It’s impossible to figure out what to make of this New England Patriots side, mainly because there hasn’t been a real consistency in any of their performances so far.
The opening week against Miami featured a lot of Cam Newton running where he looked mightily impressive, before he almost managed to haul them back against Seattle with an outstanding performance throwing the ball.
The victory over the Raiders came with a heavy dose of running with Burkhead and the much maligned Sony Michel carrying them to victory.
Even the loss to Kansas City came after a phenomenal defensive performance which was undermined by some bone-headed decisions from Bryan Hoyer, but things have completely gone off the rails since the team was shut down due to positive Covid-19 tests.
The loss to Denver can be explained with a total lack of practice and even then the defence gave Cam Newton the chance to win the game, but todays loss to San Francisco was the dictionary definition of a blow out.
You could legitimately question the desire of players at some points, while it looked like men against boys with George Kittle and co simply throwing the Pats defenders around like ragdolls.
The sheer inconsistency makes it tough to grade some of the players, but six games is a good sample size to give an overall impression.
Cam Newton – Grade C+
Cam initially brought a refreshing change and some hope to New England for the post-Brady era, while you do have to wonder if the coronavirus has taken more of a toll on the QB than anyone is letting on.
In his last couple of games it actually looks like he’s trying to throw a shot-put rather than a football, while his footwork has started to deteriorate big time.
A lot of the time he’s stood waiting for someone to get open but it’s starting to look like he’s incapable of using the right hand side of the field, so there’s a sharing of the blame between him and the defenders.
The initial hype has died down and any talk of a contract extension has dissipated, so he really needs to turn things around if he wants a starting job anywhere in the NFL next season.
Brian Hoyer – Grade F
Hoyer is clearly well liked around the team and he must have some qualities in an almost coaching capacity, but he’s not the pair of safe hands that many assumed.
The loss to Kansas was the prime example – the defence enabled the Pats to play in a safe manner through running the ball and taking what the defence gives you through the air, but Hoyer had a shocker.
Some basic mental errors cost the Pats a real chance to knock off the Super Bowl champs and he was eventually yanked for Stidham, and it looks like he’s not even considered as the back-up anymore.
Jarrett Stidham – Grade D
It was widely assumed that Stidham would be the starter this season until Cam came along, but it’s probably just as well that things didn’t work out that way.
There are some things to like about his game with the willingness to push the ball downfield and take risks, but that comes at the cost of some very cheap turnovers.
In his defence he’s only been put on the field when the team is losing and needs a spark so he’s had to take risks, but there’s little to suggest things would be much different if he was thrown in from the start either.
Sony Michel – Grade C
It’s probably not a good thing when you are quietly surprised when a player simply isn’t awful, but Michel has shown signs that he can bounce back from a tough second season.
He had issues last year where the O-line was dreadful and he had a man on him immediately, but he does look like the kind of back who won’t be able to do much more than take what’s blocked for him.
He had two huge runs against The Raiders which carried the team to victory so his average carry stat is sitting at a very healthy 6.7 per attempt, but that is inflated by those two big gains.
He needs to improve his receiving skills and that first round tag will continue to weigh him down, but he’s proven he still has some value to the team.
James White – Grade C+
White’s had to go through some heartbreak this season so it’s fully expected that he might be out of form just now, but he did have a bright start tot he campaign where his running and receiving skills were properly utilised.
Cam spends a lot of time in the pocket and will need a dump off option who can pick up a few yards as the season goes on, so hopefully White can get back to his best.
Rex Burkhead – Grade B+
You know that Burkhead is unlikely to gain huge yards in a single play, but you always know he’s going to fall forward and his aggression is a welcome change in this offence.
He was the key reason for the win over The Raiders and often looks like the most reliable option to get some yards, so expect to see him being heavily involved in the offence if he can stay free of injuries.
Damien Harris – Grade C+
The hopes for Harris were probably artificially inflated with fans hoping for some kind of franchise back to emerge, but he looks more than solid and had an impressive 100 yard game against Kansas – something you don’t see too often from a Patriots running back.
