The New England Patriots have an incredibly talented roster for the upcoming season. However, their #1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft is one of the most polarizing players in all of football. With a new coaching regime and several other young talents on both sides of the ball, picking up Smith’s potential will be crucial to success in 2022 and beyond.
The “2020 new england patriots” is a priority for the New England Patriots in 2022. The team plans to use their second-round pick on Jonnu Smith.
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS — Quick thoughts and observations on the New England Patriots and the National Football League:
1. Jonnu’s leap: Dave McGinnis coached in the NFL for 31 years, including a five-year tenure as the Arizona Cardinals’ head coach from 2000 to 2003, and he just completed his sixth season as a radio commentator for the Tennessee Titans.
So when it comes to X’s and O’s, football people, and Jonnu Smith’s history, he talks from a position of profound institutional knowledge.
Smith, who spent his first four seasons with the Titans before signing a four-year, $50 million deal with the Patriots this summer, didn’t have a breakout year in 2021. He played 46.8% of the offensive plays, catching 28 passes for 294 yards and one score while also rushing nine times for 40 yards.
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The Patriots’ offensive to-do list in 2022 includes unlocking Smith’s potential, and McGinnis warns against writing him off.
“It’s like having high expectations for a first-round draft choice,” he said. “The [free-agent] money has gotten to the point where you have to subtract it and look at how your football club is utilising its players tactically. As a coach, you must do just that. If you’re analyzing it, you’ll have to do that. I simply know he’s a very capable tight end in this league in terms of talent.”
McGinnis had a front-row seat to Smith’s first steps in the NFL as a backup to Delanie Walker, who benefitted from having good position coaches Arthur Smith and Todd Downing, when he came out of Florida International in 2017. McGinnis recognized a guy who is a “explosive and highly willing athlete” who is “increasingly getting better every year.”
He said, “They adored him here.” “He was adored by the coaching staff. However, as you may be aware, the draft order and salary cap are the equalizing factors in the National Football League. He was out of their budget.”
The Patriots could, but Smith’s meteoric rise in Tennessee — with catches totaling 18, 20, 35, and 41 — didn’t translate to New England.
Some close to Smith believe that Smith’s failure to participate in the Patriots’ voluntary offseason program last year was a major issue. While few scouts and coaches doubt his raw talent, they believe he’s the sort of player who has to be refined, a trait he inherited from his collegiate days and early years in Tennessee, when he similarly struggled with sluggish starts.
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2. Has a fear of the day: It should only be a matter of time before longtime Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears announces his retirement after 31 NFL seasons and 25 with the Patriots, as evidenced by running back Damien Harris’ emotional words on the sideline (captured by NFL Films), former Patriots assistant Brian Daboll’s postgame embrace outside the locker room on Jan. 15, and Belichick referencing his exemplary mentorship in his season wrap-up videoconference. It’s possible that Fears may do some part-time work for the team, but it’s always a loss when good individuals quit the industry, as one long-time colleague of Fears said.
3. New RBs coach: Fears coached Vinnie Sunseri as his assistant in 2021, hence Sunseri would be the best in-house option. Devine Ozigbo, a practice squad running back, passed up an opportunity to join the Jaguars’ active roster late last season in favor of staying in New England because he thought he was progressing as a player under Sunseri’s tutelage. Kevin Faulk, a former Patriots running back who most recently coached at LSU, would also be a logical addition to the fold.
4. The story of Joe Thuney: After the Chiefs’ stunning comeback victory against the Bills, I couldn’t help but think about former Patriots left lineman Joe Thuney, who is now in his first season in Kansas City. Has there ever been a more tense first six seasons in the NFL?
Thuney was a part of two of the greatest comebacks in NFL history: the Patriots’ 28-3 triumph in Super Bowl LI and last week’s Kansas City victory, not to mention the Patriots’ OT win in the 2018 AFC Championship Game versus the Chiefs. He’s won two Super Bowls, lost one, and is on the verge of winning a third. When I contacted him last week, he put it this way: “It’s all so unreal.”
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7. Slater’s respect: Matthew Slater, the longtime special teams captain for the Patriots, has been a four-time finalist for the NFL’s Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award and is a top possibility to win it this season. I’m told Slater has been at Gillette Stadium every day for the last two weeks to prepare for next Sunday’s Pro Bowl.
8. Devin McCourty’s additional 1.5: The longtime Patriots safety said he’ll take some time off before deciding if he’s psychologically ready for a 13th NFL season, but he’s given no indication to those close to him that retirement is a probable option. Because he’s started in 24 playoff games — almost a full additional season and a half — 2022 would be closer to his 15th or 16th. In NFL history, only Brady (47), Jerry Rice (29), and Peyton Manning (27) have started more playoff games. McCourty is tied with Brett Favre and Gene Upshaw for the most touchdowns.
9. Eliot Wolf roars for Daniel Ekuale: Defensive tackle Daniel Ekuale, who signed a one-year “future” contract with the Patriots last week after registering two sacks in eight games after being promoted from the practice squad, began his NFL career with the Browns in 2019 when Eliot Wolf was Cleveland’s assistant general manager. Ekuale arrived on New England’s radar because of Wolf’s high-level work in the Patriots’ front office the last two seasons.
10. Did You Know? Belichick is the only coach in history to have guided teams to victory in 50 different venues. Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas and U.S. Bank Stadium in Minnesota are the only two venues where he has yet to win, both of which are on the 2022 schedule.
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