Team Award Predictions: New England Patriots

The 2019 season didn’t end well for the New England Patriots. With their week 17 loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots were forced to play on Wild Card Weekend against the red hot Tennessee Titans. Tom Brady threw a game sealing pick-six in the final minute which ended their season. Fast forward a few months and we learned it will be the final play of Brady’s career in New England. Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the offseason, leaving former fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham and career journeyman Brian Hoyer to battle it out for the starting quarterback role. Despite so much unknown in New England, I’ll still take a shot at predicting the Patriots’ team award winners for this season.

Make sure to check out all of our other team award predictions here.

MVP: Stephon Gilmore

Last season Gilmore was not only the best cornerback in the league but also the best defensive player in the league. He was named the AP Defensive Player of the Year award winner last year, making him only the sixth cornerback to win the award. Gilmore is the first cornerback to win the award since Charles Woodson in 2009. In the past, Gilmore wasn’t a big stats guy. He had just 18 career interceptions over his first seven seasons before last year. However, last season he led the league with six interceptions and 20 passes defended. He also returned two interceptions for a touchdown. With Brady gone and the offense expected to take a step back, Gilmore and the defense will need to step up their play this season.

Offensive Player: James White

How many times did we hear people say that Brady didn’t have enough weapons? Well, Brady is gone and the Patriots spent zero draft picks on a wide receiver. Now Stidham or Hoyer takes over and outside of White and Julian Edelman, the team lacks consistent proven weapons. Maybe Mohamed Sanu becomes consistent or N’Keal Harry takes a big step forward in year two, but I’m not counting on that till I see it. With teams doubling Edelman, expect White to see plenty of targets and dump off passes, especially if Stidham is starting.

White hasn’t topped 95 rushing attempts in any season for his career and I don’t expect that to change this season. However, he had at least 72 targets in four straight seasons and has seen 86 or more targets in three of the last four seasons. During that span, White averages 6.2 targets per game. Expect that number to push closer to seven or even eight targets a game this season. White will be the most consistent offensive player for the Patriots this season.

Defensive Player: Dont’a Hightower

If Gilmore is the team MVP, he should be the team’s defensive player of the year winner as well. However, to double-dip would be boring so I’ll make a case for Hightower. Of the Patriots’ four starting linebackers from last season, Hightower is the only one back for 2020. Jamie Collins is now a Detroit Lion while Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts headed south to Miami to reunite with former defensive coordinator Brian Flores.

Several of those starting spots will be filled by rookies, but more on that later. With Hightower now clearly the veteran and leader of the group, expect him to build off his strong performance in 2019. Last season, Hightower had 71 total tackles, eight for a loss, 5.5 sacks, and a touchdown. I predict he will lead the team in tackles and tackles for a loss this season. Don’t be surprised if he makes First-Team All-Pro this year.

Offensive Rookie: Jeff Thomas

Remember earlier when I said the Patriots didn’t draft a single wide receiver? Well, that was a mistake. The Patriots did spend two third-round picks at tight end on Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. However, tight ends tend to take a year or two to adjust to the NFL and I don’t expect either to make much of an impact as a rookie. With the limited number of proven players ahead of him on the depth chart, Thomas has a chance to work his way up the ladder with a strong training camp.

Thomas had issues at Miami, including suspensions, and struggled to stay on the field at times. Even when he was on the field, his stats weren’t eye-popping. He finished his three-year career with 83 catches for 1,316 yards and just eight touchdowns. With limited options to pick from Thomas gets the nod for the award, but I think the odds of Thomas being a consistent contributor this season are slim.

Defensive Rookie: Josh Uche

While the Patriots weren’t adding players on offense early in the draft, they traded up and got a steal in the second round with Uche. During his time at Michigan, Uche was used in several ways but the stats didn’t show. In his senior year, he had just 33 total tackles but was a force behind the line of scrimmage with 10.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. Many draft experts believe the best has yet to come for Uche and I agree.

He should easily win the starting spot that Van Noy had last year as they have a very similar skill set. Both guys can cover in space, yet bring pressure off the edge as a hybrid linebacker/defensive end. Given how creative the Patriots were with Van Noy in the past, don’t be surprised if Uche is among the rookie leaders in sacks, tackles for loss, and in the debate for Defensive Rookie of the Year race.

Biggest Surprise: Damien Harris

With the new quarterback situation, the Patriots are expected to become a run heavy team and try to win games with their defense. However, Sony Michel won’t lead the team in rushing yards. Harris will not only lead the team but will rush for over 1,000 yards. For reference, last year, 16 running backs rushed for over 1,000 yards. Michel can’t stay healthy and the team shouldn’t count on him. He missed three games his rookie year and while he played in all 16 last year, he played hurt all season long. Now he is recovering from offseason foot surgery. On top of that, let’s not forget his chronic knee issues and all the surgeries he has had on his knees.

Now last season Harris did next to nothing. He was active in just two games, rushing four times for 12 yards. Nothing impressive to say the least. However, he spent most of the games inactive because the Patriots activated Brandon Bolden for special team reasons. With Michel uncertain to be available for the start of the season, expect Harris to take over the starting role early in the season. If he is given enough touches, which I expect, he will rush for over 1,000 yards this season.

Biggest Disappointment: Jarrett Stidham

This may seem to be a polarizing pick, but Stidham has one year to prove he’s the new franchise quarterback. However, I don’t believe he is the guy and the Patriots haven’t put a lot of faith in him either. First off, he has to beat out Hoyer for the starting job, but for this article let’s assume he does. Instead of focusing on adding wide receivers (which they were one of only two teams not to draft a wide receiver), the Patriots used most of their early picks on the defensive side of the ball.

So Stidham has a lack of weapons and an offensive line that struggled to stay healthy last season. Furthermore, the Patriots didn’t sign an offensive lineman in free agency and waited till the sixth round to draft one. The Patriots are setting Stidham up to fail and given that 25% of his passes last season resulted in six points for the other team, I believe the Patriots will be looking for a new quarterback in the 2021 draft.

Questions and comments?

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