Odell Beckham Jr. Addition Pushes Patriots Deep Into Playoff Discussion

When the story of Odell Beckham Jr. first surfaced nearing the trade deadline, the name Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots immediately began to surface in connection. The immediate reaction was: “Please, not again. We’re tired of this rumor”. As this would not mark the first time a potential link between the Patriots and OBJ has been brought up. Yet, this time around, Beckham is subject to waivers, not a mere trade target to appease Tom Brady. 

The situation presents itself a little differently. New England will likely be looking for that one last playmaker to differentiate their 4-4 offense. Making the possibility of this deal actually happening seem a little bit more real. Leading one to imagine, what the offense would look like, how Beckham could function in the offense, what he could add to it, and whether his addition, at likely a restructured salary, would be worth it. 

The waiver wire process, Patriots’ chances

Of course, Beckham is going through the waiver wire, where the Patriots stand middle of the pack at 15th. There are a few teams in front of New England, posing as threats to snatch him off the wire. Most would likely have more money to do so. As the Patriots sit with their estimated $2.5 million in cap space. However, something to anticipate is the mere fact that some of the under .500 teams would have to consider between surrendering draft pick value for a season that seemingly cannot be salvaged, and the value of bringing in Beckham, who could potentially become disgruntled in a losing environment. That is especially if the quarterback situation is less than optimal. Leaving many contenders, looking for that last push over the hump, the most likely candidates for his service. 

Many of whom also have limited cap space to absorb Beckham’s large remaining salary of $7.5 million for the nine remaining weeks of the regular season. In fact, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, there are only nine teams that can afford to claim Beckham without maneuvering any other money around. Many of those teams have reasonable questions regarding their competitiveness around the league, and or their quarterback situation. Leaving many to question if Beckham will get claimed off waivers at all. 

A lot still has to play out, yes. However, one thing to count on, if Beckham does in fact hit the open market, New England will be interested in some form. Beckham will share at least somewhat similar interest. The rest of the story is yet to unfold. 

With much speculation and possibility in the air, let’s try to address how he can fit in this offense. What does Beckham bring to the table, and how does he open things up for this offense?

How does Beckham fit? 

Adding Beckham gives you at the very least a fourth truly competent receiver to work with. With Jakobi Meyers in the slot, Nelson Agholor at the Z spot, the Patriots fit Beckham in at the X. That’s a receiver trio that Mac Jones should be comfortable with, and most other quarterbacks would agree. Especially with Kendrick Bourne also in the mix. Then, N’Keal Harry seeing some usage, the two tight ends in Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, and the rushing threat of Damien Harris. That offense would have a lot of options at their disposal. They would be able to operate from a variety of different looks, and incorporate loads of pre-snap motion in order to create a multiplicity of mismatches on the field. On a consistent basis, they would have the personnel to beat the blitz, tight man coverage, and find empty holes in zone coverage, getting playmakers into space with the football.

Ability to draw favorable matchups from a variety of looks

Beckham would be that true number one receiver that New England is missing, and be the true X receiver they have been searching for. With top three receivers solidified and two top tier tight ends, the passing game could work out of almost any formation. 

That includes spreading out the field, and Jones reading out of a three receiver, two tight end set. With defenses focusing on not getting beat deep by Agholor and trying to account for Beckham and his playmaking ability, the defense would still have to account for both Henry and Smith in the passing game, along with either Meyers or Bourne (whoever is in the game) on the shallow route. Leaving those four to get favorable matchups in the passing game, and likely strengthen Jones’ quick passing game ability and options even further. 

Likely improvement on third-down conversions

Not to mention, the third-down conversion rate for this team (currently at 42.86%, good for sixth according to TeamRankings) would go up even further. Allowing them to compete for one of the top chain-moving offenses in football, which would be another way in which they could start to solidify themselves as a playoff threat. 

