New England Patriots Digest: Breakout candidates, players on the bubble

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 20: Danny Amendola
SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 20: Danny Amendola /

Happy Fourth of July to all of our readers! Let’s talk candidates for potential breakout seasons and a few Patriots at risk of being cut this summer.

Chris Hogan, Trey Flowers, and Marcus Cannon had breakout seasons in 2016, which Patriots might make a splash this season? There are a handful of players with high upside as they enter 2017, find out who they are in this week’s Patriots Digest.

The New England Patriots are three weeks away from training camp, check back here for weekly updates on everything Patriots.

5 Rings, 5 Things

Five things you need to know.

  • Despite being swept by New England in 2016, Dolphins DT Ndamukong Suh believes the defending Super Bowl champs are “definitely beatable“. Musket Fire’s Nick Ziegler has the story.
  • New England’s odds of a Super Bowl repeat could come down to the play of these two offensive linemen. Read more on
  • Following his fifth Super Bowl victory, Patriots QB Tom Brady is taking his talents to the keyboard. His first book “The TB12 Method” will be published this September.
  • Pro Bowl special teamer Matthew Slater discusses life after football with ESPN’s Mike Reiss. Find out how the tenth-year Patriot is helping undrafted wide receiver Austin Carr, here.
  • Tom Brady & Co. are spending their final weeks of summer vacation in the mountains of Montana. Wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola joined their quarterback for some high altitude training over the Fourth of July. Kevin Dillon from MassLive has the scoop.

Breakout Candidates

Which Patriots will have breakout years in 2017?

CB Jonathan Jones

Jonathan Jones cracked New England’s 53-man roster as an undrafted free agent in 2016. With a year of experience under his belt and an impressive showing in minicamp on his resume, Jones will have a good chance at making the team again in 2017. Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, and Eric Rowe are locks to make the roster this season. The suitor of the Patriots’ fourth cornerback spot will be competed for between Jones, Justin Coleman, and former second-round pick, Cyrus Jones.

If the job goes to Jones, he has the potential to be a breakout star for New England. Despite playing the majority of his snaps on special teams last season, Jones has the speed and “foot quickness” to be a solid slot corner for the Patriots. He’ll be worth keeping an eye on throughout training camp and the preseason as he fights for a roster spot.

WR Malcolm Mitchell

With so much of their opponent’s attention being used to stop Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, and Rob Gronkowski, Malcolm Mitchell will become the forgotten weapon in Brady’s arsenal. Mitchell earned his quarterback’s trust with six catches on seven targets for 70 yards in Super Bowl LI. Although he’s buried on the depth chart behind Cooks, Edelman, and fellow second-year Patriot, Chris Hogan, Mitchell will receive plenty of opportunities to make plays in 2017.

If history is any indication, Mitchell’s second season with New England will either make or break his career. Former Patriots wide receivers Aaron Dobson and Chad Jackson both saw a drop in production during their second year with the team. Mitchell will have a chance to erase the stigma regarding New England’s history of receiver busts.

RB Rex Burkhead

Rex Burkhead will have a chance to contribute much like Dion Lewis did in last season’s AFC Divisional Round playoff game. He has both production and experience as a running back, receiver, and special teamer as well as an offense capable of getting him the ball.

Despite the team’s crowded running back group, Burkhead will reduce the predictability of New England’s offense. In 2016, when James White — who had more catches than Dez Bryant last season — took the field the play call screamed pass. Although Burkhead is a capable receiving back, he’ll add a layer of mystery to the Pats’ personnel groups with his equally dangerous ability as a runner.

More from Musket Fire

On The Bubble

Who might not make New England’s roster this summer?

LB Jonathan Freeny

Question marks remain regarding Jonathan Freeny’s job security in 2017. Freeny has started 11 games for the Patriots since signing with the team in 2015 but missed the latter half of last season with a shoulder injury. He’s recorded 60 total tackles, two forced fumbles, and one sack in two years with New England.

Freeny will have all summer to make his case for a spot on the Patriots’ roster but he may be passed aside for younger players like Harvey Langi.

RB Dion Lewis

Like Freeny, Dion Lewis’ age and injury history may be detrimental to his odds of cracking the Pats’ 53-man roster. Lewis has played in 14 games since joining New England in 2015 and has collected just under a thousand yards from scrimmage.

Despite his dynamic ability and production, Lewis is entering the final year of his contract and the Patriots might be willing to give his roster spot to a younger, more promising back. Lewis’ 2017 cap hit is set at $1.4 million, a big price tag for a running back who hasn’t finished a season in two years with the team.

DE Geneo Grissom

Geneo Grissom has fallen far short of expectations since being drafted by New England in the third round of the 2015 draft. Part of the reason he’s struggled can be explained by his inability to see the field. Grissom played 13.5% of the Patriots defensive snaps as a rookie and just 1.6% in 2016. He did, however, played 35.4% of the team’s special teams snaps last season.

With two more pass rushers joining the team via the draft and another two via free agency, Grissom’s days in New England may be numbered.

Next: Patriots Digest: All about the rookies

Player of the Day: OG Joe Thuney #62

Only 62 days to go until Patriots football returns.

In addition to being the Patriots’ most athletic offensive linemen, Joe Thuney is a key component to the next generation of New England’s offensive line.

Thuney was the team’s starting left guard for the entire 2016 season, forfeiting just two sacks and nine penalties.

Like breakout candidates Jonathan Jones and Malcolm Mitchell, a year of experience will do Thuney well as he embarks on his sophomore season.

Check back next Friday for another installment of Patriots Digest.