NFL players can rise and fall in terms of their production rather quickly, almost like the daily tides in your local river.
A year ago Lamar Jackson was a major question mark for the Ravens before he had a breakout MVP season in Baltimore.
Similarly, Patriots running back Sony Michel could have been projected for a massive sophomore season coming off his impressive, workhorse production in the Patriots most recent Super Bowl run. But, Michel did anything but take his game to the next level in 2019, in fact he disappointingly regressed.
Earlier this week, we took a look at some Patriots players who should be expected to become better, more consistent contributors in New England this fall.
Today, we examine a list of guys who might be in line to head in the other direction, for a step or two back in their performances heading into 2020.
Whether it’s age, opportunity or law of averages, here’s a look at Patriots players who might not be quite as good as might be expected this coming season.
1 – Stephon Gilmore – The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year has played at a very high level for about two and a half of his three seasons in New England. He’s coming off his best year, which included tying for the NFL lead with six interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Gilmore’s only real poor game a year ago came in the regular-season finale. It’s tough to play at the highest level at cornerback in the NFL for an extended period of time, especially with a more challenging schedule of matchups in 2020. Gilmore should still be really good as he hits the age of 30, but maybe not quite as great as he was a year ago.
2 – Julian Edelman – As he passes his 34th birthday this week, Edelman will continue to try to defy Father Time at the grueling slot position. He gutted through multiple injuries last fall for 100 catches and a career-best 1,117 yards. Given the departure of Tom Brady, Edelman’s age (Wes Welker’s production took a nosedive at 33) and the fact that he could very much be the focal point of opposing pass defense’s game plans, JE11 may not be able to continue to carry the bulk of the Patriots passing attack in 2020.
3 – Devin McCourty – Returning to New England on a healthy two-year, $23 million extension coming off one of his best seasons, the soon-to-be 33-year-old will be leaned on to provide leadership and continued playmaking. That may be too much to ask. McCourty has always been durable and in great shape, but penciling him in for another five interceptions while serving as a top-5 force as a tackler is a lot to ask of a guy who was talking quite a bit about retirement little more than a year ago.
4 – Patrick Chung – Speaking of safeties talking retirement, Chung apparently considered walking away from the game before inking a contract extension this offseason. The physical veteran safety will turn 33 in August and saw his play decline a bit in the latter parts of last season. While he’s been extremely durable considering his size and role in his second stint in New England since 2014, it may be unrealistic for him to continue to play at such a healthy, high level moving forward.
5 – Lawrence Guy – Guy has arguably been the Patriots most underrated player over the last few years, a pretty versatile centerpiece on the undermanned defensive line. Now 30 and entering his 10th NFL season after having played in all 16 games in each of the last five years, it’s not crazy to think Guy may not be able to notch his third-straight year with 58 or more tackles and another 50-plus-percent snap counts.
6 – Dont’a Hightower – Notice a trend here on an aging defense? The 30-year-old Hightower had the luxury of working with Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins a year ago. He’s now kind of on his own as the proven, high-end option at linebacker. He’s actually played in 15 games in each of the last two seasons – most he’s played since his second season in 2013 – but he must prove he can continue to play at a durable, impactful level even with less veteran talent around him this fall.
7 – Matthew Slater – Slater has been a Pro Bowl special teamer for the better part of more than a decade. He was impressive a year ago in all phases of his job and remains one of the fastest, productive gunners in the NFL. But, he’s going to turn 35 before opening day and is coming off a year in which he had a team-high 10 special teams tackles, blocked a punt and recovered another for a touchdown. It’s going to be tough to match that.
8 – Brandon Bolden – After a one-year trip to Miami in which he helped the Dolphins beat the Patriots in 2018, Bolden returned to New England as a core special teamer and unexpected offensive contributor last fall. As a backup running back Bolden totaled four touchdowns (3 rushing, 1 receiving), tied for second on the team with eight special teams tackles, forced a fumble and blocked a punt. Wouldn’t seem smart to pencil the 30-year-old in for that production again in 2020.
Bonus 1 – Quarterback – You knew this was coming, right? It’s pretty obvious, but with Tom Brady having moved on to Tampa Bay the quarterback position is definitely taking a step back in 2020. Whether Jarrett Stidham wins the job to open his second season or journeyman Brian Hoyer gets the nod in September, neither guy is going to be as good as Brady was, even if the GOAT wasn’t up to his elite standards last fall. Time to recalibrate the expectations of the quarterback position in New England.
Bonus 2 – Coaching – The loss of legendary line coach Dante Scarnecchia is a major blow to Bill Belichick’s coaching staff. Joe Judge’s departure from special teams could also be a negative factor. There will be new voices in the process at quarterback and wide receiver, while bumping roles around a bit on special teams and the line. And with Brady gone, maybe Belichick himself feels the need to impart his vast knowledge on the new-look offense. Add it all up, and coaching could be a question in certain areas at certain times this fall.