How the run game factors in; defensive stressors

Ideally, with solid offensive line play and Jones continuing to complete passes, avoid the mistakes, that offense plus Beckham makes them a serious AFC threat. Adding in the threat of the run game behind the offensive line still potentially awaiting the return of Trent Brown. Also factoring in the defense that has impressed throughout the season. A unit currently ranking twelfth in the league. Additionally, just won the game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Doing so by holding Justin Hebert to arguably his worst performance of the season. 

With the strong rushing attack, and the depth at the skill positions, play action would present problems for opposing defenses. Harris has been routinely rushing for 100 yards a game. So to have Harris or Stevenson as a rushing threat or a receiving threat, along with the two tight ends helping sell run until it’s a pass, would be enough stress on a defense. But also Beckham underneath, Agholor up top. Man, that puts a lot of different stressors on a defense and secondary. Especially when the offensive line can protect the pass. 

An underutilized wrinkle to call more: possibility of RPOs

Along those lines, the offense has not been afraid to dabble in the RPO from time to time this season. Offensive playcaller, Josh McDaniels, could also put defenders in a bind. With Alabama boys Jones and Harris, both familiar with similar RPO looks, have another weapon at their disposal. Beckham, who can be a threat on the slant route and with the ball in his hands. That RPO trio off different looks, including two-tight end sets, could be deadly. 

Beckham would get his targets, of course. He would likely be a big splash play guy. Play the role as someone who they would get the ball to in space. He’d be someone who could haul in given contested catch scenarios. Along with run those RPOs with on occasion. It would truly depend on how quickly he could get a feel for the offense and the environment. 

Dominating field position, moving the chains, & hitting the checkdowns

Regardless of Beckham’s individual statistical contributions, one thing is for sure. His addition to the offense would help in two of the three keys to winning football games (field position, turnovers, and penalties). This team with Beckham would be able to dominate field position on all three units. They’d be able to convert third downs at a high rate. By adding enough talent for defenses to need to respect, defenses get in a matchup bind. Therefore, allowing Jones to likely have his checkdown options and third-down chainmovers (Meyers, Henry, Bourne, potentially Smith) open even more. While for the times in which defenses don’t respect Beckham’s game-changing talent, you then have a big playmaker option in this offense. An offense that has struggled to produce plays of 20 yards or more in the first half of the season. 

What might Belichick think of all this?

That offense would have much at their disposal to push them into a Wild Card spot. It would be Wild Card at the very least, assuming this then high-powered team could go on a run to end the season. Given the team is currently the first spot out of the Wild Card, you better bet that Belichick is salivating at the idea of Beckham. The idea of being able to run his offense out of so many different looks and formations would be arousing to almost any head coach. The move would likely stamp his ticket to the team’s first playoff appearance of the Mac Jones/post-Brady era. A milestone that the he’s likely at least somewhat itching to get past. Buckle up folks, things could get interesting. 

As when Belichick was asked about mid-season acquisitions today, he responded with this:

And to top things all off for Belichick, this could sweeten the deal even more, given Beckham clears waivers:

Again, we’ve been looking at photos of Beckham cropped into a New England jersey for years. However, this time around, buckle up folks. It might just be that time a camera truly captures Beckham wearing the blue, red, and grey. Don’t buy the jerseys yet and monitor the weekend rumors distantly from the couch. Just keep in mind, if no team were to claim him Monday night, the Patriots will almost definitely swoop in hawkishly toward this missing puzzle piece to their offense. Making another aggressive push, just like the spending-spree bonanza they had this off-season.

A Touch of Optimism in Patriots’ Offense Thus Far

I should preface this all by saying that the New England Patriots’ offense, led by rookie signal-caller Mac Jones, have not scored enough points to be up there with the top offenses in the league. In fact, they are currently 23rd in the league in points scored. This also comes with the help of things like the league’s second best turnover differential (thank you Zach Wilson). Point is, it’s not news to say that the Patriots’ offense has had opportunities to put points on the board, and they just haven’t converted.

