In a little more than three weeks from now, the New England Patriots will start training camp. After a mini camp filled with many new faces, Foxboro reunions, and contract holdouts, the roster will twist tighter and tighter each day. There will be competitions for starting roles and roster spots between players who have been with the team for years or merely a few months. But in this competition, it is important to be reminded of the high hopes and ceiling that this offseason can bring. Here are 12 reasons why the Patriots will win 12 games in 2021.
1. The Offensive Line Will Be One of the League’s Best
The offensive line is vital in today’s NFL. This year’s Super Bowl proved that a poor line can make the greatest offense look mortal. Thankfully, the Patriot’s offensive line will be one of the team’s biggest strengths. Ranking 3rd in Pro Football Focus’ offensive line units of 2021, the Patriots have top of the league production from the tackle, guard, and center position. For instance, Michael Onwenu is coming off of the highest graded run blocking rookie seasons (84.9). Onwenu only committed one penalty, giving up two sacks and zero QB hits.
When healthy, Isaiah Wynn is one of the better tackles in the NFL; they just need Wynn to stay on the field. Shaq Mason is currently the Patriots highest graded lineman (85.4). New England will welcome Trent Brown back with open arms as Brown played his best football in Foxboro. Lastly, people can not forget about Center David Andrews, who has been a stable in the Patriots offense.
2. Red Zone Production Will Do a 180
The Patriots were 24th in the NFL in red-zone scoring percentage in 2020. All while being tied for 5th in interceptions thrown. The team only threw 5 Red Zone touchdowns. Bill Belichick clearly was aware of this flaw of the 2020 Patriots. Making Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry two of the five highest paid tight ends in the NFL.
The two will be featured heavily in this passing attack. Smith was one of the leagues best inside the 20: his 8 Red Zone touchdowns ranked 5th in the NFL, 2nd among all tight ends. Hunter Henry also hauled in 4 Red Zone touchdowns, which is merely a touchdown less than the entire Patriots roster in 2020.
3. More First Downs
One of the team’s worst problems in 2020 were the lack of first downs. The Patriots ranked 30th in 1st down receptions in 2020. Jakobi Meyers was the best receiver on the 2020 roster, hauling in 37 1st downs. However, no other Patriots receiver managed to crack 30 first downs. Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne will change that as the two snatched 72 1st downs collectively.
4. YAC YAC YAC
The modern NFL passing attack values yards after the catch now more than any other era in football. It is an area of football that leads to more yards, more first downs, and more fight that will exhaust opposing defenses. The Patriots lack of a dynamic offense led to the team struggling in this area: ranking 26th in YAC. Tight ends are just as valuable after the catch as receivers are; Travis Kelce and Darren Waller ranked 3rd and 4th in YAC in 2020 among all receivers.
Again, Jakobi Meyers led the team in yards after the catch at 216 yards in 2020. Going back to when we said the Patriots needed to add two passing options better than Meyers.
According to YAC, the team added four as Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Kendrick Bourne, and Nelson Agholor all accounted for at least 219 yards after the catch. Smith, is most likely the best out of this bunch, ranking 5th among all tight ends at yards after catch per reception (5.8)
5. The Rebirth of the Pass Rush
It broke Bill Belichick’s heart to watch a defense that couldn’t get to the Quarterback. The pass rush lacked toughness, experience, and quite frankly, talent. The Patriots thrive off of throwing multiple rush packages at QBs. To do this, having Linebackers who can set the edge and get to the Quarterback in different ways is critical.
The Patriots 2020 starting Linebacker group featured Chase Winovich, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Terez Hall, and Anfernee Jennings. Going from that group that ranked 27th in sacks all the way to Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Matthew Judon. To remind people what these three can do in pass rush:
Patriots 2021 Linebackers
OLB Kyle Van Noy (2020) 6 sacks, T-3rd among non-DL in total pressures this season (28),T-8th in Tackles for Loss (10)
MLB Dont’a Hightower (2019) 5.5 sacks
OLB Matthew Judon (2020) 6 sacks, 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)
Adding onto that group, the team traded up for Christian Barmore and snagged Ronnie Perkins almost thirty spots after his adp. These two rookies made a living off of disrupting the Quarterback in college.
Patriots 2021 Rookies
DL Christian Barmore (2020) 8 sacks, Highest pass-rushing DT over the last two seasons (92.2), 65 total pressures over the past two seasons (1st among Power 5 DI)
DE Ronnie Perkins (2020) 5.5 sacks in 6 games, Only defensive lineman with 90+ grades in run-defense and pass-rush, 4th highest pressure% against power five OL (19%)
A player who may be flying under the radar for this revitalized defense is Josh Uche. Uche battled injuries his rookie year, but when he was on the field, he dominated. Uche ranked 2nd among rookie edge rushers in pass rush grade with a min of 50 snaps (75.1).
