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Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: Projecting newcomer and rookie impacts

Fans' questions answered in this week's mailbag.


Do you think that there is any chance that Dalton Keene sees snaps at FB? Seems like a possibility. Also, what are your thoughts on the idea that Byrd and Phillips will be key players, and much better than anticipated as well as fan-favorites? Byrd is a single-coverage buster with his release, and Phillips IMO is another Rodney Harrison-type story.Brian Heisler

Let's start with Keene. After speaking with his high school coach for this feature I wrote on him, it seems like the surface has barely been scratched on Keene's versatility. He potentially could play as a fullback, h-back and tight end but the biggest question I have is can he master at least one of those roles? Can he be an impact player that the Patriots can move around the interior of their formation with freedom? I think the premium will be placed on getting the ball in his hands, that's where he's at his best and he's a hard open-field runner. There's some crossover with the other tight ends and fullbacks, especially with Danny Vitale. Vitale seems more like a traditional lead blocker but has surprising receiving skills as well. There's a lot to work with between the running backs and tight ends.

Byrd certainly has intriguing speed and would appear to be the favorite to replace Phillip Dorsett as an outside speed option. His role with the Cardinals was a bit limited so the question with him will be if he can process all the receiver positions and not just be a one-route pony. The more he can process the better chance he has of finding a role and winning a job.

Phillips is my favorite external free agent signing though the drafting of Kyle Dugger and extension of Patrick Chung certainly stacks the depth chart for box-playing safeties. Reading between the lines I'd expect the three-safety grouping to lead the way for the Patriots defense this season, despite the departure of Duron Harmon. Phillips is very much in the Harrison/Chung mold, and plays an invaluable role in a modern defense. He'll be a key matchup piece and take some of the pressure off of Chung, while giving the coaches plenty to mix and match with. Biggest question I have is will we ever see all four on the field at once? –Mike Dussault

Who do you think will be the Patriots starter week 1? I've seen a few opinions recently that Hoyer might have the edge on Stidham with a potential condensed offseason, is that also a potential consideration for bringing in another veteran like Cam Newton or trading for Brissett/Rosen/Trubisky? Finally for the veteran vs. Stidham argument, do you think the extra time spent with the playbook or the chemistry with the receivers would be most significant?Alex Marr

I think if the Patriots were going to bring in another veteran quarterback it probably would've happened by now. There is merit to the chances of Brian Hoyer being the starter early in the season, but Stidham will have every chance to win the starter's job. Last year, the two competed for the backup role and Stidham essentially won, though the situation was complicated by Hoyer's veteran status that ended up landing him in Indy for the year. This is a different situation and if Stidham isn't consistent this summer I could see the coaches believing Hoyer gives the team the best chance to win. Though if the Patriots really thought Hoyer had a sizable chance to be their starter they might've been more aggressive in the draft to bring someone in to compete with Stidham, so from that standpoint it would appear to be a small vote of confidence for the second-year quarterback. –Mike Dussault

How does Harry compare to the top receivers in this latest draft. Would he have been a first rounder this year?Patrick Hendricks

There were six wide receivers taken in this year's first round, including Brandon Aiyuk who stepped into Harry’s role at Arizona State after his departure last year. While Harry probably still would've ranked below the top three - Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb -- he would've been right there with the second three taken – Jalen Reagor, Justin Jefferson and Aiyuk. As far as fit, Jefferson is probably the best Patriots fit of that group including Harry, but Harry is the best size and strength player of the group. He's not as explosive as Ruggs or Reagor, nor does he possess the athleticism of Jeudy and Lamb, but he likely would've been take in the same range this year, late-first, as he was last year. –Mike Dussault

Looking at the run game support Dan Vitale was signed this offseason as a veteran who knows the league. Next to that they have with Jacob Johnson someone coming from the pathway program, who knows the Patriots offense already one year. Who do you think is more likely to start or to get more reps this season if both stay healthy?Phil Homberg

Johnson was a great story from last season, going from the 91st player on the training camp roster to making the practice squad then getting called up to the gameday roster after James Develin sustained what would be a career-ending injury. Still, Johnson remains extremely raw and Vitale is a versatile and experienced NFL player. All things being equal it would take a huge effort from Johnson to knock Vitale off the roster. Vitale's ability to contribute in multiple ways, including catching and special teams, gives him a sizable advantage over Johnson.–Mike Dussault

Going into the season, which of this year's rookies, both drafted or undrafted do you believe have the greatest potential of making the 53 man roster?James Hubbard

The first six draft picks are locks, while the final four, including three offensive lineman and linebacker Cassh Maluia, will be in a fight for their roster lives. As for who makes the biggest contributions on the field, I'd put Josh Uche at the top. He might not be a huge first and second down contributor out of the gate, but he'll step right in on third down where the defense will need him to get after opposing quarterbacks. Of course you can't rule out Justin Rohrwasser who should be the starting kicker unless things go sideways for him in camp. Dugger, Jennings, Asiasi and Keene can be eased in as role players early on and I'd expect all to be contributors.

