The biggest story lines from the Raiders schedule in 2022

Photo Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times

The 2022 NFL schedule was released this week. With that comes record predictions, ticket-purchasing, and more storylines than anyone can keep track of.  The Raiders schedule is no different. It showcases a matchup against the reigning Super Bowl champions, a revenge game 50 years in the making, and more AFC West matchups than your heart can handle. So, let’s look at three of the biggest storylines to keep track of in 2022.

Week 1: Las Vegas Raiders @ Los Angeles Chargers

It’s the game you’ve been waiting all offseason for. The Raiders will head to SoFi Stadium for their first game of the season to try and take down Justin Herbert and a revamped Charger’s defense.

As you may remember, the Raiders beat the Chargers in the last regular season game of the 2021 season, sending the Silver and Black to the playoffs, and ending the Bolts season without a second thought. Los Angeles has spent the duration of the offseason trying to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Since the two teams last met, they have added numerous Pro-Bowlers to their defense including J.C. Jackson, Kyle Van Noy, and former Raider, Khalil Mack.

Mack, who spent the first four seasons of his career with the Raiders, was traded to Los Angeles this offseason. He is infamously known for being a player Raider Nation saw leading the team to their next Super Bowl win. That is, until the former regime sent him off to Chicago. Since leaving Oakland, Mack’s statistics have declined. However, his game-changing talent and sure-fire want for revenge is still cause for concern in Las Vegas.

On top of being a revenge game for many reasons, the Raiders second home is in Los Angeles. It’s not uncommon for Raider Nation to take over SoFi stadium and make it their own, adding fuel to the fire.

Week 15: New England Patriots @ Las Vegas Raiders

While there are numerous storylines in between Week 1 and Week 15, the Patriots vs. Raiders game is what everyone will be looking forward to. Head coach Josh McDaniels will lead his new team out proudly (we hope), as he takes on the man that taught him everything he knows.

Before being hired as the Raiders head coach in January, McDaniels spent 13 seasons with the Patriots. He served as everything from their offensive assistant to their offensive coordinator, learning the ins and outs of coaching from one of the best in the business, Bill Belichick.

McDaniels was joined in Las Vegas by new general manager, Dave Ziegler, who also spent the previous seasons in New England. McDaniels and Ziegler wasted no time in bringing their favorite former Patriots to Sin City, making Week 15 even more meaningful.

Las Vegas has added six players this offseason who played for the New England Patriots including running back Brandon Bolden, tight end Jacob Hollister, fullback Jakob Johnson, and quarterback Jarett Stidham, among others. Along with players, McDaniels also hired several former New England coaches to his staff.

The sheer volume of Raiders that have played or coached for the Patriots is something that doesn’t go unnoticed, making Week 15 a must win game for the Silver and Black.

Week 16: Las Vegas Raiders @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Fifty years in the making, the Raiders will return to the scene of the “Immaculate Reception” one day after its half-century anniversary. If you’ve been a Raiders fan for a while, or have ever known a Raiders fan, its likely you know exactly what play we’re talking about. If not, you can read up on the controversial play, here.

No matter how much time passes, it will never be clear what happened that day. You’ll get a different story from every player, and every referee working that game. The Raiders are three Lombardi trophies better off than they were that day in Pittsburgh, but they’ll never forget. And they’ll be sure to remind the Steelers of that in December.

The Raiders schedule is tough, with a lot valuable storylines in 2022. If they want to return to the playoffs for a second consecutive year, they’ll have to prove each and every week why they deserve to be there.

Early Storylines for Every 2022 Patriots Game

New England and Buffalo get the Thursday night double dip as Buffalo will be coming off a Thanksgiving showdown against Detroit. These teams matched up three times last year with the fierce Buffalo wind proved to be the Patriots’ most valuable defender in those games.

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) points out trouble during a game between the New England Patriots and the Jacksonville Jaguars on January 2, 2022, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Photo Credit: Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The new season schedule is finally here! The Patriots were allotted the maximum number of primetime games before flex scheduling, as Mac Jones and company remain in the national eye after a strong rookie year. Everyone is ready to see record predictions and game-by-game expectations. But being this far out, let’s just look at early storylines for every 2022 Patriots game and notable trends in the schedule itself.

Week 1 @ Miami

The Patriots avoid a late-season Miami trip this year. Miami has been a house of horrors for New England; they are just 2-7 in their last nine visits. An early trip to Miami means dealing with the late summer heat or possible sloppy hurricane season weather. The Pats will get immediately tested by Tyreek Hill and the new-look Miami offense. Perhaps the Pats catch a break with some early season desynchrony from the Tua-led passing game.

