Robert Kraft’s New England Patriots are at a crossroads. The post-Brady era under Belichick has been a slowly developing disaster, akin to a ship with a slow leak miles away from land. This season is the breaking point. The Patriots are bound for one of the worst records in the NFL and the Krafts will almost certainly replace Belichick at season’s end. This means that for the first time since 1999, there will be a new man with a new vision leading this team.
This new General Manager will have quite a task in front of him. He will be taking over one of the least talented rosters in the league that also needs a fresh start at quarterback. Thankfully he will have excellent draft capital to work with and the second-most cap space in the league with just over $90 million available. The question is, who on the Patriots can the team build around?
Who Are The Patriots Building Blocks?
The interior pass rusher has been one of the few bright spots from the last decade of Belichick drafts. The former Alabama star was always regarded as a talented player but fell on draft day due to concerns about his work ethic on and off the field, as well as how he would do off the field as he transitioned from collegiate athlete to a pro.
Since then Barmore has been nothing short of a hit for the Patriots. As an interior lineman, he has improved as a run defender allowing him to play more snaps while becoming more polished as a pass rusher.
According to PFF, Barmore is in the top 20 in pressures, pass rush win rate, hurries, and passes defended. It’s difficult to find productive three techniques in the NFL, but the Patriots have theirs.
While we were only able to see just a little over three games of Gonzalez before his season was lost to a dislocated shoulder and torn labrum, it was clear he was meant for the NFL.
In his first game, he was often matched up against the Eagle’s elite receivers AJ Brown and Devonta Smith. In week two he was defending Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. In his last full game, he found himself often aligning against one of the league’s best Garrett Wilson.
In every game he held his own, never giving up more than 47 yards against any receiver and intercepting Tua Tagovailoa on a deep pass intended for Tyreek Hill.
Standing at over six-foot-one and just short of 200 pounds, with smooth agility and high-level speed, the Patriots have found their next number-one corner.
New England entered the season with one of, if not the least threatening receiver cores in the entire NFL. Yet Demario Douglas soon turned preseason hype into NFL production. As many rookies do, he began with a limited package of plays which has slowly grown as the fall has turned to winter.
Now that Kendrick Bourne is done for the season, the entire passing game runs through the five-foot-eight, 179-pound Liberty graduate.
Douglas has earned over 25% of targets when he’s on the field, is the 26th-graded receiver by PFF, and has the fifth-best rate against man coverage per Matt Harmon’s grading.
It looks like the torch for the Patriots next slot receiver has been passed.
Onwenu has had quite an interesting run since being a sixth round selection in 2020. He nearly evenly split his playing time between both left and right guard as a rookie, then spent time at left guard and right tackle in his sophomore campaign.
In year three, he comfortably slotted into the right guard slot where he played every snap. Now in year four, he started slow because of offseason ankle surgery and missed the majority of camp. He ended up missing Week 1, playing all of week two before suffering a setback and having his play reflect someone who wasn’t healthy.
Since Week 7 he not only switched to right tackle but has really started to look like himself.
The Patriots offense needs to find some long-term answers at some of their key offensive positions so they are not constantly on the hamster wheel of finding crucial starters in free agency.
The Patriots should not only extend Michael Onwenu but permanently put him at right tackle as it’s the harder position to fill and the more valuable one on the field.
The Quick Rebuild
There is no denying the Patriot’s murky future. After the season a new General Manager will be in place and many presume Jerod Mayo is the heir apparent to Bill Belichick. The vision for this team will be completely new and unpredictable while the roster will likely need multiple successful drafts to turn around.
The best part is that this league has shown it does not take five years to turn around a team. If New England can find the right quarterback at the top of this draft and surround him with a reasonable amount of talent, this team will soon be back to a playoff contender. It starts with retaining their small, but strong cohort of young talent.
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