A look at the key players in the Super Bowl

Replacing success like Adam Vinatieri could have been thankless

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

HOUSTON (AP) — Projected starters and key players for the Super Bowl at Houston:

ATLANTA FALCONS

OFFENSE

Matt Ryan, QB (2), 6-4, 217, 9th season, Boston College

Had best season, making All-Pro, leading NFL in passer rating (117.1), with 38 TDs … First-rounder in 2008, third overall pick … Has thrown for seven touchdowns and run for one in playoffs … Popular in New England because of college career, won’t be so popular there if he beats Patriots.

Devonta Freeman, RB (24), 5-8, 206, 3rd season, Florida State

Rushed for 1,000-plus yards and 11 TDs for second straight season … Also can catch the ball … Fourth-round pick who became starter in second NFL year.

Tevin Coleman, RB (26), 6-1, 210, 2nd season, Indiana

Complement to Freeman, third-round pick who has more speed … Scored eight rushing TDs in 2016 and three as receiver … Already has two postseason touchdowns.

Julio Jones, WR (11), 6-2, 220, 6th season, Alabama

All-Pro for second straight season … Despite toe injury, had nine receptions for 180 yards and two touchdowns in NFC title game … Uses speed, size and strength … Can go long or turn short throws into big gains.

Mohamed Sanu, WR (12), 6-2, 210, 5th season, Rutgers

Key free agency pickup from Cincinnati … Strong complement to Jones, had 59 receptions, four TDs during season, added two TD catches in postseason … Versatile and athletic.

Taylor Gabriel, WR (18), 5-8, 167, 3rd season, Abilene Christian

Was released by Cleveland — yep, couldn’t make Browns and is now in Super Bowl … Scored six TDs during season after grabbing third WR role … Undrafted because of size, but has proven dangerous downfield threat.

Austin Hooper, TE (81), 6-4, 248, 1st season, Stanford

Atlanta’s third-round pick who didn’t catch single pass in four games this season … Strictly a receiver at the position, must improve blocking … One of four tight ends on depth chart.

Jake Matthews, LT (70), 6-5, 305, 3rd season, Texas A&M

Son of Hall of Fame OL Bruce Matthews … First-round pick in 2014 who has had best season … Will need to be stout against variety of pass rushers for New England … Houston native.

Andy Levitre, LG (67), 6-2, 303, 8th season, Oregon State

Athletic guard who can do a lot, but also must show he can handle power defenders … Buffalo’s second-rounder in 2009 … Also played two seasons for Tennessee … Durable, has never missed a start.

Alex Mack, C (50), 6-4, 311, 8th season, California

His addition from Cleveland solidified line … One of the game’s best centers, plays hard and plays hurt … Has ankle injury, says it won’t affect him in Super Bowl.

Chris Chester, RG (65), 6-3, 303, 11th season, Oklahoma

Has made career out of being good enough to start, though not a star … A backup early in career, has started every game since 2011 … Ravens’ second-round pick in 2006, also was with Washington.

Ryan Schraeder, RT (73), 6-7, 300, 4th season, Valdosta State

Up-and-coming tackle who had strong season … Tall, but anchors well and doesn’t often let defenders get under him … Undrafted player who saw action as tight end earlier in career.

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DEFENSE

Brooks Reed, DE (50), 6-3, 254, 6th season, Arizona

Comes off strong playoff performances … Gets opportunities because he plays opposite Beasley … Houston’s second-rounder in 2011 … Has six playoff sacks.

Jonathan Babineaux, DT (95), 6-2, 300, 12th season, Iowa

Veteran run stuffer who was second-round pick in 2005 … Longest-tenured Falcon, has appeared in 185 games … Can get to QB on occasion, but not his role.

Grady Jarrett, DT (97), 6-0, 305, 2nd season, Clemson

Came in with Beasley, is somewhat overshadowed by him, as he was at Clemson … Clogs middle, but can penetrate into backfield … Fifth-round pick in 2015, became regular this season.

Tyson Jackson, DE (94), 6-4, 296, 8th season, LSU

Third overall selection in 2009 by Kansas City … Didn’t do a lot for Chiefs, then joined Falcons in 2014 as free agent … Will yield to aging but still dangerous Dwight Freeney (93) on passing downs.

Vic Beasley Jr., LB (44), 6-3, 246, 2nd season, Clemson

After mediocre rookie year as first-rounder, might have been NFL’s most improved player this season … Had 15½ sacks to top NFL — and he’s just learning … All-Pro who has not stood out so much in postseason … Patriots must control him.

Deion Jones, LB (45), 6-1, 222, 1st season, LSU

Second-rounder was one of NFL’s top rookies this season … Aggressive and agile … Plays mostly in coverage rather than blitzing, had four INTs (including playoffs), no sacks … Involved in 106 tackles.

De’Vondre Campbell, LB (59), 6-4, 232, 1st season, Minnesota

Fourth-rounder who missed four games early in schedule (ankle), then came on … Not real active in passing game, had zero sacks because he rarely rushed … One of four rookie starters on D.