Runner up to Chase Young (DROY). Uche’s name has been mentioned many times this offseason, looking explosive and relentless in team drills. With the new offseason additions, Uche will not have to carry the edge. He should thrive off of his sophomore season, potentially earning a starting role faster than expected.
6. The Secondary Will Again Be the Team’s Strongest Unit
This will depend of whether or not the Patriots can extend Stephon Gilmore. However, latest reports suggest the two sides want to get this deal done. Assuming Gilmore stays with New England, it is going to be a challenge yet again to throw against the Patriots.
PFF has New England as their 5th best secondary in the NFL, which might even be too low for most. When healthy, Gilmore is one of the best corners in the NFL. J.C. Jackson is coming off a 9 int season. Jackson has never given up a completion percentage greater than 59% or a passer rating greater than 66.
Jonathan Jones is a dark-horse name in this secondary. Pro Football Focus has Jones as their 3rd best slot corner in the NFL. He is the only corner with a top-10 run defense and pass coverage grade in the NFL. People can’t forget about Adrian Phillips too. Phillips led the team in tackles (109) and became a viable leader and presence among the defense. Kyle Dugger should blossom in his 2nd year as his snap count increases. With Devin McCourty still the voice of reason in this secondary, the Patriots will not give up much in the air.
7. Don’t Forget about Special Teams
It is definitely not great if a team’s best quality is their special teams, but the Patriots had the best special teams unit in the NFL in 2020. No team in the NFL had an All Pro performer in the kicking and return game other than the Patriots. All-Pro Jake Bailey led the NFL in adjusted punt above expected. He was 4th in yards per punt (48.7) and was T-2nd for the longest punt at 71 yards. Bailey has an incredible leg as he has established himself as one of the NFL’s best punter.
Gunner Olszewski started the season a little slowly, but then quickly separated himself from the pack. The All Pro led the NFL in punt return yards (346) and yards per punt return (17.3). To put those numbers into perspective, the 2nd highest yards per punt return number was 11.5 and Gunner ranked only 15th in punt return attempts.
8. There is Serious Size in the Power Running Game
The Patriots have a frightening amount of size in the running game. For instance:
T Trent Brown, 6’8” 359lbs
G Michael Onwenu, 6’3″ 344 lbs
RB Damien Harris 213lbs
RB Rhamondre Stevenson 231lbs
QB Cam Newton 245lbs
Combined Weight: 1,392 pounds (heavier than two full grown Grizzly Bears)
If the Patriots decide to run with Cam Newton, it is going to a nightmare trying to bring anyone down in this offense. But regardless of who plays Quarterback, it is going to hurt trying to tackle these guys in the backfield.
9. The Potential of the 2021 Rookie Class
The Mac Jones hype train has taken off well before the team has put any pads on. It is fair to say that Jones is farther along than any other rookie QB in the Belichick era. He has much more work to do in the coming months, but if Jones is as advertised, the ceiling is limitless for the Alabama QB.
Sticking with the tide, most scouts had a first round grade on Christian Barmore. The Defensive Lineman was the highest rated player at his position yet fell to the 2nd round. If Barmore can lock in and succumb to the Patriot way, he will quickly become a wrecker on this front seven.
Ronnie Perkins to many seemed to be a clear top-50 pick, but like Barmore, he fell. Perkins could potentially play up to a role that leads to the departure of Chase Winovich. Perkins fits a similar profile and he was much more effective against the run compared to Wino. It is possible the running back Rhamondre Stevenson could do a similar thing to Sony Michel. Stevenson is known for his power and exceptionally light feet for his size.
10. The 2021 Schedule is More Favorable
The 2020 schedule was not kind to the Patriots, especially from a Quarterback perspective. The Patriots had to play the league’s best in Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, and Russell Wilson to name a few.
This year, the Patriots will play five teams with a new starting QB in the Jets 2x, Texans, Panthers, Saints, and Jaguars. It is good timing that Bill Belichick has retooled and reloaded a defense designed to play man-to-man press with and endless amount of pass rushing packages.
11. The Offense Will Be Harder to Predict
For the first time in 20 years, opposing defenses did not fear the Patriots. Teams could expect the run with little concern of seperation from the receivers. Teams did not even need to think about a tight end creating any form of trouble either. With Nelson Agholor leading receivers in yards per catch in 2020, the vertical passing must be respected. Slot receivers who thrive in leverage like Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne will create headaches for corners in the short passing game.
Now, opposing defenses will have to respect not one but two high end Tight Ends such as Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. Smith providing a danger after the catch and even in the backfield, with Henry in the more tradition Tight End role. Damien Harris should have more room to run with teams needing to respect the pass.
12. Bill Belichick’s Urgency and Hunger
Bill Belichick has never had a losing season in New England before. Adding more salt to the wound, he watched Tom Brady hoist a Lombardi trophy the same season.
It is no coincidence that he significantly bolstered up the tight end, linebacker, and front seven unit. The team has gotten tougher, more experienced, and more talented. Teams will have to quickly forget about the 2020 Patriots.