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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2021 NFL Preseason Week 1: Stories to Watch

Football is here! The NFL preseason officially started last week between the Steelers and Cowboys, but most fans consider this week to be the start of football season. As we head into an exciting NFL season, the first week of preseason is rife with interesting stories to follow. Here are just a few.

Justin Fields’ Snaps

Bears coach Matt Nagy recently claimed he would make sure Justin Fields receives as many reps as possible against the Miami Dolphins. This is a bold attitude for a head coach to take with his first-round quarterback but his mindset is simple. “The more reps we can get of him right now, the better.”

Of course, there are obvious concerns this mindset raises. Snaps are important for all rookies, quarterbacks especially, but risking your potential franchise quarterback’s health to prioritize snaps during a meaningless preseason game? That’s a bit more questionable.

Not all fans are happy with the decision, but Nagy isn’t bothered. In his words, “When you look at the Quarterback position, there is that balance. We’ve gotta be able to evaluate. The only way you can evaluate is running stuff you want to run.”

Translation: we don’t know what we have until the kid gets snaps, so we’re getting him as many snaps as possible.

If this storyline wasn’t juicy enough, Justin Fields has apparently been tearing training camp up. His arm talent, mobility, and accuracy are impressing everyone. If the reports are true and carry into the game, Fields might announce his NFL presence in the first action of his professional career. Certainly, something to watch.

The Taunting Rules

Will taunting become the next hot topic in the NFL preseason?

The preseason is the first chance for fans to see the new NFL rule changes in action. It’s also a chance for NFL referees to set the tone with players, which usually leads to high penalty counts. A few years ago, the preseason was filled with flags for players lowering their heads to initiate contact. This year, we’re likely to see officials crackdown on taunting. Allegedly, NFL coaches have complained that taunting rules are almost never enforced, and they have a point. Somewhat. Taunting is more common in today’s league, but most fans seem to enjoy it.

To call this new emphasis unpopular would be…an understatement. For a brief moment, the phrase “No Fun League” was trending on Twitter when the news broke. Players, fans, and media members alike voiced their outrage at the NFL for seemingly trying to take the fun out of the game.

If history repeats itself and we see a large number of taunting penalties, it would sour the start of an otherwise promising year. Let’s watch and hope the NFL doesn’t repeat its mistakes.

The Preseason Superstars

Okay, this one is a bit of a cop-out, I’ll admit. But it’s still exciting! The preseason offers a chance for players fighting for a roster spot to receive major playing time over their established counterparts. As a result, every year, unknown players have the games of their life in the preseason, vaulting their names into the national spotlight for a moment.

Sometimes, these players translate their performances into grander careers. Victor Cruz notably put on an amazing display against the New York Jets his rookie year – within a few years, he was one of the best receivers in the game. Getting a glimpse at the next NFL star in the preseason is a rare treat for any NFL fan.

Other times, these players don’t amount to anything, even after their performance. Yet, in a strange way, that makes them even more captivating than the “successful” preseason superstars. Their stardom is as brief as the sport will allow; just a week, maybe two. But for that moment, their names become the discussion of media members and team fans alike. “Does so-and-so have a chance to make the roster?” “Who is this guy?” “I’ve never heard of this college before, are we sure it isn’t imaginary?”

That fleeting fame is a glory reserved exclusively for the preseason, where backups become the starters and get their chance to show the world their gifts. But it’s a pyrrhic glory for many, often highlighted against the shadow of unfulfilled dreams. The two sides of failure and success are on full display, highlighting the valleys and peaks of many young men’s lives. It’s the natural high of hope and the crushing agony of despair alike. It’s football, and it’s back.

I just can’t wait.

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Baltimore Ravens 2021 Preview: Can They Beat the Best?

 

Football is just around the corner, Baltimore Ravens fans! The first game of the preseason is today, marking the first of at least 21 weeks we’ll be able to watch the Ravens play.

Last year, the Ravens struggled in seemingly every way after entering the season with Super Bowl aspirations. The passing game, rumored to be improved, fell flat all year and cost the team in the playoffs – again. The team also struggled through a massive Covid-19 outbreak and ultimately played a game with a depleted roster. There were important injuries, miscommunication on the field, and several other problems. Despite an 11-5 record and a playoff win, the season was a disappointment.

This year cause for optimism, however. The team has invested heavily in the problem areas from last year. The wide receiver and edge rusher rooms both received multiple picks in this year’s draft. They also received free agent help with the signings of Sammy Watkins and Justin Houston. Notably, the addition of respected receiver coaches Tee Martin and Keith Williams means, for the first time in franchise history, there’s optimism that our young receivers will develop. Ronnie Stanley‘s return, Kevin Zeitler‘s signing, and the drafting of Ben Cleveland could lead to a much-improved offensive line. The rest of the roster features young players on the rise as well. Will that be enough for the Baltimore Ravens to make a Super Bowl appearance, though? To get to the final dance, the Ravens will have to take on a loaded AFC conference.

