The Patriots have a handful of players that are primed to make a major impact in 2022, and a bigger one than last year.
We’re talking about both new faces and players who were on the team in 2021. The latter group is being leaned on to make a “year-2 leap” similar to that of rookies to their sophomore season. But that’s after the Patriots finished last season with an embarrassing performance against the Bills in the Wild Card round. For that reason, the Patriots’ 2022 roster has felt underwhelming to many observing from the outside.
However, the team is significantly improved on paper from 2020, and even 2021, to 2022, and at some of the most important positions. That includes quarterback, where Mac Jones is looking to improve upon his rookie numbers (3,801 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 92.5 passer rating). That would certainly go a long way toward the Patriots matching or besting their 10-7 record last season.
But Jones is obviously the biggest factor in the Patriots’ performance in 2022, so he should be excluded from the conversation on the team’s “MVP” for the coming season. That’s what Alex Barth and I tackled in our live Patriots season preview show on 98.5 The Sports Hub Monday night. You can listen to Hour 2 above, which starts with our loose predictions for Patriots team superlatives in 2022.
Here’s a look at who I picked…
Offensive MVP: WR DeVante Parker
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
Parker is clearly more physically gifted than Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne. He gives the Patriots their best red zone threat in years, as a guy who can go up and get the ball and win contested situations in tight areas. He showed instant chemistry with Mac Jones in camp.
Parker should give them a level of explosiveness they’ve lacked at the skill positions over the past few seasons. If the offense takes a step forward, he may be the biggest reason why.
Barth Picks: WR Jakobi Meyers, C David Andrews
Meyers was the Patriots’ most consistently reliable receiver over the summer, and should be a chain-mover in key situations. Andrews, meanwhile, is crucial to the offensive line coming together in terms of communication and team execution.
Defensive MVP: DT Christian Barmore
Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots defensive tackle Christian Barmore (90) on the sidelines during the second half of a preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Barth and I both agree that Barmore is primed for a monster year. There is arguably no more valuable (and rare) commodity on defense than a dominating interior pass-rusher. A guy right in the quarterback’s face, disrupting right up the middle, can blow up plays all by himself.
Barmore has potential to make that kind of impact. He’s physically overpowering and committed to making himself a better football player on a daily basis, which the Patriots surely love. They’ll need him to be a high-end disruptor up front for the defense to have a chance to succeed, and we believe he will.
Barth Picks: OLB Matthew Judon
Judon was on pace for an All-Pro campaign before disappearing down the stretch, and is looking to sustain a high level of play over a full season. The defense looked dominant when they had both him and Barmore rolling at the same time. Keeping that up for 17 games would make a huge difference.
Runner-Up: CB Jonathan Jones
Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones (31) defends against Carolina Panthers wide receiver Keith Kirkwood (19) in the first half at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
As the discussion continued, we began to split hairs over MVPs and “outstanding” players. So let’s call this the MVP runner-up section. Jonathan Jones was quickly installed as the No. 2 outside cornerback opposite Jalen Mills in camp. So, at the very least, he will be counted on in certain matchups against speedy outside receivers (Tyreek Hill?), if not a permanent guy on the outside.
Can Jones deliver his best season yet? He’s long been a very good slot cornerback, but has been used on the outside before. If he can consistently show up on the outside, he could rescue this position group from a ton of trouble.
Barth Picks: CB Jalen Mills
Mills has been entrenched as the top outside corner throughout the summer. He looks locked in and ready to take on the challenge of competing against top receivers. We’ll see who he actually matches up against and how he performs on Sunday. But expect Mills to be engaged and competitive.
Under The Radar: OLB Anfernee Jennings
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – AUGUST 19: Anfernee Jennings #58 of the New England Patriots celebrates 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)
Linebacker was arguably the position with the most uncertainty entering the summer, with plenty of roster turnover and little in the way of new additions. But Jennings, likely written off by many after a quiet first couple of seasons, has emerged out of nowhere in year 3 and is poised to play opposite Judon off the edge. He’s made plays against both the run and the pass, and looks like the most well-rounded outside linebacker on the roster after Judon.
If and when Judon and Barmore open up opportunities for others to make plays, Jennings has a chance to be a big beneficiary of that. Look for him to set a good edge against the run and occasionally come up with a play on the quarterback.
Barth Picks: ILB Raekwon McMillan
Healthy and locked in on early downs, McMillan should combine with Ja’Whaun Bentley for an improved run-stopping linebacker corps. The ground game is where the transition from Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Kyle Van Noy to a younger, more explosive group should show up the most.
Deep Sleeper: TE Jonnu Smith
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – DECEMBER 18: Jonnu Smith #81 of the New England Patriots against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 18, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
As we’ve been over many times, Smith has nowhere to go but up after an awful first go-around in New England. But if the Patriots are going to insist on a new offense that emphasizes yards after the catch and getting the ball to playmakers in space, Smith has a chance to make a lot of plays. He’s still one of the best YAC guys in the league, regardless of position.
Based on camp, Bill Belichick is expected to make a concerted effort to put Smith in a better position to succeed in 2022.
Barth Picks: RB Ty Montgomery
The hope is that Montgomery returns sooner rather than later, because he looked poised to immediately assume the “James White role” in the offense. If and when he comes back at 100 percent, expect Montgomery to get a lot of snaps in no-huddle situations, which should definitely come at key points in games.
Full Podcast: Sports Hub Patriots Season Preview Show
The Patriots’ 2022 season opener is set for Sept. 11 in Miami. We’ll continue to keep you covered on everything in New England here at 985TheSportsHub.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.