Projected Lineups: New England Patriots

Steve Palazzolo has a look at the current state of the Patriots' lineup.

| 3 years ago
32-lineups-NE

Projected Lineups: New England Patriots


32-lineups-NEIt wasn’t a classic New England Patriots season as the offense took a step back early on before evolving into more of a running attack late in the season.  The defense appeared to be the strength of the team at the beginning of the season, but a string of injuries forced a slow decline that became exposed by the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship.

Despite the turmoil, New England won yet another AFC East championship on the strength of a number of dramatic comebacks. They’re still the division favorites heading into 2014, but they have some re-tooling to do throughout the roster.

Key:
–  Player markers are colored per class on a six-step ‘Poor’ to ‘High Quality’ scale based on their overall performance and the league’s elite are marked separately in blue.
–  Colored outlines suggest a potential change in class.
–  Underlined players will be 30+ years old for the 2014 season.
–  Red player names suggest injury risks.
–  Click on the image to enlarge.

Lineup NE

Roster Notes

–  One of the major stories of the Patriots’ 2013 season surrounded their tight ends and wide receivers as quarterback Tom Brady found himself throwing to a new cast of characters, including three rookie wide receivers. None of the rookies established themselves as steady threats, but Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins flashed some potential that could make them viable options in the future. Still, there are a number of question marks at wide receiver as well as tight end where only an injury-prone Rob Gronkowski resides.

–  While the offensive line has been relatively stable through the years, the Patriots showed some weakness on the interior this past season. Center Ryan Wendell was unable to build on a surprisingly solid 2012 and he hits the market as a free agent, while right guard Dan Connolly earns the orange marker after two consecutive years as the line’s weakest link. The tackle spots look good as Nate Solder continues to emerge as one of the league’s best young left tackles while Sebastian Vollmer may be the best right tackle in the league, though health concerns have crept up in the past couple years.

–  It was an interesting year on the defensive line for New England as starting defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly were both lost for the season by Week 5. That forced undrafted rookies Chris Jones and Joe Vellano to play quite a few snaps with less than stellar results, but it also helped uncover a potential hidden gem in Sealver Siliga who emerged as a quality run stuffer grading at +7.6 on 221 snaps. It was the complete opposite at defensive end where starters Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich played 1,142 and 1,114 snaps respectively, the top two totals ever tracked for defensive linemen since 2008.

–  Despite losing LB Brandon Spikes to free agency, Dont’a Hightower’s late emergence in the middle should have the Patriots feeling good about their linebacking corps heading into 2014. Jerod Mayo will return after missing most of 2013 while Jamie Collins flashed his potential in a Divisional Round gem of a +7.9 performance.

–  On the back end, Devin McCourty was our top rated safety at +18.7 and the season looked promising with CB Aqib Talib playing an outstanding six games before battling injuries for the rest of the season. New England has to debate his worth in free agency as they’re left with a solid, yet unspectacular group of cornerbacks.

2014 Cap Situation

Only eight teams have less money available than the Patriots who currently sit almost $4 million over the cap according to overthecap.com. It doesn’t appear that they’ll be major players in free agency, especially with looming decisions on Talib and WR Julian Edelman. A couple veteran cuts and/or restructures should open the necessary room, but it’s likely that we’ll see another year of the Patriots looking for free agent bargains later in the process.

Potential Casualties

The most obvious potential cuts are Wilfork and Connolly. Wilfork has been a staple in the New England defensive front as well as a top notch leader in the locker room, but with nearly $8 million of cap space opening up if he’s cut, something will have to be done in order to keep him in New England. Connolly would provide nearly $3 million of savings, so his -12.9 overall grade makes him a likely casualty.

Opportunities from the Roster

Prior to his playoff breakout, Collins would certainly make this list, but he already appears to be entrenched in the starting lineup for 2014. Assuming Vollmer bounces back and Connolly is let go, Marcus Cannon could make the move inside to Connolly’s right guard spot. Cannon graded at -1.9 overall on 578 snaps in 2013, most of which came at right tackle. At defensive tackle, Chris Jones and Vellano struggled for the most part in every-down roles, but they could emerge as valuable players in more of a rotation. Siliga should also be right in the mix for a starting spot depending on Wilfork’s status. Safety Duron Harmon posted a solid +1.2 grade on 431 snaps and he could become a viable replacement for SS Steve Gregory at some point.

