One question for each and every position group on the 2022 Patriots
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 at Allegiant Stadium on August 26, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)
The New England Patriots enter the 2022 regular season with some serious questions to answer.
Can Mac Jones perform better when the play breaks down? Is the offensive line going to come together? Will the defense have enough to hang with talented passing offenses? These are just a few of many questions that will be answered one way or another as the 2022 season unfolds.
We at 985TheSportsHub.com have decided to break it down position-by-position, and take a look at the biggest question looming for each and every position group on the Patriots – 11 position groups, to be exact.
These questions are based on what we saw during our extensive on-site coverage of the Patriots at training camp and in preseason games. The cynics of our world might give them all an automatic no, because they examine potential problems for the Patriots to overcome.
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They’re capable of accomplishing that. The Patriots have a better roster than 2020 for sure, and should be better at certain spots than 2021. But there’s also the chance they take a step back in some areas, or continue to have issues that could determine how much success they have in 2022.
And, because American football is the ultimate team sport, the questions are all interconnected in some way. If they check off all the boxes, they could win a lot of games. If they don’t, welp.
But here they are, the biggest questions facing the 2022 New England Patriots, position-by-position…
Quarterback: Can Mac Jones Perform Under Pressure?
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – AUGUST 26: Quarterback Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball against 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)
Mac Jones doesn’t deserve the whole blame pie for how he’s looked in the preseason, and at times in training camp. Ideally, you give your quarterback a clean pocket, and Jones hasn’t consistently had those. But great quarterbacks are expected to make up for those problems, or mask them entirely. If Jones wants to be great, he’ll have to take advantage of opportunities to make plays, and at times rescue the offense from its own shortcomings.
“I’ve got to do a better job of stepping up and delivering the throws,” Jones said in his postgame press conference after the Patriots’ preseason loss to the Raiders. “I’ve got to do a better job of just stepping up in the pocket and getting the ball out instead of running around and putting my line in a bad position. That’s something I pride myself on.”
Jones needs to take a big step forward in order for these Patriots to rise above anything better than middling status in the NFL. To do that, he needs to have better poise in the pocket, especially when it’s clean. And when plays break down … he will also need to show poise and make plays.
The Patriots’ scattershot coaching setup seems to be doing Jones no favors. But Jones knows he can still be better, and he’ll need to be if the Pats want to have any hope of beating good teams, getting back to the playoffs, and making a run.
Wide Receiver: Who’s No. 1?
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
In terms of targets and dependability, Jakobi Meyers has been the lead dog for the Patriots’ remade receiving corps. He will man the slot and see key targets on third down and help jumpstart drives. But he won’t be the most explosive playmaker.
The leading candidate for that in 2022, at receiver, is DeVante Parker. He appeared to box out the cornerback for a leaping touchdown in the Pats’ preseason finale, but a ticky-tack pass interference call nullified it. Parker is clearly the team’s most physically gifted receiver, outside of maybe rookie Tyquan Thornton. He will be targeted deep down the field and in the red zone, and should compete for the team lead in touchdown catches.
On top of that, Parker caught on quickly and looks to have developed an early rapport with Jones. So he looks like the best bet for a go-to playmaker at his position. Nelson Agholor has had a better training camp than 2021 and should occasionally pop for big plays himself, but Parker should do it more consistently.
Jones won’t need a singular, dominant talent like Ja’Marr Chase (let’s go get Jerry Rice and Randy Moss while we’re at it) in order to move the ball and score points. In a perfect world, everyone’s chipping in and Jones is spreading the ball around. But if it’s a big game with a gotta-have-it play? Someone’s going to get their number called at some point.
Offensive Line: Will They Be Coached Right?
Aug 11, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches the field as senior football advisor Matt Patricia (white cap) and offensive assistant Joe Judge work during the first half of a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Another big question for this group is, “Do they have the right personnel for what they want to do?” But that’s related to the No. 1 question, which is, are they getting the coaching they need from Matt Patricia and assistant coach Billy Yates?
