1. Chandler Jones
I have already talked about Jones a great deal, but I wanted to give him a little more love today. I think we may have been underestimating Jones’ talent over the course of this offseason, focusing too much on the secondary, and not enough on the front seven. If Jones’ play against Carolina is any indication, he is going to have a monster year, which means the rest of the front line is going to play good as well. Jones has a ton of talent, and 2014 may be his breakout campaign.
2. Joe Vellano
With Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga sidelined with injuries, Vellano has taken advantage of the playing time opportunity, and in my opinion has played his way onto this roster. You need a lot of depth in the middle of the defense (as the Patriots now know all too well), and having Vellano alongside Jones and Siliga will really help bolster this Patriots run defense. Vellano led the Pats defensive lineman with 25 snaps against Carolina (as per Mike Reiss), and they were quality snaps as well. The defensive line will not be a weak-point for New England this season.
3. Logan Ryan
Coming into training camp, I believed Logan Ryan was in the running to be the third cornerback on the depth chart, and possibly start opposite Darrelle Revis while Brandon Browner served his four game suspension. But Ryan had only six snaps on Friday, which continued a trend of mediocre play this preseason. I am not implying that Ryan is a bad corner, far from it. Having him as a fourth or fifth corner is awesome for this Patriots defense. And in a few years, he may develop into one of the best corners in the game. However right now, it is clear that Alfonzo Dennard is the better player, and he will be third on the depth chart, and will start until Browner returns.
4. Steve Beauharnais
After two games of horrid play, Beauharnais stepped up against the Panthers. He was physical in the running game, and while he did get beat a few times in pass coverage, he stuck with it, and came up with a big interception in the third quarter. I don’t know if it will be enough to save his Patriots roster spot, but it shows he is not going down without a fight.
The Patriots were struck with a horrible case of the injury bug last season, losing a number of starters to season-ending injuries. But the regular season is nearly upon us, and the Patriots have (relatively) escaped any big injuries. Yes, Rob Gronkowski continues to work his way back from last year’s ACL tear, and there are a few guys who are nicked up here and there, but overall this is an incredibly healthy group. One of the most important goals of the preseason is to get through it healthy, and New England is on there way to doing just that.