Aaron Dobson is working to be part of the mix in 2015. (Getty Images)
While everyone is familiar with the season-ending injuries to starters like linebacker Jerod Mayo and running back Stevan Ridley, there were others who also who saw their 2014 season come to a premature end because of injury. While the five players we have listed below might not be considered elite-level talent, they’re still part of the franchise as of this writing, and depending on their health and contract situation, their status could tell us a lot about how the team decides to proceed in free agency and the draft.
Wide receiver Aaron Dobson – According to a report from the Boston Herald, the receiver is spending time working at the Fischer Institute in Phoenix this offseason while re-dedicating himself to the game. The Marshall product followed up one of the best rookie seasons any receiver has ever had with Tom Brady (37 catches, 519 yards, 4 TDs) with just three catches for 38 yards this past year, eventually landing on injured reserve after injuring his hamstring in Week 13. It was essentially a lost year for Dobson, who had foot surgery in March and didn’t get on the field until mid-August. By that point, he had already lost valuable time, missing out on key spring workouts. It’s a key offseason for Dobson — he won’t turn 24 until June, but has to be aware that he needs to have a good stretch if he wants to gain some traction in the New England offense.
Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard – Bumped down the food chain because of the offseason pickups of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner (it’s hard to remember, but after Aqib Talib went down with an injury early in the 2013 AFC title game, Dennard was New England’s No. 1 corner), it was mostly a lost season for the 25-year-old. Like Dobson, he initially battled a shoulder injury, but there were times when he was healthy and he was still a scratch. The 5-foot-10, 200-pounder played in just six games (four starts) before going on injured reserve in December. It represented a career low-point for the Nebraska corner, who had just 15 tackles, one pick and one pass defense in 2014, a dropoff from 40 tackles, one interception and eight passes defensed in 2013. While the Patriots’ secondary is a bit of a fluid situation at this point, many critics believe that he could be a candidate to have his deal re-done in the offseason, or even cut loose depending on what happens with Revis and/or Browner.
Running back Tyler Gaffney – The former Stanford Cardinal was swiped off waivers by the Patriots last summer, and while the former sixth-round pick spent the year on injured reserve because of knee surgery, it will be intriguing what sort of role the Patriots could have in store for him in 2015. Gaffney, who will turn 24 next month, ran for 2,500 yards in four seasons as a collegian, including 1,709 in 2013. That stat line included 330 carries, a 5.2 yards per carry average and a whopping 21 touchdowns. While he’s more of a traditional between-the-tackles back, the 6-foo0t-1, 221-pounder does have some value in the passing game as well, having caught 32 passes (including 15 as a senior) for 264 yards. With the New England backfield in a state of flux, if he’s healthy, Gaffney could see significant reps for the Patriots this year. He’ll certainly be a player of interest when spring camps start up.
Defensive end Michael Buchanan – The 6-foot-6, 255-pounder played in just three games in 2014 before seeing his season come to a premature end. As a rookie in 2013, he wasn’t an overwhelming presence off the edge, but he did have two sacks, and at times, appeared to be trending in the right direction. If he had been healthy, it would have been debatable how much New England would have needed to acquire someone like Akeem Ayers midway through the season. The 24-year-old, who was a seventh round pick in 2013 out of Illinois, was placed on injured reserve in October. This year, he’ll likely face a battle for playing time as a backup edge rusher with the likes of Zach Moore and Ayers, if the latter doesn’t depart as a free agent.
Linebacker James Morris – The Iowa product was on and off the roster last year, signing as an underrated free agent in the spring before being release in May and brought back in June. He was placed on injured reserve at the end of the summer, and could play a role when it comes to working as a backup inside linebacker/special teamer in 2015. (Technically, Morris will be an exclusive rights free agent when free agency begins next week, which basically means that if he wants to play in the NFL next season, he has to sign with the Patriots.) The 23-year-old was just the sixth player in Iowa history to record 400 career tackles after finishing with 400 tackles, 10 1/2 sacks and six interceptions as a three-year starter. The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder was named a team captain in 2013 and started in all 13 games and finished second on the team with 107 total tackles, eight sacks and four interceptions.