Week 2 @ Pittsburgh

The Patriots get back-to-back road games to open the season. Pittsburgh will still feature a tough defense coupled with a ground-and-pound approach. The Steelers will most likely be starting Mitch Trubisky at quarterback. Trubisky has faced New England once in his career, losing with the Bears 38-31 on October 21, 2018. Trubisky was 26/50 for 333 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions in that game. He also added 81 yards on six carries and a touchdown. The Pats will look to further limit his production this time around.

Week 3 vs. Baltimore

The Patriots make their home debut against a talented Baltimore squad led by fourth-year quarterback Lamar Jackson in Week 3. The Pats emphasized adding speed on defense this off-season, and Jackson will present an early litmus test. The Ravens don’t have a receiver with more than two years of NFL experience on the roster. This fast, but physical opponent will test the Pats’ defense. This game will also mark Matthew Judon’s first time playing against his former employer.

Week 4 @ Green Bay

The Patriots return to the road in Week 4 to play the Packers. The Pats avoid late-season nasty Green Bay weather with the timing of this road trip. When these two teams last met, James White ran for a pair of touchdowns, Cordarrelle Patterson added another on the ground, and Josh Gordon took a Tom Brady pass 55 yards for a 31-17 Patriots victory. Now, the Mac Jones-led offense will need to keep pace with Aaron Rodgers, even if he is without top receiver Davante Adams now.

Week 5 vs. Detroit

The Patriots get just their second home game in Week 5, as they face off against the Lions. This game could be a lot closer than many people are expecting. The Lions are building a solid culture under second-year coach Dan Campbell and will compete until the final whistle. Purely speculative, but this could end up being a Trey Flowers revenge game.

Week 6 @ Cleveland

The Deshaun Watson situation looms large for this portion of the schedule. The expectation is a suspension of some sort will be handed down before the season starts. Six games seems to be the rumored minimum. However, the league put Cleveland in primetime twice this year, with the second being Week 8. With how conservatively the NFL tries to avoid storylines such as Watson’s, it may be prudent to assume the Watson suspension lasts until at least Week 8. IF that’s the case, the Patriots dodge a massive bullet and will face old Wolfpack member Jacoby Brissett.

Week 7 vs. Chicago (Monday Night Football)

The Patriots get their first primetime game of the season with a Monday Night showdown against the Bears. This game will feature second-year quarterbacks Mac Jones and Justin Fields. The early storyline for both has been the improved supporting cast and incredible system that Mac walked into, while Chicago has done very little to support Fields. After a difficult opening stretch, the Pats could enter this game on a small win streak. A win in primetime might get the team feeling right early in the season.

Week 8 @ NYJ

The Patriots turn around on a short week to play the rival New York Jets. It’ll be a repeat storyline as the week before, as dueling second-year quarterbacks will take center stage. The Jets have been lauded as having had an incredible off-season thus far. They made it a point to surround Zach Wilson with a solid supporting cast and get difference-makers on the defensive side of the ball. As this rivalry gets fresh blood on both sides, this game will give us a glimpse of what to expect for years to come.

Week 9 vs. Indianapolis

Last year the Colts were the beginning of the end for the Patriots’ season. The Saturday night matchup previewed the slow starts and undisciplined brand of football the Patriots were going to play down the final stretch. This year the Patriots catch them just before their bye week. The Colts acquired Matt Ryan from the Falcons this season. They added to an already vaunted defense with pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Stephon Gilmore. This matchup will be an excellent barometer for Mac Jones’ development, as this group should be a premier defense in the league.

Week 10 BYE

The Pats get a bye week almost precisely halfway through the season. It will be ideally timed, as the team prepares for the grueling second-half push for playoffs. The bye also may be a realistic expectation for a James White return.

Week 11 vs. NYJ

The Pats will face the Jets for the second time in four weeks after their bye. Last year, the team was consistently flat and undisciplined after their bye week. The team can make a statement by coming out with a purpose and playing inspired ball against the Jets.

Week 12 @ Minnesota (Thursday Night Football)

This game marks the first of four consecutive primetime affairs for the Patriots. It also marks the Patriots’ return to Thanksgiving football for the first time since the “Butt Fumble.”

The Patriots have played five times on Thanksgiving in franchise history, sporting a 3-2 record. However, the Pats have won three in a row on Turkey day and will look to extend the streak to four. The Vikings are coached by Kevin O’Connell, a former third pick of the Pats. This could be a very entertaining holiday nightcap. Also, highlight this one as the potential return of the “Pat Patriot” jerseys.

