When it comes to special teams, few NFL clubs take this aspect of the game as seriously as the Patriots. Which is why New England is normally in good shape in this category. For the most part, that remains the case heading into the 2021 season.
We have to start with the most decorated Patriot from a year ago: punter Jake Bailey. In only his second NFL season, the 2019 draft pick not only continued to handle both his punting and kickoff duties, he also made the Pro Bowl as the AFC's punter before being named the NFL's First-Team All-Pro punter. The dual distinctions effectively mean Bailey was recognized as the best at his position in all of professional football last season. New England is perhaps in the most solid hands (er… feet, rather?) that they've ever been at punter.
Bailey's strong and pinpoint kickoff leg also helped the Patriots do some good things from a kick coverage perspective last season, which is also in a strong returning position (no pun intended). Perennial co-captain Matthew Slater once again made the Pro Bowl a year ago, as well as earning Second-Team All-Pro honors for his work as a coverage specialist. He was assisted by a pair of other special teams contributors, Justin Bethel and Cody Davis. Both men were free agents this past offseason, but the Patriots acted swiftly in looking Bethel up on a three-year deal and Davis with a two-year pact.
Not to be overlooked is Gunner Olszewski, the former college defensive back who's now an NFL wide receiver, but who also happened to be the league's First-Team All-Pro punt returner in 2020. While Olszewski's award may have taken many – even him – by surprise, he nonetheless has done nothing but improve and develop nicely as a player, both on offense and special teams, since making the roster as a tryout player in 2019.
Meanwhile, Joe Cardona should feel comfortable in his job despite the team having brought in another long snapper, veteran Wesley Farnsworth, this spring. Farnsworth's addition may have had something to do with the fact that the Patriots also found themselves in the unusual circumstance of having not one, not two, but three placekickers on the roster at the time. Immediately following spring practices, though, New England sent Farnsworth and kicker Roberto Aguayo packing.
Of those remaining aforementioned kickers, longtime NFL veteran Nick Folk would seem to be a lock to keep his job, particularly after the 36-year-old had one of the best years of his professional life last season. But with New England choosing to keep 2021 undrafted rookie Quinn Nordin around, an impartial observer must question just how secure Folk's gig is. That said, he should come into camp as the clear front-runner, although Nordin opened some eyes this spring with his powerful, high-trajectory field goal efforts.
A pair of stalwart Patriots special teams contributors are once again going to have to work hard to keep their standing on the roster. Brandon King is working his way back from an August 2019 quadriceps muscle injury that forced him to miss all of that year, plus 2020 as well. And after electing to opt out of 2020 due to pandemic concerns, Brandon Bolden might have to focus on his other skills as a running back in order to remain on the roster, given the emergence of Bethel and Davis, whom we mentioned earlier.