Based on how it’s looked in the summer, that’s a big no. There’s still plenty of time for the O-line to come together and their issues have mainly been in the run game, particularly zone blocking. But they have made fundamental mistakes, especially with their communication, which center David Andrews has been vocal about fixing.
“We just have to have some better fundamental execution,” Andrews said after the loss to the Raiders. “There’s obviously a lot we can do better, but just fundamental execution.”
Patricia may or may not know what he’s doing in the first place, but there’s no question that he’s spread too thin right now as the offensive coordinator, offensive line coach, and senior football advisor. That’s too much to ask of any coach, let alone one with minimal experience doing any of those jobs before 2022. The hope is that coaching roles are delegated and more organized going forward, rather than putting so much on Patricia. Perhaps the message gets through easier when that happens.
Tight End: Can Jonnu Smith Pop?
Jul 29, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Jonnu Smith (81) catches the ball during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Hunter Henry is back and has a chance to be the team’s leading red zone target once again. No concern there. The onus on this group improving over 2021 falls squarely on the shoulders of Smith.
The sixth-year pro has pretty much nowhere to go but up after making just 28 catches for 294 yards and one touchdown last season. He had as many fumbles (1) as touchdowns, more if you count the ball clanging off his hands for a pick-six against the Saints in Week 3. Smith never seemed to find a rhythm and Josh McDaniels appeared confused as to how to use him.
However, Smith did excel at yards after the catch, averaging 8.7 YAC in 2021, which led all tight ends and was third in the league, according to Next Gen Stats. The Patriots will once again find different ways to get the ball in Smith’s hands and take advantage of his ability in that area. He may never justify the contract he got a year ago, but he should certainly produce more.
Running Back: Who’s The New James White?
Running backs Ty Montgomery (left) and Rhamondre Stevenson (right) figure to play important roles for the 2022 Patriots. (Eric Canha/Rich Barnes, USA TODAY)
In the short-term, the answer to the James White conundrum appears to be Ty Montgomery. Expect him on the field in the two-minute offense, and no-huddle and hurry-up situations – assuming he’s healthy.
If the Patriots have to play without Montgomery at all to start the season, they’ll likely turn to second-year back Rhamondre Stevenson. He’s improved as a pass-protector, which should earn him plenty of passing game snaps, and probably has the best shot as a big play guy out of the backfield.
Based on the preseason, the Patriots appear to be moving toward utilizing all their backs as three-down guys, minimizing substitutions at that position. So the passing-down back will realistically be something of a committee. But on gotta-have-it plays? That role may not look the same at the end of the season as it does in the beginning.
Defensive Line: Can Someone Not Named Barmore Make An Impact?
MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – JANUARY 09: Duke Johnson #28 of the Miami Dolphins escapes pressure from Christian Barmore #90 of the New England Patriots in the fourth quarter of the game at Hard Rock Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Christian Barmore is going to make a legitimate impact as a pass-rusher. Everyone who covers the team is very confident in that. Barmore is even starting to get more looks against the run, a sign he’s made progress in that area.
But Barmore is also going to draw extra attention, and good offensive lines will be able to keep him at bay. What happens when Barmore is locked up? It’s hard to believe they’ll get a big pass-rushing impact out of Davon Godchaux or Lawrence Guy. So who could make that happen?
Deatrich Wise remains on the roster in his sixth season, and began getting more reps with the starters in the last two weeks of the preseason. The Patriots also have intriguing sixth-round rookie Sam Roberts on the roster, and undrafted rookie LaBryan Ray on the practice squad. Ideally, the Patriots can get significant contributions out of one of the aforementioned names this season, even if only as a dominant run-stopper. It would make a big difference compared to the 2019-21 teams.
Linebacker: Can They Cover?
