1) In a sea, or seas, of change on the 2022 New England Patriots, one constant theme is the need for the growth and development of second year quarterback Mac Jones. If the Patriots are to accomplish anything, let alone have a winning record or return to the postseason, they’ll need their QB to continue improving and make a leap from where he left off in 2021. By all accounts Jones has put in the individual work, leading those in attendance at OTAs and veteran minicamp to remark on his leadership, slimmed down frame and improved zip on his throws. Jones worked with legendary throwing coach Tom House this offseason to enhance his deep ball and mechanics. And he also, apparently, just plain worked out.
Mac has also put in the work with his teammates off the field. Jones was at the center of an offseason minicamp in Tampa, if you will, with DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor and others back in April...and just this week was seen in Carlsbad, California once again throwing with Nelson Agholor and minicamp standout Tre Nixon. These are things that are not required of Jones, rather they’re the kinds of things you want to see from someone embracing their role as a team leader, as well as from someone who knows you need to put in the extra work to succeed in the NFL, the AFC and on the Pats.
Jones had a very good rookie season, both in terms of accomplishment (playoffs!) as well as statistics, and not just yards and touchdowns. Some of the slightly less sexy stats, like completion percentage (almost 68%!) and completion percentage on quick passes (over 77%!) were above league average. Sure, you could say he was operating in “Safe” mode as a rookie under OC Josh McDaniels, but the signs of a solid pro QB in bloom were there. Now McDaniels is in Las Vegas and Jones, who’ll be working with a dealer’s choice of coordinators in Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, among others, will be trusted to elevate his game, and team.
Jacked Mac is back and better than ever
All of this seems to be earning Mac trust with his team, the public and the football media, a solid trio to get behind you if any. Receiver Kendrick Bourne has recently talked about how Jones’s leadership is “just at another level now.” And this week tight end Jonnu Smith, himself entering his second season in New England and also looking to improve on his first (a mild understatement if ever), became the latest to sing Mac’s praises on and off the field, saying, “He has so much ability.” The public seems to be behind Jones too, as his jersey continues to be a top 10 seller in the NFL.
As for the media...well, some may feel Jones will do just fine in Foxborough this season. A few are fearful of the coordinator situation, like ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky. And yet there are some, like NFL Network’s Peter Schrager, who are such believers in Mac, they do seemingly cray things like continue to pump the dark horse MVP candidacy. Yes, you read that correctly; MVP candidacy! And Schrager said he’s not alone.
Jones' MVP odds sit anywhere from +4000 currently on FanDuel to 50:1 elsewhere, and even 60:1 on DraftKings at present. So if you’re a believer now’s the time to maybe take a flier and throw in a couple bucks. Mac would likely tell you himself he only cares about making his team better and winning games. Could the belief that he could be an MVP candidate due to his ability, his development or what some believe the Pats will ask of him, which is going to be A LOT. Likely a combination of all three, though he’d need a number of players around him to step their games up, too. And the field in front of him is mighty talented and awfully crowded.
For now we’ll stay positive about what we’ve seen to date in terms of his development, talent and maturity. For those looking for an even deeper dive on Mac’s year two potential check out this excellent piece by our friend Mike Dussault at Patriots.com. And for those with a shorter attention span...we’ll leave you with this irreverent yet accurate post-rookie campaign scouting report to let you decide if Jones really has what it takes to make that next step.
2) Speaking of second-year Patriots on the rise...the Mac Jones of the defense, if you will, could very well be defensive lineman Christian Barmore. While nobody would compare Barmore to Jones physically, they both are in their second year on the Pats, played college ball at Alabama, had excellent rookie seasons and are being looked upon to ascend and improve this season. As outlined above, so goes Jones so goes the Patriots offense. The same may be true for Barmore and the Patriots defense this season. Run stuffing and an improved pass rush could cover a lot of potential holes or issues on a defense that’s working multiple new players into the fold. And while Mac Jones showed flashes of excellence during his rookie season, Barmore at times was flat-out dominant. Though he finished with 23 tackles and only a sack and a half credited it was easy to see Barmore’s power and potential on display, hence why the anticipation and hype for him is building into his sophomore campaign.
In addition to Pats Nation the rest of the NFL seems to be catching on to the rise of Barmore, too. A recent piece on NFL.com named Barmore as the potential surprise first-time Pro Bowler from the Pats (writer Nick Shook picked one from each team). Mac Jones made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season (where were you when Mac did The Griddy?), though his selection came after the deferral of a few other AFC QBs in front of him. I don’t think it would surprise many to see Barmore take the next step, or rather rush his way into the forefront of AFC defensive lineman, make the Pro Bowl conversation and become a fixture on the Patriots youthful defense for years to come.
3) Julian Edelman has been retired from the Patriots for well over a year now, yet he continues to make as much noise as any player, past or present, in Pats Nation. Obviously on the former player front Gronk garnered plenty of headlines and clicks with his recent second retirement. And anytime Tom Brady does just about anything we’re all over and on top of it here, even among those who profess to suffer from “Brady Fatigue Syndrome”. Brady’s former security blanket in Foxborough made quite the plash this week when he appeared on the “I Am Athlete” podcast, a forum hosted by former receiver Brandon Marshall and others. The podcast usually opens eyes with it’s unfiltered talk on professional sports, and this week’s episode was no different. The biggest takeaway, especially for Patriots fans, was Edelman saying he’s considered a comeback...something that would come with great risk to his own body, which he admits feels better but is well behind where it should be, as well as his local legacy.
