How Bill Belichick rebuilt the Patriots: Mac Jones, Matt Judon, Hunter Henry complete rapid roster overhaul

When the Patriots final took the area towards the Bills in Week 16 of the 2020 NFL season, they marched Cam Newton onto the area as their beginning quarterback. Sony Michel served as his prime working again whereas Damiere Byrd and Devin Asiasi have been starters at receiver and tight finish respectively.

Safe to say that quite a bit has modified since then.

In truth, when the beginning roster that the Patriots fielded towards the Bills final season, it’s virtually fully totally different. Only six of the 22 mixed starters on offense and protection are projected to start out for the Patriots in Week 13 towards the Bills.

Granted, a few of these adjustments are attributable to harm. That mentioned, it nonetheless speaks to the incontrovertible fact that Bill Belichick and the Patriots took their rebuild to coronary heart throughout the 2021 offseason.

The Patriots expended extra assets than some other group in 2021 in an effort to enhance their group. They spent $163 million in assured cash final offseason, breaking the all-time NFL document that had beforehand been held by the Dolphins, who spent $147.2 million a 12 months earlier.

After that, the Patriots spent a first-round decide on a quarterback and landed a number of different robust prospects to present them present starters, depth and future upside.

The finish consequence? The Patriots have a new-look group and seem able to be a playoff contender quickly. How did they do it? Here’s a have a look at how the Patriots sparked such a fast turnaround after Tom Brady’s departure.

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Patriots free agent signings: The weapons

  • WR Nelson Agholor
  • WR Kendrick Bourne
  • TE Hunter Henry
  • TE Jonnu Smith

The Patriots spent most of their cash on upgrading their receiving corps which was, frankly, terrible throughout the 2020 NFL season. Jakobi Meyers proved to be a stable goal, however the remainder of the group’s pass-catchers have been lackluster at greatest.

As such, Belichick made positive that they went after expertise at receiver and tight finish early and sometimes. He put a specific emphasis on tight finish after the group’s tight ends caught simply 18 complete passes in 2020. The Patriots signed each Henry and Smith, who have been arguably the two greatest tight ends in the free-agent class. They are every making $12.5 million yearly which makes ties them as the fifth-highest-paid tight finish in the league.

The additions of Henry and Smith replenished the Patriots’ depth at the place and moved Devin Asiasi from the prime of the depth chart to the far more comfy No. 3 spot. The presence of each Henry and Smith has allowed the Patriots to run extra two tight finish units, out of which Josh McDaniels has traditionally been good calling performs. That’s one thing that they could not do final 12 months due to their dearth of expertise at the place.

To tackle the receiver issues, the Patriots added some pace in Agholor and a stable, all-around receiver in Bourne. They have emerged as starters for the Patriots and whereas the group would not have a real No. 1 receiver, they make the committee method work.

Agholor and Bourne have helped to open up extra alternatives for Meyers and have pushed N’Keal Harry right into a backup job. That works properly for the former first-round decide, as he hasn’t confirmed he can separate at the subsequent degree. Both Agholor and Bourne have confirmed that they will.

These 4 signings added depth and have given the Patriots all kinds of weapons to focus on. As a consequence, their offense has operated much more effectively than it did final season.

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Patriots free agent signings: The protection

  • EDGE Matthew Judon
  • DT Davon Godchaux
  • DB Jalen Mills

The Patriots have been in a position to decide up a couple of defensive gamers in free company which have emerged as key starters for the membership. None has made a much bigger influence than Matthew Judon.

Judon has been one in every of the most impactful gamers in the NFL this season. He logged 11.5 sacks in his first 12 video games with the Patriots and was tied for second in the NFL with 38 complete pressures coming into Week 13. He has reworked the Patriots’ cross rush, which had lacked a high-end cross rusher since the group traded Chandler Jones to the Cardinals in 2016.

Judon’s presence has taken stress off the group’s secondary. Opposing quarterbacks have had much less time to throw the ball whereas offensive traces have needed to give attention to accounting for Judon. He has additionally been a key chief for the Patriots, so he has been properly value the four-year, $54.5 million contract he signed throughout the offseason.

The impacts of Godchaux and Mills are a bit extra delicate, however they’ve been necessary. Godchaux has served as the Patriots’ prime nostril sort out this season. Their run protection has improved from Twenty sixth-ranked in 2020 to Twentieth-ranked in 2021, and Godchaux has helped the group to enhance in that space.

