Christian Barmore and Rhamondre Stevenson helped carry the New England Patriots' 2021 draft class last season, but it was Mac Jones stealing all of the headlines.
Stevenson, the last player selected out of those three, is proving to be a gem. As a fourth-round draft choice out of Oklahoma, Stevenson racked up 606 yards on the ground with five rushing touchdowns. His ability to change pace with primary ball carrier Damien Harris created a bruising 1-2 combination, taking pressure off Jones and the passing game. When his name was called upon after Harris suffered an injury, he took well advantage of his opportunities.
The Alabama product was the steal of the draft after somehow falling out of the first round. The Patriots moved up to pick No. 38, trading pick No. 46 plus two fourth-round picks to the Bengals in order to nab him.
Barmore was the Patriots’ top interior pass rusher in his first pro season. The only thing missing from his stellar rookie season was compiling a high sack total, something he is focusing on in his second season in New England.
“Finish the quarterback. That’s really my thing right there,” the 2021 second-round draft pick said when asked what he hopes to improve this season. “Finish the quarterback more. And better footwork.”
As for Jones, even though he was drafted after Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, and Justin Fields, he outplayed all of those rookies, providing us with one of the best rookie quarterback grades in recent memory. He also cemented himself as the face of the Patriots for years to come.
Most of the remaining 2021 class spent the season either on injured reserve (Ronnie Perkins, Cameron McGrone, Joshuah Bledsoe, Will Sherman, and Tre Nixon). But heading into the 2022 season, several members of last year’s cast have a chance to really put the 2021 class on the map.
McGrone, for starters, has received high praise from inside the organization. After suffering a torn ACL as a junior at Michigan, the projected third-round pick fell in the draft and spent most of last season on injured reserve.
“I’m very excited,” McGrone said during OTAs. “There’s no nervous bone in my body. I know what I have to do. I know the time’s coming. I just have to wait for that time. Every day, I’m just going to keep working until that point.”
McGrone joins returning starter Ja’Whaun Bentley, who signed a two-year deal worth up to $6 million, trade acquisition Mack Wilson, 2021 returnees Raekwon McMillan, who is coming back from a torn left ACL, and Jahlani Tavai and Harvey Langi at a revamped inside linebacker position.
When Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh was asked about the teams' linebackers, he spoke with optimism in regard to McGrone.
“Really excited about that group," Groh said. "Excited to see Cam McGrone. [He] was able to get on the field a little bit last year. Excited to see him be in an expanded role. He's kind of an additional draft pick. You can kind of put him along there with the three guys that we've been able to add here today along with some of the other guys from last year. That all kind of counts to getting younger, getting faster, being a tough team.”
In the meantime, there is a second linebacker trying to burst onto the scene. Perkins was a healthy scratch throughout his rookie season but is a candidate to be the team’s breakout player in 2022. He was essentially ‘red-shirted’ last season, but at 6-3, 253, he may be the Patriots’ top option to stop the run-on early downs.
Sherman, meanwhile, is in competition for reps with James Ferentz, and rookie Chasen Hines. The Patriots' sixth-round pick in 2021, he started at left tackle in 2018 and 2020 and right tackle in 2019 during his time in Colorado. Where Sherman fits on the depth chart remains to be seen, but the youngster is looking to make an impact in 2022.
As for Bledsoe and Nixon, Bledsoe was a sixth-round pick out of Missouri, and Nixon was a seventh-round pick out of Central Florida. Bledsoe spent last year on the non-football injury list and ultimately ended up on IR at the end of the season. Nixon spent the year on the practice squad. He’s currently on the bottom of the depth chart, but with some continued hard work throughout the offseason, training camp, and regular season, there’s reason to believe Nixon could get a chance.