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The New England Patriots are a peculiar team for our 2021 season preview series. They won seven games last season despite poor quarterback play and a litany of defensive opt-outs. However, peering over the roster doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence, either. The same could be said about many New England teams before 2021, though. Can Bill Belichick elevate this roster to the playoffs?

New England Patriots 2021 season preview
The Patriots’ strength of schedule in 2021 doesn’t have many games that preview as easy games or auto-losses, making their season projection most difficult. They have five games against teams projected to win 10 contests. They face the Browns, Buccaneers, and Colts outside their division and then the Bills twice. Furthermore, they play games against the Saints, Cowboys, Chargers, and Titans — far from easy wins.

They don’t have many “easier” games, either. They get the Jets twice in their own division and then battle the Texans and Jaguars as well. Some would lump the Panthers into this group of teams, but if Sam Darnold shows improvement, so shall the Panthers.

Offseason additions and losses
The Patriots were busier than ever during the 2021 NFL offseason. The team had a lot of money to spend, and spend they did. They re-signed Cam Newton to be the starting quarterback in 2021. They also signed two separate big-money tight ends. Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry now make over $10 million per year for New England — just one season removed from using multiple Day 2 picks on the position.

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Additionally, the Patriots acquired Kyle Van Noy and Matthew Judon, which significantly helps the defense heading into 2021. They also added defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson, and Jalen Mills to help strengthen their defense. Furthermore, New England kept Deatrich Wise around on a four-year, $22 million deal.

The Patriots didn’t lose much in free agency. Losing Joe Thuney is a blow to the offensive line, but besides defensive tackle Adam Butler, they didn’t lose many contributors from the 2020 team. Patrick Chung’s retirement creates a void at safety. However, Adrian Phillips filled in admirably last year.

2021 NFL Draft
The Patriots wasted no time trying to secure their future with the selection of Mac Jones. There’s no way Belichick and Co. would have drafted Jones without a full endorsement from a colleague, and I believe, the only man alive that can actually relate to Belichick — Nick Saban.

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They went right back to the Alabama well when they selected defensive tackle Christian Barmore. Barmore will probably play as a rotational pass-rushing defensive tackle while he sharpens some technical issues he had at Alabama that forced struggles against the run. In Round 3, they struck gold with the selection of Ronnie Perkins, who is an outstanding pass rusher off the edge. His poor testing saw him slide further than anticipated.

Rhamondre Stevenson is a massive back with a thick build and some light feet, but he’s not necessarily explosive. He also isn’t as punishing a runner as you’d expect for a player his size. He’ll most likely be a rotational piece for New England. Their next selection was based on upside. Snatching up Michigan linebacker Cameron McGrone was a great value in Round 5.

Joshuah Bledsoe played a lot in the nickel for Missouri. However, he probably doesn’t have the man-coverage skills to remain in such a slot-heavy role. He’d be better suited as a safety in two-high schemes, although he probably won’t see the field much early. They also got some offensive line depth with Colorado guard William Sherman and a speedy developmental receiver in Central Florida’s Tre Nixon.

Where do New England players rank in PFN’s Top 100?
The Patriots only have one player on PFN’s Top 100 rankings heading into the 2021 season. Rarely have they been a team with immense star power outside of Tom Brady, but things seem slightly different as of late.

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51) Stephon Gilmore, Cornerback
Gilmore might still be as elite as he was during the 2019 season, but the defensive opt-outs for the Patriots made life harder for the veteran in 2020. Gilmore’s blend of physicality and fluidity are ideal for the position, especially when paired with his frame. It made him an absolute menace for receivers in press man during his run of what was the best cornerback play in the game for a spell.

His battle with D.K. Metcalf was outstanding to watch in Week 2 of the season. Metcalf got a half step on him on a long-developing cross that he peeled into a corner route. It showed that even at 30, Gilmore could still get up and go vertically with one of the fastest receivers in the entire NFL. His performance against Amari Cooper and the Cowboys in 2019 was sublime, as were most of his games that season.

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