He currently looks more reliable than Michel over the ground but he’s not had many chances in the passing game, so only the coaching staff will know if that’s an attempt to hide a weakness there.
He looks like the most likely player to emerge from the current crop as a proper number one running back, but he’s currently stuck with a tag of a one game wonder so he needs to prove he can be consistent too.
JJ Taylor – Grade C+
The undrafted rookie free agent was a pleasant surprise to start the season, as his diminutive frame allowed him to squeeze through tight gaps and it looked like the opposition didn’t really know how to stop him.
He runs with real pace and aggression but he’s never going to run anyone over, so he’s unlikely to develop into anything more than a situation back just now.
That’s still a good achievement from someone in his first season under trying circumstances, so it will be interesting to see if he can keep developing.
Julian Edelman – Grade C
He’s currently the team’s leading receiver, but something isn’t right about Edelman this season. He keeps appearing on the injury report so he’s possibly banged up, but he’s having some serious issues with tipping passes that go for interceptions.
He’s also suffering from ageing and consistently being double teamed by the opposition, which if you combine with his injuries it shows why he’s struggling to have a major impact on games just now.
He’s still the best receiver on the team but that’s not a massive accolade when you look at everyone else, so the team really need him to step up in the next few games.
N’Keal Harry – Grade C
Harry might be the human embodiment of “one step forward, two steps back” as every time he does something good it’s usually followed by a play where he needs to be doing better.
He’s had some tough catches including holding onto the ball despite a Seattle player trying to take his head off, but in the same game he had a chance to complete the comeback with a big catch at the end up he looked too weak and was stopped short of the line.
It actually looks like he’s almost trying too hard to impress and that’s causing mistakes like the fumble for the touchback earlier in the season, and it’s clear that he’s like Michel where the draft pick is used to beat him over the head.
He seems like a very likeable person and there’s not many players in the league that I want to succeed more than Harry, but it just looks like he’s never destined to be a number one receiver.
Damiere Byrd – Grade C
Byrd can probably be placed in the better than expected category, while he only really seems to offer a comeback route as an option but it’s often very effective.
He’s clearly got an understanding with Newton and he would probably be a useful weapon if he had two or three other players to open up some space for him, but that’s not going to happen just now.
He’s the second top receiver on the roster, but that probably tells you how poor this receiving corps is.
Isaiah Zuber, Gunner Olszewski and Jakobi Meyers – No Grade
There might be hopes that one of them could somehow step up to become a legitimate threat in the team, but they just haven’t had enough chances to show what they can do either way.
Zuber looks handy on jet-sweeps but he’s bouncing between the main roster and the practice squad, while Meyers has barely seen the field so far.
Olszewski was getting some rave reviews in training camp but he’s done little in the games other than provide an aggressive fumble-risk from kick returns, so it’s unfair to grade any of the trio one way or the other.
Tight Ends/ Full-Backs
Jakob Johnson – Grade C
The German full back has done well to carve out a regular spot in the roster, but he’s also trying to live up to the impossible task of replacing James Devlin as the full-back.
He had a nice TD catch against The Seahawks but he was also blown up in protection for the last play of the game, so he has plenty of areas to improve as well.
A competent full-back will rarely be noticed so he’s not a weakness in the team at all, but he’s just nowhere near as good as what came before.
Ryan Izzo – Grade D
He occasionally looks dangerous in the play action game and his blocking is fine but he doesn’t offer enough in the passing game and the team is absolutely crying out for a tight end threat just now.
He’s only caught 6 of his 11 targets and the fumble against Denver was an absolute back breaker too, so there’s nothing about Izzo to suggest he can be a regular starter in a good offence.
Devin Asiasi/Dalton Keene – No Grade
On paper these looked like good picks because the Patriots had nothing at tight-end going into the season, but it’s clear that they aren’t trusted to be part of the offence at all.
