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Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: Turning a corner?

In this week's mailbag, we field questions about New England’s cornerback depth chart, plus speculation about the rookie draft class and undrafted players, as well as what's still to come in this 2021 offseason.


Could you please give us a bit of schedule guidance on the next things to happen in the post-draft time period, such as rookie mini-camp and OTAs? I realize that some players will not participate in OTAs. I was disappointed the NFL did not delay this phase of the offseason to get everybody vaccinated, and then compress the OTA and training camp schedules accordingly once the players were protected. Ian Hayes

Sure, Ian, although much is still tentative. Patriots rookies are expected to have their initial orientation and minicamp sessions this coming weekend – their first time suiting up in Patriots gear. Next week, veterans continue with Phase 2 of the offseason program. Phase 3 begins later this month and ends sometime in mid-June, including a three-day mandatory minicamp for every player on the roster.

We're expecting to have the full NFL schedule tomorrow, which will include preseason dates that will help us identify approximately when training camp will begin. As of today, exact dates and COVID-related protocols have yet to be announced. Stay tuned, though. As soon as we have any further details, we'll post them here on Erik Scalavino

With Jason McCourty going to Miami, that means the CB depth chart comes down to [Stephon] Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, and Joejuan Williams – not too shabby at all. My question is regarding Williams and his lack of playing time since he was drafted. Do you see that as a result of his being buried on the depth chart behind some really good players, or do you think he never lived up to his second-round draft position? If one of the top three goes down, do you see Williams being able to step in as the nickelback or maybe even as a starter against some of the bigger receivers in the league? He'd really make for a nice chess piece for the defense if he can emerge as a quality defender. Joel Lindgren

Very much a combination of both, Joel – too many good players ahead of him on the depth chart and inconsistent performances on the field have likely limited Williams' appearances in games these past couple seasons. It'd be nice to see him finally emerge as a regular contributor this season. As you point out, that would give New England an enviable top four cornerback grouping. Williams' great size (around 6-4, 210) makes him, on paper, a versatile piece of the secondary puzzle. If he can finally live up to those expectations this year, the Patriots could have one of the stoutest defensive backfields in the league. Erik Scalavino

Joejuan Williams

Hey guys. The biggest surprise for me during the draft was that the Patriots didn't grab a cornerback. With Gilmore and Jackson both in their final contract year, it seemed liked the perfect time to grab one, and this draft had plenty of good ones. What's your take? James Loveland

Well, Gilmore and Jackson have clearly established themselves as the best corners on the Patriots roster. Having them both for at least one more season together might have been worth more to the team than thinking too far ahead, assuming they won't be around beyond 2021, and trying to plan for their potential departures. This could explain the rationale behind not drafting a cornerback this year.

Besides, drafting cornerbacks hasn't always worked out for the best for New England. I'm not suggesting that they were reluctant to draft a corner because of this, but any draft pick comes with the uncertainty of how he'll perform at the NFL level. Knowing what the Patriots have in Gilmore and Jackson – a pair of quality corners – as opposed to rolling the dice with unproven rookies is probably what contributed to the decision to stick with this duo. Erik Scalavino

What is the minimum that Mac Jones will need to do over the course of his time with the Patriots for the pick to be considered a success? Jason Rosa

This might be the single most subjective question we've ever received. The criteria for determining "a success" is different for every person on this planet. In my own estimation, if Jones is able to claim the starting quarterback job sooner rather than later, is then capable of winning games on a regular basis, and helps the Patriots get back to playoff contention more often than not, then I'd consider his first-round selection successful. What it means for you or anyone else depends entirely on the expectations you set for him. Erik Scalavino

Do you think Bill [Belichick] and Josh [McDaniels] could use Cam [Newton] and Mac to run a few wildcat plays? Daniel Hill

It'd be foolish to say, 'No, they'll never do that,' because if that's something that works in practice, of course they'll try it out in a game. However, I'd say that at this point – without having seen these players on the field together yet – it's unlikely that we'll see much of Newton and Jones on offense at the same time. Erik Scalavino

Would you compare and contrast Mac Jones and Jimmy Garoppolo when drafted, and whether Jones is likely to attain that level of play? Peter Workman

The first part of your question is much easier than the second. Jimmy was considered a smart, quick-armed talent from a smaller program with potential to be a starting NFL QB. And when New England took him in the second round, that's where most experts assumed he'd be chosen.