Stacking Up Against the Best

The AFC has rapidly turned into a conference of heavyweight contenders all vying for the throne. Teams like the Bills, Browns, and Chiefs are all preseason favorites to make deep playoff runs. Other units, such as the Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts, could also impress. How do the Ravens stack up against those teams?

Kansas City Chiefs

It’s no secret the Kansas City Chiefs are the cream of the AFC crop. They’ve represented the conference in the past two Super Bowls and show no signs of slowing down. In particular, they seem to have the Ravens’ number in their head-to-head matchups. Lamar Jackson has yet to defeat the Chiefs in his young career.

The Chiefs roster needs little introduction; a high-powered offense led by Patrick Mahomes and a fast, aggressive defense. Both units are fantasically well-coached and both can make game-changing plays on any snap.

To beat the Chiefs, the Ravens will have to copy the performance of the Tampa Bay Buccanneers in last year’s Super Bowl. They will have to pressure Mahomes without blitzing and play sound, aggressive defense in the back seven. Meanwhile, their offense must be explosive in its own right, capable of moving the ball consistently through the air.

To their credit, the Ravens have tried to improve in both areas. Odafe Oweh and Justin Houston could greatly improve the pass rush, while Rashod Bateman and Sammy Watkins could do the same for the passing offense. Unfortunately, the Chiefs have spent every resource they could this offseason to prevent last year’s Super Bowl from happening again. An objective analysis of the matchup still favors the Chiefs until proven otherwise.

Buffalo Bills/Cleveland Browns

The Bills, along with the Browns, are this year’s up-and-coming AFC powerhouses. They both boast complete rosters with minimal weaknesses to exploit. Notably, the Bills handed the Ravens their playoff loss last year, while the Browns pushed the Ravens to the brink in an instant classic in week 14.

However, I don’t think the Bills or Browns present quite the same problem a team like the Chiefs does. Even though the Ravens lost to the Bills in the playoffs, much of the game was marked by the Ravens’ maddening inconsistency that covered up an overall even affair. Most promising is that the Ravens managed to mostly contain an explosive Bills offense. It was a game the Ravens could have won if they played at their usual level.

With that said, the Bills are an incredibly dangerous opponent. Josh Allen looks like the real deal and their defense likely will improve from last season thanks to the progression of young talent. I see this matchup as a toss-up, but if push came to shove, I would favor the Bills until the Ravens prove they have a decent passing attack.

Meanwhile, the Browns showed they could hang with the Ravens last year and have only gotten better in the offseason. New addition Jadeveon Clowney is a game wrecker versus the run and the offense is fully gelled to start the year. On paper, this is a team that can beat just about anyone – the only thing left to do is prove it once and for all. I think the Baltimore Ravens still have the slight edge here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the two teams traded games.

Other Contenders

While new teams unexpectedly rise to prominence every NFL season, the likely other contenders in the division are the Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans, and Indianapolis Colts.

The Dolphins are the most likely of the “other” teams to become a major power in the AFC. They have a young QB with plenty of room to grow in Tua Tagovailoa, a first-round wide receiver already turning heads in Jaylen Waddle, and a talented defense already among the NFL’s best. Right now, I would take the Baltimore Ravens over the Miami Dolphins in a hard-fought, defensive game. If Tua matures and makes the offense more explosive, the Dolphins instantly become of the best teams in the league.

 

The Colts are even harder to project. They have a very good defense, a talented running back, and one of the best offensive lines in the game. Like the Ravens, their only real question mark is with their passing game. Is the receiver room good enough? Is Carson Wentz a good QB? The Colts must show us some answers to these questions before we can reliably make any claims about them. Assuming Wentz is who we’ve seen the last three years, the Colts are a middling team that probably won’t make the playoffs. If he looks like 2017 Wentz, however, the Colts will challenge for a Super Bowl appearance.

Finally, the Tennessee Titans. The bad blood between the Baltimore Ravens and Titans has existed for two decades at this point, dating back to the days of Eddie George and Ray Lewis. The Titans unexpectedly dominated the Ravens in the 2019 playoffs, marking a horrible end to a storybook season for the Ravens. Last year, the Ravens returned the favor, coming away with a close but decisive victory in the Wild Card round. Both teams spent time on each others’ logos, only furthering the rivalry. The Titans have many defensive question marks, but adding Julio Jones to their offense is downright unfair. Jones plus Derrick Henry, AJ Brown, and Ryan Tannehill is probably the most explosive quartet in the game. I believe the Ravens are a slightly better team, but I also believe the Titans can beat anybody they play.

