Ryan L. Fox
As we get ready for the start of the 2020 NFL Season, there is a buzz coming from Patriots nation as the fans and media are wondering how their team is going to look in September. Although they lost a few key contributors on both sides of the ball to free agency, none so greater than the loss of QB Tom Brady, who helped guide the team to 9 Super Bowl appearances over the course of 20 years. Of course, they added some players to their roster via the draft and free agency, including QB Cam Newton if you had not heard, as well as getting some players back who missed the 2019 season due to injury.
Although many Patriots media members and fans will try to wave it and tot the line of ‘In Bill We Trust’, it will not change the fact there is some uncertainty with the 2020 New England Patriots roster.
So, with that in mind, there are going to be certain Patriots players that everybody will be focusing on, whether it be on the offensive side of the ball, the defensive side, and even special teams. After going over the roster, there are a few Patriots players that you should definitely keep your eye on going into and during the 2020 NFL Season.
10. CB J.C. Jackson
For those who do not know, 2020 is the final year of Jackson’s 3-year, $1.72 million deal that he signed as an undrafted rookie free agent back in 2018. After this year, the team can either let him walk or sign him to a restricted free agent deal. There are definitely going to be eyes on him as he is pretty much on the same path as former undrafted CB Malcolm Butler, who was mysteriously benched in Super Bowl LIII and then let go the following year. Will the same thing happen to Jackson or will the Patriots pony up some cash to an up-and-coming corner to play opposite of All-Pro CB Stephon Gilmore.
9. WR N'Keal Harry
There was a lot of hope for the rookie wideout coming out of Arizona State when he was selected 32nd overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Injuries during training camp hindered him as Harry got out to a slow start and was not able to get on track (12 catches for 105 yards and 2 TDs in 7 games played). Now Harry is looking to rebound and have a strong showing in 2020 to become the physically gifted wideout that the Patriots envisioned him to be. There is some buzz as he has shown he is doing better on his route running and speed during his offseason workouts as well as him connecting with both QBs Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham in private workouts.
8. LG Joe Thuney
Like Jackson, there are contract implications for the left guard. After finishing up his rookie deal, the Patriots elected to use the Franchise Tag on him (worth $14.781 million). After unable to come to a long-term deal with the Patriots, Thuney will be playing under the Franchise Tag for the season. Meaning that the Patriots have approximately over $23 million tied up with their two starting guards ($14 million for Thuney and $9 for RG Shaq Mason). It will be interesting to see how Thuney’s situation pays out in whether or not the team elects to bring him back or let their top lineman walk via free agency.
7. LB/Edge Chase Winovich
The Patriots lost their two best pass rushers in LB Jamie Collins (7.0 sacks) & LB/Edge Kyle Van Noy (6.5) to free agency. This means that the team will have to turn to Winovich to fill that role. The 2019 3rd round pick out of Michigan has shown he has the speed off the edge and the ability to get into the backfield quickly and to the quarterback (5.5 sacks). So it’ll be interesting to see if he can take that next step forward in development to become the pass rusher that could be an asset to the Patriots defense going forward.
6. FS Devin McCourty
The longest tenure Patriots defender on the team, Devin is going into his 10th year with the team. It is no question that Devin is looked upon as a leader on defense as well as within the Patriots locker room. He also was able to turn back the clock last year, getting 5 interceptions (tying him for 2nd on the team with J.C. Jackson). But over the course of that same season, he seemed to lose a step and got beat over the top by faster receivers. At the age of 33, it will be interesting to see what he has left in the tank and if he can replicate his 2019 numbers.
5. RB James White
Although the Patriots are overloaded in the backfield with the likes of Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, and Damien Harris, White is considered by many to be the more prolific and explosive out of the bunch. His numbers dipped a little in 2019 after a career year in 2018 (72 catches for 645 yards and 5 TDs, 67 carries for 263 yards and 1 TD in 2019 compared to 87 catches for 751 yards and 7 TDs, 94 carries for 425 yards and 5 TDs in 2018) but that could be attested due an influx with the offensive line. White comes into the 2020 NFL season highly motivated as well as expressing a desire to become more of a vocal leader on offense.
4. C David Andrews
There might be more eyes on Andrews than Thuney going into the 2020 season. It was clear last year how the Patriots missed Andrews in the lineup as the former Georgia Bulldog was key in directing blocking assignment for his fellow linemen during the 4-years as a starter. There is also some concern about Andrews’ health as he missed the entire 2019 season due to blood clots in his lungs and how the COVID-19 pandemic could force Andrews to sit out 2020. With everything going on (i.e. quarterback battle in training camp, worldwide pandemic) it will be interesting to see how Andrews will perform in this upcoming season if he is able to.
3. Julian Edelman
The longest tenured Patriots offensive player and 2nd longest tenured Patriots (12 years) on the team (WR/ST Matthew Slater has been with the team ), Edelman has essentially caught passes from one QB and that is Tom Brady. Yes, he caught passes from backup QBs Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett back in 2016 when Tom was suspended for the first 4 games of that season but outside of that, he has been ‘Tom’s Receiver’ for his entire career. Yet with Brady going down to Tampa, there was uncertainty of how Edelman would mesh with the current QBs on the Patriots roster (Jarrett Stidham and Cam Newton). Not to mention that Edelman is 34 and has battled through injuries, including a separated AC joint in his shoulder, a knee injury, and a rib injury during the 2019 season. There is also the possibility that the 2020 NFL Season could possibly be Jules’ last season in both a Patriots and NFL uniform.
2. CB Stephon Gilmore
Since signing with the Patriots back in 2017, Gilmore has become shutdown corner that the team envisioned he would become. He is coming off a year where he had career highs in interceptions (6) and defensive touchdowns (2) while tying a career high in passes defended (20). Not to mention that he was coming off a 2nd All-Pro nomination as well as winning the 2019 AP Defensive Player of the Year. With the Patriots defense obviously in a retooling mode, Gilmore is gonna be called upon to lead the Patriots secondary (their greatest team strength now) to essentially carry the Patriots throughout the entire season. It will be expected to see his interception and passes defended numbers take a sharp decline due to quarterbacks not wanting to throw his way but as long as Gilmore is healthy, then the Patriots defense can help carry the team into the playoffs.
1. QBs Cam Newton and Jarred Stidham
Let’s be frank, whoever is taking snaps under center for the Patriots in 2020 is going perhaps going to be the most observed and dissected player on the entire roster.
On one hand, you have a quarterback in Jarrett Stidham who, according to the Patriots media, looked good in throwing drills and offseason workouts back in 2019 and in 2020. Not to mention that he has had at least one season in the Patriots’ offensive system and is familiar with the terminology. On the other hand, you have a quarterback in Cam Newton who is athletically gifted, an electrifying personality, and has a proven track record of success while playing the in the NFL (2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year, 2015 MVP, a Super Bowl appearance, multiple Pro Bowl appearances).
However, with the good comes the bad. For Stidham, it is whether or not he is mentally mature/prepared to take over the role of a starting NFL QB. For Newton, it is whether or not he is healthy enough to play (only played two games last year while missing the entire season due to injury).
Regardless of who wins the starting QB job, you know they are going to be the most looked at Patriot going in 2020.
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