 

Projected lineups by team:

ARZ ATL | BAL | BUF CAR CHI | CIN | CLE | DAL DEN DET
GB | HOU | IND | JAX | KC MIA MIN NE NO NYG NYJ
OAK PHI PIT STL SD | SF | SEA TB TEN WAS

 

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| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • Flying Elvii

    Over the cap? overthecap.com states $7,348,254 under. And why Mayo just solid? should be dark green or atleast the edges should be.

    • RandomOpinion

      PFF hasn’t really liked Mayo up until recently.

      Also, looking at the cap numbers, it looks like Sopoaga will get cut and Gostkowski might get renegotiated in addition to the moves Steve mentioned. That should give the Pats more than enough Cap room to work with.

  • twnick2014

    I feel like McCourty should have a blue outline, considering that he was the highest-graded safety this season (and an All-Pro). Also, I feel like Ninkovich, Mayo, and Hightower should all be light green with a dark green outline. Lastly, Gronkowski should have a red-colored name, considering his long list of injuries in the past 2 years.

    • Jack Casey

      I like what your saying. McCourty should be elite. Mayo should be dark green. I think Hightower should be light green with dark green outline. I also think Brady should have a blue outline.

    • Lelouch vi Britannia

      Gronk does have a red-colored name.

  • Mani Te’o

    I wonder how many people will eventually read this and vilify PFF for not putting Tom Brady as elite. Personally, I feel that PFF has earned the benefit of the doubt and wouldn’t do something like that unless they had a very good reason.

    • Scruggs

      I agree, but it does seem odd that they didn’t include a bullet point about Brady. In their Panthers analysis, they included a little bit explaining why they rated Cam Newton the way they did.

    • Thomas Holm

      Completely agree, but there should have been an explanation why a top 3 graded QB in 2011 and 2012 doesnt at least have a blue outline. I understand that he struggled early in the year and that his deep ball leaves something to be desired, but he still finished in the top 10 despite all that.

      I was also surprised McCourty didnt have a blue outline. The reason could be that his grade from week 1 to week 9 was + 17,9 and from week 11 to the championship game was +1,4.

      • Brian

        The Brady ranking is a little odd. Especially since they acknowledged that he had his best games of the season when he had his full cast of characters healthy. To say that Tom on the same level as Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger is odd. But After seeing all of these projected lineups I can say that they are partially based on grades and partially based on what the PFF staff thinks these players will be in the future.

    • Thomas James

      As Brian said the key to these are the “projected” of the lineup, which like any educated guess is an inexact art. Personally I feel Tom Brady has earned the benefit of the doubt to be considered elite after multiple Super Bowl wins and the highest winning percentage of the past decade, but apparently PFT doesn’t agree.

      • Thomas James

        I mean PFF, not PFT obviously. My bad.

    • Johnny Vicars

      Why have they earned anything? Saying Brady is not Elite is laughable….what the hell is elite then?

  • Ben

    Why is Josh Kline slotted at RG instead of Marcus Cannon? When injuries hit this year Cannon was the first to fill in at both RG and RT (though he ended up mostly at RT thanks to Vollmer’s injury). Also: Overthcap states the Pats are looking at 7m and change for 2014, where did the 4m number ocme from?

  • Frederik

    You truly don’t care about what kind of intagibles Brady brings to the table, he is most definitely elite! also mayo and Hightower should switch places. Vereen should be the starter.

  • Ben

    Also, you forgot to mention Isaac Sopoaga as a likely cap casualty. His 3.5m salary isn’t goign to fly for a guy that’s probably 8th on the DL depth chart (Wilfork > Kelly > Armstead/Siliga/Jones/Vellano > a cow wearing a Pat’s jersey >>> Sopoaga).

  • Ben Dover

    Coming from a steeler fan, how is tom brady not elite?