Robert Alford, CB (23), 5-10, 186, 4th season, SE Louisiana

Veteran of the secondary will be tested by Patriots early and often … Second-round pick in 2013 just finished third season as regular … Not a ball-hawk, only nine interceptions in career … Needs to be aggressive in coverage.

Jalen Collins, CB (32), 6-1, 203, 2nd season, LSU

Second-round choice in 2015 who didn’t play much, but came on when healthy this season after top CB Desmond Trufant was injured … Had key forced fumble and recovery vs. Green Bay … New England receivers are healthy, unlike Green Bay’s, and will test Collins.

Brian Poole, CB (34), 5-10, 211, 1st season, Florida

Undrafted rookie who got bigger role after S Kemal Ishmael had season-ending shoulder injury in December … Active in postseason with 10 tackles … Patriots sometimes abuse slot DBs, so he needs to be sharp.

Ricardo Allen, S (37), 5-9, 186, 2nd season, Purdue

Fifth-rounder in 2014, didn’t debut for Falcons until next year … Consistent starter with nose for the ball, has five picks in short career … Pretty good tackler despite size.

Keanu Neale, S (22), 6-0, 211, 1st season, Florida

Like Jones, one of NFL’s most impressive rookies … Hits hard, sometimes goes beyond limits … Reminiscent of Seattle’s star safeties … First-round selection who took part in 105 tackles.

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SPECIAL TEAMS

Matt Bryant, K (3), 5-9, 203, 15th season, Baylor

Among most dependable kickers in NFL history … Led league in scoring with 158 points, made 34 of 37 field goals and 56 — yes, 56 — extra points … Hit 59-yarder this season … First Super Bowl.

Matt Bosher, P (5), 6-0, 208, 6th season, Miami

Ranked sixth in gross average, but punted only 44 times, fewest among league leaders … Doesn’t always get punts high, leading to some returns … Rare punter who was drafted, sixth round in 2011.

Eric Weems, KR/PR (14), 5-9, 195, 10th season, Bethune-Cookman

Still doing well as returner after decade in NFL … Ranked sixth in punt return average … Not as effective running back kickoffs … Also played two seasons for Chicago.

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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

OFFENSE

Tom Brady, QB (12), 6-4, 225, 17th season, Michigan

Three-time Super Bowl MVP seeking unprecedented for QBs fifth ring … Is 4-2 in Super Bowls, including victory in 2015 … Suspended for first four games of season for “Deflategate,” then had one of his best years … Unless Falcons can pressure him, he could tear apart defense.

LeGarrette Blount, RB (29), 6-0, 250, 7th season, Oregon

Power runner who does best work near end zone … Led NFL with 18 touchdowns rushing … Had second 1,000-plus yard rushing season … Also played for Tampa and Pittsburgh, which he basically quit before landing back with New England in 2014.

Julian Edelman, WR (11), 5-10, 200, 8th season, Kent State

College QB who made immediate switch to receiver and has become go-to guy for Brady … Sure hands, runs excellent routes … Feisty … Already has 16 catches, 255 yards in postseason … Also returns punts.

Chris Hogan, WR (15), 6-1, 210, 4th season, Monmouth

Former lacrosse player at Penn State and small college football guy … Joined Patriots this season after playing three seasons with Bills … Starred in AFC title game with nine catches, 180 yards, two TDs … Adds speed to receiving group.

Malcolm Mitchell, WR (19), 5-11, 200, 1st season, Georgia

Rookie who has earned Brady’s confidence … Made 32 receptions, scored four times during season … Missed divisional-round game vs Houston … Fourth-round pick and generally fourth or fifth option for QB.

Martellus Bennett, TE (88), 6-6, 275, 9th season, Texas A&M

With star Rob Gronkowski sidelined, Bennett has become key starter … Brady likes to target tight ends and Bennett had 55 catches, seven TDs this season … Entertaining guy who keeps things light on often dour teams.

Nate Solder, LT (77), 6-8, 325, 6th season, Colorado

Unsung left tackle who nailed down starting job in 2012 … First-round pick in 2011, also played right tackle … Missed much of 2015 while injured, came back solidly this season.

Joe Thuney, LG (62), 6-4, 305, 1st season, North Carolina State

Patriots unafraid to play rookies and Thuney is latest … Third-round pick who fits job description perfectly: diligent, unassuming, good student.

David Andrews, C (60), 6-2, 295, 2nd season, Georgia

Another young blocker, Andrew became starter as rookie and performed well … Undrafted find by scouting department … Not real big but uses leverage and strength well.

Shaq Mason, RG (69), 6-1, 310, 2nd season, Georgia Tech

One more young blocker who came in as rookie and established himself … Has played both sides … Fourth-round pick in 2015, particularly strong in run game.

Marcus Cannon, RT (61), 6-5, 335, 6th season, TCU

Along with Andrews, most underrated O-line member in New England … Versatile, has seen some duty at center and guard … Second-team All-Pro this season.

