Season is over, Rams won the Super Bowl (congrats), we saw several prospects during the East-West Shrine and Senior Bowl Week, so it is time to move on the „make the Pats great again“ path.
One thing what made me think, why most of the people see the WR position as the nr.1 offseason need for our team? I know, there were „proofs“ that you need 1-2 very good receivers or you won’t make it to the Super Bowl. Burrow had Chase-Higgins and the others, Stafford had Kupp-OBJ-(will have) Woods, Mahomes has his targets and Josh Allen has several options too. BUT. For me the biggest argument against those words was the Super Bowl. We had two teams with lot of firepower, two good QB with several very good receiving options and still what we saw is, that OLine matters. Yes, The Rams has Donald, but please don’t forget the fact, that Joe Thuney made Donald unseeable 3 years ago. So it is not impossible to handle that man. Burrow was sacked 70 times during the 2021 season and 7 times alone in the Super Bowl. Sack doesn’t depend only on the OLine, we could read several articles about analyses, which say the number of sacks depends on the QB as well. Still I think, the Super Bowl showed us the importance of a great OLine.
Those unsung heroes could make a middle tier QB looks better or a top tier QB looks bad. I think we, the Patriots, have a good OLine, with some big questionmarks, so if we are talking about making the offense better, we should start to solidify the OLine for the next few years. But I will talk about this topic soon a bit more.
Another area (part of the team) to bring in a better shape is the defense. A week ago or so I read an article from Evan Lazar about the philosophy of defenses and what those differences would mean for our defense. As he pointed out, Pats defense now works with mostly man coverage on the back side and more agressive front, with blitzes and stronger run defense. LBs move more forward than dropping into coverage, DLine plays two-gap usually, eating up space and opens gaps for the LBs.
Evan is right, we see how BB builds his defense. But we have to see, how offenses evolve with younger coaches get HC opportunities or older coaches implement some college elements. We know that BB likes to zig when the rest of the NFL zags, but defense is the reactive side of the football. In the offense you can implement new schemes easier than in defense. You can have a run first offense in a world, where defense players will be lighter, so you can run through them. But you can’t stick to your run first defense when the opponent offenses are much faster and/or pass happy. Of course there is always a solution. This was the Pats defense, with strong man-to-man coverages, which allow the front7 to be more agressive. Unfortunately in the last season there were too many examples when not everything went fine and we saw the flaws of the defense.
So – as Evan asked it as well – the question is, in which direction BB wants to move on with his defense? If he wants to go on with his recent system, he needs corners who can play man really good, he can have bigger LBs who plays mostly forward and he needs a Dline which hold the OLine and have some pass-rush potential as well. If he wants to move on into a modern direction, where DLine plays more one-gap rush, instead if two-gap controll and he can let the LBs drop more in coverage, well, he needs to adjust the roster. Any way, the roster needs some new faces or younger players need to step up.
On the other side of the ball – as I mentioned earlier – I don’t think WR should be our nr.1 target. Yes, we could use a clear cut #1 WR, but when exactly did we have one? During the last 15 years one name comes in my mind, Randy Moss‘. That’s all. I hear you, we had Gronk and Edelman too. You are absolutely right, but Edelman is not your typical #1 WR and Gronk is a TE (although he is one of the best ever). What I mean, that we didn’t have a Chase, Metcalf, Jefferson, Brown type receiver, still the team managed several Super Bowl runs. You are right again, if you say we had Tom Brady and as we could see in Tampa, what he means for a team, he made every team member better. Still, the offense system is the same (or quite the same), so you don’t need big changes. From my perspective, the team has lot of potential in the receiving end. Just think about the TE room. Henry was a red zone beast whit his 9 TDs. Unfortunately Smith wasn’t used well enough and I missed the 2-TE plays. There is room to grow and if the offense could find the way to put those two guys on the field in the same time, I am sure the productivity of the offense will be way better. We have a WR room which is like the puzzle, no clear cut superstar, but everyone has his job. Not everyone lived up to the expectations, but everyone found his place or with a little adjustment everyone will find his place. Do you need a speedy depth treath? What for? Lot of people say, Jones doesn’t have the arm talent to throw deep balls. I think he has it, not as much as Mahomes or Josh Allen, so he won’t throw 30-40 yards darts, but he can deliver long balls. But again, this is not our system. KB was great in his first year, Meyers is unbelievable. Not a top tier WR, but very underrated. If, and again, if Agholor could make a jump in his second year, then we would have our deep threat WR. Put the two TEs there and you have 5 receivers who can execute what your system needs. Still, there are the runningbacks as well. They can catch some balls as well. So for me, WR is not a priority, don’t waist a 1st rounder on that position, even if Olave would be available. I really like him, but he is not that big need.
