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Duffy: The Key for Pats is Edelman

July 24, 2018

A healthy Dont'a Hightower should make a big impact on New England's defense in 2018. AP FILE PHOTO Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

By Kevin Duffy

Boston Herald

With training camp set to start Thursday, here are lists of the Top 10 most indispensable Patriot players, not counting Tom Brady, from this writer. The term “indispensable” implies not only talent and ability, but also how the team would be affected if the player missed time, or how vital the player is to the Patriots’ success in 2018.

The order might change in a few months. So might the list of names. This is how it looks heading into camp.

10. Kyle Van Noy: The Pats grabbed Van Noy for virtually nothing in a 2016 trade with Detroit, flipping a sixth-round pick for the talented linebacker and a seventh-round selection. He has emerged as one of the club’s top defenders.

9. Shaq Mason: Mason showed consistent improvement in each of his first three NFL seasons. The Pats love to run behind Mason and tackle Marcus Cannon on the right side.

8. Stephen Gostkowski: Gostkowski made 37-of-40 field goal attempts this past season, putting him among the league’s leaders. He was perfect from 50-plus yards. Nearly one-third of NFL teams converted less than 80 percent of their field goal tries. A reliable kicker like Gostkowski makes a huge difference.

7. Trey Flowers: New England’s pass rush struggled last year, but Flowers was a bright spot. He was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the 14th-best edge defender in the NFL.

6. Devin McCourty: Duron Harmon played 66 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in 2017, which meant McCourty took on responsibilities beyond his traditional single-high safety role. He checked tight ends and was also used in “robber” coverage, patrolling the intermediate part of the field.

5. Patrick Chung: Bill Belichick called Chung “one of the best players in the league” this past January. Chung fills several important roles for the Pats, covering tight ends, helping against the run, and sometimes handling opposing wide receivers in man coverage. He’s underappreciated throughout the league.

4. Dont’a Hightower: Hightower played only five games a year ago, and the New England defense allowed 4.7 yards per rushing attempt (the worst mark of the Bill Belichick era). That’s not a coincidence.

3. Stephon Gilmore: With Malcolm Butler in Tennessee, Gilmore is the Patriots’ only proven lockdown cornerback. He overcame a shaky start in 2017 to establish himself as one of the team’s best overall players.

2. Rob Gronkowski: Still by far the best at his position. He’s an impossible cover down the middle of the field. Just ask Steelers safety Sean Davis.

1. Julian Edelman: No Danny Amendola this year for the Pats. If Edelman misses significant time beyond his four-game suspension, the Pats will be faced with a difficult challenge. Edelman’s ability to create separation within seconds is the foundation of the high-powered New England offense.

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