Since we’re in the offseason, and therefore desperately need filler to keep the comments section from accumulating 3000 comments per post, I feel it would be a good time to put to paper my thoughts and feelings about this year’s roster. Most of this will be my personal opinion, some of it buoyed by stat tidbits from a website I know everyone hates, Profootballfocus.com. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll separate players that played less than 8 games into a separate category below the original list.
Because these take a long time to write, I’ll be doing one category every two days or so, until I’ve mapped out the entire roster.
To start, I’ll make everyone feel good (Or make everyone hate me) by listing the 10 players who I thought were the best on the team this year.
The Very Best:
1.) Nate Solder. I’ll show little love for the performance of the O-line this year, but Solder deserves what little love I have. Despite the number of sacks he gave up (12), he was an excellent pass blocker, giving up little else in the way of pressure on the year. Furthermore, he’s a beast in the run game, able to consistently blow D-ends off of the line and open up massive gaps. I’d argue most of his bad play came when he was dealing with concussion issues (Weeks 11 and 12), and outside of those games, he was consistently one of the best tackles in the game.
2.) Devin McCourty. He did play a bit worse in the 2nd half of the season, but his coverage was still a black hole. He wasn’t targeted often, and throughout the entire season, he gave up only 240 yards and 2 touchdowns. Thanks to him, the deep ball no longer makes me eat my fingers when it gets thrown against the Pats, and as a bonus, he can stop the run when he has to.
3.) Rob Ninkovich. Not a stellar pass rusher, but excellent in every other facet of the game, especially in stopping the run. A player that relies on effort and intelligence, he’s a match for physically superior tackles, often directing them into running lanes and preventing backs from hitting their holes. If he can’t move the tackle to where the back wants to go, he’ll just bypass the tackle entirely and make the stop. Truly a machine against the run.
4.) Tom Brady. His deep ball was lacking this year, at the worst times and in the worst ways. He also had some disastrous games (Namely against Cincy and the Jets). Despite all this, it’s pretty obvious that he was half the reason the team managed to get to the Conference Championship. He was still a machine on short and intermediate routes, and he was tougher than ever as a leader, mounting furious comebacks and keeping the offense working despite suffering from an extremely fluid cast of pass catchers and Ryan Wendell’s pass blocking.
5.) Julian Edelman. No one expected a season like this. Going from the bittest of bit part players, to a dynamic threat in every part of the passing game, Edelman is probably the most improved player on the roster. He was sure handed, a precise route runner able to carve up zone and man coverage alike, unstoppable in the 0-10 yard range. His YAC ability was ridiculous; unless the defender was right on him as he caught the ball, he’d juke a fool and pick up an extra 5. He was even open deep more than he should have been. His only failing was his low YPC, and that was a function of him being Brady’s only short range target during the first 8 weeks.
6.) Sebastian Vollmer. He played exactly 8 games, so he just makes the cut, and what a shame that he got injured. He was playing at an unreal level, giving up nothing in the passing game, shutting down the likes of Mo Wilkerson, Akiem Hicks, and Carlos Dunlap. In the run game, he was exactly what he’s always been, a mauler. Probably the best tackle in the game when he went down, he would have been a great asset down the line.
7.) Jamie Collins. As a Rookie, the slow start was pretty much expected. Up to week 12, he wasn’t really a factor in the Patriots defense. Past that point, he was probably the most well rounded LB. His athleticism kept him competitive in coverage, his speed made him an effective pass rusher, and he was a better run defender than his size would make him out to be. Even discounting the Divisional Playoff game (You shouldn’t, he made the Colts cry), he came on as a good linebacker, maybe a bit later than everyone hoped.
8.) LeGarrette Blount. Another late bloomer, he wasn’t much until the game against the Steelers, and until week 13, he basically amounted to a solid part of the Pats’ running back committee. After that point, he was Marshawn Lynch’s mini-me. His bruising running style ate defenses alive, and his performances against the Ravens and Colts were just sublime. A shame that he couldn’t get started against the Broncos.
(And now it gets hard.)
9.) Dont’a Hightower. I know this will not be a popular choice, because to be perfectly honest, he was pretty bad up until the Denver game. Slow and indecisive. Something clicked at that point, though. He started hitting running lanes like Spikes, and blowing plays up in the backfield. His coverage went from being a total liability to being pretty good. This ranking is mostly based on how excellent he became near the end of the season, which was more than enough to cover up his slow start.
10.) Logan Ryan. Cutting out his poor Conference Championship performance, Ryan was a machine in coverage. After Aqib Talib’s form disintegrated after injury, he was the best cover corner on the team. He was proficient in press coverage, able to jam WRs at the line and mess up their routes pretty consistently. Past the line, he was fluid and able to stick with his man. His ball skills seem nothing short of phenomenal, netting the most pass deflections and interceptions on the team in half a season’s worth of snaps. The one knock on him is that he gets lost in zone, but I’m pretty sure that the consensus is that zone schemes are garbage and shouldn’t be played anymore.
More to come in the near future.