So, what is my actual positional need ranking at the moment? Let’s check it. (Some information I used here comes from one of my top3 man around the Pats, @patscap)
1. Cornerback: This is a must for me. Period. If BB wants to stay with his system in the defense he needs corners who can play man coverage. JC Jackson is one the best in the league and I would love to see him staying in Foxborough for long time, but he might follows the money and will sign elsewhere. Even if he stays, the team needs at least one CB. Jon Jones is a top slot corner option, he will be back next year, but I don’t see another really reliable option on the outside. Mills showed flashes and he could eventually handle the situation, but from quantity direction this is not enough. Especially if Jackson leaves via FA. I wouldn‘t mind if the first pick would be a corner (just please not is the second round). On the other side, if BB wants to change and wants to go in a different direction, the team will need some zone corner, so again you will need an upgrade. Mills has the potential, maybe Shaun Wade as well, but Williams is another player who doesn’t seem to be a fit and Bryant needs to show some development. I must confess I really like Bryant and I cross my fingers for him.
Bringing someone from free agency? We would need a top tier or a near top tier player, especially if Jackson leaves, which won’t be cheap. Rather make an early pick or even double down on this position.
2. Offensive tackle: As I wrote in the beginning, OLine is a pivotal point of your offense. The Patriots was always strong in that area and this must stay so. I don’t have too much concern with the middle 3, Karras would be great for some more years as the new LG. A Karras-Andrews-Mason trio in the middle sounds quite elite for me. My concerns are with the two OT positions. Wynn is ok, but not really good, he will play under his 5th year option, but what comes the year after? At the moment I don’t think he is the long term answer at LT. If Brown would stay (depends on the financial side I guess) he could overtake that LT position (he played it for us in the past and was good) and Onwenu could be the RT. I liked Onwenu as RT, maybe the stats show others, but from my point of view he played better as RT than LG. Still you would need an early OT in case Brown will get another injury or if he won’t stay with the team. The best way to support Mac Jones is to keep him safe. An elite OLine will make your run game better as well, so this unit is a joker unit, which needs to be in shape.
3. Defense line: Either way (system change or not) this unit needs some new blood. Barmore is the future, he played brilliant in his first year and I don’t see the reason why he can’t be the starting point in the front. Put people around him and let them play. This years draft provides some interesting NT prospects (if BB wants to keep this two-gap controll scheme) or some lighter DT prospects (if BB would move in a one-gap rush direction). Henry Anderson didn’t show much because of injuries, Godchaux was good, but is he worth the $10M+ for 2022? I doubt it. Finding a servicable veteran is cheaper than finding someone a DB, so this could be a direction during the free agency. Still I expect one or two picks here during the draft.
4. Wide receiver: This spot was not a slam dunk, because of the Linebacker position, but I see potential in the LB room, so I go here with the receivers. As I wrote earlier this position (with the TEs together) is good, but in second or third round the team could add a new face. John Metchie III, Skyy Moore or Christian Watson are the early names to watch for me. Don’t think an immediate starter is necessary here, but looking for talent never a bad thing. Especially in case, the team wants to trade away Agholor.
5. Linebacker: If the team wants to go into a more speedy way, I think the material is there. McGrone, McMillan are those faster-type of players and the Jennings-Perkins-Uche trio is quicker as well. Not to mention Winovich, who is another edge/OLB player with little lighter body. If only 2 or 3 from those 6 players could step up, the team would be in a very good position. And let’s be honest, if you can’t develop 2-3 of those guys to a starting level, then you didn’t draft well enough. You can draft LBs in the second or third day and can still find good quality. A later pick who I really like is Micah McFadden from Indiana or a small school kid from South Dakota, Jack Cochrane.
We have our QB, our RB room is basically good, but yes, you can add some body there and maybe you will find an unexpected gem, but as you can see, I would restock the defense and the OLine. Let’s see how the FA pans out, who will stay, who will come. After all, I still don’t understand why many people see WR as nr.1 need.