Rating the Roster, Part 1
|01.13.10 at 1:23 am ET|
With the 2009 season in the rear-view mirror — and the Patriots facing a number of key personnel decisions — it seems like a good time to break down the current 53-man roster, taking a look at who might be the most valuable members of the franchise.
We arrived at this list by considering a combination of factors, including overall ability, positional versatility, expectations, contract situation and place on the depth chart. We also looked at what might be best described as intangibles — loosely defined as a mixture of clubhouse character and willingness to work. In all, it helped us determine the overall value of each player within the Patriots system. (The 53 players were taken straight from New England’s postseason media guide, the most up-to-date listing available. That means injured players such as Brandon Tate — who will make the 2010 roster — as well as practice squadders are not included for purposes of this exercise. We will, however, include Wes Welker as the exception to the rule.)
Today, it’s No. 53 through No. 26. Check back for the rest of the list Thursday.
53. Linebacker Eric Alexander: Someone has to be last on the list, and Alexander is in that spot. A special teamer, he also provides depth at linebacker.
52. Cornerback Terrence Wheatley: Few players have slipped down the depth chart as precipitously as Wheatley. As a rookie in 2008, he was starting by November. But he injured his wrist and has not been the same since. He was inactive an astounding 11 times in 2009 and is likely currently last on the depth chart among the cornerbacks on the roster.
51. Offensive lineman Ryan Wendell: The only reason he’s so low is because he’s had so little NFL experience — over the course of the season, he went back and forth between the 53-man roster and practice squad. (He played in two games in 2009.) Could be a part of a guard rotation in 2010 if Stephen Neal decides to retire.
50. Offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger: Like Wendell, the only reason he’s ranked this low is because he mostly gets an incomplete for the season — the rookie was inactive for 13 games in 2009. The organization is reportedly very high on him, and you have to figure he will have an opportunity to win the right guard spot in 2010 if Neal does leave.
49. Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite: A rough year for Wilhite, who started eight games at cornerback but had little success. Probably in the same boat as Wheatley.
48. Long snapper Jake Ingram: I know my “NFL Sunday” co-host Christian Fauria isn’t going to show him any love, but in his rookie season, Ingram was solid and dependable — not a single blown snap all year. The only reason he’s not higher is because he’s a long snapper.
47. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis: When called upon, Green-Ellis is a dependable presence who gives New England some depth at the running back spot. Depending on how the numbers ahead of him shake out (namely, whether or not Fred Taylor comes back), he could be a part of the team next season. Will likely be another preseason star in 2010.
46. Cornerback Darius Butler: A mostly passable year for the rookie defensive back. He struggled at times but also flashed some playmaking skills here and there. A returner in college, he might see some time there next season if the Patriots aren’t able to find a steady kick returner this offseason.
45. Offensive tackle Mark LeVoir: A spare tackle who was used mostly as an extra blocking tight end, LeVoir could be on the roster bubble next season — if Nick Kaczur is bumped down the depth chart because of Sebastian Vollmer’s presence, his playing time would suffer.
44. Defensive back Kyle Arrington: A special teams demon who should get his chance to see some snaps next season, Arrington was a multiple winner of the Practice Player of the Week belt.
43. Punter Chris Hanson: A free agent, Hanson was in the middle to bottom of every major punting category this season. Courtesy of Nuggetpalooza: The Patriots ended the season with the league’s worst punting average (39.0) and second-worst net average (34.1). Over the last four weeks of the regular season, New England’s net average was just 29.5 yards, a full three yards worse than any other team’s net average in that span. Their 39.0 gross average is the third worst by a Patriots team since 1989 (2002 and 2003 were worse than 2009). Look for a new punter in 2010.
42. Safety Pat Chung: Like Darius Butler, the second-round pick had a relatively good season, both in the secondary and on special teams, where he showed promise. However, Chung must take a leap forward in 2010 if he wants to avoid the same fate as some other young New England DBs of recent memory who played well as rookies but slipped in their second year in the league.
41. Linebacker Adalius Thomas: The relationship between coach Bill Belichick and the linebacker got off to a bad start when Thomas first joined the Pats before the 2007 season, and with a few exceptions (the end of the 2007 and start of 2008 season), has gotten worse in the three seasons he’s been here. Thomas already has said he does not expect to return in 2010, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Patriots haven’t already examined ways to rid themselves of his contract.
