(This is the fourth entry into a seven part series that will grade the players from the 2012 season).
Mayo had a phenomenal 2012 season, as he recorded 147 total tackles to go along with three sacks and four forced fumbles. Mayo is one of the best inside linebackers in the league and he proved it last season. Mayo has always been known for his ability to be a tackle machine, but throughout last season he showed he can be quite effective in pass coverage. The Patriots defense wasn’t very good in pass coverage last year, and the linebackers were a major cause of that, but in my opinion Mayo was one of the few guys that shined in this department in 2012. Mayo really has the complete package when it comes to being a linebacker in the NFL, and I think he will go down as one of the best linebackers in New England Patriots history.
When you think of hard hitting football players that currently play in the NFL, one of the first guys that come to mind should be Brandon Spikes. This guy was an absolute beast on the field last year and his specialty is delivering some bone shattering hits. He is a great run-stuffer that also brings a ton of energy to the field for the Pats defense. However, there is one major flaw in his game and that is his pass defense. There were a lot of times during the 2012 season that Spikes was beat by a tight end, or a running back for a big game. He just doesn’t have the speed or the agility to keep up with some of these offensive players. He finished 2012 with 97 total tackles, five forced fumbles and no interceptions. This perfectly illustrates what type of linebacker Spikes is. He is a guy that plays the run beautifully, but struggles mightily in pass coverage.
I’m going to be honest. When the Patriots moved up in the 2012 draft to select Hightower I was a little disappointed. The Patriots didn’t really have a big need at inside linebacker and I honestly didn’t think Hightower was a very special talent. Boy I was wrong. Hightower came right in and made an impact for the Patriots. He is built similarly to Brandon Spikes, because they are both great at stopping the run, but struggle in pass defense. However Hightower is a younger player, and I think he has a lot more potential than Spikes does. He is a big guy as he weighs 270 pounds, and he moves very well for that size. Hightower’s stats for 2012 don’t really jump off the page (60 total tackles and four sacks) but his impact on the Patriots defense doesn’t reflect well on the stat sheet. His ability to help shut down the opposing teams running game really helped Jerod Mayo as well as Brandon Spikes. But the guys it really helped was the guys in the trenches. I think that Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones, and Rob Ninkovich all were helped by the addition of Hightower and all of these guys should only get better as a group in 2013.
Rivera was really only a depth player in 2012, and he did not make much of an impact at all. I do think that the Patriots will keep him on the team in 2013 because he looks like a solid backup option.
Koutouvides was a great special teams player for the Patriots in 2012. He didn’t play much linebacker and the only real reason he is listed as a linebacker is for depth reasons. However his play on special teams was extremely solid for New England, and for that reason I think Belichick should replace him with Tim Tebow……(had to get a Tebow joke in there somewhere).