Mac Jones Is Ready for Battle

According to cut-down day, Mac Jones does not need a mentor. Late Tuesday morning, the New England Patriots parted ways with former NFL MVP Cam Newton, and in turn, handed the reins to one McCorkle Jones. The rookie out of Alabama had an electric pre-season. He was graded as PFF’s highest rookie quarterback, passing for 388 yards and one touchdown with a 69.2 completion percentage. Also posting a 97.3 passer rating.

When you look at Mac Jones and his performance through camp and pre-season, he passes the eye test with flying colors. He has calm command of the huddle, he throws the ball quickly and accurately, and he protects the football. The offense moved much quicker and just looked more patriot-like with Jones behind center. With no disrespect towards Newton. I have been one of his bigger advocates in Patriots media. I wish that he had gotten a second chance to revive his career. But I trust Bill Belichick’s judgment if the first-round pick is ready to play.

Looking at the Future with Mac Jones

Bill Belichick goes into depth about Mac Jones' work ethic

This is by no means an easy job for the rookie quarterback. Jones is entering a division with two other playoff contenders. Surrounded by an offense surrounded by question marks or inconsistencies. Not to mention, a date with the best to ever do it come week four against quarterback Tom Brady and the Super Bowl LV champions Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Jones will certainly have his hands full in his rookie season. With all of the New England region looking on him with microscopes and prepared with insults in angry accents. I imagine Jones will get more leeway than Newton did last season. The team is certainly better than 7-9 and is certainly improved on the offensive side of the ball, even if there is much to be proven. But Belichick and Josh McDaniels have faith that McCorkle is the man to lead the charge, and he’s ready to take on the NFL’s best competition. He’ll have his chance to do that early and often his rookie campaign. His first start his against his predecessor at Alabama in Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins. Here’s to a delightful 2021 season for McCorkle and a good start to a new era of Patriots football.

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Pats Preview: Pre-Season Week 3 @ New York

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

Patriots QB <a rel=

#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

Kristian Wilkerson on staying with Pats: 'I just want to be a winner' -

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.

Closing Thoughts

Bill Belichick Has a Season-Altering Decision to Make That Has Nothing to  Do With Choosing Between Mac Jones and Cam Newton

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?

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Sony Michel Trade Had to Be Done

Patriots’ 2018 first-round pick running back Sony Michel was traded to the Los Angeles Rams early Wednesday morning for two conditional picks. If the Rams are awarded a fourth-round compensatory selection, the Patriots will get that instead of the two picks (a fifth and a sixth) in 2022. Patriots fans may be reactionary about this deal. The response is already not that great. Though, I feel that Patriots fans may be overvaluing the fourth year running back from Georgia.

Let’s start this off by looking at the rest of the Patriots’ running back room. He was clearly going to be the odd man out. With how well third-round selection Rhamondre Stevenson has played, it was only a matter of time. Damien Harris and James White are basically locked for the 53-man roster. Meanwhile, even second-year undrafted free agent J.J. Taylor has been killing it in camp. Sony Michel, on the last year of his rookie deal, had to be traded. A fourth-round pick at best sounds like a solid deal for the Patriots, who didn’t really need him.

Let’s face it, Sony Michel was never going to garner a first-round selection in return. Michel hasn’t done anything to demand that type of value. Last season he only rushed 79 times for 449 yards and 1 touchdown. Not adding much in the receiving department with 17 catches for 114 yards and a score. He wasn’t all that available in 2020, and it’s a common truth that in the Patriots locker room, the best ability is availability. He hasn’t had that since his breakout rookie campaign. Sure, he had a terrific 2018 post-season, and even a solid sophomore output, but he got outplayed and replaced by Damien Harris. As well as not doing enough to separate himself from Taylor and Stevenson.

Patriots’ Running Back Room From Here

Patriots RB Rhamondre Stevenson has 'worked his butt off' since failing  conditioning test, per Ivan Fears -

Simply put, the Patriots do not get any worse from this Sony Michel trade. Sure, the return isn’t the best of value, but that’s not why it was made. Trading Michel simply makes the team that much more flexible at the running back position. Michel is no longer demanding carries. Come week one, Rhamondre Stevenson could be seeing some real playing time. Meanwhile, Taylor can take over that Rex Burkhead role that we missed a good chunk of last season when he tore his ACL. James White and Damien Harris can continue their usual duties, and maybe Brandon Bolden sticks around on this roster for his value on special teams.

