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EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - NOVEMBER 09: Cam Newton #1 of the New England Patriots reacts with Shaq Mason #69, Joe Thuney #62, and Mike Onwenu #71 after scoring a touchdown during the first half against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on November 09, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com

Welcome to the Patriots Mailbag for Week 10!

With the Baltimore Ravens on everybody’s mind, it’s not surprising to get a few questions about the present and future of the Patriots’ lines, both on offense and defense. So let’s start there, before Matt Dolloff has some fun with hypotheticals surrounding the Patriots’ two most focused-on positions.

A shift to the power run game is exactly what the Patriots offense needs. Between Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead, and Sony Michel, they have a number of running backs who can fit that scheme, and the offensive line to execute it. They should be able to wear defenses down.

Traditionally, power running teams get stronger later in the the year, especially teams in the north given the cold weather and wet conditions. The Patriots have capitalized on this before (see: 2018) and could do so again.

Would they run it out of the spread? It’s probably more likely they stay traditional, using 21 personnel to have Jakob Johnson on the field as a lead blocker.

ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 01: Damien Harris #37 of the New England Patriots rushes as Dean Marlowe #31 of the Buffalo Bills tries to tackle during a game at Bills Stadium on November 01, 2020 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 01: Damien Harris #37 of the New England Patriots rushes as Dean Marlowe #31 of the Buffalo Bills tries to tackle during a game at Bills Stadium on November 01, 2020 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

Wynn may be slightly undersized, but he’s able to compensate with quick footwork and just being a smart player. As long as he’s in New England, he’ll be the starting left tackle.

Plus, the Patriots have a better option to replace Thuney in rookie Michael Onwenu. He’s been successful at all four positions he’s played so far in 2020, but given his combination of size and agility, the Patriots can maximize his abilities at tackle. With the return of Marcus Cannon and/or improvement from Justin Herron, that would set the Patriots up with a strong starting line in 2021.

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 25: Mike Onwenu #71 of the New England Patriots walks off after warm ups prior to their game against the San Francisco 49ers at Gillette Stadium on October 25, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Answering your second question first, Hightower played under a similar cap number in 2019, so don’t rule it out. That being said, I could see the team adding another year or two onto the back end of his current deal (which expires after next season) and spreading the money out. If it wasn’t clear before this season, it’s blatantly obvious now how much the defense needs him. They need to do what they can to make sure he’s wearing blue until he retires.

As for improving elsewhere – early on I don’t feel great about this upcoming linebacker class in the draft. That’s not to say there are no good players, but they’re limited and with so many needs, the Patriots can’t stretch themselves too thin trying to add just one piece.

I’d expect them to use a premium draft pick on a defensive lineman, while turning to free agency for a veteran linebacker and/or edge rusher to pair with their rookie duo of Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche. Given their wealth of potential cap space, keep an eye on guys like Shaquil Barrett and Matt Judon.

Oct 25, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett (58) against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s still early, but in my mind there are six first-round quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft, broken up into four categories. Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) is in a class of his own, followed by Justin Fields (Ohio State). After that, you have two groups that are more or less equal in value, but present different opportunities to the teams drafting them.

The first group is Mac Jones (Alabama) and Kyle Trask (Florida). They represent the high floor, lower-ceiling, more NFL ready prospects. If a team is looking for a new quarterback to come in and compete from day one, those are the guys. Expect teams like the 49ers, Colts, and Bears to be in play here.

The second group consists of Zach Wilson (BYU) and Trey Lance (North Dakota State). These two are more athletically gifted and have more upside, but are more risky and have a longer development ahead of them. This is the group the Patriots will likely look at if they decide to take a QB in round one.

As I discussed on the Patriots Preview Podcast this week, if we’ve learned anything this year it’s that Bill Belichick is incredibly hesitant to play rookies. Why would he suddenly change that, and at the most important position? Wilson has even said he could see himself in New England next year learning behind Cam Newton. Along with Lance, he’s a very real possibility if the Patriots end up with a top-10 pick, either naturally or through a trade.

Oct 16, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1) attempts a pass during the second quarter against the Houston Cougars at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports


The following Q&A’s are from Matt Dolloff:

This has been bandied about since Harry has started to play. He’s certainly got the size to play a receiving tight end type of role and would probably match up better against a linebacker or safety than a big cornerback. But I think he’s still going to be better suited as an outside receiver with his potential in 1-on-1 situations and blocking ability against defensive backs. Putting him in-line full-time and asking him to block pass-rushers isn’t likely to be successful. He could line up inside as a pass-catcher, though.

Oct 5, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver N'Keal Harry (15) catches a pass against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second quarter of a NFL game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 5, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver N’Keal Harry (15) catches a pass against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second quarter of a NFL game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

This is a fun one. So I’ll make stuff up for you.

Jacoby Brissett
Kyle Trask
Jarrett Stidham

I’m putting Trask in here basically to get Barth excited. But if Bill Belichick is going to draft a quarterback who has a chance to start in the future, it’ll likely be in the second or third round with a guy like Trask rather than one of the top prospects. Brissett returns as the veteran stopgap who starts to begin the season and runs the offense while minimizing mistakes. Stidham gets one last chance to make some noise at third on the depth chart before Bill decides to move on.

I’d be OK with this plan. I’d rather Bill take the best player available high in the draft and piece it together at the position until he identifies a Jimmy Garoppolo type, meaning a pick that he truly believes in as a future starter. But maybe someone like Trask or BYU’s Zach Wilson turns out to be that guy.


For more on this Sunday’s Patriots-Ravens game, check out the Patriots Preview Podcast with Matt Dolloff and Alex Barth below:

Click here for 98.5 The Sports Hub’s complete coverage of the Patriots.

Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.