NEPD Editor: Doug Kyed
The 2012 NFL season is beckoning, the Patriots have cut their roster down to 53 players and there’s plenty of new additions. There’s only one thing left to do, compare this year’s team to last year’s Super Bowl runner ups.
Obviously the week 1 roster isn’t finalized for the Patriots, so all of this may become moot by early afternoon.
If the Week 1 2011 Patriots matched up against the Week 1 2012 Patriots, who gets the edge? Let’s take sides.
2011 Week 1: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett
2012: Brady, Mallett
This season, the Patriots decided to cut ties with backup and supposed trade bait Hoyer. Obviously he never had the value or the skills that some media outlets led us to believe since he still hasn’t signed on with a new team. Still, I liked Hoyer as a backup. He knew the offense and could be trusted on a play to play basis if Brady went down with a minor injury. I don’t chalk this up to addition by subtraction.
I would love to hear what Mike Lombardi has to say about Hoyer at this point, especially since the season is starting and he still doesn’t have a job.
2011 Week 1: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead
2012: Brandon Bolden, Ridley, Vereen, Woodhead, Lex Hilliard
The Patriots lost another dependable veteran here in the run game. I don’t believe that the Lawfirm would have been worth the money to lure him away from Cincinnati, but there was something to say about BJGE’s steady production and lack of fumbles. Still, it made no sense to keep Benny when the Pats had spent two high draft picks on RBs in the 2011 draft. I have complete confidence in the stable of Ridley, Woodhead, Vereen and Bolden, but losing Green-Ellis can not be considered a positive. I believe Ridley and Vereen will be improved from 2011, but until they prove it, I have to give the edge to the team with Green-Ellis.
The Patriots seem dead set on including a fullback in their plans this season and are, by my count, on their 7th signed FB (Lousaka Polite, Spencer Larsen, Tony Fiammetta, Eric Kettani, Kareem Huggins, James Develin, Lex Hilliard). Hilliard is the latest addition, and I expect him to last about as long as the rest of those guys.
2011 Week 1: Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, Chad Ochocinco, Taylor Price, Matthew Slater, Wes Welker
2012: Edelman, Brandon Lloyd, Greg Salas, Slater, Welker
The single comparison between Ochocinco and Lloyd should be enough to push this in 2012’s favor. Branch had lost a step last season and wasn’t the same player we had seen even in 2010. Obviously Branch could still come back, but even without him this 2012 group is strong. I’d take Salas over Taylor Price any day and Edelman looked like an improved player this preseason. Even without the possible additions of Branch or Jabar Gaffney, 2012 gets the edge here.
2011 Week 1: Dan Gronkowski, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez
2012: Daniel Fells, Gronkowski, Hernandez, Visanthe Shiancoe
This one’s not even close. Dan Gronkowski is a replaceable player and both Fells and Shiancoe are drastic improvements over him. Hernandez and the real Gronk are another year older and another year better. If last year was Gronk’s coming out party, this year may be Hernandez’s. Between his value as a WR, a TE and a RB, he may be the non-Brady offensive piece that makes the Patriots tick the most.
2011 Week 1: Dan Connolly, Dan Koppen, Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Brian Waters, Ryan Wendell
2012: Marcus Cannon, Connolly, Mankins, Nick McDonald, Solder, Donald Thomas, Vollmer, Wendell
With Waters still not reported and his status as uncertain as ever, the 2012 offensive line pales in comparison to the 2011 line. Light was still playing to a high level, Waters was an All-Pro and Mankins and Vollmer were starting the season healthy. This year we saw Solder struggle during preseason games, Mankins coming off ACL surgery, we don’t know what combination we’ll see at center and right guard (likely Wendell and Connolly respectively) and Vollmer’s back is a ticking time bomb. If there’s one area where the Pats have taken the biggest step back, this is it.
I’m still hoping to see Waters back at some point this season, but the longer he’s gone the more the hope is dwindling. In Bill Simmons’ B.S. Report podcast with Mike Lombardi today, Lombardi said that Waters decision is coming down to a family matter. His family lives in Dallas, and they can’t move to New England with him, so the commute may just be too hard to take on at this time. I thought this was all Waters not wanting to participate in training camp, but it actually seems much deeper than that.
