5 New England Patriots Players Who Should See Their Roles Expand in 2014
With veteran players like Dane Fletcher, LeGarrette Blount, Steve Gregory, Brandon Spikes and Andre Carter moving on this offseason, there will be quite a few current New England Patriots who will see their role expand—either in scope or snaps—during 2014.
Some might add a position or an extra role on special teams. Others might go from a back-of-the-roster guy to a game-day contributor.
The 2014 NFL draft will likely change the roster landscape, but these five players are currently looking at expanded roles come next season.
Logan Ryan burst onto the scene during his rookie season, collecting five interceptions and 1.5 sacks. Like fellow Rutgers alum Devin McCourty, he might be packing up his cornerback skills and moving to safety. Karen Guregian from the Boston Herald has more on the proposed change:
According to a source, Ryan would take on the free safety role, while Devin McCourty would move to strong safety.
Why would this work? Ryan’s ball-hawking skills are obvious. He’s instinctive and plays well in space, much like McCourty. He could also play in the slot, but there’s a logjam with Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard competing for that role, once Browner completes his four-game NFL drug suspension.
The Patriots like what Ryan brings, and want to get him on the field. So assuming he makes the transition, and outplays fellow second-year Rutgers product Duron Harmon, this looks like an alternative that would not only get him on the field, but take advantage of his abilities.
As Guregian mentioned, Ryan still has to beat out Duron Harmon for the job. If Ryan ends up as the replacement for veteran Steve Gregory, look for Harmon to reprise his role as the third safety.
Jamie Collins totaled just 302 defensive snaps during his rookie season—105 fewer than the injured Jerod Mayo—according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Look for that number to double (at least) in 2014.
Jerod Mayo returns from a torn pectoral muscle suffered last year, but Dane Fletcher and Brandon Spikes have moved to what they hope are greener pastures for the 2014 season. This opens up a spot in the starting rotation next to Mayo and Dont'a Hightower.
Collins' ability to play both the run and the pass—in addition to rushing the quarterback—allows him to play each of the linebacker positions on any down.
With that sort of versatility, Collins better be working on his conditioning during the offseason. He won't leave the field very often.
Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are poised to be the opening-day starters at the "Z" and slot receiver positions. That doesn't seem to leave much room for Josh Boyce to make his mark.
However, the departure of LeGarrette Blount may have opened up a role.
Blount was one of the primary returners on kickoffs in 2013, while Boyce managed only nine returns. On those nine, he averaged 23.8 yards per return and had a long of 41.
Boyce's speed and elusiveness in the open field should give him every opportunity to win the kickoff-return role this year. If he can't get his hands on the ball on offense, he needs to touch it on special teams.
Another likely beneficiary of LeGarrette Blount's absence will be incumbent running back Stevan Ridley. His four fumbles in each of the last two years are cause for concern, but he is easily the most dynamic inside runner on the New England Patriots roster.
With Blount out of the picture, Ridley stands poised to take over the lion's share of the running duties, provided of course that he can hang onto the ball with any sort of regularity. He carried the ball just 178 times in 2013—down from 290 carries in 2012—but could easily see that number nearly double in 2014.
With only three running backs on the roster—Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden—don't be surprised to see the Patriots look at adding an undrafted free agent to serve as a backup.
One obvious roster hole that has not been addressed this offseason is the nickel pass-rusher role. Andre Carter filled that position for the majority of the 2013 season, racking up 13 total pressures—including two sacks—according to Pro Football Focus.
With just under 30 fewer pass-rush attempts than Carter, Michael Buchanan was able to total 10 pressures as a rookie. He was used extensively before the bye week, but ultimately had his role usurped by the more experienced Carter.
If Buchanan can stay in his rush lanes, contain when needed and prevent from getting pushed past the quarterback, he has the natural athleticism to excel as an outside rusher. If the coaching staff doesn't believe Buchanan can rise to the occasion, look for the Patriots to add a pass-rusher in the 2014 NFL draft.