Tom Brady need not apply. We know that without Brady, a future hall of fame member, the Patriots would be a shell of themselves. He is without a doubt the face of the franchise and the steward of its fortunes, so we exclude him from our annual ranking of most important Patriots.
The Patriots are filled with talented players around Brady, and some are undoubtedly more important than others. Here’s my take on who those players are and how devastating their loss would be to the 2013 season. Next
10. Aqib Talib
A bigger, more talented, and more confident cornerback than the Patriots are accustomed to, Talib is pivotal to the team’s secondary, which finished a paltry 29th overall in pass defense last season.
Talib allows the team to leave him on an island at times, freeing up the secondary to focus on movement over the middle of the field or help elsewhere. Without Talib, Patriots safeties have to be more conscious of a larger field with average defenders spread throughout. Next
9. Ryan Wendell
The center proved last season that he is one of the Patriots’ most consistent players. He was on the field for 1,399 snaps out of a total of 1,408 offensive plays last season, showing his durability. He also graded highly as a run blocker, making him even more important to the team’s running game.
Without him, the team would be forced to deal with possibly inserting inexperienced backups. Next
8. Kenbrell Thompkins
Thompkins has leapfrogged rookies Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce as the team’s most consistent outside threat. He has the ability to create separation at the line with the speed (4.46 40-yard dash) to run right past defenders.
It will be an interesting season with Thompkins, who is wearing Brandon Lloyd and Chad Ochocinco Johnson’s former number 85. Next
7. Jerod Mayo
The six-year pro provides crucial stability for the Patriots’ linebacker group, playing 75 of 80 regular season games for the team since his rookie season in 2008. It only helps that he does it at a high level, finishing four of his first five seasons with more than 100 combined tackles.
Without Mayo, the team would have to turn to rookie linebacker Jamie Collins. Next
6. Rob Ninkovich
The team’s veteran linebacker turned defensive end has provided the most consistent pass rush. He has tallied 18.5 sacks over the past three seasons, the most for the Patriots in that time period.
It’s Ninkovich’s versatility that makes him such an important piece of the Patriots’ defensive plans. He switches back and forth from being a 4-3 defensive end to a stand-up 3-4 linebacker. He’s one player that doesn’t seem to come off the field.
5. Devin McCourty
McCourty will be the quarterback of the secondary. As one of Bill Belichick’s most trusted defensive players, he can make the necessary adjustments and calls for coverage. And much like the tail end of last season’s improved secondary play, having him at safety solidifies a rather average group.
The Patriots would suffer a significant drop in talent with McCourty out of the lineup at safety. Next
4. Chandler Jones
Jones, speedy and more experienced in his sophomore campaign, has the ability to be the premier sack specialist the Patriots have hoped for since Richard Seymour left after the 2008 season.
In 2012, Jones finished with six sacks and 45 combined tackles while being hobbled by ankle injuries in the latter half of the season. This year, he figures to be an every-down defensive end and the team’s primary source of pressure. He’d be tough to replace. Next
3. Rob Gronkowski
While Gronkowski may be recovering from back and forearm surgery, his presence still weighs heavily on the Patriots’ roster, giving the team freedom to release tight ends Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells. He is arguably the game’s best tight end when healthy and dominates the middle of the field with his size and catch radius.
Without Gronkowski, the Patriots lose a key cog in the middle of the field that defenses have to account for at all times. He’s also a stout blocker in the running game. Next
2. Danny Amendola
Three words: Wes Welker’s replacement. Amendola, as the team’s slot receiver, is a key portion of the team’s offensive machine, expected to replace the production and consistency of one of the league’s best receivers. At 27, he’s talented, speedy, and possibly shiftier in space than Welker.
Amendola, who has 196 career receptions for 1,726 yards, has the potential to be a dynamic force for the offense after quickly building a relationship with Tom Brady. Next
1. Vince Wilfork
If it all starts up front, it starts with Wilfork. The veteran defensive tackle and nose guard fills the holes on the line that no one else can manage, taking on blockers and fullbacks while allowing for teammates to swoop in and make plays. It’s his ability to be the defensive plug, a stopper of sorts, that makes him indispensable.
Wilfork, who shifts inside and outside depending on his need, can not be replaced on this team or any other. Back to the beginning
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