Preseason is usually just a long boring month of mediocre football that NFL fans are forced to endure before the real games can begin all the while hoping and praying that their team’s top players don’t suffer any significant injuries in these meaningless games. However, for some teams, these games aren’t meaningless. This year’s Patriots team is one of those teams. New England has players competing to start at nearly every position and a host of talented young players desperate to prove themselves. With that combination of circumstances, the Patriots should be in store for their most exciting and competent preseason in years and there’s a real reason to tune in and invest in this year’s games. Here are 5 things to keep an eye out for during Patriots preseason:
N’Keal Harry vs Jakobi Meyers
The battle between Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry is shaping up to be a fascinating one. Both Meyers and Harry showed out in their first career preseason games, but it was Meyers that really grabbed the spotlight. Harry, the heralded first round pick college star, and Meyers, the unknown undrafted overachiever, have both had performances that you wouldn’t exactly expect so far in training camp based on their draft position with Meyers being the standout rookie and Harry struggling to live up to his billing. Meyers has been all the buzz from Patriots reporters on Twitter and has supposedly even been getting consistent reps with New England’s first-team offense. Harry, meanwhile, has had some serious issues with drops, false starts and lining up wrong thus far in camp. The first rounder has managed to make a few circus catches in that same time, but they haven’t come close to overshadowing his mistakes. The lows have certainly dominated the headlines for Harry during late July and early August, so he may need a strong showing in preseason games if he hopes to see much of the field once the regular season starts.
The battle could be similar to one that took place last year for the Patriots when undrafted rookie JC Jackson outshined 2nd round pick Duke Dawson. It was Jackson who emerged as the Patriots star young corner and proved that draft position means nothing once you make it to the NFL. Dawson was injured, so it’s not apples to apples, but the Patriots have proven that they don’t care where they drafted anybody. All they care about is whether or not you can play. Meyers is outplaying Harry right now and if that continues into live game action, Harry may be spending most of his rookie season sitting on the bench watching Meyers catch touchdown passes from Tom Brady rather than on the field.
With Tom Brady’s future beyond this year at least somewhat in doubt, the Patriots need to groom a young quarterback to takeover for the NFL legend once his time in New England comes to an end. Until they draft another quarterback, they’ll be grooming Jarrett Stidham for that role. Preseason will likely be the only games that Stidham gets to play before the Patriots next draft, so it’ll be his best chance to convince the Bill Belichick that he doesn’t need to draft a QB in 2020 and their next franchise quarterback is already on the roster. Patriots reporter Jeff Howe of the Athletic said Thursday morning on 98.5 The Sports Hub of Stidham, “He’s way better right now than Jimmy Garoppolo was at this time in 2014… He’s the most accurate rookie passer that I’ve seen in my 11 years covering the Patriots in training camp.”
A good preseason would turn Stidham from middle of the draft nobody to heir apparent. From that standpoint, Stidham may be the most important player to watch during the Patriots preseason games, at least in terms of how it affects the future of the franchise. Stidham had a solid game against Detroit, but so did Brian Hoyer. Stidham will need to show more as the preseason goes on to truly be considered someone worth investing in.
There’s still a lot to sort out at left tackle for Dante Scarnecchia and the Patriots. In total, they have three options. The first option is to start first round pick Isaiah Wynn, but Wynn probably won’t see much action during the preseason as he continues to work his way back from the Achilles tear that sidelined him last season. The second option, perhaps the least favorable of the three, is starting journeyman offensive lineman Dan Skipper. It will likely be Skipper who sees most of the time at left tackle throughout the preseason, but he’s never been good enough to be a solidified backup in his NFL career nevermind a starter at the most important position on the offensive line.
The third option at left tackle that New England has flirted with is moving left guard Joe Thuney over to left tackle. Thuney played tackle in college and only moved to guard once he entered the NFL. A switch back to tackle for Thuney could end up being the Patriots best option, with Ted Karras or perhaps rookie Hjalte Froholdt taking over at left guard. There is one other option at tackle for New England in third round pick rookie Yodny Cajuste, but that’s a long shot with Cajuste on NFI (Non-football injury list) after having surgery on his quad prior to the NFL draft. How the Patriots use Thuney along with the performances of Dan Skipper and Isaiah Wynn (if he ever makes it on the field) could dictate whether or not the Patriots show serious interest in Redskins left tackle Trent Williams who continues to demand a trade out of Washington.
Patriots TE situation
The Patriots have about five tight ends right now and it feels like any one of them could end up being the starter. Ben Watson has had a solid career and likely has a better relationship with Tom Brady than any other tight end on the roster, but Watson is on his last legs after planning to retire following last season. Matt LaCosse was the Patriots first tight end signing this offseason suggesting they make have big plans for the former Bronco. Ryan Izzo and Stephen Anderson are holdovers at the position from last year’s team, but neither saw a single snap last regular season. With LaCosse getting injured in preseason week 1, the Patriots brought another tight end into the mix in former Falcon Eric Saubert.
With so much unknown, the Patriots even signed veteran tight end Lance Kendricks in July to give them another option to evaluate at the position. Watson is unlikely to see much action during preseason considering his age, but it’s possible that whichever one of the many other other tight ends turns out the best performance in August could end up being the Week 1 starter with Watson suspended for the first four games of the season. They could even end up solidifying that spot over Watson if their solid play continues into the first four weeks of the regular season. LaCosse, Izzo, Anderson and Kendricks are all players to watch with the hope being that one shows enough this preseason to be considered as a consistent pass catching threat for Tom Brady and the Patriots offense.
Roster Bubble Players
Derek Rivers player well in preseason week 1, but is far from safe after an uneventful few years to start his career in New England. Rivers has perhaps the biggest range for what could happen with him this season. He could continue to show the elite pass rushing ability he displayed against Detroit and carve out a significant role on the defense or he could be cut before the start of the season. Rivers will have to continue to shine in preseason to solidify his spot on the roster over fellow defensive lineman fighting for a roster spot like John Simon and Danny Shelton.
With so much depth at cornerback and safety, last year’s 2nd round pick defensive back Duke Dawson could be in serious trouble. There are some obvious names ahead of Dawson on the depth chart such as the McCourty brothers, Gilmore, JC Jackson, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon, but even beyond that things don’t look so great for Dawson. The Patriots just drafted another DB in JoeJuan Williams this year in the 2nd round and he’ll likely take priority over Dawson. The Patriots also have Keion Crossen who played well in spurts in 2018 and have Nate Ebner, Terrence Brooks and Jonathan Jones who all can contribute on special teams which is known to be immensely important to Bill Belichick. Dawson is in trouble and will need to stand out to keep his roster spot.
Wide receiver Braxton Berrios is similarly in trouble after injuries sidelined him during his rookie season and Maurice Harris and Jakobi Meyers outshined him at training camp. A few players that will likely make the roster, but could be surprise cuts if they don’t perform well this preseason include Rex Burkhead with the Patriots also having Michel, White, rookie Damien Harris and returning former Patriot Brandon Bolden at running back and both Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts who will be fighting for a job with second year player Christian Sam. It’s likely only two of the three make the roster at most.
Photo: (Charles Krupa - AP Photo)