Yet, as all the talk has been about conservative play-calling, passive play by Jones, a sloppy body of work from the offensive line, and timely mistakes like fumbles in the red zone, the purpose here is to shift the conversation. The discussion on the offense needs to acknowledge a different point of view, and to focus on how New England moves forward.

Remember what week it is

Now, to start by saying, it is Week 2 and the Patriots are 1-1. Any New England fan doesn’t have to go to far back into the history books here, just to understand the art of Bill Belichick and the slow starts out of the gate. Anyone seemingly perplexed only has to look as far as two out of the last three Super Bowl titles the Patriots have sitting in the trophy case (2014, 2018 seasons).

Yet, to state the obvious, those slow starts were with Tom Brady and teams with many long-tenured veterans. When after all this 2021 team is brand-spanking new. After a rather long 2020 season, and a historically aggressive offseason, New England these days can have five, six players on offense who either play a different position from the year prior, weren’t a full-time starter, or simply weren’t on the roster. When more than half your offense is only still learning the ropes in Week 2, that can be a significant disadvantage.

While certainly, most realize that this is a very new-looking offense for the Patriots, it’s the magnitude of it that is frequently understated. All of that starts with the rookie QB in Jones. Jones is not just new to the NFL, but relatively new to the offense, as he is just really started getting reps with the starters in preparation for week one. With Cam Newton holding on to his job till the very end, Newton managed all the starting reps through summer camps and the preseason, leaving Jones to play catch-up with the starters just before opening their doors to the Miami Dolphins.

In a normal year with Brady, it wouldn’t even be uncharacteristic for things to not click out of the gate. Yet, with all these new faces and unfamiliarity with each other and the coaching staff, it had to be nothing less than expected. With this mere fact alone, anyone overly worried about this offense might just be overreacting. As we all must look at the good from what we have seen so far.

Positive overall message

Belichick addresses media following the 25-6 win over the New York Jets

Belichick’s remarks aren’t a whole lot different than what he normally might say following a good win. Yet, this perfectly encapsulates the message going forward. The team and its fans must take to account that they made improvements from their loss to the Dolphins — even if they are not overly obvious to the naked eye. The team improved and should continue to improve week to week. Individual players showed more and turned in better overall performances. That is not something to simply brush off with a team still trying to find identity and compliment each other.

There are obviously still things that need to be tinkered with (the offense is far from perfect). However, it won’t improve with impatience. We all must acknowledge small wins. Contrasting from last season where the offense struggled to even string together completions, this offense looks not too bad. As it’s abundantly clear that the New England offense and their scheme runs far smoother with Jones and co. under center in comparison to last season’s 7-9 bunch led by Newton (or even what we saw in the preseason). That mere fact alone can be chalked up as a win as the team clearly made improvements at the most important position in the game.

Jones not losing games

Now, while we are not quite ready to anoint Jones the next savior of the franchise and the next best thing since Brady (as those expectations are rather unfair in the first place), it’s clear that he’s delivering the ball with proper timing (a huge problem last season), completing passes, and is doing everything he needs to in order to be successful. This is almost more than you can ask of a quarterback set to start his third career game.

Jones thus far, in a draft with many talented QBs picked ahead of him, has played the part for the best of the bunch so far. After staying put and getting him at the 15th overall selection, that’s phenomenal news as a Patriot fan.

While you can point to him playing passively and playing it a little safe in the early goings, he’s yet to turn the ball over. Games most frequently are won and lost by penalties, field position, and turnovers. Games were lost last year by turnovers at the quarterback position. So far, we have not been able to say that. Chalk this up as another small win and sign of progress. Although, this is something that must keep up.

