4 needs for the Patriots ahead of crucial 2022 offseason

The Patriots should look to upgrade their receiver position as part of their offseason to-do list.

Chris Olave Patriots
Ohio State receiver Chris Olave could be a potential draft target for the Patriots. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)
Recent Links

Oddly enough, getting the Patriots back into the AFC playoff picture after missing the postseason in 2020 might have been the “easy” part for Bill Belichick and company.

Spend some big money to bring in established veterans on both sides of the ball, draft a few talented rookies (including your possible quarterback of the future) and boom: instant wild-card contender.

Now comes the hard part.

New England got to the playoffs but was rudely escorted from the club by a Buffalo Bills team that looks primed to dominate their division for years to come. That process, as well as a shaky finish to the regular season, revealed how significant the gap is between the Patriots and the truly elite teams in the AFC.


It might take more than one year to truly patch up some of the rough spots on the roster, but the Patriots can certainly get started with a few key moves during the 2022 offseason.

Get faster at linebacker.

Every once in a while, Dont’a Hightower looked something like himself again in 2021, and Ja’Whaun Bentley’s emergence alongside him was one of the most pleasant surprises on the Patriots’ defense.

But in the end, the NFL simply started moving too fast for the Patriots’ throwback linebacking corps as the 2021 season progressed. After all, it wasn’t just Jonathan Taylor and the Colts (226 total rushing yards) who ran all over them. It was the Miami Dolphins (195 rushing yards) and the Bills (174 yards in the wild-card game), too. In three of the Patriots’ last five games, Hightower and Bentley graded out as bottom-five defensive players on the team.

Now, the two starting off-ball linebackers are free agents, and New England has few proven options behind them. What’s more: if Devin McCourty retires, the three-safety lineups the defense often used to keep their off-ball linebackers away from coverage responsibilities could change, too.

New England’s divisional opponents are increasingly building offenses that spread defenses out and look to exploit mismatches in the passing game rather than pound things out on the ground. If the Patriots want to match this, they need to get faster and more versatile at the linebacker position.

A player like Nakobe Dean, whom The Athletic’s Dane Brugler mocked to the Patriots, fits that bill. Dean, not unlike fellow Bulldog Roquan Smith (now with the Chicago Bears), is undersized for the position at about 6-foot and 225 pounds but tracks the ball relentlessly with range and instincts.


And if Belichick wants another Crimson Tide defender on his squad (of course he does), Christian Harris will likely find his way down to the 20s as well. Also, 2021 fifth-rounder Cameron McGrone could factor into this rotation as well, assuming he’s fully recovered from the ACL tear he suffered in the 2020 college season.

Find a dynamic receiver.

The Patriots can’t go into this offseason thinking they need to take a receiver with the No. 21 pick in the draft or sign the biggest remaining free-agent name out there. They’ve been there and done that, and suffered the consequences of getting those decisions wrong.

But they also can’t enter the 2022 season without trying to upgrade their receiver room.

New England already has the outside field-stretcher in Nelson Agholor, though his presence was felt more as a decoy in 2021. It has the possession-type guys in Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne.

But it doesn’t have a true all-around threat: a receiver that can win any matchup you ask him to, routinely rip off explosive plays and terrify defenses no matter where he lines up.

Alabama’s Jameson Williams and John Metchie might have been long gone before the No. 21 pick if they hadn’t both suffered torn ACLs. But they did, and though ESPN’s Mel Kiper suggests the Patriots might still take the wildly explosive Williams at No. 21 anyway, that’s a gamble for a guy who almost certainly won’t play in 2022. Brugler, however, suggests Metchie could go to New England in the second round, which might be more palatable.


A dream scenario, though, might be if Chris Olave of Ohio State fell to New England. He lacks size, but he makes up for it with 4.3 speed, excellent route-running, great hands, tremendous body control and huge yards-after-catch ability.

Aside from that, the Patriots might also be able to make a legitimate run at a receiver like Michael Gallup or the always-productive Christian Kirk in free agency.

Beef up the pass rush.

It’s not a coincidence that the Patriots’ defense petered out late in the season when the pass rush wasn’t getting home.

Matthew Judon’s supernova season fizzled out in the second half of the 2021 schedule and reached anemic levels by the end. Clearly, he and Christian Barmore (ninth in pressures among all NFL defensive lineman, via PFF) alone aren’t enough to carry the entire pass-rush effort on their backs.

So who steps up to help them out?

Kyle Van Noy will be a free agent this offseason after a solid campaign. But even if he returned, he’s more of a “do-it-all” edge defender than a pure pass-rusher. Injuries and a lack of Belichickian “stop-the-run” savvy conspired to keep Josh Uche’s and Chase Winovich’s pass-rushing skills on the sideline. Third-round rookie Ronnie Perkins never came within spitting distance of a regular-season game.

On the inside, Barmore is the only defensive lineman that consistently offers any sort of pass rush.

The Patriots seem to like Carl Davis Jr., but adding another explosive young interior player like Georgia’s Devonte Wyatt in the second round could be a coup for a defense that already has plenty of run stoppers.


As far as outside defenders go, one could see Belichick falling in love with Florida State’s uber-physical Jermaine Johnson, who sets the edge with violence at 6-foot-5, 260 pounds and racked up 12 sacks last season.

Get another corner to play with J.C. Jackson.

First order of business: bring back Jackson, of course. (The Patriots likely will, whether via a franchise tag or multi-year deal).

After that, it’s important not to get complacent with what the team currently has at cornerback.

Sure, Jonathan Jones should return from injury and Jalen Mills and Myles Bryant both filling in admirably, none of them are exactly superstars. Also, New England isn’t financially committed to any of them past next season.

Joejuan Williams will be lucky to make the roster next training camp, and Shaun Wade essentially got the redshirt treatment as a rookie. Plus, if the Patriots don’t extend Jackson long-term and he plays well again as the No. 1 cornerback, he might be out the door in 2023.

That’s too much uncertainty not to bring in another body, particularly in the draft.

Also, New England likes to play man coverage, and they don’t have another corner besides Jackson that really does it that well. If they want to get back to pressuring quarterbacks with extra rushers and disguising coverages out of single-high safety looks, they need another corner who can consistently hold down his side of the field in 1-on-1 situations.

Florida’s Kaiir Elam has shown up in several mock drafts as a potential Patriots’ selection and fits the bill well: tall (6-foot-2), long and physical with a lot of experience in man coverage. Belichick will almost certainly have seen his gritty game tape against Alabama’s elite receivers last year and saw some things he liked.


This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on