I’m very excited to see what the Patriots have to offer in the run game. They have quite the diversity in their backfield. Plus with Cam Newton adding his rushing threat at quarterback? This team is poised to be a top-five rushing attack again in 2021.

Saying Goodbye to Sony Michel

Look: Sony Michel receives Super Bowl ring for New England Patriots

I have never been Sony Michel’s biggest advocate. I’ve always felt like the Patriots took the wrong Georgia running back in the 2018 NFL Draft, and should have gotten Nick Chubb if running back was the route to go in. Though, I would be foolish to not acknowledge the good he did in his time as a Patriot. His 2018 playoff performance is second to none. Shattering a ton of rookie postseason records, and even scoring the lone touchdown in Super Bowl LIII to give the Patriots a 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams. Their sixth Super Bowl title in 17 years.

Unfortunately, the time has just come. He didn’t separate himself enough from the competition to justify taking away snaps from younger players. This is Damien Harris’s backfield now. With James White as the premier pass catcher, and Rhamondre Stevenson and J.J. Taylor carving out roles for themselves.

Nevertheless, Sony Michel should be celebrated for his contributions as a Patriot. In spite of injuries and growing pains, he was a serviceable player for New England. Even if a trade had to be done, it’s hard not to have a good feeling thinking about his rookie campaign.

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Evaluating Patriots’ 35-0 Win Over the Eagles

I wrote in my preview of this game on Wednesday that I hoped the Patriots would blow out the Eagles. They did just that, but I’ve taken for granted just how great close preseason games are for evaluation. The Eagles’ offense simply rolled over and died Thursday night, and their defense didn’t give the Patriots much resistance. Nevertheless, I’ve found five focuses of interest to discuss, and I hope next week we can see a more competitive match-up to really finalize the final pieces of the roster.

#1: Cam Newton Takes Charge of Patriots’ Offense

Patriots' starting QB job is Cam Newton's to lose, and he did nothing to  hurt his cause - The Boston Globe

The Patriots starting quarterback job is still Cam Newton’s to lose, and on Thursday night he did nothing to hurt his standings. After having an abysmal outing against Washington last week, SuperCam stepped up to the plate and posted an impressive 103 yards on nine throws and a touchdown pass. He really looked like the quarterback we all thought we were getting in 2020. Making good reads, protecting the football, calmy navigating the pocket when the pressure came in. Sure, it was against a horrendous Eagles defense without some of their most key starters. But let’s take the positives where we can get them. QB1 looked excellent and has at least temporarily restored confidence in Patriots fans everywhere. Not bad for the “Checkdown King”.

#2: Mac Jones Continues Positive Development

Mac Jones updates: How did Patriots rookie QB perform in Week 2 of  preseason - DraftKings Nation

Of course, if we discuss one quarterback, we must discuss the other. First-round pick Mac Jones continued his impressive pre-season against Philadelphia going 13-19 again for 146 yards. He had another beautiful deep ball down the sidelines that should have been caught. Unfortunately, N’Keal Harry had butterfingers and screwed up his shoulder/arm in the process. McCorkle has not made this an easy win for Newton in the quarterback competition. As he should be doing. I think Newton will probably be the starter in the season opener, but Jones is right on his tail ready for his moment.

#3: Patriots Have a Dilemma at Runningback

What Role Will Rhamondre Stevenson Have With The Patriots? -

Ice cream is fantastic every once in a while, but you can always have too much of a good thing. This is the Patriots’ situation at running back. There are five really solid backs on this depth chart as is. Damien Harris, James White, Sony Michel, Brandon Bolden, J.J. Taylor, and Rhamondre Stevenson make up this elite backfield. But the Patriots can’t keep every single one. There’s going to have to be an odd-man-out after next week. I would think that Harris’ and White’s jobs are safe, and Bolden’s expertise in special teams keeps him here. In all likelihood, the Patriots are going to be able to keep maybe two more. This is going to be a tough decision for Bill Belichick. One that I do not envy. Especially after Michel, Stevenson and Taylor all played extremely well Thursday night in Philly.

What I would do? I’d look to trade Sony Michel. He’s in a contract year and I don’t think the Patriots are looking to sign him long-term anyways. Then you can either try to get away with putting Taylor on the practice squad or give Stevenson the good ol’ “Foxboro Flu” where they get redshirted their rookie season. It’ll be interesting to see what Belichick does at this position.