    • Flying Elvii

      Obviously because he doesnt throw flashy stats as peyton “BEST OFFENSE EVER (until the Superbowl )” manning….

      • Thomas James

        Haha, Peyton would call Brady elite too. I mean, they all golf together in the offseason and will be put in the Hall of Fame around the same time. 😛

      • joebuckster

        Oh, I see. When Peyton broke the Super Bowl record for receptions it was because he found the only man open on every play, despite them being extremely well covered (and under relentless pressure).. When Brady floundered in the AFCCG (actually the last 3 AFCCGs) he over/underthrew plays that would have changed the game (ie Edelman deep twice) and didn’t see totally open receivers. Manning is still an elite intermediate/deep/sideline/seam thrower. Brady throws the short pass well, that’s about it – but any QB can do that. You want to compare him to Manning and call him ‘elite’, that’s a legacy courtesy I’m sure he’d appreciate…

        • Johnny Vicars

          LMAO, now this was funny…..Manning broke a superbowl record…yes when the score was 38-0 seattle was celebrating on the sideline and Manning was dumping off passes that go for 3 yards over and over at the end of the game to break the record…..well earned right there. Also, Brady did not overthrow Edelman twice, Manning overthrew underthrew, hell he had a better time hitting players on the other team…You say Manning is an elite deep thrower? Is that a joke? Seattle players said after the game if Manning could throw a deep ball they would have ate seattle’s lunch…Mannings weak arm throwing ducks….If Manning was throwing to what Brady was throwing to, he would retire.

    • joebuckster

      Umm, because he’s just very good. That’s not the same as elite.

      • Johnny Vicars

        You are an idiot if you do not think Brady is elite, and it makes us all more stupid to read your posts.

  • Jack Casey

    May I ask how Devin McCourty graded as your highest ranked safety yet doesn’t get elite?

  • aussie

    Obviously written to create discussion. How Brady, McCourty and Mayo don’t have Blue on them is hilarious. Mayo was an all pro 2 years in a row before his injury. McCourty was by PFF’s own grades their highest rated safety. No argument needs to be made for Brady.

    The Chandler Jones grade is also pretty funny. Dan Connolly’s grade is spot on and you could even downgrade Gregory to orange as well.

    • Patriot Patrick

      This early attempt to analyze the Patriots roster is rubbish. I come to expect more from PFF than whatever review process allowed this fodder inside the gate. Go ahead and tell me to post my analysis instead of simply being this critical of the analysis above. 9 out of 10 fans who have already posted are correct – Brady is elite (grades and/or stats not required, just common football knowledge), Vereen should be the lead back on the depth chart (even though Blount would be my choice should he resign, at least on 1st and 2nd down), Cannon should be plugged in at RG, etc. But don’t worry Palazzolo, Joe Buckster will keep you company with his football ignorance.

  • Bryan

    Yeah I seriously question PFF’s “grading” system for this… Brady isnt elite? McCourty is their highest graded safety but isn’t elite either? Plus Hightower AND COLLINS are rated higher than Mayo?

    Can anyone explain this?

  • cmj

    Brady not being elite r u serious?
    He lost hernandez to jail gronk to an injury made edelman look like god and was throwing to an overrated amendola and three cardboard cutouts and was one win from super bowl
    So u r saying that BRady is like big be and rivers now that is funny
    Put Brees Manning and Rodgers on NE and know way thye get as far as brady
    Makes your site look pathetic

  • mike samuels

    ive always considered PFF really professional, but they just lost a whole lot of credibility when they ranked manning over brady. thats what little fan boys do. cause even though manning had killer stats last year, if you watch the games, there is no doubt that brady is so far above. manning doesnt even throw a spiral. ever. he dumps off little 3yd, 5yd, 7yd passes to his great receivers who make him look great. he didnt play any worse in the super bowl, but the SEA defense didnt let the DEN receivers get 10-15yds after the catch every time… manning has had top notch pass catchers and o line all his career. brady might have had great o lines more often than not, but average receivers… i said this before: put manning on the patriots and watch them go 3-13! sincerely, a ravens fan