Originally posted on NESN.com  |  Last updated 1/28/13
The most pessimistic Patriots fans will likely still be grousing about the latest playoff loss (or talking about trading Tom Brady) when the team is suiting up for their first official game in September 2013. But if you’re among the more optimistic members of Patriots Nation (those who have no interest in trading Brady), there are plenty of reasons to excited for next season. Typically teams have to wait for the NFL draft or at least free agency to look forward to seeing new faces on the field, but New England has multiple players who could play a major role in the Patriots’ future already signed to contracts. Among these “redshirt” players are running back/track star Jeff Demps, guard/tackle Marcus Zusevics, defensive end/linebacker Jason Vega, tight end Jake Ballard and defensive tackle Armond Armstead. Add in linebacker Dane Fletcher, who got injured just minutes into the Patriots’ preseason opener, and the Patriots have six players that didn’t take a single snap during the 2012 regular season who could contribute in 2013. The player who may offer the most upside and fills the biggest need is CFL import Armstead. The 6-foot-5, 298-pound lineman missed all of his 2011 junior season with USC after suffering a heart attack before the season. Armstead was medically cleared by multiple teams before the draft, but he still wasn’t taken. Instead of trying to find his way onto a training camp roster, he signed with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts and pulled down six sacks and CFL All-Star honors. Armstead projects as a three-technique, pass-rushing defensive tackle in the NFL. Last season, the Patriots had Kyle Love and Vince Wilfork share that role earlier in the season before pushing Wilfork to nose tackle and bringing Brandon Deaderick off the bench as a starter. The Patriots’ defense looked better with Deaderick in that role, but he still wasn’t getting after the quarterback much. Last season, among 69 eligible defensive tackles, Love, Wilfork and Deaderick ranked 28th, 42nd and 57th respectively in pass rushing production, according to Pro Football Focus. That stat divide’s their total sacks, hurries and quarterback hits by their total number of snaps as a pass rusher. The best pass-rushing defensive tackle in the NFL, Geno Atkins, got after the quarterback in 12.7 percent of his snaps. Love, who was the most productive pass rushing defensive tackle in New England, got after the quarterback in 4.9 percent of his snaps. On third down, New England had defensive ends Jermaine Cunningham and Justin Francis in that three-technique defensive tackle role. Both players are undersized for the position, but were still able to churn out some pass-rushing production, but not much — Francis pressured the quarterback in 8.5 percent of his snaps and Francis in 7.0 percent. Much of that production came at defensive end, though, where it’s easier to rush the passer. The Patriots haven’t had a solid interior lineman who can get after the quarterback since Myron Pryor and Albert Haynesworth were in that role early in 2011. In limited snaps, Pryor and Haynesworth got after the passer in 17.6 percent and 9.3 percent of their pass-rush snaps — all inside. Pryor can’t stay healthy, though, and Haynesworth’s lack of consistent effort got him booted from the team. The Patriots need pass rushing help all over their front seven, but having a player who can get after the quarterback from the inside would be a major help. The Patriots tried to fill that need last season with Jonathan Fanene, but injuries forced the Patriots to cut him prior to the season. Losing Mike Wright to concussion complications after 2011 hurt as well. He was among the best situational interior pass rushers in the league. Armstead could be that player that they have sorely lacked the past few years. The former Trojan is fast for his size and offers impressive lateral quickness. He’ll have to prove that he can be a solid contributor against the run and pass to carve out a starting role next to Wilfork, but even if he can only help out as a pass rusher, he should be solid contributor on third down. Armstead’s former general manager up in the Great White North categorized the defensive tackle as a major steal for New England. “I don’t think it’s very often where an NFL team can get a first-round pick without using a first-round pick,” Toronto general manager Jim Barker told ESPN.com. “When he came up, about the second or third day of training camp, I told somebody on our coaching staff ‘this guy is going to be the highest paid guy out of Canada ever.’” Armstead received a three-year deal from the Patriots worth $1.485 million. The contract includes $655,000 worth of guaranteed money, which means his entire 2013 salary is on the books for New England. Obviously there are risks with Armstead, or else he wouldn’t have been available to the Patriots at this point in the season. But Bill Belichick has been willing to take risks on players in the past, and many have paid off, including Alfonzo Dennard, who the Patriots grabbed in the seventh round of the 2012 NFL draft after he encountered legal problems just days before. Dennard was one of the best rookie corners in the league last year. Dennard could be looked at as the steal of the 2012 draft, but if Armstead can stay healthy, he could actually surpass his new teammate. Photo via Facebook/Patriots-Nation

This article first appeared on NESN.com and was syndicated with permission.

GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Sam Mitchell reportedly candidate to join Pelicans’ coaching staff

Warriors GM indicates Steve Kerr still isn’t ready to return

Taylor Hall says it was “nice to finally see” the Edmonton Oilers eliminated

Report: Jets to hire female defensive backs coach

Vince Young officially inks contract with CFL team

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Jason Witten: Bill Parcells is getting soft in his old age

Braves make up with fan ejected by security for interference

David Price to start for Red Sox Monday against Chicago

David Price to start for Red Sox Monday against Chicago

Magic Johnson indicates Brandon Ingram is Lakers’ only untradeable player

Congress drafted a bill that could legalize online sports betting; how soon might it happen?

Kicking It: East is East, and West is West

Three Up, Three Down: Some surprises way out (NL) West

The 'Let's go to the videotape!' quiz

It’s our civic duty to stop attending Super Bowls in new stadiums

Box Score 5/25: The Cavaliers look to close out the Celtics

The 'Farewell to the Manu, the Myth, the Legend' quiz

Box Score 5/24: Craig Anderson saves the Senators

The 'Walk on home, boy' quiz

NBA Referee Hotline Bling: Dejounte Murray gets his calls blocked twice

It's reality check time for the Texas Rangers

Box Score 5/23: Preds, Warriors move on to respective Finals

The 10 best sports docs available for streaming

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Kicking It: East is East, and West is West

Three Up, Three Down: Some surprises way out (NL) West

The 'Let's go to the videotape!' quiz

Why the Indianapolis 500 is called 'the greatest spectacle in racing'

The 'Farewell to the Manu, the Myth, the Legend' quiz

NBA Referee Hotline Bling: Dejounte Murray gets his calls blocked twice

It's reality check time for the Texas Rangers

The 'Walk on home, boy' quiz

NBA Weekend Awards: Who will take a bite of the Snow White Crystal Apple?

Why wait? Our too soon Cavaliers-Warriors NBA Finals preview

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker