Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bottom End

The Pats enter the contest with the Jets tied for the AFC East lead at 6-3.

This record is a testament to a lot of things - the coaching, the will of the players, and, possibly most of all, the team's scouting department that has managed to find NFL caliber players at the bottom end of the draft to populate the bottom end of New England's depth chart. But it goes farther than that, as the scouting department has succeeded in finding those guys when the draft is over.

There are 63 players (10 on injured reserve) on the roster, of those listed below, none was drafted higher than the sixth round (although a couple were from other teams, I felt it worth noting their original draft status), and most were brought on as rookie free agents (noted as RFA). Almost all have had at least some, if not significant playing time with the regular units as well as with special teams.

Eric Alexander (RFA) - Linebacker, has only been active on special teams for one game this season, but saw action in 12 games last season and got the start in a postseason tilt against the Colts in 2006.

Matt Cassel (7) - Steadily improving replacement part for Tom Brady, progressing at roughly the same rate Brady did when he replaced Drew Bledsoe in 2001. Is 5-3 as a starter, and 6-3 through 8.75 games this season for the Patriots.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis (RFA) - Signed off the practice squad when the team was down to Kevin Faulk and Heath Evans, Green-Ellis has been solid, scoring four touchdowns in four games to go with a 3.9 yards-per-rush average.

Matt Guttierez (RFA) - Third stringer in 2007, and cut at the end of camp this season, Guttierez was re-signed as the third QB again. Has not seen any playing time outside of the pre-season.

Gary Guyton (RFA) - Has worked his way into a regular rotation with Tedy Bruschi that helps keep the veteran fresh, Guyton has 20 tackles this season playing primarily on third downs. More impressively, he's worked his way into a rotation under a coach that favors veterans at this position.

Larry Izzo (RFA) - Signed as a free agent from the Dolphins, Izzo was an established special teams demon when the Pats signed him. He's here only as a footnote as a player who went undrafted. Even though a smart signing by the Patriots that took an impact player from a division rival, this one I have to credit to the Miami scouting department and Jimmy Johnson.

Stephen Neal (RFA) - Didn't play a down of football in college, has developed into a solid right guard. At times, particularly in the running game, Neal has been punishing.

Lonnie Paxton (RFA) - Buried on the depth chart at tight end, Paxton has carved out a niche for himself as the team's long snapper and an absolute demon on special teams, sometimes making tackles on the same play wherein he snapped the ball.

Mike Richardson (6) - The second year corner out of Notre Dame is raw, but has shown flashes of potential when he's had the chance to play, and could develop into something special - especially now with the depleted secondary, he has a chance to show the coaches what he can do.

Le Kevin Smith (6) - Back-up nose tackle, Smith only has three tackles on the season, but all have come close to the line of scrimmage. Smith has been a solid, if unspectacular back up.

Antwain Spann (RFA) - Spann has appeared in only three games this season, and one last, but has appeared in as many as eight (2006), primarily on special teams, but has seen a little bit of time with the regular defense. Not really an impact player, Spann really has been the proverbial bottom of the roster, yet he has done enough to stick through into his third season.

Raymond Ventrone (RFA) - A hard-nosed, does whatever asked sort of player who has been asked to play downs in the regular defense, offense and special teams. Ventrone has the potential to be a fan favorite - that blue collar guy who does anything asked and doesn't complain. If he develops into any kind of impact player doing that, the fans will love him.

Wes Welker (Tr - RFA) - A walk on in college, undrafted, and later cut by the Chargers, then signed by the Dolphins who traded the guy they thought was a third receiver to the Pats for second and seventh round draft picks. He went on to lead the league in receptions in 2007 and is currently second in the league with 65 catches. Through the two seasons he has also been one of the top Yard After the Catch men.

Pierre Woods (RFA) - Woods is now in his third season with the team. While primarily a special teamer, Woods has seen time in the regular defense spelling Bruschi and Mike Vrabel. With the injury to Adalius Thomas, Woods is expected to pick up the slack left in the wake of that injury.

Mike Wright (RFA) - A personal favorite of mine, Wright is a high motor sort of guy that never stops before the whistle. How he wasn't at the very least a low-round draft pick is beyond me.

Billy Yates (RFA) - Yates is another one of those who was originally signed elsewhere (Miami), and was cut. Yates has developed into a solid back-up tackle, getting starts when there have been injuries along the line. While he was part of the problem in pass protection during the season, he's a guy that can come in and spell the starter for a while without significant drop-off. His issue is when he has to play the whole game.

Tom Brady (6 - IR) - Arguably the best quarterback in football for the better part of the last five seasons, inexplicably was still around after almost 200 players were drafted ahead of him. Every team in the NFL had multiple shots at Brady before the Pats got him. He's only gone on to appear in four Super Bowls, winning three, garnering two SB MVP's, one NFL MVP, and set the single season record for touchdown passes.

A whopping 27 percent of their roster came in the sixth round or later (20.6 percent of the roster went undrafted). Now, I can't say this for certain, having not researched other teams, but I would be surprised to find that one-fifth of any other team was made up of players that went undrafted, or that close to a third of the team came from round six or later (it goes up by another four players if rookie Bo Rudd - injured - and the fifth rounders are included in the list)


Suldog said...

Geez, that's one hell of a list. Man, I love Thursday Night Football. Can't wait to see this one, especially after the semi-trash talked by one of the Jets.

Kevin Smith said...

Gotta admit, it was a lot longer than I expected it to be. Looking forward to this one.