In Conclusion…

The Ravens are one of the best teams in the AFC on paper. If the changes they’ve made in the offseason bear fruit, a Super Bowl appearance is possible.

However, the team has shown a level of inconsistency that warrants caution for fans. Objectively, they still have much to prove to make before being seen as AFC Championship contenders. While they’ve clearly made attempts at those improvements, we can’t just assume the problems are gone.

My final prediction is a 12-5 record and a divisional-round exit against the Chiefs. Ideally, the Ravens’ passing attack improves enough to finally surpass the Chiefs as the best AFC team. If things go poorly, however, the Ravens will struggle just to make it to the playoffs.

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Pats Preview: Pre-Season Week 1 vs Washington

Football is back in Gillette Stadium folks! After a long year of sadness and disappointment for Pats fans, we can come together once again. Even if it is just pre-season. I’ve been following the Patriots through these previews for the better part of two seasons. You can find my previous work on Brooklyn Beat, as I covered the disappointment of Tom Brady‘s final year in 2019 through the 7-9 disaster of 2020.

We’ve all been waiting impatiently for this moment to arrive, but we’ve made it my friends. Kick it off, Bailey! Let’s get the 2021 pre-season underway against quarterback Cam Newton‘s former coach in riverboat Ron Rivera and the Washington Football Team!

Three Things to Watch

Patriots: Mac Jones dominated Rookie Night with Cam Newton impression - Pats Preview

#1: How much does Mac Jones play?

Rookie quarterback Mac Jones was taken with the 15th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and has some big shoes to fill in the upcoming years. Winning over Patriots fans isn’t an easy task after 20 years of the GOAT at the helm. We see how Newton is treated in the Boston media all the time. You’d think he was Jamarcus Russell and not a former MVP by the way that he’s discussed in New England.

Though we are unlikely to see Newton or Jones get too many snaps, I would hope McCorkle gets a chance to prove himself a little bit in this matchup. This is the first time he gets to let loose against NFL competition. Where the game actually matters to some extent. It’s a jump from training camp certainly, and fans don’t quite appreciate the value of pre-season. I wonder how much Jones and Newton will play or if it’ll just be the Brian Hoyer show to open up the pre-season. But I can’t imagine that the Pats go all four quarters without Jones or Newton.

#2: Any standouts at wide reciever?

The performance by the receiving core in 2020 was putrid. Jakobi Meyers, an undrafted free agent, was by far the best receiver on this squad last year. As good as it is for Meyers, it’s a damning statement on 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry and Bill Belichick. Sure, Newton wasn’t exactly good at passing the football last year, but his receivers did next to nothing to help. In response, Belichick invested greatly in the core. Adding Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Tre Nixon, and Marvin Hall give some great competition to Harry and others within the Pats depth chart.

I’m sure we all have heard by now that Harry requested a trade a few short weeks ago. It seems as though his frustration has simmered and he’s become a star at training camp. Along with Kristian Wilkerson, an undrafted free agent who has also made some buzz in camp. I’m not expecting anybody to light it up just one week into the preseason like Austin Carr in 2017. But just a nice play or two will go a long way into figuring out what exactly this position on the roster is capable of.

#3: Could anybody help fill the shoes of Stephon Gilmore?

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore suffered a torn quad late last season, and will more than likely miss some time in the regular season. Especially as he sits out awaiting a new contract/pay raise. So who shows up to complement J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones?

We’ve been seeing swiss-army knife Jalen Mills get snaps at corner, and the Patriots have plenty of depth with JoeJuan Williams, Michael Jackson Sr, Dee Virgin, Myles Bryant, and De’Angelo Ross. But the depth needs to turn into answers quickly. The secondary struggled greatly last year when Gilmore was out. Stefon Diggs torched us twice against J.C. Jackson. If the Pats don’t find an answer in the secondary and Gilmore remains sidelined? They could be in deep trouble come week one against Jaylen Waddle and Devante Parker.

Highlight Player: Josh Uche

Patriots linebacker Josh Uche got some high-level tutoring on his pass  rushing technique - The Boston Globe - Pats Preview

2020 third-round pick Josh Uche never really got a chance to boom or bust in his rookie season. The Michigan edge rusher played in just nine games and got one sack with seven quarterback hits last season. Starting off the season on the injury report and never hitting the field. I think he will benefit greatly from a pre-season to develop his game.

He comes into his second season buried on the depth chart. The returns of Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and the signing of Matt Judon don’t exactly hand Uche a starting job. But with the way Belichick uses his edge rushers, he could very well be a very good situational player. He is seriously underrated in coverage and could serve to be a multi-use player nobody really saw coming. Keep your eyes on Uche not only in this matchup but throughout pre-season entirely.