Turnovers, fundamentals, and penalties

This leads nicely into the turnover department and some undisciplined football from the entire team. However, with a focus on the offense, they came out of the gate with two fumbles in week one. A costly fumble in the red zone by Damien Harris changed the entire scope of the game. Along with that, an uncharacteristically high amount of “silly”, rather basic penalties through the first two weeks for a Belichick-coached team. This team, this offense cannot continue to shoot themselves in the foot and make their gameplan harder to execute. With a slew of mistakes that Belichick and the coaching staff can’t stand taking place, it speaks to the newness of this team and the overall discipline.

Those silly mistakes will likely be cleaned up in due time. By the time that marquee opponents like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roll into town in week four, those silly mistakes will widen point margins very quickly. If one wants to look for evidence of improvement in the offense and overall team, this is one area to look at. As the coaching staff likes to mitigate self-harm as much as possible and do the little things right. Continued struggles in this area would be the reason for concern. As when one cannot do the little things right, how can one do the big things like consistently put points on the board and win games?

New England did not turn the ball over once last week (one area of improvement from the week prior). However, they did have some inexcusable penalties and some minuscule fundamental errors. Again, those should get cleaned up with more time together. With more practice time, in-game reps, and more continuity, they should get there naturally.

Speaking of continuity

One cannot stress newness and a lack of chemistry between the whole offense enough. With that, it couldn’t be more critical than up front on the line. Where all offensive success stems from. Losing Trent Brown early on in Week 1 was less than ideal. Leaving Jones staring at a revolving door at right tackle between Yasir Durant and Justin Herron. Wouldn’t we all love to stare at pressure coming from the right side in our first NFL games?

It’s almost as if the offensive line hasn’t been ready to go. With Brown back in action versus the New Orleans Saints, this should be a missing puzzle piece in the whole offense running smoother. Yet, don’t underestimate the importance of the offensive line needing more in-game reps together as well. The offensive line is a spot that plays off each other. Even with two guys like Brown playing right tackle and Onwenu playing left guard now can sometimes cause confusion for the whole o-line. Again, that all takes time and reps.

So, while guys like Isaiah Wynn haven’t gotten off to the best of starts, don’t slam the panic button yet. This group should be the strength of the entire team. As Brown gets back and we dive further into the season, that should be on display more and more. The plans were just, unfortunately, derailed a few weeks with this injury. Which, on another note, speaks to the importance of keeping Brown healthy.

Playcalling and sideline decision-making

One area that needs improvement is the decision-making from the headset. Josh McDaniels has been reluctant to get aggressive, despite his own claims somewhat indicating the opposite.

McDaniels speaking on conservative play-calling through first two weeks and Jones “playing it safe”.

Big chunk plays here and there are key to moving the ball downfield and putting more points on the board. Those shots just really haven’t been taken. Though this should be rebutted by saying that if you are looking for a high-flying, quick scoring offense, this is not your team. In fact, if that’s your kind of football, you might be better suited updating your old Brady jersey.

-The quarterback they drafted is known for this more conservative style of play. Everyone knew that was his bread and butter coming out of the draft.

-The teams they have played have not given Jones much time to sit back and make decisions. That’s also partially due to the offensive line play.

-The team’s list of deep threats on the team include all of the following: Nelson Agholor and Jonnu Smith. That’s the list.

-The team likes the idea of running the ball with Harris, getting it to guys like James White out of the backfield, and that’s worked thus far.

Through the first two weeks, their defensive opposition has actually been pretty good. Yet, Jones has still managed to complete 74 percent of his passes, Harris has found success running the ball, and White has been great thus far. Draw from those positives and rest easy in the Patriots’ offense seeing improvements from last year in efficiency. While that may cause some to roll their eyes, improvement is improvement, especially when dealing with teams that missed the playoffs.

Playing to strengths

What should be keyed in on with McDaniels is questionable usage with guys like the tight end duo, maybe even Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. He’s struggled to play guys to their strengths, put them in spots to succeed, and dial up some playcalls that draw from Jones’ success in college. For example, when signing Smith and Hunter Henry, the immediate thought was these two are the ultimate remedy for redzone woes. Yet, their usage in the redzone has been, well, pedestrian to say the least.

