As the New England Patriots enjoy their first off-day of training camp, it’s time for a progress report.
While it’s far too early to draw any definitive conclusions about starting jobs and roster battles, here’s a look at five players whose stock has risen through four training camp practices and four who have taken a step back.
Note: It’s difficult for linemen on either side of the ball to distinguish themselves in non-padded practices, so this list is limited to skill players and linebackers. The first full-pads practice is set for Monday.
TE Jonnu Smith
Are we finally seeing the real Jonnu? The most disappointing player on New England’s 2021 roster has been one of the top training camp performers thus far, hauling in a series of highlight-reel touchdowns over Patriots safeties. Hunter Henry also has performed well outside of a dropped would-be touchdown on Day 4. With the Patriots expected to utilize more two-tight end sets after ditching the fullback position this offseason, these have been promising signs.
CB Terrance Mitchell
If the Patriots were playing a game this weekend, their two outside cornerbacks likely would be returning starter Jalen Mills on one side and Mitchell on the other. That’s been the top duo so far in camp, with Mitchell — a veteran journeyman who’s making just $1.75 million this season — outperforming Malcolm Butler (more on him below) and rookie Jack Jones. Mitchell broke up two passes in Saturday’s practice, though he was in coverage on a contested touchdown catch by Jakobi Meyers.
RB Rhamondre Stevenson
Stevenson came into camp in much better shape this year — he dropped seven pounds from his rookie weight and now checks in at 225 — and has looked smooth as a pass-catcher. With James White yet to fully recover from the hip injury that ended his 2021 season, Stevenson looks like a strong candidate to take on more pass-game responsibilities after working to improve in that area this offseason. He’ll also challenge Damien Harris for early-down opportunities.
WR/RB Ty Montgomery
Speaking of potential White replacements, Montgomery has been heavily involved on offense so far in camp. He’s seen reps at both receiver and running back with Mac Jones, plus various special teams duties, including kick return. It’s been years since Montgomery was a productive offensive contributor, but the Patriots love players with his versatility. We could see him filling a Brandon Bolden-esque role if he makes the roster.
S Joshuah Bledsoe
He’s trying to earn a roster spot in arguably the Patriots’ strongest position group, but don’t sleep on Bledsoe, who’s off to a great start after missing his entire rookie season with a wrist injury. The 2021 sixth-round pick forced a team-high five incompletions over the first two practice and has seen frequent reps with the first-team defense. We’ll see whether that changes once Jabrill Peppers returns from the physically unable to perform list, but Bledsoe has made a strong impression thus far.
Other risers: WR DeVante Parker, WR Tyquan Thornton, LB Raekwon McMillan, CB Marcus Jones
CB Malcolm Butler
Like Mitchell, Butler entered camp with a wide range of potential outcomes. He could earn a starting spot, stick around as a depth player or, with little guaranteed money in his contract, be cut before the season. It’s way too early to draw any roster conclusions, but the Super Bowl XLIX hero looks closer to Option 3 than Option 1 at the moment. He’s mostly run with the second unit opposite rookie Jack Jones and has had a tough time keeping up with Nelson Agholor, who’s beaten him on a handful of occasions. On Saturday, Butler had an aggressive pass breakup against Parker but also surrendered a long touchdown to Josh Hammond, a newly signed wideout with zero career NFL receptions. Butler returning to Foxboro and making an impact five years after his infamous Super Bowl benching — and one year after announcing his retirement — would be a fantastic story. But his performance thus far has not measured up.
WR Tre Nixon
The breakout star of minicamp, Nixon’s bid for a surprise roster spot has lost steam this summer. The shifty slot receiver has mostly run with the offensive reserves, seeing just two total targets from Mac Jones in team drills. One of those did result in a nice contested touchdown catch during Friday’s practice, but Jones seemed to indicate it likely would have been broken up had cornerback Shaun Wade not been wearing pads on his hands.
LB Cameron McGrone
McGrone’s offseason hype train was well-fueled and fast-moving, but the 2021 fifth-rounder hasn’t seen much work with the defensive regulars in spring practice or the first four days of camp. There’s plenty of time left for him to climb the inside linebacker depth chart — and he did get a few more looks on Friday and Saturday — but he seems to be clearly behind Ja’Whaun Bentley, Raekwon McMillan and Mack Wilson at this stage.
RB Pierre Strong
Strong should be capitalizing on White’s PUP stint and logging valuable reps as a pass-catching back. But he’s been injured, as well, with an undisclosed ailment keeping him out of all team drills. Strong has dressed for each practice, suggesting his injury is not serious, but he’s in danger of falling behind in this hotly contested roster battle.
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