The NFL scouting combine will begin Feb. 20 in Indianapolis to kick off preparations for the 2013 season.
After a legal tampering period from March 9-11 — which comes after the illegal tampering period during the combine — free agency will commence at 4 p.m. on March 12, and then attention will focus on the draft, April 25-27 in New York.
But before we get to all that, let’s continue our look back at the Patriots’ 2012 season to prepare for the future.
These are the individual player grades for all 53 players that finished on the roster, along with the 11 who finished on injured reserve.
The grades reflect the player’s performance relative to other NFL players at the position — and there is no curve for age or experience. Roughly, “A” players are the upper echelon at their position, “B’s” are for players who could start elsewhere in the league, “C’s” are for average players, and “D’s” are for those who performed below average.
Tom Brady: Still as good as ever, even if critics want to unfairly heap recent playoff losses on his shoulders. Brady completed 63 percent of his passes and had the lowest interception rate in the league, while keeping the Patriots out of bad plays with his audibles and checks. Grade: A.
Ryan Mallett: Completed just one of four passes (interception was a dropped pass) but appears to have tightened up his motion. Could be trade bait in offseason if price is right. Grade: Incomplete.
Stevan Ridley: Finished seventh in NFL with 1,263 yards and third with 12 touchdowns and 82 rushing first downs. Three fumbles lost and two drops show he has room to grow if he is to reach his potential as an all-around back. Grade: B-plus.
Danny Woodhead: After injury-plagued 2011, team managed him better to last the season. One of those cases where good things almost always happen when he’s involved. Unrestricted free agent in a tough spot with former second-round pick Shane Vereen having a similar skill set. Grade: B.
Shane Vereen: Injuries wiped out his rookie season, and it didn’t look as though he would be able to crack the lineup at the beginning of this season. But he finally got his chance against the Jets Oct. 21 (six carries, 49 yards) and settled into a platoon with Woodhead as the speed backs. Not the gutsiest of inside runners, Vereen is a very good receiver who got tongues wagging on his 33-yard touchdown catch against the Texans. Grade: C-minus.
Brandon Bolden: Went from undrafted free agent to backup to Ridley as inside runner with breakout 137-yard performance on 16 carries vs. Bills. Then was healthy scratch for two games before being suspended for using performance-enhancing substances. Never left the doghouse after that. Grade: D.
Jeff Demps: Knee injury landed him on injured reserve before season. Mistake not using “designated to return” spot on him. Grade: Incomplete.
Spencer Larsen: Knee injury put fullback on injured reserve in August. Grade: Incomplete.
Wes Welker: Finished second in NFL with 118 catches and eighth with 1,354 yards. Even returned 25 punts and three kickoffs. Durability is second to none as he played every game for second straight season. Still elite in one-on-one coverage. Has improved downfield receiving, though it’s not his forte. Led team with 13 drops, including a few in key spots. Key unrestricted free agent. Grade: A-minus.
Brandon Lloyd: Patriots finally got some decent production at their X position with Lloyd’s 74 catches for 911 yards and four touchdowns, but he gave next to nothing (2.6-yard average) after the catch; Deion Branch had 3.0. Had trouble getting on same page with Brady throughout season. Patriots have to decide on $3 million option bonus. Grade: C-plus.
Matthew Slater: Didn’t have a catch in 42 snaps, but continued to be terrific as the special teams captain. Pro Bowl selection for second straight year. He is unblockable on kick coverage. Grade: B.
Deion Branch: Only signed for 10 regular-season games and had 16 catches. Smarts and hands are still top-notch, but he can’t get open. Will be 34 in July. Unrestricted free agent whose career will last as long as Patriots want to have him around. Grade: D.
Kamar Aiken: Signed for final two games and played three snaps. Grade: Incomplete.
Julian Edelman: Looked to finally have a real role but injuries limited him to 7½ games — and availability counts. Great with the ball in his hands. Had five touchdowns, two on returns. Unrestricted free agent. Grade: C.
Donté Stallworth: Showed his speed on 63-yard touchdown against Texans before ankle injury. Team could have used him vs. Ravens. Grade: Incomplete.Continued...