After yet another Super Bowl win, the New England Patriots are the epitome of success in the modern NFL. Despite some issues, the Patriots still found themselves on top of a podium holding up a sixth Lombardi Trophy. But, in true Patriots fashion, the hard work to prep for another has already started.
Patriots training camp will be a defining moment for young players and ones attempting to crack the roster alike. After yet another busy off-season, highlighted by a retirement, some players have a lot to prove (and plenty to gain) in late July/early August. Here are three that are in that group.
3. Matt LaCosse – TE
The Patriots’ tight end group has been subject to plenty of change during the 2019 off-season. Led by Rob Gronkowski’s retirement, Ben Watson’s signing (and four-game suspension), and a bevy of free-agent signings, which starts at the position week one is all but sure. As of now, neither of the previously mentioned will start then — despite Gronk comeback rumors running rapidly.
As it stands, 26-year-old Matt LaCosse is the likeliest candidate to trot out as a starter come September 8th. That’s on the basis of having the most NFL experience out of any current, week one eligible tight end. Behind him is 2018 practice squad member Stephen Anderson, 2018 seventh-round pick Ryan Izzo, NFL International Pathway assignee Jakob Johnson, and undrafted rookie Andrew Beck.
LaCosse didn’t settle into NFL role until 2018 with the Denver Broncos. He played 15 games in the same season (five starts) and found success – finishing with 24 catches (64.9% catch rate) for 250 yards and a score. However, the 6-foot-6, 255-pound tight end must impress in training camp to truly settle into that role; luckily head coach Bill Belichick is a fan, as he said in early June;
He’s a young player that has some talent. He’s played in the league, and we feel like he has some upside. We’ll see how it goes in our system.
Which is about the most Belichickian way of being a fan.
2. Duke Dawson – CB
Duke Dawson has a lot to gain as a promising rookie last year that didn’t play. Many figured he’d be a future starter and potential rookie stud, but the Patriots’ depth chart at cornerback continued to harden, in turn, creating a tough unit to crack. Ahead of Dawson is All-Pro Stephon Gilmore, veteran standout Jason McCourty, and PFF’s fourth-best man corner J.C. Jackson.
The three expect to see the bulk of cornerback snaps, but Dawson doesn’t just have to compete with them. 2019 second-round pick Joejuan Williams also figures to contend for snaps. The culmination of the now bonafide group not only puts pressure on Dawson to succeed – a second-year pick in 2018 out of Florida – but it also gives him something to gain, if he does do so.
Though the Patriots boast five talented cornerbacks, including Dawson, the nickel-back position is an all but a sure thing as to who plays; as it stands, McCourty should have the role, but considering his age (31), he may not be the long-term answer. Gilmore and Jackson appear to be that on the outside. For Dawson, this a position potentially up for grabs for himself (or Williams).
1. N’Keal Harry – WR
N’Keal Harry, a rookie, should be the starting No. 1 receiver for the Patriots – as he was drafted in the first round to do so, and they have a need there. But, considering Belichick’s often passiveness to play rookies early on, he’ll have to prove it. Factoring in that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel’s playbook hinges on complicated option routes, that statement becomes truer.
Before the draft, a consensus around Harry brewed; he’s a widely talented receiver that can win on contested catches more often than not, but he can’t create separation. That notion created two teams on the thought concerning Harry. Team A: it doesn’t matter, he can learn it with improved footwork, he’s too good not to be a star. And team B: it will be his demise in the NFL. Obviously, Harry must prove that the former is right, and the latter is wrong.
Harry will have the first crack at winning the No. 1 job as there is a lack of talent to compete with him. But Belichick runs a tight ship that favors production over potential. The Arizona State product can earn his trust on that basis of improvement in creating separation – the rest of his game is NFL-ready – if he does do so he not only has a lot to gain, he’ll be a contender’s top target.