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Traditional stats don't quite do Ridley justice. He ranked seventh in rushing yards, but only 15th in yards per attempt. Thankfully, Football Outsiders weights their stats based on opponent, and in those marks, Ridley ranked in the top 10 runners in defense-adjusted value on average, yards above replacement, and success rate.
As we all know in New England, though, a running back's duties go far beyond running the football. No one is going to confuse Ridley for Patriots legend Kevin Faulk, but according to Pro Football Focus, Ridley allowed just two pressures on 47 snaps in pass protection. He wasn't used in that role very often in 2012, but that could change now that Danny Woodhead is gone (43 snaps in pass protection, three pressures allowed).
On that note, Ridley could rank higher if he were more involved in the passing game. That's where Shane Vereen comes in. The Patriots have always run a backfield by committee, and Ridley does more than his share.
On a side note, congrats to Frenz for landing his new gig at the Globe.
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(Eric) Wood might be higher on the list if he weren't so frequently subject to the injury report. He has not yet played a full 16-game season in his four-year career, and he has missed nine games over the past two years, including the final seven games in 2011.
When he has played, though, he's been superb. Quantifying offensive line play can be difficult, but according to Pro Football Focus (note: see graphic in Globe article), Wood allowed two quarterback hurries, one hit and no sacks in his nine games in 2011. He followed that up with another solid line of four hurries, three hits and two sacks in 14 games in 2012.
Let's not forget his contributions in the running game, where he has anchored a line that has ranked in the top five in yards per carry the past two years. Some of their most successful runs were behind Wood; the Bills earned 4.38 adjusted line yards on runs up the middle according to Football Outsiders.
Solder was penalized just four times all season, while playing at least 150 snaps more than any offensive tackle who had fewer penalties.
After starting 13 games at right tackle, Solder moved to the left in 2012. He anchored a line that allowed Tom Brady to be pressured on just 25 percent of his drop-backs, the second-lowest percentage in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus.
Solder himself was highly protective of Brady. He gave up just four sacks while playing the sixth-most pass-blocking snaps among offensive tackles. He allowed just five hurries, six hits and one sack in the team's final six games. He's also ultra-reliable, having played more total snaps in 2012 than any other offensive tackle.
Consider the competition he faced last season: Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, Bills defensive end Mario Williams, Colts outside linebacker Dwight Freeney, Texans defensive end Antonio Smith and others.
(Randy) Starks' ability to get pressure up the middle has allowed him to be a key component in the Dolphins defense despite several scheme changes. He has lined up as a 3- or 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4 front, and as a defensive tackle in a 4-3.
The Dolphins had a stingy run defense last year, ranking 10th in giving up just a hair over four yards per carry, but Starks' main contributions came as a pass-rusher. He has nine sacks from the defensive tackle position over the past two years, which puts him eighth in the NFL. His 21 quarterback hurries ranked him among the top 10 defensive tackles in the NFL, and his 11 quarterback hits ranked him in the top five according to Pro Football Focus. He also showed great discipline, and was flagged for just one penalty in 2012.
He is seen as less stout against the run (six missed tackles in 2012), and if he were better in that area, he might rank higher here. He still remains one of the more productive pass-rushing defensive tackles in the game.
Tannehill is the only second-year player on the list, but why? By every standard metric, he was not a good quarterback in 2012 (6.8 yards per pass attempt, 76.1 passer rating, 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions).
As with most rookie quarterbacks, there were some rough outings for Tannehill, including two games with three interceptions. At times, though, Tannehill showed the poise of a veteran signal-caller. There were long stretches of formidable play; in fact, he went four games without throwing an interception twice during the 2012 season (Weeks 5 thru 8, Weeks 12 thru 15).
In at least one measure, he was one of the best in the league. When it came to throwing under pressure, only one quarterback had a higher accuracy percentage — Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (accuracy = (completions + drops) / attempts).
He looked more comfortable when the coaching staff opened things up for him and allowed him to use his legs. He'll get more opportunities with the ball in his hands in 2013, as well, since the coaching staff is reportedly adding more play-action elements to the offense. After adding an arsenal of new weaponry in Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson and Dustin Keller, the Dolphins offense could be headed for big things, but it'll be up to Tannehill to help them get there.
While PFF stats should be taken with a very large grain of salt, there is an interesting graphic in the article showing the accuracy percentage of several NFL quarterbacks when throwing under pressure from the 2012 season.
