Grading Every New England Patriots Starter's 2013 Regular Season
Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly? Gone.
Jerod Mayo? Not on the field.
Rob Gronkowski and Sebastian Vollmer? Injured reserve.
Even with all the incomplete grades, the Patriots were able to somehow pull off a 12-4 season and secure a first-round bye in the playoffs. Coach Bill Belichick certainly earned himself high marks.
Here is how the Patriots starters graded out in 2013.
Note: To qualify as a starter, a player must have played 250 snaps on offense or 500 snaps on defense.
Players are graded on the standard scale in relation to their preseason expectations. Higher grades are given for creating turnovers, consistent technique and creating winning situations. Lower grades are a result of penalties, missed assignments and untimely miscues.
Tom Brady: A-
Brady might not have set records like Peyton Manning, but one could make the case that this was one of his greatest seasons.
Brady dealt with injuries across his offensive line and receiving corps, as well as the untimely "absence" of Aaron Hernandez. He broke in a new stable of targets—rookies and veterans alike—and was able to lead the team to a 12-4 record.
Brady won't win the NFL's Most Valuable Player award, but it is doubtful that any other quarterback in this league could have done what he did in 2013.
Blount came on strong as the season progressed. He saved two of his best games for the final two weekends, running through the Baltimore and Buffalo defenses like they weren't even there.
For a player that wasn't a lock to even make the roster when training camp began, Blount provided incredible value, as the Patriots acquired him this offseason for just a seventh-round pick and Jeff Demps.
Cornerback—and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammate—Aqib Talib took credit for spurring Bill Belichick to trade for Blount:
Talib on Blount: "i put my GM hat on and we made some moves."— Tom E. Curran (@tomecurran) December 30, 2013
Shane Vereen: B-
Vereen missed the majority of the season with a broken wrist, but his value was immense when on the field.
He was a matchup nightmare for linebackers in coverage, especially in the red zone. He filled the role of passing back, formerly filled by Danny Woodhead and Kevin Faulk, to perfection.
James Develin: B-
Develin was a surprising part of the 53-man roster after final cuts were announced. He proved his worth with solid blocking and made plays with the ball when given a chance.
Brandon Bolden: C+
Bolden filled in admirably in Vereen's absence, but he just doesn't have the same explosiveness. His ability to help out on special teams, however, has allowed the Patriots to carry five running backs on the roster.
Stevan Ridley: C-
Ridley came into the season expected by many to put up a monster Corey Dillon-esque season. Unfortunately, his inability to hold onto the ball cost him that chance.
If he can finally solve his fumbling issues, Ridley is easily the most talented inside runner that the Patriots have.
Julian Edelman: A+
Edelman—who barely garnered any interest as a free agent last offseason—became just the third Patriot to eclipse the 100-catch plateau, joining Troy Brown and Wes Welker.
It is truly impossible to overstate just how important Edelman was to Tom Brady and this offense. He was constantly open underneath and at the second level, and he stayed healthy, despite taking a beating on screen plays and punt returns.
It will be interesting to see whether the Patriots are able to keep Edelman this offseason, where he will surely get more than just a sniff from other teams.
Danny Amendola: B
Amendola—the expected Welker replacement—didn't live up to that tough billing, but that isn't to say that he had a poor season.
When healthy—he persevered through groin and head injuries all season—Amendola was a dependable underneath receiver that consistently made big plays on third down.
Aaron Dobson/Kenbrell Thompkins: C+
Dobson and Thompkins each spent time in the starting unit as rookies. That shows you just how far they progressed from minicamps to opening day.
Each rookie flashed the ability to separate, but each also had some struggles. Thompkins left his feet for no reason far too often, while Dobson struggled with drops early on.
If the young duo can get healthy—each battled injuries over the final weeks of the season—they will be a big part of this offense moving forward.
Michael Hoomanawanui: C
Hoomanawanui wasn't supposed to be the top tight end for the Patriots. After battling injuries himself, he just doesn't have the firepower that Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez bring to the party.
Hoomanawanui ended the season with 12 catches for 136 yards—basically a good half of a game for Gronkowski.
Matthew Mulligan: C
Mulligan was brought in to be a blocking tight end. He did his job, minimizing errors and springing Blount, Ridley and Co. for big gains.
Look for the Patriots to upgrade the tight end position in the 2014 NFL draft.
Rob Gronkowski: I
You can't call it anything other than a lost season for Gronk.
After missing the start of the season due to lingering arm and back issues, he was finished off by Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward's helmet to his knee in Week 14.
Gronkowski is the most complete tight end in the league when healthy and performed at that level when active in 2013. Unfortunately for New England fans, healthy Gronkowski hasn't been around much as of late.
Logan Mankins: B+
Marcus Cannon: C+
Ryan Wendell: C
Dan Connolly: C-
The Patriots' offensive line persevered through multiple injuries, at one point starting Will Svitek, their third-string tackle, when Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon went down.
