With the 2020 New England Patriots season officially complete, it’s time to hand out some superlatives.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
P Jake Bailey
Really? The punter? That’s right, the punter. Only one Patriots player was arguably the NFL’s best at his position this season: Bailey, who led the league in net punting average (45.6 yards per punt) and ranked second in punts downed inside the 20 (31 of 55). The first-time Pro Bowler also led all punters in expected points added per punt, per ESPN.com’s Bill Barnwell. Of course, no team wants its best player to be a punter, but Bailey was one of the Patriots’ few true weapons in 2020.
“I know people don’t want to see the punter come on the field,” Pro Bowl special teamer Matthew Slater said last month. “But when Jake Bailey comes on the field, all eyes should be on him.”
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
WR Jakobi Meyers
Speaking of weapons, Meyers was far and away Cam Newton’s top pass-catcher this season, leading the Patriots in receptions (59) and receiving yards (729) despite hardly playing a snap until Week 7. Over the final 11 weeks, he ranked 15th among all NFL wideouts in both catches and yards and nearly equaled the production of every other New England wideout/tight end combined. The former high school quarterback also threw two touchdown passes.
The Patriots’ receiving corps needs a major overhaul this offseason, but Meyers is here to stay.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
CB J.C. Jackson
This was a tough pick, as Jackson wasn’t exactly lights-out in the games Stephon Gilmore missed. Gilmore was very good when healthy this season — even if he didn’t replicate his 2019 DPOY campaign — but he only played in 11 games. We also considered ever-reliable veteran safety Devin McCourty for this spot but ultimately went with Jackson and his nine interceptions, which ranked second in the NFL and were tied for third-most in Patriots history.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
OL Mike Onwenu
The Patriots expected Onwenu to compete for a backup guard spot behind Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason last summer. Instead, the sixth-round draft pick wound up becoming New England’s top-choice right tackle, logging more than 600 snaps there despite not playing the position at all in college. Only Thuney played more offensive snaps than Onwenu, who also started games at both guard spots and earned a place on Pro Football Focus’ All-Rookie Team.
Whether he plays guard or tackle moving forward remains to be seen, but Onwenu should be a fixture on New England’s O-line for years to come. Safety Kyle Dugger was the runner-up here.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
PR Gunner Olszewski
Olszewski’s sophomore season was one of the best ever by an NFL punt returner. No, seriously. His 17.3-yard punt-return average (on 20 returns) led the league, set a new franchise record (breaking Julian Edelman’s mark of 15.5) and was the second-best by any player with 20-plus returns since the 1970 merger. Olszewski also returned one punt for a touchdown and had another score called back for a penalty. Not bad for a Division II prospect who barely made the Patriots’ roster as a rookie in 2019.
Patriots tight ends
After fielding the NFL’s least productive tight end group in 2019, the Patriots devoted two third-round draft picks to the position — and somehow got worse. Ryan Izzo, Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene combined for a league-low 18 catches this season, 19 fewer than the Ben Watson-Matt LaCosse-Izzo triumvirate managed one year earlier. No one expected Asiasi and Keene to immediately become the Patriots’ next great tight end duo, but the team surely was hoping for more than five total receptions out of the two rookies, both of whom spent time on injured reserve. Asiasi’s touchdown catch in Week 17 at least ended his season on a positive note.
WR N’Keal Harry
It just has not come together for the 2019 first-round draft pick, who finished the season with 33 catches on 57 targets for 309 yards and two touchdowns in 14 games. Harry showed signs of a potential breakout during the Patriots’ two-game L.A. trip but finished meekly, catching one, one and two passes in New England’s final three games (for 32 total yards). In 22 career games, the 23-year-old has caught more than five passes just once and surpassed 50 receiving yards just once (eight for 72 at Seattle in Week 2). Lagging miles behind D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown, Terry McLaurin and the various other standout receivers to come out of his draft class, Harry won’t be a lock to make the Patriots’ roster in Year 3.