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New England Patriots Aren’t About to Fall Off A Cliff in the Post-Brady Era

Many are counting out the Patriots after Tom Brady left. That might be a big mistake in 2020…

2020 is going to be an entirely new and never before seen season for the Patriots. Why? It’s the first season where TB12 – Tom Brady, the winner of six Super Bowls and a man that is arguably referred to as that of the “GOAT” (Greatest of all Time) will not be a part of the New England Patriots. That, however, shouldn’t freak Patriots fans out as much as it has. While many are claiming this is the end of the Patriots dynasty, I believe: “I’ll believe it when I see it.” — You may not think there is a future franchise quarterback on the roster right now but the Patriots might. With Cam Newton sitting in free agency, Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston signed away to other teams and the Pats passing on every signal-caller in the 2020 NFL Draft, it’s looking more and more likely that last year’s fourth-round pick out of Auburn will be the guy. Jarrett Stidham, the former Baylor Bear transfer who was once thought preseason as a potential first-rounder is set up to start for the Patriots in 2020.

Regardless of your thoughts on Stidham, we must take a look at what the Patriots did last season with Tom Brady. In 2019, the Patriots lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Tennessee Titans on Wild Card weekend. For many, it was considered a shock but for people who had been watching the Patriots towards the latter portion of last year, it wasn’t. The Patriots were rolling on one side of the ball but it surprisingly wasn’t the side with Brady. Instead, it was the historic defense of the Patriots that only were allowing 14.4 points per game and yet still losing due to the lack of offensive firepower from Brady’s unit. Brady in 2019 had an above-average completion percentage of 60.8 percent, 4,057 passing yards, 24 touchdowns, eight interceptions and a solid passer rating of 88. It wasn’t a bad year for Brady statistically, but you could tell he wasn’t the same quarterback towards the end of the year. From weeks 13 to 17, Brady’s play dipped as he was throwing around a 57 percent completion rate, only nine touchdowns, three interceptions, and a passer rating of 86.7.

The point of this is to not trash one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in his 42-year old season. The point of this is to show you that this team did see a dip in production from Brady, this team did lose three out of their last five regular-season games and four out of their last six if you include the playoffs. This team didn’t win a playoff game with one of the craziest defensive seasons we have seen in a long time. That, however, doesn’t mean they didn’t go 12-4 and they don’t have arguably the greatest coach of all time. Last year, was a shocker to some and not a shocker to others but it wasn’t by any stretch the end of the Patriots being a fierce football team. It was the end of the Belichick and Brady connection as we knew it. That’s what was concluded, one of the greatest sports duos in history. However, Brady is off to Tampa Bay with a bevy of offensive weapons and Bill Belichick is still in New England coming off a very solid NFL Draft and still in possession of a football team that is a lot better than many think. So, let’s dive into that.

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Jarrett Stidham

Potential Key Contributor(s): Brian Hoyer

This is arguably the biggest question mark on the team but that doesn’t mean that the answer isn’t in that QB room. The aforementioned Jarrett Stidham is the projected starter ahead of veteran journeyman signal-caller Brian Hoyer. Stidham came from an Auburn offense that felt a little dysfunctional at times, he didn’t get a ton of help and looking at some of the quarterbacks that came out of this draft, he got nowhere near the help of a Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa or a Jalen Hurts. He didn’t have the best protection at Auburn and coaching was an issue there as well. However, we are going to talk about the impressive offensive line later on which spoiler alert is a lot better than the one he had at Auburn.

It’s not hard to see why the Patriots did take Stidham last year, things may not have gone perfectly at Auburn but what you saw on tape is a mobile quarterback that has adequate size for the position. He has the arm strength to test teams, he can throw off-platform, he’s got a great deal of football intelligence and he’s got very good mechanics. When you add these up, it’s pretty easy to see why the Patriots might have wanted to try and do what Auburn couldn’t and develop him. When evaluating Stidham, I, myself, felt like he was an early-career starter in the NFL. Not a day one starter and I don’t think he could have fallen into a better fit. Sitting a year behind arguably the greatest quarterback ever and then taking over for him the next season? It sounds like a dream every young quarterback has and whether you like it or not, that’s now Stidham’s reality.