Closing Thoughts

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick watches all NFL preseason games -  UPI.com - Pats Preview

The Pats are finally back in front of fans. It’s great to say that once again. After attending the in-stadium practice on Tuesday, it proved to me that Pats nation is still running strong. It also gave me some great reassurance that fans will rally behind Cam Newton should he be the starter.

I know the preseason isn’t at all flashy. We probably won’t see a lot of the fan favorites or regular team leaders. But it’s more valuable than ever while the Patriots are in an awkward transition period. I’ll be in attendance tomorrow night and I’m not looking for a win or a surprise superstar player. Just give us something to be excited about heading into the regular season. All eyes are on you, New England.

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NFL Preview and Predictions, NFC

As the 2021 NFL season approaches, let’s take a look at the NFC and the outlook for its divisions and teams:

NFC East:

Dallas Cowboys

Outlook: Playoff contender

Division Prediction: 1st

Record Prediction: 11-6

The Dallas Cowboys are going to be an extremely potent offense in 2021 with the return of Dak Prescott. This will be compounded by the existing spoils of offensive weapons in Dallas including Ceedee Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys will benefit from a relatively weak NFC East which will be coupled with the second easiest schedule in the NFL. These factors should lead to an exorbitant win total, however, a defense that was lackluster in 2020 didn’t appear to get any better. A division win for the Cowboys is in store nonetheless.

Washington Football Team

Outlook: Wild Card Contender

Division Prediction: 2nd

Record Prediction: 9-8

The 2021 Washington Football Team bolsters a defense that can compete with any in the NFL. In 2020, Washington reached the playoffs mostly because of a tattered NFC East and is looking to build on that. However, it is unlikely that they do much to build on their 2020 campaign in terms of the end product. The team will endure clearly the toughest schedule in their division ranked 15th. The next closest team (the New York Giants) having the 25th toughest. The offense in Washington did not make any huge strides either, however, Ryan Fitzpatrick replacing Alex Smith under center is some help. The offense will rely on the continued progression of Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson to support their stellar defense. Washington will be a team that no offensive coordinator likes to play, however, that will not be enough to see a true breakout season.

New York Giants

Outlook: Mediocrity

Division Prediction: 3rd

Record Prediction: 7-10

The 2021 New York Giants will enter the season hedging their success entirely on the offensive upside. Joe Judge’s team will be pinning their hopes on the progression of signal-caller Daniel Jones and the health of running back Saquon Barkley. The team’s addition of Kenny Golladay at wide receiver will surely help their fortunes, however, he is not an elite talent that will offset a relative shortcoming in the Giants’ pass-catching room. There is a lot that must go right for the Giants to contend, and they are just not there yet.

Philadelphia Eagles

Outlook: Entering rebuild

Division prediction: 4th

Record Prediction: 4-13

The Philadelphia Eagles are in a transition period, and they know it. The majority of the team that won the super bowl three years ago is either off the books or in the twilight of their career. Any hope for the team’s expeditious success rides on sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts. Hurts showed flashes on the backstretch of the 2020 season when called upon, but it is nothing more than a hope for the Eagles that he takes flight in 2021. Philadelphia does have the easiest schedule in the NFL heading into the season, so there is some upside.

NFC North:

Green Bay Packers

Outlook: Super Bowl Threat

Division Prediction: 1st

Record Prediction: 12-5

The Green Bay Packers have one last shot at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in the near future. The reigning NFL MVP and all-time great quarterback Aaron Rodgers has committed to one more year in Green Bay before parting ways with the organization. The team returns nearly all its stars and looks to dominate again. Green Bay has concerns about weakened protection, losing perhaps the best center in the league, and David Bakhtiari recovering from an ACL tear. The Packers also will endure a top-five toughest schedule, but that is the case for both Minnesota and Chicago as well.

Minnesota Vikings

Outlook: Playoff Team

Division Prediction: 2nd

Record Prediction: 10-7

The Minnesota Vikings are poised to post a bounce-back campaign after a disappointing and injury-riddled 2020. The team will regain two-time all-pro pass rusher Danielle Hunter along with Michael Pierce, Eric Kendricks, and Anthony Barr that missed all or a significant portion of the year previous. Minnesota also added Breshaud Breeland and Patrick Peterson to a struggling cornerback room while drafting their potential franchise left tackle in Christian Darrisaw. The team also added Dalvin Tomlinson to a rejuvenated defensive interior. Minnesota does have to bear the fourth-toughest schedule in 2021, however, the defensive renovation and plethora of offensive weapons spearheaded by Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook with Kirk Cousins under center will lead them back to the postseason.