Week 13 vs. Buffalo (Thursday Night Football)

New England and Buffalo get the Thursday night double-dip, as Buffalo will be coming off a Thanksgiving showdown against Detroit. These teams matched up three times last year, with the fierce Buffalo wind proving to be the Patriots’ most valuable defender in those games. Josh Allen and the Buffalo offense didn’t punt in the final two matchups between these teams.

The Pats’ defense will be a known commodity by this point in the season, even if most of the changes this offseason were done with this matchup in mind. Keeping this one competitive against the presumed AFC favorites will be a good indicator of where the Patriots’ rebuild stands.

Week 14 @ Arizona (Monday Night Football)

The Patriots start a west coast trip with a Monday Night showdown against the Cardinals. The Pats will be coming off a mini-bye here, as they go from a Thursday night showdown to a Monday night game. These teams last met in 2020, with the Patriots defense stifling Kyler Murray and the Cardinals offense in a 20-17 Patriots victory.

While the Pats may benefit from some suspension luck when they play Cleveland earlier in the season, they get no luck here, as DeAndre Hopkins will have served his six-game ban for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Arizona has faded down the stretch under Kliff Kingsbury and will be looking to reverse that trend this season. Arizona may feature even more team speed than Buffalo, with burner Marquise Brown joining DeAndre Hopkins and Kyler Murray.

Week 15 @ Las Vegas (Sunday Night Football)

The second leg of the West Coast tour means a date with Josh McDaniels in Vegas. Belichick against his disciples is always exciting theater. Both teams figure to be making a postseason push. The Raiders will host the Patriots for joint practices before their preseason tilt, so this game will feature some very familiar opponents. Don’t be surprised if this is a high-drama affair, coming down to the last minute.

Week 16 vs. Cincinnati

The Patriots continue a brutal stretch of schedule by hosting the defending AFC Champs on Christmas Eve. The Pats will be hoping Mac has made a Joe Burrow-esque second-year leap of his own, while trying to contain an explosive Cincinnati offense. This game should also feature playoff implications. The Patriots in years past have pointed to a West Coast staycation as a bonding experience for the team, and the Bengals will provide the first test to that idea.

Week 17 vs. Miami

The Patriots’ final regular-season home game feature a familiar spoiler. Last year, the Dolphins swept the Patriots on the back of costly Patriots turnovers. The Tua experiment will be over by this game, one way or the other. He will either have justified his role as the franchise QB, or the Pats will be facing Teddy Bridgewater. The Dolphins have ruined the last few Patriots seasons, so getting a statement win here may help them lose the monkey on their back.

Week 18 @ Buffalo

Like all Week 18 games, this one is yet to have an assigned time slot. Patriots fans should be hoping for a Sunday Night matchup with division title implications. But, this game could feature a host of Buffalo backups as they look to rest up for playoffs and the Patriots try to jockey for one of the Wild Card spots.

What Sony Michel Brings to the Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins have signed running back Sony Michel, and his role is one the team was desperately looking for.

The Miami Dolphins signed former Patriots running back Sony Michel on Monday. Following a brief stint in Los Angeles, the Broward Native will be coming back to play in his home state.

Miami Dolphins sign Sony Michel.

Following a solid first couple seasons in New England, 2020 was a rough year for Michel. Battling injury, he only played in nine games, racking up just over 200 yards.

However, when Rams running back Cam Akers went down, Los Angeles called about the struggling back, whose job was being taken over by Damien Harris. Michel was thus dealt for a pair of day three picks, and began to revitalize his career in Los Angeles.

Under offensive mastermind Sean McVay, Michel saw his role expanded. While he was mainly seen as a power back in New England, there were several skills that were uncovered in his game.

Outside Zone and Pass Protection

Rather than running between the tackles, McVay’s system (very similarly to Mike McDaniel’s), calls for more outside zone run. This put more emphasis on his ability to make quick cuts and find cutback lanes, which was rarely seen during his tenure in New England.

Sony Michel makes a big run.

Michel appeared to have regained some burst following his injury, and it showed in his speed. He was more decisive than ever, and was making quick moves, turning big holes into bigger gains.

This is crucial for a Dolphins offense that, under the aforementioned McDaniel, is basing their offense in the inside zone. They signed running backs Raheem Mostert and Chase Edmonds in free agency, but they both fit more niche roles, and Miami still needed an early down back.

Michel can bring exactly that. His mixture of power and a newfound knack for hitting the hole is a match made in heaven for McDaniel. Running behind a left side of new additions in Terron Armstead and Connor Williams should open up several lanes that Michel has shown the ability to hit.