Another area has been a lack of RPOs, which were arguably what Jones did best in college. Arguably the best slant thrower in the draft, teamed with fellow Alabama man in Harris as his runningback. One would think McDaniels would take advantage. Yet, that wrinkle hasn’t really materialized.

While this is not so much to point holes in the offensive play design, as much as it is to say that players haven’t even come close to reaching their full potential yet. So, reserving judgement on the offense and these big contracts would be wise. Here’s to hope that the team takes advantage of these strengths once all the players gel more.

What to think as we move forward

We must appreciate Jones completing passes and trying to master the simple things before going long downfield. Jones is making quick decisions that protect the football, and putting the ball on target. Not only that, but also doing everything to be successful throughout the week in practice and film. He’s shown a great attitude and a dedication to improve. Jones is the first guy to acknowledge that he can get better and takes responsibility.

Jones watching the film, wanting to stretch the field more, and taking responsibility.

We must all acknowledge that this is a process. Week to week, by each practice, the team looks to get better than yesterday. Now, they head into Week 3 with a contest against the Saints. With a quarterback like Jameis Winston, we will see how the game script unfolds. As it is plausible that Jones could be asked to pass a lot.

Everything will be on display once again, and everyone should be watching to see how this offense gets better. How this offense plays more complementary football. My advice: make sure nothing stands in the way of you kicking your feet up on Sunday and watching the future of New England unfold before your very eyes. It should be exciting to watch this team progress throughout the season, with hopes that this offense can become a perennial juggernaut like we all have grown accustomed to over the years. This offense has many questions to answer, but everyone must take things one game at a time. We’re onto New Orleans.

Patriots’ 53-Man Roster: The Locks and The Bubblemen Before Preseason

Most 53-man roster projections take place after all the mess and chaos that is training camp and the preseason. With so much going on all at one time, evaluation, implementation of gameplan and strategy, and overall forming a team identity.

Everything about training camp and preseason comes with layers of mystery. A lot is unknown during this time, a lot is left to sort through, a lot is rather new. Especially when following a team like the New England Patriots and head coach, Bill Belichick.

With 90 players vying for a limited amount of spots, some will earn opportunities of a lifetime. Some will be spending their Sundays couch-dwelling, watching Belichick and his players emerge from an inflatable tunnel to crowd roars barely heard through a CBS broadcast on a home sound system.

Point being, some of the players you’ll see in the first preseason game against the Washington Football Team will not be there next week. If they’re lucky, maybe they survive another week or the week after that. Yet, many will not be here when wins and losses start to count. To survive, one must impress through this training camp period now. One must demonstrate the ability to make plays consistently as possible, understand what the staff is asking for, and show mental toughness and acuity that can last 60 minutes.

So, why do a roster projection when the preseason hasn’t even begun?

The simple answer is to help form an idea of where and what to look for over these next three weeks. There’s always going to be the roster “locks”, along with the guys who should make the roster. Yet, when one can narrow down a roster to about seven remaining spots, things start to become more clear.

With maybe 15 guys worthy of a spot and a good sense of where the depth lies, deductions can begin. The focal point can shift to these individuals and just by watching, you can determine who might be the last few to make the team.

Patriots’ roster locks and those fighting for spots:

Note– Players who could nab a final spot on the team are mentioned in red

QB (2):

Cam Newton 

Mac Jones

Brian Hoyer

Not sure what else to say here. Belichick is on record saying that Newton will be the QB1 to start the year. We also know that the team’s first-round pick in Jones is going nowhere anytime soon. With Brian Hoyer left, New England has shown no reservation to cut him in the past. With his age and his only in-game play last year vs. the Kansas City Chiefs, Hoyer can’t hang with Jones and Newton.