#4: Matt Judon Looks Like a Great Investment

4 Ups, 4 Downs From Patriots' Preseason Blowout Win Over Eagles – CBS  Boston | NewsRobin

Edge rusher Matt Judon has been a bull in a china shop for the Patriots so far in pre-season. Right off the bat against the Eagles, he made his presence felt with a strip-sack off of former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco. Sure it was a bad snap, but we can’t knock the hustle. He was just as lethal against the Football Team last week consistently getting into the backfield and making good tackles. So far he’s proven to be the best investment from the 2021 free agency class. Tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith haven’t exactly gotten the chance to shine this pre-season, but Judon has and he’s made the most of it. Chase Winovich, Josh Uche, and Ronnie Perkins are going to have a difficult time getting snaps in the regular season if Judon keeps this up.

#5: Still No Answers at Reciever for the Patriots

N'Keal Harry, Josh Uche exit Patriots' preseason game vs. Eagles with  injuries | Patriots Wire

So far, it looks like Jakobi Meyers is the only dependable wide receiver for the Patriots on their depth chart. Sure, the volume hasn’t been fantastic. The rushing offense has absolutely taken the most attention and has been the most effective thus far in the pre-season. But I was really hoping that we would see more from guys like Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor (who made his pre-season debut in Philly), N’Keal Harry (who left in a sling), and camp standout Kristian Wilkerson. Nobody has really stepped up to the plate for the Pats at this spot, and I fear that we may have some inconsistent production similar to last season. Which is detrimental if the tight ends aren’t available or part of the game plan.

There’s still a week to go, and I’m really hoping that Newton and Jones get to display their arm talent a little more and set up guys like Bourne and Agholor to make some big plays. I’m not saying the Patriots have to have production at wide receiver rivaling the Buccaneers. But just more than what we’ve seen two games in.

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Pats Preview: Pre-Season Week 2 @ Philadelphia

The Pats have been down in Philadelphia practicing with the Eagles all week. Quarterback Cam Newton has looked electric during the joint practices and the team looks solid. On the other hand, the Patriots have just one healthy tight end going into tomorrow night’s matchup with the Eagles. It’s going to be another interesting matchup to see who the Patriots decide gets more snaps than others, and just how they handle the current situation at tight end with Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, and Matt LaCosse all hurt.

There are quite a lot of things to look out for in Lincoln Financial Field tomorrow night, but I’ll try to narrow it down to three. Kick it off, Bailey. Let’s get this one underway.

Three Things to Watch

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#1: How are the reps split at Quarterback?

Last week we only saw Newton get two drives in the first quarter against Washington. The rookie Mac Jones got five drives and was impressive for the most part. Meanwhile, the veteran Brian Hoyer got to end the game by throwing just four passes. It is imperative to me that we get to see more of Newton in these final two games. In Gillette Stadium last week, he only got to throw it seven times and the highlights of his drives were getting strip-sacked and a big play taken away by a holding penalty. I loved watching Jones as much as everybody else did. But we can’t just throw Cam Newton out to the curb after one pre-season game. Let’s see more of what the former MVP has to give.

#2: Are there any switches at Cornerback?

Last week we saw Jalen Mills get torched by Terry McLaurin in his Patriots pre-season debut. The Pats cannot afford to be this lost at their cornerback depth. They have to figure something out because as it stands currently, Stephon Gilmore won’t be back by week one. Whether it be because of injury or his lack of a new deal. I’m definitely going to keep an eye on who’s covering the Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith. Two of the corner positions are set in J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones, who will be the next man up?

#3: How does Devin Asiasi handle larger role?

As we mentioned before, the only healthy tight end heading into tomorrow’s exhibition is the second-year 3rd rounder Devin Asiasi. He has one career touchdown catch and most of his receptions came in week 17 against the Jets last year. I’m very curious as to how the Pats use him. Will they use fewer tight end sets or will they see this as an opportunity to see what the UCLA product has to offer? I personally hope it’s the latter. If Henry or Smith have to take an extended leave of absence due to injury, somebody has to step up. I would absolutely love it if Asiasi is the one to step up to the challenge.