Logan Mankins showed his toughness and versatility in 2013, filling in at left tackle when Nate Solder was out with a concussion. Tom Brady said it himself:
Brady on Mankins: "There’s nobody tougher than Logan Mankins...There’s nobody that I’ve ever played with that is as tough as him."— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 30, 2013
Solder wasn't perfect—he struggled at times with defensive ends swatting his hands away—but he is an above-average player. Tom Brady trusts him to protect his blind side, which is all that really matters.
Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly both could have played better, especially in pass protection. The Patriots will surely look to upgrade their interior line this offseason.
Rob Ninkovich: A-
Chandler Jones: B+
Jones and Ninkovich were tasked with pressuring the quarterback. They passed that test with flying colors, combining for 19.5 sacks and providing consistent pressure—especially Ninkovich—off the edge.
Jones greatly improved against the run compared to his rookie season. Ninkovich was key in stopping fourth-down plays in the Patriots' final two games, as he always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
Chris Jones: C+
Joe Vellano: C+
Vellano and Jones—both rookies—stepped into the unenviable position of replacing Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly.
They initially struggled to anchor against the run—although Jones did excel at rushing the passer—but improved as the season progressed. The addition of Sealver Siliga to the rotation helped solidify the run defense.
Dont'a Hightower: A-
Hightower would have received a much lower grade had the season ended a few weeks ago. However, he strung together four good games in a row at the end of the year, and Patriots fans should be excited about having him on board with the returning Jerod Mayo and rookie Jamie Collins next year.
He totaled 124 tackles without his mentor, Mayo, with him this season. I talked with Hightower during training camp, and the fact that Mayo wasn't there mentally for Hightower was anything but trivial:
Mayo has been in this defense for a while now. He knows every position, not just the linebackers and the defensive line. He knows what the cornerbacks and the safeties have to do. Having him in the linebacker room and as a close friend, it feels good to have that guy in your back pocket.
At 270 pounds, Hightower isn't going to be a coverage linebacker. He has made strides in that area, though, gaining better depth on his drops as the season progressed.
Brandon Spikes: A-
According to Shalise Manza-Young of The Boston Globe, Spikes has played through a knee-ligament injury that will require surgery this offseason. That sort of toughness and tenacity shows a different side of Spikes, who is often described as aloof.
What Spikes bring to the table doesn't always show up in the stat sheet. He blows up guards and tackles like few linebackers can do.
It will be interesting whether his injury brinks the market down enough to allow the Patriots to re-sign him this offseason.
Devin McCourty: A+
McCourty didn't play in the season finale, but the Patriots will certainly welcome him back on the field for their playoff run.
He was a rock in the secondary, so much so that quarterbacks rarely threw in his direction. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he was targeted only 27 times on 610 plays in coverage.
Aqib Talib: A+
Talib was the best player on the Patriots defense when healthy. He shut down his assignment almost every week—Josh Gordon and Steve Smith were able to gain some yards on Talib—and was a solid open-field tackler when necessary.
Talib will certainly be a priority for the Patriots in the offseason. He has earned himself a lucrative contract.
Logan Ryan: A+
Ryan met and exceeded every expectation that you could think of as a rookie in Bill Belichick's defense.
He ended the season with five interceptions and will certainly get plenty of chances—whether Talib is re-signed or not—to add to that figure next year.
Kyle Arrington: B+
Arrington was beat deep on a few plays, but he had another positive season for New England. He also recorded a pair of sacks and was solid in coverage when not asked to be the No. 1 or 2 cornerback.
He won't be a star, but you could do a lot worse for a nickel cornerback.
Alfonzo Dennard: B
Considering that it wasn't a sure thing that Dennard would play this season due to legal issues, any contribution he made is a bonus.
When operating at 100 percent, though, Dennard was equal to Talib. Unfortunately, Dennard's lower extremities betrayed him on multiple occasions in 2013.
If Dennard is able to work on his tackling, there is no reason that he can't be a top corner in the league.
Steve Gregory: C+
Gregory was a big part of the defensive success early in the year, but it seems like he has been slowed by injuries to his thumb and knee.
His tackling got worse as the year wore on, and lapses in coverage occurred more often. I wouldn't be surprised to see rookie Duron Harmon as the starter next season.
Stephen Gostkowski: A+
Gostkowski, who struggled at times in the preseason, had an amazing year for New England. He missed only three kicks on the season, converting 38-of-41 tries.
He consistently put the ball in the end zone on kickoffs and executed a perfect onside kick against the Cleveland Browns that sparked a comeback.
Ryan Allen: A
Allen's inclusion on the roster over incumbent Zoltan Mesko wasn't a huge surprise, but it did raise some eyebrows. He answered every doubt by having a phenomenal year as both punter and holder, dealing with some questionable snaps like a veteran.
As an undrafted free agent, Allen will provide the Patriots with a very salary cap-friendly contract for the next few years.
Danny Aiken: A
Aiken was solid as the team's long-snapper for the majority of the year, but Allen did have to help him out on a few occasions.
With all the weather that he had to deal with, though, Aiken certainly exceeded his expectations on the year.
Matthew Slater: A
Slater was a consistent contributor on the coverage units that didn't allow a touchdown on the year. He earned a Pro Bowl nod for his efforts.
All stats are courtesy of NFL.com and the Patriots Media Relations department, unless otherwise noted.