Grading Each Position Group: Skill Positions

The upcoming NFL season feels like the beginning of a new era for the New England Patriots. For the first time in nearly two decades, the Patriots will be entering a season with a new starting quarterback. While we wait for the return of an uncertain NFL season, we decided to grade every position group on the roster as it stands right now. Part one of the series will cover skill position players.

Grading:

  • A = High-level starters with good depth
  • B = Good group, only a few concerns
  • C= Not sure what to expect and a number of questions
  • D = Very little talent at the position
QB:

Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer, J’Mar Smith, Brian Lewerke

It’s hard to know exactly what to expect from the quarterback position. Starting Stidham allows the Patriots to get an idea if he’s the quarterback of the future, but there are some who think Hoyer could land the job. Personally, we think it would be smart to start Stidham and see what he’s got. If Stidham can’t win the starting job from Hoyer after winning the backup job from him a season ago, then I’m not sure you can expect much from Stidham.

It would be hard to give the quarterbacks a grade any higher than a C. There’s too much uncertainty surrounding the position after the loss of Tom Brady. Yes, Stidham could be great, but the truth is nobody knows until we see him play in meaningful snaps. The reality is Stidham is a young quarterback, with any young quarterback there will be ups and downs. We’ll cover our expectations for Stidham in-depth later this summer. Hoyer is a solid back up; he’s nothing special on the field, but he’s great for the locker room. Between Smith and Lewerke, we prefer Smith. He’s got a strong arm and decent upside. If the Patriots keep three quarterbacks he’ll be the third.

Grade: C

HB (including FB):

James White, Sony Michel, J.J. Taylor, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, Rex Burkhead, Jakob Johnson, Danny Vitale

The running backs are by far the strongest skill position on the roster. The Patriots have heavily invested in the running pack position, whether through the draft or free agency. While the running game struggled at times last year, there was plenty of blame to go around. You could blame the running backs, the play-calling, the offensive line, missing James Develin, or the absence of tight ends that could run block, but no matter who you blame, we can all agree the Patriots need to run the football better. We believe the Patriots bounce back and run the ball better this season.

The best attribute for this group is its versatility. The Patriots offense should look to get creative with their running backs. Michel is probably the least versatile, only playing on likely run plays. White, Burkhead, and Bolden can all run the ball out of the backfield as well as catch it. All three also contribute on special teams. We don’t know yet what the Patriots plan to do with 2019 third-round pick, Damien Harris, but we think he will be another versatile option out of the backfield. Undrafted free agent, J.J. Taylor, which we discussed here, is a good pass catcher and a great return man. Even new fullback, Danny Vitale, offers you versatility. Vitale has solid hands for a fullback. Overall, this a great mix of players. If the young guys step up, it will only make the position that much better.

Grade: A

WR:

Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, Mohamed Sanu, Jeff Thomas, Damiere Byrd, Marqise Lee, Gunner Olszewski, Matthew Slater, Quincy Adeboyejo, Devin Ross, Will Hastings, Sean Riley, Isaiah Zuber

The Patriots receivers should be better than last year but there are still major question marks. The Patriots need a receiver not named Julian Edelman to be a threat to the defense. Too many times last season we saw defenses double Edelman while nobody else could get open. It’s true that both Harry and, Sanu dealt with injuries last season, but both underachieved. If you’re looking for more receiver threats you have to start with Harry, your 2019 first-round pick and Sanu, who the Patriots acquired for a 2020 second-round pick.

We see some hope at the wide receiver position, but most of it depends on young guys stepping up. Besides Harry, the Patriots also have Jakobi Meyers, who showed flashes his rookie year, Gunner Olszewski, and four undrafted free agents on the roster. We expect one of the four undrafted free agents to make the final roster. We like Jeff Thomas or Isaiah Zuber. The development of the younger players at the position is vital, as Edelman is getting older.

An added bonus would be one of the veteran free agency signings to pan out. Damiere Byrd and Marqise Lee will both have solid shot to make the roster. The veteran free agency signings at wide receiver haven’t seemed to work out the past couple years, but the Patriots are hoping that changes this season. The receiver room has some upside but there are too many questions to give them anything above a C.

Grade: C

TE:

Dalton Keene, Devin Asiasi, Jake Burt, Rashod Berry, Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo

Without the selections of Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi, this would have been the lowest graded skill position. Because the Patriots addressed the position in the draft, we’ll give it a C. The Patriots got nothing from the tight end position last season. There was no pass-catching threat, and maybe even a bigger issue was the lack of run blocking from the position.

In our eyes, Asiasi is the best solution to fix the problems at tight end. We project Asiasi to get a lot of playing time this season. Asiasi is a legitimate pass-catching option. Even more importantly, Asiasi should be able to give you more run blocking than LaCosse did last season. Asiasi is your prototypical tight end while the other rookie tight end, Keene, is more of H-back who will need to learn how to play tight end. Keene doesn’t have a lot of experience in a system like the Patriots. If Keene can overcome the steep learning curve, he should be able to be a productive tight end. After the two rookies, there’s not a lot left on the depth chart. We discussed the rookie tights ends at length here.

The two undrafted free agents likely won’t make the final roster, which leaves LaCosse and Izzo. We believe one will make the roster. It’s not ideal to only have two rookie tight ends on the roster. It’s also not ideal to have to rely on either LaCosse or Izzo to produce this season, but there aren’t any other options. The Patriots need both rookies to be the real deal otherwise the tight end position will be in the same spot as last season.

Grade: C

Let us know your grades for the skill positions in the comments below! Next we will cover the offensive line and special teams.

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