#29) Steve Gregory, S – Signed a 3-year deal from San Diego and is projected to be one of the starting safeties this season. Gregory should be able to bring some stability and leadership to a position that was a revolving door last season.
#28) Dan Koppen, OC – Koppen returns from a season ending ankle injury after it looked like he played his last game in New England. He will be in a position battle from the get go with Dan Connolly.
#27) Jonathan Fanene, DE/DT – Fanene will provide the Patriots with a lineman capable of rushing the QB from the inside, an area they were poor at last year. Fanene is a high character player, who fits the Patriots system nicely.
#26) Danny Woodhead, RB – Has carved out a nice role for himself. Excels in the two minute offense and in no huddle situations. Very good catching the ball out of the backfield and an unquestioned worker. A nice weapon to have, but could be passed on the depth chart by Vereen.
#25) Ras-I Dowling, CB – Dowling is ranked here based on potential alone and what he showed last year in his 2 games as a starter. Dowling’s play will be a huge factor in how much the Patriots secondary improves from 2011.
#24) Zoltan Mesko, P – A punter #24! We saw first hand how important having a good punter was in the Super Bowl. Mesko is one of the best young punters in the league and provides the Patriots stability at the position.
#23) Dan Connolly, OG/OC – Has played admirably the over the past two season filling in when injuries occurred. Signed a 3-yr deal for pretty good money, which tells me Connolly will get plenty of playing time this season. Will battle Koppen for starting Center.
#22) Stevan Ridley, RB – Will be given every chance to become the #1 running back. Showed plenty of promise throughout last season to get excited. Not overly concerned about the fumbles, they will be fixed.
#21) Kyle Love, DT – Has been a great find. Developed into a reliable counterpart to Vince Wilfork. Massive and mobile for his size, Love showed the ability to collapse the pocket as well as run stuff late in the season.
#20) Jabar Gaffney, WR – Coming off a career best season in Washington, where he almost broke the 1000 yard barrier. Now he is back in New England with a legit QB, who he has great chemistry with. Big things are expected out of the #3 WR.
#19) Matthew Slater, ST – One of the best special teams players in the league. Doesn’t offer much on offense, but has taken over the “Larry Izzo” role and got rewarded with a contract extension for it.
#18) Kyle Arrington, CB – Tied for the NFL lead in interceptions last season with 7. Could move inside to slot CB, if Ras-I Dowling is healthy. Has been one of the steadiest defensive backs since being signed off the scrap heap three years ago.
#17) Rob Ninkovich, DE/OLB – Has become one of the Patriots best defenders. Plays a similar style to Mike Vrabel and has gotten better each year. Ninkovich is expected to play more defensive end this year and should be given more of a chance to pass rush.
#16) Dont’a Hightower, LB – Whispers are already leaking out of Foxboro, that this kid is the real deal. Tough, physical and versatile player who comes from a similar system at Alabama. Should have an immediate impact on the entire defense.
#15) Brian Waters, OG – Signed at the end of the summer and played flawlessly all season. Even though he is 35 he is one of the best guards in the league. Hasn’t been heard of at all in the off-season, but I expect him to play very well again this season.
#14) Brandon Spikes, ILB – When Spikes was healthy and on the field the Patriots defense was much better. Brings an attitude and physical presence to the Pats defense. If he’s healthy all season, he could be a Pro Bowl player.
#13) Patrick Chung, S – Like Spikes the Patriots defense was better when he was on the field. Like Spikes, he has struggled to stay healthy the past two seasons. A solid all-around safety could be even better this year.
#12) Sebastian Vollmer, OT- Was a 2nd team All-Pro in his second season, but battled injuries last year. With Matt Light retired, Vollmer has to remain healthy to anchor the right tackle position.
#11) Chandler Jones, DE – Might not have the immediate impact that Hightower does, but the ceiling is higher. The Patriots haven’t had a pass rushing prospect like Jones in along time. Look for the Pats to put him in situations to succeed early on.
#10) Devin McCourty, CB – The rookie year Devin McCourty would be much higher, but he fell off significantly last season. Struggled to play man to man defense. Talked about moving to safety, but he’s too important at CB. Has to play like he did as a rookie for the Patriots pass defense to improve.
#9) Brandon Lloyd, WR – The “big” off-season addition will add another dynamic to the Patriots offense. Gives the Patriots a legitimate outside threat and can stretch the field vertically, which is something the Patriots just couldn’t do last season. He will make it tough for opposing defenses to double one particular player on the Patriots offense. Lloyd is sure handed, a good route runner and already knows the offense.
#8) Nate Solder, OT- Only in his second year and first at LT, showed enough ability to be legitimately excited about his future. Has the footwork, size and athleticism to be an elite LT. Might encounter some growing pains this year, but he’s going to be a good one.
#7) Aaron Hernandez, TE – One of the most unique players in the league. A true match-up nightmare for opposing defenses. The sky is the limit for Hernandez who is just 22 year old. The most versatile player on the offense should have a monster season.
#6) Logan Mankins, OG – One of the best guards in the league. Plays with a mean streak and toughness that has to be respected. Tore his ACL late in the playoffs and played through it. The Patriots will take it slow with him through training camp, but he will be ready to go week one in Tennessee.
#5) Jerod Mayo, ILB – Has developed into one of the most prolific tacklers in the NFL and is the leader of the defense. Has sprained his MCL twice in the last three years, which has limited him. When he is fully healthy he’s one of the best LB in the league.
#4) Wes Welker, WR – Welker is the heart and soul of the Patriots passing game. He embodies everything the organization stands for and plays hard every play. Proved last year he can be more than just a “move the chains” WR. With the addition of Lloyd, Gaffney and the tight ends, Welker should face more single cover, making him more successful.
#3) Vince Wilfork, NT – He was an absolute beast in the AFC Championship game and played at an extremely high level all season. Was forced to play an absurd percentage of the plays last season and didn’t miss a beat. Wilfork is one of the truly irreplaceable players on the Patriots roster.
#2) Rob Gronkowski, TE – Coming off the best season by a tight end in NFL history. Just turned 23 years old and has already become a superstar in the league. Plays hard every single play and is an absolute physical freak. Anxious to see how he builds on last season’s success.
#1) Tom Brady, QB – Will turn 35 next week, but has shown no signs of slowing down. He has been given more weapons than ever and is poised for another record breaking season. It will be fun to watch Brady operate with such a cast of characters around him, including former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels calling plays for him again.