The New England Patriots missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008; to make matters worse, they had to watch former quarterback Tom Brady lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title. The Pats did not stand pat this off-season and the 2021 New England Patriots roster will have a much different look than the 2020 squad.
They made a splash in free agency and had a pretty good draft. Bill Belichick has brought in many new free agents and welcomes back some familiar faces who opted out of the 2020 season because of the Covid-19 pandemic. So with that in mind, let’s take a look and project who we think might be on the roster when week one of the 2021 NFL Season kicks off.
New England Patriots Roster Projections: Offense
Cam Newton struggled in his first season with the Pats, which can be attributed to a lack of off-season workouts, training camp, and pre-season games. Newton also battled Covid-19 during the 2020 season. However, Belichick stayed with him because Jarret Stidham struggled as well. With that, the Pats made Mac Jones the first quarterback they have taken in the first round since Drew Bledsoe in 1993. Newton will be the starter but if he struggles, Jones could start sooner rather than later.
The backfield will be a strong unit for the Pats and they could rely more on it if Jones becomes the starting quarterback. Harris led the Pats in rushing with 691 yards last season, and White is a great option as a third-down back. Stevenson projects as their power back and to get the goal line touches. Michel had his fifth-year option declined, which could mean more carries for Taylor, who can also contribute on special teams.
This unit was upgraded in free agency with the additions of Agholor and Bourne. Meyers was probably the most consistent wideout in 2020 and Harry is a former first-round pick that could still develop into a quality receiver. Despite these upgrades, the Pats still lack a true number one receiver and could still add a free agent or two.
This was another unit that was upgraded in free agency. The Pats will run more double tight end sets with the addition of two big-money additions in Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will hope Smith and Henry can be productive and give them a one-two punch like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in years past.
The Pats offensive line has been pretty good the past few years and will be strong again this season as well. The Pats love offensive lineman who can play multiple positions anywhere on the line. Most of the players in this group can do just that. Brown is back in New England and will take over at right tackle. Karras is also returning from a stint away from New England.
New England Patriots Roster Projections: Defense
The Pats added Anderson and Godchaux in free agency and drafted Barmore in the second round. This unit needed an upgrade and got it. The additions to the group will not only help the raw talent of the group but also the depth, an important factor in a new, longer NFL season.
Yet another unit that added more parts in free agency. Van Noy is back with the Pats after playing with the Miami Dolphins in 2020. Judon was one of the big free-agent signings (4 years, $56 million) and he comes over from the Baltimore Ravens where he was a two-time Pro Bowler.
The Pats will welcome back one of their defensive leaders as Hightower is back after opting out of the 2020 season due to Covid-19. Bentley filled in for Hightower and played well at times but needs to improve. Uche, a 2nd round pick in 2020, was hampered by injuries but could be a force if he is healthy in 2021.
Corner is one of the strongest units for the Pats as they still have Gilmore, a former defensive player of the year. J.C. Jackson set a career-high with 9 interceptions in 2020 and should have made the Pro Bowl. Mills, who signed as a free agent (4 years $24 million), can play at corner or safety. If he plays safety, he could help fill the void left by the retirement of Patrick Chung. Williams is a former 2nd round pick who still has time to establish himself in the defensive backfield.
The safety position may not be as strong as it once was but it is not bad. Patrick Chung opted out of the 2020 season because of the pandemic and then retired. Devin McCourty is 33 years old and will be a free agent after the season. Kyle Dugger, a 2nd round pick in 2020, had a solid rookie season, and with Chung retiring he could be in line to replace him.
New England Patriots Roster Projections: Special Teams
Kicker: Nick Folk
Punter: Jake Bailey
Long Snapper: Joe Cardona
Bailey and Cardona will be the punter and long snapper for the Pats respectively. Both are key players on the special teams unit. Bailey was a first-team all-pro in 2020 and one of the best punters in the NFL. Folk will look to keep the kicking job, but he will face competition in training camp.