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Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: Prospects of an offensive evolution, concerns about the d-line

Fans questions in this week's mailbag revolve around the offensive prospects selected in the Draft and how that may lead to an evolution of the Patriots offense. Plus, fans voice their concern about the defensive line.


I think much of the disappointment over Belichick's draft may be somewhat premature. Given his history, Belichick builds his roster in stages, i.e. assuming improvement from the previous year's draft, signing free agents, the current addition of draft prospects, and signing players still to be released/ traded from their present teams especially during preseason camp. Am I being too forgiving and obtuse about Belichick's decision making?Joseph Didato

With a 20-year sample size there's plenty to analyze with Belichick's drafts. What you focus on depends on which narrative you're trying to sell. Ultimately, the draft is one part of team building, along with free agency, internal development and signing undrafted free agents. Any analysis of a draft coming immediately after it concludes is definitely premature and yes, team-building continues throughout the year, but I would say at this point the 2020 Patriots are largely assembled and a few things are clear – there will be plenty of opportunities for young player to rise up and take significant roles, and that starts at the quarterback position. As for this year's draft it's not like they failed to address their needs, especially at outside linebacker/edge and tight end. Those are critical spots where there were sizable holes and the team double-dipped at both positions. Did they pick the wrong players? Everyone can have their opinion but they are all good, tough football players. We'll just have to wait and see how they develop. –Mike Dussault

With the drafting of a few OL and last year's OL picks, I believe the Patriots will trade Cannon, Thuney will get a contract that will reduce this year's cap hit and they will trade for a speedy WR. There are reports that Kenny Stills may be the odd man out in Houston. What are your thoughts? Is there a WR that can stretch the field that we could trade for?Wayne Simmons

I think that speedy wide receiver might already be on the roster in Damiere Byrd, who was a promising young player with the Cardinals with the kind of speed you're talking about. The wide receiver position is certainly one we can analyze as the team lacked luster there last year and acquiring Byrd and Marqise Lee aren't the kind of exciting moves people might've been clamoring for. Still, there are 12 receivers currently on the roster, including the reported rookie free agents. Speedster Jeff Thomas from Miami is among that group and could be the kind of player you're describing as well if he can get his off-field issues under control. The Patriots seem ready to give N'Keal Harry the chance to be an every down receiver while Julian Edelman remains one of the best inside receivers in the game. How the third, fourth and fifth spots play out will be determined by competition and injuries. There's no question they need a few youngsters to step up and they've thrown a lot at the wall. –Mike Dussault

Keeping the new CBA active and game day roster changes in mind and considering the drafted and undrafted rookie tight ends the Patriots have signed, could we be seeing the Patriots attempt to create something similar to what they had going on in Baltimore with tight ends Andrews, Boyle, Hurst and fullback Ricard?

There's definitely something to be said for the Patriots attention to keeping Joe Thuney, signing Dan Vitale and drafting Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. Those are all players that will reinforce the middle of the offense, a spot where they didn't have enough last season. It's also a focus on helping the running game, where all of those players should have some impact helping opening holes for the backs. But I don't think they're headed down the Ravens' road. That's just such a unique offense around Lamar Jackson that is hard to replicate. But it's definitely notable how the Patriots have built up that part of their offense rather than focusing more on outside receiver threats. Expect the Pats to be tougher inside this year, but in a more traditional sense. –Mike Dussault

If the new TE's can each carve out their own individual niche on an average NFL skill level, like Asiasi being an all-around TE, Dalton a move/h-back TE and Burt a blocking TE with some ability to catch, the potential offensive packages with already-rostered veterans like Meyers, Edelman, Harry, White, Burkhead, Michel and Harris, could potentially throw opponents fits in scheming.Chris Bartlett

There's no question the Patriots offense isn't as barren as many would make it out to be, but at the receiver spot they're going to need development and health to compete with the best offenses in the league. But if you're a first-year starting quarterback you have what you need most – a veteran offensive line and good weapons that will be close-by for easy throws and handoffs. There will be an element of power this year that opposing defenses will have to deal with, one that existed in 2018 but didn't in 2019 due to departures and injuries. I'm not sure they can recreate what they did in the 2018 playoff run, but they seem a lot better equipped for 2020 than they did at the start of the 2019 season. –Mike Dussault

Alright guys, I would appreciate if you could give us all some insight on how many people have a hand in making the Patriots draft picks. I get that Bill has the final say, but I find it hard to believe that some of his head-scratching choices are unanimous decisions, especially with all the misses they've had over the last seven years. Is anyone else speaking up, or are they all afraid to challenge Belichick's decisions? Also, do you think Robert Kraft needs to take the draft away from Bill?Jim Loveland

We don't know for sure how unanimous any decision is and while there are some head scratchers over the years, the Patriots and Belichick have been pretty consistent with the kind of players they take. Again, there are plenty of draft hits and misses over the last 20 years and we can go back and forth all day between those, the draft is an inexact science and it's easy to cherry pick when you have 20 years of results and all that really matters is how many football games have been won. Robert Kraft is never going to "take the draft away from Bill," just go back to what started the fissure with Bill Parcells to see how that goes. But we're in exciting new territory, with turnover at the most important position and while the team still has some important veteran pieces, it will largely be a youth movement this season. There's no other coach I'd rather have to navigate this period of Patriots history than Bill Belichick, but there's no question that we're in a new phase and there's a new kind of pressure on the organization to find a new core of impact players. –Mike Dussault

