It’s orientation time.
The Patriots added eight fresh new faces to the roster through the draft — and likely more to come via free agency — and soon they’ll all be in Foxborough to pick up their syllabi and begin their professional football lives.
“We’ll start to give material to work on and be ready for rookie minicamp in the second week of May, and then on to the rookie development program and so forth,” Bill Belichick said after the draft wrapped up Saturday.
Lesson No. 1 in New England is nothing is promised, and everything is earned.
After loading up in free agency, the competition for jobs and snaps will be fierce from the get-go. Most of the rookie class is in for an apprenticeship season, where contributions will build slowly before the real impacts are felt after Thanksgiving.
Here are a few preliminary battles to keep an eye on during OTAs and mandatory minicamp.
Bill Belichick said Cam Newton is the starter hours after the club selected Mac Jones with its first pick, but that doesn’t mean the pecking order can’t change.
Belichick said “somebody would have to play better than he does” to unseat Newton, so now it’s up to Jones and Jarrett Stidham to do just that. It won’t be easy.
Newton is another year removed from shoulder and foot injuries and will have a full year in the program when training camp starts. And it will be a full training camp with exhibition games.
If the former MVP can remain healthy, he almost certainly will produce better results and more wins than 2020 — especially considering his overhauled corps of pass catchers, including tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry.
Key question: How quickly can Jones rise?
Belichick lauded Jones’s intelligence, but it will take time to devour this playbook. His accuracy and touch are impeccable and after playing and thriving in gigantic games at Alabama, nerves won’t be a problem. The kid has moxie.
Shoring up the run defense was quite literally a huge point of emphasis this offseason (see the signings of Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson, and Montravius Adams) and that continued with the drafting of Christian Barmore.
Considered the top interior lineman in the class, he’ll likely slide up and down the line in New England, similar to the way Lawrence Guy operates — and Barmore couldn’t ask for a better mentor.
Barmore described himself as a “dominant player” and he’ll need to be to crack this rotation.
Key question: Can Barmore become a Trey Flowers-like weapon where he plays on the edge early and kicks inside in sub-packages as an inside passing rushing terror?
Ronnie Perkins is an interesting player, but he has some serious talent ahead of him on the depth chart in rugged and knowledgeable veterans Kyle Van Noy and Matt Judon.
Perkins has excellent size (6 feet 3 inches, 253 pounds) and really heavy hands that he uses to jolt blockers and wrap up ballcarriers. He has flashed the ability to set the edge against the run, which was a problem area for New England last season. If he can continue to develop in that area, he will find the field in short order.
Key question: Where does Chase Winovich fit in this revamped front seven?
A deep group got even deeper with the addition of Rhamondre Stevenson, a 6-foot, 246-pound battering ram of a back. Depth is obviously important at every position, but this is particularly obvious at running back because of the pure abuse they absorb.
Drafting Stevenson also provides insurance with James White on a one-year deal and a looming decision on whether to pick up Sony Michel’s fifth-year option.
Though he’s built like a fullback, Stevenson has shown remarkable elusiveness, particularly when it comes to making the first defender miss. When he can’t avoid them, he runs over them. Nice combination.
Key question: Could he become the latest back to take what amounts to a red-shirt year (a la Shane Vereen, James White, and Damien Harris) before becoming a key cog in the offense of the future?
Tre Nixon’s fall to the seventh round is curious, perhaps it’s because of a combination of a deep receiver class and a season shortened by a broken collarbone.
In any case, Nixon (6-1, 180 pounds) has an ideal skillset to compete for slot snaps. He has tremendous short-area burst, nice hands, and his ability to change directions and shift gears fluidly will drive tacklers batty. His speed will allow him to compete outside the numbers as well.
Newcomers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne along with Jakobi Meyers are the top three on the receiver depth chart but it’s pretty wide open after that. With a strong spring and summer, Nixon could find himself right in the mix to help fill the void left by Julian Edelman’s retirement.
Key question: Can N’Keal Harry take a leap in his development and build chemistry with Newton to become a consistent, bona fide threat?