The Patriots 2021 season is right around the corner. After seeing the roster fall into place following the NFL Draft and free agency, here are the breakdowns of each position group before the new season.
The New England Patriots spent nearly 20 years getting the best quarterback play in the history of the game. The post-Tom Brady era was always going to be difficult to adjust to, fans just weren’t sure how difficult it would be.
Heading into 2021, things get more interesting. The Patriots drafted Mac Jones with the No. 15 overall pick. Cam Newton returns with a full offseason and fewer COVID-19 restrictions. Even Jarrett Stidham received some early praise in camp. With all that, the quarterback position battle in Foxboro is set to be one of the most competitive in the league. Here is the current depth chart:
New England Patriots Quarterback Depth Chart
Starter: Cam Newton
Backup: Mac Jones
All eyes have been on the top two names, with early camp reports saying both Newton and Jones were getting first-team reps with the offense. Jones is coming off of a fantastic college season, finishing the year with 42 total touchdowns to just four interceptions. He led the Alabama Crimson Tide to a national championship and perfect season. After the season, many thought Jones could go as high as the third in the draft. Instead, head coach Bill Belichick stayed patient during the draft and got his man at 15th overall pick. Jones possesses an accurate arm with great timing and anticipation.
The young signal-caller understands where the ball needs to be placed at all times. While he was playing with elite talent at Alabama, he’s still hitting a lot of his teammates in stride for big gains. His game is Brady-esque, which has Patriots fans excited. The reports out of New England have been promising early on (although I take anything coming out of Patriots’ camp with a grain of salt). New England fans are chomping at the bit for Jones, and they may get him sooner rather than later.
While Jones was tearing up the college ranks, Newton did anything but that in New England. The former Heisman Trophy winner showed early signs of promise, followed by missing a game with COVID-19 and then struggling for much of the season. He finished the year with 3,249 total yards, 20 total touchdowns and 13 turnovers (12 interceptions). Those struggles were quantified by the Patriots’ lack of accuracy on offense, something fans weren’t used to seeing. By early camp, some fans were ready to get him out of the starting spot.
Some will point to the idea that the Patriots’ receivers were bad last season, which really wasn’t the case. New England’s receivers ranked third in the NFL on average yards of separation at 3.7, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Some of that could be influenced by opponents loading up against the run last season, but that doesn’t change the fact that Newton missed throws. If he wants to keep the starting job in 2021, that will have to improve.
That being said, there’s a widespread belief among fans that Newton was the worst quarterback in the league last year. This wasn’t the case either, as Pro Football Focus ranked him 23rd in the league because of his rushing stats. It’s not great, but certainly not the worst. The Patriots were fourth in the league in rushing yards last season and sixth in touchdowns, with Newton scoring 12 on the ground. He adds a dynamic ability to the ground game that certainly can make an impact. There’s also the argument that the Patriots didn’t properly utilize his best abilities last season.
Newton rated as one of the most accurate downfield passers last season, he just didn’t throw downfield very often. Newton threw just 29 attempts of 20+ yards last season according to PFF but graded out with a 52 percent on target percentage. That and his 103 passer rating on said throws rates well above league average. Josh McDaniels has never been one to construct a team on the vertical passing game, but with Nelson Agholor in the building, perhaps the Patriots take a few more shots downfield.
Can Mac and Cam coexist?
What makes the battle between Jones and Newton so interesting is how different they really are. Despite the obvious jokes of their inversed spelling of their names being and playing for college rivals, Jones is a pocket passer with great accuracy and touch but lacks mobility and elite arm strength. Newton is a dual-threat quarterback who struggles with touch passes but can throw the ball downfield. Which leads to an interesting thought: Can the two quarterbacks play together?
Dual quarterback systems hardly ever work in the NFL. The lack of rhythm throws off the game, but we’ve seen recently the New Orleans Saints add situational sets for Taysom Hill in a wild-cat style of offense. It works because Hill is athletic enough to run, but also carries the threat of throwing the ball downfield. Instead of constructing two different offenses for both of their skillsets, why not integrate both of Jones and Newton’s strengths?
In this scenario, Jones would operate in the Brees role. Similar to Brees, Jones understands timing and coverage very well. His ball placement also allows New England to run an offense similar to their previous years. The Patriots adjusted some to Newton, but it wasn’t enough to use his entire skillset. Adding Jones into the starting lineup makes sense.
Belichick has been adamant that Newton will start, but I fully expect Jones to play sooner rather than later. He’s a talented quarterback and was heavily invested in by the Patriots. He should get time, but Newton is still too good to have to sitting on the bench. He adds a lot to the running game and the combination could make the Patriots offense something it hasn’t been since Brady and Rob Gronkowski left: Dynamic.
(Photo by: Mary Schwalm / Associated Press)
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