Phil Perry

Patriots Mailbag: Who are the 10 best players on the roster?

Is DeMario Douglas a top-10 player on the Patriots? What's the plan at left tackle? And more...

NBC Universal, Inc.

The New England Patriots are on summer break until training camp begins next month. Rookies are scheduled to report on July 19 with the rest of the team expected to join by July 23. The first practice is set for July 24.

We have to stay entertained until then somehow, so how about an offseason mailbag? Let's get to your hard-hitting questions...

Good question. The quick answer is this: It depends. What's a WR1 to you? 

If it's the guy who leads the team in targets, it wouldn't stun me if that's DeMario "Pop" Douglas in 2024. 

If it's the kind of player who can align anywhere and be a go-to option in critical situations regardless of coverage? If it's someone who keeps defensive coordinators up at night? I'm not sure they have that player at the moment.

For Douglas, the key will be staying healthy. His stature makes operating over the middle of the field a dangerous venture, but his quickness and speed make him a handful in there for defenses. He ranked fourth in the NFL last season in yards after the catch per reception because of his ability to accelerate away from corners, safeties and linebackers between the hashes. He's a menace as a change-of-direction athlete. 

But he's 5-foot-8 and he weighs less than 200 pounds. He understood last season that he might need to adjust his playing style a bit to avoid contact when at all possible, when to get down to live to see another down. If he does more consistently in his second year, perhaps he can play in more than the 14 games he played as a rookie.

Fan interest in Douglas is well-founded. He's one of their best players, in my opinion. He just misses the top 10 in Foxboro for me.

Who are the others? Here's how I'd rank them. 

(Not a rookie here, you'll notice. My belief is Drake Maye and Ja'Lynn Polk will end up here at some point relatively soon, but let's see how Year 1 goes.)

  1. Christian Barmore
  2. Matthew Judon
  3. Mike Onwenu
  4. Christian Gonzalez
  5. Kyle Dugger
  6. Jabrill Peppers
  7. David Andrews
  8. Rhamondre Stevenson
  9. Ja'Whaun Bentley
  10. Hunter Henry

Thoughts? Comments? Concerns? Leave 'em. Please. After reading the rest of the Bag, of course. Thank you.

They need tackles, Paul. That's how it improves. They can figure out the interior with the pieces they have. But there's a reason the tackle position is one of the most expensive to fill in the sport. Not rocket science.

They also need to be able to develop young talent and make sure that they have the right kind of personnel to fit into the offensive scheme they plan to run. How will Scott Peters handle someone like third-rounder Caedan Wallace or fourth-rounder Layden Robinson? Those draft positions would suggest both players should be contributors in short order here. How does Peters help them along and allow them to make good on those investments? Then when it comes to the scheme, is what Alex Van Pelt likes -- outside zone, where linemen need to be able to get out and go to stress opposing fronts -- a good match for the types of athletes he has? There are real questions there. 

Start with personnel. Then coaching. Then scheme. There is uncertainty around all three at the moment in New England when it comes to the offensive line. Which is why I get it if you're not exactly bullish on this team's chances in 2024. I'm not either, but I do anticipate that the offense -- despite the potentially shaky line -- will be more competent than it was a year ago. There's only one direction for it to go.

The plan now is Chukwuma Okorafor. He was fine during minicamp. Especially considering it's a new position to him after a half-dozen years of playing on the other side as a professional. Credit to him for having the willingness to attempt that kind of shift and embracing the challenge. 

They did add Wallace, and they did so with some level of confidence that he could flip to the left side despite playing all 40 of his collegiate starts on the right side. But there haven't been any obvious answers at that position this offseason, Harry. You're not wrong to be wondering what's going on there.

There are a handful of vets who could potentially be open to signing after avoiding some of training camp. Would the Patriots be interested in Donovan Smith or Charles Leno if they don't like how fully-padded practices are going for Okorafor or anyone else at that position? We dove into some of the free-agent possibilities in more detail here earlier this offseason.

Boom coming in hot with a 10-months-in-advance prediction request! How do I say no to that? Right now, I'd lean toward going with a tackle. Those guys are hard to find. And to finish off minicamp they had Chuks Okorafor and Caedan Wallace as their top two. Not sure either is about to be a long-term fixture. 

As nice as a top-10 pick at receiver would be -- slot him in with Ja'Lynn Polk, Pop Douglas and Javon Baker and you have a group of young intriguing talents -- the tackle is typically the harder piece to find. Grab one. (Let's revisit this when we have a better idea of which players will be worthy of that kind of draft slot. And when we have a better idea of where the Patriots will actually be picking.)

G2, he was not on the field for the final minicamp practice of the spring, and he did not make my most recent 53-man roster prediction. I believe there are four or five players at the position who have a very good chance of being on the team come Week 1: Polk, Baker, Douglas, KJ Osborn and Kendrick Bourne. (Bourne is coming off a torn ACL and if he needs more time to recover, the Patriots could theoretically keep him on the physically unable to perform list -- where he wouldn't count against the active roster -- to buy him a little more time.)

There may be room for a sixth based on how Eliot Wolf wants to build his roster and which types of players he'd like to stash. That could be Thornton. It could be Kayshon Boutte or Jalen Reagor, both of whom I thought had positive moments in minicamp. It could be JuJu Smith-Schuster. Thornton isn't a surefire omission. But he's also far from a lock.

I wouldn't begrudge anyone who believes Drake Maye should sit until it looks like they have an offensive line that can protect him. 

That said, it could get tough for Patriots brass if -- whether it's during training camp or regular-season practices -- it becomes clear to the other players that Maye is the quarterback who gives them the best chance to win. If and when that happens, and it seems as though the team is doing everyone else on the roster a disservice by protecting the No. 3 overall pick, that's when the pressure could mount on people like Jerod Mayo and Eliot Wolf to play the rookie.

It's one thing to have a plan. It's another to be going through a long season, competing, and trying to do right by the people in the organization who are doing everything they can to try to experience some level of success. 

I think there's a very good chance of that, yes, Peter. Now, would they be offering him massive sums of money to re-sign? The kind of money his new teammate Trevor Lawrence just received? Would they have re-invested in the position with Mac Jones still hanging around? My guess is the answers to those questions would be no and probably. But I do think he'd still be in Foxboro. No coincidence the offense moved in the direction it did when Josh McDaniels left and Bill Belichick tried to replace him with coaches he liked and respected but had no experience installing an offense.

Unfortunately for Strange, injuries have had a major impact on the early portion of his pro career. Can't rule out the fact that he will work his way back into the starting lineup. But it's going to be a while before he even has the chance. 

Based on how he was handled this spring during practices open to reporters, it looks like the plan right now is to keep Marcus Jones on the defensive side. But they should be taking advantage of any opportunity they have to get explosive ball-carriers on the field. Jones would be one. 

In a gadget role, he could make the occasional appearance offensively. And, again, you could make an easy argument he should be deployed in that fashion on a fairly regular basis just based on his first touch as a pro back in 2022 and his track record as a receiver and return man in college. This is not an offense that can be turning its nose up at potential playmakers. Even if focusing on one side of the ball would be best for Jones' development early in his career. 

But, to answer your question, at this point I wouldn't anticipate him being an offensive staple. 

Contact Us