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – AUGUST 26: Offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood #70 of the Las Vegas Raiders blocks linebacker Mack Wilson #30 of the New England Patriots as quarterback Chase Garbers #15 of the Raiders looks to throw during their preseason game at Allegiant Stadium on August 26, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Raiders defeated the Patriots 23-6. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
The Patriots should get improved play off the edge, if Matthew Judon can sustain a full season of excellence and Anfernee Jennings can carry his strong summer over into being an effective complementary piece. They should also be better against the run, with Ja’Whaun Bentley and the returning Raekwon McMillan looking more powerful and explosive than Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Kyle Van Noy did last season. Overall, this is an improved group from 2020-21.
But there remains a lingering question, which feels like it’s existed for a long time now. Are the Patriots going to have the right personnel to make plays in the open field in the passing game? Because they haven’t shown a lot of that so far. Covering running backs who catch passes out of the backfield, or tight ends over the middle, doesn’t seem to be resolved.
Mack Wilson seems like the strongest candidate to cover or show some ball skills. But he’s ceded snaps to Jahlani Tavai in recent weeks, and teams like the Panthers and Raiders made him pay in the preseason. Bentley and McMillan should generate pressure at times, but can also get caught in mismatches against good, smart passing attacks. The hope is they can figure out how to minimize those matchup problems and cover better in the open field, because everything else seems like it’ll be pretty good.
Safety: …Can They Cover?
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 02: New England Patriots players celebrate after an interception by Kyle Dugger #23 in the third quarter of the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium on January 02, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Same question. This is more about covering tight ends, because the Patriots’ safeties should be effective in the box against the run and should also limit big plays down the field with Devin McCourty parked way in the back.
But when it comes to covering tight ends, that’s where the issues have arose in this group. Third-year safety Kyle Dugger doesn’t seem to have developed in that area, often struggling when tasked with covering Henry or Smith man-to-man in team drills. He also bit badly on an early play against the Raiders in the preseason, leaving the tight end wide open.
Dugger is still young and could improve, but he seems better suited as a box safety and occasional free safety, moving laterally across the intermediate and deep areas of the field. But if they choose to play man-to-man against good receiving tight ends, it’s hard to feel great about what they’ve shown in that department.
Cornerback: Will The Reset Pay Off?
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – AUGUST 19: Jack Jones #34 of the New England Patriots lines up 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)
The Patriots are essentially resetting the cornerback position this year. It’s similar to 2015, when they turned to Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan as full-time starters after losing 2014 standouts Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. We’ll see if the reset actually pays off, but could it happen as soon as this year?
Jalen Mills had a great camp and earned his spot as the Patriots’ primary outside cornerback. Jonathan Jones is healthy and looks to be playing more outside corner to start the season. Rookies Jack Jones and Marcus Jones have flashed legit playmaking ability in camp and preseason action.
But the concern for this cornerback group, which will be the concern all season, is whether they have the horses to hold up against good, deep receiver groups. They will get a nice, stiff test out of the gate in Miami. The Bengals and Raiders’ high-powered offenses are also on the schedule.
So, while we expect Mills and the rest of the cornerbacks to be competitive in their matchups and occasionally deliver shutdown-type efforts in the right spots, consistency and depth are the keys. They’ll need them to gel quickly and play the best collective football of their careers in order to play well against the best opponents.
Special Teams: Can They Avoid Back-Breakers?
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – DECEMBER 18: Matthew Adams #49 of the Indianapolis Colts blocks the punt of Jake Bailey #7 of the New England Patriots during the first quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 18, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Not much to say here, other than can they just not screw up? The Patriots had three punts blocked in 2021, easily the most in the NFL. One of them resulted in a touchdown, in their loss to the Indianapolis Colts. These things come down to coaching and preparation, so it’s on special teams coordinator Cam Achord to have his guys better prepared than he did in 2021, certainly on a more consistent basis.
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 email@example.com.
