NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
I’m not big on giving out grades to rate how a player has performed to this point, especially since the season is only halfway over. But, with the Patriots bye week marking the halfway point of their season it is time to evaluate each player and the impact they’ve had on the team.
With a 5-3 record the Patriots have matched their 2011 mark through 8 games, but is this a more talented team? This is my take on each player on the Patriots roster and their performance during the first half of the 2012 season.
Tom Brady, QB – It’s been a typical start to the 2012 season for Tom Brady – 2,408 yards 16 touchdowns to 3 interceptions. Outside of one poor half vs. the Seahawks Brady has been great. Even though he has had to re-adjust to Josh McDaniels offense, changes and injuries to the offensive line and cope with the loss of TE Aaron Hernandez, he shows no signs of slowing down. If Brady continues on his current pace over the second half of the season he will be in the MVP discussion.
Ryan Mallett, QB - Mallett hasn’t played anywhere near enough to make any decisive evaluations, although he did get his first regular season playing time last week. The fact that the Patriots only kept two Quarterbacks on the roster and released Brian Hoyer over him, speaks to how the team feels about his potential going forward.
Stevan Ridley, RB - To this point in the reason Ridley has been the Patriots breakout star. Combining a decisive and powerful running style with good explosion through the hole, Ridley has been the type of feature back the Patriots have lacked since Corey Dillon. He is everything they expected Laurence Maroney to be. Ridley hasn’t been a factor in the passing game, which means he has to come off the field in two minute and spread situations, otherwise he is one his way to becoming a top ten NFL RB. Currently he is on pace for 1,432 yards, which would be the 4th best individual rushing season in Patriots history.
Shane Vereen, RB – Vereen hasn’t made as much of his opportunities as Ridley has and there is no question who the #1 back on the depth chart is. However, Vereen have begun to be integrated into the offense more and more the past couple weeks, espcially in no huddle and passing situations. Vereen brings a shiftier back who can catch the ball out of the backfield. Staying healthy is the key for Vereen and how he continues to develop is one of the things I am most anxious to watch in the second half.
Danny Woodhead, RB – After a down season last year, where his impact was minimal, Woodhead has shown himself to be a big part of the offensive attack. Woodhead is a situational player who is the preferred back in no huddle and spread situations. He has shown a penchant for picking up big chunks of yardage at a time. He’s a good pass catcher and can make people miss in the open field. I’m not a fan of him running between the tackles, although he can hide behind the bigger linemen and pick up positive yards. I would like to see more screens and creativity with Woodhead. As a kick returner he has continued to be a non-factor.
Brandon Bolden, RB – Each season the Patriots find an UDFA who makes an impact, Bolden is this year’s player. Averaging 5.4 ypc Bolden has shown the ability to be a productive NFL runner. Bolden was injured during the Seahawks game and hasn’t been seen since. While Bolden has been productive, he does have some question marks going forward. It’s clear Bolden perfers to off-tackle and looks to bounce most of his carries outside. He needs to do a better job of finding the hole, even when it’s a small one. If Bolden can become a better inside runner, he has potential. With everything being equal, I would prefer a backfield of Ridley/Vereen.
Michael Hoomanawanui, FB/TE - “Hoo man” has been used primarily as a blocker and as a tight end his blocking left a lot to be desired. When he was acquired it appeard to be a temporary move, however with no FB on the roster the Patriots have attempted to move him there and the results have been “better”. Overall he has not made much of an impact either way and is in danger of being released with Visanthe Shiancoe returns from the IR-DR list.
Rob Gronkowski, TE - Through 8 games in 2011 – 44-594-6. Through 8 games in 2012 – 43-580-7. His numbers are almost identical to his record breaking season, even though those numbers looked impossible to match. Gronkowski’s performance as a receiver is impressive but, he truly is one of the best blocking tight ends in football. The Patriots love running behind him and often he opens up large running lanes. When you take into account that this team has been without Hernandez most of the season, his overall performance is even more impressive than this point last year. Gronk has been banged up with back and ankle injuries over the first half, his health could be the key to this team going deep into the playoffs or not.
Aaron Hernandez, TE – Many analysts, including myself predicted a huge breakout season by Hernandez. That all went out the window when he badly sprained his ankle in the early moments of the Cardinals game. When he has been on the field he’s been a factor pulling in 17 receptions in 2 touchdowns in limited reps. Getting Hernandez healthy during the bye week and finding the proper way to feature him in the offense ALONG with Wes Welker is perhaps the most important thing this offense has to worry about the rest of the season.
Daniel Fells, TE – It took Fells along time to get onto the field due to a shin injury and while he has barely been a factor in the pass game his blocking as been very good. He was responsible for many of the giant running lanes vs. the Rams and looks fully healthy. I expected that he could offer a little more than he has as a pass catcher, but the loss of Hernandez has made him strickly a blocker and a good one.
Wes Welker, WR – The talk of his demise has been greatly exaggerated. Halfway through the year and he is right on pace for his typical productive season. I’m not sure what the issue was early in the season and I don’t care, when the team needs a big play they turn to Welker. He has had a few drops, but Welker lays his body on the line unlike any other player on the team. His touchdown numbers aren’t where they were last season, but no question about it Welker has been their best WR to this point in the season.
Brandon Lloyd, WR – Lloyd’s debut season with the Patriots has been a little uneven. On one had he has made some spectacular catches, mostly in tight coverage or against the sidelines. On the other hands he has dropped some catchable balls and hasn’t been able to get on the same page with Tom Brady on the deep passes. Many expected a Randy Moss type impact from Lloyd and that is a bit unfair. I have been a little surprised with how little separation he gets from defensive backs, and the fact that Brady seems to force feed him the ball at times which disrupts the offense. Lloyd found the endzone twice last week and it may be a sign of whats to come as Brady and Lloyd develop more IN GAME chemistry. More is expected of Lloyd in the second half and it needs to start with being more consistent.
Julian Edelman, WR – I just don’t have a good feeling when the Patriots try to get Julian Edelman the ball, nothing good seems to happen. Despite efforts to drastically increase his roll in the offesne early on, at the expense of Wes Welker, Edelman got hurt and his role in the offense has disappeared. Edelman’s greatest strength is his ability in the open field to make people miss and break tackles. This is why he is so successful as a punt returner and is good on screen passes. Besides that I don’t like the idea of Edelman as one of the go to guys on offense. Edelman has proven that he can’t stay healthy for extended periods of time as well.
Deion Branch, WR – Branch was cut at the end of training camp, but brought back after a few games to the delight of Patriots fans. However, it’s pretty clear Branch is close to finished. He can’t create any separation what-so-ever and is really just a one of two route WR. His chemistry with Tom Brady and in the locker room alone is worth a roster spot, but his performance this season is a clear indication that the end is near for his football career.