Michel’s collaboration with Miami’s linemen won’t stop there. Coming from a New England scheme that emphasizes the little things, Miami’s new addition takes pride in his pass protection. He has shown an aggressiveness and, just as importantly, a willingness to take a hit to protect his quarterback. The Miami Dolphins struggled to protect Tua last year, and that could soon change with Sony Michel in his backfield.

Sony Michel makes a huge block against the Bucs.

The Bottom Line on the Sony Michel and the Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins are clearly committed to the “running back by committee” approach, and they now have the backs to do it. The three newcomers join Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed, who have both shown spurts of starting-caliber production.

However, this doesn’t mean that the Michel pickup isn’t significant. While Edmonds and Mostert are talented, Miami was lacking an early-down back. With this signing, they now have someone who can run between the tackles and take the tough hits, while also being able to perform on outside-zone concepts.

Michel’s versatility and willingness to do the little things will come in handy for a Dolphins team that looks to be in win-now mode this season.

The Myth of the Second Round Quarterback

The 2022 NFL Draft is behind us, and it reveals a modern scouting trend at the league’s most important position.

The NFL draft has come and gone, and there were plenty of surprises, notably at the quarterback position. Among them, not a single quarterback was picked in the second round.

After Kenny Pickett was drafted by the Steelers at 20, the next QB didn’t go until 54 picks later, even though there were several who analysts believed were capable of going in round two.

There’s just one small problem: second round quarterbacks don’t exist.

I know it sounds like an odd — or maybe blatantly false — statement, but there is a case to be made. The success rate on round two signal-callers is pretty horrendous, and it all seems to lead to this one conclusion.

In order to come to that conclusion, however, there are a variety of different criteria. First, the types of quarterbacks and draftable skills. Second, the structure, and third, the history of these picks. Those three, when looked at together, bring a pretty shocking revelation that made me conjure up that statement above.

Drafting a Quarterback

Teams who find themselves drafting quarterbacks highly may be in a variety of spots, but there are three that are the most typical:

  1. One of the league’s worst teams, holding a high draft pick.
  2. Middling franchise, looking to make a change.
  3. Top of the league, finding the protégé for an older (on the verge of retirement) leader.

When teams find themselves in any of these positions, they must find the traits they value in a quarterback. Among those are arm talent, rushing ability, composure, ability to read the field, and more. However, there are two categories that those fall into, which, for the sake of the argument are production and potential.

To put it simply, teams judge what a quarterback is right now versus what he could be in a few years.

Scenario one

The top guys usually have a combination of both. Trevor Lawrence, who went number one to the Jaguars last year, combined national championships and Heisman ballot appearances with a 6’6″ frame and a cannon of an arm. Thus, he went to a team that I would place in the first set of criteria. The Jaguars were easily one of the worst teams in the NFL, and thus received a generational talent.

Scenario Two

Those with one of the two traits, however, have a wide range of options. For a team that’s just good enough to be picking outside of the quarterback window, they might be willing to take a chance on a potentially huge swing in their franchises history. Kenny Pickett is a prime example of this. While he doesn’t have the strongest arm or the highest ceiling, his production last season was hard to ignore. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who were 9-7-1 last year, decided that he was worth it at 20.

Kenny Pickett goes 20th overall.

Following that pick, there were other quarterbacks on the board, who, like Pickett, possessed one of the two main traits. Malik Willis, who some suspected may go as high as number two overall, had one of the highest ceilings in the draft, however, if he wasn’t going to go in the first, it seemed he wasn’t getting drafted until later on day 2.

scenario threE

Teams that fall in the third category (such as the Packers in 2020) have a tough decision. While they could take their chances on a high-potential pick like Jordan Love, it makes the most sense to maximize their championship window. Green Bay took that chance in 2020, and passed up elite talent because of it. Now, teams have learned from that mistake, while quarterbacks brunt the blow to their draft position.

Thus, Malik Willis, Matt Corral, Desmond Ridder, and all of the quarterbacks who many expected to go in round one, are now available in the dreaded first half of day two.

The Structure of the Second Round

On the typical draft boards, teams have a wide range of grades on prospects. It’s common to see someone who’s viewed as a top prospect by one team be a day two pick for someone else. Due to this disparity, many “first round talents” fall into the beginning of day two.

These players are quickly scooped up in what makes up roughly 25 percent of the round. This leaves the last 24 picks for guys truly viewed as round two prospects, which doesn’t leave much room for quarterbacks.

