What Are The Best And Worst Case Scenarios For The 2022 Patriots’ Skill Positions?

August 24, 2022
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The Patriots’ offense is undergoing a lot of changes this offseason. From a difference in staffing, draft picks, free agency, and expected trends for players already on the roster, the style and makeup of the offense won’t resemble last year’s.

This brings several hypotheticals and a fair bit of uncertainty. So here, I analyze the main areas of tension and how those could impact the floor and ceiling of the potential of the 2022 offense, specifically the skill positions.

Patriots Passing Game: Will There Be Improvement In The Receiver Core?

With QB Mac Jones coming off a great rookie season, he will be looking to play an even more integral role in the offense. With his work over the offseason, both on his physique and his throwing mechanics, he seems poised to make a big year two leap. The question is: will his pass catchers evolve along with him?

What’s the floor?

The struggles of highly-touted and well-paid pass catchers like Nelson Agholor and Jonnu Smith were a big limitation in the passing game. An extra offseason should help a lot, but it’s possible they won’t succeed in the Patriots’ system, especially with some playcalling uncertainty. With the Patriots’ track record in drafting receivers, speedster Tyquan Thornton’s potential contribution is in doubt with this injury.

Although, when he comes back, his hands and football sense need to match his speed, opposing cornerbacks may. With Devante Parker, the Patriots’ offense will be a departure from his usual system. He will likely be effective but whether he can thrive as the number one option (rather than the number two option he was in Miami last year) remains to be seen.

Furthermore, with a draft pick in Cole Strange likely starting and changes in the communication in the offensive line, the offensive line performance needs to be much better than it was early in camp. With a new offense to pick up, people like Isaiah Wynn need to play up to their potential, Cole Strange needs to acclimate quickly, and high performers like Trent Brown need to execute and stay healthy. Mac won’t be given much time to pass if this doesn’t happen.

If this happens, likely, next season, the attack axis will center around Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, and Hunter Henry. While this had some success last year against the better defenses in the league, the Patriots need more.

What’s the ceiling?

Patriots fans should be encouraged, however, that last year’s production (likely higher with the development of Jones) is about as poorly as the offense can function. A scenario in which Bourne and Meyers aren’t as reliable if not better than last season is hard to imagine, and Hunter Henry has taken to the offense quite well.

Devante Parker has had an excellent training camp so far, and if his speed, sure hands, natural sense of the game, and agility can be put to use in the system, he can be a fearsome head honcho of the receiver core. Likewise, Jonnu Smith has shown effectiveness in being used in a hybrid role where he’s allowed to carry, block and catch. That versatility could create a fearsome Patriots tight-end duo.

Thornton’s speed could make him an actual deep threat that the Patriots are missing and, without the limitation of his quarterback this time, can have even more significant numbers than last year at Baylor. If his hands can be reliable, he can help make the passing game much more vertical. This is all after he returns from his collarbone injury.

Add Agholor to that mix, and it’s even more fearsome, as he’s also a speedy guy with the potential to be much better than last year. Free agent acquisition Lil’Jordan Humphrey, 2021 draft pick Tre Nixon, hybrid WR/RB Ty Montgomery, and Kristian Wilkerson add depth, and their skill sets to the core.

The Patriots’ pass protection should slowly but surely pick up the new offense, and question marks like Isaiah Wynn and Cole Strange have been slowly but surely adjusting to their roles. Furthermore, even in the case of breakdown, Mac’s quick release and adaptability should mitigate the damage from a blown coverage.

Overall, suppose everything clicks, and the group’s potential is maximized. In that case, the passing game is a complete unit that can execute any play from a deep go route to Mac’s ever-so-accurate check-down throws to screens and RB catches. The defense cannot focus on one singular aspect, then, with many options and weapons.

Prediction?

After two weeks of preseason action, the ceiling doesn’t feel all that far-fetched. Of course, not every weapon will pan out perfectly, but even if one or two (my predictions are Parker and Thornton, based on their camp form) make leaps in the Patriots’ offense, the receiver core moves from “solid” to “scary.” From there, it will be a question whether Mac’s improved arm can bring the most out of them. Of course, the most significant question mark in all this is whether the pass protection and play calling can adequately adjust to the new offensive scheme the Patriots are trying to implement.

Can The Mac Attack Turn From “Really Good For A Rookie” To Just “Really Really Good”?

What’s His Floor?

It’s hard to see Mac’s floor dipping below last season, given his work ethic and offseason exploits. However, we have witnessed sophomore slumps in the NFL before. If he continues to struggle with the deep ball, and his wide receiver core is inconsistent like last season, he may have trouble getting going. And for a QB so early in his career, shaken confidence can destroy the form.

The lack of harmony among the coordinators is likely the biggest worry for Mac. He seems to have great leadership qualities but can’t lead the offense alone. Replacing a singular OC, and that too, an accomplished one like Josh McDaniels, is a difficult task. Matt Patricia and Joe Judge are uncertain about who’s leading the reins. This could hinder his production quite a bit.

What’s His Ceiling?

Mac will be coming off an entire offseason and a full preseason, plus a full year of Patriots football, including a playoff run. And this time, he’s the firm quarterback of this team rather than competing for the job. So being able to take a leadership role in practice could translate well to the field.

He’s also coming to the season fitter and more athletic than last season. While we’re not going to start suddenly seeing zone reads from him, his leaner figure could lead to more athleticism and scrambling abiliity that expands the scope of his plays. In addition, his work with Tom House has the potential to make his arm more accurate and faster.

His wide receiver core is improved from last year and should expand his playbook, making it harder for opposing defenses to game plan against him.

Prediction

The floor seems highly unrealistic. However, Jones has a rare mentality for someone so young, and even without harmonized coordination, he can take a leadership role in the offense. He has shown that ability in practice so far. It’s hard to tell how much his arm has improved in practice reps, but Tom House is an effective coach, and he should certainly have an improved arm next year.

I expect a much improved Mac Jones next year, and the ripples that will cause in the offense speak for themselves. However, developing a deep passing game won’t happen overnight, and Mac will need more work, repetition, bravery, and synergy with his receivers. This will likely build over time, and the playbook must be flexible and dynamic.

Patriots Running Backs: Not Too Flashy But Rock Solid – Medium-high Ceiling, Floor Not Far Behind

As far as the running game is concerned, because the Patriots are a team that tends to take the approach of “multiple solid players, no one ridiculously high-profile one,” the ceiling and floor for the core of backs are similar. Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson make for a good core one-two punch, with draft pick Pierre Strong Jr and Kevin Harris showing potential for meaningful impact given their camp performances (albeit a poor preseason game one).

JJ Taylor remains a relatively unsung hero but one that has the quickness and pass-catching ability. The biggest questions from there are: can Rhamondre cut down on the fumbles, and can Ty Montgomery help fill the void of James White’s retirement, stay healthy and become a critical pass-catching weapon for Jones?

The most significant potential for the group to falter would be if the offensive line, as mentioned above, picks up the new offense poorly and cannot improve from early training camp performance.


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