We’ve all already heard about the high profile injuries that hurt the Patriots’ chances in 2015. There has already been plenty of talk about what New England should or could do in terms of acquiring talent to bolster the 2016 version of the Patriots. But the team already has some internal options who had minor or non-existent roles in 2015 and ended up on the shelf, but shouldn’t be forgotten when building your way-too-early depth charts.
The disclaimer here is this: None of these players can be considered locks to make the roster in 2016, but could prove something in order to carve out a role.
Trey Flowers, DE Largely forgotten due to the relative success of Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard on the ends of the Patriots’ defensive line, Flowers didn’t spend much time on the field in New England, prompting some to think his placement on injured reserve was more a way for the team to stash him for a year and clear room on the roster to address other needs (the Patriots picked up running back Trey Williams the same day). He’s a former two-time All-SEC athlete whose 48 career tackles for loss are the second most by an SEC defender since 2005. He would still have to prove himself, but could have value as a run-stopping defensive end, or move inside in smaller sub-packages.
AJ Derby, TE The Scott Chandler experience did not turn out as expected and there’s a decent chance the veteran will be released to relieve some cap pressure, which opens up some opportunities at the tight end position. Derby spent the entire season on IR with an undisclosed injury, which suggests maybe the Patriots were simply hoping to stash him away for the season as he learns a position that he had just switched to in his final year at Arkansas. He’s 6-foot-5, 255 pounds with good athleticism, including a 4.72 40 time, which would have placed him third in the 2015 Combine, had he not been suffering from a stress fracture in his foot and sidelined for the event. Considered more of a pass catcher, he could act as that second tight end split out off the line in an effort to create mismatches.
Tyler Gaffney, RB If he can stay healthy, the six-foot, 220-pound late-round pick out of Stanford the Patriots plucked from the Carolina Panthers in 2014 could have an opportunity to play a role as an internal option to take some of the workload previously shouldered by LaGarrette Blount, who may leave via free agency. He’s ended up on IR each of the last two seasons and has never had a regular season snap, but is someone Bill Belichick is said to value, especially for his work ethic, evidenced by the team’s willingness to hold onto him for another lost season. He’ll certainly see some manner of outside competition, but as the roster currently projects, he would be the team’s best in-house option as a between the tackles runner.
Brandon Gibson, WR Did someone order a big-bodied receiver on the cheap? Gibson was an inexpensive one-year signing after a forgettable tenure in Miami that included a patellar tendon tear. He was having a strong preseason, catching 12 passes for 98 yards before getting hurt in the second preseason game and ending up on season ending IR. Granted, preseason stats don’t mean a lot, but reports were good out of Foxboro. Gibson is slated to become an unrestricted free agent in March, but could return on a short money, incentive-laden kind of deal. He has experience in McDaniels’ system, posting his best professional season under the direction of the Patriots’ signal caller in 2010 with the Rams. Gibson has always been known as a guy who knows how to use his size (6 feet, 210 pounds) to his advantage and has played the slot for a good portion of his career, which, along with his size, could make him an asset in running interference in the underneath pick plays the Patriots love so much. At 28 and coming off of multiple knee injuries, he might not have anything left, but could be worth another flier.
Chris Jones, DT Jones started the year on the PUP list after offseason calf surgery and was never taken off, so his season was lost to IR. The Patriots had depth at the position in 2015, they face the prospect of losing Akiem Hicks and Sealver Siliga, and Jones would add a body at the position. He also isn’t a lock to make the team, but it helps that Jones also has special teams experience. He was the guy who committed a penalty on a Jets 56-yard attempt that cost the Patriots a game in 2013, he also blocked what would have been a game-winning kick against New York in 2014, probably his biggest claims to fame thus far in his career.