2011 Week 1: Mark Anderson, Andre Carter, Jermaine Cunningham, Shaun Ellis, Albert Haynesworth, Kyle Love, Myron Pryor, Vince Wilfork, Mike Wright
2012: Jake Bequette, Ron Brace, Cunningham, Brandon Deaderick, Marcus Forston, Justin Francis, Chandler Jones, Love, Rob Ninkovich, Trevor Scott, Wilfork
This one’s close. The 2011 season saw great performances out of Anderson and Carter, but almost nothing from Cunningham, Ellis, Haynesworth, Pryor and Wright. This season, we have high hopes for Brace, Cunningham and Jones. The addition of Nink helps the 2012 squad, but other than that, we’d be going off unproven potential if we chose the 2012 team. I actually love this 2012 squad, but the 2011 line was great outside of the LDE spot of Ellis and Deaderick. That spot should definitely improve this year with Ninkovich taking that role, but until Jones proves he can be Carter of 2011 and Cunningham or Scott can prove they can be Anderson, 2011 gets the nod.
That being said, it’s definitely not out of the question for Cunnigham or Scott to produce the same way that Anderson did. If they can take on that third down role, then the difference in Ninkovich over Ellis and Deaderick may be great enough to make up for the loss the Pats get out of a rookie Jones compared to a healthy Andre Carter.
If any of the Pats starting DEs or LBs get hurt, I’d expect Andre Carter to be back.
2011 Week 1: A.J. Edds, Dane Fletcher, Gary Guyton, Jerod Mayo, Ninkovich, Brandon Spikes, Jeff Tarpinian, Tracy White
2012: Dont’a Hightower, Mayo, Mike Rivera, Spikes, White
Yikes, there’s a lot of fluff in that 2011 squad. Edds didn’t last long, Guyton was terrible and Tarpinian is on this season’s practice squad. Hightower was a major addition to this squad and while Ninkovich has left for the defensive line, he can still be considered depth at the position since an injury to Hightower, Mayo or Spikes would likely land him back at SLB with either Cunningham or Scott taking his role at LDE. There’s less depth on this year’s team, but I’ll take Hightower, Mayo, Spikes and Ninkovich as a reserve over Ninkovich, Mayo, Spikes and Fletcher.
2011 Week 1: Kyle Arrington, Josh Barrett, Leigh Bodden, Sergio Brown, Patrick Chung, Ras-I Dowling, James Ihedigo, Devin McCourty, Antwaun Molden
2012: Arrington, Chung, Marquice Cole, Alfonzo Dennard, Dowling, Nate Ebner, Steve Gregory, McCourty, Sterling Moore, Tavon Wilson
This is definitely the most changed group from 2011 to 2012. The Pats added Cole, Dennard, Ebner, Gregory, Moore and Wilson since week 1 of 2011 and all of those players will have a role on this year’s team. None of Barrett, Bodden, Brown, Ihedigbo or Molden will be missed over the new additions. While McCourty will be counted on to be the Patriots no. 1 cornerback and starting LCB, if he struggles like he did last year, there is far more depth behind him this year, which keeps him on a shorter leash.
2011 Week 1: Danny Aiken, Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko
2012: Aiken, Gostkowski, Mesko
The only squad that’s stayed exactly the same. Mesko looks better this year, I’ll give the edge to 2012.
2011 Week 1: Brace (PUP), Cannon (PUP), Christian Cox, Deaderick (PUP), Kevin Faulk (PUP), Kyle Hix, Kyle Lockett, Rich Ohrnberger
2012: Will Allen, Jake Ballard (PUP), Barrett, Jeff Demps, Tony Fiammetta, Dane Fletcher, Brad Herman, Kyle Hix, Spencer Larsen, Pryor (PUP), Jamey Richard, Waters, Markus Zusevics (PUP)
The Patriots can get Ballard, Pryor and Zusevics off the PUP this year, last year it was Brace, Cannon, Deaderick and Faulk. I like Pryor over Deaderick and Ballard over Faulk, but Brace and Cannon beat out Zusevics. I’ll call this one even.
2011 Week 1: Markell Carter, Eric Kettani, Matt Kopa, Aaron Lavarias, McDonald, Kerry Taylor, Ross Ventrone, Thomas Welch
2012: Thomas Austin, James Develin, Sam Kirkland, Kopa, Alex Silvestro, Tarpinian, Jeremiah Warren, Malcolm Williams
I don’t love the 2012 practice squad that the Pats have assembled, but it is merely the practice squad. I like Silvestro and Tarpinian, but I think there were better young offensive linemen than Warren on this team in the preseason. I’m not sure how long we can expect the Williams experiment to go on for, but I guess he’ll just be the defensive version of Matthew Slater on the practice squad. If Slater goes down, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Williams replace him. Since the 2011 squad had Nick McDonald and Ross Ventrone, I’ll give the edge to 2011.
Overall, the edge is split right down the middle with five for 2011 and five for 2012. Since the 2011 squad made the Super Bowl, I’d say that’s a pretty good sign. The 2012 squad has a lot more upside and a ton more youth than the 2011 squad did, which means anywhere that it said 2011 on this list could look silly in a few months.
Edge: We’ll see