As for the undrafteds I'd put the defensive linemen like Bill Murray and Nick Coe near the top of the favorites to make the team. It would appear there's a big need for another rotational player at the position and both guys have some strong Patriots-like traits that make them good fits. I wouldn't rule out any of the four undrafted receivers either. –Mike Dussault

Which of the new Patriots do you think will be the biggest contributor this year?Steve Martin

While I think free agents Adrian Phillips and Beau Allen should play significant roles this year, I think rookie Josh Uche will make the biggest splash of all. Uche is a ready-made pass rusher and after the Patriots lost Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, they're really going to need to throw Uche right into the fire in pass rush situations, which could mean him piling up some significant sack numbers.

That said there will be a more opportunity this year than in year's past and the Patriots have to be hoping that a handful of players take significant steps forward in their development. Guys like Isaiah Wynn, Sony Michel and Ja'Whaun Bentley are going to be key players to watch. The Patriots need more of their recent draft picks to become consistent impact contributors. ­ -Mike Dussault

I've been thinking about something that may sound crazy but here goes. Michael Onwenu was drafted as an OL, however, he also played DL at Michigan. If he makes the team, he's probably not going to play much in 2020 with our starting OL back, so why not use him for 12-15+ plays a game at nose tackle. Unless I'm mistaken, a nose tackle in a 3-4 is there to take up space, fight double teams and hold his position. The guy is 6'3" and 350 lbs that's like Vince Wilfork. Not saying he'll ever be that good, but BB loves versatility and we certainly need another BIG dude on defense. Would it be that surprising to see BB use him on defense and as a backup OL? Is it even possible for him to keep up at the 2 positions?Bob Michaud

Onwenu certainly has intriguing size and he's a bit of a departure from the smaller, athletic mold the Patriots have used along the offensive line in recent years, with Shaq Mason and Isaiah Wynn jumping to mind. But there is a job to be won as the interior swing back up so, as much as they have thin depth along the defensive line, flipping Onwenu to defense would leave them thin at his college position. If injuries strike I wouldn't totally rule it out, but for the immediate future I think they'll start him out at guard and try to keep him there. ­–Mike Dussault

Hypothetical question. It's the 2021 draft and Jarett Stidham just won the Super Bowl and league MVP showing himself from game 1-19 to be one of the top 3 qbs in the league. The Patriots are picking at #32 and Trevor Lawrence is available. Do you draft him? Do you think Bill does?Pascal Rawls-Phillipe

If Stidham wins a Super Bowl and MVP the Patriots should be set at quarterback for the next decade. And if Trevor Lawrence has such a bad season that he falls to 32nd there isn't much of a case to be made to take him.

The more realistic question is what if Stidham is just okay? In some ways this is the hardest scenario of all. If he's amazing the Pats are set. If he stinks the Pats will be on a major quarterback hunt next offseason. But what if he's up and down and finishes the season with equal amounts of positives and negatives, leaving the Patriots with a mid-first round pick, not high enough to get Lawrence or Ohio State's Justin Fields? Or what if Stidham gets hurt before we know if he can play or not? There are so many unknowns when trying to find a new quarterback and it's very possible the outlook is still unclear after the 2020 season. Until the Patriots know for sure I'd expect they'll continue throwing quarterbacks at the wall. To be honest I'd have liked to have seen even more of it this offseason, but for now it looks like it Hoyer/Stidham or bust in 2020. –Mike Dussault

I am very intrigued by wide receiver battle heading into camp. I do see one UDFA making team. Here is my final wide receiver group.

1- Julian Edelman
2- N'keal Harry
3- Mohammed Sanu
4- Jacoby Meyers
5- Damiere Byrd
6- Isiah Zuber
7- Matthew Slater

Byrd and Zuber are the new additions to this year's squad. Both of them can really stretch the field. I think Zuber has much more upside than Hastings and Thomas. Marquise Lee is too injury prone. Your thoughts?Matt Bengle

After Edelman and Harry there isn't anything I'm sure of so your guess is as good as mine. Byrd and Jeff Thomas bring similar outside speed, if one of them makes the roster it will bring a needed element that was missing last year. Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Zuber, Hastings and Sean Riley all have similar skillsets as inside receivers with some return value. Lee is similar to Sanu, bigger inside receivers, but if Lee stays healthy I wouldn't rule him out. The Patriots take a lot of flyers on guys like him, who were just starting to flash when injuries sidetracked their careers. Often they don't work out and his lengthy injury history can't be ignored, but he's also one of the few second-level receivers on the depth chart who has proven he can play at the NFL level. For that reason alone you can't rule him out completely.

It's one of the most fluid receiver depth charts the Patriots have had in a long time and while we used to have a feel on who Tom Brady would click with, we're in new territory. Stidham might just have a special connection with one or two of these guys that could elevate them over the others. –Mike Dussault

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