2020 NFL Team Previews: New England Patriots

2020 NFL Team Previews: New England Patriots

This article is part of our Team Previews series.

New England Patriots

After an unparalleled run that included six Super Bowl triumphs, the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick now face a reality that no longer includes QB Tom Brady. After seeing New England reel off the last 11 AFC East titles, the rest of the division will look to shift the balance of power.

Offseason Moves

Key Acquisitions

Back for a third stint with the team and an outside chance to start.

Will look to rebound after two injury-filled seasons in Jacksonville.

Brings speed to the table, but no higher than No. 4 on the depth chart.

Potential starter as a rookie and safety blanket for QB Jarrett Stidham.

Could earn a prominent role thanks to his after-the-catch skills.

Key Losses

The six-time Super Bowl champ has taken his G.O.A.T. resume to Tampa Bay.

Rookie Justin Rohrwasser is now tasked with maintaining kicker stability.

Came out of retirement to join forces with Brady via a pre-draft trade.

A Look Under the Hood

Head Coach: Bill Belichick (Year 21)

Offensive Coordinator: Josh McDaniels (Year 12) - Erhardt-Perkins scheme

Defensive Coordinator: None - 3-4 scheme

2020 Vegas Projected Wins: 9 (T-9th)

  

2019 Record: 12-4

2019 Points Scored: 420 (7th)

2019 Points Allowed: 225 (1st)

2019 Point Differential: +195 (2nd) 

2019 Run-Play Rate: 40.6 percent (14th)

2019 Situation-Neutral Pace: 27.69 seconds per play (1st)

2019 Offensive Snaps: 1,095 (3rd)

2019 PFF O-Line Ranking: No. 10

Full 2019 Team Stats

  

Projected 2020 Depth Chart

QB: Jarrett Stidham / Brian Hoyer

RB: Sony Michel / James White / Rex Burkhead / Damien Harris

FB: Danny Vitale

WR1: Julian Edelman / Marqise Lee / Gunner Olszewski

WR2: N'Keal Harry / Damiere Byrd

WR3: Mohamed Sanu / Jakobi Meyers

TE: Matt LaCosse / Devin Asiasi / Dalton Keene / Ryan Izzo

O-Line: LT Isaiah Wynn / LG Joe Thuney / C David Andrews / RG Shaq Mason / RT Marcus Cannon                (RotoWire Rank: No. 7)

Kicker: Justin Rohrwasser

Full 2020 Depth Chart

Top Storylines

We're on to Stidham

Tom Brady's 20-year tenure with the Patriots was a page-turner, but with the book closed on his time with New England, the team will now march, or perhaps trudge, forward with 2019 fourth-rounder Jarrett Stidham as its presumed starting QB.

Once it became clear that Brady was intent on moving on, many assumed that New England would add a veteran signal-caller via free agency or a trade. Though the likes of Cam Newton and Jameis Winston became available, bringing back old friend Brian Hoyer was the only signing the team made to bolster the position. 

Then came the NFL Draft and nary a QB was selected to compete with Stidham and Hoyer, even with Jordan Love there for the taking at pick No. 23. Afterward, Andy Dalton hit the open market when the Bengals cut him, but coach Bill Belichick didn't bite and seems prepared to see what he has in Stidham.

The Auburn product is considered mature beyond his years and can make plays on the move, but replacing an NFL legend will be no easy task. With that in mind, expect the 2020 edition of the Patriots to rely heavily on the ground game, as well as a playmaking defensive unit. Though there's something of a rebuilding vibe in New England, one must remember that Matt Cassel led the team to an 11-5 record in 2008, the year Brady tore his ACL in Week 1.

Post-Brady Pass-Catching Corps

The retirement of star tight end Rob Gronkowski last offseason was a big blow to the team's receiving corps, and the replacements that management lined up to fill the void fell short. Then when first-round pick N'Keal Harry was hobbled by an injury and landed on IR to start the season, and things didn't work out with either Antonio Brown or Josh Gordon, the Patriots' wide receiver group also failed to meet expectations.

Moreover, Mohamed Sanu didn't make much of an impact after being acquired in October for a second-round pick. While PPR-stalwart Julian Edelman and pass-catching back James White more than held their own, the drop-off after them was steep, and Tom Brady's final season with the franchise ultimately was hamstrung by a lack of viable weapons.

While the team didn't make any splashy free-agent moves this offseason, depth has been added at wideout, and the team doubled down on tight ends in the NFL Draft. Meanwhile, Harry and Sanu should start the season healthy, and Marqise Lee, Damiere Byrd and Jakobi Meyers will jostle for slotting behind them.

Though Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo are still around, third-rounders Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene will be counted on to rejuvenate the team's tight end room. With all that in mind, there's hope that Jarrett Stidham – or whoever starts at QB – will be surrounded by enough talent to not fall flat.

Offense on the Run?

With a changing of the guard at QB on tap, the Patriots' deep and balanced backfield figures to set the tone for the team's offense in 2020. Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris and Brandon Bolden all return from last year's squad, while 5-5, 185-pound UDFA J.J. Taylor could make a push for a depth role.

For now, Michel remains the team's lead back in an offense no longer helmed by Tom Brady, an assignment that seems to give him a decent floor in non-PPR formats. It remains to be seen if Harris, a 2019 third-rounder, will push Michel for early-down carries this season, but now further removed from his knee woes of last spring, Michel has something to prove after seeing his YPC dip from 4.5 as a rookie to 3.7 last season.

At the same time, the 28-year-old White is about as reliable as they come when it comes to pass-catching/change-of-pace backs. Also on hand to help the team, but frustrate fantasy managers, are Burkhead, a versatile Swiss Army knife of a player, and Bolden, who earns most of his keep as a special-teamer while vulturing the occasional TD.

This is a critical juncture in Michel's career, as the jury is still out on whether the Patriots made a sound move taking him 31st overall in the 2018 draft. If he falters, the Patriots may turn Harris loose after handing him just four carries as a rookie.

Much of the burden may be on Sony Michel without the legend on his side.

Barometer

⬆️ Rising: WR N'Keal Harry

There's a reason Harry was the second wideout taken in last year's draft, and the 6-4, 225-pounder will see an uptick in usage. When healthy, Harry's size and ability to make contested catches gives him red-zone upside.

⬇️ Falling: WR Mohamed Sanu

Slowed by an ankle injury after coming over from the Falcons in a trade last season, the 30-year-old's production was modest. Sanu has recovered now but will be working in an offense that's undergoing a major transition.

😴 Sleeper: RB Damien Harris

Though probably an injury away from garnering steady volume, the 2019 third-rounder profiles as a physical downhill runner with a good handle on avoiding turnovers and a willingness to handle blitz pickup.

🌟 Pivotal Player: Julian Edelman

The slot maven is coming off a 2019 campaign in which he logged a career-high 1,117 receiving yards, while hitting the 100-catch mark for the second time. Though Edelman is still the Patriots' top receiver, take note that the 34-year-old will no longer be catching passes from Tom Brady, with whom he shared uncanny on-field chemistry.

Operating without Tom Brady for the first time, Julian Edelman truly is flying solo.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike Doria
NFL Editor for RotoWire. Roots for the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins, Celtics and the underdog. Plus the McGill Redmen.
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