Grading Each Patriots’ Position Group Through Four Games

With a quarter of the season in the books and the Patriots taking their bye week last Sunday, we thought it would be a good time to reflect on New England’s performance up to this point in the season. Without further ado, here are our grades for each Patriots position group through the first four games of the 2020 season. It’s important to remember that we’re grading based on performance and not overall talent or projections into the future.

Grading Scale:

  • A = among the best positional performance in the league
  • B = above league average positional performance
  • C = league average positional performance
  • D = below league average positional performance
  • F = among the worst positional performance in the league

Quarterbacks: B

Cam Newton has rejuvenated the Patriots offense. In Week 1 Newton did it on the ground, rushing for 75 yards and two touchdowns. In Week 2 he led a dynamic passing attack, throwing for 397 yards. Week 3 was his worst performance on the year, but he made a couple of winning plays down the stretch. Unfortunately, he was unable to play in Week 4. This led to some bad play from the backup quarterbacks, which impacted our grading a bit. Fortunately, Newton should be back soon.

As the season goes, it’s important to remember that Newton will continue to grow. With each passing week, he gets more and more comfortable running the Patriots offense. The sky is the limit for the Newton/Josh McDaniels combo.

Running Backs: B 

The Patriots running back group is a perfect example of what a running back committee looks like. Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, J.J. Taylor, Damien Harris, and James White have all put in their fair share of contributions through four games. Though they lack a traditional bell-cow back, each player offers a complementary skill-set that allows the Patriots to deploy a different back each week based on the game plan for that specific opponent. The group didn’t play well in Week 2 against Seattle, but they’ve been a strength aside from that outlier.

Even with Michel on the injured reserve, the Patriots have a perfect replacement in Harris. The running backs, both on the ground and through the air, should continue to be a strength moving forward. 

Wide Receivers: D 

The wide receiving corps gets a low grade, but we think they’ve actually exceeded expectations. Going into the season, many thought they’d rank among the worse in the league, but they’ve been a step above that. It’s certainly nothing to celebrate, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Julian Edelman still leads the group with 18 catches for 294 yards, but he’s struggled mightily with drops. Meanwhile, N’Keal Harry has taken a step forward, but it’s still going to take time to put it all together. Lastly, Damiere Byrd, who the Patriots signed in the off-season, has proven to be a solid veteran signing and his connection with Newton is notable, but the Patriots are still another big-time receiver away from scaring opposing secondaries. We expect them to kick the tires on any veteran receivers available at the trade deadline.

Tight Ends: F

An “F” tight end grade should come as no surprise to anyone who’s watched the Patriots this season. Through four games the Patriots tight ends have contributed a meager three catches for 44 yards, all coming from third-year tight end Ryan Izzo. Relying on Izzo as your number one tight end isn’t ideal. In addition to his lack of pass-catching, he hasn’t been a great run blocker either.

Rookie Devin Asiasi has seen limited action as a blocker and is yet to contribute anything as a pass-catcher, while fellow rookie Dalton Keene has not yet been active. Moving forward, it will be intriguing to see if Asiasi and Keene can get more involved as they get more and more comfortable within the offense.

Offensive Line: A

The Patriots offensive line is no doubt one of the best in football. The group excels in run blocking, a category in which we believe they are the best in the NFL. The Patriots rank second in rush yards per game with 179.8.

Even when missing starters David Andrews (2 games) and Shaq Mason (1 game) due to injury, they’ve still found a way to remain among the best lines in the NFL. A big part of their success is rookie Michael Onwenu. He is an absolute mauler. Up to this point, Onwenu may be the best offensive rookie in the 2020 draft class. We expect the big guys up front to continue their dominance throughout the remainder of the season.

Interior Defensive Line: C 

The interior defensive line has had its fair share of ups and downs in 2020. A big part of the struggles in run defense is the interior defensive line. The Patriots rank 18th in the NFL giving up 115.3 rush yards per game. Additionally, this group needs to generate more pressure in the pass rush. We aren’t saying they need huge sack numbers, but just applying more pressure will go a long way.

The group is anchored by perennially under-appreciated Lawrence Guy. Guy is coming off his best game of the season against the Chiefs. Deatrich Wise Jr. has also been very impactful. Byron Cowart has had a couple of nice plays in the run game, but he’s still growing. The biggest disappointment for us is Adam Butler. He just hasn’t produced much up to this point. The Patriots need additional depth here. Maybe they’ll get back Beau Allen soon?

Edge: C

Chase Winovich is the star of this group. He has excelled in his expanded role. Winovich already has 2.5 sacks and 13 total pressures. He’s a menace in the pass rush and will only get better against the run. John Simon, Shilique Calhoun, Derek Rivers, and Anfernee Jennings make up the rest of the group. Calhoun has made a couple of plays, and Simon remains a nice veteran piece. Jennings is someone we can’t wait to see develop. He hasn’t played much, but with time he will see an increase in snaps.

Overall, outside of Winovich, it’s been pretty average edge play so far, but we think this group will get better and better as the season goes on.

Linebackers: C

The only thing keeping the linebackers from a “D” grade, is guys like Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger, and Terrence Brooks playing the linebacker role in a lot of the defensive packages.

In terms of true linebackers, only Ja’Whaun Bentley and Brandon Copeland are playing. The Patriots linebacker group appears to be the weakest unit on the defense. Perhaps promising rookie Josh Uche can provide a spark when he makes his debut. 

Corners: B 

This group should be getting an “A” based on talent, but they haven’t consistently played up to their potential this season. Obviously, some regression from last year’s ridiculous production was to be expected, but this group is capable of being the best in the league week in and week out. 

Despite a few stretches of average play early this season, the corners looked much better in their most recent outing against the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs. Stephon Gilmore and company should return to playing at an elite level sooner rather than later. We fully expect to be giving them an “A” the next time around. 

Safeties: B

The safety group doesn’t have quite as much talent as the corners, but the reasoning for their grade could be copied and posted here as well. The safeties haven’t played quite up to their dominating potential, but as seen in Kansas City in Week 4 they’re still elite. The group’s versatility is also hugely important, as we mentioned, the safety group plays a ton of linebacker. As with the corners, we expect to be giving the safeties an “A” the next time around.

Special Teams: C

The Patriots’ special teams are usually among the best in the league, and while they’ve been solid, it’s hard to ignore the kicking issues. Nick Folk is 10/11 on extra points and 5/7 on field goals. It should be noted that Folk has steadied a little bit as of late after a couple of early-season misses.

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