There may not be a more important position for the New England Patriots outside of Quarterback than the TE, with the Patriots ranking 2nd in receptions, and 1st in both yards and touchdowns coming from the position in 2014.
Those rankings are due in very large part thanks to Rob Gronkowski’s monster regular season where he was ranked #1 among all NFL TE in yards, average per catch, yards per game, receptions of twenty plus yards, first downs and touchdowns (NFL.com). The only stat Gronkowski didn’t come in first was receptions where he ranked 4th in the NFL. He is no question the best at his position in the league when healthy, and the Patriots success in 2015 will count on Gronk staying on the field throughout the regular and post season.
No doubt the question at the position is the second and third slots on the depth chart. New comer Scott Chandler looks to be #2 at the TE slot when the 2015 regular season starts and he is absolutely no stranger to the Pats Nation having played the team twice a year since 2011. Chandler was often a thorn in the side of the Patriots defense during those games accounting for 4TD’s and over 350yds in those 8 games (pro-football-reference.com). At 6-7 and 280lbs Scott will be another monster big man for Tom Brady to target down field and in the end zone.
The third slot may be a bit of a question mark. With veteran TE Michael Hoomanawanui, rookie big man out of Arkansas AJ Derby, and converted DE Jake Bequette making the move to the offensive position.
The “Hooman” had a significant drop in production last year catching only 3 passes with no scores and missing blocks all over the place allowing for the edge to get to Brady in the backfield.
AJ Derby was selected in the 6th round with the 202nd pick and has high upside as a TE in the NFL. He is fast for a big man running a 4.69 40yrd dash at the 2015 NFL combine with his only downside being that he had only one year at the position in Arkansas system. The lack of experience shouldn’t outweigh his ability to line up all over the field with speed and size.
Bill Belichick thinks Jake Bequette is “in good position to compete” for a spot at TE after swapping his DE position for the end on the offensive side of the ball. He does have some experience at the position playing TE in high school and his first year as a redshirt freshman at Arkansas.
My prediction TE depth- 1st Gronk, 2nd Chandler, 3rd Derby, reserve Bequette (Hoomanawanui gets cut for $1.38 million cap savings)
It’s a new year and a completely different secondary for the Patriots. Last year was amazing and no true Pats fan will ever forget it, but that was then and as Bill says we’re on to 2015. Forget about Revis, forget about Browner, time for the next men to step into place, do their job and lock down the aerial attack. Easier said than done when you lose the biggest physical corner in the league in Browner and arguably the best 1 on 1 shut down defender the league has seen over the last eight years since his start in the NFL. However this year’s secondary could be just as good if not even better.
The savior of Super Bowl XLIX Malcolm Butler made the single best play of his life but now he will be a starter and that’s a whole new ball game. As an undrafted free agent last year Butler was used scarcely in a loaded Patriot secondary appearing in 11 games and starting in just 1. Based on the few practices the Pats have had this year in OTA’s they have used Butler on Edelman, clueing us in that they see him as the lockdown corner of the roster. He will be asked to shut down the best WR of all Patriots 2015 opponents including Antonio Brown, Sammy Watkins, T.Y Hilton, and Dez Bryant and that’s just in the first five games. In the eyes of Pats Nation if he can single handedly win the biggest game with one play then he has the potential to fill the shoes of the 6x Pro Bowl CB Derrelle Revis.
The Patriots chose to roll the dice and let Brandon Browner test the free agent market, who ultimately signed with the Saints for a bigger payday than the Patriots were willing to give the penalty prone DB. Bradley Fletcher will more than likely get the CB2 position to start the 2015 year. The former Iowa Hawkeye and veteran of 6 full seasons with the Rams and Eagles has pulled down 8 interceptions in his career, with his best pick totals coming in 2010 when he pulled down 4 balls. Fletcher (28yrs old) is a solid CB poised for a breakthrough season with the defending champions.
Returning Safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung (each 27 yrs old) are entering their prime football years. These two men aim to secure the potential deep threat against the Patriots in 2015 and are the strongest, most reliable pieces that the New England secondary has. The hard hitting Chung has to improve his on-ball coverage skills and protect the over the top bombs that QB’s have know to be a vulnerability of Chung’s in the past. As well McCourty needs to lower his shoulder and put the pounding on opposing WR going over the middle and put that fear into their eyes. If these men can help teach each other the best parts of their game the safety duo have the potential to rival any other in the history of the NFL.
Possibly the biggest strength to this year’s Patriots secondary is the improved front seven. With key additions like Jabaal Sheard, rookie big man Malcom Brown and the healthy return of Jerod Mayo, youngster Dominique Easley, New England’s pass rush is sure to pick up tremendously. Also the improved play of Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins (all 25 yrs old) is sure to spell disaster for opposing offences all over the league. The best friend to this year’s Patriots secondary will be a strong presence in the backfield. This core of young studs and solid veteran leadership is sure to set the New England defense up for great success in 2015 and years to come.
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