Patriots Mailbag: Impact Players, Roster Surprises, Gunner, Nordin and More

Patriot Maven tackles various issues, such as New England’s surprise roster cuts, and the Patriots outside corner depth in this weekend’s question-and-answer session with fans.
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The New England Patriots continue to march closer to the start of the 2021 NFL Season. The Pats will open the regular season on Sunday, September 12 at 4:25pm against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

This weekend, Patriot Maven opened up our mailbag to answer your Patriots questions. Here are some of the week’s best questions for #MavenMike:

Q: Outside of QB, which player on offense will make the biggest impact against Miami?

From: Joel From Hull, @joelshapiro20

This is a great question, Joel. As much as we all are eager to watch Mac Jones take the reins of the Patriots passing game, this will be an offense predicated on running the football. As such, it would seem that Damien Harris would be the logical choice. While I do expect Harris to have a strong start against Miami, I am going to go with James White…and as the ‘great Don’ would say, “I will give you my reasons.” In 2020, Miami’s defense ranked sixth in the NFL in total defense and sixteenth against the run. White intrigues me against Miami because the Dolphins had the lowest third-down conversion against rate in the NFL at 31.2%. At his best, James White is one of the best third-down backs in the game. He can still run the ball effectively off the screen, and is a capable target out of the backfield. If he gets off to a hot start, it could mean a successful day for the Pats offense on Sunday.

Q: Other than possibly the release of Cam [Newton] what do you think was the biggest surprise during the roster 53 cut down?

From: Clare Cooper, @clazzyclare

Once again, excellent question Countess. Cam Newton’s release was surprising, as was cutting Nick Folk. However, I was surprised to see Myles Bryant miss the cut on Tuesday. Fortunately for the Pats, he would not be absent from New England for long. The hard-hitting defensive back has continuously played a versatile role with New England. He has taken snaps at free safety, strong safety, slot cornerback and perimeter cornerback. He has even taken eight snaps on the defensive line. Bryant could be a candidate for elevation to the 53-man roster if the Pats find themselves in need of help in the secondary. With the Pats lack of depth at corner, Bryant could see some notable time on the outside in situational downs.

Q: Based upon Bill Belichick’s (and most coaches) affinity for consistency, I was most surprised that Nordin made the roster over Folk. Were you?

From: Jason Sullivan, @Sully6827

Though I was tempted to include Folk’s release as my answer to Clare’s question, I will do so for you, Jason. It was definitely a surprise to see Nordin make the cut over Folk. As you stated in your question, Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ coaching staff place a premium on reliability and accuracy. While Nordin has remarkable leg strength, he is largely untested when it comes to consistency. Still, the move makes sense. Had the Pats released Quinn, the publicity he received during the preseason made it a near certainty that he would not have cleared waivers. As a vested veteran, Folk was not subject to waivers, meaning the risk of losing him to another team was much less than that of the rookie. As a result, the Pats retained Nordin’s services, and brought back Folk via the practice squad. While I have confidence in the rookie, Folk is still there to ensure continuity at the position.

Q: What is your long term prediction for the cornerback position? Think Bill [Belichick] will let [Stephon] Gilmore and [J.C.] Jackson walk? Despite his man coverage stats, I’m no sure I trust Jackson with a top 5 or top 10 contract

From: Storrs Light @aryasports

With the quarterback conundrum having been solved, this is probably the most important question facing the Patriots, Storrs. While I have been (and still remain) optimistic that the Pats will work out a contract solution with Stephon Gilmore, my confidence has waned a bit. With Gilmore out for the foreseeable future, Jackson will get the chance to prove that he can handle the top spot on the depth chart. Though he is clearly at his best on the perimeter, he can be effective when the team employs either man or zone coverage. Last season, Jackson earned his playing time with strong one-on-one coverage, and making big plays consistently. Some will point to Jackson’s struggles against Bills’ wideout Stefon Diggs as a reason why he should not be considered a number one corner. However, it is smart to take under account that Diggs is a hard man to cover. In my humble opinion, Jackson would be a solid, long-term retention for the Pats secondary. Still, the Pats will wisely evaluate the entirety of his performance this season before determining the worth of a potential contract offer.

Q: How do you think [Gunner] Olszewski is developing as a receiver, and do the Patriots have enough at outside corner until Gilly [Stephon Gilmore] returns?

From: Vicariously Patriots, @VicariouslyP

I always appreciate a good Gunner question, so thank you, Vicariously Patriots. Gunner is clearly most-valuable to the Patriots as a punt returner. His All Pro selection in 2020 was well-earned. However, his receiving skills have been fairly criticized. In the preseason, Olszewski had some issues with drops. However, I have noticed continued growth in his speed and his ability to run routes. His greatest asset remains his versatility, as he can align on the perimeter and in the slot. It's a stretch to say that Gunner might be the successor to Julian Edelman. Still, he can be an effective receiving option for the Pats in 2021.

As for the depth at outside corner, the Pats still remain thin at the position…at least in my opinion. J.C. Jackson may be ready to assume the primary role, but who will emerge as his counterpart? Jalen Mills might be the logical choice. However, he may see as much time at safety, as at corner. Joejuan Williams should see increased snaps, though he has yet to emerge as a match with the Patriots press coverage schemes. Despite Williams’ size and length, newly acquired Shaun Wade may end up being a better fit there. In short, they have some solid options, but would benefit from additional depth, especially early in the season.