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

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Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Tier Three (15 points): Players 16-8.

16. Jerod Mayo, Patriots

Mayo was missed on defense last year. Underrated is his ability to manage the Patriot defense. Some point to his inability to make impact plays (four career interceptions, eight career forced fumbles), but he’s a tackling machine, he’s a former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and he’s a leader. He’ll be a welcome addition to the defense in 2014.

15. Chandler Jones, Patriots

Maybe it was the result of fatigue (Jones played in 97.9 percent of the defensive snaps, good for second-most among all defensive players in 2013), but Jones seemingly disappeared during the second half of the 2013 season. Jones finished the 2013 season with 11.5 sacks, but had only one sack over the last seven games of the regular season. Negativity aside, Chandler Jones oozes potential; it should surprise no one if he develops into one of the premiere edge rushers in the NFL. Until then, however, a “great” rating seems appropriate.

14. Terrance Knighton, Broncos

Coming off an injury-plagued season with Jacksonville in 2012 (started only 4 games), the Broncos were able to sign “Pot Roast” to a team-friendly contract prior to the start of the 2013 season. In hindsight, the Jaguars let a great player get away. Knighton had a stellar 2013 campaign: notably, he dominated the Patriots’ offensive line during the 2013 AFC Championship, giving Tom Brady fits throughout the entire game. With Knighton, the Broncos have a dominant defensive anchor, of which the Patriots sorely lacked as soon as Wilfork went down early in the 2013 season.

13. Chris Harris, Broncos

Over the last two seasons, Chris Harris has played to a level few other cornerbacks can lay claim to. That may come as a surprise to many as Harris has been a relative unknown since signing with the Broncos in 2011 as an undrafted free agent. But his impact on the Bronco defense can’t be minimized. Look no further than the 2013 AFC Divisional Game for proof of his impact: with Harris in the game, the Broncos led the Chargers 17-0. Then, after Harris left the game due to injury (torn ACL), Philip Rivers attacked the Broncos’ secondary, scoring 17 fourth quarter points. Needless to say, Chris Harris is one of the most important players on the Broncos’ roster.

12. Demarcus Ware

With Demarcus Ware, proper analysis requires a two-fold approach: there’s the Demarcus Ware who–from 2007 through 2011–received 4 First-team All-Pro selections, and thus would belong close to the top of this list. Then there’s the Demarcus Ware who–in 2013–was only able to start in 13 games due to injury, and thus saw his production dip, finishing the season with career lows in tackles (28) as well as sacks (6). If he returns to form in 2014, then a ranking of 13 will be inexcusably low. However, if he plays to the level he did in 2013, and/or continues to physically deteriorate, then 13 may be a bit high.

11. Julius Thomas, Broncos

Another former basketball player-turned-dominant-NFL-tight-end, Julius Thomas broke out in 2013, to the tune of  65 receptions and 12 touchdowns, good for his first Pro Bowl selection. “Orange Julius” should only get better moving forward: now if he could only learn how to block.

10. Devin McCourty, Patriots

Awkward career trajectory for Devin McCourty: playing corner during his rookie season, McCourty was an All-Pro selection. Then, following a decline in production, McCourty became public enemy number one in the eyes of many New England fans. That’s no longer the case. After moving from corner to safety, McCourty has flourished, becoming one of the premier free safety’s in the NFL. With a second All-Pro selection in 2013, McCourty has become one of the most important players on the Patriots’ roster.

9. Sebastian Vollmer, Patriots

Not only is Sebastian Vollmer the best Patriot offensive lineman, but he’s arguably the best right tackle in the NFL. With prototypical size (6’8″, 320 lbs), Vollmer excels in pass protection. How he went [seemingly] unnoticed coming out of the University of Houston still perplexes me. The Patriots–with Vollmer at right tackle and Nate Solder at left tackle–boast the best duo of  tackles in the league. Unfortunately, Vollmer will have to, once again, prove that he can stay healthy for a full season.

8. Ryan Clady, Broncos

After an All-Pro season in 2012, Clady suffered a season ending Lisfranc injury in week two of the 2013 season. To their credit, the Broncos’ offensive line played well despite Clady’s absence. With his return to the lineup, though, expect the Broncos’ offense to flourish once again in 2014. Absent Clady, the Broncos’ offensive line got handled in the Super Bowl; with Clady returning to the lineup, the Broncos will get back one of the three or four best left tackles in the NFL.