Roster Holes Patriots Must Fill Ahead of Training Camp
Entering the offseason, the New England Patriots had a lot of holes to address on their roster. That was to be expected coming off a 7-9 season in which they missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
Over the past four months, the Pats have done plenty to fix many of those areas. They were active in free agency and brought in a strong rookie class, so there's the potential for them to have a bounce-back year. Maybe they will even return to the postseason.
However, that also doesn't mean New England's roster is perfect as it prepares to start training camp July 28. If the Patriots want to become one of the NFL's top teams again, a few areas of their team could still get better.
Here's a look at several roster holes New England may want to fix heading into the 2021 season.
A True No. 1 Wide Receiver
New England's receiving corps is better than it was at the end of the 2020 season. Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne were solid free-agent additions to a position group that was easily among the weakest on the roster. And tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry are sure to improve the passing game.
However, the Pats still lack a true No. 1 playmaker for their quarterback (either Cam Newton or rookie Mac Jones) to rely on heavily. That will become even more noticeable if Agholor doesn't build off his performance from 2020, when he had a career year for the Las Vegas Raiders.
N'Keal Harry hasn't lived up to expectations as a first-round draft pick, while others, such as Jakobi Meyers, could keep improving but are unlikely to become a No. 1 receiver. If Agholor gets injured or underperforms, there aren't many options to step up.
At this point, New England may not be able to acquire a top playmaker. But if this becomes an issue early in the season, the team may want to explore the trade market to see whether any team is looking to move a No. 1 receiver.
If everything goes right for the Patriots and some receivers outperform expectations, perhaps this won't end up being an issue. But it doesn't change the fact that they don't have a top-tier wide receiver atop their depth chart.
A Backup Offensive Tackle to Provide Depth
New England has a solid offensive line, with five apparent starters in place. That includes Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown at the tackles. But if either Wynn or Brown gets injured, the Pats could be in some trouble.
Ahead of the 2021 season, the Patriots may want to look into acquiring a backup offensive lineman who is capable of handling backup duties at both tackle positions and would be ready to step in if needed. It's always important to have depth up front, which New England is lacking.
Justin Herron (sixth-round pick in 2020) and William Sherman (sixth-round pick in 2021) don't have much experience, and the former struggled when he was forced into action because of injuries last season. Maybe one (or both) of them has a strong camp to quell the depth concerns.
Even if that happens, though, it can't hurt to add a veteran offensive lineman heading into the season. The Patriots know from last season how quickly depth can be tested on the line, and they aren't going to want to be put in a precarious situation in 2021.
Another Strong Option at Cornerback
One of the Patriots' biggest concerns is the status of Stephon Gilmore, as the 30-year-old cornerback continues to hold out. If the situation is resolved and the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year returns, New England will have two clear top cornerbacks in Gilmore and J.C. Jackson.
But who's going to start alongside Jackson if Gilmore isn't with the team when Week 1 of the regular season arrives? The Pats have decent depth in the secondary, but that will be tested if Gilmore doesn't play and somebody else needs to be thrusted into a starting role.
Jonathan Jones will have a cornerback role in the secondary, while Jalen Mills' versatility makes him more valuable to fill in at multiple positions. Beyond that, there aren't many experienced corners who could step up in the worst-case scenario for New England regarding Gilmore.
If Gilmore returns early enough to be ready for the regular season, this won't be nearly as much of an issue. But the Patriots may want to prepare in case he ends up not playing so that they are not put in a much tougher situation further down the line.