After a tumultuous 2020 offseason, Patriots fans have a right to speculate on what the team will look like for 2020-21. Certain position groups garner more concern than others.
The quarterback will be eliminated from this because obviously, the development of Jarrett Stidham is the biggest concern for Patriots fans. The heir-apparent to Tom Brady, nominating Stidham for this is too easy. But after that no-brainer, things become more interesting.
New England boasts perhaps the best secondary in the league led by reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore as well as a healthy stable of running backs to complement Stidham. Their offensive line, despite probably being overpaid, looks to have more continuity with the return of David Andrews. Wide receiver was a cesspool last year, but logic dictates that N’Keal Harry will improve in Year 2, Mohamed Sanu Sr. will bounce back from offseason ankle surgery, and Jakobi Meyers will continue to develop the rapport with Stidham that was established last preseason.
What does that leave? Pass rush. The Patriots haven’t had a true No. 1 pass rusher since Chandler Jones. Trey Flowers was solid, but he has shown to not be worth the hefty contract the Detroit Lions signed him to.
It should easily be the biggest area of concern for the Patriots, given that they lost arguably their two best pass rushers in Jamie Collins Sr. and Kyle Van Noy to the Lions and Miami Dolphins, respectively. Van Noy, Collins, and fellow new Lion Danny Shelton accounted for 16.5 of the Patriots’ 47 sacks, over 33 percent of the total.
In place of these three stalwarts, the Patriots brought in … no one. Instead, New England is relying on second-year pro Chase Winovich and second-round pick and fellow Wolverine Josh Uche to fill the void. It’s a lot to ask for two young players to handle, and with Dont’a Hightower aging, the Patriots are in desperate need of someone to step up.
The Patriots have built a defense around a secondary before. The 2017 Patriots were ravaged by injuries to their front seven, forcing them to roll into the Super Bowl against the Eagles with James Harrison as their No. 2 pass rusher.
Secondaries can only cover for so long. New England needs to create pressure on opposing signal-callers, especially heading into a year where they can’t rely on an offense to capitalize on mistakes as in years past.