There has been a lot of talk during the offseason about the Patriots‘ roster and the direction in which they appear to be heading. With teams across the NFL finalizing their game-day rosters last week, the new philosophy the Patriots are implementing became clear with the team they chose to go with for the 2022 season.
Although there are several questions surrounding the team and how they may or may not perform this year, the players that made the team assured everyone that changes were on the horizon in New England for the foreseeable future.
It’s all about youth and speed
The Patriots didn’t hide their intentions this year when discussing their strategy for the draft a handful of months ago. There was an incredible emphasis from the coaching staff on getting younger and faster as a whole.
Much of the conversation began not long after the 2021 season ended, particularly because of how the Patriots’ season ended. It had been obvious during the season that the team needed an overall boost, but it eventually came to a head during the big loss to the Bills in the playoffs.
Inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo would give his insight regarding what the team was hoping to do specifically on defense back in February. He noted wanting to infuse speed (among various other things, of course) with their draft and free agency decisions in the upcoming offseason.
"“You always want to get faster, but what we covet here is just versatility and smarts, football intelligence. Those are things you definitely want to have on your team. Now, we have some guys who were new to the system last year which I expect going forward they’ll have a better understanding of that. Also through the draft and through free agency we’ll definitely look to get faster, look to get more explosive, and look to put more playmakers on the field.”"
Matt Groh, the director of player personnel, made it a talking point as well when speaking to the media before the draft in April.
"“We’re looking to get faster everywhere. It’s not just defense. It’s offense. It’s special teams. It’s not just linebacker. I think there are multiple ways to do that. I think we did some of that last year and have worked on doing that in free agency.”"
It became abundantly clear the Patriots had decided to start fresh by drafting younger and faster talent in overcoming their playoff loss. Several key defensive players were not re-signed during free agency, such as Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, despite their tenures with the team.
Offensively, adding younger players alongside Mac Jones was also a focus during the draft. Of their nine draft picks, seven of them would go to the offensive side of the ball. They would double-dip at running back, one of which was the fastest in the draft class. And they would select the fastest receiver, highlighting the desire to speed things up.
Defensively, they would draft two cornerbacks to join Jonathan Jones and Jalen Mills. As one of the more scrutinized positions of the team, due to losing both Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson, the addition of two rookie corners with immense potential proves the Patriots are continuing with their new ideology.
As the division slips out of their grasp, the positions they valued to replace and improve show their willingness to do what it takes to remain competitive.
The addition of more hybrid players
It is well known that Bill Belichick has always loved versatile players and part of the philosophy going forward appears to be adding even more position-less players all around. Outside of his fondness for the hybrid-style player, the NFL also appears to be going in this direction. What teams are looking for when drafting has headed in the direction of wanting more overall flexibility.
The Patriots’ defense has been following this trend for several years at this point and has quite the collection of hybrid players this year. Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, and Jalen Mills certainly lead the way in this category with their abilities to line up all over the secondary.
But even more multi-faceted players are set to join them with the addition of hybrid safety Jabrill Peppers. As the team goes forward intending to get faster and more talented, rostering guys with deep knowledge and skill on the defense will inevitably give the Patriots the upper hand over opponents.
The offense has also gone position-less this year, adding a plethora of versatile players via the draft and free agency.
It started in the draft when New England would pick passing back Pierre Strong Jr. and would continue with the signing of veteran RB/WR Ty Montgomery. Their additions would become vital after losing Brandon Bolden in free agency and James White to unexpected retirement during the preseason.
They would resume in signing position-less players until just a week shy of the regular season with the signing of RB/WR/QB/ST player, Lynn Bowden Jr. to the practice squad. His presence adds another gadget player for Belichick to develop and use, continuing the team’s new path taken.
It is extremely likely as the NFL progressively changes that Belichick will bring in more of these types of players. Considering his success with them in the past, the upside is high for that to continue this year as well.
Developing a more physical and faster defense
Going hand-in-hand with infusing youth and speed to the team, the defensive players chosen to fill the 53-man roster show the Patriots plan to go with a much more aggressive style this season.
Their struggles were on full display in the latter half of 2021, as opposing offenses were able to accomplish almost anything they tried to do during a game. Quarterbacks were left untouched and running backs easily ran through them, leading to several devastating losses to end the year.
But this season is already on a different track. Throughout training camp and the three preseason games, whether it was the starters or second team on the field, the defense’s performance stood out consistently.
Not only were they better at stopping the run, but several players were also easily breaking through to the backfield and getting to the quarterback. Their pure physicality and quickness were exhibited, giving the team so many options for players to be used in a variety of ways.
With so many young and eager players on the roster this season, the Patriots have an increased possibility of showcasing a dominant defense once again. Despite coming into camp as the more concerning side of the ball, they proved all summer that they are here to play, and play hard.