So much for my 2023 predictions. No way New England Patriots’ Christian Gonzalez will make the rookie all-defense team with just four games played. Mac Jones has to come back to playing decent football like he did in the first two games. And the Patriots might need luck to avoid the AFC East basement instead of finishing second in the division.
The only one that has any chance of coming true is the young Patriots wide outs combining for 1,000 receiving yards, but they have to get on the field first.
Only Demario Douglas has been a regular, but he has barely touched the ball this season. That’s despite being more explosive than the veterans playing ahead of him. That makes no sense.
Making changes at the receiver position is just the beginning. There are young players at other positions with limited playing time due to veterans ahead of them on the depth chart. With the way the season is going, it is in New England’s best interest to get these players on the field.
It’s time for the New England Patriots to start a youth movement
Douglas is third in receiving yards while being tied for sixth in targets. He’s responsible for the Patriots second longest pass play. He has three of New England’s nine 20+ pass plays. But just a dozen receptions.
Kayshon Boutte was active for just for the season opener. He’s been inactive since. Maybe Boutte is being taught a lesson for failing to get both feet inbounds twice in the season opener, but benching him for the next five games is torture, and it may be costing the team.
This isn’t tanking. This is doing what Belichick didn’t do in Super Bowl LII: try something different because doing the same thing isn’t working.
Sitting at 1-5, it’s likely that the Patriots won’t make the playoffs this season. They probably won’t get anywhere close to competing for a post-season berth. What’s left is playing for pride and as a spoiler.
If all New England could get out of this season is saving face, then they have nothing to lose by playing young, inexperienced players to get them valuable experience for next season.
This isn’t tanking. This is doing what Belichick didn’t do in Super Bowl LII when he benched Malcolm Butler despite the defense’s inability to stop the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense: try something different because doing the same thing isn’t working.
It’s not all the players' or coaches fault. It’s hard to win with all the injuries the Patriots are dealing with, particularly to their best players. The defense and offense are struggling without Matt Judon, Michael Onwenu, Cole Strange, Gonzalez, and more. The secondary is so thin, that Belichick brought back J.C. Jackson in a trade with the Los Angeles Chargers.
If the Patriots are going to lose, they might as well give reps to some youngsters for their NFL baptism. Many veteran players don’t care to play for nothing.
Belichick may have already started by signing Malik Cunningham to the active roster and making Cunningham the second string QB for the Las Vegas Raiders game over Bailey Zappe. And defensive linemen Sam Roberts and Keion White are getting plenty of reps now.
More can be done. JuJu Smith-Schuster has been a major disappointment as a free agent addition. Give those snaps to Douglas after he’s cleared to play after recovering from a concussion.
Boutte is showing his frustration. On Sunday he simply posted “Free me” on his Instagram profile. He has a legit point. I can tolerate Boutte missing another toe-tap along the sideline over DeVante Parker dropping a deep pass that hit his hands.
Myles Bryant, often targeted by opponents, is getting plenty of action with the losses in the secondary. A lot of Bryant’s playing time could go to Marte Mapu instead. Mapu won’t play the same role as Bryant, but putting Mapu on the field allows Belichick to shuffle a player or two around and hopefully get better results.
The only position that should wait on a youth movement is offensive line. Mac Jones has done enough to warrant being replaced next season, but it’s unfair to evaluate Jones when he doesn’t have time to throw.
The other end of Jones’ problem is the receivers aren’t getting open or making plays. Give Jones a chance with different targets. If Mac keeps on making mistakes, then replace Jones.
If Cunningham replaces Jones, so be it. But Cunningham will have the same problems Jones is dealing with behind this shaky O-line. Atonio Mafi and Sidy Sow might be best served sitting and learning in practice after Onwenu and Strange get healthy.
The Patriots shouldn’t tank. It’s overrated. Success in the NFL Draft is about making the right selections, not drafting higher.
Playing more young players could cost the Patriots a few wins this season, but will help build the foundation for winning in the future.