As the Patriots continue to progress through OTA’s, there are a lot of players to watch for 2021. The roster is already vastly different than 2020. The big money signings from free agency, the newly drafted rookies, and 2nd/3rd year breakouts have given this offseason a strong sense of hope. Which of these Patriots could have a big 2021?
G Michael Onwenu
Michael Onwenu looks to be the next late round steal by Bill Belichick. Switching from tackle to guard, Onwenu allowed only 2 Sacks and 0 QB Hits in 2020. Most importantly, Onwenu started in all 16 games in 2020. Quickly emerging into one of the best offensive lineman in the league, Onwenu will most likely play at the guard position in 2021.
RB Damien Harris
In 10 games, Harris rushed for 691 yards, averaging 5 yards per carry, and rushing for two touchdowns. Over a 16 game season, Harris would have rushed for 1,105 yards, which would have put him 4th in the NFL. Harris was also the 2nd highest graded running back per PFF. Watching Harris play, he was more than just a north-south running back; Harris consistently created yards in stacked boxes and gaining more yards than expected.
With a significant upgrade at the passing attack, it is going to be difficult for defenses to know when New England is running the ball. 2020’s biggest weakness for the Patriots was predictability in the offense. With not enough depth, the playbook was greatly limited. Another important thing to note is the addition of tackle Trent Brown. At 6’8″ and 365 pounds, Brown thrives in the run-blocking game, creating a massive wall in front of Damien Harris.
WR Jakobi Meyers
Playing as the only true receiving threat to opposing defenses in 2020, Meyers hauled in 59 catches for 729 yards, which is 315 yards and 26 catches more than N’Keal Harry’s Patriots career. Meyers does not get the credit he deserves because he shares no flashy qualities. Which is exactly a Patriot wide receiver in the best of ways.
Meyers knows how to get open, read coverages and leverage, and makes strong catches in the right spots. Meyers was PFF’s 3rd highest graded receiver in 2020.
S Kyle Dugger
Dugger would have been considered one of the best young safeties in the league if he played 70% of the snaps. Dugger constantly was a force in the running game, tallying 64 tackles (5th on the team). Since Adrian Phillips was so solid in 2020, Dugger was a hidden situational gem in a disappointing season.
Phillips may have the starting the job and a pivotal role nonetheless moving forward, but it will be hard to not play Kyle Dugger more in 2021. Dugger played only in 51% of snaps, yet proved to be a strong tackler and disruptor on defense. The game will only slow down more and more for Dugger as he progresses in his Patriots career.
LB Matthew Judon
Judon surprisingly took a reduced role in 2020 for the Baltimore Ravens. Posting the lowest snap count since his rookie year, Judon did not take a step back in terms of production. He posted 6 sacks while ranking T-10th in QB pressures (32), 9th in QB hurries (11), 8th in QB knockdowns (15), T-9th in Tackles for Loss (9), T-9th in QB hits (21).
He also put up his lowest missed tackles number at four. One thing Bill Belichick loves to do is acquire players who were underused on their previous team. For a team that struggled to get to the Quarterback in a variety of ways, expect Judon to be one of the teams best on the edge.
TE Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith
After ranking dead last in almost every statistic from the TE spot, New England had to make a massive upgrade. The two-tight end set will be featured often when it comes to the Patriots passing attack. Henry and Smith will most likely be the two most targeted pass catchers in New England, especially in the red zone. For a team who runs the ball more than passes, they need to convert in the red zone.
Teams like the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, and Tennessee Titans were some of the best in the league at this. All while of course, New England greatly struggled in this department. While it looks like Henry will be the TE1, people should not be quick to forget about Jonnu Smith. Smith has improved every season and got off to an incredibly hot start in 2020 (five touchdowns in the first four weeks of the season).
RB J.J. Taylor
Another potential undrafted Patriots gem, it’s hard not to like J.J. Taylor. Watching his tape, his quickness and football IQ fits the mold of how to get more playing time. Running backs Coach Ivan Fears spoke towards Taylors improvements:
“He’s going to be an excellent make-you-miss type of back. …His run instincts are outstanding. No doubt about it…He’s having a hell of a spring”