Another Patriots training camp is in the books. The team held their its camp practice of the summer on Thursday in Las Vegas, ahead of Friday night’s preseason finale with the Raiders. Next time the Patriots practice, the focus won’t be on evaluation, but preparation for their Week 1 matchup with the Miami Dolphins.
As is always the case in camp, we saw some players shake the expectations set when things began in late July. In discussing the biggest surprises of Patriots training camp we’ll look at both ends of the spectrum – those players who exceeded expectations and those who didn’t quite reach the level they were projected to.
For the purpose of this list, we’re not going to include any rookies. First year players are generally the biggest unknowns this time of year, and what’s expected of them is less concrete than the way players with NFL experience are evaluated.
With that said, let’s get into the biggest surprises from this year’s Patriots training camp…
WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey
Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey (83) runs the ball as Carolina Panthers cornerback Madre Harper (36) closes in during the second half of a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
When the Patriots added Lil’Jordan Humphrey, the move came with little if any fanfare. The fourth-year UDFA signed with the team on June 16, after going unsigned throughout the spring. Coming out of camp a few months later, he appears to have earned a spot on the roster.
After being unsigned for four months, Humphrey didn’t do much to pop at the start of camp. It was about two weeks into camp that be began really showing up, that truly made his presence felt in the first preseason game. That momentum carried over to joint practices, and now the 24-year-old seems like a likely candidate for a roster spot. At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Humphrey would give the team a good depth option for another big-body receiver behind DeVante Parker, who has struggled to stay on the field in recent years.
WR Kendrick Bourne
May 23, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne (84) works with a training aid at the team’s OTA at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Few players on the Patriots came into this season with more expectations for growth than Kendrick Bourne. In his first year in the Patriots’ system and working with a rookie quarterback he didn’t spend a ton of time with in training camp, Bourne managed to put up 800 yards and at times looked like the Patriots’ best receiver. For a 10-game stretch between Week 3 and Week 12 (he caught COVID the following week) 1,000-yard pace.
With that success and then a a full offseason in the system and working with Mac Jones under his belt, Bourne was tagged as a logical breakout candidate heading into camp. While he still very well could meet those expectations in the regular season – after all, he had a slow camp last year as well – he failed to separate himself over the course of this summer. He was one of the least-targeted receivers with the first unit for the duration of camp, and missed most of a practice and a game after getting in a fight.
Bourne absolutely could still turn things around and have the big season many predicted – just as he did last year. But the hype around his 2022 campaign certainly has cooled off a bit.
May 23, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste (72) walks to the practice field for the team’s OTA at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
After the first preseason game, Bill Belichick told reporters Yodny Cajuste was having the best camp he’s had in New England to that point. Cajuste, who has been injured for most of his career since being drafted 101st overall by the Patriots in 2019, was able to get plenty of reps in this summer with starting right tackle Isaiah Wynn missing a week and a half of practice, and backup Justin Herron missing time as well. When he was on the field, he certainly held his own.
The question is, how much did his performance matter when it comes to the depth chart and the roster? When Wynn returned, he stepped back in as the starting right tackle. Then, when he left practice early this week, Herron replaced him. This battle may come down to Friday night’s game, but whatever Cajuste’s role ends up being he did as much as could be asked of him this summer.
WR Tre Nixon
Aug 11, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Tre Nixon (82) returns a kick against the New York Giants during the first half of a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Tre Nixon was the star of Patriots spring practices. After being taken in the seventh round in 2021 and ‘redshirting’ his rookie year, he seemed poised for a big roster push.
That push never came to fruition though. Nixon wasn’t bad this summer, but he also didn’t play up to the level he did in the spring. Instead, it was Humphrey that made the leap many were expecting Nixon to make.
Even if Nixon doesn’t make the roster, his days with the Patriots shouldn’t be over. He’s certainly a strong candidate for a practice squad spot if he clears waivers. But it doesn’t look like he’ll be that final piece in the offensive puzzle some were expecting.
DT Carl Davis
Jul 30, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive tackle Carl Davis Jr (98) works out at the Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
It went under the radar, but defensive tackle Carl Davis had a very strong camp. Davis doesn’t generally get a lot of attention given he’s a situation specific player as an early down run stopper, but it’s a role he’s really shined at in the past and continued to this summer.
If the Patriots plan on moving Davon Godchaux around the line of scrimmage as has been speculated following his contract extension, Davis is a candidate to fill in as the nose tackle. At 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, he’s tough to block one-on-one and has shown a knack for moving the point of contact in the running game.
The question now is, is it enough to get him on the roster? While Davis has looked good, so have rookie defensive linemen LaBryan Ray and Sam Roberts. Given their contract situations, Davis may be a more likely candidate to test the waiver wire and land a practice squad spot. But the way he’s played, he may not make it through waivers. The Patriots have some tough choices ahead of them up front.
LB Cameron McGrone
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – AUGUST 19: Cameron McGrone #45 of the New England Patriots in action during the preseason game between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium on August 19, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Everybody was hyping up second-year linebacker Cameron McGrone coming into training camp. Even members of the coaching staff were talking about him being involved in a key role defensively. Yet McGrone fell behind players like Raekwon McMillan, Mack Wilson, and Jahlani Tavai relatively quickly. He never truly flashed during camp.
McGrone is working his way back from a torn ACL he suffered at Michigan in November of 2020. Based on his time on the field in the first two preseason games, the 2020 fifth-round pick who missed all of last year recovering from the injury still doesn’t look like he’s regained the explosiveness that made him stand out with the Wolverines.
This all doesn’t mean McGrone is done in New England. He could be placed on IR before or after roster cuts, or brought back to the practice squad to give him more time to reacclimate himself following the injury.
LB Anfernee Jennings
Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA;New England Patriots linebacker Anfernee Jennings (58) sacks Carolina Panthers quarterback Matt Corral (9) during the second half of a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Coming into training camp, the consensus view of Jennings was a as fringe roster player after he’d missed the entire 2021 season. As a rookie in 2020, Jennings played 28.7 percent of the team’s defensive snaps making him the second-most used linebacker behind Ja’Whaun Bentley.
After seeing him this summer, Jennings seems poised for a much larger role. There were questions on the edge with the losses of Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy, and Jennings seems to have claimed one of those roles. He’s done his best work against the run, but saw some significant pass rush snaps as well when Matthew Judon missed a few days in the middle of camp. Expect to see Jennings on the field regularly once the regular season begins.
LB Ronnie Perkins
Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Ronnie Perkins (51) tackles Carolina Panthers tight end Colin Thompson (86) during the second half of a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Another player expected to compete for one of those edge roles was second-year linebacker Ronnie Perkins. Perkins was inactive for every game last year after the Patriots took him in the third round, and figured to be more of a factor in Year 2.
We now know Perkins won’t contribute this year after the team placed him on IR with an undisclosed injury earlier this week. However, even prior to that, it didn’t appear like he’d done much to win a role. Most of his snaps were coming with the third-string defense or backup special teamers. He’ll now try to accomplish what it appears Jennings is doing, and burst onto the scene in Year 3.
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 @RealAlexBarthor via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.