Prior to each game, we’ll take a quick peak into who is rising and falling on the Patriots’ depth chart. The players highlighted will either make an impact or will need to step up in their next game.
It’s a long NFL season, so it’s important to keep everything in perspective, especially with the Patriots who take pleasure in rotating players. They are a matchup based team–a nightmare for fantasy owners–but also a nightmare for opposing teams, which makes it hard to determine exactly who New England views as a plus or minus.
In any case, this week the Patriots face the Vikings. Should they win, yes, but they’ll struggle without the help of many of the players listed below.
Julian Edelman, WR
He’s Brady’s security blanket and will continue to play that role until this offense (and tight end Rob Gronkowski) click on all cylinders. His 116 total yards (95 receiving and 21 rushing) were a team high last week against the Dolphins. He ranked third with eight targets, behind only Thompkins and Gronkowski and also played 96 percent of the snaps, which was the most out of all skill position players.
The Patriots will be facing another strong defensive line this week, and they must use Edelman more. He had six catches last game, but they all came in the first half.
Kenbrell Thompkins, WR
Until Aaron Dobson makes a return or Amendola steps up, Thompkins will get more opportunities to make plays. On ten targets last week, he caught five passes. He is still the trusted possession target behind Edelman and Gronkowski.
ESPN Boston reporter Mike Reiss tossed around the idea that Thompkins may be a candidate to be inactive for Sunday’s game. Until other skill players step up, that would be a surprise.
Shane Vereen, RB
Because the Vikings’ defense may be even more aggressive than the Dolphins’ unit, Vereen is a strong candidate to have a breakout game. The Patriots MUST take some pressure off their offensive line, even though critics think the line should be doing the same for Brady. It’s a two-way street. As their front unit becomes comfortable actually playing together, the Patriots should be using the versatile Vereen like they did last week; just use him more. He can motion into the slot or out wide, as well as play in traditional one and two back sets.
Brandon LaFell, WR
This past off season, the Patriots signed LaFell so he could help them all over the field. His 6-foot 3-inch frame provided New England with a body structure they mainly lacked. Outside of receiver Aaron Dobson, who provides a similar body type, LaFell is that guy.
However, LaFell failed to impress during his first regular season game. He is likely competing with Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins for a larger role as the “x” receiver; although, he can also play in the slot. If active against the Vikings, LaFell will need to improve on his six targets and zero receptions or he will be spending time on the sideline.
Danny Amendola, WR
ESPN Boston reporter Mike Reiss notes that Amendola “doesn’t seem to be back to the dynamic player we saw in the 2013 season-opener at the Bills,” when he caught 10 passes for 104 yards. He was targeted 14 times in that game. Now, compare those statics to last week’s matchup against the Dolphins when he caught three balls for only 16 yards, and you can see why Amendola might be in some trouble. Also, Brady only targeted him five times. This drop off could be based on match ups, so it’ll be interesting to see the type of role Amendola plays in the ensuing couple of weeks.
Jordan Devey And The Offensive Line
According to Pro Football Focus, the Patriots’ pass protection graded out as the worst in the NFL in week one. Newcomer Devey struggled from start to finish, often lining up against and being pushed around by Dolphins’ defensive lineman Randy Starks. Rotating with Wendell, Devey played in 64 of 86 offensive snaps.
At the moment, the team likely views Marcus Cannon, Dan Connolly, Nate Solder, and Sebastian Vollmer as their top four lineman. This makes sense. When highly touted Bryan Stork returns, he’ll challenge Devey and Wendell for that fifth spot.
In this week practice, the Patriots continued to use the same lineman as they did in last week’s horrific showing. Consistency, rather than talent, is this unit’s main weakness.