Grading Each Patriots’ Position Group Through Eight Games

The Patriots have reached the mid-point of the 2020 NFL season with a record of 3-5. Now that half the season in the books, we thought it would be a good time to reflect on the Patriots’ performance up to this point in the season. Without further ado, here are our grades for each Patriots position group through the first eight games of the 2020 season. (NOTE: 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 = the worst positional performance in the league 
Quarterbacks: C 

Despite playing very well during stretches, Cam Newton’s play hasn’t been consistent throughout the year. While the Patriots pass catchers aren’t exactly world beaters, some of the blame for the lack of production has to fall on Newton’s shoulders. Newton has had trouble reading the field at times, missed some open throws, and held the ball far too long on multiple occasions. We’ve also seen Newton’s footwork and mechanics regress at points this season.

The good news is that Newton appears to have found his groove the last two weeks against the Bills and the Jets. He’s seeing the field a lot better. In the past two weeks, we’ve seen him make quick reads. Newton is also throwing the ball much better. Most importantly Newton hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 7. He very much has a chance to raise his grade by the end of the year.

Running Backs: B 

Despite knowing the Patriots are going to run the ball more often than not, opposing defenses haven’t been able to consistently stop the Patriots’ rushing attack. Damien Harris has really emerged in his second year. Every time he touches the ball he runs the ball extremely hard. He’s an explosive runner, which is something the Patriots lack. Harris has 350 rushing yards and over 5 yards pards per carry this season.

Rex Burkhead, coming off a good game against the Jets, continues to be effective working as a change of pace back. The third-down role still belongs to James White. White isn’t putting up as big of numbers as in years past, but he still makes some big plays when called upon. Moving forward the question mark will be Sony Michel. He had a nice game early in the season before being placed on the injured reserve. If he can come back healthy, he and Harris may form a nice 1/2 punch.

Wide Receivers: D

The emergence of Jakobi Meyers over the past three weeks, and the solid production from Damiere Byrd, is the only reason this group avoids getting an “F”. The fact of the matter is that the Patriots wide receiver corps just won’t cut it in today’s NFL. Yes, Meyers has been a bright spot lately but New England isn’t really getting any consistent production out of anyone else. Even Julian Edelman, who struggled with injuries this season, struggled to find production before being placed on injured reserve.

The Patriots wide receivers have combined for one total touchdown on the season, with the lone score coming from N’Keal Harry in Week 4. The lack of scoring from the group is less than ideal, and unfortunately, the yardage situation is just as bad. Outside of a productive game against a historically bad Seattle defense, this group has only had a receiver top the 65-yard mark twice this season. Perhaps the recently acquired Isaiah Ford can help give the group a spark.

Tight Ends: F

The Patriots are getting absolutely nothing out of the tight end position so far in 2020. The group is the worst tight end group in the league and it isn’t particularly close. Rookies Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene have been non-factors in their limited playing time, combining for a stat line of 1 catch for 8 yards over six games. We should note that this is expected from rookie tight ends. The position is hard to learn and it takes time for rookies to blossom. The real issue was not bringing in any sort of proven veteran to lead the group.

Ryan Izzo, the starter, has contributed a meager 9 catches for 114 yards and no touchdowns on the year, while often struggling as a blocker. Hopefully recent waiver claim Jordan Thomas can help improve the unit’s outlook. 

Offensive Line: A 

Despite constant reshuffling throughout the group due to injuries, the Patriots offensive line has been among the best in the league this season. Several players have had to play multiple spots on the line this year, sometimes at a moment’s notice during game action, yet the unit simply keeps producing.

The offensive line has been the driving force behind a lot of the Patriots offensive success. Rookie Michael Onwenu continues to be dominant in both the run game and pass protection, all while taking snaps at left and right guard as well as right tackle. If you ask us, he’s the steal of the 2020 NFL draft and looks like he could be competing for serious accolades as a rookie. 

Interior DL: C 

All the run defense struggles don’t fall on the interior defensive line, but they certainly take a share of the blame. With the recent announcement that Beau Allen would not suit up this season, along with the injury to Lawrence Guy, New England has found themselves extremely thin on the interior of their defensive line. While practice squad players like Nick Thurman have filled in admirably, the lack of depth is a weakness that is likely to be exposed in the coming weeks. 

Deatrich Wise is one of the few bright spots along the defensive front. He’s played good this season, but if Guy can’t return to action from his recent shoulder, elbow, and knee injuries soon, the outlook for this unit will be bleak going forward. 

Edge: D 

What’s been most puzzling about this struggling group has been the lack of snaps for its most impactful player, Chase Winovich. While Winovich did play 67% of defensive snaps against the Jets, the second-year defender logged a season-low five snaps the week prior against the Bills and had been used sparingly since the team’s emergence from their COVID-19 induced early bye week. Although Winovich is at his best as a pass rusher, it seems like his high motor and relentless playing style could help a group that struggles with outside zone runs. The edge defenders just haven’t been able to set the edge this season. Setting the edge is a core principle in Bill Belichick’s style of defense, but it’s not getting done. 

The pass rush from the edge defenders has also been non-existent. Winovich leads the team in sacks (2.5) and quarterback hits (6).

Linebackers: D

It was no secret coming into this season that the Patriots were thin at linebacker after the opt-out of defensive stalwart Dont’a Hightower. The team was hoping third-year player Ja’Whaun Bentley would be able to step into Hightower’s role, but Bentley has regressed as the season has gone on. Adrian Phillips, primarily a safety, has been the best inside linebacker on the roster this season. Phillips has been a warrior playing in the box taking on offensive lineman, all while being extremely undersized. On the bright side, rookie Josh Uche has looked promising in very limited reps

Corners: B 

Based on pure talent, this group should be an “A” but up to this point still hasn’t played to their potential. We all knew some regression from last year’s dominance was inevitable, but given the amount of talent in this unit, it’s fair to expect more than what they’ve shown so far in 2020. While we’ve seen the occasional flashes of brilliance throughout the year, the consistency just hasn’t been there. Stephon Gilmore missing the last two games with a knee injury certainly doesn’t help matters either. J.C. Jackson hasn’t looked the part of a number one corner in his absence. 

If the Patriots want to go anywhere this season the corners need to start playing better on a consistent basis. 

Safeties: B 

The Patriots safeties have been quietly putting together a solid season as a group. Adrian Phillips continues to prove how valuable of a signing he was this past offseason. His versatility is on display on a weekly basis. Meanwhile, Devin McCourty has taken on some additional responsibilities as the primary defensive play-caller, wearing the green dot on his helmet to communicate with the Patriots sideline. Rookie Kyle Dugger, when active, has shown promising flashes, but he’s played sparingly as of late. Perhaps we’ll see more of Dugger as a tight end stopper this week against the Ravens, who frequently use formations with multiple tight ends.

Nonetheless, just like the corners, the safety group has regressed from 2019, but they’ve played solid football.

Special Teams: B 

The Patriots field goal kicking has improved tremendously as the season went on. Nick Folk is one of the most dependable Patriots on the roster. The punt team is also playing well. Unfortunately, the Patriots aren’t getting much production out of their kick/punt return teams. Belichick emphasizes the importance of special teams more than any other coach in the league, so it wouldn’t surprise us to see some improvement in the return game going forward. 

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