1. Devin McCourty

After a shortened off season due to the lockout, McCourty had a horrible start to the season getting burned by Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson. In fact, in many cases Kyle Arrington played better than McCourty.

In order for the Patriots to have a better defense, McCourty has to play smarter and overall just better.

2. Patrick Chung

Chung has the potential to be a Pro Bowl safety if he can stay healthy. Apparently, that is a big if, but if he does the safety position will be solidified.

3. Ras-I Dowling

Dowling was very hyped going into his rookie season. I thought he was the best corner in the draft. Like Chung, if Dowling can stay healthy he can be starting opposite of McCourty.

4. Nate Solder

Matt Light is retired and Solder will be thrown into the fire either at left or right tackle (depending on Sebastian Vollmer). Either way, Solder has big shoes to fill on the offensive line, not to mention dealing with the new AFC East pass rushers Mario Williams and Quinton Coples.

5. Chandler Jones

We all can agree the Pats have been missing a pass rush for the past few years. Andre Carter and Mark Anderson were good stopgaps last year, but Jones has the potential to be a Jason Pierre-Paul type player. If Jones can get anywhere near the 15 sacks his coach says, the pressure on the secondary will be a whole lot less.

6. Brandon Lloyd

The Pats offense has stalled in recent years in the playoffs. The receivers can’t separate from the corners and there is a lack of a deep threat. Lloyd will add the deep threat dynamic to the offense and much more.

7. Stevan Ridley

Stevan Ridley is has shown more than Shane Vereen and looks to be the starting running back going into next season (granted, Vereen was injured). I have high hopes that Ridley can build off of last year’s success and provide the Patriots with a top running game that will keep defenses honest.

8. Donta Hightower

Hightower brings impact, impact, and more impact plays to the defensive side of the ball. He can play all over the field and bring that next level to the linebacking core.

9. Kyle Love

After Vince Wilfork, the defense line drops off greatly in talent and ability. Love has to step up and play better against the run.

10. Steve Gregory

The safety position was horrible last year. Gregory is hopefully better than Sergio Brown and James Ihedigbo.

VN:F [1.9.11_1134]
Rating: 8.2/10 (6 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.11_1134]
Rating: +6 (from 6 votes)
The 10 Most Pivotal Players for 2012, 8.2 out of 10 based on 6 ratings