The talk of the Patriots tanking for a quarterback like Trevor Lawrence, Trey Lance, or Justin Fields is not an idea that I can subscribe to. By saying that, you are saying Bill Belichick of all people is purposely rolling with a quarterback in hopes of losing all his games and throwing away an entire season because the team lost a 43-year old quarterback who arguably had his most ordinary season to date. The Patriots might truly believe in Stidham and I don’t have any issue with them giving him the nod to start and turning to Hoyer or bringing in a QB like Josh Rosen via trade or even signing Cam Newton should he still be available in free agency should things go south. Although Tom Brady himself was even a sixth-rounder and the team already had a franchise quarterback in Drew Bledsoe. I’m not about to count out Stidham but this is the biggest question mark of the entire roster.

Running backs

Projected Starters: Sony Michel & James White

Potential Key Contributor(s): Damien Harris

This is one of the top running back by committee units in football. Sony Michel is coming off a slightly disappointing season in which he saw his yards per carry dip. Michel even still has had almost 1,000 yards in both of his first two seasons and 13 touchdowns. I expect his play to improve this year especially with the first-year starting quarterback in Stidham. Everyone needs to realize Stidham is not on an island in New England, they aren’t going to force him to throw the rock 50 times per game. On top of Michel’s talent, New England has James White who is the big pass-catching threat set to have maybe the best season of his career. White had 72 receptions for 645 yards and five touchdowns while adding 263 rushing yards and a touchdown. Both players should receive more usage than ever before.

However, that’s not all, while the Patriots have solid contributors Rex Burkhead and Brandon Bolden in the fold there is one guy I’m more excited about. That man is former Alabama running back Damien Harris. The Patriots took Harris in the third round of last year’s draft only a year after taking Michel in the first round of that draft. Harris is a very well-rounded running back that can come in this season after waiting just about all of his rookie season to contribute. Harris has the body to withstand NFL punishment, he’s going to run right through arm tackles, he’s going to win more often than not in pass protection and he’s going to ultimately get the job done.

The Patriots are set at running back which is why they didn’t draft any running backs but they did sign an intriguing back in 5-5 J.J. Taylor. The closest thing in this draft that you could find to Tarik Cohen. It will be interesting if he makes the roster because he could have a role as well. Regardless, this is a good RB room and gives Stidham a lot to be thankful for.

Wide receivers

Projected Starters: N’Keal Harry, Julian Edelman & Mohamed Sanu

Potential Key Contributor(s): Damiere Byrd, Jakobi Meyers & Marqise Lee

This is one of the areas on the Patriots that doesn’t make you feel great but it’s not a bad group. N’Keal Harry was picked over D.K. Metcalf and for the Patriots there had to be an exact reason they not only selected Harry but they took him at the end of the first round. We saw Harry get some action towards the latter portion of the season after an injury sidelined him for a good 10 weeks. Harry should be in for a big year two for the Patriots. Julian Edelman is still one of the top slot receivers in football with or without Brady. Edelman always does a remarkable job of finding the soft zone in coverage and can certainly move the chains. Those two alone with Harry’s 6-4 and 225-pound frame and Edelman’s open-field reliability and awareness should help out Stidham. Edelman came down with 100 catches last year that went for over 1,100 yards receiving and six touchdowns.

That’s not to mention the other projected starter Mohamed Sanu who the Patriots sent away a second-round pick for last season. Sanu wasn’t worth a second-round pick but just because he wasn’t worth the pick doesn’t mean the Patriots don’t have a very solid all-around wideout in their arsenal. Sanu simply wasn’t used a ton and ended up with just 59 catches for 520 yards and two touchdowns across playing with both the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots. There were a few games last year Jakobi Meyers, the UDFA out of NC State flashed some serious potential. Free-agent acquisition Marqise Lee hasn’t played a full season of football since 2017 but it appeared like he was finally starting to develop and show signs of taking the next step, the injuries are concerning but he could carve out a solid role in New England if he can stay healthy.

