By: Andrew Ludwig (@aludwig25)
Jerod Mayo ---> The quarterback of their defense will look to come back this season, (after his torn pectoral muscle sidelined him for the season) and be the leader the defense was missing last year. He will consistently be a force in the running game for the Patriot's defense, but also will show good smarts and versatility to drop back in the middle of the defense for pass coverage. He will bring solid leadership to this defense and will be able to be a coach on the field for the younger players.
Dont'a Hightower ---> Many were ready to label him as a bust during the middle of last season, as he was almost invisible on the field at times. But, he came around nicely and found his place in the defense later in the season when he became the anchor of the middle replacing the vacant gap left my Mayo. He totaled 97 tackles last season and will look to repeat a similar performance and will be primarily in charge of stopping the run; similar to the role Brandon Spikes had last season.
Jamie Collins ---> Collins is the player with the biggest upside of the entire linebacker core for the Patriot's. He has the physicality to play well in the run, while also have the size and speed to run with slot receivers and speedy tight ends. An added bonus is the can transition down to DE on pass situation and rush the passer. After a solid coming out party during the playoffs last season, the Patriot's will look for him to burst onto the scene this season and become a force in all aspect of their defense. He has the potential, size, speed and ability. Now it is time for him to show it on a consistent basis.
James Anderson ---> The Patriot's may have found a hidden gem late in free agency with the addition of James Anderson, it isn't everyday that you are able to pick up a 100+ tackle player for almost nothing. The veteran will be able to bring depth and experience to group that may need some grooming. If he can be a role player and give the Patriot's solid performances on the downs that he is in on, it is a huge pickup for them.
Role Players and Rookies:
Chris White ---> White appeared made 15 appearances last season, mostly on special teams, but he is someone that will almost certainly make the team and if eh keeps performing on special teams can definitely get his chance at a few plays on the defensive side of the ball.
Steve Beauharnis ---> Similar to White, Beauharnis is primarily a special teams player, but it is only his second year in the league so if he keeps performing and making tackles on special teams don't be surprised if you see him make appearances on defense to give a few of the impact players a blow.
Darius Fleming ---> Fleming is a huge unknown for the Patriot's. After being drafted by the 49ers and being released two years later after a history of injuries, they decided to take a risk on him. It is only his second year in the NFL, so if he can stay healthy and learn from the veterans on the team, there still may be something to get out of Fleming.
Cameron Gordan ---> A rookie out of the University of Michigan, was a solid performer for the Wolverines but it will be interesting to see whether his game can translate to the NFL level. He will need to work hard and impress during training camp in order to make the Patriot's roster, potentially as a special teams player.
Josh Hull ---> Hull is veteran of the National Football League, and although many of us have never heard of him before he is a true professional that will work hard and will take any role that the team will give him. Look for him to make the team as a depth player, and make his way onto some special teams.
Deontae Skinner ---> Skinner is rookie out of Mississippi State and was a key contributor their defense, he has been starting at linebacker for them since his sophomore year. If he can come into camp, work hard, learn and show some sparks, he is another player that can make it as a practice squad, rotation player or special teams player.