Originally posted on The Sports Headquarters  |  Last updated 8/7/12
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The New England Patriots just keep rolling on and on every year.  Bill Belichick and his staff are masterful at finding players who can step up in other players absences.  The Patriots have some of the most explosive players in today’s NFL and a ton of credit must go to Belichick for creating this AFC East juggernaut.  The weakest part of the team last year was the Defense and through the NFL Draft, the Pats have made huge strides.  The only spot that is now a bit of a concern is the Offensive Line due to injuries and retirements.  Last year’s Left Tackle Matt Light retired, the Left Guard tore his ACL and should be back for September, the Center broke his ankle, the Right Guard slid over to Center before sustaining a groin injury, and finally the Right Tackle had ankle and back ailments.  Sounds like a train-wreck huh?  Even with all the shuffling, the Pats had a dominant season again as they all step up in times of need.  This year’s version of the Patriots Offensive Line on opening day should be LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Dan Koppen, RG Dan Connolly and RT Sebastian Vollmer.

Left Tackle Nate Solder was drafted in the 1st round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Patriots.  He was not expected to play much but due to injuries, he was thrust into duty and performed quite well.  He had snaps at Right Tackle, Left Tackle and Tight End and showed uncanny athleticism.  He is extremely tall at 6’8 and gets great leverage on his pass protection plays.  He was drafted to “eventually” replace Matt Light and this year is “eventually”.

 

Left Guard Logan Mankins was a first round Draft Choice of the Patriots back in 2005.  He has been an absolute beast for the Pats when healthy.  When he is healthy he displays a blend of viciousness with precision in creating running lanes.  Late in 2011 he tore his ACL and that injury should be fully rehabbed by September.  If he is unable to go, the Pats planned to have Robert Gallery as his backup but he abruptly retired August 4th.

 

Center Dan Koppen is a 5th round pick of New England’s way back in 2003.  He has been Tom Brady’s primary snapper for years when he is able to take the field, which has been increasingly difficult as he gets older.  He broke his ankle in the 1st game of 2011 but will be good to go when the season starts.  He sees defensive fronts better than anyone Bill Belichick has ever coached.

 

Right Guard Dan Connolly was an undrafted Free Agent selected by Jacksonville in 2005.  He was waived by the Jags in September of 2007 and picked up by New England.  He had never played Center until last year but did an admirable job sliding over due to Dan Koppen’s injury.  His career highlight would be returning a squib kick 71 yards in 2010 to almost score a touchdown against Green Bay.

 

Right Tackle Sebastian Vollmer was a 2nd round pick of the Pats in 2009.  Being 6’8 as well as Nate Solder, these two bookends make up the tallest Tackle duo in the NFL.  Vollmer has struggled mightily staying healthy and last season he missed games due to ankle and back injuries.  If he can’t get back to 100% the Patriots have Marcus Cannon, who beat Cancer, as his capable backup.  Cannon is an absolute mountain at 6’5 and 358 pounds who run blocks like a bulldozer.

 

Now to analyze the numbers…..

 

New England ranked 2nd in the NFL in Total Run Blocking in 2011 allowing their Running Backs to rush for 4.17 yards per carry which was well below the NFL average of 4.31.  The RB’s were stopped at/or behind the line only 17% of their attempts which was better than the NFL average of 19%.  The RB’s achieved first downs on 3rd/4th down runs 62% of their attempts which was equal to the NFL average.  New England ran the ball 377 times in 2011.  The RB’s experienced their least success running outside of the RT position as they averaged 4.18 yards per carry.  They had much more success running behind Massive Tackles Vollmer and Cannon as they pounded out 5.18 yards per carry which was number 1 in the NFL.  From a Fantasy perspective, the departure of Benjarvus Green-Ellis has left a trio of young Running Backs in charge of the run game.  The odds on favorite is Stevan Ridley who must get over his fumble-itis.  Danny Woodhead will be the change of pace back who can snake his way through the legs of the monsters on the O-Line.  Shane Vereen is the enigma…He is a higher Draft Choice than Ridley and may get his time to shine in 2012.  I would be hesitant to draft any of these players because the Pats just run to soften the Defense.

 

The Patriots ranked 8th in the league in Pass Protection allowing Tom Brady to only be sacked on 5.4% of his dropbacks which was well below the NFL average of 6.7%.  Brady diagnoses Defenses quickly and the Offensive Line is decent to begin with so they both complement each other.  From a Fantasy perspective, Brady is a Top 10 pick for sure.  Rob Gronkowski will definitely see a decline in his statistics from last year but is still worth a late 2nd or early 3rd round pick.  Wes Welker won’t see 120 catches this year, in fact I see a sub 100 catch season but he is still a decent WR2 and even better in PPR formats.  Brandon Lloyd will handle the deep work for the Pats and he will cut into the passing targets of all the other players.  He is going to be a superb WR2.  Jabar Gaffney was a Red Zone demon for the Redskins in 2011 but he didn’t have to contend with Gronk, Welker and Hernandez, so watch for his value to fall.  Aaron Hernandez will be used as a H back, Tight End and Wide Receiver in 2012 so I truly can see him as the 3rd best Fantasy Football option at the TE position.  So to summarize, take Brady, Gronk, Welker, Lloyd, Hernandez and the guy that sells popcorn in section G because Brady could make him a star too!!

 

Thanks to www.footballoutsiders.com for the stats

 

Next team is the New Orleans Saints


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