Keene has spent most of his time on IR or as an inactive while Asiasi is little more than a blocker or a decoy in the passing game, so we still have little idea how talented either player is.
David Andrews – Grade A
A very welcome return to the team after some worrying medical news last season, and you can just tell how much the team needs him when he doesn’t play.
The whole line looks solid when he plays and it started to fall to pieces when he broke his thumb, so he’s continued to play at a high level and he plays a key part in buying the QB extra time.
Isaiah Wynn – Grade B
The only real issue with Wynn so far in his NFL career has been his injury issues, but it looks like he’s over them and he’s starting to live up to that first round status.
He did have some issues against Denver when he was initially moved to the right hand side so that does go against him, but he looks very solid as a left tackle and is another key part of the line.
Joe Thuney – Grade A
Thuney is playing under the franchise tag this year so he’s got some real incentives to play well, and he’s proven his quality and his versatility in the game so far.
He looked fine at centre when he needed to fill in for David Andrews during his injury, while the combo of he and Wynn usually means that Cam doesn’t need to worry about anyone coming at him from the left hand side.
Michael Onwenu – Grade A
The only real success from the draft – Onwenu has been getting a lot of praise for his performances so far, while his versatility has allowed the line to hold up as he’s filled in at multiple positions.
He’s been so good that there’s been legitimate talk of trading Thuney to try and get something or someone in return that could help the skill positions, but that’s yet to happen.
It looks like Mason and Thuney will be fit going forward, so it will be interesting to see if Onwenu moves over to right tackle or what the coaching staff have planned for him.
Jermaine Eluemunor – Grade C
There was plenty of fears about Eluemunor filling in for Marcus Cannon after he opted out, especially when you consider that he couldn’t get a start over the infamous Marshall Newhouse last campaign.
He’s looked perfectly solid and will probably compete with Cannon if he returns next year, which is probably about as well as it could’ve gone so far.
Justin Herron – Grade C
Another positive from a lacklustre draft class, he’s looked solid when called upon and should be a useful rotation option going forward.
Lawrence Guy – Grade – C
It’s hard to be overly complementary about anyone from the defensive front who are regularly dominated in the running game, but Guy still looks fairly solid and he’s clearly one of Belichick’s more trusted defenders.
Adam Butler – Grade C
Injuries have been an issue for Butler and he’s struggled to stay on the field, but he still looks like he has the potential to be the most effective run stopper through the middle, but he’s still been part of a struggling unit.
Byron Cowart – Grade D
A late round draft pick a couple of years ago who’s shown the occasional flashes, but he’s too easily dominated and is one of the poorer players on the defensive side of the ball.
Chase Winovich – Grade B
He’s the only player who looks like he has the ability to regularly get after the quarterback, while you can see that his intelligence and anticipation is getting better.
He still has the occasional issue where he gets thrown about in the running game but he’s leading the team in sacks and tackles for loss, so it’s worrying to think how bad the defensive front would be without him.
John Simon – Grade C
Simon is often underrated but he’s still one of the key contributors on this defence with tackles for loss, but again he’s as culpable as the rest when it comes to being dominated on the ground.
Deatrich Wise Jr – Grade C
In a season where players have had to step up Wise has been an important starter, while he’s one of the rare members of the roster (offence included) to actually score a touchdown too.
Derek Rivers – Grade D
Rivers hasn’t been able to catch a break since being drafted with constant injury issues keeping him on the side-lines, but he did play a bit in the first couple of games, while you could see the emotion on his face when he finally recorded a sack.
Unfortunately it’s been downhill from there as his snap count decreases, and it looks like it might be time to give up on him.
Stephon Gilmore – Grade B+
The reigning DPOY was always going to struggle to live up to his performances last season, but he’s still looked outstanding most of the time this season.
He’s been targeted a few times this season and has had some issues with pass interference calls, but they’ve mostly been tidied up and he does look back to his best.
