By Danny Cox
With a 14-2 regular season record, a division title and a first-round bye with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, some think the New England Patriots are the perfect team to go all the way to the Super Bowl. Looking back at the 2016 season, many expected names not only stepped up to the plate and played well, but they even improved.
Unfortunately, not everyone lived up to the hype – some players who were expected to become the next big name in the NFL faltered instead.
Rising: Martellus Bennett, TE
His talent was no real surprise as Bennett has always shown how valuable he is as a tight end in the NFL. He was putting up big numbers throughout the season, even before Rob Gronkowski went out with a season-ending injury. With 55 receptions for 701 yards and seven touchdowns, his numbers speak volumes for him, but he’s worth so much more. He’s an incredible blocker and a great leader – all of that will mean a big-time contract for the soon-to-be free agent.
If the Pats can lock him up, they’ll have the best tight end tandem in the league again when Gronk returns next season.
Rising: Tom Brady, QB
Say what you want, but he did appear to get better in his 17th season in the NFL. Tom Brady is showing no signs of age and his quality of football is only improving with each passing season. Even after missing four games due to his suspension, Brady passed for more than 3,500 yards and 28 touchdowns, but those aren’t even the most impressive numbers. The fact that he threw just two interceptions in 12 games is absolutely insane and proves that the 39-year-old quarterback won’t have to retire for a long time if he so chooses.
Falling: Cyrus Jones, CB
The Patriots take their draft picks seriously and using a second-round selection on Cyrus Jones meant that they had a lot of faith in him and saw plenty of potential. Well, by the middle of the season, he found himself benched and wondering when he would be able to play again. For more than a month, Jones didn’t even see a single minute of action in a game, and by the time he returned, his numbers were still extremely low. He made a lot of early-season mistakes, and maybe those can be chalked up to being a rookie. While his mistakes went down, his production didn’t go up, and things aren’t quite working out just yet.
Falling: Danny Amendola, WR
Danny Amendola has never been a huge producer, but he has been a credible threat and a target that Tom Brady has grown very used to finding. His injury in early December seemed crushing at first, but looking back at his numbers before it happened shows that it really wasn’t that bad. In 12 games, Amendola had a mere 243 yards and four touchdowns on just 23 receptions. Rookie Malcolm Mitchell has started to find his groove in the NFL and Amendola is nothing but the seventh-best receiver on the Patriots’ roster.