Patriots Preview: New and Improved Patriots look to reestablish order in the AFC

Patriots fans suffered through the departure of Tom Brady last off season and then sat through a miserable 7-9 season in 2020.

As a result, Bill Belichick loosened the purse strings this past off-season and decided to spend money. Boy did he ever. To the tune of $160 million dollars in contracts.

The Patriots signed several high profile free agents on the market most notably tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, outside linebacker Matthew Judon, wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne and safety Jalen Mills.

Belichick wasn’t done after free agency. He then drafted quarterback Mac Jones with the 15th pick in April’s draft and promptly named him the starting quarterback last week after releasing Cam Newton who was also re-signed this past off-season.

The Patriots have a lot of talent and the ante has been upped. Now it is time to see if they are truly back as Super Bowl contenders.

Let’s breakdown this roster by position so we can see if this team is truly built to raise another Lombardi Trophy.

Quarterback: The decision to release Cam Newton last week was surprising but it is obvious that Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDanieks believed that Jones was ready.

Is he? Jones certainly looked the part in the preseason. He played with confidence and poise. He looked like he had been in the Patriots system for years.

Jones allows the Patriots to play the way they want to play. He can operate under center or in the gun. The Patriots can now line up in 21 personnel and pound you or they could go 11 or 12 personnel, spread you out and throw the ball.

Jones is mature beyond his years and he has the moxie and the poise of a seasoned veteran. He is ready but now he has to prove it in the regular season.

Brian Hoyer and Garrett Gilbert will be the back ups. Jarrett Stidham is expected to miss the majority of the season due to shoulder surgery.

Running Back: The Patriots have so much talent and depth at running back that traded former first rounder Sony Michel to the Rams two weeks ago.

Damien Harris rushed for 691 yards and two touchdowns last season but he is poised for an expanded role this season as the feature back. Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson was impressive in the preseason scoring five rushing touchdowns. He is a great complement to Harris.

James White signed a one year deal to return as the team’s third down back. He will be joined by J.J Taylor who offers versatility as a change of pace back and kick returner. Brandon Bolden returns after taking last season off due to COVID-19 concerns. He will play some offense but his focus is on special teams. Jakob Johnson will be the fullback.

Wide Receiver: Belichick addressed the receiver position by signing the aforementioned Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne this off-season.

The receiver position was a problem for the Patriots last season but the additions of Agholor snd Bourne plus the emergence of Jakobi Meyers means the Patriots have three receivers who can produce and complement the rest of the skill players.

N’Keal Harry’s agent requested a trade earlier this summer but the Patriots did not move him. Harry had a strong camp but then got hurt in the preseason game against the Eagles. Harry is on the PUP list but when he does come back, he needs to make an impact because this could be his last shot with the Patriots.

Gunner Olszewski is the primary punt returner but could take take on a bigger role in the offense. Matthew Slater returns as the leader of the special teams and one of the best specialists in the league.

Tight End

Perhaps the biggest splash Belichick made this off-season was signing the top two tight ends in free agency.

Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith are different players but they will complement each other well. Henry is more of your prototypical Y, in-line tight end while Smith is more of a move tight end who can generate match up out of the slot or on the line of scrimmage.

The Patriots offense is at its best when they have two tight ends that they can use in 12 personnel. We saw it during the Gronkowski/Hernandez years. Defending two tight ends who can create match ups by alignment is tough on a defense.

Between the two tight ends and the receivers and running backs, Mac Jones has plenty of weapons at his disposal.

Offensive Line

The Patriots offensive line is among the best in the NFL once again. Losing Joe Thuney in free agency hurt but the emergence of Michael Onwenu last season made the loss easier to handle. Onwenu was one of the best lineman in the league snd his position versatility makes him invaluable.

The return of Trent Brown at right tackle means the Patriots are pretty balanced across the board up front. They can effectively run strong side and weakside now.

Brown playing next to Shaq Mason should take some of the pressure off of him. The return of David Andrews at center should also bolster this unit. Andrews missed time with injuries last season. He is one the best centers in the game.

Onwenu and left tackle Isaiah Wynn form an athletic left side that can consistently get to the second level in the run game and pass blocker some of the best speed rushers in the NFL. Wynn’s length isn’t ideal but he makes up for it with great footwork and technique.

Ted Karras re-signed with the Patriots this off-season as a swing guard and center. Karras’ versatility is invaluable. He plays a ton this season. Justin Herron can play both tackle spots but also play the role of the extra lineman.


The Patriots will be returning to some of their 3-4 roots this season. Expect more 30 fronts as they the bodies to play bigger inside. Belichick is a 3-4 coach at heart and while he’s multiple like everyone else, he will still utilize a fair amount of 30 and 20 fronts and mix his pressures and coverages.

Defensive Line

The additions of Davon Godchaux and Henry Anderson gives the Patriots two defensive lineman that ideal fits in the 3-4. The Patriots also resigned Lawrence Guy and drafted Christian Barmore in the second round. Add Carl Davis to the mix and the Patriots are sturdier and more stout inside which should help against the run.


The signing of Matthew Judon gives the Patriots the best pure pass rusher they have had since Chandler Jones. Judon is a tone setter and can impact the game in multiple ways.

The Patriots will be counting on Deatrich Wise, Chase Winovich and rookie Ronnie Perkins to provide a steady pass rush in their sub packages. The Patriots have had to blitz and play a lot of man coverage in recent years. It would be nice to see them play more zone and generate a base pass rush.


The return of Dont’a Hightower and the re-signing of Kyle Van Noy bolsters a linebacking corp that really struggled last season. J’Whaun Bentley in particular struggled but now that he is playing the MIKE and has talent around him, he’s back to being comfortable and playing at a high level.

Josh Uche is a Swiss Army knife that can play on and off the ball. He will play a ton in sub packages this season. Look for him to be a factor as a pass rusher. Harvey Langi will provide depth inside and play special teams.


Corners: Stephon Gilmore has opened the season on the PUP list so the Patriots will be counting on newly acquired Shaun Wade and JoeJuan Williams to fill that void. J.C Jackson has emerged as one of the best man to man cover corners in the game. With Gilmore out, he’s the man now snd he will be counted on to lead the corners. Jonathan Jones is one of the top slot corners in the league and he can match up against most slots. Justin Bethel can play in sub packages but he will play mostly on specials.


The addition of Jalen Mills gives Belichick the versatile combo corner/safety he likes that allows him to play in some of his 3 safety, big nickel looks.

Devin McCourty continues to play at a high level and is the unquestioned leader of this defense.

Kyle Dugger had an impressive rookie season and will only get better. His versatility makes a 3X3 player. Three downs and three levels.

Adrian Phillips is similar to Dugger but not as athletic. Phillips is more of box safety/big nickel. Cody Davis will once again play on special teams and provide depth.

Final Thoughts: The Patriots absolutely got better this off-season. They are definitely a playoff team. The question is, how many games do they win? I say 12. I think they’ll go 12-5 and finish as a top three seed.

If Mac Jones plays well, they could find themselves in the AFC Championship game. The defense and running game is certainly good enough to get them there.