Patriots Mailbag – Does This Team Have Enough to Compete?

As Patriots OTA’s wrap up this week, we’re slowly starting to get a sense of where things stand with the team heading into training camp. After Julio Jones was traded to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, it looks like New England is going to stick with the wide receiver room that they have. The chances of star cornerback Stephon Gilmore being traded also don’t seem too high.

The one player I am curious about is Dont’a Hightower. An opt-out in 2020, Hightower has yet to be at the Patriots facility for optional offseason training. We may get out answer on Hightower next week when the team enters their mandatory mini camp on June 14.

Thank you to everyone for your Twitter questions. With your help we are able to debut the Guy Boston Sports Patriots Mailbag:

Which Free Agents Could the Patriots Still Sign?

The Patriots have solid players at just about every position heading into the summer. KJ Doyle wrote a top 25 list of remaining NFL free agents a few weeks ago, check it out here. New England potentially coming in at the 11th hour and taking a chance on cornerback Richard Sherman would excite me. I think he’s still got some gas in the tank, and you can never have enough depth in the backend of your defense. I could also see them taking a flier on Golden Tate to bulk up the wide receiver room.

Position Battles to Watch?

Quarterback is the obvious answer here, but I’m curious to see what the Patriots will do at the linebacker/EDGE position. They’ve quickly gone from no talent to too much talent in that area, and there are now a lot of mouths to feed. The room consists of Matt Judon, Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Chase Winovich, Josh Uche, Ronnie Perkins, and Raekwon McMillan. Anfernee Jennings, a third round pick just a year ago, could end up being cut due to this stacked Patriots defense.

Who Will be the Most Utilized Running Back? How Much Will Each Running Back Play?

Damien Harris. Damien Harris. DAMIEN HARRIS! I am expecting a monster season from the third-year running back out of Alabama. With an offensive line that was able to retain David Andrews and bring Trent Brown back, Harris should have nothing but green grass to work with this season. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Harris ranked as the 10th most explosive runner in 2020.

As far as the other running backs go, I would expect James White and J.J. Taylor to be in the rotation as pass catching backs. Then they’ll use Rhamondre Stevenson and Sony Michel to spell Harris when he needs it. Don’t get it twisted though, Harris isn’t splitting carries. Damien Harris should be and will be the bell cow for this offense.

Who Will be the Surprise Cut?

I think there’s a chance we don’t see Sony Michel on the roster come week one. The running back room has some depth now after drafting Stevenson in the third round. The Patriots did not pick up Michel’s fifth-year option, making him expendable. They will want Brandon Bolden on special teams, so Michel could be the odd man out.

Other surprise cut candidates include N’Keal Harry, Chase Winovich, and Cam Newton.

Will There be a True Quarterback Competition?

Absolutely. The Patriots didn’t draft Mac Jones 15th overall to let him marinate on the bench. Belichick can play the “Cam’s our starter” card all he wants, but as I’ve noted in the past, rookie’s almost always play sooner than expected.

From When Will Mac Jones Play?:

The narrative with rookie quarterbacks, outside of the phenoms who step in week one, is that they will redshirt for their entire rookie season and just learn from the guys in the room. However, this rarely plays out in practice. A few recent examples:

Blake Bortles became Jaguars starter over Chad Henne in week three

Deshaun Watson became Texans starter over Tom Savage in week two

Tua Tagovailoa became Dolphins starter over Ryan Fitzpatrick in week eight

There’s no doubt in my mind that they’re going to give Jones the chance to win the job during training camp. He was already taking second reps behind Newton to start OTA’s. May the best man win.

Are the Patriots Trying to Avoid a Mac Jones vs. Tom Brady Matchup?

For some reason I don’t think Belichick is going to make a big deal out of this. I think the Patriots are going to play the best player at the position regardless of the semantics surrounding the game. Do we really think Belichick would rather lose with Newton than win with Mac Jones? No way. Belichick wants to win the game and prove he is the reason behind the Patriots success, no matter who he has behind center.

What Will the Patriots Week 1 Quarterback Room Look Like?

  1. Mac Jones
  2. Cam Newton
  3. Brian Hoyer

What are the Patriots Chances of Winning the AFC East?

Julio Jones as a number one wide receiver would have helped, but I think the Patriots will certainly compete in the AFC East. The teams weakest position is wide receiver, and they have still drastically improved from last year. The defense is going to be outstanding, and if the offense runs the way it seems like it can, they will be ahead of Miami and compete at the top of the division with Buffalo.

We will know more about this team as the summer moves on, but I’m confident in the improvements they’ve made. The team finishes up OTA’s this week, and will conduct their mandatory mini camp June 14-16.

(Photo: Eric J. Alder/Patriots.com)

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