Meanwhile, Mills has performed the sixth-most defensive snaps by any Patriot this 12 months. He has used his versatility as a weapon, as he has logged snaps on the outdoors, in the slot, in the field and on the line of defense this 12 months. That mentioned, his presence as an out of doors nook has been notably necessary, as he made the departure of 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore simpler to abdomen.

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Patriots offseason strikes: The returns

  • LB Kyle Van Noy
  • OT Trent Brown
  • C Ted Karras
  • QB Brian Hoyer

The Patriots are, maybe, higher than any NFL group at bringing gamers again into the fold after time away and making them high quality contributors once more. The 2021 season has been no exception.

New England’s greatest reacquisition was Kyle Van Noy. After three and a half years with the Patriots, Van Noy signed a four-year contract with the Dolphins in 2020 solely to be launched a 12 months into the pact. The Patriots struggled to exchange Van Noy’s manufacturing at linebacker throughout the season and since his return, their place group has fared significantly better.

So far, Van Noy has recorded 41 tackles, 4 sacks and an interception as a do-it-all playmaker for the Patriots. New England’s linebackers had main points in protection final season, so Van Noy’s return was welcomed. He has graded out as one in every of the greatest protection linebackers in the NFL, per PFF, and has allowed a passer score of simply 68.8 this season. 

Bringing again Brown and Karras has confirmed necessary as properly. Karras emerged as a key starter at left guard when Brown missed time early in the season. That allowed Michael Onwenu to play sort out and stored the Patriots’ robust offensive line intact.

Meanwhile, Brown has performed very properly when wholesome. He has had some hassle with a balky calf, however when on the area, the Patriots — and notably, Mac Jones — have carried out properly.

Mac Jones Completion % Passing yards TDs INTs
With Trent Brown 82.3 249 1.8 0.3
Without Trent Brown 67.1 231.8 1.1 0.9

Bringing again these 4 gamers was, clearly, the proper transfer for the Patriots. Even re-signing veteran Brian Hoyer for his fourth stint with the group proved sensible, as he turned the group’s prime backup as soon as Cam Newton was launched.

Also, it is value noting that the Patriots received Dont’a Hightower again after he opted out of the 2020 NFL season attributable to COVID issues. Pairing him with Van Noy and midseason acquisition Jamie Collins has fully reinvigorated the Patriots’ linebacker room after a down 12 months in 2020.

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Patriots 2021 NFL Draft picks: Three influence gamers

  • QB Mac Jones
  • DT Christian Barmore
  • RB Rhamondre Stevenson

The Patriots spent some huge cash in free company to assist their group, however you may argue that the 2021 NFL Draft proved much more necessary for New England. Why? Because they might have landed a franchise quarterback in Mac Jones. 

Jones has been the better of the NFL’s rookie quarterbacks to date in 2021. He beat Newton to win the beginning job and led the Patriots to an 8-4 document in the first three quarters of the 2021 season.

So far, Jones has posted good numbers, together with a 70.3 % completion charge that ranks third-best in the NFL. He may nonetheless stand to take some extra photographs downfield — he averages a barely below-average 7.5 air yards per try — however he has stored the Patriots on schedule and has demonstrated nice decision-making expertise. Basically, he’s doing what Tom Brady was requested to do in his first season as a starter.

Jones wasn’t the solely high quality draft decide that the Patriots landed. Second-round decide Christian Barmore has emerged as a top quality defensive sort out. PFF has him graded as the Thirty fifth-best inside cross rusher in the league amongst 124 certified gamers. He additionally has two cross defenses whereas taking part in in a rotational function.

Fourth-round decide Rhamondre Stevenson is the different rookie that has carved out a notable function with the Patriots. He was a star in the preseason however started the season on the inactives checklist, a apply that Belichick typically takes with rookie working backs.

However, after James White’s suffered a season-ending harm, Stevenson emerged as a top quality backup to Damien Harris and has carried out properly. He has averaged 4.6 yards per carry and has dealt with 88 touches by 12 weeks of motion. He’s on tempo for 100-plus touches this season. Only one Patriots rookie working again has eclipsed that mark in the final decade. That was Sony Michel in 2018 (216 touches).

Belichick’s strikes helped add some upgrades to the Patriots’ roster and replenish a few of the depth that the group had misplaced attributable to poor drafts and free-agent losses over earlier seasons. Now, they’re re-emerging as one in every of the AFC’s strongest groups and are getting ready for an additional potential title run; he and the Patriots entrance workplace deserve credit score for the job they’ve finished in executing this rapid rebuild.

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