Which Patriots Free-Agent Addition Will Make Biggest Impact In 2020?

There’s a good reason why the New England Patriots are set to receive another compensatory draft pick haul in 2021.

The Patriots lost five significant players in free agency and only gained two back. New England is projected to receive a third-round comp pick and two fourth-rounders after losing quarterback Tom Brady and linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins in free agency. They would have received sixth- and seventh-round picks, as well, for losing defensive tackle Danny Shelton and offensive lineman Ted Karras, but those were canceled out when the Patriots signed safety Adrian Phillips and defensive tackle Beau Allen.

The Patriots also added wide receiver Damiere Byrd, linebacker Brandon Copeland, safety Cody Davis and fullback Dan Vitale and lost linebacker Elandon Roberts and safety Nate Ebner, but they were non-compensatory free agents due to their contracts.

Quarterback Brian Hoyer and wide receiver Marqise Lee also were signed by the Patriots, but they don’t count against the formula because they were released by their previous teams.

Let’s go player by player to determine who could make the biggest impact on the Patriots next season.

Hoyer’s ceiling is the Patriots’ 2020 starting quarterback. If Jarrett Stidham can’t win the job in training camp and preseason (if they even occur), then Hoyer is the next likely candidate. It wouldn’t be an ideal situation, but it’s at least possible.

Hoyer’s floor is the Patriots’ backup quarterback next season. Barring something completely unforeseen, he’s a lock to make the 53-man roster.

James Develin retired, so Vitale is competing for the starting fullback job with second-year pro Jakob Johnson. Vitale has a good shot to win the role. He might not see the same snap rate as Develin, however, if rookie tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene emerge. Keene played some fullback in college at Virginia Tech.

Byrd is an elite athlete, but his production hasn’t been matching throughout his four-year career. He set personal highs with 32 catches for 359 yards on 63.1 percent of offensive snaps in 2019 with the Arizona Cardinals.

He’s never started more than three games in a season. If Byrd makes the Patriots’ 53-man roster, he likely would be a backup receiver and potential punt and kick return option.

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Lee once was a starting-caliber NFL player, but he hasn’t caught more than three passes in a season since 2017. He missed the entire 2018 season and most of 2019 with knee injuries.

If Lee can get and stay healthy, then a starting role next season isn’t out of the equation. He’s competing with N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers and Mohamed Sanu, among others.

He caught 119 passes for 1,553 yards with six touchdowns in 30 combined games between 2016 and 2017. That was a long time ago, and he’s now competing for a roster spot.

Allen seemingly is a 1-for-1 replacement for Shelton. At the same time, we thought defensive tackle Mike Pennel would be a starter last season for the Patriots, and then he was cut after training camp. So, we won’t put the cart before the horse.

Allen doesn’t have a ton of competition at defensive tackle. If the Patriots want a big body in the middle of their defense, then Allen is their only current option at 327 pounds. Younger players like Courtney Wallace and Nick Thurman are listed at 20 pounds lighter.

Copeland had a much stronger grasp on a roster spot before the draft, when the Patriots added Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings and Cassh Maluia at linebacker.

Copeland has the versatility to play linebacker or on the edge as a pass rusher. Copeland still has a strong shot at a roster spot and role with limited depth at linebacker. Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Terez Hall, De’Jon Harris and Kyahva Tezino fill out the depth chart as far as off-ball options go.

There’s seemingly at least one too many defensive backs on the Patriots’ roster. Assuming Patrick Chung, Kyle Dugger, Stephon Gilmore, JC Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Devin McCourty and Jason McCourty are locks, how many spots are left for Davis, Phillips, Justin Bethel, Terrence Brooks, Joejuan Williams and longshots like Myles Bryant, Malik Gant, Adarius Pickett, Lenzy Pipkins and D’Angelo Ross?

The Patriots could keep 12 defensive backs, but that would be a lot. Assuming they keep 10 or 11, then Davis and Brooks could be competing for one spot. Davis is a core special teamer with some versatility to play defense.

Unless Dugger emerges, then Phillips likely will be the Patriots’ No. 3 safety behind Devin McCourty and Chung in 2020. He’s a core special-teamer and strong safety option. He also can play in the box as a pseudo-linebacker.

Allen has the clearest shot to a major role as a replacement for Shelton in 2020.

Hoyer has the highest ceiling as the Patriots’ potential starting quarterback next season.

Vitale and Copeland could earn starting roles at fullback and linebacker, respectively.

Phillips could wind up making the biggest impact split between his duties at safety and on special teams.

Still, we’ll go with Allen. Shelton played nearly 50 percent of defensive snaps last season, and Allen has little competition for that vacated role in 2020. Hoyer, Vitale, Copeland and Phillips have less direct paths to significant playing time.

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Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images

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