40. Running back Laurence Maroney: Where to start? He had many good performances this season, but because of a surprising proclivity to fumble, he ended the year deep in the doghouse — he had just six carries in the final three games of the season (including one in the playoff loss to Baltimore). After fumbling just once over the course of his first three years in New England, he had four (including two on the goal line) over the course of the 2009 season.
39. Outside linebacker/defensive end Derrick Burgess: When the Patriots traded a third- and fifth-round pick to Oakland for him, it was thought that New England had solved its pass-rushing conundrum. But Burgess was underwhelming at best this season, finishing with five sacks and never appearing comfortable in the Patriots system. A free agent, he likely has played his last game with New England.
38. Defensive lineman Ron Brace: No rookie slipped down the depth chart this year like Brace, who came into camp as a second-rounder who was expected to contribute and ended the season with seven healthy scratches next to his name. The offseason programs will be key for Brace, who could be fighting for a job in training camp if he doesn’t show enough between now and July.
37. Wide receiver/defensive back/kick returner Matthew Slater: Like Woods, Slater provides special teams support, but he also is clearly willing to do whatever it takes to stick on the roster. After Ellis Hobbs III was traded on draft day weekend, Slater became a regular kick returner in 2009, finishing second on the team with 24.5 yards per return. (He also took some snaps at wide receiver and has practiced with the defensive backs.) Signed through 2011, Slater is a pretty good value with his versatility and attitude.
36. Linebacker Rob Ninkovich: He is a veteran who filled in adequately on the outside at times this season. He’s a relatively good deal through 2011 and likely will be in the mix to provide depth outside and on special teams.
35. Linebacker Pierre Woods: An outside linebacker who has seen time as a starter the last two seasons, Michigan product provides his biggest value on special teams, where he is a consistent and steady performer. He’s best known as the guy who knocked the ball loose from Buffalo returner Leodis McKelvin in the season-opener to set up the Patriots’ game-winning touchdown.
34. Quarterback/wide receiver Isaiah Stanback: This is a key offseason for Stanback, who, if he progresses through the system, could figure into the mix as an offensive spare part, either as a possible second or third quarterback or as a possible fourth option at wide receiver.
33. Defensive end Jarvis Green: If 2009 was his last season in New England, it was a vaguely disappointing end to his eight-year career here. He never progressed from being the part-time pass-rusher he was a few years ago (he had 14 sacks combined in 2006 and 2007). When other defensive veterans left over the offseason, it provided Green with an opportunity as a leader and as a player, and he failed to seize either opportunity.
32. Cornerback Shawn Springs: A tough season for the veteran corner, who was dogged by injury problems and never really appeared to get into a groove until the end of the season, where he started the last four games. He signed a two-year deal before the start of the 2009 season and could get another shot in 2010.
31. Right tackle Nick Kaczur: He struggled at times this season, but based on the extension he signed during the 2009 season that will take him through 2010, he has some job security. However, he ended the 2009 season as an extra tackle, having been bumped down the depth chart by Vollmer. He might be forced to play somewhere else if Belichick decides to go with Matt Light and Vollmer at the tackle spots in 2010.
30. Linebacker Junior Seau: Hard to imagine that the veteran will be back again, but never say never, right? His on-field production wasn’t what it was a few years ago, but he had a lot of value when it came to off-the-field work — he was a veteran presence in the locker room with a fiery passion for the game that maybe rubbed off on some of the younger and more impressionable players. Plus, his welcome back press conference in October was the unquestioned highlight of the season for the media.
29. Tight end Benjamin Watson: The specter of unfulfilled expectations always will haunt Watson, who has done some amazing things since he’s been in New England but has been maddeningly inconsistent since he first arrived as a rookie before the 2004 season. A swell guy by all accounts who has a lot going for him, he likely has played his last game for the Patriots.
28. Running back Sammy Morris: The classy veteran is not what he used to be, but he was moved around a little this season (including a brief stint at fullback), and is a good locker room presence. He’s signed through 2010, and barring any major moves will be a part of the running back rotation next year.
27. Offensive lineman/fullback Dan Connolly: Connolly was asked to do many of the same things that Russ Hochstein did — play several roles along the line, as well as occasionally serve as a fullback. As a spot starter, he gave the Patriots a lot of good snaps this season, working at both guard positions and fullback. If he can recover fully from the ankle injury that dogged him at the end of the year, he should be able to do the same thing in 2010.
26. Defensive lineman Myron Pryor: He blew right past fellow rookie Ron Brace this season on the depth chart. This defensive tackle could be in line for a boost in playing time in 2010, depending on how the defensive line shakes out.
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