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Meet the Patriots' initial 53-man roster for the 2022 season
FOXBORO, MA – DECEMBER 24: A New England Patriots helmet during the first half of the game between the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
The New England Patriots’ initial 53-man roster is set for the 2022 season.
Key word here, though, is “initial.” At least one or two players who made the team are expected to begin the regular season on short-term injured reserve, which will immediately open up their roster spots. The Patriots are likely to bring back plenty of players they released during Tuesday’s final roster cut-downs, whether to the main roster or the practice squad.
Here’s an early look at the Patriots’ roster as it stands after cutdown day…
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)
No funny business. Jones has been locked in as the starter from day 1, Hoyer is the veteran backup who hopefully almost never has to play, and Zappe is the rookie project with potential to take over for Hoyer down the road.
Wide Receivers (5)
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
No surprises here. This is a positional group that, even while lacking a true star, go-to option, is vastly improved over what they had in 2019 and 2020. The addition of Parker is a big improvement over the end of the 2021 depth chart. Thornton will begin the season on short-term injured reserve, though, so it’ll be interesting to see if his roster spot is used on another fifth receiver.
But the rookie still felt like he was behind the top-4 options here, even with Kendrick Bourne having a down camp. Nonetheless, Thornton showed enough in camp that, when healthy, he’ll be an NFL-caliber receiver with a high ceiling. But the top-4 has been locked in basically throughout camp, despite trade rumors and possible inner turmoil.
Tight Ends (2)
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)
In one of the Patriots’ most surprising cuts of the day, they decided to move on from third-year tight end Devin Asiasi. He looked like the clear “next man up” at TE while Hunter Henry was absent during camp. But the Patriots do plan on getting more use out of two-tight end sets with this high-priced duo.
Still, in light of the fact that the Pats should increase their snaps in “12” personnel (one running back, two tight ends), they are still likely to carry a third TE on the practice squad. That very well could be Asiasi, if he passes through waivers without being claimed.
Running Backs (4)
Aug 26, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; New England Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson (38) runs the ball as Las Vegas Raiders safety Isaiah Pola-Mao (40) defends in the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Pierre Strong Jr.
The Patriots waived rookie sixth-round pick Kevin Harris and third-year pro J.J. Taylor as part of their final cutdowns. Those two could both return via the practice squad. Otherwise, the top-3 players here have gotten the large majority of the work.
It bodes well for Montgomery’s status that the Patriots kept him on the main roster. He could still end up on short-term IR, which would require him to sit for at least four games. But this should undo any fears of a season-ending injury.
Offensive Line (8)
Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) signals during the first half of a preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
LT Trent Brown
LG Cole Strange
C David Andrews
RG Michael Onwenu
RT Isaiah Wynn
OT Yodny Cajuste
OT Justin Herron
OL Chasen Hines
No surprise moves at tackle. The Patriots opted to keep everyone remotely used at that position, with Brown and Wynn always being injury risks. On the interior, James Ferentz seems like a lock to return, either back to the main roster or on the practice squad. Doesn’t seem likely they’ll roll with rookie Chasen Hines as their only backup there.
It’s not shocking that the Patriots preserved their depth across the line and will continue to do so in subsequent moves. They’ve done away with the fullback in their new running offense, and the aforementioned Brown and Wynn haven’t been the most consistently reliable players in their careers. So it makes sense to carry a deep group in general.
Defensive Line (7)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 17: Christian Barmore #90 of the New England Patriots reacts after a play in the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at Gillette Stadium on October 17, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Deatrich Wise Jr.
This is a group that looks deeper and better equipped against both the run and pass than it was from 2019-21. Deatrich Wise appeared to pass by Henry Anderson on the depth chart during the preseason, but Anderson ended up on IR anyway. Wise’s ascension is still a good sign that he may be turning a corner as a run defender.
Or it could mean that they’re comfortable with Christian Barmore in an increased run-stopping role. Barmore should make a real impact as a pass-rusher, while rookie sixth-rounder Sam Roberts and undrafted free agent LaBryan Ray add some youth and upside to a group that needed some of that.