Why doesn't anyone notice what Brian Hoyer's numbers were in 2015-2016? In 2015, he was a very solid starter for Houston, and in 2016, he was downright dynamite for the Bears until he got hurt. Other than that Andy Dalton's had more time on the field, there's not a whole lot to pick between the two of them. It seems to me that it would make no sense for the Pats to acquire a veteran QB unless it were someone with serious upside, and that's not Andy Dalton, who's the main person people are talking about. Given Hoyer's greater knowledge of the Pats' system, he's better than a roughly average veteran starter on the back side of his career. Now--is Cam Newton getting healthy? THAT is someone who might be interesting!Kenneth Howes

Depending how what training camp and the preseason look like I don't think we should rule out seeing Hoyer to start the season. As much as everyone would love to just throw Jarrett Stidham in there, I think it's more of a competition with Hoyer than many might believe. That said, Stidham would have to really regress to lose his chance and Hoyer really is an ideal back up – he knows the system, knows how to be a professional and has experience on multiple NFL teams. He'll be an invaluable resource to Stidham and if he needs to play some games, he should be able to keep the Patriots competitive. Bringing in someone like Newton would be a near impossibility as far as money goes, not to mention how his sizable presence would impact the dynamic already established between Stidham and Hoyer. I think the Patriots like that simple dynamic. –Mike Dussault

Do you have any concerns regarding the depth (or potentially lack of) at defensive tackle? I'm still having flashbacks of Derrick Henry 3 yards upfield, head full of steam, barreling over players in the secondary - his first contact of the play. I feel as though Shelton was significantly underrated, and it seems they have done little to address his loss. I had really hoped that the team would have invested in some serious athletes to block off the middle of the field, and given that the Patriots may move back to more of a 3-4, am worried about the fact we are one injury away from impending doom at the position.Jay Bhambhani

YES! Sometimes I feel like one of the only people that this is concerning to so it's nice to get this question. The team basically swapped Shelton for Beau Allen. Shelton played about 50 percent of the snaps as the Pats did play more 3-4 concepts last season than they had in recent years. Allen has the skillset to play the nose like Shelton did, but played just 15.6 of the snaps in Tampa last season and is three years older than Shelton. Add in that they lost thumping inside linebacker Elandon Roberts and the concerns about the middle of the Patriots defense, especially against the run, are well-founded. There are some interesting undrafted rookies like Nick Coe and Bill Murray who could have a real roster shot, while the team must be hoping Byron Cowart takes significant steps forward in his second season. This could be a critical flaw in the defense if players do not step up. –Mike Dussault

Regarding tight ends from last year, such as Lacosse and Izzo, I often heard that if Brady didn't trust the receivers, then he wouldn't target them. With Stidham as the potential replacement and taking over, do you think there could be a chance that people like Lacosse and Izzo could potentially gain more chances? Obviously creating space and route running is pretty important, but there's a completely new chance that everybody resets without judgment or bias from Stidham. What's your opinion and thoughts?Daniel Chippendale

I think this could apply to all the tight ends and receivers. There's no question that guys like Jakobi Meyers and N'Keal Harry must feel a certain weight lifted now that Brady isn't expecting them to do things exactly his way. Not to say that will result in better results, but sometimes playing looser can help players be more productive. It's a great unknown who of these 12 receivers might click with Stidham. That's probably part of why they've thrown a lot of guys into the mix on low-risk deals. Finding who works best with their next quarterback without overinvesting in someone who may not could be part of their strategy. –Mike Dussault

My first question is: Why did they spend three picks (two 4th and a future 6th) for Keene. I know that he can become a very good TE but he was ranked as 6th or 7th round prospect. They could use a normal 4th for him. They use a 5th for a no listed kicker too. Normally they could take him as undrafted or used a 7th for him? My second question is: Patriots have problems to draft a good wide receiver, why they not use at least a pick on a wide receiver? Everybody spoke that this year was a really deep on WR. –Vincent Kaculini

On Keene, the Patriots are going off their board not whatever the armchair analysts think. Tom Brady was picked in the sixth but should've been the first overall pick. That's the extreme example, but the big board rankings of Mel Kiper and the like mean little to the actual football teams making the picks. They're making their own evaluations and the Patriots clearly thought Keene was a player who fit what they need and do, and well-worth what they paid to get him.

On the receivers, it's a good question. I thought they'd at least take a flyer on one of the intriguing day two or three receivers but they instead just opted for four undrafted rookies. Reading between the lines you have to assume that they want N'Keal Harry to play every down, they think Julian Edelman will remain one of the best inside receivers in the game and that Mohamed Sanu can bounce back from an injury-plagued first season with the team to give them a competent other option. Then they want to give second-year receivers Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski a chance to develop, while free agent flyers on Marqise Lee and Damiere Byrd could pay unexpected dividends, while the prospect of an undrafted rookie clicking always remain under the radar. There's a lot there even if they didn't grab another rookie draft pick, but it was still not what most expected. –Mike Dussault

Do you think that with the acquisition of J'Mar Smith as a mobile QB who is similar to Lamar Jackson and Mahomes in his QB play and shows a great deal of athleticism that he can become a vital part of the new look Offense. Is it time now for the Patriots to utilise the two QBs that they have in Stidham being more of a pocket passer with the shorter passing game the patriots use often and utilize the skills of Smith as a mobile athletic QB to unlock defenses in an NFL where defenses have now got better and better with the more athletic players coming through the Draft and younger coaches with newer ideas.Mohamed Izaz

The Patriots often seem to take flyers on different types of quarterbacks but I think they continue to believe that a good-decision-making quarterback who can get the ball out quickly will remain their bread-and-butter. Smith could also give them a practice squad option while preparing for the many mobile quarterbacks they will face this season and in the off chance he clicks and develops into that safe quarterback with quick release they love, with a heavy dose of athleticism sprinkled in, maybe they'd consider giving him a real chance. But at quarterback you can never have too many guys when you don't know for sure who the starter is. I'm all for throwing everyone they can find at the wall. –Mike Dussault

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