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DEFENSE

Chris Long, DE (95), 6-2, 270, 9th season, Virginia

First season with Patriots after eight injury-filled years with Rams … Second overall pick in 2008 draft … All-around performer who can stop run and rush passer … Son of Hall of Fame DL Howie Long.

Alan Branch, DT (97), 6-6, 350, 10th season, Michigan

Branch has been around, really found home in Foxborough … Second-round selection by Arizona in 2007, also played for Seattle and Buffalo … Space eater who ties up blockers so others can make tackles.

Malcom Brown, DT (90), 6-2, 320, 2nd season, Texas

First-rounder in 2015 who has been solid since joining team … Like Branch, more clogger than playmaker … Won’t have huge impact versus pass, but has four sacks this season.

Trey Flowers, DE (98), 6-2, 265, 2nd season, Arkansas

Developed quickly into team’s best pass rusher … After trading Chandler Jones, Patriots needed DE to step up and Flowers did after barely seeing field as rookie … Finished with seven sacks, involved in 45 tackles.

Jabaal Sheard, DE (93),6-3, 265, 6th season, Pittsburgh

Veteran presence who escaped Cleveland and has been steady for New England … Did best work for Browns in first three seasons after being selected in second round in 2011 … Has 13 sacks in two seasons for Patriots.

Shea McLellin, LB (58), 6-2, 250, 5th season, Boise State

Another retread, 2012 first-rounder by Chicago who fizzled there … Can get to the QB, also has nose for ball and has made four fumble recoveries in career … Mostly situational player.

Dont’a Hightower, LB (54), 6-2, 265, 5th season, Alabama

Top defender and leader on unit … Learned similar defensive style in school, adapted right away to Patriots … First-round pick in 2012, pretty much starter when available … Was part of 65 tackles this season, had 2½ sacks.

Rob Ninkovich, LB (50), 6-2, 260, 11th season, Purdue

Whether he’s lined up at end or LB, Ninkovich makes plays … Fourth Super Bowl … Joined Patriots in 2009, also was with Saints and Dolphins, but barely played … 15 fumble recoveries, 52 sacks show his value.

Kyle Van Noy, LB (53), 6-3, 242, 3rd season, BYU

Yet another newcomer to New England who prospered on stingiest scoring defense in league … Detroit’s second-rounder in 2014, had little impact there … Moves well, active in coverage, finds the ball.

Logan Ryan, CB (26), 5-11, 195, 4th season, Rutgers

Third-round choice in 2013, became regular in 2015 … Has had excellent postseason, will be tested by Julio Jones and Sanu … Has 14 picks … Involved in 92 tackles this season.

Malcolm Butler, CB (21), 5-11, 190, 3rd season, West Alabama

Undrafted free agent who became Super Bowl hero with interception of Russell Wilson to clinch title two years ago … Aggressive, good hands, reads routes well … Figures to see plenty of Julio Jones … Made 2015 Pro Bowl.

Eric Rowe, CB (25), 6-1, 205, 2nd season, Utah

Third cornerback who also came from elsewhere, was Philadelphia’s second-round selection in 2015 … Could see a lot of Gabriel … Had interception of Ben Roethlisberger in AFC championship game.

Devin McCourty, S (32), 5-10, 195, 7th season, Rutgers

Most reliable DB on team … Former cornerback who found home at safety, is leader of secondary … Good tackler, reads offensive tendencies well … Hits hard … In third Super Bowl … Twin Jason plays for Titans.

Patrick Chung, S (23), 5-11, 215, 8th season, Oregon

Second-round pick in 2009 who had many ups and downs … Went to Eagles in 2013 and pretty much flopped … Then returned to New England and has been solid … Hard-hitting tackler with better ball skills and recognition than in first term with Patriots.

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SPECIAL TEAMS

Stephen Gostkowski, K (3), 6-1, 215, 11th season, Memphis

Replacing success like Adam Vinatieri could have been thankless, but Gostkowski is team’s all-time scoring leader … Very strong leg, makes the critical kicks, though he missed PAT in 2015 AFC title match … Made 27 of 32 field goals, scored 127 points.

Ryan Allen, P (6), 6-2, 220, 4th season, Louisiana Tech

Punters tend to come and go in New England. Allen has lasted four years, which says something … Consistent kicker not bothered by weather. Of course, that won’t matter in Houston.

Dion Lewis, KR (33), 5-8, 195, 5th season, Pittsburgh

Spent two inconsequential seasons with Eagles, then joined Patriots … Dynamic player in 2015 until he tore up knee, had four touchdowns in seven games … Returned late this season and has been key contributor as runner and receiver … Had 98-yard TD return vs. Houston … Could match up well vs. Atlanta secondary.

Danny Amendola, PR (80), 5-11, 190, 8th season, Texas Tech

Regularly a wideout, Amendola also is sure-handed returner … Spent first four seasons with Rams, then became reliable target for Brady … Had big 2015 returning punts with 12.0 average. That sank to 6.0 this season … Can surprise coverage teams with his burst.

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