tom Brady avoided a major injury in the season finale against the Dolphins. The defensive tackle tandem of Malcom Brown and Alan Branch grew over the course of the season. Cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan played every game, as did third safety Duron Harmon. Edge defender Rob Ninkovich is apparently made out of adamantium.
That's the entire list of Patriots that survived the full season. Seven players. Linebacker Jerod Mayo played all 16 regular season games, but was placed on the injured reserve after the Chiefs game in the divisional round.
When we look at the regular season, left tackle Nate Solder only played four games. Running back Dion Lewis only played seven. Center Bryan Stork played in eight. Wide receiver Julian Edelman played in nine. Linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower missed four games, each, as did running back LeGarrette Blount. Edge defender Jabaal Sheard missed three. The Patriots didn't have an offensive lineman start more than 13 games.
That also doesn't include the injuries suffered by Danny Amendola (missed two games) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (only missed one) that lingered into subsequent weeks.
But to limit the options, my question will relate to those that missed the most time. Of the four players that played fewer than 10 games, which do you think will have the biggest impact in 2016?
Left tackle Nate Solder
Solder wasn't great before his injury, but some attribute that to the revolving door at left guard and to the questionable coaching decisions by former line coach Dave DeGuglielmo. The return of coach Dante Scarnecchia should really benefit Solder, as should the growth of players like Shaq Mason and Josh Kline, and the introduction of new potential left guard talent like Joe Thuney and Jonathan Cooper.
Running back Dion Lewis
Lewis was a top ten running back before his ACL injury, but his injury could be the largest of these four players to overcome. He's a truly transcendent talent when on the field and Brady missed his ability to make yards out of nothing. Will he take extra time to return to full strength? Will he see a reduced role?
Center Bryan Stork
Stork was one of the players responsible for saving the offensive line in 2014, but a neck and head injury forced him out of the lineup for the first six weeks of the season. The coaching staff used him at every single position on the line over the course of the season, but some think Stork will be competing for his starting spot at center. Can he regain his rookie season form?
Wide receiver Julian Edelman
Edelman is one of Brady's favorite targets, but a foot injury ain't no joke. If healthy, he elevates the offense to new heights. If injured, he can become invisible and it won't get any easier for the 30 year old. The same questions about Lewis apply to Edelman; will he be ready for week 1? Will he take some time getting back in the swing of the offense?
Of these four players, who will have the biggest impact in 2016?