Then there were the Jimmy Garoppolo comments, with Edelman concurring with Martellus Bennett’s assessment that “a lot of guys got mad about” Jimmy G not playing against the Bills in 2016. You won’t ever hear a Patriots player rip another while they’re in uniform under coach Bill Belichick, who Edelman admits he still fears. But it definitely opens your eyes and ears to learn of any dissent like this in previous days of glory and championships.
Edelman touches on more, from the Patriots current defense, best Pats receivers and more in what is a terrific and insightful listen, be you Pats fan, Edelman fan, both or just plain NFL fan. It’s amazing the draw and popularity Edelman still has, which he has to be keenly aware of. Leaders like him, with such ethic, ability and charisma, don’t come around very often, so it’s easy to understand why fans and coaches would listen is he wanted to come back. Edelman continues as a contributor on “Inside The NFL” on Paramount+...but will that be it for the 2022 season? Our bet is yes, that it will remain “Foxboro Forever” with no “Temporarily Tampa” in his future. You respect the desire that made him who he is, but have to imagine he couldn’t take the risks that would come with a comeback effort.
You can watch/listen to Edelman’s entire episode of “I Am Athlete” by clicking here.
4) Also from the “Things Former Pats Said” front, newly inducted Pro Football Hall of Famer Richard Seymour made another appearance on the delightfully informative “Pats From The Past” podcast this week. Seymour, who will be enshrined in Canton this summer, had a few interesting nuggets in the show. The one that stood out the most was his calling Super Bowl 38 the most memorable of the three championships he won in New England. One might think that his first one, the franchise’s first, Super Bowl 36, would be most memorable. But Seymour, ever the physical competitor, said it was “the most physical game I played in my 12 year career.” This prints with what former Pats tight ends, and current WEEI hosts, Jermaine Wiggins and Christian Fauria have told me previously. Each said Super Bowl 38 was a wild game, and immensely physical. Fauria was a member of the Patriots, and Wiggins a Panther at the time. Wiggy told me a story once on our “Ineligble Speakers” Facebook shows about how he tried to set a block on then Patriots nose tackle Ted Washington, a massive human if ever that took the football field, and he said he “bounced off of him” due to Washington’s size and strength. I’m sure most if every Pats fan agrees Super Bowl 38 was a wild watch and an unexpected win that confirmed the quality of the team, setting the course for their dynastic run of two decades.
Seymour gets his gold jacket and bronze bust the weekend of August 4-7 in Canton, OH.
5) Excitement for the what the Patriots will be is there, but the hype hasn’t hit Vegas or the books yet. The Pats continue to sit at 8.5 as a wins total in most sports books for the 2022 season, and that might be best explained by their roster ranking this week, as ESPN (available through the paywall of ESPN+) rated their roster as the 18th best out of 32 teams heading into the 2022 season. Now, every ranking is subjective, and teams aren’t duty bound to perform to the level some if not many see them at, talent-wise. However, when looking at the teams just before the Pats on the list (Colts 15, Cowboys 16, Commanders 17) an argument can be made that the depth of the Pats roster could surpass some of these teams. Then again, the Titans at 20 and Raiders at 21 seems a bit misplaced, too. Suffice to say most can agree the Pats have a playoff-fringe roster, mid-level, that should it perform above expectations can surpass that ranking.
Interesting to see ESPN noted their greatest positional group, or strength, as the safeties on the team, something our own Khari Thompson did recently. And the weakest unit? The other component to the secondary: the cornerbacks. Just another couple reasons why 2022 should be exciting and unpredictable at every level and at all three phases for the Pats.
6) NFL.com has been filling in the blank space between minicamp and training camp with some fun listicles and bits (’tis the season!) of late, just to keep the average NFL fan mind active and engaged. And this particular exercise was a fun one; building the best roster possible while still staying under the 2022 salary cap. I, like you, was curious to see if any Patriots would make the team of a starter at every position across offense, defense and special teams. And sure enough one Patriot did in fact make the team. I’ll give you a second to think and take a guess...
That’s right: guard Mike Onwenu. The third year offensive lineman out of Michigan, a PFF darling who struggled at times in 2021 but gets the starting nod this season, represents an incredible value, at a playing salary of less than a million dollars despite his at times highly rated play. The list highlights Onwenu’s versatility and “inside-outside flexibility” as an asset. While it seems he’s ticketed for a guard spot this season you never know where hell end up, or if he’ll be able to return to the level of play that had Pro Football Focus gushing about him in 2021. Onwenu figures to be a key component, and not just for value’s sake, to the Pats O-line and offensive plans in 2022.
It’s a fun exercise building a team and trying to stay under the cap. I’d suggest you try and do the same but there’s no mock draft simulator for it. And if you choose to do it on your own...you’re a bigger fan than I, Gunga Din.
7) A nice under-the-radar nugget to end on...community continues to be a top priority for the Kraft Family and Patriots organization. And this past week Patriots president and owner Robert Kraft and son Daniel were on hand for the unveiling of The Kraft Family Sports Center in Jerusalem, Israel. The site is apparently a multi-sport facility where lacrosse, soccer and football games have been practiced and played. Philanthropy and cultural development have been a priority for Robert Kraft and family for years, and it’s heartening to see this continue to be the case. Kraft has taken several players to his holy land over the years, sharing in his culture and faith, most recently 2019 where the Touchdown In Israel III trip took place.
To read more about The Kraft Group’s efforts, their facilities and goals, click here.