After the Patriots released defensive lineman Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick, the first thought that ran through my mind was “Tommy Kelly is going to have one hell of a year”. Kelly is now going to have a lot more playing time in 2013 with those two gone, and it really shows how much the Patriots coaching staff likes Kelly by having the confidence of releasing Love, and Deaderick.
Kyle Love was a key part to the Patriots defense in 2012 and his presence will be tough to replace for New England. However, it shows me a lot about Kelly that the Patriots would trust him to fulfill the absence of Love. Kelly had a down year in 2012 but in the two years before that he was a dominant force in this league. His strength is being able to provide a pass rushing presence from the inside for a defense, and this is something that Love was never able to bring to the Pats. If the Patriots are willing to let Kelly fill Love’s spot on the inside, then I think Kelly will be a very good run stopping presence as well. The reason that I think Kelly had such a down year in 2012 with Oakland is because I think that he was no longer in the right situation. He was getting ridiculously overpaid, and the Raiders are just an organization that don’t have much control (not to mention the fact that Raiders pretty much sucked). In New England, Kelly is going to have to work for his money and the locker room leadership here in New England is much better than it was in Oakland. Bill Belichick won’t take any crap from Kelly and if he doesn’t work hard and produce, then he probably will find himself without a job. Because of all of this, I think that Kelly will go back to that 2010 and 2011 player that dominated opposing teams. The Patriots rarely leave themselves in “a pickle” in terms of roster needs and talent, and that is the main reason why I think that Kelly will have a good year for the Pats.
The Patriots need a guy that can take some of the pressure off of Wilfork on the inside, and even before Love was released I thought that Kelly could be the guy to do that. Between the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Kelly had 14.5 sacks as an inside rusher. That is really incredible for a guy that lines up on the inside. What usually happens in a defense is the inside guys get a lot of attention and push the pocket, which opens up the sack opportunities for the guys on the outside. The fact that Kelly was able to rack up 14.5 sacks in those two years despite being on the inside really speaks to his pass rushing ability. The Patriots have plenty of talent along the defensive line, and with the emergence of rookie Chandler Jones and veteran Rob Ninkovich, Kelly should get plenty of one on one coverage in 2013. I expect a 7+ sack season from Kelly, and I think his impact will go beyond his sack numbers.