With the regular season roughly two months away, I have taken the liberty of highlighting ten Patriots players who could make a significant impact in 2013.
#1 Jake Ballard, TE: With the Patriots tight end situation deteriorating by the day, the Patriots will look to former Giants TE Jake Ballard to fill, at least in part, the void. Ballard will compete with Michael Hoomanawanui primarily for TE reps in camp. If he impresses, Ballard may end up as the starter come week one. For those that don't know, Ballard was claimed last year off of waivers by the Patriots from the Giants. After he suffered an ACL tear in February 2012, the Pats carried him on IR all last season. This could suggest that the Patriots have big plans in the future for Ballard.
#2 Shane Vereen, RB: When Shane Vereen first entered the NFL, it seemed that he was going to be a huge star right out of the gate. However, injuries and the fact that he missed practice time with the team due to the NFL Lockout, caused him to have a very underwhelming rookie year. In 2012, it was more of the same for Vereen, until the playoffs started. Vereen had a statement game against the Texans in the Divisional Round of the playoffs where he busted out for three TDs and 124 yards from scrimmage. With Danny Woodhead's departure to San Diego this past offseason, Vereen has a chance to become a large part of the Patriots running game. If Stevan Ridley's fumble problems continue, Vereen may even seize the starting running back job from him before the end of the season.
#3 Danny Amendola, WR: When Wes Welker left the Patriots most of New England was understandably upset. However, the Patriots got the next best thing in slot man Danny Amendola. He is very similar to Welker in many ways. He is fast, good with the ball in his hands, and he can make defenders miss. Amendola possesses a larger frame than Welker. He stands at 5'11'' 188 lbs, while Welker is only 5'9''. A big concern with Amendola has been his injury history playing only 11 games the past two years for the Rams. If Amendola can stay healthy, he can have a monster year especially since he has not played with a superstar quarterback the likes of Tom Brady. If he can avoid the tub he can be a real difference maker in 2013.
#4 Aaron Dobson, WR: With the Patriots second pick of the 2013 Draft they used a second rounder on receiver Aaron Dobson out of Marshall. With the departure of Brandon Lloyd, the Patriots are in desperate need of an outside target who can stretch the field. Dobson may be able to fill that role. A large and fast receiver at 6'3''and 210 lbs, with a 4.37 40 yard dash time and great hands, he has all the tools to be a stud. He has drawn comparisons to another former Patriot deep threat who coincidentally, also attended Marshall, Randy Moss. Dobson will likely compete for the number one outside receiver job in training camp. If he wins the job, and develops a rapport with Brady, he could become the best receiver on the field by week 1.
#5 Armond Armstead, DT: With the release of both Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick this offseason, the Patriots are in definite need of a defensive tackle to line up next to Vince Wilfork. Armond Armstead will most likely be the one to assume that role. Not too many people have heard of Armstead besides scouts and people who have watched him play in the Canadian Football League or at USC. However, Armstead has all the tools to succeed at the NFL level. He is 6'5'' 298 lbs and runs a 5.01 forty yard dash which isn't bad for a player his size. Most teams around the league believe that he is a first round talent that the Patriots acquired for close to nothing. He has a chance to be a big contributor in his first year playing in the NFL.
#6 Aqib Talib, CB: Acquired last season before the NFL trade deadline, cornerback Aqib Talib showed flashes of brilliance last season including a pick six in his Patriots debut against the Indianapolis Colts. With a full year of OTAs and training camp, Talib should blossom in his sophomore season with the Pats and cement his place as the true number one DB (hopefully not literally) on the Patriots roster. At 6'1'' 200 lbs and running a 4.44 forty yard dash time, Talib has the size and athleticism to match up with nearly every receiver in the game. If he can keep his attitude in check, big things may lie ahead for Talib in 2013.
#7 Ras-I Dowling, CB: In the 2011 NFL draft, the Patriots took a chance on often injured CB Ras-I Dowling out of Virginia in the 2nd round, 33 overall. Dowling has shown flashes in practice and training camp of player the pats hoped he would be in round 2. His ability has been mostly overshadowed by his inability to stay on the field. Dowling has been placed on IR twice in two years since joining the team in 2011. Having said that, the talent he possesses is indisputable. If he can stay healthy, he will battle Alfonzo Dennard for the number two cornerback job and if not, he may find himself on the chopping block very soon. This is a make or break season for Dowling's career.
#8 Adrian Wilson, S: After losing Patrick Chung in free agency, the Patriots signed the former Cardinals Safety. He may not be the fastest, most agile player anymore given his age, (he turns 34 in October) but he has the football intelligence and size (he stands at 6'3'') to be an impact player on a defense consisting of a lot of young players. He could be valuable in serving as a veteran mentor to the young defensive backs on the roster such as Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson, and Nate Ebner. With some talented pieces around him in the likes of Aqib Talib and Devin Mccourty, he may be freed up to make more plays himself. Expect Adrian Wilson to compete with Tavon Wilson at SS for the starting gig in 2013.
#9 Chandler Jones, DE: When the Patriots drafted Syracuse DE Chandler Jones in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, it seemed as though they had solved the pass rush problem that had plagued them for years. After posting solid numbers in the first half of the season last year, including six sacks and three forced fumbles in the first eight games he played, he struggled mightily in the second half. He accumulated only twelve tackles and no sacks in the teams remaining eight games, and was hardly seen during the playoffs. A big part of the problem for Jones was that he suffered a few nagging injuries that ate into his production on the field, causing him to miss two games. If the dynamic pass rusher can stay healthy the Patriots defense could become a top ten defense in 2013. He is a lock to be one of the starters at DE for the Pats in 2013, barring an injury.
#10 Dont'a Hightower, LB: For Dont'a Hightower, the 2012 season was somewhat of a mixed bag for the rookie from Alabama. He definitely flashed potential last season accumulating 60 tackles and four sacks in 14 games with the team. As good as this may sound, he often looked lost and was caught out of position frequently, especially in pass coverage. With another full year of work under his belt, Hightower could greatly improve on his numbers from a year ago, as he has the talent to become a star in the league. Expect him to rotate between linebacker positions mostly playing on the outside in 2013.