Fitzy: 5 Patriots who need to step up in 2021


Anticipation is building during what I call “pre-agency” in the NFL, where change is at hand and big money will soon be spent. It’s an exciting time, really, because for a brief time everyone thinks they can build a Super Bowl team through free agency and the draft. I say let ‘em have their fun. Soon enough they’ll remember they're the Lions or the Jets.

We’ve got a lot to look forward to with free agency a week away and the NFL Draft only seven weeks off. All of this only intensified this year by the significant number of salary cap casualties taking place left and right. Rosters are about to start looking drastically different than just a season ago. And while the Patriots are expected to be uncharacteristically aggressive (or whatever the phrase du jour is) this offseason, there are a number of younger players expected to be major contributors in 2021, and possibly beyond. Some may say they’ve yet to reach their potential, while others may claim they’ve just plain underwhelmed. Whatever your opinion, regardless of who’s acquired in the coming weeks, these five Patriots will need to step up their game this season if the team is to have a winning record. Or they are to keep their jobs.


The most obvious of the bunch, Harry has been a major disappointment since being taken in the first round of the 2019 draft, becoming the poster child for the “Belichick Can’t Draft Receivers’ curse. His low catch totals and turnovers are only magnified by his draft slot as well as the productivity and success of receivers taken after him like D.K. Metcalf, Deebo Samuel and former Patriots fan A.J. Brown.

Some have already written Harry off as a bust, while others are willing to give him one more shot as Year Three is often pivotal for receivers. Harry himself has said recently he’s not feeling any pressure, which could be seen as a gesture of confidence, or a sign that he still doesn’t get it. Harry’s troubles are one of the many reasons recent reports are the Pats will be active on the free agent receiver front. Another disappointing season and it’s safe to say he could be calling Foxboro a former work address.


A curious talent to say the least, as whenever you see Winovich on the field it looks like a berserker always going full tilt, giving it 150%. Yet in his second season, the University of Michigan LB/D-End had very sporadic playing time (under 60% of defensive snaps). You’d think for a team that had trouble generating pressure they’d have arguably their best pass rushers on the field more often. And yet, whether it was for his run defense, his attitude or something else, Winovich was more situational than constant in 2020. From his intensity and personality to speed and power with which he attacks QBs and make tackles, Winovich has all the hallmarks of a Belichick and fan favorite. The opportunity to make an impact and become a major player on the defense should be there. Maybe an offseason in New Hampshire will help get his head right.


Yes, we’re going with the other 2018 first-round pick out of Georgia. Sony Michel is what he is, and that’s a good running back (not here for your Phony Michel slander, he ran for 5.7 yards/carry in 2020 and will form a solid 1-2 punch with Damien Harris in 2021.) Wynn has all the tools to be a solid left tackle in the pros. And when he’s healthy he is. But that’s the problem, he just can’t seem to stay on the field. In his three seasons in the pros ,Wynn has missed 30 out of 48 regular season starts. I’m no Captain Obvious, but you can’t have that from any football player, let alone your starting left tackle on a run-heavy team. You can’t help but wonder if the Pats think he can do it, as they have to decide on picking up his fifth-year option pretty soon. It’s as simple, as if he can stay healthy for a full season then it’ll be a huge Wynn for the Pats at a pivotal position. Also, if I could avoid terrible puns like “huge Wynn” I think we’d all be better off.

It should be noted the Patriots have reportedly traded for Trent Brown and it's unclear what this means for Wynn.


The Patriots were in love with the tall corner coming out of college, taking him in the second round of the 2019draft , which may have been a disservice to the Vanderbilt alum seeing as the second round has become a secondary graveyard for the Patriots this century (Tavon Wilson, Terrence Wheatley, Darius Butler, Ras-I Dowling, Jordan Richards, Cyrus Jones, Duke Dawson). At 6-foot-4, Williams has the size that should allow him to match up with the NFL’s current crop of tall receivers, or even help cover tight ends, serving as a corner/safety hybrid in Belichick’s evolving defensive schemes. And yet it just hasn’t seemed to click. Williams has had his moments, but not consistently. There’s depth aplenty in front of Williams, but with questions surrounding Stephon Gilmore’s 2021 status on the team the opportunity should be there. Just a matter of if Williams can make the most of them, or continue to stand in reserve behind the undrafted likes of JC Jackson and Myles Bryant.


Will the second-year tight end out of UCLA turn out to be Gronk 2.0? Doubt it. Will he turn out to be N’Keal Harry 2.0? Hope not. You can’t imagine the Pats are counting on Asiasi to explode in his second year, but expecting him to develop, become an integral part of the offense and make some plays before, oh, say the final game of the season? Don’t think that’s asking too much.

Asiasi is another candidate for improvement as the COVID-altered offseason and shaky QB play in 2020 certainly stunted his growth, and likely that of Dalton Keene, who needs even more seasoning to make the pro transition (for all we know he could be used in a variety of ways to come). The opportunity will be there for @ASI2X. If he can’t surpass the Ryan Izzos and Matt LaCosses of the world then, well, we’ll always have that TD against the Jets.

Honorable Mention - Anfernee Jennings, LB - The second year defender from Alabama did a whole lotta not much his rookie season, except get called for a penalty on a huge block that freed Gunner Olszewski to return a punt for a touchdown. With his pedigree, the Pats need for impactful play at linebacker, a full offseason and the likely return of Dont’a Hightower, the hope is for Jennings to improve significantly in his sophomore campaign.

Featured Image Photo Credit: USA Today Sports