FOXBORO — The New England Patriots overcame a 2-4 start to the 2021 NFL season, finishing with a 10-7 record and earning a playoff berth after a one-year absence.
Though a 47-17 playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills provided a disappointing end to the season, some standout individual performances by their instill hope for greater success for New England in the upcoming season.
With a re-imagined offensive coaching staff, some key veteran additions via free agency, and a rookie class which features a controversial first round draft choice, the Pats will have served their share of storylines heading into 2022. Evaluations will be made, predictions will be offered and the occasional ‘take’ will provide ample fodder for the sports debate fire that will rage throughout the region until the start of training camp in late July.
As rumors and armchair opinions continue to swirl, here is a look at three under-the-radar storylines to watch during the next three days of mandatory minicamp.
3. Christian Barmore
Arriving in New England via the 38th overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, the second-rounder logged 46 tackles, two passes-defensed and 1.5 sacks during his rookie campaign in 2021. Barmore finished the regular season ranked first among rookie interior defensive linemen with 48 quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. He made two starts on the Pats defensive line, while playing 55 percent of New England’s defensive snaps.
Barmore’s ability to push the pocket and take a stand against the run earned him many well-deserved accolades in his rookie season. Despite dealing with some knee problems for much of the second half of the season, the Pats’ rookie became one of the team’s premier defenders. He plays with good leverage, and is strong enough to take on double-teams. He locates the ball quickly, chases with good effort and has excellent range for his size. Barmore, also had demonstrated quick hands, which has made him effective in both stuffing the run, and challenging the passer. As a result, he is expected to remain one of the cornerstones of the Patriots front seven for the duration of his stay in Foxboro.
2. Matthew Judon
The 29-year-old linebacker was one of New England’s most prolific signings in the 2021 offseason. Since his arrival in Foxboro, he has routinely proven that he possesses the versatility and adaptability to have earned the spot as the team’s number one player on the edge. In his first year with the Pats, Judon amassed 60 tackles, one fumble recovery and a career-high 12.5 sacks.
At his best, Judon’s presence allows the Pats front seven to play in position, facilitating their ability to set the edge, and stop the run. His on-field awareness puts him in position to keep runs from reaching the corner on early downs, as well as providing speed and strength when rushing the quarterback. In 2021, Judon was also quite effective when reading the opponent’s coverage of the Pats’ defensive linemen, particularly rookie Christian Barmore. With Barmore drawing the attention of opposing blockers along the offensive line, Judon was often left one-on-one on the edge.
With 2022 fast approaching, Judon will once again be called upon to play a crucial role on New England’s defense. Should he continue to build upon a promising performance in 2021, he may be able to resurrect a once fearsome Patriots' defensive front.
1. Mac Jones
Though many are eager to predict a breakout season for the Pats young quarterback, it is important to remember that Jones performed well at the team’s helm in his rookie season. He led all rookies with a 67.6 completion percentage and a 92.5 passer rating, while compiling 3,801 yards and 22 touchdowns. He completed at least 70 percent of his attempts in nine of New England’s games and twice threw for 300-plus yards through the air.
Of course, Jones had his struggles down the stretch. He was less accurate, made more rookie mistakes and had difficulty when defenses were able to adjust to take away his preferred routes and targets. Yet, New England’s second year signal caller has taken the proper steps to improve both physically and mentally. He not only sought out measures to increase his velocity, but also methods to build upon his accuracy in various spots on the field. Those preparations involved his confirmation of working with noted quarterback optimization expert Tom House, with whom Jones had been rumored to have collaborated this offseason.
Throughout New England’s offseason workout program, Jones wasted little time in demonstrating his progress. During mandatory minicamp practice sessions, he demonstrated accuracy, command and added strength on nearly all of his throws. Through it all, Jones is beginning to develop a solid working relationship with new offensive assistant Joe Judge, who is taking on the primary coaching duties at the quarterback position.
Jones’ desire to maintain his poise and his drive to constantly improve continue to make him the ideal steward of New England’s timing-based passing game, predicated on vertical routes and completions from quick, accurate throws. His performance in 2021 provided palpable hope of a bright future for New England at the quarterback position.