It's been a productive offseason thus far for the Patriots. They signed some quality free agents who should help the team like Chris Hogan, Chris Long and Shea McClellin, and they've also made a couple of trades, most notably acquiring Martellus Bennett, that should have an impact as well.
But in addition to the new blood that figures to help the team, New England also has a group of returning players who could be poised to add to the contributions they've made in the past. Jabaal Sheard was the team's best free agent signing a year ago, finishing with 8 sacks despite playing on a part-time basis as part of a rotation with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich on the edge.
Now Jones is off to Arizona and it's possible that Sheard's impact could increase with more opportunities.
He is not the only returning player who is looking to add more in 2016. And that's why we're looking at this subject closely for this week's Samsonite Make Your Case. Our question is: Which returning player is poised to enjoy a break out season in 2016?
PFW's Andy Hart says...
It looked like Flowers was making a bid to carve out a role for himself last summer when a concussion set him back and injuries eventually ended his season. Before that he showed an ability to rush the passer and was an active member of the defensive line. As long as he's healthy I believe he can take the next step in 2016.
Flowers has the athleticism to make an impact and with Chandler Jones out of the picture the Patriots will need some contributions from some of their young defensive linemen. Flowers appears ready to step into that role with a power/speed combination that flashed last summer and will continue to develop this season.
While Flowers may not be ready to replace the type of production Jabaal Sheard had as a role-playing reserve last year, he is more than capable of earning a regular spot in the rotation and will take advantage of his opportunities and become a productive force.
PFW's Paul Perillo says...
Most of our readers know I have an unhealthy obsession with James White but that's not the only reason he's my candidate to enjoy a breakout season. White will likely be the passing back to start the season assuming Dion Lewis needs a little more time to get to 100 percent following his ACL surgery. That will give him plenty of opportunities to shine at the start of the season.
I feel White will be even better than he was last year because he won't be asked to do quite as much. Assuming all of the other weapons - Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Martellus Bennett, Chris Hogan - are healthy to start the season, White could be the forgotten guy for opposing defenses, much like Lewis was at the start of 2015.
White proved he can catch the ball and make plays for the Patriots last year. Now, with more experience under his belt and some trust from Tom Brady he'll prove worthy of handling even more responsibility. He and Lewis will eventually form a dynamic tandem out of the backfield.
Now it's your turn to cast a vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.