If a team would have believed in someone enough to draft them with those first eight picks, it’s unlikely he would have slipped to begin with. Teams rarely risk the opportunity of missing out their guy. This is why it’s common to see teams move up to 32. They guarantee themselves the player they want with an extra year of team control.

Lamar Jackson was drafted 32 overall.

If a team wasn’t willing to take that chance, it’s unlikely they viewed them very highly. That idea is exactly what makes the second round the worst for the quarterback. Would a team take a player who, at the most important position in the sport, they aren’t fully invested in or comfortable with — especially when there is still high-end talent on the board?

The last 24

Once you find your way out of those first eight picks, it becomes time for teams to ask themselves that question. As this draft has shown, the answer has been a resounding “no.” The later picks, which are usually the teams competing for playoff spots, would rather choose someone who can contribute right away. Bubble teams are always looking for their next big acquisition, and their philosophy is that is can come then.

Quarterbacks, as a result, usually fall by the wayside. However, there are some instances where they are picked. The results of which are rather interesting.

Modern History of the Second Round Quarterback

Over the last 20 years, there have been 20 quarterbacks selected in the second round. 20 different times, teams have weighed the ideas of production and potential, and in the last two decades, have determined it’s time to take a quarterback who likely only had one of those traits.

A list of second round quarterback selections of the last 20 years.

Of those, the results are typically a failure of epic proportions. Kellen Clemens, Deshone Kizer, Drew Stanton, Chad Henne, Brian Brohm, John Beck, Jimmy Clausen, and Geno Smith all have more career interceptions than touchdowns, while Christian Hackenberg and Kyle Trask (who’s only in his second season) never played a recorded snap.

The other options aren’t great either. Tavaris Jackson, Brock Osweiler, and Kevin Kolb all showed some flashes, but never lived up to their selection.

Five of the remaining six are polarizing. Jalen Hurts has shown flashes, but fell apart in the playoffs. Drew Lock is still young, but was just traded by the Broncos and has been shaky. Jimmy Garoppolo was able to succeed in the Kyle Shanahan offense, but was just replaced and hasn’t shown an ability to transcend the system. Andy Dalton is a similar story, having rough stints in limited playoff appearances. Lastly, Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance, but has been out of the league for the better half of the last decade.

This leaves Derek Carr, who, while having only one playoff appearance and zero playoff wins, has safely cemented a spot as the Raiders quarterback for eight years. He has made three Pro Bowls, and has continued to improve. Thus making him the only second round quarterback selected in the last 20 years who can safely be called a hit.

The Bottom Line on the Second Round Quarterback

The 2022 NFL Draft was a prime example of a philosophy at work. After a quarterback goes in the first round, teams have learned from mistakes of the past. Rather than picking signal callers with clear holes in their game in the following round, they’ve gone for contributors at other positions.

Several teams would love to have the next Derek Carr, but with that comes the chance of Brian Brohm or Deshone Kizer. Just like every other selection, the second round has it’s fair share of bust potential. However, it seems that the combination of quarterback traits, draft tendencies, and a simple history lesson will tell you that it simply isn’t the same.

General managers across the league will continue to take swings on quarterbacks, but when doing so, it’s important to look at the most glaring fact:

Second round quarterbacks don’t exist.

Patriots Roster Reset

It would be a surprise if the Pats didn’t add a receiver early in the draft this year. They are likely to add in one form or the other before training camp. This group is surprisingly crowded but without a clear-cut top-tier option.

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After being exposed by the Bills on wildcard weekend, the Patriots entered the off-season with a laundry list of needs. Unfortunately, they were snug to the cap already, having just under $10 million to spend at the onset of free agency. The Pats were in a challenging position, having multiple internal free agents and a litany of glaring needs.

Free agency is winding down, and the team is in full NFL draft prep mode. The Pats may be waiting for after the draft to add free agents, as those additions would not forfeit any compensatory picks next year. With an eye on the draft, let’s take a closer look at the Patriots roster as it stands today.

Quarterback

Rostered: Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham

Retained: Brian Hoyer

Top Free Agents Available: Cam Newton, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen, Jake Fromm, Blake Bortles

The Patriots took their quarterback of the future last May in the NFL Draft with Mac Jones. Jones was solid in his rookie campaign. The team is internally optimistic he will be the franchise QB for years to come.

Hoyer had a brief foray into free agency before re-signing with the team. Hoyer will provide leadership as Mac navigates an off-season where the young signal-caller lost offensive coordinator/QB coach Josh McDaniels.

Stidham is a camp arm and may stick around on the practice squad. I wouldn’t expect the Patriots to add anyone prominent to this group.