It's been an up-and-down start to Devin McCourty's three-year career, but 2012 was solid for McCourty no matter where he lined up.
According to Pro Football Focus, McCourty allowed 50.9 percent completions into his coverage, even better than his 2010 numbers. He played less at safety, and was targeted less, but in his limited body of work, he allowed six receptions and one touchdown on 15 targets while coming down with three interceptions.
There were moving parts all around McCourty. In addition to acquiring Aqib Talib, the Patriots moved Alfonzo Dennard to the outside and Kyle Arrington to the slot. Things changed for McCourty throughout the season, too, but one thing that didn't change was his level of play.
With a full offseason to work on his technique at safety, he could quickly develop into one of the top safeties in the league.
Again, PFF stats should be taken with a very large grain of salt, but one stat from the graphic in the article really jumped out: when McCourty was playing safety and balls were thrown his way the opponent's passer rating was just 35.6. Even if that is completely accurate, that is still a very impressive number.
Mike Wallace is the only player included in the list who was signed into the AFC East as a free-agent this offseason, but he is immediately one of the two most talented receivers in the division.
Wallace took the league by storm in his first two years. He averaged 20.3 yards per receptions, the second-highest average in NFL history for any player with over 90 catches in their first two years.
His burners have cooled off a bit of late, however, as he has averaged 14.9 yards per reception over the past two years. In 2012, he wasn't used to the best of his strengths. He matched his touchdown total from 2011, but averaged just 13.1 yards per reception.
Much was made throughout the year of Wallace's struggles catching the ball, and while six drops on 70 catchable passes is certainly worse than five drops on 80 catchable passes, his drop rate is three percentage points lower over the past two years than it was in the first two years of his career.
The Dolphins offense got a lot scarier when they added Wallace, but it will still be up to Ryan Tannehill to get him the ball.
Mario Williams got off to a tough start to the 2012 season, and racked up just 3.5 sacks in the first seven games of the season, including five games without a sack. A wrist injury was said to be the source behind his struggles, so it's no coincidence that he improved dramatically following wrist surgery. He logged seven sacks over the final nine games of the season, and although he was held without a sack in the final three games of the season, he logged 12 quarterback hurries and a hit in those games.
His 12 tackles for loss ranked him 14th in the NFL, and second in the AFC East according to Advanced NFL Stats.
Williams may not yet have proven himself worthy of the six-year, $96 million contract he signed last offseason, but he could see solid production at full health and in a new aggressive style of defense with Mike Pettine at the helm.
He's not a great blocker, but he is as a matchup nightmare in the passing game for opposing defenses. He's too big for most defensive backs, and too quick for most linebackers and safeties. Whether he's lining up tight to the line, in the slot, split out wide, or even in the backfield, the Patriots are able to get more out of him because they know how to get those mismatches. Hernandez's versatility to line up in so many spots and be an offensive weapon makes the Patriots tougher to defend.
He battled through an early high-ankle sprain last season, but 10 days between games seemed to help as he found stride after Thanksgiving. He had 32 receptions for 304 yards and three touchdowns in the final five regular season games. He added another 15 receptions for 168 yards in the playoffs.
There's a lot of uncertainty for the Patriots offense in 2013, but they could ride him to big things if he can stay healthy for 16 games for the first time in his career.
Logan Mankins is the only guard on the list, and it's not hard to understand why. He is the de facto leader for the Patriots offensive line, as their physical "enforcer" on the inside. The attitude and intensity he brings to the game is comparable to legendary Patriots guard John Hannah.
That's not the only area where he is comparable to "Hog" Hannah. Just like the Hall of Fame guard, Mankins is one of the better pulling guards in the league, which has allowed the Patriots to be successful on screens and runs to the outside.
It's hard to quantify offensive line play, but in 426 snaps in pass protection, Mankins allowed just 16 pressures, tied for ninth-fewest in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus.
One important aspect is the number of games played. Up until recently, Mankins was a mark of consistency. He didn't miss his first game due to injury until 2011, his seventh year in the NFL. Considering he reportedly played the 2011 season on a torn ACL, the fact that he missed one game that year should earn him some kind of medal for valor. He did, however, miss six games due to injury in 2012.
The Patriots lost guard Donald Thomas in free-agency this offseason, so Mankins' health could be even more vital than it has been in the past.