Patriots Midseason Superlatives: Surprise Rookie Standout Headlines Honorees

Studs and duds from the Patriots' first eight games

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With the 2020 New England Patriots season now halfway over, it’s time to hand out some midseason superlatives.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
OL Mike Onwenu

It probably speaks more to the Patriots’ overall struggles that Onwenu, a sixth-round rookie, has been their best player through eight games. But he has. Onwenu has been incredible. He’s started games at left guard, right guard and right tackle (after playing almost exclusively right guard at Michigan). He’s allowed just one sack and six total pressures. The 22-year-old is an absolute monster in the run game. Onwenu has committed just one penalty, a questionable holding call Monday night. He’s Pro Football Focus’s highest-graded tackle (and 16th-highest-graded player). The Patriots have not gotten much out of their early draft picks thus far (more on them below), but Onwenu looks like this year’s biggest steal.

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE HALF
WR Jakobi Meyers/RB Damien Harris

Recency bias? Perhaps. But Meyers (22 catches, 287 receiving yards over the last three games, including 12 for 169 in Monday’s win over the New York Jets) and Harris (5.6 yards per carry with two 100-yard outings since debuting in Week 4) have been two bright spots in an otherwise underwhelming offensive campaign for New England. The Patriots should hope quarterback Cam Newton has this spot locked down by the time we hand out our end-of-season awards.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE HALF
CB J.C. Jackson

Not the best timing, admittedly, considering Jackson just gave up two touchdowns against the Jets. The Patriots clearly have missed Stephon Gilmore in the two games he’s been absent due to a knee injury. But Jackson has an NFL-best five interceptions and still has the look of a future No. 1 corner, even if he’s not there quite yet. We also considered safety Devin McCourty for this spot.

ROOKIE OF THE HALF
Onwenu

And there’s no close second. The runner-up here probably would be second-round pick Kyle Dugger, who made some very impressive plays as a hybrid safety/linebacker early in the season. But he missed two weeks with an ankle injury and hardly played in his first game back. Tackle Justin Herron (sixth round) is another honorable mention. He’s now on IR. We’ve yet to see much from Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Devin Asiasi or Dalton Keene, New England’s next four picks behind Dugger.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
OT Jermaine Eluemunor

He’s been on injured reserve for the last three weeks, but few could have predicted Eluemunor’s early-season success. A bottom-of-the-roster guard in 2019, he took over Marcus Cannon’s spot at right tackle in training camp and played remarkably well, grading out as one of PFF’s top tackles before his injury. It will be interesting to see how New England constructs its O-line once Eluemunor is back, which could be as early as this week. With how well Onwenu has performed, the veteran might be destined for a backup role.

BIGGEST SURPRISE
Patriots’ defense

Where art thou, Boogeymen? Regression was inevitable for this unit with Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Patrick Chung, Danny Shelton, Duron Harmon and Elandon Roberts all gone, but we didn’t expect it to fall quite this far. The Patriots’ defense ranked first in the NFL in DVOA in 2019. Eight games into 2020, they’re 31st, ahead of only the rebuilding Jacksonville Jaguars. Run defense? The Patriots have allowed the eighth-most rushing yards per game, including back-to-back weeks of 190-plus. Pass defense? No team has surrendered more yards per attempt, and only 10 have a lower sack rate. And the road gets no easier for this group. Six of their final eight opponents rank in the top 10 in points per game, total offense or DVOA.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT
WR N’Keal Harry

Harry certainly isn’t to blame for his recent concussion-related absence. But even before that, the 2019 first-round draft pick was disappointingly unproductive in the Patriots’ offense. In six games this season, Harry has 19 catches for 172 yards and one touchdown, with eight of those receptions and 72 of those yards coming against Seattle’s porous secondary in Week 2. The undrafted Meyers nearly equaled that yardage total in Week 9 alone. Julian Edelman also looked like a shell of his former self before undergoing a knee procedure and landing on IR.

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