The Patriots will begin adding to their roster next month when the new season begins and free agency opens, but there are still quite a few players on the team that many are ignoring or have forgotten about. Internal player development is often the most overlooked element of team building. If a player didn't seize a role or live up to expectations immediately many are quick to put them in the disappointment category.
But the fact is that players can take significant leaps forward in their development and often emerge when everyone was trying to replace them with a more expensive veteran free agent or another draft pick.
Now, perhaps more than ever, the Patriots could greatly benefit if one of their younger players who spent last season behind the scenes develops into an impact player. These players already have experience with coaches and players, understand expectations inside the building and have a jump on the playbook. There are a number of factors in their favor that could boost them and, in turn, the team.
This week's Samsonite Make Your Case question of the week is…
Who is the most intriguing under-the-radar Patriot this offseason?
Erik Scalavino says…
I'm going with safety Malik Gant for a couple of reasons.
First, there could be a potential need for depth at that position, given Devin McCourty's impending free agency and the advancing age of the other key safeties, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon. Last summer, Gant had to fight for reps behind all of those players, plus free agent signing Terrence Brooks, but Gant could see an increased role in 2020.
Second, as a 2019 undrafted rookie, Gant was a long-shot at the start, but made it all the way through camps and preseason before being placed on injured reserve on cut-down day. His size (6-2, 200) makes him an intriguing prospect, and by being on IR last year, he had a whole season to take "mental reps" in New England's system. This year, he could be legitimately poised to compete for a spot on the active roster.
Mike Dussault says…
The Patriots were left scrambling when left tackle Isaiah Wynn ended up on IR early in the 2019 season and their depth at the position remains a big question mark, not to mention how it would look if Wynn were to be moved inside to tackle. With Marcus Cannon set to turn 32 in May, there are big long-term needs at the position and that's what makes 2019 third-round pick Yodny Cajuste my choice.
A left tackle out of West Virginia, Cajuste capped off his career winning the Big 12's Co-Offensive Lineman of the Year and making the All-Big 12 Conference First Team. After sustaining a pre-draft quad injury, Cajuste underwent surgery and missed the entirety of his rookie year. Injuries are a concern with Cajuste as he sustained season-ending knee injuries in 2015 and 2016, but his strengths are intriguing.
Described as mobile and powerful with starting left tackle potential, he's exactly the kind of player the Patriots need this offseason. At a minimum he'd be considered a favorite to take the swing-tackle spot and perhaps could even compete to make Wynn moveable inside or Cannon a cap casualty.