In order to preview the season for all teams in the league, we sent out some questions out to our bloggers from the sister stations. Here is our preview for the New England Patriots from Musket Fire’s Joe Soriano.
1. Which player(s) on roster need to step up in order for the season to be successful?
There are a few players that will need to step up for the Patriots, and the man at the top of that list is Aaron Dobson. The Pats took him in the second round of the draft with the hopes of him slotting in as the “X” receiver, and Dobson has the speed and size to be the type of No. 1 receiver this team hasn’t had since their last Marshall product. Dobson should have some growing pains at the beginning, but he has upside and quite a bit is riding on him panning out. Another rookie wide receiver to watch for is Josh Boyce, who is polished but not quite as good (well, who knows really, as he’s just a rookie) and doesn’t have the same expectations. On defense, the Patriots made sure to revamp the defensive tackle position, because they just weren’t getting enough pressure generated from players on the interior of the defensive line. In came Tommy Kelly and Armond Armstead and out went Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick. Kelly received the most significant contract and can be a high-impact pass rushing DT if he plays disciplined and is motivated. Both should happen, and the health of the Patriots pass rush is partially dependent on Kelly’s success.
2. What position battle(s) will you be paying attention to during training camp?
There are several position battles to watch for, and the biggest one has to be at wide receiver. Danny Amendola is locked in as the slot receiver, but who plays the X? That’s where Aaron Dobson comes in, but he could possibly lose his job to a guy like Boyce (or even somebody else). ESPN Boston has him in a competition with Mike Jenkins on the outside, but I can’t see somebody as slow as Jenkins playing the “X”. Overall, the order of the depth chart at wide receiver and who makes the team is in flux, and a deep sleeper to keep an eye on is Kenbrell Thompkins. He was excellent in OTAs and minicamp, and he’s been gaining a lot of steam. In fact, Thompkins is one of the reasons why the Patriots felt comfortable releasing Donald Jones, and Jones’s release was a vote of confidence to rookies like Thompkins, Dobson, and Boyce.
3. Which rookie(s) on the team will make an immediate impact?
At the end of the day, the Patriots are going to do whatever they can to put Dobson in a position to start and succeed, because he is clearly the guy with the best tools to be a No. 1 receiver. Dobson has the best chance of making an impact as a rookie, and the player with the second-best chance is Josh Boyce; it just has to be the receivers. Jamie Collins is going to get snaps as a backup and ditto to CB Logan Ryan (especially in lieu of Alfonzo Dennard’s DUI and likely suspension), but the onus on the rookies is at the wide receiver position.
4. Which player(s) on the roster is the most underrated?
Devin McCourty. This guy is a very good cornerback, but he turns into an elite player at the free safety position with his ball skills, speed, range, tackling, and run defense. Last season, “D-Mac” allowed just a 10.2 QB Rating at safety, and his excellent run defense at corner translated well at FS. If you don’t believe me that McCourty is an elite safety, then just go to the Pro Football Focus (Neil’s NFL Daily especially) and see for yourself. Like Chris Harris Jr. of the Denver Broncos, McCourty is a young, elite DB who doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves. He’s also a leader for the Patriots on defense and one of the most dependable players on the team. Don’t sleep on McCourty as an All-Pro caliber player, because he is an excellent free safety in this league.
5. Prediction for the season?
I honestly believe the Miami Dolphins will give the Patriots a strong run for their money for the division crown, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Dolphins win it if things click and Ryan Tannehill becomes a franchise QB. But I still see the Pats winning the division, because they have just as much upside as well. If rookie WRs like Dobson get a handle on things and make a big impact as rookies, then this is a Super Bowl contender. If not, then the Pats end up going 11-5 and still make the playoffs. I really can’t see the Patriots missing the playoffs, and it’s funny how people overreact about the wide receiver position. There is uncertainty, but there is also depth, talent, and upside. At the end of the day, I think the Patriots end up being about as successful as they were last year, but they do have the potential to win it all. I just don’t think they are quite there yet, and I have them losing in the AFC Championship game to the Denver Broncos.
For more information on the New England Patriots, check out our Fansided sister station Musket Fire.