The New England Patriots are set to face the New York Jets in Sunday's Week 7 matchup at Gillette Stadium. But before that, we've got some questions to answer. Let's get to the mailbag...
They love the Bag in Norway! Thanks for checking in, Trygve. Yes, to me, corner looks like the No. 1 need for the Patriots in the 2022 draft. You'd have an argument for tackle because Isaiah Wynn hasn't performed to a satisfactory level this season. But, that said, he has shown he can be a starting-caliber tackle in the past. (Though not for long stretches because he's dealt with injury.) And he's under contract for a guaranteed $10.4 million next year. At right tackle, Trent Brown isn't signed up for 2022, but Mike Onwenu is. So they could be OK there.
At corner, the only players they have under contract for next season at the moment are Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills, Justin Bethel, Joejuan Williams and Shaun Wade. They're going to need some help there.
This could always change, guys, based on injury and/or performance. If Wynn improves this season and Onwenu establishes himself as a full-time tackle, maybe tackle isn't in the conversation in the first round. If J.C. Jackson gets the franchise tag and Jalen Mills looks like a true No. 2 by season's end -- big "ifs" -- then maybe they're willing to look somewhere other than corner.
Maybe a game-changing pass-rusher falls in their lap. Or maybe there's a big-bodied defensive tackle that Bill Belichick loves there. If things continue to trend this way, the Patriots may be picking so high that drafting for need wouldn't make sense. Maybe there's a blue-chip player available to them in the top-10 they can't pass up. But for now, I think it should be corner. Can never have too many. And that spot could look pretty bleak pretty quickly if it's not addressed with a real draft-day investment.
They love the Bag in Austria! When CJ Henderson was traded, my understanding is the decision to trade Stephon Gilmore was not yet made. That came about a week later. In addition, the Patriots already had J.C. Jackson (who they like), Jalen Mills (who they'd just paid in free agency), Joejuan Williams (in whom they'd invested a second-round pick in 2019) and Shaun Wade (for whom they'd traded at the end of camp as a developmental player) as boundary guys.
They couldn't have loved their depth there because of the uncertainty with Gilmore. But Henderson cost the Panthers a starting-level player (tight end Dan Arnold) and a third-round pick. I don't know for sure if the Patriots were going to make a run at Henderson or not, but I think the price there would've made it hard for them to stomach. Though touted as a talented man-to-man corner coming out of Florida, Henderson has been anything but in the NFL. This season, he's allowing a perfect quarterback rating (158.3) when in man coverage, per Pro Football Focus. Last season, that number sat at 124.5. For a man-heavy team like New England, I wouldn't blame them if the price and the performance didn't match up.
As for the top-five corners in the draft, it's a fun group. And it looks like it's not a bad year to need a corner. Let's refer to the work of a friend of the Next Pats Podcast, Mike Renner, who is the draft czar at Pro Football Focus. He's watched these players much more closely than I have this season and says, "we could be looking at an all-time cornerback group" this year. OK, then!
For him, among the best of the best are LSU's Derek Stingley (out indefinitely with an injured foot but one of the best players in the draft), Cincinnati's Ahmad Gardner (who is so talented that his nickname "Sauce" makes sense), Florida's Kaiir Elam (who at 6-foot-2 has more than enough size to play press in New England), Washington's Trent McDuffie (who recorded a 41.5 vertical in the spring, per Renner), and Clemson's Andrew Booth (who looks like he could have high-end NFL-caliber man-to-man chops). We'll dive deeper into this crew and others as we get closer to the draft. At the moment, the Patriots would have a top-10 draft pick
I'm not sure, Scott. The success was unparalleled. You're right about that. And that certainly has altered perceptions about what's acceptable and what's not from the local professional football team. But after spending the way they did this offseason, this was not a traditional rebuild. The team itself was expecting to get back to winning. Quickly. That hasn't happened yet. But there's time.
Our pal Mike Giardi of NFL Network posted a clip that shows exactly what Bourne was talking about. He really only gets vertical with one step off the line of scrimmage. Then he starts to get horizontal. He should have sold the vertical portion for another couple strides. His explanation this week was that he spied an open window over the middle and wanted to get there more quickly, hence the one step instead of the three. The Cowboys showed a Cover 1 look with five rushers at the line, and they were late to get out to Rhamondre Stevenson aligned wide. The result was a massive opening over the middle. But with Mac Jones expecting a deeper slant and Bourne cutting it off, you get what you got.