Jones, by virtue of his big-time program/national champion/first-round credentials, has much higher expectations attached to him, although his athletic skills are probably less highly touted than Jimmy G's. Both players, though, are seen as smart decision makers with the football.

Whether or not Jones can meet or exceed the levels that Garoppolo has thus far attained is impossible to say right now, without ever having seen him take a snap in an NFL practice. Come back to us later this summer and we'll have a little bit better idea of how these two passers compare. Erik Scalavino


What do you see the Patriots doing with their last available roster spots? Undrafted free agents, veteran signings? CB and WR seem to be areas that could use some depth. Jack M.

Either or both of those positions would make sense to me, Jack. Perhaps offensive line as well. And yes, probably a combination of rookie and veteran free agents will eventually fill up the 90-man roster. It seems the Patriots took another step in that direction this week with the reported addition of Harvey Langi, the linebacker originally signed as an undrafted rookie by New England in 2017 who's most recently been with the New York Jets. Erik Scalavino

As of today, the only rookie free agent signed with the Patriots is kicker Quinn Nordin. This seems like an oddity given how BB almost always signs one to the regular roster for the season. Is this just a side effect from signing a lot of Vet free agents and needing room for the draft picks? Gary Abrams

Usually the Patriots sign a bevy of UDFAs after the draft. What gives this year? Kenn Scott

You're right. Normally, the Patriots are quick to ink undrafted rookies to contracts once the draft concludes. This year, they've been a bit slower out of the gate, and perhaps by design. Late last week, the club announced its first undrafted rookie signing, the aforementioned Quinn Nordin, a kicker from the University of Michigan.

One plausible reason New England hasn't been as active yet in the undrafted market was first posited by our friend and colleague Mike Reiss from ESPN. He noted in one of his recent posts that because of COVID-related restrictions last spring, teams had the option of trimming their rosters from 90 to 80 in order to allow everyone to work out together, as opposed to splitting the squad into two 45-man rosters and conducting separate practices for each.

As a result, the Patriots had to release 10 players around this time last year, which cost the club a certain sum of money (nothing bank-breaking, of course, but still…). Perhaps, with things still in some flux in terms of COVID restrictions, the team wanted to hold off on filling up the 90-man roster until more clarity has been given by the league. It's as reasonable a hypothesis as I've heard to explain this anomaly. Erik Scalavino

Looking at the roster, the Patriots look fairly deep at Edge and relatively thin at LB. Any chance they look at moving [rookie draft choice Ronnie] Perkins to LB? Peter Ott

There's always a chance, especially in these early stages of the spring practice season, that players who are just entering the program will be moved around and experimented with at various positions. Whether or not Perkins falls into that category remains to be seen, but what's certain is that, as you suggested, there is plenty of depth at the edge rusher position here in Foxborough, which should make for a very competitive training camp in that area. Erik Scalavino

With all the new faces through free agency and the draft how long will it take for the locker room and the field of play to come together as a team. David Bloss

This is a crucial question every season, but particularly one with as much influx of new faces as the Patriots have in 2021. It's also impossible to predict, unfortunately. Every player develops and learns in different ways and to different degrees. The 2007 season, for example, was among the rare ones where so many new players clicked almost instantly and helped propel the Patriots within a whisker of a perfect 19-0 campaign. Most years, though, it takes much longer to integrate all the new elements into one coherent unit. For now, we'll just have to be patient and see how the new players mesh with the returning players come August, when the true competition of training camp gets underway. _Erik Scalavino _


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