RB (3):

Damien Harris

Sony Michel 

James White

J.J Taylor

With Harris poised for big things this season, Michel looking the part in camp, and White looking to bounce back this season, these three vets will easily snag roster spots. While this is unbelievable to say, the way Michel has been running, it almost seems like White’s job security could be more in question than his own. Yet, with passing game value and an incredibly cheap contract, rest assured that all three will be on the roster for Week 1.

As for Taylor, he’s shown enough in just regular season action alone to merit a spot. Yet, if he really had true ability and was ready to take on a bigger role, it’s unlikely that the Patriots would have re-signed White and then also drafted another runningback in Rhomadre Stevenson to crowd the backfield some more. Taylor’s preseason will be important to his future with the team.

FB (1):

Jakob Johnson

After a strong year last season, filling the big shoes of James Develin, Johnson has faced little pressure this offseason. With second-year tight end/fullback Dalton Keene now on IR, Johnson stands alone.

TE (3):

Jonnu Smith

Hunter Henry

Devin Asiasi 

Troy Fumagalli

A much improved tight end core features Smith, Henry, and Keene’s partner-in-crime (if you will) in Asiasi. All three will make the roster, especially with big money contracts at the top two spots. Asiasi, who put together impressive practice reps during the spring sessions, is just trying to get back on the field now. After being derailed from the Covid-19 virus, Asiasi is now back at practice and should be active in the preseason contests.

Asiasi will be a name to watch throughout, as contribution from him would be key. While the top of the depth chart looks great and improved, Henry has already been day-to-day and earned a few nicks and bruises this offseason. If Asiasi shows that he can’t provide reliable depth at that third spot, New England might need a fourth guy in this room. More specifically, a veteran who can be solid both in the run and pass game. Which is where a guy like Fumagalli could come in, as he has flashed at times during camp.

WR (4):

Nelson Agholor

Kendrick Bourne

Jakobi Meyers 

Gunner Olszewski 

N’Keal Harry

Kristian Wilkerson

Agholor has had one of the best training camps of recent memory for a Patriots’ receiver, Bourne and Meyers have both encouraged on more shallow and horizontal patterns. Those guys are your three starting receivers for the 2021 season. Meyers projecting as the slot, Julian Edelman replacement, and Agholor looking like the X, Bourne the Z. With heavy run sets, these three will hold up. Lastly, Olszewski has demonstrated through camp that he is uncuttable. The special teams All-Pro has flashed in the slot at camp an his speed is apparent on this team. Count on these guys being there.

Harry and Wilkerson, both highlighted in red, are in two very different boats. A world could exist in which both make the roster. For Wilkerson, making the roster will entail proving himself as an NFL-caliber receiver with his practice squad days behind him. With that, Wilkerson should be an exciting watch this preseason. For Harry, making the roster pretty much means not getting traded. Both have been flashing this summer, and just based off current trends, that world where they both make the roster could very well become a reality. At the very least, it’s extremely likely that at least Harry sticks around.

OT (3):

Trent Brown 

Isaiah Wynn

Justin Herron

Yodny Cajuste

Brown and Wynn are obvious locks, unless Belichick gets a wacky idea to trade Wynn before he heads onto his fifth-year option with the team. That was more of a discussion before the draft, and while it would seem ludacris at this point, we all remember Logan Mankins. Don’t worry too much about that though.

As for Herron, he impressed enough last year to potentially even merit a look at a starting tackle spot. Obviously with Wynn and Brown, that’s not a consideration. However, the depth provides on a rookie deal is extremely valuable. He is a candidate to be New England’s go-to swing tackle.

Lastly, with Cajuste, his case is far more mysterious. With now two full seasons of being sidelined, yet to see in-game action, Cajuste will need a very impressive preseason to even be allowed on the sideline anymore. While he hasn’t exactly shown off what made him a third-round selection in 2019, here’s to hope he can. Yet, so far, the outlook is not good here. Especially with veteran Korey Cunningham and 2021 sixth-rounder Will Sherman also in the mix.

