Among the many disappointing developments of this Patriots off-season was the loss of some of their most versatile players:
- Plucky running back Danny Woodhead was a solid weapon in the backfield as both a runner and a pass catcher. Poaching him from the NY Jets and making him a star in New England was especially satisfying for the Patriot faithful. An undrafted and unheralded star from Div 2 Chadron State, Danny was the true embodiment of an NFL underdog. He unfortunately was a victim of a crowded group at RB and ended up signing with the San Diego Chargers.
- Arguably the greatest slot receiver of this or any generation, Wes Welker could move the chains on offense or field punts on special teams. He was an integral member of many great Patriots teams. Wes and the Patriots couldn't agree on contract terms (thanks to Welker's overzealous, unrealistic agent). He instead signed with current Conference foe, the Denver Broncos.
- Tight end Aaron Hernandez could line up just about anywhere as a receiver, H-back/TE or running back and create mismatches all over the field. The former Florida Gator went from 4th round disappointment to explosive NFL playmaker almost overnight. Troubled and volatile, he couldn't escape the demons he had off the field. Sadly, we all know what happened to his wasted career.
The good news for the Patriots is they still have a stable of versatile and dangerous threats on their 2013 roster. The list below is the Top 10 Most Versatile Patriots for the upcoming season:
10. Tim Tebow
Versatility: ST, OW (TE/H-Back/RB??)
Analysis: It's no guarantee that he makes the roster; however, I wouldn't bet against it. While I firmly believe he is being groomed to be a backup QB, Belichick can't help but salivate over using Tebow as a potential offensive weapon in certain packages/plays. NY Jets beware: there will be NO mercy this year.
9. Adrian Wilson
Analysis: The former Arizona Cardinals star has the speed and ability to play Safety, but the bulk and ferocity to play LB. Don't be surprised to see him used in a Big Nickel or similar package as a Rover. His flexibility can allow him to come up to stop the run or cover backs in space.
8. Leon Washington
Analysis: The former Jet and Seahawk speedster has become an upper echelon KR in the league. While he doesn't get as much time at RB anymore, he still is a threat as a scatback/change-of-pace guy especially on 3rd down.
7. Marcus Cannon
Analysis: Coming out of TCU, he dropped to the Patriots in the 5th round due to health concerns (non-Hodgkin lymphoma). In college he played both LT and RT but has played mostly RG in the NFL. At 6'5" and 340 pounds, the versatile grinder can play just about anywhere as an OL.
6. Matt Slater
Versatility: WR, CB/S
Analysis: The UCLA grad has become one of the most valuable ST players in the league. The son of NFL great Jackie Slater, his football pedigree and instincts make him truly special. Playing offense and defense also when team is in a crunch, it's clear why the two time Pro Bowler has become an unsung member of the team.
5. Dont'a Hightower
Versatility: ILB, DE
Analysis: The first rounder from Alabama enters his second season with huge expectations. Hightower can play just about any LB position and can even play DE. Expect to see him all over the field making plays, including frequent trips to the offensive backfield.
4. Julian Edelman
Versatility: ST, OW
Analysis: A former college QB, Edelman transitioned to WR and was drafted in the seventh round. His mix of speed and elusiveness makes him a threat whenever the ball is in hands, especially in the return game. With the loss of Welker, he could get more work in the slot or as a split end. He could also find his way into some trick plays this season.
3. Rob Ninkovich
Analysis: Ninkovich has been arguably the best playmaker on defense the last two seasons. Previously a starter at OLB, he moved to DE when Dont'a Hightower joined the team last year. With all the exotic packages and alignments the Patriots use, Ninkovich can attack opposing offenses from many different angles or drop back in coverage.
2. Shane Vereen
Versatility: WR, OW
Analysis: All signs point to this being a potential breakout year for Vereen. If he can stay healthy, he could fill the shoes of Woodhead/Faulk before him as a threat on the ground or through the air. His hands and instincts are great, and he possesses breakaway speed.
1. Devin McCourty
Versatility: CB, ST
Analysis: He was an All-Pro CB as a rookie. Then after a sophomore slump in the secondary, he slid back to S and is now one of the best at that position. With the possible loss of Dennard for some or all of the season, might we see a return to CB for the former Rutgers star?
Honorable Mention: Rob Gronkowski
Analysis: While Gronk in theory only plays one position, he plays that position like no one else. Blocker, receiver, deep threat, red zone target...there really isn't anything he can't do. If he is healthy, there is no more dominant offensive force on the field.