Running Back

Rostered: Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, J.J. Taylor, James White, Devine Ozigbo, Dalton Keene

Out: Brandon Bolden (Raiders), Jakob Johnson (Raiders)

Retained: James White

Top Free Agents Available: Sony Michel, Darrel Williams, Melvin Gordon, Phillip Lindsay, David Johnson, Jalen Richard

This group is one of the more talented collection of players on the Patriots roster. Damien Harris should return as the 1A option. Rhamondre Stevenson is looking to continue his ascent into the top tier of NFL running backs in year two.

The Pats were able to get James White back with minimal guarantees as he recovers from a season-ending hip injury. White was off to a scorching start with Jones before the injury in week 3. If he can return to form, he will be in for a big year. White returning to form will offset the loss of Bolden. This off-season may provide Taylor with his best opportunity to unseat White as the passing back. Devine Ozigbo offers a camp body and practice-squad player.

Although officially listed as a tight end, Dalton Keene looks to benefit from Jakob Johnson’s departure. The Pats traded up in the 2020 NFL Draft to grab the H-back out of Virginia Tech. Now, Keene is finally healthy heading into the offseason. Look for him to get every opportunity to lock down the TE3/FB hybrid spot this training camp.

The Pats may add a free agent here (old friend Sony Michel), but are more likely to add a rookie as Harris enters the final year of his rookie deal.

Wide Receiver

Rostered: Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry, Ty Montgomery, Tre Nixon, DeVante Parker, Malcolm Perry, Kristian Wilkerson

In: Devante Parker (Dolphins), Ty Montgomery (Saints)

Out: Gunner Olszewski (Steelers)

Retained: Jakobi Meyers

Top Free Agents Available: Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Will Fuller, Julio Jones, Emmanuel Sanders, Keelan Cole, Cole Beasley, T.Y. Hilton, Allen Hurns, Albert Wilson, Adam Humphries, Isaiah Ford

Agholor, Bourne, and Meyers return as the top options for Mac Jones. The Pats added a bigger target in DeVante Parker, who will provide the young gun with a sure-handed receiver in contested catch situations — if he can remain healthy. Parker should be everything the Pats hope Harry would be. Montgomery was added to take snaps at running back, receiver, and all over special teams.

Malcolm Perry offers a fun, gadget-type player who may find himself in a camp battle with Montgomery for a single roster spot. Wilkerson offered a peek into his potential last year late in the season and will try to carry that momentum into a roster spot this year. Tre Nixon hopes to stay healthy and flash his big-play potential from college. Harry is a long-shot to be on this roster on kickoff weekend

The Pats were rumored to be in on several free-agent receivers this off-season They continue to be linked to Odell Beckham Jr. Isaiah Ford also has time in the New England offense and may make sense on a cheap deal. The Patriots are also looking at many rookie wide outs in the draft. It would be a surprise if the Pats didn’t add a receiver early in the draft this year.

The Patriots roster is likely to gain another receiver before training camp. This group is surprisingly crowded, but without a clear-cut top-tier option.

Tight End

Rostered: Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Devin Asiasi

Out: Troy Fumagalli (FA)

Top Free Agents Available: Rob Gronkowski, Jared Cook, Blake Jarwin, Kyle Rudolph, Jesse James

The Pats spent here last year and spent big. Henry provided even more than the team could have hoped for in year one. Jonnu, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. Smith has been present for off-season programs thus far, a difference from last year, as the team and player look to accomplish in year two of the mega-contract.

Asiasi has not lived up to his billing coming out of college and is entering make-or-break territory in year three. Throughout camp, Keene should push for the third spot in a battle with Asiasi. There’s not a lot available in the way of free agents, but the Pats will likely add a body here in rounds 5-7.

Offensive Line

Rostered: David Andrews (C), Yasir Durant (G), Arlington Hambright (G), Trent Brown (T), Yodny Cajuste (T), Drew Desjarlais (T), James Ferentz (G), Justin Herron (T), Mike Onwenu (G), Isaiah Wynn (T), Will Sherman (T)

Out: Shaq Mason (Buccaneers), Ted Karras (Bengals)

Retained: Trent Brown, James Ferentz

Top Free Agents Available: J.C. Tretter (C), Eric Fisher (T), Duane Brown (T), Daryl Williams (G/T), Riley Reiff (T), Trai Turner (G), Ereck Flowers (G), Brandon Shell (T), Ryan Bates (G), Nate Solder (T), Bryan Bulaga (T), Matt Paradis (C), Marcus Cannon (T)

This is perhaps the shakiest group of players on the Patriots roster. They return three out of five starters after losing Ted Karras to the Bengals in free agency and trading Shaq Mason to the Buccaneers. The Pats tried to retain Karras, but were unwilling to go as high in the bidding as the Bengals.

