We’ve made it, ladies and gentlemen! The pre-season finale is upon us. After six and a half long months of no regular season or playoff action, we are just two weeks away from the beginning of the 2021 season. The Pats have kept themselves busy and currently boast a 2-0 record in the pre-season. Both quarterbacks Cam Newton and Mac Jones have looked excellent. Meanwhile, the running back core has remained second to few, even after trading away 2018 first-round selection Sony Michel this week.
The Pats take on the Giants in the final game of the preseason in MetLife Stadium. After a long week of joint practices, both teams can begin to mold their week one lineups and find out which bubble players are lucky enough to remain on the starting 53-man roster. We’ve said this all pre-season long, there are plenty of things to pay attention to in camp. Even as late as the last week of the preseason slate. So let’s just dive right into it, folks. Kick it off, Bailey! Let’s get this one underway.
Three Things to Watch
#1: Final Look at Quarterback Competition
Mac Jones vs Cam Newton has been all the rage this summer in Foxboro. The rookie from Alabama has looked excellent thus far in camp. Grading as PFF’s top rookie quarterback so far in the pre-season. Meanwhile, Newton isn’t doing too shabby himself. After a clunky debut against Washington, the 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player had a gigantic bounce back against the Philadelphia Eagles last week. While taking most of the starting reps in his limited time at joint practices with the Giants.
I doubt that Newton’s job as the Pats’ starting quarterback is in any jeopardy after the COVID-19 test misunderstanding. I don’t see him going too far into this game, and I don’t expect Jones to get more than maybe a quarter and a half of work. I’m interested to see if there will be any further developments, but I think Newton is the guy until further notice.
#2: Who Steps Up in the Runningback Room?
After trading Sony Michel, there is a gaping hole for Rhamondre Stevenson and J.J. Taylor to take over. Somebody is going to have to compliment Damien Harris and take up Michel’s snaps. With Brandon Bolden and James White already having established roles, it’s time to find what the Pats can do with the other two.
Stevenson and Taylor have both had excellent preseasons. Stevenson has rushed for 193 yards and four touchdowns, while Taylor has 103 yards under his belt and a score. I see a whole lot of potential in both backs, and I think that Stevenson definitely has the edge to take over the bulk of Michel’s carries. But I do think Taylor can take over the Rex Burkhead role. Being a kickstart and secret weapon of sorts for this Patriots offense. We all should be watching intensely at these two and see if we can get a clue as to how they both could fit into this offense’s identity.
#3: Does Shaun Wade Make Immediate Impact?
The Patriots just recently made a trade with the Baltimore Ravens to acquire rookie cornerback Shaun Wade from Ohio State. A fifth-round pick, Wade is an excellent slot corner. He would have been taken much higher had he not been exposed when playing on the outside in 2020. With Jonathan Jones getting injured this week and still no sign of Stephon Gilmore, the Patriots had to act. They were one injury away from calling up Ty Law and offering him a gig.
Who knows if Wade makes an appearance after being on the team less than 96 hours come kickoff. It’s hard to say, but I’d like to see him out there if possible and see if there’s something worth investing in. Not all fifth-round picks have to be bubble players that barely make the team. I’d love to get a solid backup to Jones if that’s possible. All depth is good depth in the current state of the NFL.
Highlight Player: Kristian Wilkerson
Unfortunately, wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson hasn’t lived up to the early practice hype he had back in July and early August. He’s failed to pop in any of the preseason opportunities he’s had. Wilkerson’s highlight so far has been dropping a perfectly thrown deep ball by Mac Jones against Washington. This game might be Wilkerson’s last stand to make a case for his standing on the 53-man roster.
The Pats are desperate for any production at the wide receiver spot. Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne haven’t done too much to stand out. Jakobi Meyers has picked up where. he left off, but we saw in 2020 just how capable he is of carrying a passing game. I’m not saying Wilkerson is the next unstoppable UDFA legend. But I’ll take any bright spots where I can. Here’s to Wilkerson having one hell of a night come Sunday.
I know we’re all sick of watching the backups and trying to invest in games where the score doesn’t really matter. Personally, I’m getting amped up for week one against Miami. It’s so close yet so far away. But there are still many decisions to be made.
Some were made this week. The trade of Sony Michel is a fantastic example of getting ahead of the ball. I wrote last week that I felt like Belichick had a difficult decision to make when it came to the running back room. He flipped Michel for a fourth and opened up a ton of space for the younger backs. Then getting some much-needed depth in a talented rookie in Shaun Wade.
Overall, it’ll be great to see if some bubble players break out in their last chance. The Patriots are always good for one UDFA to make the roster. Any guesses on who that will be?