New England Patriots

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  • The New England Patriots are now two years removed from, essentially, a total reset of the roster. Two years removed from Cam Newton throwing eight touchdown passes, and key positions – wide receiver, tight end, linebacker among them – being stripped to bare bones.

    That team won seven games. The main reason for that was a MacGuyver-like effort from Bill Belichick, who took one of the league’s worst rosters and created the illusion of a middling team. The 2021 team continued the reset, with the drafting of quarterback Mac Jones and the success of other draft picks and a few free-agent additions.

    As the Patriots enter 2022, they’re certainly not without question marks. Big, fat ones. But while you’re likely busy comparing their roster to other teams around the NFL, you may have lost sight in the fact that the roster is vastly improved over 2020. And in some cases, improved over a year ago.

    Ty Anderson and I tackled the topic as part of the newest episode of the Sports Hub Underground podcast, which you can hear above. The notion that the Patriots still have a basement-level roster, or as bad a roster as they had in 2020 and 2021, is inaccurate. Their problems, while real and persistent, remain more in Bill Belichick’s approach with the coaching staff beneath him than in the personnel. They have good players. At most positions.

    So as an exercise, we went through each position group and determined whether they’re better or worse than they were in 2020. The results may surprise you!!! Or not at all. Who the hell knows anymore.

  • BETTER: Quarterback

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 26: Quarterback Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots throws a pass against the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half of a preseason game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on August 26, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – AUGUST 26: Quarterback Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots throws a pass against the Las Vegas Raiders
    during the first half of a preseason game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on August 26, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

    It would be frightening if Mac Jones weren’t still better than Cam Newton was in 2020, even if he had a fire drill of an offensive line all season. Jones should absolutely, positively, do better than eight touchdown passes. And even if you count Newton’s rushing TDs two years ago (12), Jones should also pass the 20-score mark through the air alone.

    Jones threw 22 touchdowns while averaging only 30.6 pass attempts per game as a rookie. So this is non-negotiable. The Patriots are better at the most important position, and if they aren’t, God help us.

  • BETTER: Wide Receiver

    Aug 26, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver DeVante Parker (1) catches a pass as Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Sam Webb (48) defends in the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 26, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver DeVante Parker (1) catches a pass as Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Sam Webb (48) defends in the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    The only receiver who remains from 2020 is Jakobi Meyers, and he’s gotten a little better every year. He looks like he’ll be a consistent, dependable guy for Jones. Now, he has DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne around him.

    Compare that to six games of Julian Edelman, Damiere Byrd, and N’Keal Harry. Landslide victory for the current receiving corps. If Belichick has any of his mystique left, he’ll be able to score with a competent quarterback and competent wide receivers.

  • BETTER: Tight End

    HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 10: Hunter Henry #85 of the New England Patriots celebrates a touchdown during the second half against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on October 10, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

    HOUSTON, TEXAS – OCTOBER 10: Hunter Henry #85 of the New England Patriots celebrates a touchdown during the second half against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on October 10, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

    Ditto everything I just said about the receivers. Hunter Henry has already emerged as a top red zone receiving threat for Jones, while Jonnu Smith can only go up after a rough first season in New England. Another landslide victory for Henry and Smith over Ryan Izzo and two then-rookies who turned out to be busts here (Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene).

  • WORSE: Offensive Line

    Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) at the line of scrimmage against the Carolina Panthers in the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) at the line of scrimmage against the Carolina Panthers in the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    The problem here is mainly with coaching, rather than players. But if they do intend to run a heavy amount of zone blocking schemes in 2022, they might not have the right personnel for it, either. However, we know the Pats have some good players on the O-line. Trent Brown, David Andrews, Mike Onwenu, and Isaiah Wynn are good players. Say what you want about Cole Strange being a first-round pick, but he’s starting right out of the gate and Belichick’s track record with offensive linemen is good enough to be confident in his development.

    Matt Patricia has virtually no track record whatsoever as an offensive line coach, though. And unfortunately, that appears to be the reason why the offensive line has looked lost for much of the summer. Coaching could be what derails this unit, and by extension the offense, and that’s why they’re considered worse than 2020.

  • WORSE: Running Back

    Aug 26, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Ty Montgomery (left) is called for a facemask penalty against Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Sam Webb (48) in the first quarter at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 26, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Ty Montgomery (left) is called for a facemask penalty against Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Sam Webb (48) in the first quarter at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    The least consequential position on the offense, but still one worth looking at, mainly because of the retirement of James White. They could be in good hands for 2022 with Ty Montgomery, and Rhamondre Stevenson has potential as a playmaker in the passing game. But replacing James White in totality is impossible, and there will at least be a transition period here.