JC Jackson – Grade B+
The UDFA continues to shine as a vital part of this defence, and it looks like he’s probably considered as the number two option on the depth chart just now.
He’s managed to cut out a lot of the penalties that hurt the team at times last season, while he also looks like the most likely player to come up with an interception at a vital moment.
Jonathan Jones – Grade B
Jones can be a little bit streaky when it comes to his pass coverage, but there’s no doubt that he’s got the speed and the instincts to hang with anyone when he’s playing well.
He does look a bit hesitant to tackle when faced with a runner and sometimes a quick change of direction can be an issue, but he’s still a productive and key member of the defence.
Jason McCourty – Grade C
Both McCourty’s have lost a bit of their pace this year, so it’s relegated Jason to a lesser role in the team. He still looks dependable but he’s not made any meaningful contributions this season, so it looks like his level is starting to fall off somewhat.
Joejuan Williams – Grade C
He was drafted with the thought of coming into the team to guard tight ends or bigger receivers, and he’s slowly started to see more of a role this season.
He looked good in week 1 but his snap count has drastically reduced since then, so he’s struggled to make much of an impact.
Devin McCourty – Grade B
There are signs that age are starting to catch up with him, but he’s still a leader on the defence and he’s had a fairly good season.
It’s not clear if it’s purely down to a loss of speed, but he’s had a few occasions where he’s been in a good position to make a tackle but hasn’t managed it, but it could also be down to poor technique or a slight hesitation too.
He’s still one of the more productive defenders and his pick six kick started the great game vs Seattle, but it’s hard to see him having more than a couple of season left.
Kyle Dugger – Grade B-
The jury is still out over whether he was over drafted, but he certainly looks like a superb athlete who could become a key part of the system for years to come.
He has the height and the athleticism to cover tight ends so it was a surprise to see him missing out against San Francisco today, but he’s been a contributor straight away.
Terrence Brooks – Grade C+
Brooks was the clear weak point of the defence last year and was liable to giving up big plays when he was on the field, but he’s improved this year and looks like a useful part of the defence.
Adrian Phillips – Grade B
Phillips has been a pleasant surprise after he was merely touted as a special teams player when he arrived, but he’s actually proven himself to be a regular starter.
He’s not quite managed to make up for the loss of Chung, but he would still be a good member of this defence even if Chung hadn’t opted out.
Ja’Whaun Bentley – Grade D
Bentley was expected to step up and play a key role after Hightower opted out for the season, but he’s really struggled to live up to that billing.
His stats look impressive on paper but he plays like he has concrete boots on, so he’s incapable of getting out to tackle anyone on a wide run and he’s certain to be beaten if left one on one with someone – a big disappointment.
Shilique Calhoun – Grade C
Calhoun has played more than many would’ve expected, and he’s probably lived up to expectations so far.
He’s solid if unspectacular and will rarely let you down, but he’s unlikely to make any real positive contributions or game changing plays.
Brandon Copeland – Grade C
Pretty similar to Calhoun in that he’s been solid without any kind of wow factor in his play.
Nick Folk – Grade C
Folk gives hope to overweight men everywhere that they could still have a football career despite not being in shape, but it’s hard to grade a kicker any higher than a C if they are useless from anything over 40 yards.
He’s fairly automatic from close in but he doesn’t inspire any confidence, while his inclusion actively hampers the defence between the 30-40 yard lines because punting might be a safer option if a first down isn’t possible.
Jake Bailey – Grade B
He hasn’t had to punt as much as you might expect, but that’s mostly down to the offence turning the ball over with alarming regularity.
He’s improved his ball placement – especially on kick offs compared to last season, and he continues to justify the draft pick spent on him last year.
Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel, Cody Davis – Grade B+
We all know that Bill Belichick loves his special teams, and we’ve seen plenty of examples where they’ve hunted a punt down to pin the opposition deep in their own territory.
Any kind of meaningful punt return is rare and that’s down to excellent coverage from the unit, so they do deserve praise for their contributions.