OG (3):

Michael Onwenu 

Shaq Mason

Ted Karras

Marcus Martin

Will Sherman

It should be exciting to see Onwenu make the move to full time guard after the tremendous rookie season he had at a more unnatural position. Both him and his compadre in Mason will be absolute bulldozers, maulers in the middle of that line. Along with them, a familiar face in Karras, who can serve as the top backup at both guard and center. As Karras was likely on pace to start another season for the Patriots at center before the unexpected return of captain Andrews. Those three you can write down in sharpie.

As for Martin and the aforementioned Sherman, their preseasons will dictate the role they play. With this starting offensive line having had it’s fair share of injuries in the past, holding onto depth along the line will be important. While neither Martin or Sherman have exactly flashed thus far, it helps that both have position versatility. Whether it be guard or center for Martin, or tackle or guard for Sherman. Undersized tackle/guard prospects can generally have value inside against strong pass-rush along the interior defensive line. Sherman might be able to boast that value in order to stand a chance.

C (1):

David Andrews

James Ferentz

Captain Andrews being an obvious lock to make the roster at center, leaving us with Ferentz. While Sherman and Martin might stand better chances to make the roster in the end, Ferentz can play both center or guard, along with has prior experience in New England. We will see how experience with the team factors in when trying to differentiate from a player like Martin. Both have an uphill battle on their hands.

DT (3): 

Davon Godchaux

Lawerence Guy

Christian Barmore

Carl Davis

With Godchaux on a good-sized deal, Guy being arguably the team’s most valuable defensive lineman, and second-round pick Barmore already being disruptive and passing the early eye tests, these three are on the roster.

As for Davis, he’s a guy that when it’s all set and done will more than likely be in the same boat as those other three. He’s been a disruptive force in camp thus far, has some (yet limited) experience in the system, and has made a strong case as the team’s best interior defensive lineman behind these three. Akeem Spence and Byron Cowart should give Davis a run for his money, however, in the end it will likely be Davis with his name up there in black.

DE (2):

Deatrich Wise

Henry Anderson

Chase Winovich

It’s looking more and more likely that Wise and Anderson will be big run-stopping presences on the edge, but before you flip at the name in red, please take a moment to put Wise on your watch list for breakout candidates. He seems to be getting better each year in the league and just signed an extension that would indicate a heavy role.

Ok, so for Winovich in red. With an overabundance of outside linebackers and some inconsistent play last year, Winovich has been a somewhat quiet subject of trade talks. While he’s more of a backer than an end, his true fit with the squad may not be ideal. Winovich is a player who could easily bring solid compensation in return and go to a defense more his style to have a true breakout year. While it might be something that could benefit both parties, he will still more than likely be on this team. Just a lot of pieces might have to come into place before New England can figure out the true plan for him. He’ll be someone to key on in any potential preseason action.

OLB (4):

Kyle Van Noy

Matt Judon

Josh Uche

Ronnie Perkins

The only guy out of this group to really watch during the preseason will be the rookie Perkins. Van Noy comes back into a scheme that he created a career out of, Judon projects as the team’s top pass-rusher, and Uche is balling out in camp as he heads into year two. There are high expectations for this foursome that should wreak havoc on opposing offenses. This is a position with no shortage of job security by any means. Forget a sharpie and break out your paint brush instead.

ILB (2):

Dont’a Hightower

Ja’Whaun Bentley

Anfernee Jennings

Caash Maulia

Speaking of job security, there might not be a player on defense with more of it than Hightower. Boy, it should be real refreshing to see #54 in the middle of the defense again. However, with lots of action in camp and experience calling plays, Bentley will be on this team too. After the recent season-ending ACL injury to Raekwon McMillan, it became all but final that Bentley will be there as the guy behind Hightower.

