Three bold predictions for Patriots in 2021: Damien Harris enjoys breakout season out of backfield

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No matter who you ask in the New England area, they will all tell you that the Patriots’ 2020 campaign was not up to par. In the aftermath of Tom Brady’s departure for Tampa Bay, the club struggled and limped to a 7-9 record while missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008. This offseason Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft have made an effort huge to avoid this. fate is moving forward spending big on free agency and investing a first-round pick on a quarterback, bringing Alabama’s Mac Jones into the fold as the future faces center.

Is all this money and project capital spent going to make a difference in New England? That ultimately remains to be seen. That said, as the Patriots gear up for the 2021 season as they go through training camp and are on the brink of preseason, it now seems more than ever time to make some bold predictions about how this season will take place at Foxborough.

Patriots boast top-five defense

Honestly, I’m so sure how bold this prediction is, as it seems very likely that the Patriots will have a top defense again. That said, it would be a significant jump from 2020, when they placed 26th in the league in DVOA. While offense has captured most of the offseason headlines, the Patriots have also addressed a number of key defense issues. The New England linebacker unit didn’t feature a lot of top talent a season ago, but will now see Matt Judon (free agent signing), Kyle Van Noy (free agent signing) and Dont ‘a Hightower (back from the opt-out) be injected into the front seven. These three are expected to start the gate, which will allow some of the young Patriots players (Josh Uche, Anfernee Jenning and Chase Winovich) to develop and serve as complementary pieces rather than being asked to do more than they are. able to do currently. .

Another area that needed improvement was the defensive line, which struggled with the run last season. New England not only re-signed Lawrence Guy, but also added Davon Godchaux (free agency), Henry Anderson (free agency) and Christian Barmore (NFL project) to strengthen the interior as well.

Of course, the calling card of this Patriots defense is secondary. As long as the contract situation with Stephon Gilmore is resolved, this unit will once again be hard to beat in the air. Not only will Gilmore and JC Jackson continue to occupy the starting spots, the team also added Jalen Mills in free agency. In the absence of Patrick Chung, who retired earlier this offseason, Kyle Dugger is also considered a high school breakout candidate.

Overall, there doesn’t appear to be any glaring weakness on this defense, which should put them near the top of the league once the regular season is over.

Damien Harris has over 1,200 yards of scrimmage

When Bill Belichick of all the people talks to you. it’s safe to say there should be some optimism. Earlier in camp, the head coach praised the work ethic of running back Damien Harris during the offseason and even planned for an expanded role until 2021.

“I think Damien is a player who improved a lot between the first and second year,” Belichick told reporters at the end of July. “This year he’s playing a little different role. Now he has the opportunity to compete for a leadership position and so he adopted it. He worked hard. He’s been here since the day after the end of the race. He worked just as hard as everyone else in the offseason I’m sure that will help his preparation. Before this camp we’ll see how he fares. He worked extremely hard. He’s a player. very dedicated. I was impressed with the commitment he showed. “

For a coach who doesn’t like to consistently single out a given player, Belichick’s talk of Harris taking on the “lead role” certainly raises eyebrows in what could be a promising third season in the league. We have already seen that Harris is able to display numbers. In his 10 games played (all starts) in 2020, he’s averaged five yards per carry and 743 yards scrimmage.

If he takes the starting post and leads the backfield in touches, Harris should have no problem getting over a thousand yards on the ground, especially with what may be an elite offensive line in front of him.

Mac Jones starts playoff game

The torch will finally be passed to Mac Jones. While I do think Cam Newton will be an improved caller over what we saw a year ago, whenever the kid is ready it is in the franchise’s best interest to bring him in to start this. new era. With that in mind, a mid-season change should be expected at some point, especially if the offensive cap continues to be capped with Newton below center. There will certainly be some bumps along the way with Jones, but New England’s offensive line, defense and training should be enough to get them into the playoffs as a wild card contender, which means Jones will get a taste of playoff football very early in his development. As for when the change might happen, here are three places in the Patriots’ calendar where it may make sense.

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