Patriots' Position Battles to Watch Ahead of 2021 NFL Season

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMay 31, 2021

Patriots' Position Battles to Watch Ahead of 2021 NFL Season

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    The top storyline for the New England Patriots heading into the 2021 season is clear: Who is going to be the team's starting quarterback?

    The Pats took Mac Jones in the first round of this year's NFL draft so that he can become their franchise quarterback. But that doesn't necessarily mean he'll immediately be the starter. Cam Newton may get a second chance to lead the offense after enduring some struggles during his first year with New England in 2020.

    While Jones and Newton are sure to receive plenty of attention while competing for the starting job, the Pats have other areas on their roster with question marks, too.

    Here's more on the Patriots' upcoming QB battle as well as a look at other position groups that will feature some competitions heading into the season.

Quarterback

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    In 2020, Newton didn't look like the same quarterback who was once named the NFL MVP. He passed for 2,657 yards, eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 games while also rushing for 592 yards and 12 touchdowns. And three of his touchdown passes came in a Week 17 win over the New York Jets.

    However, Newton didn't have the best supporting cast, either. The Patriots have greatly improved their offense this offseason, and there are now more playmakers at the skill positions. So perhaps the 32-year-old is deserving of another opportunity to start and get back to putting up the type of numbers he had earlier in his career while with the Carolina Panthers.

    There's also a compelling case to be made for Jones, who seems like a better fit in New England's offense and will one day get his chance to be the starting quarterback. But is the 22-year-old ready now? Based on a recent showing at one of New England's OTA practices, it appears he may be.

    "When he was in there, the ball comes out of his hand quickly, decisively and accurately. At least for today, he threw the best ball of anybody in camp," NFL Network's Mike Giardi said last Thursday.

    Keep an eye on this competition throughout the summer, as it could greatly impact how the Patriots fare in 2021. Either Newton or Jones will be under center in Week 1, we just won't know which one it will be for a while longer.

Running Back

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Patriots' group of running backs. But let's start at the top of the depth chart, where either Sony Michel or Damien Harris will be listed as New England's starter.

    Of course, the Pats are going to use more than one running back, as they always do, but Michel and Harris are sure to be competing for carries leading up to the 2021 season. Michel was limited to nine games last year, rushing for 449 yards and one touchdown. Meanwhile, Harris fared well with increased opportunities, running for 691 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games.

    Both Michel and Harris will get plenty of touches, assuming both are healthy, but it will still be interesting to see how the carries are divided.

    The Patriots also brought back James White and selected Rhamondre Stevenson during the fourth round of the 2021 NFL draft. Plus, they have Brandon Bolden, Tyler Gaffney and J.J. Taylor currently on their roster as well.

    New England is going to have to trim this group of backs. Is there still room for White? Can Stevenson work his way into the mix as a rookie? These will be some intriguing battles to watch in the backfield.

Wide Receiver

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    There are several new additions to New England's receiving corps, including Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. There are numerous returners, too, such as Jakobi Meyers and N'Keal Harry. So who will the Patriots start and how will playing time be split up?

    This was one of the weakest areas on the Pats roster in 2020. Meyers led the team with 729 receiving yards, but he never got into the end zone. Harry, a first-round draft pick in 2019, continued his early career struggles, recording only 309 yards and two touchdowns.

    But now that New England has brought in some experienced receivers, perhaps that will motivate the returners to take their games to another level. Agholor will be the Patriots' No. 1 option after leading the Las Vegas Raiders in receiving last season, but other spots could be up for grabs during the preseason.

    Assuming that Harry stays on the roster, this could be his final opportunity to try to carve out a role in the Patriots offense as he battles with some of the other receivers for playing time heading into the season.

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