Positional standouts through 2 weeks of Patriots training camp
Jul 30, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive back Terrance Mitchell (39) covers wide receiver Tyquan Thornton (51) at the Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Friday night’s in-stadium practice marked the end of the second week of Patriots training camp for 2022. With nine practices – four of them in full pads – now in the books, we have a solid sample size to work with in terms of evaluations.
This has been a fascinating camp in the sense that a number of players have gone against the expectations that were out there heading into last week. These nine days have seen surprise standouts up and down the roster.
Which players have performed the best compared to expectations? Here’s the biggest standouts from each group through nine practices.
Quarterback: Mac Jones
Jul 29, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) throws the ball during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
This is somewhat by default, with only two other quarterbacks on the roster and one of those two having missed half of camp in Brian Hoyer. Still, that’s not to say Mac Jones hasn’t been impressive when he’s had his chances.
The protection up front in the passing game will continue to be a story, but when Jones has had time he looks to be an improved passer. Heading into camp, he spoke about working on his footwork and mechanics during the offseason, and that work has clearly translated. His chemistry with his receivers – including players new to the system like DeVante Parker and rookie Tyquan Thornton – appears to be at a high level especially for this time of year.
Running back: Rhamondre Stevenson
May 23, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson (38) works on his footwork at the team’s OTA at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Now down to 225 pounds, Rhamondre Stevenson looks much more limber on his feet without having sacrificed much power. Seen as a bruiser coming out of the draft last year, he looks like a much more well-rounded ball-carrier this year.
Stevenson has also been more involved and more comfortable in the passing game this year, something else he said he spent time working on this season. With James White’s status uncertain to start the season, he may be called on to do more in a receiving role.
Wide receiver: Tyquan Thornton
Wide receiver Tyquan Thornton during Patriots training camp on July 28, 2022. (Syndication: The Providence Journal)
There could be an argument for three or four players here, but we’re going with most impressive ‘compared to expectations coming in,’ and in that sense it has to be Tyquan Thornton. The rookie second-round pick looks like a natural in his patterns at all three levels, but has really stood out as a deep threat. Given the Patriots’ recent history developing receivers, that feels like a big step.
Thornton still has boxes to check before he’s a certified draft hit. But to this point, he’s done everything that realistically could be expected from a rookie.
Tight end: Jonnu Smith
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
There’s a lot of attention on Jonnu Smith coming into this season, his second with the Patriots. He struggled to fit into a role last year, resulting in reduced production.
So far this summer, Smith looks much more comfortable. He’s been one of the most targeted pass catchers in the majority of the practices so far, and has clearly improved his chemistry with Mac Jones. The next step is seeing if that translates into game action.
Offensive lineman: Trent Brown
Jul 30, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots offensive tackle Trent Brown (77) works on the tackle sled at the Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
It’s been a rough go of things for the Patriots’ offensive line through two weeks of training camp. The rushing attack has yet to get going, and the pass protection has been inconsistent.
While the unit has struggled as a whole, Trent Brown has been the most consistent. He has still dominated one-on-ones after dropping 20 pounds this offseason, and hasn’t let Matthew Judon do much damage off the edge in team drills.
Defensive lineman: Christian Barmore
Jul 30, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Christian Barmore (90) works with a training aid at the Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Not only has Christian Barmore been the best defensive lineman in camp, there’s a strong case to be made he’s been the best player in camp. His first step is even more explosive than it looked in his rookie year last year, and nobody has been able to block him one-on-one.
How much of Barmore’s success is due to his own growth, compared to the issues with the offensive line? That will be a key question once the preseason games and joint practices begin.
Linebacker: Anfernee Jennings
Anfernee Jennings speaks to the media following a Patriots training camp practice. (Alex Barth/98.5 The Sports Hub)
This was another tough position to choose. Raekwon McMillan and Mack Wilson have both earned headlines, but they were expected to compete for starting roles coming into camp. Meanwhile, some had Anfernee Jennings as a fringe roster player or outright cut before two weeks ago.
A third-round pick in 2020, Jennings actually was the Patriots’ second-most used linebacker his rookie year playing 33 percent of the snaps. However, he dropped off the radar after missing all of last season due to injury. Now healthy and back on the field he’s shown why he was a heralded prospect coming out of Alabama and has seen the majority of the snaps opened up when Matthew Judon has missed practice. He seems like he’ll have at least a rotational role on the defense this year.
Cornerback: Terrance Mitchell
Jul 29, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive back Terrance Mitchell (39) walks onto the field during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
With Jalen Mills penciled in for the top boundary cornerback spot, the battle coming into camp was between Terrance Mitchell, Malcolm Butler, rookie Jack Jones, and Joejuan Williams for the majority of the reps on the other side. To this point, Mitchell is running away with the competition.
It’s worth noting the team hasn’t given the other players listed many chances to line up opposite Mills with the projected starting defense. At the same time though, none of them have given a reason to warrant those extra reps. Mitchell, who has been the first player out on the practice field for every practice but the in-stadium walkthrough, continues to look like the favorite.
Safety: Joshuah Bledsoe
May 23, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots safety Joshuah Bledsoe (24) walks to the practice field for the team’s OTA at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Bledsoe flashed through the first few days of practice. A fifth-round pick last year, he missed the season due to a pre-draft wrist injury. Despite not being able to get on the field, he stayed around the facility and coaches and teammates alike applauded his work ethic and level of involvement in the classroom. That work appears to be paying off early on.
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.