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – AUGUST 26: Linebacker Matthew Judon #9 of the New England Patriots hits 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)
As part of their final roster cutdowns, the Patriots waived disappointing second-year linebacker Cameron McGrone. But it’s possible that McGrone can make it through waivers and land on the practice squad, as the Patriots attempt to continue his development.
Other than that, the only surprise is not a cut, but someone who was not cut. Jahlani Tavai has seen an increased role on the inside in recent weeks, as Belichick seems to have growing confidence in him. But Bentley and McMillan look like the most common players on the inside, with Judon and Jennings manning the edge. Jennings, in particular, has emerged out of nowhere, which could make a noticeable difference against both the run and the pass.
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – AUGUST 26: Safeties Devin McCourty #32 and Adrian Phillips #21 of the New England Patriots stand on the field between plays against the Las Vegas Raiders during their preseason game at Allegiant Stadium on August 26, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Raiders defeated the Patriots 23-6. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
This is the position group that Belichick deemed the strongest, when asked by Chris Berman (of all people) in a recent press conference. It would’ve been a huge surprise if the Patriots cut any of the top-3 safeties, who should play a large majority of the snaps.
Peppers, meanwhile, has come on lately after returning to full health and getting on the practice field. The Patriots are likely to use all four regularly, as the true anchors of the secondary. Bledsoe, meanwhile, had a good summer and earned himself a spot after sitting out his rookie year on IR.
May 23, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Jalen Mills (2) walks to the practice field for the team’s OTA at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
One of the bigger surprise cuts of the day was journeyman Terrance Mitchell, who looked like a projected starter at outside corner at the start of camp. But over the past few weeks, Jonathan Jones started to see regular time on the boundary, while rookie Jack Jones came on strong in the preseason. Those developments made Mitchell expendable.
The rise of the two rookies, Jack Jones and Marcus Jones, combined with Mills’ emergence at the lead outside corner spot, has made this position group much less of a concern than it was entering the off-season. We’ll see if they can hold up against a top-end passing offense, but they’re not the dumpster-fire that they could’ve been.
Special Teams (6)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – AUGUST 26: Place kicker Nick Folk #6 of the New England Patriots kicks a 22-yard field goal during the second 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)
Nick Folk (placekicker)
Jake Bailey (punter, kickoff specialist, holder)
Joe Cardona (long snapper)
Schooler rose fast to a regular special teams role over the course of the summer, helping extend the Patriots’ streak of naming at least one undrafted rookie to the 53-man roster. The rest are mainstays.
The Patriots cut Justin Bethel as part of Tuesday’s moves, which qualified as one of their bigger surprises.
Who Will Be Back?
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – AUGUST 11: Lil’Jordan Humphrey #83 of the New England Patriots celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the preseason game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on August 11, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Some of the players not named to the 53-man roster are likely to re-sign soon after a spot opens back up. But most of the returning names will be via the practice squad, which can be as high as 16 players.
Projected Practice Squad
OL Arlington Hambright
OL Will Sherman
OL Bill Murray
OL Kody Russey
TE Devin Asiasi
TE Matt Sokol
RB Kevin Harris
RB J.J. Taylor
WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey
WR Tre Nixon
WR Josh Hammond
DL LaBryan Ray
DL Jeremiah Pharms Jr.
LB Harvey Langi
LB Cameron McGrone
DB Brad Hawkins
Expect many, if not most, of these names to end up back on the practice squad. And if I nail all 16, you owe me $600,000.
We’re On To Week 1
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – AUGUST 26: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on during a preseason game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on August 26, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Raiders defeated the Patriots 23-6. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
And with that, the Patriots can get ready for the start of the regular season. Well, they still need to finalize the official practice squad, which may not be the same as the above projection. And there will be at least one additional move to make, as Thornton heads to IR.