Some Patriots players helped their causes during New England’s spring practice schedule, which concluded last week with mandatory minicamp. Others? Not so much.
With the Patriots now off until training camp begins in late July, we identified eight winners and three losers from the team’s two minicamp practices.
QB Mac Jones
Jones opened minicamp with 23 consecutive completions and finished it with a completion rate of 88%. Even in a non-contact setting, that’s impressive accuracy, especially given the types of throws Jones was attempting. The second-year QB often attacked down the field and was nearly flawless when doing so, going 7-for-8 on deep passes with all seven completions hitting tight windows. It’s too early to know exactly what the Patriots’ “streamlined” offense will look like this season, but we could see the team open things up more for Jones, who excelled on deep balls at Alabama despite critiques about his arm strength. Teammates also raved about the young passer’s leadership, conditioning and command of the offense as he looks to build on his promising rookie season.
WR Tre Nixon
The breakout star of minicamp, Nixon caught all 10 of his targets, often repped with the first-team offense and hauled in three of those aforementioned Jones deep balls — including a one-handed 60-yarder over top slot cornerback Jonathan Jones — capitalizing on Jakobi Meyers’ limitations and Kendrick Bourne’s one-day excused absence. Nixon also saw work as a punt returner and punt gunner. The 2021 seventh-rounder would need to unseat some established veterans in order to stick on the roster, and there’s no guarantee he maintains this momentum through the summer. But he’s done everything right thus far.
OL Cole Strange
At this point, barring injury, it would be an upset if Strange didn’t start at left guard in Week 1. The polarizing first-round draft pick has been firmly entrenched there since the start of spring practice, showcasing his athleticism and relentlessness and garnering early comparisons to former Patriots standout Joe Thuney.
CB Jack Jones
It’s hard to identify any favorites in the Patriots’ wide-open cornerback competition, but Jones, who saw substantial first-team reps last week, should be in the mix for a starting job with the likes of Jalen Mills, Malcolm Butler and Terrance Mitchell. The Arizona State product needs to add weight to his 5-foot-11, 175-pound frame and was beaten for a few big plays in minicamp, but his ball skills and stickiness in coverage were apparent. He was the only Patriot with multiple passes defended across last week’s two practices, notching an interception, a pass breakup and a forced fumble.
WR Nelson Agholor
After turning in an underwhelming debut season in New England, Agholor said he expected to be much better in Year 2. He’s off to a promising start there. The veteran equaled Nixon’s minicamp total with 10 catches on 12 targets, headlined by a diving grab down the left sideline that beat tight coverage from Jack Jones. The offseason arrivals of DeVante Parker and Tyquan Thornton threatened to eat into Agholor’s playing time (or push him off the roster entirely), so this was a much-needed spring showing.
TE Jonnu Smith
Smith, who was even less impactful than Agholor in 2021, also flashed in minicamp, beating a pair of starting safeties (first Adrian Phillips, then Kyle Dugger) for acrobatic downfield completions while position mate Hunter Henry rehabbed an undisclosed injury. The Patriots need much more from Smith this season after the $50 million tight end managed just 28 catches for 294 yards and one touchdown a year ago, and he, like Agholor, took a step in the right direction this spring. Smith was a full participant in New England’s offseason program after skipping it last spring.
LB Josh Uche
Bill and Steve Belichick both have said Uche will have a prominent role in New England’s defense this season, and the team’s spring practices reinforced that. Uche looks like the favorite to fill the Kyle Van Noy void opposite Matthew Judon, with the potential to contribute as an edge rusher and off-the-ball linebacker. We’ve seen this before with the 2020 second-rounder, though, who also impressed in training camp last summer before winding up buried on the depth chart. Will this be the season he finally breaks out?
LB Raekwon McMillan
Roster battles aren’t won or lost in spring practice, but McMillan currently looks like the top choice to start at inside linebacker alongside Ja’Whaun Bentley. The ex-Dolphin and Raider was part of the Patriots’ first-team defense throughout the spring after performing well in his brief 2021 training camp, which was cut short by a season-ending torn ACL. He’ll need to hold off challenges from newcomer Mack Wilson and 2021 fifth-rounder Cameron McGrone in training camp.
WR N’Keal Harry
When the Patriots’ offense split for certain periods during minicamp, Harry went with the scout team, running plays off of cards and catching passes from third-string rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe. That said all you need to know about the much-maligned wideout’s standing on this team. Harry returned for minicamp after skipping voluntary OTAs but did little to improve his slim roster odds. He caught one of his four targets in his first practice and was not targeted in the second.
OT Isaiah Wynn
The big surprise of minicamp was Wynn’s switch from left tackle — where he’s played throughout his NFL and college careers — to right tackle, with Trent Brown flipping from right to left. Bill Belichick declined to explain the reasoning behind this move, but it easily can be viewed as a demotion for the oft-injured Wynn, who’s entering a contract year. The Patriots could wind up trading the 26-year-old, as doing so would wipe his entire $10.4 million guaranteed salary from their salary cap.
TE Dalton Keene
The Patriots’ removal of the traditional fullback from their offense should make a player like Keene, an H-back in college, more valuable. But the Virginia Tech product still cannot seem to stay on the field, with an undisclosed injury keeping him out of team drills in both minicamp practices. Neither of the Patriots’ third-year tight ends has been even remotely productive up to this point, but Devin Asiasi’s availability gives him the edge over Keene in this roster battle.