The New England Patriots are pretty well set on offense as the 2019 NFL season nears, but there is one area of concern.
The Patriots, of course, don’t have to worry about the quarterback position, have one of the league’s most sure-handed receivers in Julian Edelman, as well as promising rookie wideout N’Keal Harry. Not to mention, New England just might own the league’s best running-back depth chart.
Tight end, however, is very much up in the air. The reigning Super Bowl champions saw Rob Gronkowski retire this offseason, and 38-year-old Benjamin Watson will be suspended for the first four games of the campaign. Despite the uncertainty at the position, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell still believes Tom Brady and Co. will be a top-10 offense in the upcoming season.
Here’s Barnwell’s preseason assessment of the Patriots’ offense, which ranks ninth in his power rankings of the NFL’s 32 units:
No team has suffered a bigger drop-off at any one spot than the Patriots, who go from arguably the most impactful tight end in NFL history with Rob Gronkowski to Benjamin Watson. The veteran Watson is already suspended for the first four games of the season, which means the Week 1 starter at tight end might very well be Matt LaCosse. With Josh Gordon likely unavailable and Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson and Dwayne Allen all gone, more than 52% of the passing yards Tom Brady posted a year ago went to players who are no longer on the roster.
As good as Gronk was, does anyone really think the Patriots will be a mess on offense this season? We know they’ll adjust. They used a first-round pick on N’Keal Harry and signed Dontrelle Inman and Demaryius Thomas, though the latter might not be healthy enough to play as he recovers from a torn Achilles. No team in the league is deeper at running back, where the Patriots can run out some combination of Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead and third-round pick Damien Harris from snap to snap. It won’t look the same without Gronk, but let’s be honest: This offense is going to work just fine.
Barnwell probably is right, as the Patriots year in and year out make the most of what they have. It would be awfully on-brand for Bill Belichick to turn the likes of Stephen Anderson and Maurice Harris into impact players in Foxboro.
New England’s offense didn’t wow anyone last season, but that didn’t stop the franchise from marching to yet another Lombardi Trophy. So when the Patriots endure their patented early-season struggles in a few short months, you’re probably best to take a look at history before counting them out.