As for the bubble boys here, Jennings is listed at ILB after seeing some work inside recently. Jennings was thought of more as an outside backer when getting drafted back in 2020, however, after a rough outing last season in limited action, he needs to find any way in which he can contribute to stay alive. While it might be a little premature to cut Jennings loose after his struggles as a rookie in the Covid season, crazier things have happened before. Keep an eye on Jennings, as any sort of positive contributions from him would be big for depth.

Also keep a lookout for Maulia, who could also provide depth and special teams value. While no one is exactly losing sleep if he’s on the roster or not, he could take Brandon King’s spot away (who last appeared in the 2019 preseason).

CB (4):

*Stephon Gilmore

J.C Jackson 

Jonathan Jones

Myles Bryant

Joejuan Williams

Where is Waldo? How about where is Stephon? The Gilmore contract situation continues to loom into the first preseason game. He’s a player that gets bolded as he should be on this roster, no question. Anything short of it would quite frankly be a shame on behalf of the organization. Gilmore is the team’s best player, even off injury. Without him, plans change for this squad drastically.

Jackson looks the part of someone ready to impress and improve even more, as he and Gilmore both race to their paydays at the end of this season. Jones stands as another key piece here. A lock on defense that will be critical for handling guys like Cole Beasley, Jamison Crowder the dynamic Jaylen Waddle, and another rookie in the New York Jets’ Elijah Moore.

Surprised at the willingness to designate Bryant as a lock? You shouldn’t be, as Bryant can play some cornerback and safety. He’ll be a solid depth piece for this defense as he continues in his development.

Yet, there’s always that one guy that isn’t like the rest. That is 2019 second-round pick in Williams. While he has the tools and the prototypical measurables to be an impact player at outside corner for the Patriots, it hasn’t unfolded that way just yet. There have been ups and downs for Williams through his road to simply just get on the field. Yet, if he keeps getting shown up by Harry in practice and can’t impress this preseason, his ambitions to get on the field in a regular season game will be most assuredly shattered. Williams is as on the bubble, on the fence as one can get.

S (4):

Devin McCourty

Jalen Mills

Kyle Dugger

Adrian Phillips

Cody Davis

Adrian Colbert

With McCourty and Phillips, breakout candidate Dugger, and the ever-so-versatile Mills, they not only have four guys that all could argue their way onto the field on a given snap, they also have position versatility just oozing out of this group. This group here is one to be very excited about, and those four guys will have heavy involvement in the defensive weekly gameplan.

As for Davis and Colbert, this will be a fun battle to see if either can find their way onto the squad. Both have good cases and can contribute on special teams. One of these guys has a good chance to squeak onto the roster as one the final guys to make it.

S/T (3):

Matthew Slater

Justin Bethel

Jake Bailey

Quinn Nordin

Joe Cardona

Then we’ve got Slater and Bethel, who should be considered inseparable at this point. They could be one of the better special teams duos the league has ever seen, as they just get to the ball so quickly.

Bailey needs his own paragraph as a mistake was made earlier calling Gilmore the team’s best player. Bailey’s big boot dictates field position and his value to the team as one of the league’s top punters is massive. Think he’ll be on the team? You better count it.

However, two guys not to count on right now are Nick Folk and his long-snapper in Cardona. Both could potentially see their jobs taken up from under them by youngsters. Folk by the emerging UDFA from Michigan in Nordin. Cardona by a recently signed Brian Khoury, out of Carnegie Mellon. With Nordin’s range exceeding the aging Folk’s, rank his chances of staging an upset much higher.

The final players to watch and who of them makes it:

Brian Hoyer

J.J Taylor

Troy Fumagalli

N’Keal Harry

Kristian Wilkerson

Yodny Cajuste

Marcus Martin

Will Sherman

James Ferentz

Carl Davis

Chase Winovich

Anfernee Jennings

Caash Maulia

Joejuan Williams

Cody Davis

Adrian Colbert

Quinn Nordin

Joe Cardona

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