Despite their constant success in the NFL, the New England Patriots are generally one of the more active teams in the off-season. The common belief is that teams who must make so many changes in the off-season are forced into doing so because they are bottom-feeders. The Patriots however see their off-season activity as vital to maintaining their success.
This year's off-season has been no different in Boston with a raft of new faces arriving. Not all of the new players will be asked to play out a role this year, but some will play a role in determining the success of the 2012 New England Patriots.
Here is a ranking of the importance of each player for the coming season alone.22. Tight End Jake Ballard
Ballard was recently claimed off waivers from the New York Giants. The Giants only released him for medical reasons. If he plays at all this year it will be an achievement.21. Wide Receiver Jeremy Ebert
Ebert was the team's seventh round draft pick. He is a receiver whose best chance of making the team lies on special teams.20. Defensive Back Nate Ebner
Ebner is another player relying on his special teams ability to make the roster. The Patriots defense lacks good defensive back depth, but Ebner is likely destined for the practice squad this year. 19. Fullback Tony Fiametta
In the Patriots offense, a fullback isn't exactly crucial to success. 18. Fullback Spencer Larsen
In the Patriots offense, a fullback isn't exactly crucial to success. 17. Guard Jamey Richmond
The Patriots do have some issues on the interior of their offensive line, but depth isn't really an issue. Richmond can play center and guard, but so can Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendling and Dan Koppen.
16. Tight End Daniel Fells
Fells is a good blocking tight end but a limited receiver. He will fight for the third tight end spot on the team's 53 man roster but will be at best a situational player.
15. Tight End Bo Scaife
Scaife is more of a receiving tight end than Fells, but faces the same situation.
14. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard
Dennard is a talented football player who dropped in the draft because of off-the-field issues and some inconsistencies on the field. He was once seen as a first round draft pick. The Patriots cornerback situation looks brighter this year, but extra depth at such a crucial position is always important.
13. Running Back Joseph Addai
Addai has the potential to contribute for the Patriots attack next year in the Kevin Faulk role. Addia isn't as good as Faulk was in his prime at every facet of the game, but he is a better runner and reliable receiver. His pass blocking should be an improvement over Danny Woodhead's also. Addai will at best be a role player in a passing offense though.
12. Safety Tavon Wilson
Wilson was the Patriots' 2012 addition that made you go "Ehmm What?"
The safety was drafted in the second round despite some teams having him projected to go on day three of the draft. His versatility, he can play cornerback and free safety, should see him on the field as a rookie but he will not be an instant starter like some of his teammates. 11. Wide Receiver Donte Stallworth
Donte Stallworth still has his pace and he could have been a key player for the 2011 version of the Patriots offense. Unfortunately for Stallworth, this year's class of receivers is a lot deeper. Anthony Gonzalez and Chad Ochocinco have already been cut and while I suspect he will make the roster, Stallworth is clearly the last option right now at receiver.
10. Defensive End Jake Bequette
Bequette was the third round pick from this year's draft.
He is a high-motor player who may not have the greatest pass rushing skills, but should serve the Patriots well in limited snaps this season. The Patriots had a decent pass rush last year, that needs to be replicated this year. Bequette will be looked to to contribute.9. Linebacker Bobby Carpenter
Carpenter is solely a depth addition at linebacker. He is a good signing for the Patriots however as he is scheme versatile and experienced. Bill Belichick will be delighted to have him on the roster.
8. Cornerback Will Allen
Though he is well past his prime, 33 years old, Allen should be considered the favorite to land the dime role in the Patriots' sub-packages. His greatest competition comes from youngsters which means that Allen should have the edge in earning a spot on the roster.
7. Wide Receiver Jabar Gaffney
Gaffney is a tall receiver who runs excellent routes. He already played for the Patriots from 2006 to 2008 and should have the inside track on taking over Deion Branch's role in the offense. Gaffney is as good as Branch as far as catching the ball and running routes, but he is slightly more explosive and offers a bigger presence to add to the Patriots offense. 6. Defensive Lineman Jonathan Fanene
Fanene arrived this off-season from the Cincinnati Bengals as a versatile defensive lineman who should excel as a 3-4 defensive end. Fanene provides scheme versatility with his ability to play 4-3 defensive tackle also. He is a high energy guy that provides the Patriots with a different type of defensive linemen.
His presence will be key in nickel defenses.
5. Donta Hightower
Hightower would be a more important addition save for the fact that the Patriots already get quality play from their linebacking corps. Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes are intimidating presences. When you add Hightower to the mix, the group becomes even more flexible and athletic. Hightower will be a major improvement and return the Patriots defense to a unit reliant on intelligent linebacker play.
It may not be Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau, but it's not that far off this year either.4. Brandon Lloyd
Brandon Lloyd is the perfect final piece for the Patriots' passing attack. Last year, the Patriots lacked speed to stretch the field on the outside. With Lloyd, the Patriots not only get that, but also get a receiver who can run every route in the game and will consistently catch the football. Lloyd gives the offense what it needs without hampering it in other ways. If the Patriots offense wasn't already so good, his addition would be of greater importance.
3. Chandler Jones
Last year the Patriots had Andre Carter and Mark Anderson to rush the passer. This year Carter is injured and Anderson moved on to the Buffalo Bills. Bill Belichick brought in Chandler Jones to help overcome that deficit. Many people believed that Jones was the best pure pass rusher in the draft despite so many ends being taken ahead of him. The Patriots will likely use Jones the way the Seattle Seahawks use Chris Clemons. He won't solely rush the passer. Jones will be asked to drop into coverage, dominate the running game or get to the passer on any given play. Improving on the defensive weaknesses from last year is pointless if you don't fill the holes created during the off-season.
2. Steve Gregory
Last year, James Ihedigbo was a pivotal player for the Patriots on the defensive side of the ball. Ihedigbo was okay for the Patriots, but not consistent enough or enough of a playmaker. Much like Ihedigbo, Steve Gregory comes over from his former team from a backup role. Gregory isn't going to rack up the interceptions or dominate any facet of the game. What he does need to do is provide leadership and consistency for a secondary littered with younger players. If he can keep everyone on the same page and perform his own responsibilities adequately, it will be a big positive for the Patriots.1. Robert Gallery
If there is one thing that Tom Brady cannot perform without, it is interior pass protection. Bill Belichick always invests heavily in his offensive line because he understands that his quarterback isn't perfect. It is often said that Brady hasn't had enough weapons throughout his career. While that is a fair point in terms of receivers and running-backs, his offensive line has always been above average if not the best in the NFL. The Patriots entered last season with Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen and Brian Waters playing excellent football. This year Mankins is recovering from a torn ACL, Koppen is trying to reclaim his job from Dan Connolly and Waters is fighting for one last season of quality football. Robert Gallery is expected to take over for Logan Mankins after being signed from the Seattle Seahawks. Gallery is a better run blocker than pass blocker, despite being originally drafted as a left tackle, but his performances will be key for the Patriots' offensive machine. Gallery has massive shoes to fill in place of Mankins.Cian Fahey writes for the Guardian, Steelersdepot, FFBLife and Irishcentral. You can find him on twitter at @Cianaf