We have hit a “dry spell” in the world of football, as there really is not much big news coming from teams in the NFL. However I don’t think this prevents us from being able to analyze different aspects of teams, and in this case the New England Patriots. I like to pinpoint certain players that are underrated but will be really important for the team to have success. Now, we all know that Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have to do well for the Pats to succeed, but there are a lot of players that may not be as well known that will have to produce for the Patriots to do well. Here are three guys that will have to play well for New England if the Pats want to have a successful 2013 season.
- Kyle Arrington
Kyle Arrington is a guy that has probably received more criticism in the last two years than any other Patriot player. However, I think he does not deserve a lot of this hate because he has been forced to play on the outside on far too many occasions, and that is not his best position on defense. Arrington is a very good slot corner, and that is where he belongs for the majority of the season. When he is moved to the outside, he immediately becomes one of the worst corners in football. However, when he gets to play on the inside, he is actually a very effective cornerback. The reason why Arrington has to play well in order for the Patriots to succeed is because of the talent that is surrounding him on defense. The Patriots have two solid corners on the outside in Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard, and the Pats have Devin McCourty and Adrian Wilson at safety. Those are four very talented players, and when opposing teams see that, they are immediately going to go after Arrington. We see this even with the Patriots own offense; they always go to the slot to find a matchup they like because more times than not, that nickel back is not as talented as the guys on the outside. If Arrington is able to continue the success he had on the inside in 2012, then the Patriots secondary will be very tough to throw against. If that happens, the Patriots may find themselves close to another Super Bowl.
- Jake Ballard
That’s right, Jake Ballard. Ballard may be a huge part of the New England attack in 2013, and he will have to step up for them. The reason he may play a big role next season is because of the unknown health of Rob Gronkowski. It was recently reported that Gronkowski is going to need a fourth surgery on his forearm and if everything goes right then he shouldn’t miss any time to start the season. But if there is still an infection in his arm, he will need a fifth surgery and he could be out for quite awhile. If this is the case, then Ballard is going to have to step up and help out tight end Aaron Hernandez carry the load for the Pats. The Patriots offense runs through their tight ends now even if Gronkowski is out. We saw this last year when Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui got a lot of playing time when Gronk was out in 2012. If Ballard is unable to produce for New England, then I think their offense will have to make significant adjustments. While I think they are definitely capable of doing this, you never want to change your offense in the middle of a season. Even if Gronkowski stays healthy and doesn’t miss any time, I think Ballard could bring a new dimension to this offense. The Patriots could unveil some three tight end sets that would create a ton of problems for defenses. Not only could the Patriots stuff the ball down the defense’s throat, but they can spread the defense out and pick them apart from there. No matter what happens with Gronk, I think that Ballard is going to have to have a productive season for New England helping their offense in the post Welker era.
- Shane Vereen
With dependable veteran Danny Woodhead leaving via free agency this offseason, a huge amount of pressure has now been dumped onto Shane Vereen. Woodhead was the guy that the Pats brought in on third down to make the big play, and Woodhead was very good at doing this. Now Vereen is going to have to show that he can do it too. I can’t count how many times during the 2012 season that Woodhead saved the Patriots; he always comes up with the biggest plays at the biggest times. There are times when Steven Ridley is unable to get the running game going, and Woodhead was right there to come into the game and make big plays, and in some cases those plays were the difference between a loss and a win. I have faith in Vereen, and he is actually a lot more talented than Woodhead. However, Vereen is very inexperienced and he is not used to getting a lot of playing time or having so much expectations heaped onto him. Woodhead and Vereen are both smaller, quicker backs that play the change of pace back in an offense. If Vereen can somehow become as dependable as Woodhead was, he will produce much more than Woodhead. However I don’t honestly think that Vereen will be nearly as clutch and dependable as Woodhead. It takes a lot to earn Tom Brady’s trust, and Danny Woodhead managed to do that. Hopefully Vereen will be able to do that as well because the change of pace back in a Brady-led offense is a very important cog in their machine.