On every NFL team, several players have something to prove. This could be from a quarterback with great regular season stats needing to prove he can win in the postseason, a veteran who needs to prove he isn’t declining, a solid player looking for a big payday, a young player needing an excellent season to stay on the roster, a rookie needing to prove his draft status was justified, etc. Sometimes those players prove what they need to prove (Matthew Stafford with the Rams last season), and sometimes they don’t (Sam Darnold in Carolina)..
Patriots Who Have Something To Prove
There are a lot of Patriots who must prove themselves this season, especially on offense, where we felt very disappointing at times despite scoring the sixth-most points in the NFL with 462 (27.2 PPG). This felt like smoke and mirrors as we did not have a 1,000-yard rusher or receiver while ranking just fifteenth in offensive yards. In addition, we scored 40% of our points in just four games last season.
There are several defensive players with something to prove as well, and the way last season ended with the two losses to the Bills where we couldn’t stop them at all made our defense seem poor despite ranking second in scoring defense and fourth in yards allowed.
What he needs to prove: That he can still contribute to the offense
For several years James White was a solid offensive contributor. He averaged over 500 yards receiving out of the backfield from 2015-2020 but only played three games last season due to a hip injury and is heading into his age 30 season. The hip injury and his age and position have cast doubts on whether he can still contribute to the offense.
What he needs to prove: That he can stay healthy
Running back is a notoriously difficult position in terms of health. Still, Harris has missed eight games in the past two seasons and had two other ones where he had just two combined rushing yards but is still sixteenth in rushing yards over the last two years (only three have played fewer games). If he keeps his average of 64.8 yards per game from 2020-21 for an entire 17-game season he would run for 1,101 yards (which would have ranked sixth in the league last year).
What he needs to prove: That he can be an elite receiver
He is regarded as one of the most talented receivers in the NFL and showed that in 2019 with 72 catches, 1,202 receiving yards, and nine touchdowns. However, over the last two seasons, he has just 103 catches, 1,308 receiving yards, and six touchdowns due to injuries. Suppose he can play an entire season while getting over 1,000 yards and find the end zone several times. In that case, he can get back to being considered an elite receiver and possibly get a significant extension (his contract expires after 2023).
What he needs to prove: That he is good enough to stay on the roster
Agholor is one of a few players on this list that needs to prove himself right from the start of camp, as he may not even make the team with the acquisition of DeVante Parker and TyQuan Thornton. Thorton is considered a deep ball threat just like Agholor and may have been drafted in case Agholor does not prove his worth in camp. He fell off a cliff in 2021 and went from 896 yards and eight touchdowns in 2020 to just 473 yards and three touchdowns and is in his prime at 29.
He did get a boost in his chances of staying on the roster due to the N’Keal Harry trade although it’s still not a certainty he ends up on the roster. He does have an expiring contract so he has extra motivation to perform.
Also of note is that he could be a trade candidate as well because we would save over ten million dollars if he is traded (we have less than a million available in cap space right now).
What he needs to prove: That he is worth his contract
Henry signed a three-year 37.5 million dollar contract last offseason. His 12.5 million dollar AAV is tied for fifth highest among tight ends (with the next player on our list). He had 603 yards receiving (although he did have nine touchdowns), but he needs to get closer to 1,000 yards to justify the contract (he has had between 600 and 700 yards each of the last three years).
What he needs to prove: That he is more than a blocker
Smith has long been considered one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL, but we would have wanted to see more from him in the passing game as he signed a four-year 50 million dollar deal before the 2021 season. He has never reached 500 receiving yards in his five seasons and had just 294 yards despite playing 16 games last season. However, if this contract succeeds, he should get well over that this season.
What he needs to prove: That he is worth keeping long-term
Wynn had a solid 74.9 PFF grade but had the seventh most penalties among offensive tackles with nine, while he allowed the fourteenth most sacks with seven. However, he has shown a lot of talent, making the Patriots pick up his fifth-year option this season at a little over ten million. If he becomes a Pro Bowl caliber tackle, he will get a large contract, but if he struggles this year, we will likely let him walk.
What he needs to prove: That he was worth his draft position
He has more pressure than most rookies (especially O-Linemen) as he was drafted much higher than anticipated. Strange has also been regarded as a highly athletic (9.95 Relative Athletic Score and polished lineman (five years of starting experience in college). He needs to be a solid starter right away to quiet the doubters.
What he needs to prove: That he can still get to the QB
Anderson had seven sacks in 2018 but only one and a half in the last three seasons combined. He had stopped the run until 2021 when he had just three total tackles in four games. He has a lot of talent, but he could be a surprise cut due to his inability to get to the QB recently.
What he needs to prove: That he can live up to his draft hype
Peppers has been a decent player in his five NFL seasons, but if he ever wants to live up to his hype. Health has been an issue as he had missed 21 games in five seasons. He had his best season in 2020 with 91 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and an interception. If he wants to break out, now is the time at age 27.
What he needs to prove: That he can develop and stay healthy
Jennings has had health issues going back to his time at Alabama while he missed the entire 2021 season with an undisclosed injury. He also had just 20 tackles in 14 games his rookie season. Therefore, he may need a solid preseason to make the roster (although I think he will make it). In addition, he needs to develop his pass-rushing abilities as he did not record a sack in 2020. Nevertheless, Jennings is one of a few Patriot linebackers with something to prove.
What he needs to prove: That he can break out
The 2020 second-round pick was a breakout candidate last season but struggled to get consistent playing time (30% of snaps), not doing much in that playing time, only getting 12 tackles (although three were sacks). However, his stock could get back to where it was before last season if he can win back his starting job and put together a good season.
What he needs to prove: That he still has gas in the tank
Butler retired last preseason after spending training camp with Arizona, but Belichick convinced him to return to New England this season. He was solid in 2020 with Tennessee (100 tackles, four interceptions, and 14 passes defended. However, after a player takes a year off, they always question whether they can reach their previous heights. This is especially true for Butler as he allowed a lot of big plays in 2020.
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