Chicago Bears

Outlook: Not Enough

Division Prediction: 3rd

Record Prediction: 8-9

The Chicago Bears have all their eggs in the Justin Fields basket in 2021 and beyond. The sooner that Fields plays the quicker Chicago knows where they are as a franchise and perhaps compete. Chicago failed to add much of anything in the offseason, the highlights being projected depth running back Damien Williams along with Desmond Trufant replacing Kyle Fuller at cornerback. They likely won’t improve on last season with a tough schedule and a resurgent Minnesota. Chicago could have a bright future if Fields is the real deal, but 2021 won’t be that breakout season.

Detroit Lions

Outlook: Rome wasn’t built in a day

Division Prediction: 4th

Record Prediction: 2-15

The Detroit Lions are beginning a complete and total rebuild. The organization traded franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford and Kenny Golladay is now in New York. New General Manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell plan to endure a tough road ahead. Expect Detroit to pick in the top three in the 2022 NFL draft.

NFC South:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Outlook: Super Bowl Threat

Division Prediction: 1st

Record Prediction: 14-3

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are entering the 2o21 season as the reigning Super Bowl champions. The team did something that is rarely possible, they retain essentially the same roster that captured the Lombardi Trophy. Tampa Bay will enjoy another stellar season led by Tom Brady and Bruce Arians. Expect the Buccaneers to challenge for a repeat title.

New Orleans Saints

Outlook: Wild Card Contender

Division Prediction: 2nd

Record Prediction: 8-9

The New Orleans Saints are entering a new era post-Drew Brees. The Saints are going to go forward with Jameis Winston while retaining most of the team. Winston is going to make mistakes that Brees did not, and there is much speculation around trading star-wideout Michael Thomas. New Orleans will regress without Brees, however, the team’s roster will keep them somewhat afloat.

Carolina Panthers

Outlook: Volatile

Division Prediction: 3rd

Record Prediction: 7-10

The Carolina Panthers have a very good roster and a coach that appears capable in Matt Rhule. The team will return all-pro running back Christian McCaffrey from injury. The young core including Brian Burns, Jeremy Chinn, and Donte Jackson will surely take progressive steps. However, Sam Darnold at quarterback is a huge question mark and it is unlikely Darnold takes the team to playoff contention. The Panthers will both look amazing and awful at different times this season.

Atlanta Falcons

Outlook: Mediocrity

Division Prediction: 4th

Record Prediction: 6-11

The Atlanta Falcons are coming off a 4-12 season in 2020, however, it is unlikely they will be that bad again. The team did lose all-pro wide receiver Julio Jones, however, the team brought in a generationally talented pass catcher in the draft in Kyle Pitts. The Falcons defense is still very lackluster and Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley, and the aforementioned Pitts will not be enough to output success in Atlanta.

NFC West:

Los Angeles Rams

Outlook: Super Bowl Threat

Division Prediction: 1st

Record Prediction: 11-6

The Los Angeles Rams have one of the best rosters in football. The team bolsters perhaps the most dominant corner in the league Jalen Ramsey and the league’s most dominant defender Aaron Donald. Add that to a solid surrounding defensive unit, a great pass-catching room, and one of the league’s best offensive minds Sean McVay on the sideline, the Rams are terrifying. On top of all of this though, they added star quarterback Matthew Stafford who very well could lead them to the promised land. Their record may seem conservative juxtaposed with the writeup, however, the NFC West is the league’s best division, and playing Arizona, Seattle, and San Francisco six times combined is a tough test.

Seattle Seahawks

Outlook: Playoff Team+

Division Prediction: 2nd

Record Prediction: 10-7

The Seattle Seahawks are coming off a season where they posted a 12-4 record. Seattle will regress from this but will still be a very dangerous team. The team will have Russell Wilson throwing to an even more progressed DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett with Chris Carson in the backfield. The defense will be serviceable and Pete Carroll’s team is poised for a great season. The Seahawks will be very dangerous in 2021.

Arizona Cardinals

Outlook: Wild Card

Division Prediction: 3rd

Record Prediction: 9-8

The Cardinals retain a high-powered offense spearheaded by Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, however, the defense is a question mark. The defense lost legendary cornerback Patrick Peterson and may well lose Chandler Jones. The addition of JJ Watt is extremely positive, however, the unit itself is still a bit mediocre. On top of this, Kliff Kingsbury is likely not the guy going forward and with a resurgent Rams under Sean McVay in this tough division, Arizona’s ceiling is capped.

San Francisco 49ers

Outlook: Near miss

Division Prediction: 4th

Record Prediction: 8-9

The San Francisco 49ers will be victims of a division that is just entirely too good. Kyle Shanahan will have his hands full attempting to navigate a loaded division while having clearly its worst quarterback. Whether it is Jimmy Garoppolo or rookie Trey Lance, the 49ers quarterback will be miles behind the likes of Wilson, Murray, and Stafford. The team will retain a very talented defense but the lack of an elite quarterback and weapons while in a brutal division are going to hinder San Francisco. However, any team in this division could make a playoff run so don’t count Kyle Shanahan out.

