Let’s start our final season preview push with a study of the Patriots going right to the crux of the matter: ranking all 57 players in order by order of importance, and putting them into tiers.
The overall criteria I used was value to the team. As in, if this player was out for the season, could the Patriots overcome it?
Plus, we divide the roster into several categories, including irreplaceables, luxury pieces, chemistry players, future prospects and those who should rent and not buy.
Let’s kick this off right at the top with the four players who I see as essential to any possible Patriots’ run to another Super Bowl title.
THEY’RE NOT WINNING A SUPER BOWL WITHOUT THEM
1. Julian Edelman, WR: This is probably the first time ever a Patriots receiver takes the top spot, but he's the only proven option on the roster.
2. Cam Newton, QB: After the opt-outs, the Patriots desperately needed a superman as the triggerman to carry this offense, and Newton has that potential if he stays healthy.
3. Lawrence Guy, DT: Another of the spots where there is only one bonafide NFL player across a few positions. He's my guy. He's your guy. He's all our guy.
4. Devin McCourty, S: Only proven and durable safety on this team. Man, this is starting to get depressing ...
5. Ja'Whaun Bentley, LB: ... But there's more! This now makes it five positions (and 10 spots) where there is only one somewhat accomplished NFL player starting the season. And Bentley has only started four games in two previous seasons. The fact that Bentley is up this high on the list — over the next six players — is Evidence 1A of how far the Patriots have fallen in personnel, and how thin this team is. But if Bentley gets hurt, or is not up to par, the Patriots are screwed.
6. Jonathan Jones, SCB: A bit sacrilege to have Jones over Gilmore — who could (and just might) play slot really well if asked — but Jones is really the only true slot on this team (would that be a sixth position left barren?), and he's outstanding. If Jones was injured, the secondary would not be as good. Period. If Gilmore was injured, they'd be fine with Jackson and Jason McCourty.
7. James White, RB: Newton loves throwing to the running backs, and White might lead the team in receptions.
WINNING A SUPER BOWL IS GOING TO BE TOUGH WITHOUT THEM
8. David Andrews, C: