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Patriots Mailbag: Parsing Tackle and Receiver Depth, To Play Maye or Not

As the offseason continues to progress towards minicamp, quarterback Drake Maye and his playing status this season are atop the minds of Patriots fans.

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The Patriots will hold another open OTA practice this week, followed by a pair of them next week as the team continues to build toward mandatory minicamp, scheduled to take place June 10-12. While last week's practice featured a veteran-heavy approach, we'll see if any rookies or second-year players have earned any movement up the depth chart.

For now, the biggest questions looming over the Patriots are when will Drake Maye get his first game action and how will the competitions at offensive tackle and receiver play out. Those three things will go a long way toward determining the trajectory of the team this fall and the early seeds of insight are already on display at the team's low-tempo practices.

More on those questions and others as the Patriots.com readers weigh in…

Do you think any of the undrafted free agents from the rookie minicamp have a chance of making the 53 man roster? Ryan Johnson I hear is turning some heads. His grandfather played 13 years in the NFL!
Walter Johnson

Patriots G Ryan Johnson
Patriots G Ryan Johnson

Putting two and two together here, so thank you for the question Mr. Johnson! I wish I could offer some kind of insight into Ryan's early days here but like all rookies last week, he was buried on the depth chart while watching the veterans demonstrate how it's done. Of course, we'll probably have to wait until training camp when the pads come on to make any kind of real assessment of the offensive line, unless of course we see certain players starting to matriculate their way up the depth chart and getting more reps alongside more established names. One thing I think we did learn is that the team does seem to view Sidy Sow and Nick Leverett as the initial top options inside as Cole Strange continues to recover from last year's knee injury. There would appear to be starting jobs up for grabs, so I wouldn't rule anything out as the spring progresses into the summer. We all know the Patriots had good success in the past even with developmental practice squad guys so there is plenty of opportunity waiting for all 17 OL currently on the roster.

Long time listener, second time writing, because the other day, Paul hit on something that has been driving me crazy as well. It's amazing how a name for example, Nico Collins, rolls off the tongue now after being a 400-yard receiver prior and people will cite these losing organizations as if they had these great infrastructures and pieces for rookie QB's, when really, they drafted an elite QB and they uplifted the players around them.
Tony W.

I think the biggest reason the constant talk of needing a "number one receiver" drives me nuts is exactly what you pointed out. IT'S THE QUARTERBACK! How many times did a team with an average quarterback but an elite wide receiver win a championship? I'm excited that the Patriots finally did what Paul and I have been talking about for five years, double dipping at the position with a second and a fourth-round pick. Polk and Baker play tough football. I don't care to put an x, y, z or a one, two, three projection on them. Seeing Maye work with them both on and off the field is a great sign. If that trio clicks we can figure out how to parse them all out and put them into neat little boxes for the fantasy football crowd. But the bottom line for me is if the Patriots are going to return to contender status, it will be because Maye takes them there and elevates everyone around him, not because he has a superstar that is uncoverable and makes life extremely simple and easy for him. Thanks for calling it out. It's my personal pet peeve too. Give me an elite QB and three "number twos" and they win a championship.

Instead of cutting Tyquan Thornton as many have been speculating; How about a shift to Special Teams as the new gunner. Just like Matthew Slater was not much of a receiver, Thornton, so far, has been about the same. Of course that would also allow the Pats to keep a 6th or 7th receiver on the roster for an emergency. Maybe it is a Belichick hangover but tell me what a player can do, Thornton can run, which is the primary need for a gunner.
Scott Cayoutte

Patriots WR Tyquan Thornton
Patriots WR Tyquan Thornton

We saw Thornton do a bit of that back in training camp last year. While he certainly has favorable speed for that job I really worry about his open-field tackling ability. I'm not sure he'd ever be able to truly excel because he's tall and lean which makes it so hard to tackle elusive punt returners. That's what made Slater so special. He had speed and, though listed as a receiver, he really almost has more of a safety body type. That made him the total package as a gunner. I feel like Thornton's path to a roster spot is first staying healthy and second, finally putting that speed on display to beat teams over the top.

I just read how Peyton Manning believes a young quarterback should start immediately like he did his 1st year because they really only learn to be an NFL QB by playing. He said even though he set records for interceptions as a rookie, and even though he went 3 - 13. He learned so much invaluable stuff by playing that he went 13 - 3 in his second year. He said Eli sat for 10 games finally playing the last 6. Both say they learned nothing sitting and Eli said he learned 10 times as much in the 6 games he played compared to the 10 he sat. So according to the Mannings Drake should play. What do you think? I have a comment that what fans accepted in 1998 would not be accepted today. If Drake goes 3 -13 with lots of interceptions won't everyone declare him a bust and the fans boo him off the field before he ever gets to 2nd season? I think today people judge immediately, I hope I'm wrong! Please let me know what you think.
Craig Lawson

We are all in the understanding of what the future plan for Drake Maye looks like, but... If the scenario had to be given for him to be the starter, what plan do you think would be activated in the team? Something similar to what we saw in 1993 with Drew Bledsoe?Something similar to the Chargers in 2020 with Herbert? Thanks for the space and greetings from the land of tequila in Jalisco, Mexico.
Lizandro Gutirrez

Tackling these two similar questions in one answer because let's face it, this is the number one question facing the New England Patriots this season.

Patriots QB Drake Maye hands the ball off at OTAs on Thursday, May 23.
Patriots QB Drake Maye hands the ball off at OTAs on Thursday, May 23.

While I don't necessarily believe Maye should be thrown right into the fire, I 100 percent agree that if he doesn't play at all this year it's a lost season. You're so right though, it's a lot harder with the current state of media coverage and fan discourse to weather a terrible rookie season like Manning had, at least on paper. Hence, the Pats should be prepared and welcome some of those learning experiences instead of freaking out. Of course, there's nuance to it. We saw a similar rookie year from Drew Bledsoe but things clicked for him down the stretch and they won their last four games. Bledsoe had 15 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 1993, with seven TDs and two interceptions over that final winning streak. Manning lost five of his last six and still had 11 touchdowns to eight interceptions over those games, but four of those five losses were by one score or less. So both showed they could at least be close to average as rookies thrown right into the fire. That would probably be enough to keep hope alive that Maye is "the guy" even today. If he did go 3-13 with lots of interceptions, I'm not even sure a season of sitting would've saved him. I believe it's hard to break a truly great quarterback. They'll find a way. We can't be worried about taking the new toy out of the box and letting it get a little dirty. That's how you start the process to make it great.

Given a lack of productive experience at WR, why dump JuJu unless he shows little in preseason? If he is gone, why give a high pick for and big money to another struggling receiver Higgins?
Stan Cohen

While I don't really have any expectations that Juju will be rejuvenated this season, you're right, it costs too much to jettison him and there just aren't many proven commodities in the WR room, especially with Bourne continuing to rehab. I think the appeal of Tee Higgins is that he could be a true outside receiver for the Patriots, something they don't have despite going 11 deep on the depth chart at the position. He'd give the offense an element of size and contested catch ability that could help stretch the field both horizontally and vertically. That's why it's so hard to really figure out the Patriots current receiver group, most of them would ideally be inside even if a handful of them do have the ability to do some of what Higgins could. Ata this point, it makes the most sense to let it play out and see if the rookies can alter our perceptions at all.

Given that this is the first year of a rebuild under a new coach and that Judon is unhappy with his contract - although he is going to come mandatory camp - what do you think the team should do? I know a certain amount of veteran leadership is needed, but isn't there an argument for trading him to get more draft capital for next years draft? Or would that just create another hole to be filled in next years draft that could be pushed to the following year if he was extended by a year with maybe a void year? What's your take on the best way to go?
Len Carmody

Patriots LB Matthew Judon
Patriots LB Matthew Judon

I'd give Judon an extension. Ideally one that gave him good money for 2024 and 2025 but with some wiggle room in 2026, whether that's a void year or just all of the guaranteed money in the next two seasons. I get that he's a bit older and that he most likely won't be a part of the next great Patriots team, but he's also the only three-down edge defender they have and the only one who requires pass rush attention from the offensive line. There's so much defensive turnover coming next season it'd be nice to at least have a piece like Judon locked up. But the defense must find the next three-down edge defender to eventually replace him. 2025's draft class is strong on defense. It could match up well to draft a stud to develop next year behind Judon. However, there will also be concerns at defensive tackle and linebacker to consider next offseason as well.

My two cents for the OL mix, please comment: LT Okorafor, LG tbd in preseason, C D. Andrews, RG Onwenu, RT Wallace. The most important part of this mix is to have Onwenu at RG; I think he is not fast enough for T (in last year's LAC game he couldn't handle the speed of K. Mack), but he is a top RG. I prefer Wallace at RT (not LT) because that is his natural position so start him there and hope he becomes the long-term solution. Okorafor has more experience and I think is better able to handle LT in 2024, but in any case they should draft a LT early in 2025. With Strange out for the first part of the'24 season, Sow, Everett or Robinson seem to be the most likely at LG, but too early to say. Thank you.
Larry L.

I like it Larry. I'm with you on Onwenu, I still think in a perfect world the Patriots would have enough tackles emerge that he could go back to his best position at right guard. I struggle to see how he fits into Alex Van Pelt's wide zone scheme as a right tackle. Perhaps best of all would be if Wallace works out immediately at left tackle and then Okorafor could go back to his natural spot at right tackle. Seems like Sow will get the first chance to fill in for (or very possibly replace) Strange and if that works out then suddenly the offensive line has some young pieces stacked in place for the near future. There's plenty of interesting depth among the 17 offensive linemen on the roster but the key is who develops at which tackle spots.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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