The Mason trade was a bit of a head-scratcher as a young, premier talent at this position, on an affordable contract, was only able to gain the team a fifth-round pick. The move was made to clear some cap space for the team, but the return seems hardly worth it. Onwenu should slide in at either guard spot, leaving the Pats a man short in their starting five.

Furthermore, tackles Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn are not known for their ability to stay healthy. Will Sherman, Yodny Cajuste, and Justin Herron project to battle it out for the top swing tackle spot, while James Ferentz currently projects as the top backup on the interior.

The Pats will look to add here both in free agency and the draft. The Pats could call old friends Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon to gain veteran depth at the tackle spots, while someone like Trai Turner or Ereck Flowers may make sense as depth on the interior. The Patriots may look to address these spots early in the draft, so don’t be surprised if they use their first selection on a player up front.

Defensive Line

Rostered: Christian Barmore, Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson, Byron Cowart, Bill Murray, Deatrich Wise, Daniel Ekuale

Out: Carl Davis (FA)

Top Free Agents Available: Trey Flowers, Jadeveon Clowney, Akiem Hicks, Larry Ogunjobi, Ndamukong Suh, Justin Houston, Jerry Hughes, Jason Pierre-Paul, Eddie Goldman, Sheldon Richardson, Carl Nassib, Linval Joseph

Barmore was an absolute steal in the second round of the draft last May. He looks to continue to build on his impressive rookie season and offers stability in the interior of the defense for years to come. Lawrence Guy was his steady self, while Davon Godchaux showed flashes of why the Pats shelled out to get him.

Anderson agreed to a restructured deal to stick around after getting injured last year. Deatrich Wise restructured his contract to give the Pats some more space and continues to offer pass-rush ability and strong leadership in the locker room.

Cowart, Murray, and Eukale would preferably be practice squad/depth pieces but currently project to get considerable playing time if no additions are made. Carl Davis remains a free agent. It makes sense for both sides to continue their relationship. Trey Flowers and Akiem Hicks would be substantial additions to this group, and both are familiar with New England.

The Pats should add competition here in the form of free agents and rookies before training camp. The Pats may go to this group early in the draft, if the right players slide into striking range.  

Linebacker

Rostered: Ja’Whaun Bentley, Terez Hall, Anfernee Jennings, Matt Judon, Harvey Langi, Cameron McGrone, Raekwon McMillan, Ronnie Perkins, Josh Uche, Jahlani Tavai, Mack Wilson

In: Mack Wilson (Browns)

Out: Kyle Van Noy (FA), Chase Winovich (Browns), Dont’a Hightower (FA), Jamie Collins (FA)

Retained: Ja’Whaun Bentley

Top Free Agents Available: Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower, Joe Schobert, Melvin Ingram, Anthony Barr, Landon Collins, Anthony Hitchens, Nick Kwiatkoski, A.J. Klein, Takkarist McKinley

Bentley returned to the team after leading them in tackles in 2021. Bentley is a more traditional linebacker who doesn’t fill a three-down role, but provides a big body against power-rushing teams such as the Colts and Titans.

This off-season, a common goal for the team has been the infusion of speed at every position group. None needed it more than this one in 2021. Hightower remains a free agent as a big lumbering type is slowly being phased out of the current rendition of the game.

The Pats swapped Winovich for Mack Wilson in a change of scenery trade that may benefit both players. Wilson offers a more undersized body linebacker than Belichick has liked in the past, but offers more speed. Judon was an absolute force before falling off after week 13 when he got COVID. He will force himself into the Defensive Player of the Year conversation if he can continue his pace for an entire season.

Josh Uche was a problem his rookie year, as many around the league identified him as a potential star in year two. The leap never happened, as he was injured early in the year and struggled to earn playing time later. Anfernee Jennings enters year three, losing his first two to poor injury luck. He might be in line to replace Hightower as a large, on-the-line body type. Perkins was a third-round pick last year and spent his rookie season as a redshirt. Perkins offers pass rush specialty with an upside to become an every-down player after a dominant college career at Oklahoma.

Raekwon McMillan was putting together a solid camp last fall, with multiple internal evaluators very high on him, before tearing his ACL and missing the season. If he can return to form, this group may be much better than expected. This group will also blend with safeties Jabrill Peppers, Kyle Dugger, and Adrian Phillips, as the Pats look to add speed to the interior of their defense.