Highlight Player: Chase Winovich

Patriots LB <a rel=

Listen, Bill Belichick put it best: “…obviously he needs to work in every area because he hasn’t done much”. Chase Winovich is just now returning from the PUP list and has missed a significant portion of training camp. I can’t say if he’ll get a whole lot of snaps, but I hope the Pats use pre-season to throw him into the fire and see what he’s got to focus on. Year three is big for any player on their rookie deal. Winovich exploded in his own way in 2020. 2021 will be huge to determine his long-term future in New England if there is to be a future in Foxboro. The Michigan man is going to have to fight like hell to get some starting reps in the regular season. The pre-season is your best bet to beat out guys like Josh Uche, Matt Judon, Henry Anderson, Tashawn Bower, and Deatrich Wise.

Closing Thoughts

Bill Belichick has classic response for not challenging missed call in Pats pre-season opener.

With there only being three pre-season games, it’s difficult to predict how many reps starters will get. We always knew the starters would get at least a half in the third game and nothing in the last game in previous seasons. Now does that dress rehearsal get pushed up to week two? Or does it stay week three and that’s how the pre-season ends? It’ll be interesting to see how teams handle this dilemma.

My energy remains the same anytime the Eagles get on the schedule. I don’t care if it’s pre-season or the Super Bowl. I’m hoping for a 52-0 blowout. Super Bowl LII and just how rambunctious their fans get always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It may be hypocritical, but don’t pretend like the rest of the NFL’s fanbase feels the same way. I knew people who hated the Patriots in 2017 who wanted the Pats to win that game. But overall, here’s to hoping that we see great play out of our own guys, and anything bad by the Eagles would just be a cherry on top!

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Cam Newton Shouldn’t Be Benched Just Yet

I know we’re all excited about Mac Jones. Trust me, I do. He looked like a young Tom Brady Thursday night against the Washington Football Team. After taking over for Cam Newton who got just two drives, the Patriots’ offense started to click. The first-round pick from Alabama completed 13-19 passes for 87 yards and almost had a touchdown. Unfortunately for the veteran Newton, he got just seven pass attempts and just completed four of them. His highlight of the night was unfortunately a strip-sack by Chase Young on his first possession.

Fans were quick to jump the gun on this quarterback controversy. All over social media fans began to make the casual arguments of “Cam Newton looks the same as last year! Put in Jones!” and are ready to close the book on the second year of SuperCam in Foxboro. If you’ve been following my work this off-season, you know where I lie when it comes to Cam Newton and the Patriots. I want him here so long as Mac Jones is developing and he is the best option at quarterback. Here’s to providing some rationality and hopefully justifying the argument that Newton should be judged on a little more than just seven passes in the first preseason game.

Two Drives Simply Isn’t Enough

Cam Newton and the Patriots Are Headed in the Wrong Direction - The Ringer

Like we said before, Mac Jones looked excellent in his five possessions. I certainly don’t want to discredit just how impressed I was with the rookie. But are we seriously going to get riled up about Newton missing three of seven passes and the blocking selling them out twice? On his second drive, the offense did move down the field with ease before Jonnu Smith got called for holding. Unfortunately for us who are trying to evaluate, Newton obviously didn’t throw the ball that much. When he did, they were mostly check-downs and screen passes. Short timing routes, though valuable, don’t get to show exactly what Cam Newton has to offer.

Hopefully next week against the Eagles we see more of Newton, and we can fairly assess what he has to offer. Simply put, it would be extremely unfair and hasty to name Mac Jones the starting quarterback based on one preseason outing where his opponent had the opportunity to show virtually nothing and Jones got most of the reps in the entire game.

We Can’t Throw Mac Jones Into the Fire

How Mac Jones fared in crucial Patriots debut

Make no mistake, Mac Jones coming out of Alabama is by no means a finished product. He isn’t the same caliber quarterback as Trevor Lawrence, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Kyler Murray, and others who can start virtually immediately. McCorkle is going to need some time to grow. Throwing him out there week one without any sort of fire and handing him the starting job would be a disastrous mistake that could ruin his future. Cam Newton has value on that alone. Unless Jones is clear cut the best quarterback and there’s no doubt, Newton should still be on this team. Unless you guys think Brian Hoyer is capable of keeping this team competitive while Jones gets ready to go. I don’t think even the most die-hard Hoyer fans believe that, if they even exist.