And, of course. Always a good thing for players to show accountability. But the goal for them is to eliminate (or drastically reduce) the number of mistakes made so that that kind of accountability isn't necessary after the fact.
I understand the disappointment. But the quarterback they grabbed a few months ago looks like a pretty good investment, no?
What about Rhamondre Stevenson, Matt? He's not built like James White or Kevin Faulk, but he has quick feet and soft hands. And if he's able to pick up everything the Patriots ask of him from a route-running and pass-protection standpoint, I could see him being used more consistently on third down as he gains more experience.
I like the nickname given to Stevenson by Derek Brown from FTN Network: LeGarrette Burkhead. Stevenson is almost LeGarrette Blount's size. And between his versatile running back skill set and his special-teams ability, the Rex Burkhead comp makes some sense. Josh McDaniels called Stevenson a "skilled player" and a "natural catcher of the football" earlier this week. They may put those skills to use more often on third down soon with James White out.
Uche is playing. You just haven't noticed him all that much for a couple of reasons. No. 1? The Patriots haven't been leading much in these games. Uche is a niche pass-rusher at the moment, and so with opponents not finding themselves in a ton of obvious passing situations, that's meant Uche hasn't had a ton of playing time.
No. 2? When Uche has been out there, he hasn't been getting to the quarterback. He has one pressure in his last four games. This isn't a wait-and-see year. They're trying to win now. Just hasn't played out that way.
I like where your head is at, Steve. The Patriots love Kirk Ferentz pupils. And Linderbaum seems special. But the Patriots have had so much success with low-level investments at that position, I'm having a hard time picturing it. David Andrews was undrafted. Bryan Stork was a fourth-round pick. Dan Koppen was a fifth-round pick. Ted Karras was a sixth-round pick. Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell were undrafted. Damien Woody went in the first and obviously had real success in New England, but he arrived in 1999 before Belichick took over. Never say never with this group, but I imagine they'll go elsewhere.
More 22 and 12-personnel sets, Dwayne. Interested to see if they keep that going against the Jets. In my opinion, they should. If they can show heavy looks and throw out of those consistently, they'll be hard to stop. I asked Belichick why we didn't see more of those "big people" groupings against Dallas, and he indicated they didn't have an extensive "22" package. That's reasonable. But I wonder if we don't see them get more creative with "12" moving forward. They're invested in those tight ends. If they can get more exotic by the week in terms of how Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith are used, the better off they'll be.
One other thing: We saw just two screens against the Cowboys. The Patriots have been one of the worst teams in football using the screen game this year. They used it extensively against the Jets and their aggressive front in Week 2, though. Will they go back to that well facing defensive linemen that love to get up the field? It would make sense to hit them with a screen every so often to slow down Robert Saleh's front and get them thinking. But the screens have been so unproductive for Josh McDaniels, it might not be worth it. Something to watch Sunday.
I wouldn't hold my breath, George. What happened last week against the Cowboys, when Harry didn't know what to do pre-snap and Jones almost took a delay-of-game penalty trying to direct him, was a pretty clear indication of where things stand with him at the moment. He has six catches in his last six games. He wasn't targeted in 21 snaps last week.
I thought they might be sellers last year. Unless they're totally out of it by the deadline, I have a hard time envisioning them giving up on this season in any way shape or form. Last year was the reset year, not this one. The other thing to consider is this: How many pieces do the Patriots have on the roster that would be realistic trade chips that would net a significant return?
Wynn, possibly, if a team likes his tape from over the last few years and would be OK with paying him as a middle-tier starting left tackle for 2022? Maybe Shaq Mason since he's a top-level player at his position when healthy and isn't on an overly-expensive contract? I don't believe trading Harry, Chase Winovich or another non-starter would yield much of a haul.
Typically, Fred, if practice-squad guys are there they would be up on the press-box level with the healthy-scratch and/or injured players in attendance.
Malcolm Perry is on IR at the moment so he's not practicing. When he was out there, he was working at receiver.
I know. Feels wrong, to a degree, to be looking ahead this early. But here we are. Thanks to everyone for the questions this week. You guys are the drivers of this thing every week, and I appreciate you for that. We'll talk to you again next week ahead of Patriots-Chargers.