Biggest Winners, Losers From Patriots Minicamp As Summer Break Begins

It was a tough camp for a few recent high draft picks

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The New England Patriots officially closed out their spring practice schedule Wednesday afternoon. Here are 10 players who helped — or hurt — their cause during mandatory minicamp:

WINNERS
QB Mac Jones
Jones versus Cam Newton. Coming to a training camp field near you.

The rookie’s performance and workload in organized team activities and minicamp set the stage for what should be a legitimate quarterback competition this summer. Newton led off every competitive drill throughout the spring, but Jones actually logged more minicamp reps than the incumbent starter, attempting 65 passes in 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s to Newton’s 58. (Both dwarfed the rep counts of Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer.)

It wasn’t all positive for Jones, who finished practice poorly on both Tuesday (interceptions on two of his final three passes) and Wednesday (3 for his last 10, INT on his final throw). As Jones said himself, he still has plenty of learning to do. Newton, who enjoyed his best performance of minicamp Wednesday, still will enter training camp as the favorite to keep his starting spot.

But Jones’ odds of winning that job certainly increased this week.

LB Josh Uche
Now would be a good time to buy Uche stock. Injuries limited the 2020 second-round draft pick to nine games last season, but he appears poised to play a major role in Year 2. He was a pass-rushing dynamo this spring, routinely slicing his way into the Patriots’ backfield. The combo of Uche, Matt Judon, Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower could give opposing offensive lines serious problems on passing downs.

LB Dont’a Hightower
There were questions about Hightower’s physical readiness after he opted out of the 2020 season, but he was a full and active participant in all three minicamp practices, reintegrating seamlessly into New England’s defense. We’ll see how he looks once the pads come on, but we didn’t see any rust from the Patriots co-captain this week. Hightower, who appears to have slimmed down during his time away, victimized Jones with an acrobatic interception late in Tuesday’s practice.

WR Jakobi Meyers
Overshadowed by the offseason additions of Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, Meyers was the Patriots’ best receiver in OTAs and minicamp, and it wasn’t particularly close. The third-year pro looks poised to build on a strong 2020 campaign that saw him rank in the top 15 among NFL wideouts in catches, receiving yards and yards per route run over the final 11 weeks.

DB Jalen Mills
Mills can play any position in the secondary, and he saw a lot of action at cornerback this week with Stephon Gilmore holding out of minicamp for a new contract. The veteran newcomer currently looks like the top backup there behind Gilmore and J.C. Jackson. Gilmore’s teammates sounded confident the star corner will be back before the start of the season, but Mills is the type of versatile player who should be able to help the team in multiple ways. He was one of the top performers in Tuesday’s practice, breaking up one pass and nearly intercepting two others. Head coach Bill Belichick said the former Philadelphia Eagle has been “great” so far.

Patriots defensive line
You can’t draw many conclusions about trench play from unpadded practices, but the Patriots suddenly have an impressively deep D-line. With depth players like Montravius Adams and Akeem Spence standing out in minicamp, the competition for the final few roster spots here should be fierce.

LOSERS
TE Jonnu Smith
We expect Smith to play a major role in the Patriots’ offense, but this was an inauspicious spring for the high-priced tight end. He skipped voluntary OTAs, then suffered an apparent hamstring injury midway through the first minicamp practice and wasn’t able to participate in the final two. It would have been nice to get an early look at what New England’s offense will look like with Smith and Hunter Henry on the field together, but that will have to wait until training camp.

TE Dalton Keene
The Patriots’ decision to sign both Smith and Henry put their 2020 third-round tight ends on notice, and Keene appears to be lagging behind draftmate Devin Asiasi. The Virginia Tech product spent time on the rehab field in all three minicamp practices and didn’t stand out in competitive team drills. If the Patriots choose to carry just one of the rising NFL sophomores on their 53-man roster, we’d give the edge to Asiasi, who saw significant reps with the offensive starters this spring.

WR N’Keal Harry
After turning in a solid performance on Day 1 of minicamp, Harry caught just one pass in team drills Tuesday and two Wednesday. The 2019 first-rounder is no higher than fourth in the Patriots’ receiver hierarchy (behind Meyers, Agholor and Bourne) and could be pushed off the roster this summer by a player like Isaiah Zuber, Tre Nixon or Kristian Wilkerson.

OLB Chase Winovich
With so much depth on the edge following the offseason additions of Judon and Van Noy, snaps could be hard to come by for Winovich, another recent high draft pick (third round, 2019). It didn’t help that he missed all three minicamp practices for undisclosed reasons. Winovich is expected back in time for training camp, but he’ll have a lot of ground to make up.

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