The Patriots made a big splash this past offseason when they addressed a variety of position groups via free agency and the draft.
After veterans report for training camp by Tuesday, July 27, and with the first practice scheduled for July 28, the Patriots’ coaching staff will begin to analyze all of their players.
As always, there will be roster battles, position battles, and rookies trying to make a name for themselves. There are also new veterans who signed here who will have to learn the playbook and adapt to how New England operates.
With that being said, let’s take a look at three units that should see the most improvement in comparison to last season.
Pro Football Focus ranked the Patriots defensive line at No. 25 heading into the 2020 season, but fast forward to July 2021, and PFF ranked the Patriots defensive line at No. 15.
The Patriots' defensive line and linebackers were problem areas last season. The team had few players who could create consistent true pressure while fielding one of the worst defenses in the league against the run.
New England invested heavily in improving that group this offseason, adding Matthew Judon, Kyle Van Noy, Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson, Montravius Adams, Christian Barmore and Ronnie Perkins across free agency and the 2021 NFL draft. It should be a much-improved unit heading into next season.
It first started with former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia returning to the Patriots coaching staff. Patricia joined the Patriots in 2004. He was named defensive coordinator in 2012 and would help lead the Patriots to two more Super Bowl titles before his departure in 2018. Although he is not expected to lead the defense in 2021, surely his presence and knowledge will be an asset for the organization.
In free agency, Judon was the biggest splash signing as he is one of the best pass rushers in the league. Defensive linemen Davon Godchaux and Henry Anderson proved themselves with their previous teams. Both of those players should improve the run defense.
In the draft, second-round pick Christian Barmore was one of the event’s biggest steals. NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah shared his thoughts on Barmore.
“He could sneak into the back end of one (the first round). I think more than likely he goes in Round 2," Jeremiah told reporters during a national conference call ahead of the NFL draft. "To me, he's a 3-technique who has got some real athleticism to jump in gaps, get upfield, and go. That puts him, for me, in the second-round mix. I think he's my 42nd player. So, that's kind of where I have him. Would I be shocked if he were to go [late in the first round]? I don't think that's a big reach.”
Third-round pick Ronnie Perkins, who recently took to social media to post himself signing his rookie contract, is an enticing depth piece who will likely start off his career contributing on special teams in order to earn playing time as a pass rusher.
The Patriots’ tight ends have high expectations entering the 2021 season. With essentially zero production from the tight ends for two straight years. Bill Belichick revamped his tight ends in the offseason by signing the top two free agents available.
Hunter Henry signed a three-year, $37.5 million contract, including $25 million in guarantees. Jonnu Smith signed a four-year, $50 million contract, including $39.25 million guaranteed.
Last season, the tight ends were more or less nonexistent. Rookies Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene both spent time on injured reserve. They only played a combined 353 offensive snaps. Dalton had a whopping three catches all season. Asiasi's numbers were not much better, although of his two catches, one happened to be a touchdown.
This season, however, should be completely different. Taking into account that Smith and Henry combined for 1,063 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in 2020, the tight ends should be the focal point of the Patriot's offense.
It should also be noted that Matt LaCosse and Troy Fumagalli are part of the tight end group.
On paper, the Patriots offensive line looks excellent.
As a matter of fact, Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus released a ranking of the Top 25 NFL players under the age of 25 entering the 2021 season and two Patriots offensive linemen made his list: Michael Onwenu and Isaiah Wynn.
Old friend Trent Brown re-signed with the Patriots after spending the past two seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders. The 27-year-old is back after signing a one-year, $9 million contract as a free agent.
As it stands today, the offensive line consists of:
LT: Isaiah Wynn
LG: Michael Onwenu
C: David Andrews
RG: Shaq Mason
RT: Trent Brown
That's not even including depth players like Ted Karras and Justin Herron. Karras is another guy the Patriots brought back this past offseason. Karras started all 16 games at center for the Miami Dolphins last season. As for Herron, he is a commodity as well. He stepped up and filled the void left by Wynn when he got hurt last season. Both of these players give the Patriots some injury insurance.
Sixth-round pick, William Sherman out of Colorado also will be given the chance to compete. It remains to be seen if Sherman makes the roster, but he'll likely be a depth and developmental guy. The Patriots already had a top offensive line last year. 2021 should be a similar story with the possibility of being an even better unit.