By Connor Fulton @ConnorFultonRS on July 15, 2014
The New England Patriots are a well-oiled winning machine. Year in and year out, the Pats find themselves playing deep into January. Why should 2014 be any different? Here are ten reasons why Patriots fans should be excited for the upcoming season.
In 2013, the Patriots were without three of their best players — Rob Gronkowski, Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork — for the bulk of the season, yet the team still managed to reach the AFC Championship game. Imagine how nice it will be to have these stars back in 2014. Wilfork will resume his interior dominance, Mayo will pilot the defense and Gronkowski will hog the highlight reels.
That the Patriots have a truly elite corner on their roster for the first time since the Ty Law era is exciting enough. Darrelle Revis will make an immediate impact, as he is only a year or two removed from having the title of best corner in the league. Furthermore, they picked up another standout corner in Brandon Browner, who has a menacing stature at 6-foot-4, 221 pounds.
One can’t take No. 12 for granted these days. Although Brady insists he wants to play well into his 40s, nothing is guaranteed. Patriots fans must treasure seeing the future Hall of Famer drop back in the pocket this season, with the same calm and collected demeanor that he displayed way back in 2001.
At Florida State, Bryan Stork was one of the elite centers in the country — that he was still available at 105th overall was a gift for the Patriots. Veteran Ryan Wendell was one of the more underachieving centers in the entire league last season, so expect Stork to make a run at the starting job in training camp. Stork offers much more upside and potential than Wendell.
All projections are leading to Duron Harmon pairing with Devin McCourty at safety for a duo of Rutgers products. This is an exciting tandem, because McCourty has put himself in the conversation of elite safeties in the NFL, and while Harmon made some rookie mistakes last year, he displayed playmaking ability and looked all the part much of the time.
There has been much hype lately surrounding Collins, and for good reason. He is virtually a safety trapped in a linebacker’s body, so he is able to stick on tight ends like glue while also being a threatening pass rusher. Collins will start alongside Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower, giving the Patriots a formidable linebacker corps.
It’s not clear yet where the former Carolina Panther will fit in the Patriots’ system, but his talents definitely won’t go to waste. If nothing else, LaFell should help to solve the offense’s deep-passing woes from 2013, as he has averaged 14.3 yards per reception in four NFL seasons. At 6-foot-2, he is the second-tallest wide receiver on the team behind Aaron Dobson.
Pats fans have to be pumped about the drafting of Easley, regardless of the multiple ACL injuries he sustained in college. The Patriots have the luxury of being able to use him anywhere on the defensive line. They can pair him up with Vince Wilfork and have the two blow up the middle of the trenches, or they can give Easley snaps on the outside and have him work in tandem with Chandler Jones.
Stevan Ridley is the favorite to be the top back, but he will be on a short leash. Shane Vereen and rookie James White are the other locks to make the roster, and both players are valuable as pass catchers out of the backfield. Finally, trusty veteran Brandon Bolden and undersized but electrifying rookie Roy Finch will battle for the final roster spot. Competition is always good for such an important position.
Not to beat a dead horse, but the AFC East is arguably the league’s weakest division. Patriots fans should be content knowing that even if their team struggles at times in 2014, none of the other teams in the division are strong enough to make a run at the title.
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