Patriots: Raekwon McMillan becoming a classic Belichick reclamation project?

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 17: Middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan #54 of the Las Vegas Raiders (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 17: Middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan #54 of the Las Vegas Raiders (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images) /

The start of Patriots training camp is currently highlighted by three storylines: the quarterback  competition between Cam Newton and Mac Jones, which continues to take twists and turns, N’Keal Harry’s trade request, and Stephon Gilmore’s ongoing contract negotiations.

While all compelling narratives, however, we’ve also seen Bill Belichick praise Damien Harris, backup QB Jarrett Stidham go under the knife to repair his shoulder injury, and new wideout Nelson Agholor, aside from a lone touchdown drop, get off to a roaring start.

In other words, there’s been no shortage of content for Patriots fans to soak in, which means other storylines will get lost in the shuffle.

For example, the rise of Raekwon McMillan as a potential difference-maker for the Pats’ defense has flown well under the radar.

After all, if you’re catching Belichick’s attention, you’re probably doing something right.

While addressing the media on Monday, Belichick admitted to being impressed by McMillan, which got us thinking about whether he could become another Belichick reclamation project.

Is Raekwon McMillan poised for a breakout year with the Patriots?

McMillan isn’t a lock to make it past preseason cuts, as the Patriots’ linebacking corps is  composed of Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley and McMillan — as well as outside rushers Josh Uche, Ronnie Perkins, Chase Winovich and Anfernee Jennings.

There will be plenty of competition, but it bodes well for McMillan that Belichick has been impressed by his ability to call out pre-snap adjustments.

A former second-round pick of the Dolphins back in 2017, McMillan has had a rough go of it following a promising sophomore campaign, when he started all 16 games for Miami and compiled 105 tackles (five for loss), two forced fumbles and a pass breakup.

After that promising display, McMillan saw his playing time decrease significantly in 2019 after the Dolphins hired former Patriots defensive assistant Brian Flores as their head coach.

McMillan played just 46% of the snaps that season before he was traded to the Raiders in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick just weeks before the start of 2020.

While the former Ohio State star appeared in all 16 games for the Raiders last season, the majority of his snaps came on special teams (he logged a 17% snap share on defense).

Clearly feeling he could revive his career under Belichick’s tutelage, the Patriots signed him to a one-year, $1.15 million contract in free agency. That deal proved McMillan would have to earn his spot on the roster, and Belichick’s comments prove he’s blowing past expectations.

We’d hate to overreact to one quote, but it’s not often that Belichick compliments players at training camp who aren’t guaranteed to make the roster. In other words, don’t be surprised if McMillan becomes an impact player for the Patriots defense in 2021.