Patriots 2020 superlatives: Team MVP, most improved player, biggest disappointment, more

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The Patriots have wrapped up the 2020 season, finishing 7-9 and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

While the team likely wants to quickly turn the page to 2021, before doing so we handed out some superlatives for the 2020 season.

MVP: Jakobi Meyers

This was a tough one to decide on and Jake Bailey got a lot of consideration, but it’s just hard to give team MVP to a punter. Meyers had an outstanding season, despite playing only 22 total snaps before Week 7. Even with how poor the Patriots offense was, it’s hard to imagine what it would have looked like if Meyers was not on the field, especially once Julian Edelman went on IR. Over the final 11 weeks of the year, Meyers ranked 15th among all NFL wideouts in both catches and yards. Overall, he finished with 59 receptions for 729 yards, while throwing two touchdowns on trick plays. It is interesting he has two career passing touchdowns and has yet to record a receiving touchdown. The second-year player certainly has inserted himself into the mix at the position for 2021.

Offensive Player of the Year: Damien Harris

After playing in just two games as a rookie and getting just four carries, he appeared in 10 games this year (missing six games due to injury) and inserted himself as the Patriots’ lead back. In those 10 games, he totaled 691 yards and two touchdowns. That production over a 16-game season would have resulted in over 1,100 rushing yards. The way he runs is impressive as he’s always picking up extra yards and is not afraid of contact. Harris is one player to feel good about from the season and reason to look forward to 2021.

Defensive Player of the Year: Adrian Phillips

This could have gone to a number of players, including Devin McCourty and JC Jackson, but what Phillips did was outstanding in his first year with the team. Phillips, a safety, played a hybrid linebacker role for the majority of the season and finished with a team-high 109 tackles, including seven for loss, while adding a sack and two interceptions. The 109 tackles were also career-high for the 28-year-old. At 5-foot-11, 210 pounds, Phillips was playing out of position in a number of different situations, but he did not back down and embraced the challenge. It seems like Phillips is a perfect fit for the team and he will continue to help the defense moving forward.

Coach of the Year: Cole Popovich/Carmen Bricillo

These two had a tough responsibility replacing Dante Scarnecchia, one of the best assistant coaches in the history of the NFL, but they did a tremendous job as the offensive line was barely an issue over the course of the year. And it wasn’t like there weren’t any issues to navigate, as the team had to deal with a number of injuries and a lot of moving parts — especially early on in the year. These two deserve a lot of credit for the job they did not only taking over for Scarnecchia, but getting the results that they did given the challenges of the season.

Rookie of the Year: Michael Onwenu

Kyle Dugger had a solid rookie season, but it did not compare to Onwenu’s. The sixth-round pick out of Michigan was selected as a guard, but because of injuries along the offensive line moved to right tackle and had an unbelievable season. Only Joe Thuney logged more offensive snaps and the rookie was named to Pro Football Focus’ All-Rookie Offensive Line Team. The Patriots will now have a decision to make whether to play him at guard or tackle moving forward, but Onwenu’s play this past season gives them confidence he will be dependable no matter where it is.

Most Improved Player: Sony Michel

This may be recency bias with the way he played over the final three games of the season, but Michel looked like a different player than we saw in his first two years. Michel averaged over six yards a carry the final three weeks of the season, running the best he ever has in the NFL. The biggest difference was he was finishing his runs and showing an extra burst of speed that we had yet to see. It’s also worth noting he showed the ability to make plays in the passing game for the first time in his career in Week 17 when he caught three passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. Michel is another player to feel good about heading into 2021.

Biggest Surprise: Gunner Olszewski

While he didn’t contribute much as a wide receiver, Olszewski was one of the best punt returners in the NFL, which is pretty impressive for someone who was a D-II cornerback two years ago. His 17.3-yard punt return average (on 20 returns) led the entire league and set a new franchise record — topping Julian Edelman’s 15.5 mark. The fearlessness in which he plays the game is unmatched as he’s always taking big hits on his returns.

Biggest Disappointment: N’Keal Harry

This isn’t a surprise at all, as Harry had another down year. In 14 games, the second-year receiver had 33 catches for 309 yards and two touchdowns. It’s worth noting Edelman had six more yards receiving than Harry did despite playing 319 fewer snaps. Harry clearly has not lived up to his first-round selection in 2019, and it’s beyond that. He was jumped on the depth chart this year by Meyers, Damiere Byrd and even veteran Donte Moncrief at times. Many thought this year would be different for Harry, but that just wasn’t the case.

Best Game: Win vs. Ravens

On Sunday Night Football, the Patriots beat the Ravens 23-17 at Gillette Stadium. It was their second straight win, improving them to 4-5 on the year, and at the time it provided hope that the team was turning things around and actually able to make a run at the postseason. It was the second straight week the team did not turn the ball over, which went a long way towards winning the game. Baltimore had a chance to win the game on its final drive of the game, but a monsoon hit and the Ravens barely could move the ball.

Worst Game: Loss at Rams

In what was a must-win game coming off a 45-0 win over the Chargers, the Patriots were blow out by the Rams, 24-3 on Thursday Night Football, which basically eliminated them from postseason contention. It was an embarrassing loss in front of a national audience where the Patriots offense could barely move the ball and once it did, went 0-for-4 in the red zone.