This is part four of a four part series for all four teams in the AFC East. The young quarterback chase is on in the AFC East as Josh Rosen (Miami), Sam Darnold (New York), and Josh Allen (Buffalo) battle to determine the next great quarterback in this division that has been dominated by 6-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady (New England). But, while the Bills coaching staff has remained intact this offseason, the Dolphins, Jets, and Patriots have swapped some of their coaches with Adam Gase moving from Miami to New York and Brian Flores moving from New England to Miami. With these coaching changes, could Josh Allen be the one to challenge Tom Brady over the next few seasons while Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen are learning under their new head coaches?
With preseason training camps almost here, each AFC East team has questions to answer on both sides of the football. I will give my opinion on two questions for each team (one concerning the offense, one concerning the defense) to keep an eye on during the regular season this year.
- Can N’Keal Harry, Demaryius Thomas, and Julian Edelman form one of the AFC’s best receiving units and how will Damien Harris fit into New England’s backfield?
When Demaryius Thomas and Julian Edelman led their respective teams to the Super Bowl in 2013 as well as 2014, N’Keal Harry was just beginning to emerge as a potential five-star recruit at Chandler High School (a 26 mile drive from Arizona State). But, last season, Thomas was traded from Denver to Houston while Edelman won Super Bowl MVP honors with New England and Harry became the Sun Devils’ third all-time leading receiver in receptions as well as receiving yards (213 receptions for 2,889 yards) and earned his second straight first team All Pac-12 selection. With Rob Gronkowski’s retirement, Thomas, Edelman, and Harry will have to step up in his absence, but they have a great chance to become one of the AFC’s best receiving units this year.
After earning his 14th Pro Bowl selection in his 19 years with New England last season, Tom Brady is ready to work with his new receivers and become a mentor to New England’s 4th round draft pick, quarterback Jarrett Stidham from Auburn. With offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels still calling the plays, the Patriots could have an explosive offense this year, but one of the Patriots’ other draft picks is in a crowded depth chart full of playoff experienced veterans looking to take his spot on New England’s roster.
In the third round of this year’s NFL Draft, the Patriots selected running back Damien Harris from Alabama. After starting his college career as a backup to Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, Harris rushed over 1,000 yards in his sophomore and junior seasons at Alabama before earning a second team All-SEC selection as a senior in 2018 with 876 rushing yards as well as nine touchdowns. However, despite leaving Alabama as the school’s all time leader in yards per carry average (6.4 yards on 477 carries), Harris’s role with New England could be limited in his rookie season with Sony Michel returning after a solid first year in the NFL and James White’s dual threat ability in the Patriots backfield.
- Will Chase Winovich become a great replacement for Trey Flowers and is Bill Belichick ready to take over more responsibility on New England’s defense?
When Trey Flowers was a 4th round draft pick by the Patriots in 2015, Chase Winovich was preparing for his sophomore season at Michigan after sitting out his freshman year. Over the next four years, Flowers became a key fixture on New England’s defensive line and won two Super Bowls while Winovich earned two first team All Big Ten selections as well as a third team AP All-American selection in 2018 and recorded 18.5 sacks from 2016-2018. After Flowers signed a free agent contract with Detroit in March, the Patriots drafted Winovich with their 3rd round draft pick to strengthen their defensive line.
With the addition of Winovich as well as three time Pro Bowl selection Michael Bennett (a draft pick trade with the Eagles), New England’s defense could significantly improve after their passing defense was ranked 22nd in the league last season with only 30 sacks. But, even with another key addition in linebacker Jamie Collins, Bill Belichick will enter the 2019 season with an additional responsibility as the Patriots’ defensive coordinator after Brian Flores left for Miami.
After beginning his defensive coaching career under head coach Red Miller in Denver in 1978, Bill Belichick quickly rose through the ranks to become the defensive coordinator for the Giants in 1985 under Hall of Fame head coach Bill Parcells. However, after a five year stint as the Browns head coach, Belichick rejoined Parcells in New England in 1996 before coming back as the Patriots new head coach in 2000. Over his 19 years in New England, the Patriots have had one of the top defenses in the NFL and Belichick is ready to continue his legacy this year.
With his Pro Bowl leaders (Michael Bennett, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Stephon Gilmore, Devin McCourty) ready to mentor defensive ends Chase Winovich as well as Byron Cowart (5th round pick from Maryland) and cornerbacks Joejuan Williams (2nd round pick from Vanderbilt) as well as Ken Webster (7th round pick from Ole Miss), Bill Belichick could still have a top 10 defense this season despite taking over more responsibility.
With New England’s schedule consisting of teams in the AFC North and NFC East this season, the Patriots will have one of the toughest schedules in the NFL and have a record of 12-4. N’Keal Harry as well as Demaryius Thomas will provide some depth to the Patriots receiving corps and I think New England could use a three back rotation with Michel, White, and Harris this year. I also think Michael Bennett could be a great mentor for Chase Winovich and the Patriots defense will be significantly better with Bill Belichick calling the plays in 2019.