In order for the Patriots to return to the playoffs in 2020, these five players must step up their games exponentially
5. Yodny Cajuste
Most Patriots fans don’t even know who Cajuste is, and frankly, I can’t blame them. He was a third-round pick last year, and never fully recovered from a torn quad suffered in 2018. According to all reports, Cajuste should be a full go for training camp this year. Cajuste is currently slated as the swing tackle on the roster. The Patriots didn’t address the position early in the draft or sign any notable free agents, so it’s Cajuste’s job to lose. It is practically a given that starters Marcus Cannon and Isaiah Wynn are going to miss time due to injury at some point down the line, so Cajuste should get his fair share of starts in the trenches. If he can hold down the fort, similar to the way Cam Fleming did in 2017, the Patriots will be in a great spot.
4. Ja’Whaun Bentley
Bentley had a strong start to his rookie season in 2017, at times even looking like a young Jerod Mayo. A torn biceps tendon cut his rookie campaign short, and the addition of Jaime Collins in 2018 eliminated his role. It was also reported that Bentley struggled with weight problems and was out of shape coming into 2019. With the departure of both Collins, Kyle Van Noy, and Elandon Roberts this offseason, Bentley is undoubtedly the top inside linebacker option on the roster. I expect Bentley to be close to an every-down player in 2020, and could even see some edge-rushing opportunities. Despite his porous 4.75 40-time, Bentley is better in coverage than his large frame would suggest. If the Purdue product can stay healthy and in shape, he could put together a big-time season with increased playing time.
3. Adam Butler
The former UDFA had a great season last year, posting a career-high 6 sacks while playing just 47% of all snaps. With Danny Shelton moving on to Detroit, Butler’s snap count should increase significantly. He will, however, need to improve his strength at the point of attack, as he was moved far too easily in the run game last year. Butler needs to find the right balance between adding weight and not losing his quickness. His pass-rushing ability inside is what sets him apart, and he should still see the majority of his snaps in sub-packages. Look for Butler to get more looks on early downs to help cover for the loss of Shelton.
2. Chase Winovich
The former Wolverine has a very solid rookie season, seeing almost all of his snaps as a sub-rusher. With the loss of Van Noy and Collins, Winovich will be relied on heavily to take more snaps in base defense. As of now, he is penciled in as the starter on the edge opposite Dont’a Hightower. Winovich was highly productive last year, posting 5.5 sacks on merely 29% of all snaps. He has the potential to be an impact edge defender for years to come in New England.
1. N’Keal Harry
This is a bit of an obvious one, but Harry really needs to have a breakout 2020 season if the Patriots want any shot of winning the division. Harry had an injury-plagued 2019 season and never seemed to get on the same page with Brady. If Harry and Jarett Stidham (or Brian Hoyer) can create chemistry early in training camp and keep up that momentum throughout the season, the offense will be instantly better. Harry should be an every-down player this year and could be a key red-zone target with his 6’4″ frame. Look to see a lot of back-shoulder fades to number 15 this fall.
*All stats via Pro Football Reference