New England Patriots 2022 Training Camp Preview
After making the postseason in Mac Jones’ first season with the team, New England might be in for a rougher go of it in 2022. The Bills remain the class of the AFC East, while the Jets and Dolphins both improved considerably this offseason. The Pats lost J.C. Jackson, which is huge, and Shaq Mason, which is less impactful but still creates some questions on the depth chart. They did add DeVante Parker to a pretty solid receiving corps, which might help Mac Jones, but he only played 10 games last season. It remains to be seen whether Parker can be counted on to anchor this group of wideouts. In addition, Bill Belichick and co. left plenty of people scratching their heads when they selected Cole Strange with their first-round pick. With all that in mind, let’s take a look at some key position battles and players for the Patriots heading into training camp.
Three Position Battles To Watch:
Cornerback: Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Jack Jones, Marcus Jones
You could say the Patriots were jonesing for a cornerback in the 2022 draft after they selected both Jack and Marcus. Malcolm Butler looks to have the CB1 spot locked up, but there’s room for competition behind him. Jalen Mills is currently second on the depth chart, and rightfully so after a solid first season with the Pats. However, they didn’t draft cornerbacks with two of their first four picks just for fun. Jack Jones made a lot of noise with his play in spring practices. Marcus Jones is no slouch, either, with CBS ranking him in the top-4 of rookie cornerbacks in the NFL. The CB2 and Nickle spots look wide open in New England.
Wide Receiver: Tyquan Thornton, Nelson Agholor, Ty Montgomery
The Patriots finally gave up on N’Keal Harry. They shipped him to Chicago in exchange for a seventh-round pick. The move says as much about New England’s comfort with their current wide receivers as their frustrations with Harry. These three will be fighting for opportunities behind the Patriots’ top three receivers in DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, and Jakobi Meyers. Thornton is a rookie with the most upside of this group, while Agholor and Montgomery are both veterans looking to establish that they can still provide value to a team. This could be a fierce competition given that they are fighting for the fourth spot in the depth chart. I expect the Pats to give Thornton every chance to succeed. That said, New England has had issues drafting and developing receivers in recent years, so there’s a big chance he doesn’t pan out. Agholor has stones for hands, so Montgomery could very well wind up winning this battle.
Quarterback: Brian Hoyer, Bailey Zappe
Mac Jones is firmly entrenched as the starter, but the Patriots’ selection of Bailey Zappe in the fourth-round is intriguing. Brian Hoyer is one of the most established backups in the league, and it seems like Bill Belichick loves him. However, Zappe put up some insane numbers at Western Kentucky (almost 6,000 yards passing and over 60 touchdowns) and they valued him enough to use a fourth-round selection on the guy. He’s also cheaper given that he’s on his rookie contract. If he lights it up in training camp, Hoyer could be out of a job.
Ready to Breakout: Jonnu Smith
Hunter Henry is the obvious TE1 heading into the season, and Smith isn’t pushing him for that spot. However, after a 28-catch 2021, expect Smith to have a bigger role in the offense in 2022. Smith signed a pretty large contract in 2021 and did not quite justify it last season. He’s coming into his second season with the Patriots. He’ll be more comfortable, and it’s not uncommon for players to have big years after they’ve acclimated. He was only targeted 30 fewer times than Henry last season, and he’ll close that gap even further in 2022. If Henry is forced to miss any time with injury, that will just open the door further for Smith.
Rookie To Watch: Cole Strange
All eyes will be on Strange after the Pats shockingly selected him in the first round. He’s widely expected to be the day one starter at left guard. Belichick is either going to look like a genius or an idiot for this pick. Many people were confused about them taking Strange in the first, since he probably could’ve been had later in the draft (although Belichick disagrees with that). His performance should be a storyline to follow all year.
Fantasy Sleeper: Rhamondre Stevenson
Damien Harris might not be RB1 for long. Stevenson showed flashes of brilliance last season while averaging 4.6 ypc. He finished with only ten fewer receiving yards than Harris, which showcases his varied skill set. Stevenson is a bruising 230-pound back who put up great numbers in his rookie year even while playing second fiddle. Some are predicting he’ll be a top ten running back in the game by next season. I think that’s a good evaluation. Look for him to overtake Harris before the halfway point in the season. He could become the focal point of New England’s offense.