With their initial 53-man roster set, the New England Patriots are set to open the 2021 regular season. In one week, the Pats will host the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. As both teams prepare for their 4:25pm showdown on Sunday, September 12, the collective eyes of Patriots fans will be the team’s marquee names. Quarterback Mac Jones, tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry and linebacker Matt Judon are among the newcomers that should command much attention. Incumbents such as Damien Harris, Dont’a Hightower, James White and J.C. Jackson among others will also catch the eyes of the fanbase, as well.
Still, there have been a select few that have been standouts throughout the summer of 2021. While they might not have been household names prior to the start of training camp, these ‘standouts of summer’ could pay dividends for New England; assuming they continue their stellar performance, of course.
Here is a look at three potential game-changers for the Patriots in 2021.
Earlier this summer, Patriots rookie Quinn Nordin was polishing his LinkedIn profile, searching for potential career opportunities. An inquiry from the Patriots regarding Nordin’s kicking services changed all that. Since Nordin joined the team as an undrafted rookie out of Michigan, fans and media alike have heard the legend of his leg strength. Special teams captain, Matthew Slater, even recently compared Nordin’s leg to a “cannon” and expressed excitement on watching him develop in camp. The question marks surrounding him were accuracy and consistency; two things that his competitor Nick Folk more-than adequately exhibited in 2020.
During his four years with the Wolverines, Nordin made 42 out of 58 field goals. He also converted a 57-yard field goal at the end of the first half of the 2020 Citrus Bowl against Alabama, setting a record for the longest field goal in Citrus Bowl history. It was also the longest field goal made in Michigan's program history. As training camp progressed, the legend of Quinn Nordin continued to grow. His kicker routinely split the uprights from impressive distances, often with room to spare. At one point, Nordin had yet to miss a kick inside the confines of Gillette Stadium.
While the rookie was considered to have the upper hand over veteran Nick Folk for the kicking job in New England, Nordin may have returned to Earth’s atmosphere during the Pats second preseason contest with the Philadelphia Eagles. He missed a 36-yard field goal and two extra points, each pushing to the right of the goal post. He would, however, connect on a 24-yarder in the fourth quarter to give the Pats a 35-0 lead. It was this ability to bounce back from adversity that caught the eye of his Patriots teammates, as well as special teams coordinator Cam Achord and head coach Bill Belichick.
As a result, Nordin ended cutdown day as a member of the Patriots 53-man roster. By his own admission, the Pats undrafted rookie stated that no one from the team had notified him to say he made the team or got cut. Therefore, Nordin simply reported to Gillette Stadium for practice. As such, he will be the Patriots primary option at kicker to start the 2021 season. While Folk will still be available via a practice squad call-up, Nordin can quickly solidify his role by being consistent and reliable. Should he make these kicks in a game setting, Quinn Nordin’s exciting skill set could make things interesting in Foxboro this year.
Another prominent rookie looks to factor into the Patriots’ offensive game plan, as well. Listed at 6’0” 230-pounds, Stevenson has the potential to be a dual-threat rusher with the Pats. He is a physical, powerful runner, yet athletic enough to make tacklers miss in short yardage. As such, many have conjectured that the former Oklahoma Sooner, may be a factor in New England’s offense as early as this season.
Stevenson clearly has the potential to be a dual-threat rusher with the Pats. As he showed throughout the preseason, the former Oklahoma Sooner nicely blends power and athleticism into his running style. Whether it be power sidestepping his way into the end zone, or showcasing his speed by breaking for a 91-year touchdown, the former Oklahoma Sooner is clearly a big part of the Patriots future at the position.
However, it should be noted that the Patriots usually take a temporant and planned approach to developing young running backs. While he has performed well while running the ball in camp, his backfield-receiving skills are still developing. When recently asked about the areas in which the rookie needs to improve, New England’s running backs coach, Ivan Fears replied “Everything.” That being said, there is no better way to test Stevenson than to give him the time to compete with NFL first team defenses. Should he see significant snaps early on this season, it may indicate that New England plans on using him more often.
While he may be a rookie, Barmore has performed with the prowess of an Nfl veteran. At 6-foot-4, 310 pounds, he has the athletic profile to make an immediate impact on the Pats defensive line. A lifelong fan of the very team for which he will now play, Barmore was considered one of the best defensive linemen in the 2021 Draft class.
A stout defensive tackle, he blends his strength and power with great technique. During his time at Alabama, he shined in the Crimson Tide’s 3-4 setting, ranging from nose tackle to a 3-4 defensive end. Based on their offseason roster additions, New England appears poised to return to a 3-4 set, similar to that which gave them great success in 2019. Here is where Barmore can stand out for the Pats, sooner rather than later. 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 has the quick hands and flexibility to develop into a disruptive pass-rusher, with the potential to be an eventual three-down player.
Thus far, the Alabama product has looked formidable during one-on-one drills and has held up well in coverage assignments during the preseason. While his roster spot was certainly secure from the time he was drafted, Barmore could make a case for a prominent role in New England’s front seven in 2021.