Ask anyone in the NFL which team has the greatest chance of winning the Super Bowl this coming year, and the Pat’s are in at least a top five discussion. A quick look at a team poised to put up incredible numbers offensively says that this team is stacked on that side of the ball. Now with obvious holes in the secondary, and a few question marks on the line defensively, the focus obviously comes down to New England’s ability to get off the field on third down.
Even all of the promise of a brilliantly coached team considered, a closer look at position battles, rookie starters, second year stand-outs, and some retirements makes this year one of the most interesting rebuilding years the Patriots, or the NFL for that matter, have ever seen.
The New England Patriots saw some very big pieces leave the field for good this offseason. Andre Carter might still be unsure, but the Patriots have started to move past that signing. Carter leaves a huge hole on the defensive side of the line, being the Patriot’s most valuable pass rusher last season, until an injury sidelined him against Denver.
Second, the strong offensive line of New England lost it’s biggest factor, Matt Light. The loss of Matt Light this offseason is a crushing blow to the style of offense New England is capable of running.
Without time in the pocket, deep threats like Brandon Lloyd and Chad Ochocinco will have a hard time putting up huge numbers (not that Ocho is even a lock for the roster at this point, but I’ll talk more about that later). Yes, the Patriots won’t be the least successful team up front, with the addition of Nate Solder in last year’s draft, but without Light, look for teams to increase pressure off the edge.
Next we have our first year players. For the sake of a secondary with more question marks than answers, the primary focus here is on the two first-round picks and the third. Jake Bequette, Chandler Jones, and Dont’a Hightower should make immediate impacts on the football field this next year, but to what extent?
Jake Bequette is a first round talent pass rusher, top five on most boards for his ability to get to the quarterback. Maybe a little rough around the edges in some aspects of his game, his raw ability at this point in his career has been linked to Jared Allen, which is pretty exciting. Hoping to see Jake in a few years tearing up Mark Sanchez seems to be Belichick’s plan, but for now he’ll scrap for time behind guys like Chandler Jones and Trevor Scott. The one thing about Jake that I can say is that he is a pure pass rusher, with no questions about moving to linebacker, which i actually like. With so many position changes happening this year its kind of refreshing to find a guy who knows his job.
The real question mark in my mind becomes Dont’a Hightower. Now his talent can’t be ignored, but how he fits in the system is interesting. He plays a lot like a Jerod Mayo, dominating the middle of the field, but with a more natural pass rushing ability.
Mayo is a for sure starter, proving himself again and again, year after year. Brandon Spikes seems to be gaining speed, improving on coverage and gaining the favor of the front office.
So where does a big time talent like Hightower fit in? If the Patriots move primarily to a 4-3, the linebacker position is completely up for grabs. Spikes can play the inside while Mayo and Hightower both make moves toward the edge for run support. In a 3-4, Hightower can play either inside or outside.
With Jones guaranteed solid playing time, it will be interesting to see what happens to other draft picks this year on the field.
Of 22 positions on both sides of the ball, I count 8 sure lock positions. The real, and most important question is at DB. Scratch that, the entire defensive backfield is a question mark.
There are literally no guaranteed starters at the position, including a strange pick in the second round at safety with Tavon Wilson. McCourty might move to safety, which isn’t very comforting considering he is our most solid CB. Ras-I Dowling can play safety or CB if he can just manage to stay healthy. Alfonzo Dennard might go to jail for five years… Do I need to continue? Our Secondary is a giant soup of players.
Next is the O-line. Light retiring opens up space for Solder to prove himself, but it is his job to lose. Center might be the most interesting move, as Koppen is healthy again but the starting job has moved onto Connolly’s shoulders. Connolly might be more needed at guard, but if he can prove himself at center he could start there.
Last but not least, the 3rd WR slot is completely up in the air. Instead of just telling you what i think, here is just a list of the possible candidates