By: Jake Mackey
For the fifth time in the Belichick-Brady era, the New England Patriots have finished the regular season with 14 or more victories, and for the 11th time they will have a first-round playoff bye. There were some players who performed above the rest, some who came out of the woodwork, and others whom did not live up to expectations. Therefore without further a due, here are my awards for the Patriots 2016 regular season.
Offensive Player of the Year: Tom Brady. Obvious choice here. Had Rob Gronkowski stayed healthy, he would have made a strong push for this award. However seeing how he had missed most of the season, this award without question goes to Tom Brady, whom in my opinion should be the league MVP. In just 12 starts, Brady threw for 3,554 yards, with 28 touchdowns, and only two interceptions. That is the best touchdown to interception ratio in league history. Just and unprecedented performance at 39-years old.
Defensive Player of the Year: Malcolm Butler. The Patriots are a prime example in the new-age of the NFL that proves that the two most important positions on a roster are quarterback and cornerback, and the Patriots finally have stable elite players at both spots. Butler took on opposing team’s best receivers on a weekly basis and proved worthy of the task of defending the likes of AJ Green, Brandon Marshall (twice), and Antonio Brown, even though he had some struggles with Brown he still competed him. He is not going to change the game with his turnovers or completely wipe out one side of the field, but he is going to make things extremely difficult for the oppositions best receiver, and that is the most valuable trait a defense can have.
Most Improved: LeGarrette Blount. After two mediocre seasons, and a season-ending hip injury as he approached 30-years old, it appeared as though LeGarrette Blount’s career was coming to a close. He was brought back to the Patriots on a veteran minimum deal after sitting on the free agent market for about a month. Needless to say given these circumstances not many anticipated a 1,161 yard, 18 touchdown season from Blount. He, along with help from Dion Lewis have added a legitimate running attack to the Patriots offense which is something they have lacked in recent years, and it has plagued them. Blount’s continued production will be pivotal during the postseason.
Needs Improvement: Cyrus Jones. Few times does a rookie come into the league and really contribute, and if they do they are usually a first-round pick. Therefore, not much is expected out of a second-round pick like Cyrus Jones. However, his rookie season was one just filled with disfunction. Jones was only active for 10 games, starting in only one. His biggest strength coming out of college was ability in the return game. In his rookie season he gave up the ball five times on returns. Serious improvement will be needed to his overall game if Jones wants any sort of future in Foxborough or the NFL in general.
Best Newcomer: Martellus Bennett. When Rob Gronkowski went down in late November, all seemed but lost for the Patriots as was the case in previous Patriots seasons. 2016 has been a different story thus far though, and that is due much in part to the contributions from Martellus Bennett. After struggling with his quarterback Jay Cutler in Chicago, Bennett has come to New England and racked up 55 receptions, for 701 yards, and seven touchdowns. The most important attribute Bennett can give the Patriots offense in the postseason is the ability for a key third down conversion or red zone play that would generally be taken over by Rob Gronkowski.
Rookie of the Year: Malcolm Mitchell. Aaron Dobson, Chad Jackson, Taylor Price, and Josh Boyce are just a few of the names of rookie receivers that were never able to get on the same page as Tom Brady. Malcolm Mitchell has been a different story. While he has not lit up the stat sheet (32 receptions, 401 yards) he has come through in key situations, most notably in the red zone with four touchdowns. The simple fact that he has grasped the playbook this well up to this point is reasoning enough for Mitchell to win Patriots rookie of the year.