The Competition Will Bring Out the Best Quarterback

Cam Newton mentoring Mac Jones has impressed <a rel=

Make no mistake about it, we don’t want this to be an easy decision for Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels. If Mac Jones is by far the better quarterback, he doesn’t even have to be great necessarily. That could just mean Cam Newton is that bad. If anything, you’d hope Newton is the best coming out when you look at the two extremes because at least Jones has time to grow and you’re in no rush to thrust him out there. The battle for starting quarterback should by no means end in the preseason. We’ll get a good look at these two signal-callers, but unless Mac Jones is truly the second coming of Tom Brady or Newton simply cannot throw the football anymore, we shouldn’t force it with McCorkle.

We’re just one week into the preseason, and I get that fans are reactionary. That’s what this industry is all about. But let’s just try to keep cool heads about this subject here. Jones will get his time, and when he does he better be prepared for the task at hand. That being said, if he’s even remotely unprepared and Newton is capable of leading this team in 2021, I think the answer is more obvious than it seems.

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Patriots Preseason Week One Instant Reactions

The New England Patriots picked up a big preseason win against the Washington Football Team Thursday night. In a decisive 22-13 win, the Patriots looked as good as ever with a huge Rhamondre Stevenson toss to the outside to ice it. Completing drives, forcing turnovers, and simply just playing smart football. There are five key moments I’d like to shed some light on. Let’s go over the big takeaways from the first action in Gillette Stadium since December.

#1: Mac Jones Looks Really Good

Mac Jones gets his first completion in his NFL preseason debut

Quarterback Mac Jones performed about as well as I could have hoped. He went 13-19 on his passes in his five drives. Jones could have even had a big touchdown if rookie receiver Kristian Wilkerson was able to haul in a deep ball. He was smart with the ball while being quick and decisive. I don’t want to get too hyped up over a preseason game, but McCorkle showed up when he was called upon. While the fans loved him. When it looked like the game might be tied at 15-15 with 1:30 left in the fourth quarter, fans (including myself) roared “WE WANT MAC!”. This is a good sign. He might be putting Newton on the hot seat as we speak. It’s only one preseason game, but the headlines write themselves.

#2: Jalen Mills Is Not That Guy at Corner

Jalen Mills explains why <a rel=

Defensive back Jalen Mills is a swiss army knife for sure. He can do all sorts of different things on the defensive side and I see the appeal. But he can not replace Stephon Gilmore. He played opposite of J.C. Jackson at corner, and he got torched by Terry McLaurin. I’m not saying Mills is a bum, but he can’t be our Gilmore fill-in until he gets healthy and a new contract. JoeJuan Williams had a big interception last night, maybe try him out against the Giants next week. But it’s been known Mills isn’t a great corner. We can’t force the square peg into the round hole with this one.

#3: Offensive Line Needs Some Work

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On the game’s first offensive possession, Cam Newton was strip-sacked because Isaiah Wynn fell asleep and Chase Young blew past him. This wasn’t the only time the offensive line collapsed, but it’s the moment that still sticks out to me. This line has the potential to be a top-five unit in the NFL. There are obviously still some kinks to be worked out, and they have a handful of weeks to do so. But too often the Patriots’ line both starters and depth just got beat for no good reason.

#4: J.J. Taylor Has Potential

Patriots: 3 players who earned Week 1 playing time in preseason opener

I was expecting to see more Rhamondre Stevenson in the Patriots preseason opener, but J.J. Taylor seemed to be more of the man of the night. He caught passes as well as anybody with five receptions for 31 yards. He also showed some potential on the punt returns. I’d like to see more designed runs for him and just get. a look on how useful he could be for the Patriots. The second-year running back could see more use as a James White type if he keeps it up. He’s got me interested in more, that’s for certain.

#5: Quinn Nordin Might Be the Franchise Kicker

Forget Patriots QB battle, rookie Quinn Nordin gunning for kicker job: 10  things we learned from preseason opener vs. Washington -

I’ve never claimed to be an expert on the kicking of football. I likely never will, but Quinn Nordin looked excellent in his Patriots debut. Kicking two field goals (one from 50, another from 40) and missing just one PAT. Again, we don’t want to be dramatic about just one game, but we’ve seen how bad kickers have been around the league. Some teams are already having doubts about their situation. We have Nick Folk on the sideline at the moment. Then having Nordin showing out in preseason? The Patriots are in great shape on special teams heading into 2021. Just as long as we turn down the stupid false start penalties, which were a problem all last year too.

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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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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 - - 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.

If you enjoyed this content, or hate it and want to argue with me, follow me on Twitter @KalebEmcee! Feel free to check out the work I do on Foxboro Beat! Also, read up on the rest of the NFL content PFP has to offer here!