New England Patriots organized team activities practices kick off this week, and the media will get its first look at the 2021 squad Thursday.
The Patriots are going to look quite a bit different this season after some key additions in free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft. Here are the newcomers we’ll be watching closely in practice.
QB MAC JONES
The Patriots’ first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Jones could be relegated to fourth-string duties in organized team activities as a rookie while competing for reps with Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer.
Jones is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in college football history. We’ll be charting his completion percentage during the first open OTAs on Thursday to see if that ball placement translates to NFL practices.
WR NELSON AGHOLOR
The Patriots spent big on Agholor in free agency, and now we’ll see if he can live up to expectations early in his Patriots career as an assumed starting wide receiver.
Agholor was a bit of a disappointment with the Philadelphia Eagles as a 2015 first-round pick, catching 224 passes for 2,515 yards with 18 touchdowns in five seasons. Then he broke out in 2020 in a big way with the Las Vegas Raiders, hauling in 48 catches for 896 yards with eight touchdowns. Still only 28 years old, Agholor will look to build on a career year.
WR KENDRICK BOURNE
Bourne is another free agent addition coming off of his best NFL season. The former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver will compete for a starting job against Jakobi Meyers.
WR TRE NIXON
If you noticed, we didn’t list fourth-round pick Rhamondre Stevenson. That’s because there’s usually not much to glean from running backs in spring practices without pads. It’s possible that Stevenson could be used heavily as a pass-catcher, but the rookie skill-position player we’ll really be watching is Nixon.
Nixon is a seventh-round pick but comes from a strong pedigree as a former four-star recruit. An injury during his senior season knocked Nixon down draft boards.
TE JONNU SMITH
Smith is the better blocker and more athletic and versatile than New England’s other tight end addition, Hunter Henry. He’ll likely primarily be used as an inline tight end with the potential to be used in the backfield, in the slot or split out at wide receiver.
Smith never fully lived up to his potential with the Tennessee Titans but has that chance now in New England. He should be a favorite target of Patriots quarterbacks during OTAs.
TE HUNTER HENRY
While Smith is more athletic, versatile and a better blocker, Henry is the more accomplished pass-catcher. He’ll likely be used more as a flex tight end and big slot in New England. Henry should be another favorite target for Newton, Stidham, Hoyer and Jones.
OLB MATT JUDON
OTAs aren’t exactly the best showcase for pass rushers. But we are interested to see where Judon is used in New England’s defense. We expect him to be lined up on the edge as an outside linebacker/defensive end. There is a possibility that New England views him as an off-ball linebacker, however.
DB JALEN MILLS
Mills is another free agent addition with positional question marks. He’s played everywhere in an NFL secondary. So, do the Patriots view him as a cornerback, slot, free safety or strong safety in their defense? The answer could be all of the above.