Wild Card Teams:

Minnesota Vikings (10-7)

Seattle Seahawks (10-7)

Arizona Cardinals (9-8)

Ed Reed: The Greatest Ballhawk in NFL History

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Ed Reed really is, to me, the most complete and best safety that I’ve ever seen in the National Football League”

Bill Belichick in NFL Film’s “Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu Revolutionize the Safety Position

“Best-best safety in the history of the game. I don’t think it’s close.”

Rex Ryan in NFL Film’s “Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu Revolutionize the Safety Position”

Ed Reed’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame wasn’t a shock, nor was it a long time coming. He was inducted in his first year of eligibility, as (hopefully) everyone agreed he should be. From 2002-2013, Ed Reed took the position of safety and elevated it to an art form, becoming the gold standard for the classic “single high” archetype. Many would argue he was the greatest ballhawk the NFL has ever seen.

But…was he?

That question is harder to answer than you might realize. The NFL has changed drastically over the past seven decades, often in ways most fans don’t quite realize. Those changes alter the context in which a player plays, which in turn can drastically change a player’s legacy in the eyes of fans. This can often make comparing players across different eras extraordinarily difficult.

At first blush, the stats would indicate Ed Reed was an all-time interceptor and a worthy addition to the Hall of Fame. He’s currently in 7th place all-time in career interceptions with 64, only trailing other legends. Yet that 7th place finish also seems to indicate placing Reed on top of the proverbial mountain would be foolish. How can he be the best of all time at picking passes when he finished 7th in that mark?

So was Ed Reed the greatest ballhawk in NFL history? Yes. I believe he was, and I’d like to present my case. Before I can do that, however, we need some historical context.

Spiralling Through History

When the NFL first began to play in 1922, passing was a desperation gamble, the last resort saved for the direst of circumstances. Official passing records don’t exist until 1931, but in that year, teams attempted 1,044 passes out of 4,282 total plays. That works out to 24.3 percent or less than one-quarter of all plays. This number and percentage would climb until 2015, when it reached an all-time high of 18,298 attempts in 32,973 total plays, meaning over 55 percent of all plays were passing plays. It’s hovered around that ratio since.

This transformation into a passing-oriented league is hardly news to most fans of the NFL. Passing records are seemingly set every year. Quarterbacks play longer than ever thanks to increased protection. Linebackers have grown smaller in recent years and coverage is more important than stopping the run. Armchair GMs across the world grimace when they hear “analysts” declare running backs aren’t very valuable.

This change is especially important to understand when comparing defensive backs, who are often judged by the number of interceptions they get. As passing attempts increase, so too do the opportunities for a defensive back to get a pick. This naturally means defenders of today have a massive advantage over defenders in, say, 1955. That would seem to make Ed Reed’s place at 7th all-time behind older players like Emlen Tunnell and Paul Krause even more damning.

…Right?

Not Quite

Actually, it isn’t that simple. See, passing offenses have changed in far more than just the volume of attempts. Importantly, the type of attempts have changed as well. As any football fan knows, deeper passing attempts tend to be riskier for two main reasons. First, the longer air time offers defensive backs more time to react to the throw and make a play on it. Secondly, it’s harder to be accurate on longer throws. Quarterbacks are more likely to put the ball a few yards in the wrong direction, right into the hands of a waiting defensive back. Combining these two factors, deep passing is often fraught with danger.

That matters to us because, across NFL history, teams have been taking shorter and shorter pass attempts, which has resulted in a sharp decline in interceptions, even as the league has thrown more. Don’t just take my word for it, let’s look at the data.

The Data

As the above chart shows, yards/completion have declined for almost all of NFL history. The decline was especially sharp in the early days, but it still took until nearly 1970 (1969 to be specific) before teams fell below 12 yards/completion. In 1958, teams averaged a whopping 13.28 yards/completion! For context, in 2020, teams averaged 10.46 yards/completion. This emphasis on shorter throws has resulted in far fewer opportunities for all defensive backs, but especially safeties, to snag interceptions.

Again, let’s look at the data for proof. Teams in 2020 averaged 12.3 interceptions across an entire season, which is the exact same amount as they did in 1932. Yes, you read that correctly. Even though teams are attempting passes at record rates in recent years, they’re throwing interceptions like it’s 1932. The all-time highs for this metric came in 1934 and 1950 when teams threw 26.4 interceptions in a season on average. From 1932 through 1989, teams threw over 21 interceptions per season on average. In the last decade, teams have thrown 4431 interceptions. That’s an average of 443.1 interceptions per season or just 13.84 per team. That’s a difference of over 7 interceptions per team in every single season! That means modern defenders actually have it much harder, not easier, to compile interceptions than their 20th-century counterparts.

