The Patriots are going to look a lot different in 2020.
And no, not just without Tom Brady and breaking in new uniforms — the team seems to be shifting its style of play both on offense and on defense.
Especially on defense, it appears to be related to how the top of the AFC is constructed. Clearly, the strength of the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs is speed, and they got even faster in the draft by adding running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round. And then obviously the Ravens are extremely fast led by quarterback Lamar Jackson.
The Patriots defense is going to be much faster beginning in 2020, which was evident by who the organization drafted over the weekend. It will be hard to find a safety in the league more athletic than Kyle Dugger, who the team selected at No. 37 overall.
“I’m confident he'll work hard and be able to handle the things we give him,” Bill Belichick said on a video conference after the draft. “In time he'll be able to do them. Exactly how long that takes or will take, I don't know. Again, I think he's got a lot going for him in terms of his intelligence and work ethic, the natural ability he has to do things, whether it's playing in the deep part of the field, which he did a lot of at Lenoir-Rhyne or play close to the line of scrimmage which he didn't do as much of in college, though there's some of it, then more in the Senior Bowl.
“I think we'll just have to take our installation as it comes, watch him do multiple things, see what things he needs a little more work on or what things maybe come a little easier to him. We'll figure all that out in time.
And then the two defensive ends — Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings drafted in the second and third round respectively -- are versatile players at the EDGE position because of their speed. Jennings broke up 18 passes over the last two seasons, including an Alabama team-high 12 in 2018.
That is a little different than the linebackers the Patriots lost this offseason in Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts.
In addition, the way the team is constructed, like in 2019, it will be led by its defense in 2020. For the most part, the best players on the team are on that side of the ball — Stephon Gilmore, Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower, etc.
Expect a lot of low-scoring games in 2020, which leads to the other side of the ball.
Without Brady under center for the first time in 20 years, the unit seems to be shifting towards a run-first offense in 2020.
It starts with the decision to franchise guard Joe Thuney, and then not trade him on draft weekend. Sure, a trade can still happen, but at this point an argument can be made that Thuney will be on the Patriots’ roster in 2020 (with a contract extension at some point). This was a big surprise heading into the offseason, but that would go hand-in-hand with the way the offense is going.
If the running game is going to be the focus, then it needs to have a solid offensive line.
The pieces are in place at the running back position, too. Yes, Sony Michel has had his ups and downs, but he’s shown he can be productive running behind a dominant line and then there’s also Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead and James White.
There’s no reason why if everything stays as is, the Patriots cannot be an above average to good running team in 2020.
At the tight end spot, the team traded up for a player in the third round that Belichick even admitted isn’t what the team usually goes for at the position in Dalton Keene out of Virginia Tech.
“I mean, when you watch Dalton play, you just don't see a lot of things that we do,” he said. “The Virginia Tech offense didn't really translate too much to a New England Patriot offense. … I've already talked to him about that, that it's going to be a big transition for him in terms of learning our system, being I would say more detailed, more specific on a lot of assignments, particularly in the passing game, learning how to block in close quarters.
“Again, he shows plenty of ability to do that in size, quickness and so forth. Just he hasn't done a lot of it. He played quite a bit in the backfield, not as a fullback, but kind of an off-the-ball, sometimes a fullback location, but not really lined up behind the quarterback, but lined in the backfield, off the lines. A little bit of a different location than what we would normally us.”
And what would drafting a player like Keene, who never had more than 90 yards receiving in a college game, mean? A shift towards running the ball more and valuing blocking more from the tight end position than receiving.
Remember in Belichick’s pre-draft conference call when he said for the last 20 years every decision was made with Brady in mind, well now that he’s gone that’s the case, too.
It’s no longer about relying on the quarterback to win, it’s about simplifying things and winning with the running game and speed on defense.