Kyle Van Noy and Hightower seem likely to return on lighter deals as part-time players. Nakobe Dean of Georgia and Devin Lloyd of Utah are premier rookie talents to watch for in the draft.  

Cornerback

Rostered: Jalen Mills, Malcolm Butler, Terrance Mitchell, Shaun Wade, Joejuan Williams, Myles Bryant, Jonathan Jones

In: Malcolm Butler (Cardinals)

Out: J.C. Jackson (Chargers)

Top Free Agents Available: Jackrabbit Jenkins, Joe Haden, Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan, Kevin King, Trae Waynes, Fabian Moreau, Xavier Rhodes, Vernon Hargreaves

This is another part of the Patriots roster that has had much made about it this off-season, but is perhaps in better shape than many expect. Losing J.C. Jackson makes this a less talented group, no doubt about it, but his loss may be overstated. While he was a talented ballhawk, there is quite a drop-off between him and the top tier of NFL cornerbacks.

The Pats brought back Malcolm Butler and added Terrance Mitchell. Butler played at a very high level in 2020 before retiring in the 2021 preseason and not playing last year. How he plays in his return will largely determine how this group performs. Mitchell offers a competent NFL journeyman type who fits better in zone defenses. Last year, the Pats transitioned to more zone-based coverages and should continue that trend without a premier lock-down at the cornerback spot.

Shaun Wade has an outside chance of developing into the team’s next top corner, but hedging the farm on it would not be wise. Joejuan Williams is running out of time to prove he deserves a spot, as he joins N’Keal Harry as part of the failed 2019 draft class. Myles Bryant and Jonathan Jones provide the Patriots with two top-tier slot options. Jalen Mills played primarily on the outside last year after being signed as a jack-of-all-trades in the Patriots’ 2021 free agent spending spree. Due to the lack of depth, he may be forced again to play primarily outside in 2022.

The draft is extremely top-heavy at corner, with a severe drop-off after the top three of Cincinnati’s Sauce Gardner, LSU’s Derek Stingley, and Washington’s Trent McDuffie. Belichick has had immense success in developing late picks or undrafted rookies and may go that route again if one of the top three doesn’t fall into their laps at 21.

Safety

Rostered: Kyle Dugger, Devin McCourty, Jabrill Peppers, Adrian Phillips, Cody Davis, Joshuah Bledsoe

In: Jabrill Peppers (Giants)

Retained: Devin McCourty

Top Free Agents Available: Tyrann Mathieu, Terrell Edmunds, Damontae Kazee, Jaquiski Tartt,

The Pats kept their 2021 group together while adding Jabrill Peppers. They immediately are one of the stronger groups on the Patriots roster. McCourty returns after a solid season despite a slow start. He is starting to slow a touch, but continues to be a step ahead due to his understanding of Belichick’s system.

McCourty is the quarterback of the defense. Retaining him was an extremely understated development this off-season. Dugger began to flash his playmaking ability. If he continues to grow, the Pats will have their safety duo of the future after locking up Adrian Phillips last year.

Peppers offers a hybrid player who can play in the box, line up deep, play the slot, and match up on premier tight ends. He also may find himself as the top punt returner. Joshuah Bledsoe arrived as a rookie to much fanfare last year, but missed the season due to a college wrist injury. He will have every opportunity to make a run at a roster spot.

Edmunds and Mathieu remain big names on the free agency market, but the addition of either remains a long-shot to this roster. The Patriots could add here in the middle rounds of the draft.

Specialists

Rostered: Nick Folk (K), Quinn Nordin (K), Joe Cardona (LS), Jake Bailey (P), Matthew Slater (ST), Justin Bethel (ST)

Out: Brandon King (Colts)

Retained: Nick Folk, Matthew Slater

Despite strong individual performances from this group in 2021, the Patriots’ special teams were largely a disappointment throughout the year. Folk has made 55 straight field goals under 50 yards, as he has been one of the most consistent kickers in the NFL since joining the Patriots in 2020. Jake Bailey is a season removed from an All-Pro season. Joe Cardona not only shares a birthday with Bill Belichick, but also shares Navy ties. He’s not going anywhere.

Matthew Slater returned for his age 37 season, as the longtime captain agreed to a one-year deal. Slater (15) trails only Tom Brady (20) and Steve Grogan (16) for the number of seasons played for the team. Quinn Nordin has a booming leg, but needs to become more accurate. He should stick around as the heir apparent to Folk. The Pats may take a late-round flier on a specialist, but otherwise, this part of the Patriots roster is set.