All in all with the other additions of Damiere Byrd, last year’s special team’s guy Gunner Olszewski, Quincy Adeboyejo, Devin Ross, and UDFA’s Sean Riley, Jeff Thomas, Will Hastings, and Isaiah Zuber. The Patriots will have plenty of receiver competition. In the end, the Patriots are holding out hope their first-rounder N’Keal Harry explodes this season and becomes the number one guy they wanted him to be when they drafted him. While they absolutely could have used a receiver in this draft, they still might have their guy and they know they need to be patient in developing Harry and not just log jamming the position while risking to stunt his growth in the process.

Tight ends

Projected Starter: Matt LaCosse

Potential Key Contributor(s): Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene, Ryan Izzo & Jake Burt

This is another position that is very similar to wide receiver and quarterback. The Patriots have some exciting players at this position but the question remains on how good this group can be. Matt LaCosse is a former long snapper turned tight end who likely has the most all-around game in this room aside for maybe rookie tight end Dalton Keene. Ryan Izzo is the best blocking tight end in this room and the best receiving option is likely rookie Devin Asiasi.

The Patriots traded away Rob Gronkowski who came out of retirement to play with Tom Brady in Tampa Bay so that was never an option. However, they did address their need in the draft by going out and drafting two day two tight ends in Asiasi and Keene. Keene has a chance to be a star someday as he plays a similar game to star tight end, George Kittle. Both he and Kittle were severely underutilized in the passing game at their respective schools and were stout blockers. The Patriots didn’t draft Keene to be a blocking tight end and drafted him because he had some serious potential in the receiving game with an NFL-ready body of work in the blocking department. Asiasi is going to be a passing game option right away as well. Of course, lastly, Jake Burt was one of two UDFA tight ends the Patriots signed but he ended up being one of the highest-paid UDFA’s on the market which might show the kind of interest the Patriots have in his game.

This is an unproven unit that has a chance to seriously turn some heads this season. Don’t forget young quarterbacks love dumping the ball off to their safety net and that safety net is the tight end. While James White will likely steal some targets, this tight end group has a chance to be very productive this season.

Offensive line

Projected Starters: LT Isaiah Wynn, LG Joe Thuney, C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason, RT Marcus Cannon

Potential Key Contributor(s): OT Yodny Cajuste, G Michael Onwenu & C Dustin Woodard

This is a top ten offensive line in football. Now, it’s worth mentioning that offensive line guru Dante Scarnecchia has retired and we aren’t even sure who the new offensive line coach will be but this unit is very good. Last year’s offensive line which was close to the same as this year’s incoming line was tied for ninth in pass blocks efficiency per Pro Football Focus. The only difference from last year’s offensive line was the fact that David Andrews missed all of last year due to a blood clot that led to backup Ted Karras to take over the role. Isaiah Wynn was also injured during the season and veteran tackle Marshall Newhouse came in during that time until Wynn could come back and finish the season. The point being, this line is better than the midseason line the Patriots had, and all in all, it wasn’t a bad year by any stretch for the offensive line.

Joe Thuney had arguably his best year as he showed real improvement, Shaq Mason was typical Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon didn’t have his best year but put together another solid one and Wynn was very impressive in half of his true rookie season after missing his entire first season due to a season-ending preseason injury. Karras filled in nicely for Andrews but the Patriots are getting a potential pro bowl center back in David Andrews.

It’s a very stout unit that has some quality depth in the form of last year’s third-round pick Yodny Cajuste, draft picks Michael Onwenu, Dustin Woodard, and Justin Herron. That’s not to leave out Jermaine Eluemunor and last year’s fourth-rounder Hjalte Froholdt. If the Patriots get a full 16 games with their starting offensive line though, you could see that of a top-five unit. Which is once again going to be huge for Stidham.

