2021 New England Patriots Preview

Patriots reveal new numbers for veteran players as OTAs start

The 2021 NFL Season is upon us and the Music City Drive In has you covered. We’ll be previewing all 32 teams, as well as our picks for award winners and playoff participants each day through Monday, September 6. Check back daily at 4 p.m. EST for each new piece in our preview series.

The 2020 Patriots looked different. After 20 years together, Tom Brady departed for Tampa Bay. While he ended the season in familiar fashion, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy with his new team, his old coach Bill Belichick struggled. The team added veteran Cam Newton but never found their footing. After a record number of opt outs, the Patriots struggled to find continuity on offense and defense, finishing a slugging 7-9 to drop to third place in the AFC East. It wasn’t what Belichick or the fans were used to seeing, and this off-season has been spent trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Off-Season Changes

The Patriots saw a few familiar faces depart, as Jason McCourty signed with the Dolphins and Joe Thuney signed with the Chiefs. But most of the off-season was about a spending spree to fix the Patriots’ issues. Defensively, the team brought back Kyle Van Noy from the Dolphins and added his teammate Davon Godchaux, signing Eagles’ safety Jalen Mills and Ravens’ linebacker Matthew Judon as well.

The team was equally as aggressive on offense. The Patriots re-signed Newton and added some weapons for him, snagging free agent receivers Kendrick Bourne from the 49ers and Nelson Agholor from the Raiders. The Patriots also grabbed the top two free agent tight ends—former Titan Jonnu Smith and former Charger Hunter Henry. Henry finished as TE12 in 2020 with the Chargers, while Smith caught eight touchdown passes for the Titans. The pair figure to form an imposing TE duo for the Patriots.

Mac Jones compares his body to former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady

The team also looked to the future in the draft, snagging Alabama quarterback Mac Jones with its First-Round pick. Jones guided the Crimson Tide to the National Championship in 2020, throwing for 4,500 yards and 41 TDs. He figures to be the eventual franchise option for the Patriots, whether that comes in 2021 is another question. The Patriots also added defensive lineman Christian Barmore and Ronnie Perkins and interesting running back Rhamondre Stevenson in the draft.

Fantasy Projections

Will it be Newton or Jones at quarterback? Newton, despite his struggles as a passer in 2020 added plenty of rushing numbers, finishing as QB16. Newton had no real off-season work with his new team and struggled after getting COVID early in the season. The Patriots brought him back and seem to have indicated he’ll be the starter—at least to start the season. I suspect Jones plays at some point, possibly taking over by mid-season. Newton could post QB2 numbers while he’s in, but I think he ultimately finishes in QB3 range for the season, with Jones in QB3/4 range depending on playing time. Jones is definitely the play in dynasty.

In the backfield, Stevenson joins a group that includes pass-catcher James White and rusher Damien Harris. The Patriots added a little clarity to the mix Tuesday trading Sony Michel to the Rams. In 10 games, Harris rushed for 691 yards on 137 carries. He figures to carry the primary rushing load, while White will likely be the pass-catching weapon. But I suspect Stevenson and backs like J.J. Taylor and Brandon Bolden, if they make the final roster, will all be involved. It’s the Patriots’ way. I have Harris as an RB3 and White as an RB4.

TE Jonnu Smith continuing to impress Bill Belichick
Courtesy of USA Today.

Among receivers, I am most bullish on the tight ends. I think they’ll both play a role and both end up around TE12. I have Smith finishing with the most touchdowns and Henry having more receptions and yardage. Smith would be my pick if trying to guess who finishes higher. Among receivers, Agholor, Bourne, Jakobi Myers and even N’Keal Harry could all play a role. I think Agholor finishes the highest but none are great weekly options for your starting lineup.

Prediction

The Patriots weren’t much fun to watch in 2020 but the off-season spending spree should create a better product on the field. Still, this feels like a transition year. I think the Patriots will be around .500 again, albeit with a better defense, and will be in the mix for the Wild Card. Ultimately, the team probably just misses the playoffs again.

Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.

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