[Chart last updated: 6/30/14… See update notes from 6/30/14]
• Not many people would tell you that Devin McCourty is elite, but at PFF we believe he is. Two years ago he was a solid cornerback for the Patriots but, amassing a +42.0 grade over the past two seasons, he has emerged as one of the best safeties in the league.
• Though defensive end Rob Ninkovich isn’t a great pass rusher, he excels against the run. In fact, last season, no 4-3 defensive end had a higher grade against the run than the former Purdue Boilermaker. That he isn’t great at getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks keeps him from being rated higher, but he’s still a handy defensive player to have around.
• Dan Connolly had been a pretty average player for the Patriots in recent years before 2013, but his play really dropped off last year, particularly as a pass blocker. His Pass Blocking Efficiency Rating was 45th out of the 59 guards with enough qualifying snaps, and his pass blocking grade the fourth lowest, leading you to question if he can recover back to the solid player he once was.
• Before the playoffs, linebacker Jamie Collins’ fairest rating would probably have been “Not Enough Information” but, after an impressive postseason, I feel confident enough that he is a good starter, and wouldn’t be shocked to see him go a step further during 2014. That playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts really was something to behold.
1. Backup Quarterback
Tom Brady is obviously the team’s starting quarterback heading into 2014, but the question of who backs him up remains. They drafted Ryan Mallett in the third round of the 2011 draft, but this year selected rookie Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round, bringing on board a potential quarterback of the future. There have been rumors that Mallett will be traded, though how likely that is remains cloudy, but if he’s still in New England, he’ll likely remain as Brady’s top backup in 2014.
The Patriots’ big splash in free agency was bringing in cornerback Darrelle Revis after he was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That wasn’t the only signing they made, however, with Brandon Browner also arriving and likely to start opposite Revis, with Kyle Arrington the most logical player to take the slot role. Don’t forget about Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan, though, with the duo combing to play 1,335 snaps during the 2013 regular season.
3. Wide Receiver
While they lack a true No. 1 wide receiver, the Patriots have five players who are likely to compete to be Brady’s favorite targets from the wide receiver position. Danny Amendola played well in 2013, but the problem for him continued to be staying healthy and getting on the field. Julian Edelman, stepping up in place of Wes Welker went on to have the best season of his career. Then you have second-year receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, both of whom showed flashes of talent if not consistency. Finally, the team added Brandon LaFell, the Carolina Panthers’ third leading receiver in 2013. That should add up to a healthy competition throughout the offseason, with the Patriots surely hoping one of the youngsters steps up in 2014.
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