That revelation, that modern defenders have it harder than previous generations, forms the basis of my argument.

The Argument

Now that we’ve added the historical context, I can make my argument. My argument is that Ed Reed’s 64 interceptions from 2002-2013 are the most impressive in NFL history because they were compiled in some of the least friendly interception environments of all time.

If we accept that teams have thrown fewer interceptions as NFL history has progressed, then placing Ed Reed as the best ballhawk ever becomes a reasonable debate. But how can we prove his interception total is more impressive than, say, Paul Krause‘s 81? Reed had fewer chances, sure, and has a fantastic career total, but that doesn’t prove he was the best ever.

Any time we want to compare players across eras, we have to compare how they performed relative to their league. Throwing for 4000 yards in 1970 was astonishing; now, it’s almost expected. So how do we do that with interceptions?

The answer I’ve come to is Interception Share. Interception Share is the percentage of a team’s average interceptions an individual player accounts for. For example, if the average team had 20 interceptions in a season and an individual player on that team had 10 interceptions, he would have an interception share of 50 percent (10/20). He accounted for 50 percent of the average team’s interception total by himself. This method is helpful because it eliminates the wildly different contexts each player faced and simply asks “how good were you relative to the norms of your era?” By using this method, we can compare players across eras with much more confidence. It’s not perfect, but it’s much better than comparing raw totals.

The Method

In the interest of saving time, I’ll be focusing my efforts on the top-11 pick artists in NFL history, as rated by career interceptions. I chose the top 11 because a few players are tied and a clear top 10 isn’t possible.

My methodology is simple; first, I’ll use historical data to find out how many interceptions per season an average team would have during the years a player played. Then, I’ll multiply that value by the number of years they played to see how many total interceptions an average team would have during those years. Finally, I’ll divide the player’s career interception total by the previous value to get their interception share. After doing that for every member of the top 11, we have an ordered list of the best ballhawks in NFL history adjusted for eras.

The Results

11th. Dave Brown – 20.44 percent.
10th. Dick LeBeau – 21.55 percent.
9th. Ken Riley – 21.87 percent.
8th. Rod Woodson – 22.39 percent.
7th. Charles Woodson – 22.510 percent.
6th. Night Train Lane – 22.512 percent.
5th. Ronnie Lott – 23.75 percent.
4th. Emlen Tunnell – 24.91 percent.
3rd. Paul Krause – 25.27 percent.
2nd. Darren Sharper – 27.27 percent.

1st. Ed Reed – 33.43 percent.

The results are breathtaking when put into this context. Of the top 11 interceptors in NFL history, only 2 besides Reed cross the 25 percent threshold. That means only two other players in NFL history, at least among the best ballhawks in the game, have accounted for one-quarter of an average team’s production for their entire career. Given these results, it seems fair to say that crossing the 20 percent threshold cements you as an all-time great. 25 percent places you as a top-four pass thief ever. Reed towers above all competition with 33.43 percent, or over one-third of an entire average team’s production for his career.

This is a Ruthian number, a Secretariat feat; something or someone so far ahead of the field that it almost makes one think there’s been a mistake. Maybe this method overcorrects and favors new players? Paul Krause and Emlen Tunnell at 3 and 4 say otherwise. You’d expect them to be much lower if that were the case. Charles Woodson would be higher, too; he even retired after Reed. Interception Share is an imperfect method, but no quirk of methodology would create a gap this massive while bunching everyone else so tightly together. Ed Reed is further from 2nd place than 2nd is from 10th. Sharper would have needed 77 career interceptions to match Reed’s Interception Share. 77! The second-best interceptor of all time needed 14 more career interceptions, or 22 percent more, just to match Ed Reed.

In Conclusion…

I could list remarkable numbers to prove how incredible this result is for pages and pages, but I doubt that’d be interesting to read. No matter how you look at this result, it’s a powerful argument that Reed is not just the best ballhawk in NFL history, but head and shoulders above his field. A single player was worth a third of an entire team when it came to picking off passes. It’s a feat I don’t think we’ll ever see again and just one more reason why Reed is a worthy member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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Jaelon Darden: Rookies on the Rise

Jaelon Darden during his time in North Texas.
Jaelon Darden, Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 4th round selection.

The Pride of the University of North Texas

Jaelon Darden is already looking like the Meanest Green we’ve ever seen. After only a week in pads, the diminutive rookie receiver out of North Texas has quickly impressed onlookers at training camp.