    For that reason, it’s fair to say that the Patriots are worse at running back than they were two years ago, despite the continued presence of Damien Harris. But a big year-2 jump from Stevenson and a productive year from Montgomery could change things.

  • BETTER: Defensive Line

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 26: Josh Allen #17 of the Buffalo Bills looks to throw the ball as Christian Barmore #90 of the New England Patriots applies pressure during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium on December 26, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 26: Josh Allen #17 of the Buffalo Bills looks to throw the ball as Christian Barmore #90 of the New England Patriots applies pressure during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium on December 26, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

    Christian Barmore alone makes this group better than 2020. The closest thing to a playmaker up front on defense was Adam Butler, who was a solid pass-rusher but not a star. Barmore has a chance to be a star. He’s a more explosive pass-rusher than Butler, and started to see more snaps against the run during the preseason.

    And even if Davon Godchaux isn’t actually one of the best defensive linemen in the league, Deatrich Wise stays the same, and Lawrence Guy is declining, they and Barmore – and rookies Sam Roberts and LaBryan Ray, for that matter – get the nod over Shilique Calhoun, Derek Rivers, Nick Thurman, and Tashawn Bower.

  • BETTER: Linebacker

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 26: Linebacker Matthew Judon #9 of the New England Patriots rushes quarterback Chase Garbers #15 of the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half of a preseason game at Allegiant Stadium on August 26, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – AUGUST 26: Linebacker Matthew Judon #9 of the New England Patriots rushes quarterback Chase Garbers #15 of the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half of a preseason game at Allegiant Stadium on August 26, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

    Not even close. Bentley was thrust into the No. 1 linebacker role on the defense before he was remotely ready for it, and the Patriots got little impact off the edge other than Chase Winovich. Now, they have Matthew Judon wreaking havoc, with Bentley and Raekwon McMillan settling into inside roles that suit them. Anfernee Jennings is emerging as a well-rounded complementary piece on the outside. Josh Uche should at least be an effective sub-rusher. Mack Wilson brings some much-needed speed.

    We’ll see if these linebackers can cover or make plays in space, because that remains a question mark. But this isn’t Brandon Copeland and Terez Hall.

  • BETTER: Safety

    Jan 2, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots safety Kyle Dugger (23) runs with the ball after an interception during the second half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Jan 2, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots safety Kyle Dugger (23) runs with the ball after an interception during the second half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Yes, they’re even better at safety than they were two years ago. Unless you’re wary of Devin McCourty completely breaking down. But Adrian Phillips remains a solid, versatile piece for them, and Kyle Dugger, while a flawed player to this point, is still better than he was as a rookie in 2020 and should make plays against the run and hawk the ball when roaming the deeper areas of the field.

    Man coverage against tight ends could be an issue, but that feels like it’s been an issue since Patrick Chung left. This is still a better unit than 2020.

  • WORSE: Cornerback

    Aug 26, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Jack Jones (34) celebrates after making a play against the Las Vegas Raiders during a preseason game at Allegiant Stadium. Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 26, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Jack Jones (34) celebrates after making a play against the Las Vegas Raiders during a preseason game at Allegiant Stadium. Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    Gotta give this one. The 2020 team still had Stephon Gilmore (albeit for 11 games) and J.C. Jackson manning the outside cornerback spots. Jalen Mills, while coming off a great camp, is not Gilmore, and isn’t likely to produce as many plays on the ball as Jackson did. Rookies Jack Jones and Marcus Jones look promising, but might need time before making a real impact.

    This group had a strong summer and relieved some concerns, but there’s no question that the talent level at this position isn’t what it was two years ago.

  • At the very least, the Patriots have better players at most positions than they had two years ago. Does that mean they’ll improve upon their 10-7 record in 2021, or play better against the Buffalo Bills and other high-end competition? Not necessarily. But if they stayed the same or dropped off, it would be more because of a step back in coaching and a tougher schedule.

    The Patriots’ status in the NFL and AFC are major questions, as Bill Belichick hits what feels like the home stretch of his career with a promising young quarterback entering his crucial second season. Unless you feel Belichick has fallen off the cliff, there’s reason to believe he can maneuver this roster to another competitive season in the AFC playoff race, if still a ways away from Super Bowl contention.

    But if the team is going to show real improvement in 2022, an improved roster will have a lot to do with it.

    Listen below for the full episode from the Sports Hub Underground, and click the link to subscribe in iTunes, Spotify, or Google. And you can get new episodes every Thursday here at 985TheSportsHub.com.

  • Sports Hub Underground | Patriots Roster Thoughts and More

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  • Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. You can also email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.