FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One of the first times it came up in the CBS broadcast was late in the second quarter on Sunday. New England Patriots rookie Deatrich Wise Jr. had made another disruptive play and analyst Tony Romo relayed some intelligence about the fourth-round draft pick from Arkansas.
“Sean Payton’s worried about him,” Romo said on the broadcast. “He’s said he’s very disruptive and with their two [starting offensive] tackles [out], he thought he could disrupt the game. So he tried to have a little part of his plan for Wise.”
Through two games of the 2017 season, how many people thought opposing offenses would be specifically game-planning against Wise?
Romo’s insight sparked a thought: On the day of the week that is normally reserved for “power rankings” across the NFL, why not a Patriots-centric “power ranking” on the team’s 2017 newcomers through two games?
1. Wise. Playing mostly in obvious pass-rushing situations, he is the first Patriots rookie to record a sack in each of his first two games since Chandler Jones in 2012. In addition to his five quarterback hits and one sack against the Saints, Wise also was the rusher against Andrus Peat on the play that Peat was penalized for illegal use of hands late in the third quarter. Wise has been the team's most disruptive pass-rusher.
2. RB Mike Gillislee. There’s no doubt who is the Patriots' top rusher when they get close to the goal line. He’s 4-for-4 in those situations. He runs hard and has been good with ball security as well.
3. DT Lawrence Guy. He was one of the Patriots’ best defensive players against the Saints, helping the Patriots stay stout against the inside running game, while generating some push in the pass rush. He’s playing better than Alan Branch right now.
4. WR Brandin Cooks. While his connection with Tom Brady is still developing, little things are showing up on tape that reflect a big impact on games, such as drawing four penalties in the opener (in addition to three catches for 88 yards) and executing legal pick plays to create opportunities for others.
5. WR Phillip Dorsett. Thrust into a tough spot after being acquired in a Sept. 2 trade, he’s accounted well for himself in terms of knowing where to align, and then making plays down the field against the Saints (32 snaps).
6. RB Rex Burkhead. Playing just 10 snaps in the opener and then eight against the Saints (his time was cut short because of an injury to his ribs), his fit in the offense is still evolving. He is a dual threat with the ability to make plays in the running and passing games. Now it's just finding a way to sustain.
7. CB Stephon Gilmore. Similar to most of the team’s defensive backs in a two-game stretch in which the Patriots have given up too many big plays, he’s searching for more consistency. There have been some positive flashes (e.g. pass breakup versus Chiefs), as well as some noticeable slip-ups (e.g. part of a breakdown on Tyreek Hill's 78-yard TD catch and getting caught up in a pick on Saints receiver Brandon Coleman’s 42-yard second-quarter catch, even though Coleman didn’t seem to be his man).
8. DT Adam Butler. The undrafted free agent from Vanderbilt has quickly earned the trust of the coaching staff, as evidenced by him earning a starting nod against the Saints. He’s growing on the job.
10. DE Cassius Marsh. He was put into a tough spot in the opener against the Chiefs, thrust into action after being acquired just five days earlier in a trade, but looked more effective against the Saints. Specifically, his strong pass rush off the left edge helped contribute to a fourth-and-3 incompletion.
11. TE Jacob Hollister. The undrafted free agent from Wyoming made his debut against the Saints and didn’t look out of place. His presence helped the Patriots call on more three-TE packages, some of which came out of the empty set.
13. LB Harvey Langi. The Brigham Young alum, who made the club as an undrafted free agent, made his debut against the Saints and showed up with a thunderous special-teams tackle and also a penalty on special teams. He only played six snaps on defense in the game.
14. LB David Harris. The fit of the 11-year veteran on the roster is a bit unusual because backup linebackers usually have a significant role in the kicking game. But Harris, who doesn’t run particularly well, does not. He has played just three defensive snaps through two games, mainly because the Patriots ran a dime defense (1 LB) in the opener, and then a nickel defense (2 LBs) against the Saints. Harris is behind Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts on the depth chart.