Nov 11, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Jermaine Cunningham (96) celebrates a fumble recovery with defensive end Chandler Jones (95) during the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
(This is the fifth entry into a seven part series that will grade the players from the 2012 season).
Jones had a solid rookie season in 2012, finishing the year with six sacks and three forced fumbles. However stats don’t really tell the story on Jones because if you watched the games where he was healthy, you could really see him make an impact. Jones has a great burst off the line, and he has a knack for getting pressure on the opposing teams quarterback. This didn’t always end up in a sack, but it either allowed another Patriot to finish the job, or it forced a bad throw. I think that Jones has a ton of potential, and if he manages to stay healthy, he will blossom into a star.
Rob Ninkovich is the perfect type of Patriot in my mind. He is versatile, he seems to be very coachable, and he always says the right things when it comes to dealing with the media. He also has a lot of talent as a pass rusher, and he really helped the Patriots pass rush last season. Ninkovich also has a big “clutch gene”. He seems to always play his best in the biggest moments, and that is a great trait to have as a football player. He finished the year with eight sacks and five forced fumbles. I think that he provides the perfect complement to Chandler Jones, and I am expecting another solid season from him in 2013.
Stats can’t define Vince Wilfork’s game, and he is the best defensive tackle in the league as far as I’m concerned. He obviously has a massive frame, and he always demands double teams because of his ability to clog up the running lanes. This allows the linebackers of the Pats to come in and make some plays. Wilfork also can push the pocket in passing situations which allows the guys on the edge to finish off the sack. The way Wilfork plays his position he never really gets a lot of stats, but I think that he is the best defensive player on the Patriots, and one of the best in the league.
Love wasn’t a three down lineman last year for the Pats, but when he was on the field, he was very effective at clogging up the running lanes with Wilfork. Just like Wilfork, Love is a very big guy and he was one of the best in terms of stopping the run for New England. However his ability to help in the pass game wasn’t very good, and that is one of the reasons why he is no longer on the team. He was forced to come off the field in passing situations because of his inability to push the pocket. Having a player like this always has its drawbacks and Love now finds himself out of New England.
Francis brought a ton of energy to the field for New England towards the end of the season, and I loved seeing him play. He has room to grow as a pass rusher, but he has raw skills and a great love for the game. He came in on nickel and dime packages for the Pats, and showed some solid stuff. You rarely see a football player that played with as much energy as Francis did, and it really is quite refreshing.
Deaderick didn’t get much playing time in 2012 and because of that, he didn’t really give us a chance to evaluate him. Before this year he had showed some great potential, but he just fell off the map in 2012.
Before a four game suspension in the middle of the season it appeared that Cunningham was primed to have a breakout year. He was showing some major improvement as a pass rusher and I was really excited about his future. But because of some illegal substance issues, he fell off his pace and never really got back on track. He finished the year with 24 tackles and two and a half sacks.