The New England Patriots likely will need to go through a rebuild after the 2020 season, and it helps that they’re currently projected to have the fourth-most salary cap space in the NFL this offseason.
But there’s also hope for the future on the Patriots’ current roster. Here are eight potential building blocks for 2021 and beyond:
RB DAMIEN HARRIS
The Patriots 2019 third-round pick is living up to expectations after a de-facto redshirt rookie season. Harris has 49 carries for 279 yards with a touchdown and two catches on two targets for 26 yards since returning off of injured reserve in Week 4.
Extrapolate those numbers over 16 games, and you’re looking at 1,116 rushing yards and 104 receiving yards. Harris might need to pick up his scoring a little bit, and the Patriots should try to involve him more in the passing game. But he’s averaging 5.7 yards per carry through his first four games this season.
WR JAKOBI MEYERS
Over the last two weeks, Meyers has looked like the Patriots’ best wide receiver. He’s a taller wideout with a different skill-set, but there are some obvious comparisons to draw between Meyers and Julian Edelman.
Both receivers are former quarterbacks who can work outside or in the slot. Meyers has become quarterback Cam Newton’s most trusted receiver in recent weeks and should continue to be a safety blanket moving forward.
LT ISAIAH WYNN
New England’s top 2019 draft pick dealt with injuries over the first two seasons of his career, but he leads Patriots offensive players with 444 snaps this season.
He’s been solid as Newton’s blindside protector and should continue to man that role for years to come.
OL MIKE ONWENU
Onwenu has excelled at left guard, right guard and right tackle this season. It’s unclear where exactly he’ll play moving forward, and that largely depends on what happens to left guard Joe Thuney, right guard Shaq Mason and right tackle Marcus Cannon this offseason. But Onwenu, a 2020 sixth-round pick, certainly is part of the Patriots’ plans for the future.
OLB CHASE WINOVICH
Winovich’s snap count has dropped precipitously over the last four weeks.
Week 4: 66.1 percent
Week 5: Bye
Week 6: 34.4 percent
Week 7: 19.7 percent
Week 8: 8.6 percent
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Winovich is a good player and “will play.” He’s the team’s best pass rusher, and they need him out there this season and in the future.
Winovich worked to improve his run defense this offseason. If he continues to see progress in that department, then he could return to full-time status in the Patriots’ defense.
LB JOSH UCHE
There’s no one else on the Patriots’ defense with Uche’s combination of size (6-foot-3, 245 pounds) and athleticism. If he can emerge as a starting linebacker, then some of the issues in the middle of New England’s defense can be cured this season.
Uche is a player in the mold of Kyle Van Noy or Jamie Collins who can play inside or outside linebacker. He’s also a fierce pass rusher.
CB JC JACKSON
Jackson’s future is a little bit uncertain as a restricted free agent this offseason. The Patriots will give him a first-round tender, which leaves three options:
1. Keep Jackson on a one-year deal around $4.6 million
2. Match another team’s offer sheet and keep Jackson on a long-term deal
3. Decline to match another team’s offer sheet and receive a first-round pick for Jackson
All of those are good options seeing as Jackson is a No. 1-caliber cornerback. If the Patriots are forced to trade Stephon Gilmore this offseason, the 24-year-old is ready to step up.
S KYLE DUGGER
The Lenoir-Rhyne product was showing promise before an ankle injury knocked him out of the Patriots’ last two games. Dugger was New England’s top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and should be the starting strong safety of the future.
He’s shown the ability to cover tight ends and play strong safety, linebacker and free safety. Like Uche, Dugger has a unique combination of size (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) and speed (4.49-second 40-yard dash).