New England Patriots and Denver Broncos: Ranking The 30 Best Players

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David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Tier Four (10 points): Players 26-17.

26. Julian Edelman, Patriots

Hell of a 2013 season huh? You’d think after amassing over 1,000 yards receiving on 105 catches in 2013, he’d rank higher on the list. The truth is this, though: he’s not an elite NFL wide receiver–as evidenced by his having only one season of elite production. Let’s see if he can sustain production before we jump to the Wes Welker comparisons.

25. Rob Ninkovich, Patriots

The perennial ‘all-underrated,’ ‘bring-your-hard-hat’ Patriot defender. From practice squad place-kicker to starting linebacker/defensive-end, Ninkovich has been a fixture in the Patriot defense since joining the team. That said, I believe he’s a ‘good’ player that maximizes his abilities; and there’s nothing wrong with that.

24. Logan Mankins, Patriots

In my opinion, gone are the days of Mankins being considered an elite NFL player at his position. He didn’t have a great season in 2013. He didn’t have a great season in 2012. However, although he may no longer be elite, he’s still a ‘great’ player. He’s nasty, he’s a tone-setter, and at any time, he’s still capable of dominating. Here’s to hoping he returns to form in 2014.

23. Vince Wilfork, Patriots

*Remove “Mankins,” insert “Wilfork” in the above analysis.*

22. Brandon Browner, Patriots

Browner is undoubtedly a polarizing player. Some think he’s great, some think he’s average. I think he’s somewhere in between. If nothing else, he’s an elite corner in terms of physicality; that alone is enough to breathe life into a Patriot defense that, over the last few seasons, has been more bark and less bite in terms of physicality.

21. Wes Welker, Broncos

Fading in the rearview mirror are the days of elite Wes Welker production. I understand that Welker’s coming off a career-high 10 touchdown receptions during the 2013 regular season. However, He’s 33 years old, he’s small in stature, and he struggled with head injuries last season–not a good indicator of things to come.

20. Dont’a Hightower, Patriots

I’m a big fan of Hightower’s game: apparently, such sentiment lands me in the minority amongst Patriot fans. That should change in 2014, as Hightower should flourish with the return of Jerod Mayo to the lineup. Hightower is elite against the run. He’s versatile. He’s a great tackler. He’s a three down linebacker … why does he receive criticism again?

19. T.J. Ward, Broncos

T.J. Ward had an excellent 2013 season. Since coming into the league in 2010, though, he’s missed significant time with injuries, and character concerns have mounted. He’ll undoubtedly help remedy a Bronco defense that finished 2013 as the 27th ranked pass defense, but I’m not convinced his production will mirror expectations

18. Nate Solder, Patriots

Solder has steadily progressed since coming into the league back in 2011. Like Sebastian Vollmer, Solder is a big, athletic tackle; with legendary Patriot offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia retiring, it’ll be interesting to see if Solder continues to progress.

17. Louis Vasquez, Broncos

Vasquez didn’t allow a sack during the 2013 regular season en route to his first All-Pro selection. With Ryan Clady out, it’s a testament to Vasquez and the rest of the Broncos’ offensive line for playing at such a high level despite Clady’s absence from the lineup.