The New England Patriots are ready to defend their Super Bowl title this upcoming season. OTAs have started and Tom Brady is ready to lead the Patriots to a sixth Super Bowl.
But Brady will not be the only key player to be relied upon this season. Here are three players that will have to play well this year in order for the Patriots to succeed.
- Rob Gronkowski
This player is pretty high on just about every Patriot’s fans list. When Gronkowski isn’t spending time advertising for Dunkin Donuts, his on field play shows steady production.
In a shortened season for Gronkowski due to a back injury in week 9 vs. the Seattle Seahawks, he accumulated 25 receptions for 540 yards and three touchdowns in just eight games. Before 2016, Gronkowski had at least 10 touchdown receptions in five of his first six seasons in the NFL. With a healthy Gronkowski, the Patriots have a significant presence in the red zone and a player who can draw double teams, leaving other receivers such as Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola in one on one coverage.
2. Brandin Cooks
The Patriots signature transaction this off-season was trading for wide receiver Brandin Cooks. There have already been talks about how Cooks could lead the Patriots this season in receptions. Based on his season last year, it is not an unreasonable claim to make.
Cooks played in all 16 games for the New Orleans Saints last season. In those 16 games, he caught 78 passes for 1,173 yards and had eight touchdowns for the Saints. However, those are not the most impressive numbers of Cooks 2016 season. Cooks caught 15 passes of 20 yards or more and also caught six passes of 40 yards or more.
Cooks will be the down-field threat the Patriots have lacked over the past few seasons. Yes, they did have Chris Hogan last season, but Cooks is certainly an upgrade. Cooks in 2017 could be what Randy Moss was for the Patriots in 2007.
3. Kony Ealy
Ealy is another trade acquisition the Patriots acquired during the off-season. Ealy joins the Patriots after a successful three year tenure with the Carolina Panthers. So far, Ealy has not been shy of the New England media, making him instantly likable.
Ealy played adequately for the Panthers in 2016. He played in all 16 games while recording 19 total tackles and five sacks, with one interception as well. Ealy’s best performance came in Super Bowl 50 when he had a record 3 sacks along with a forced fumble and an interception.
Ealy is a big defensive line player who can get to the quarterback. Ealy’s ability to get to the quarterback will be crucial to the Patriots’ defensive line success.
These three players are only three of many who need to contribute for the Patriots to have another successful season. Patriots fans are hoping for a similar result from the 2003-2004 seasons when they repeated and won three Super Bowls in four seasons. With Bill Belichick still at the helm, it is safe to say the Patriots will keep their team-first mentality.