Projection of the Patriots’ most competitive positions

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1 — The Patriots announced this week that training camp at Gillette Stadium will begin on July 27. It means that after a spring spent learning and developing, the fierce summer competition for places and roles in the 2022 New England squad is just over a month away.

Heading to camp, Bill Belichick’s team has an interesting line-up. There aren’t a ton of new faces, with the bulk of the roster being made up of returning contributors combined with guys who have been in the system for a year or more and will be looking to make their mark at this point.

With just five weeks to go, it got us thinking about what might be the most competitive positions in Patriots training camp.

Definitely near the top of the list has to be the wide receiver. The additions of veteran DeVante Parker and second-round rookie Tyquan Thornton add two guys likely to get spots if they’re healthy. Sophomore Tre Nixon looked like a spring player who would inject himself into the conversation on the roster, while veteran Ty Montgomery is a versatile option whose potential dual role as receiver and running back may be needed. Even tall Lil’ Jordan Humphrey could join the competition as a late addition to the roster.

Add them to a body of proven returning contributors in Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor and the receiving group goes at least seven deep into guys worth watching in training camp reps and the team. pre-season game action.

While the receiver competition includes plenty of experienced options, the linebacker competition may be just as heated this summer among a mostly unproven cast of unknown candidates. Ja’Whaun Bentley leads the spot which is undergoing a youthful move, while veteran Raekwon McMillan (torn 2021 ACL) and Mack Wilson (Browns trade addition) have starting experience on their previous NFL resumes. After that, the likes of Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Ronnie Perkins and Cameron McGrone are a who’s who of guys with almost no impact on NFL reps. They will all be competing for major opportunities in the Patriots’ second tier defense in August action.

Perhaps the competition with the most interesting mix of veteran experience and unproven youth is at cornerback. As New England goes from a pair of No. 1 cornerbacks to the Pro Bowl in less than a year with the trade of Stephon Gilmore and the departure of free agent JC Jackson, cornerback jobs are wide open. . Malcolm Butler returns from a year-long retirement to possibly battle Jalen Mills for the No. 1 spot. Jonathan Jones returns from injury to reclaim his slot machine role. Rookie draft picks Marcus Jones and Jack Jones, the latter of the spring training stars, feature prominently. Veteran journeyman Terrance Mitchell will likely have a contributing role, while second-year trade addition Shaun Wade is a bit of a wildcard.

There will obviously be competition all over the training camp grounds – and in a way the coaching staff! – this summer at Foxborough, but the battles between wide receiver, linebacker and cornerback should provide the most intriguing action for the media and fans in attendance.

2 – The average NFL career lasts just over three years, and a number of members of the Patriots 2020 draft class are facing the reality of short-term football job security as they are looking to stay in New England even for a third season. While 2020’s top pick Kyle Dugger has established himself as a talented and reliable safety option who could well head into a breakout season, the rest of this draft class is on much less ground. steady. Sixth-round pick Mike Onwenu is looking to return to the starting lineup after a year relegated to reserve duty. Beyond that, second-round linebacker Uche, third-rounder Jennings and a pair of third-round tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene could all fight for their professional lives this summer without having made much of an impact yet. in the field.

3 – While members of the 2020 draft class may reach the tipping point of their careers at training camp 2022, a few guys from the 2019 class may already be working their final days of employment at Foxborough. Although the wide receiver and cornerback positions are in some respects up for grabs, 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry and second-round cornerback pick Joejuan Williams don’t feel like a winner. to be in the middle of these battles. Neither has made much of their opportunities over the past three years and at this point they almost feel like they would be surprises to make the roster rather than be considered surprise cuts despite their high draft status.

4 – Pro Football Focus likes to use its proprietary ratings and analysis to rank just about anything there is to rank when it comes to the NFL. One such ranking that came across the Instagram feed this week was PFF’s recap of the best offensive lines heading into the 2022 season. starting guards in Ted Karras (free agent) and Shaq Mason (trade), is still the No. 7 unit in the NFL according to PFF. If Trent Brown’s Patriots line is healthy, first-round picks Cole Strange, David Andrews, Mike Onwenu and Isaiah Wynn clearly have the potential to be the bedrock of the offense. But the group is not without questions. Both Brown and Wynn struggled to stay on the pitch, while Wynn’s possible left-to-right transition is worth watching.
Strange takes a big leap into the FCS Chattanooga competition, with the left guard spot seemingly up for grabs. And Onwenu played much better at tackle than guard in his first two NFL seasons. Could the Patriots have one of the best lines in the NFL in 2022, as PFF suggests? Absolutely. But with obvious backup talent limited on the depth chart, the group must stay healthy and answer a few questions to prove they are worthy of that projected status.

5 — Tully Banta-Cain made a name for himself as a seventh-round pick for the Patriots who ended up becoming a relatively hard-hitting pass thrower in the NFL. Banta-Cain had 27.5 career sacks in New England and San Francisco, including 10 for the 2009 Patriots. Now the two-time Super Bowl champion is competing on a very different stage in front of nationally televised audiences. Banta-Cain is part of the chorus of NFL players who recently fought their way to the next round of the “America’s Got Talent” contest. The NFL Player Chorus was formed over ten years ago. The group performs annually at the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration and sang the national anthem at the Pro Bowl in Las Vegas last winter.

6 — Coach Cam Achord’s special teams units will look to bounce back this fall from a hellish 2021 season that included too many blocked clearances, too many costly penalties and overall poor play. But there is every reason to hope that New England will have a rebound year in the kicking game in 2022. Kicker Nick Folk is back to occupy his position as one of the best in the game, even though his elite status over the past few seasons has apparently flown a bit under the radar. Based on the spring action, punter Jake Bailey is healthy again and ready to return to the All-Pro status he achieved in 2020 with one of the best punting seasons in franchise history. Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel remain two of the best base special teams in the league, while life can be injected into the rematch with draft All-American Marcus Jones. Sure, 2021 has been a special teams season that Achord and Belichick would probably like to forget, but Phase Three has the potential to be a strength for New England again this year.

7 – Size and speed are far from the only attributes that matter at the receiver position where Belichick emphasized the simple need for players to “open up and catch the ball.” But it’s hard not to note the fact that the Patriots have added significant size and speed at receiver this offseason. New England traded for the 6-3, 225-pound Parker, then drafted the 6-2 Thornton, who posted the 40th-fastest time at the NFL Combine. The receiver size trend continued last week with the addition of Humphrey, who measures at 6-4, although he doesn’t add much in terms of speed after running a 4.75 40 at the 2019 NFL Combine, the worst of any receiver in Indy that year. It will be interesting to see Humphrey on the training ground at camp this summer to watch how he uses his size and overcomes his apparent lack of speed, joining Harry (6-4), as the bigger, slower receivers in the competitive mix at the position. For what it’s worth, Humphrey averaged 18.4 yards per reception in his limited output over three NFL seasons, including 19.2 yards per reception on his 13 receptions for the Saints, a career high the year. last with a length of 56 yards.

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