Quarterback- Future Hall of Famer Tom Brady will continue to shine as a field general for the Patriots in the 2006 NFL season. Brady, who was wise beyond his years during his first Super Bowl run against the St. Louis Rams, seems to only be getting better as he adds more years to his NFL repertoire. However, the backup situation for the Patriots is disconcerting in that they do not have a reliable veteran presence in their quarterback corps. The second and third string quarterbacks will be prospects Matt Cassel and Corey Bramlett respectively, and while Cassel is a solid NFL prospect, he is not good enough yet to take a team on his shoulders in the absence of Tom Brady. However, people said that about Brady when Drew Bledsoe went down to injury, so Cassel could be equal to the task. But on potential alone, an injury in 2006 for Tom Brady could mean no playoffs for the Patriots.
2006 NFL Grade: B+
Running Back/ Full Back- Veteran Corey Dillon is running on steam heading into the 2006 season, with the Patriots concerned about his health and how long he can stay on top of his game. To insure that they are not without a solid back, the Patriots selected Minnesota running back Laurence Maroney with their first round pick in the 2006 NFL draft. Mauroney is a bruiser who had a lot of carries for the Golden Gophers over the last two years and gives them another solid grinder in their backfield. Kevin Faulk will fill the role of utility back, used when the Patriots need a quick fix or change of pace. The Patriots have two solid full backs heading into 2006, with Patrick Pass and Heath Evans leading the way for Dillon and Mauroney.
2006 NFL Grade: B
Wide Receiver/ Tight End- Tight ends Daniel Graham and Benjamin Watson are good targets over the middle for the Patriots and Brady is always in need of a good target. The wide receiver corps has been a group of over achievers the last five years and expect the same from this group in 2006. Mainstays Deion Branch and Troy Brown, along with relative newcomer Reche Caldwell, will give Brady enough options in the field to make the offense potent in a weak AFC East.
2006 NFL Grade: B+
Offensive Line- The offensive line for the Patriots is a group of relative no-names in the NFL but they have done a great job for New England during their Super Bowl years. Dan Koppen, Matt Light, Russ Hochstein, Stephen Neal, Ross Tucker, and Logan Mankins do not bring to mind any great NFL lineman but as a group they will continue to provide protection for Brady and holes for Dillon and Mauroney.
2006 NFL Grade: B
Defensive Line- Patriots fans have to be ecstatic about their defensive line in 2006. They have had nearly the same defensive line over the last five years, but youngsters like Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren are starting to come into their own as defensive lineman in the league. While the defensive backfield may suffer from injuries and the linebacker corps may have a few small question marks, the line will play consistently throughout the 2006 NFL season. Their depth is unbelievable, with Wilfork, Warren, Richard Seymour, Jarvis Green, Dan Klecko, and Johnathan Sullivan ready to sell out on a game to game basis.
2006 NFL Grade: A
Linebacker- The Patriots’ linebacker corps is one of the best in the league, especially Roosevelt Colvin and Mike Vrabel. But there are certainly still questions about Tedy Bruschi’s health and whether Monty Biesel is ready to step up for 16 games in the NFL as a run stopper and a cover backer. I think Biesel will answers these questions positively for the Patriots and another NFL season under their belts will do wonders for the Patriots’ defense.
2006 NFL Grade: A-
Defensive Back- The problem with the Patriots’ secondary is not their talent level but their ability to stay on the field due to injuries. Corners Asante Samuel and Randall Gay are solid cover corners and safeties Tebucky Jones, Rodney Harrison, and Eugene Wilson are very good at stopping the deep play (and Harrison is good at putting licks on people). But in 2006, the question will be the same as the last few years: will the defensive backfield remain intact for an entire season? The answer is no, and the Patriots will need to do more than put receiver Troy Brown in the backfield to stop teams from passing up and down the field on them.
2006 NFL Grade: Their talent is B+ but due to injuries the best they will give is a C.
Kicker/Punter- In order to replace Pro Bowl kicker Adam Vinatieri, the Patriots will have an open competition between veteran Martin Gramatica and rookie Stephen Gostkowski. Gostkowski, drafted from the Memphis Tigers, has a great leg and will edge out the wily Gramatica for the Patriots kicker position. At punter, Josh Miller will hold down the fort for New England in 2006. The specialist position for the Patriots is unstable for the first time in several years, but Gostkowski and Miller will do a fine job in 2006.
2006 NFL Grade: B-
2006 NFL Projection- The Patriots will win the AFC East easily over weaker competition, needing only 10-6 to win the division in 2006.