GM Jason Licht sent the fanbase back to YouTube after trading up for Darden in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The University of North Texas isn’t exactly a hotbed for football talent, and most fans had never even seen Darden play. Cody Spencer, UNT’s last draft selection, was picked in the sixth round by the Raiders in 2004. He never started an NFL game in five seasons.

What Makes a Small-School Draft Gem

In the NFL Draft, size really does matter. First-round picks are supposed to check all of the boxes between desirable superior performance, measurables, and intangibles. If there are any first-round picks that don’t meet the NFL’s expectations in any of these three categories, they must make up for it by being superior in another category. That is how knucklehead pass-rushers and purely intangible-based QBs get drafted so highly.

Jaelon Darden checks the boxes in both performance and intangibles. Darden exits North Texas as its’ leader in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving TDs. After running a 4.44 40 yard dash and excelling in all the acceleration drills at his Pro Day, Darden erased any doubt that he has NFL athleticism. Then, the interview process revealed Darden to be a humble, well-spoken young man whose football inspiration is his late father. It only takes one listen to determine that Darden is not your stereotypical #1-wearing cocky wideout.

Where Jaelon Darden does not impress NFL Gm’s is in the size category. At only 5′ 8″ and 174 lbs, Darden is exactly as big as Cole Beasley. His career outlook may be similar to Beasley, at least in terms of deployment. PFF says Beasley ran 88.4% of his routes from the slot last season, and Darden’s physical limitations may limit him to the same inside role. While Beasley produced 938 yards in this role last season, Darden is unlikely to see the field that much in his debut season.

Where does Jaelon Darden Fit?

It’s no secret that Darden will have an uphill battle for playing time as a rookie. The highly touted trio of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown are obviously not leaving the field for anything but injury. Scotty Miller has already clearly earned the trust of Tom Brady on the deep ball, and that one lethal trick secures his roster spot. That leaves Darden in a battle with Tyler Johnson, Jaydon Mickens, and Justin Watson for what is likely the final WR roster spot.

Fortunately for Darden, he has an alternate path to the roster. He is electric with the ball in his hands, and he has experience as a punt and kickoff returner. This makes him an incredibly valuable fifth or sixth WR compared to those who aren’t playing special teams. Anyone who isn’t starting or playing special teams is wasting a roster spot.

Sadly for fans, this means we may only see Darden on fourth down to start his career. Darden’s best bet is to inspire coaches to install gadget plays or slot bubble screens with his shiftiness on returns. These plays would allow Darden to display his athleticism in space where he almost always makes the first defender miss.

In almost any other offseason these remarkably promising rookies, namely Joe Tryon and Jaeldon Darden, could earn a chance to prove their ability to play full-time during the offseason. Sadly for them, every starting player is returning to a championship roster. That means these young Bucs will have to patiently wait their turn.

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What to Expect from Rookie Joe Tryon

Joe Tryon has been “whipping a lot of guys’ asses” in training camp week, but what does that mean for the 2021 Buccaneers?

Photo: Kyle Zedaker/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

As if there wasn’t already enough to celebrate in Tampa, the 2021 Buccaneers are bringing the band back together. Every single starter and major role player from last years’ team is back on board. For fans of the team, this is an unusual luxury. For 2021 Buccaneer first-round draft pick Joe Tryon, it’s a major hurdle.

Joe Tryon is set to back up two of the stingiest pass rushers in the league. Shaq Barrett played in roughly 82% of the snaps during the 15 games he participated in, and Jason Pierre-Paul was on the field for 89% of all 16 regular-season games last year. This left last year’s third OLB, former 3rd round pick Anthony Nelson, with a measly 30% of the defensive snaps.

No matter how many asses Tryon whips in training camp this summer, it’s going to be difficult to convince newly extended defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to take one of his star pass rushers off the field. Tryon will likely replace Nelson for third on the 2021 depth chart, but that doesn’t guarantee any more snaps than Nelson got last year.

So, we’re benching a first rounder?

Tryon will only see the field for the majority of a game this season due to injury, plain and simple. The 2020 Buccaneers were one of the most fortunate teams in regards to injury, but injury luck is fickle. With no major holes on the roster to fill, General Manager Jason Licht wisely decided to spend his first-round selection on pass rush insurance for 2021. This has the added benefit of allowing Tryon to comfortably grow into his role as a potential starter over the next few years.

This doesn’t mean Jason Licht reached for a pick or that Tryon is terrible if we don’t see much of Tryon this year. If Shaq and JPP are healthy for 16 games they will start all 16 games, and this is a good thing. If Shaq twists an ankle or JPP reaggravates any of his various injuries then Tryon will play full time.

Until then, we should expect to not see much of Joe Tryon in the regular season. My prediction: 35% defensive snap count, barring injury.

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