Defensive line

Projected Starters: Lawrence Guy, Beau Allen & Deatrich Wise Jr.

Potential Key Contributor(s): Byron Cowart & Adam Butler

The Patriots lost their true nose tackle in Danny Shelton but added Beau Allen to the mix. Lawrence Guy held down the fort last year and one would expect him to do the same this year. The Patriots did not ultimately choose to make a move for a defensive tackle in the draft and so they will likely roll out a front three of Guy, Allen, and Deatrich Wise Jr. In addition to those three, last year’s contributors Adam Butler and Byron Cowart should be part of their rotation.

The Patriots will miss having that monstrous body plugging up running lanes that Shelton had and brought to the table. However, they have a quicker and more versatile defensive front that they should feel comfortable about. Wise Jr. brings his pass-rushing prowess to the table with his ability to pressure quarterbacks while Guy is great at stopping the run. Cowart and Butler are similar to Guy in the fact they are more substantial in the run defensive department. Make no mistake, the Patriots philosophy on the defensive line is to stop the run. Wise Jr.’s pass-rushing ability isn’t ignored but the Patriots have always put a heavy emphasis on stopping the run upfront.

Outside linebackers

Projected Starters: Chase Winovich & Joshua Uche

Potential Key Contributor(s): John Simon, Anfernee Jennings, Brandon Copeland & Derek Rivers

This is a very good group the Patriots have at the outside linebacker position. Since the Patriots put such a heavy emphasis on players that can stop the run up front, the team needs some serious pass-rushing help off the edge. That’s why they added one of the best pass rushers in the 2020 NFL Draft in Michigan’s Joshua Uche. Last year’s Michigan rookie Chase Winovich showed off serious potential in under 300 snaps. Winovich’s seven sacks were impressive but with the loss of Kyle Van Noy, the team is going to use Winovich as a starter this season. While John Simon did also turn in a quality season and played close to 500 snaps, I would make the argument the Patriots do go with Uche alongside Winovich as the starters. Uche’s ability to rush off the edge, set the edge in the run game, and drop in coverage leaves him with a higher floor than most rookie edge defenders in this draft.

While I think Winovich, Uche, and Simon will all be great contributors this year, one cannot forget about Brandon Copeland who the Patriots added in free agency as well as rookie third-round pick Anfernee Jennings. The additions of two athletic edge defenders in Uche and Copeland have me thinking this team wants to get quicker and faster on the defensive side of the football which could push Simon out of his role he had last year.

This unit has the potential to be lethal and a perfect complement to the guys up front.

Inside linebackers

Projected Starters: Dont’a Hightower & Ja’Whaun Bentley

Potential Key Contributor(s): Cassh Maluia, De’Jon Harris & Kyahva Tezino

Jamie Collins departed in free agency after reigniting his career once again with the Patriots. The team still gets to use their young promising linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley in addition to their franchise linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Elandon Roberts also left last season but the Patriots replaced him with sixth-round pick Cassh Maluia and signed a pair of UDFA linebackers De’Jon Harris from Arkansas and San Diego State’s Kyahva Tezino. This group to the casual fan may not seem like a good one at all but the Patriots have talent with Hightower and Bentley is someone that will be a household name by the end of the season.

The team also has linebackers Terez Hall and Brandon King which should make for a serious roster battle. Either way, you can have an issue with the lack of proven depth but the two starters in this unit are very good and above the league average. Also do not be surprised if a team that puts a heavy emphasis on finding talent through all phases of talent acquisition takes a liking to either Harris or Tezino as potentially the next-man-up. That also means Maluia could be the future after Hightower. This team doesn’t normally just waste a pick unless it’s Derek Rivers who has had an impossible time of staying healthy.

