The New England Patriots have faced a string of distractions since the start of OTAs and mandatory minicamp; the injuries to Cam Newton, Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, plus the holdout of Stephon Gilmore while he awaits a new contract spring to mind.
Prior to the emergence of these obstacles, though, there were already plenty of intriguing storylines to latch onto.
While most teams use minicamp to ease back into things after a lengthy layoff following the conclusion of the playoffs, the Patriots use it as a time to kick things into high gear as far as positional competitions and roster spot battles are concerned.
While most of New England’s positions (like quarterback, the entire offensive line, tight end, cornerback and defensive end) are set in terms of starters, there’s an argument to be had for the rest of the roster, which is what makes camp so compelling.
We could write a novel detailing what fans should be looking out for in what’s left of the offseason, but let’s keep this conversation focused on three positional battles that could have surprise endings.
After all, who doesn’t love a good surprise?
3 Patriots positional battles with potential surprise endings
3. Isaiah Zuber vs N’Keal Harry
As far as the Patriots’ wide receiving corps is concerned, all eyes will be on Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne to see how they mesh in a new system, and understandably so. However, those two newcomers are pretty much locked into a starting role, which draws us more to the battle for the final roster spot.
With Agholor, Bourne, Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski projected to assume four of the available spots, that leaves Isaiah Zuber, N’Keal Harry and Marvin Hall to battle it out for the last two spots. For the sake of argument, let’s assume Hall, who was signed before the start of OTAs, doesn’t make it, which means Zuber and Harry could end up going head-to-head.
Isaiah Zuber could threaten N’Keal Harry’s Patriots roster spot.
Harry’s struggles over his first two seasons are well-documented. Since entering the NFL as a first-round pick in 2019, he’s managed just 45 receptions for 414 yards and four touchdowns, while suffering a slew of injuries that have forced him to miss 11 games.
There were rumors New England was fielding trade offers for Harry this offseason, but no team presented anything reasonable. While Harry has loads of potential, his lack of production and durability mean his roster spot should be anything but guaranteed, and Zuber, who showed flashes as a rookie and has impressed during OTAs, could be the one to take it from him.
An undrafted talent out of Mississippi State, Zuber logged two receptions for 29 yards and two rushes for 13 yards as a rookie. The 24-year-old receiver oozed confidence while speaking with reporters on Monday, and that could end up being the difference in his battle with Harry for a spot on the 53-man roster.