By: Derek Havens
The 2013 NFL season has come to a close for the New England Patriots.
With another year in the books, it’s time to look back and grade each position. The grades are based on production, achievement level, expectation and overall performance.
Tom Brady lifted the Patriots to the AFC Championship Game, but the team’s offense was limited this season.
(USA TODAY Images)
Quarterback: A –
Analysis: The season ended on a disappointing note, but Tom Brady lifted a limited offense to greater heights throughout the year. Even more impressive, he did it with ligament damage in his throwing hand suffered back in October. Brady may be 36, but he hasn’t shown he’s ready to hang it up quite yet.
Running backs: B –
Analysis: Stevan Ridley’s fumbling woes continued to plague him, Shane Vereen missed a large chunk of the season to injury, Brandon Bolden was an afterthought, but LeGarrette Blount made Pats fans forget most of that with his late season performance. While the overall unit could have been better and more consistent, flashes of great play gave the offense a significant boost.
Wide Receivers: C –
Analysis: Julian Edelman proved doubters wrong — including myself — and was one of the most consistent players for the team all year. Rookie receivers Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce all showed promise, but were hampered by injuries and disappeared for stretches.
Danny Amendola’s struggle with an injured groin muscle hindered him the entire year, which weakened the unit as a whole. Austin Collie had a few key grabs and was a solid contributor in his role. Unfortunately we never really saw the full potential of the receivers. Changes could and should be coming.
Tight End: C
Analysis: Going into the season, tight end was expected to be a position of strength as New England had both Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Well, Gronkowski started and ended the season with injuries issues while Hernandez was released after being charged with murder.
Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan were left as the team’s options at tight end — talk about a drop off. While Hoomanawanui, Mulligan, James Develin — who played fullback as well — were serviceable, the position was invisible at times and left a huge void in the Pats offense. Expect the team to reload over the offseason.
Offensive Line: C +
Analysis: Despite the offensive line continuity, the unit struggled more than expected in 2013. Dante Scarnecchia did what he could, but players like Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly did not play as well as the previous year. Marcus Cannon stepped in admirably for Sebastian Vollmer, but overall the line was just slightly better than average on the year.
Defensive Line: B –
Analysis: Chander Jones and Rob Ninkovich stayed healthy all season, which was huge after both tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly ended the year on injured reserve. The pass rush was improved, but still lacked a killer instinct and was more quiet at the end of the season; a result of lack of depth and more attention by opponents.
Interior lineman Chris Jones, Joe Vellano and Sealver Siliga all made plays at some point, but the losses of two big-bodied veterans left a mark on the team that couldn’t be over-looked.
Linebackers: C +
Analysis: Similar to the defensive line, injuries hit the line-backing core hard during the season. The loss of defensive captain Jerod Mayo forced the team to give players like Dane Fletcher and Jamie Collins more snaps than originally expected.
Patriots safety Devin McCourty stabilized the back end of New England’s defense all year.
(USA TODAY Images)
Collins broke out towards the end of the year and seems poised for a staring role in 2014, while Dont’a Hightower had an up-and-down season leaving spectators wondering if he was worth his draft position. Even though Brandon Spikes will most likely leave in free agency, the line-backing core should be a strength next season.
Analysis: Aqib Talib started the year on a Defensive Player of the Year pace, but ended it on the sidelines watching the unit get picked apart by Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington had moments of greatness as well as their struggles throughout the year. Rookie Logan Ryan showed he could be a keeper after year’s of searching for quality defensive backs.
Safety Devin McCourty was very good throughout the year, keeping the secondary in position and maintaining stability of the back end. Steve Gregory and rookie Duron Harmon both flashed, but were nothing to write home about. Overall, the spot next to McCourty could — and should — be upgraded for next season.
Special Teams: A –
Analysis: The special teams unit was exceptional for the majority of the season. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski had a pro bowl year, punter Ryan Allen stepped in as a rookie and showed why he replaced Zoltan Mesko, as well as Matthew Slater leading the team’s strong coverage.
Long snapper Danny Aiken had a mediocre season. The return game is still lacking, which could be on the teams “want” list in the offseason.
Coaching: A –
Analysis: With all of the adversity on-and-off the field, this season was a testament to the coaching staff. Many argue this was head coach Bill Belichick’s finest season, after lifting a group of over-achieving players to the AFC Championship game.
Injuries put the coaching staff, especially coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, in a tough position, but the staff did a great job overall. Losing coaching assistants Dante Scarnecchia, Pepper Johnson and George Godsey may hurt the team, but expect Belichick to replenish his staff just as he’s done throughout his tenure in New England.
Final Thought: It’s hard not to be impressed with the job New England did this season. While it did not end with the Lombardi Trophy, the season was not a total failure.
There are some holes that need to be filled, but the Patriots are in good position moving forward. After year’s of overhaul, the roster has transformed into the second youngest team in the NFL and the team has stayed competitive — one of the hardest things to do in the modern sports era.
Wide receivers, tight end, offensive line, defensive line and secondary seem to be the most pressing needs — rank them in any order you’d like — but after New England has some big time players return from injury, they should once again find themselves in the mix for another championship run in 2014.
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