Cornerbacks

Projected Starters: Stephon Gilmore & Jason McCourty

Potential Key Contributor(s): JC Jackson, Justin Bethel, Joejuan Williams & Jonathan Jones 

You have the defensive player of the year in Stephon Gilmore, a very talented veteran in Jason McCourty, an up-and-coming young stud in JC Jackson, an established feisty cornerback in Justin Bethel, a second-round pick with a ton of potential in Joejuan Williams and one of the league’s better slot corners in Jonathan Jones. This is a very good unit and has the star power we were talking about the receiver position lacking.

Gilmore is simply incredible, at one point he looked like a serious bust in Buffalo but he has ascended among the best of his position. JC Jackson is probably better than McCourty right now but the team does love the McCourty brothers. The question remains whether or not that monster-sized cornerback Joejuan Williams will develop or not because if he does then the Patriots are going to have some serious size defending the boundaries.

Safeties

Projected Starters: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung & Kyle Dugger

Potential Key Contributor(s): Terrence Brooks, Adrian Phillips & Cody Davis

I threw in three starters due to how often the Patriots play their three safeties, Duron Harmon having more snaps last year than Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon being traded away, and the addition of second-round safety Kyle Dugger. This unit is lethal and they have the versatility to match up just about any offense that gets thrown their way. For real, they have a defensive player of the year at cornerback that they will be able to play with. Terrence Brooks came into his own last year, the team also added free agents, Adrian Phillips and Cody Davis. This is seriously a great group for the Patriots.

Dugger has a chance to be a future All-Pro player, his ability to play both safety spots, make plays in run support all while having the range and ball skills to make plays deep in coverage is what is so impressive and what ultimately led to him being a second-round pick for the Patriots. On top of Dugger, we know Devin McCourty is still one of the best safeties in the game, and Chung is fairly solid in his own right. This is just a rock-solid unit with the potential to be monstrous as Dugger learns and grows alongside McCourty and Chung. Steve Belichick is going to have fun using this group on Sunday’s.

Conclusion: The Patriots are more than fine post-Tom Brady

Okay, so, the point of all of this is to show you and let you know that this team is still scary. They haven’t gone anywhere, they’ve lost some key contributors and one big named franchise quarterback in addition to their offensive line guru but they have gained a decent amount via the draft. On top of that, there’s another year in the books where players can develop. You are going to see development in Stidham, Michel, Harry, LaCosse, the offensive line, Winovich, Jackson, Williams, and others. It’s time to stop sleeping on the New England Patriots, this team is coming off an incredible defensive season and underwhelming offensive play and still finding a way to go 12-4. Yes, their division got better. Yes, you could make the argument the Bills are better since they have a more proven commodity at QB and Sean McDermott turned that defense into one of the game’s best. Yes, you can make the argument the Jets got a lot better via the NFL Draft. Yes, you can argue that the Dolphins got better. However, until Bill Belichick, this system and this culture go away, you cannot count out the New England Patriots.

When Tom Brady and the Patriots adopted that narrative “We’re still here” I was confused. No one had ever questioned that the Patriots were gone and out of the spotlight. As long as Belichick and Brady remained together, it was obvious that every football fan on planet Earth wasn’t going to count out that duo. Now, one man has gone to a different organization and some believe his team should be one of the favorites in the NFC to win the Super Bowl. While the other who also won six Super Bowl rings is being accused of tanking because he may have a plan up his sleeve and Stidham is that plan? It’s bizarre really, but I guess some will never learn. You may not remember but the Patriots went 11-5 without Brady and with Matt Cassel under the helm. Belichick didn’t panic then, he won’t panic now. There’s now tank for anyone, there’s just do your job. Just win. That’s what Belichick and this Patriots’ new-look team is going to try and do.

All I know for sure is that when the Patriots do make the playoffs, I want to see Bill Belichick and Jarrett Stidham saying the same words Brady awkwardly used when it had no meaning. “We’re still here.” — The Stidham era has started in New England, now buckle up for the ride. It might be crazier than you think.

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