Every season there is a new crop of players that needs to prove themselves on the field, but this is a rather special year in particular because of how stacked the Patriots roster is. There is very little room for error for many players and they will need to prove something in training camp and throughout the season to stick around in Foxboro for the future.
Cyrus Jones is one of the most obvious candidates with something to prove. The 2016 second round pick had an utterly disappointing season last year, marred with below average coverage on the defensive side of the ball and cringe-worthy mistakes in the return game. He certainly did not play up to the level of talent that he had shown at Alabama. However, to be fair, Jones had higher expectations on him than a normal second round pick; with the Patriots not making a first round selection, Jones was New England’s top selection which put added scrutiny on him. He still needs time to develop and grow and one bad year isn’t going to derail his career. However, he needs to use this season to prove that he has a legitimate future in the league. He will need to improve defensively and in the return game (simply by not fumbling the ball).
Nate Solder is coming into a contract season as he is set to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason. Left tackles are extremely valuable throughout the league and if Solder plays well he could be setting himself up for a very nice payday after this season. Solder had a solid season last year, only being overshadowed by the phenomenal play of Marcus Cannon on the right side of the line. However, he has struggled with protection against speed rushes throughout his career, and will need to continue to improve there if he is to be taken seriously against great pass rushers like Von Miller and Khalil Mack. Solder is a solid player who will demand a decent contract no matter what, but this season provides him with a chance to get top dollar next year.
Rob Gronkowski is an interesting case. Yes, it seems very strange to say that Gronk needs to prove himself. When he is on the field, he is one of the best tight ends to ever play the game. His size, speed, and athleticism are unmatched, and allow him to completely expose defenses. He is also an impressive run blocker and is able to help lead a Patriots running attack. Gronk’s biggest problem is injuries. He has missed games nearly every season, including missing half of the season last year due to a back issue. Most teams would disregard this problem due to Gronk’s talent. However, the Patriots just proved that they are able to win a Super Bowl without Rob Gronkowski on the field, making him less indispensable to the team. This season is another chance for Gronkowski to prove that he can stay on the field for most, if not all of a full season, and that he is worth the restructured contract the team gave him this offseason.
Stephen Gostkowski had one of the worst seasons of his career, finishing with his lowest field goal percentage in the last four years and with the lowest extra point percentage of his entire ten year career. Gostkowski seemed off the entire season, as many of the kicks that he actually did complete seemed dangerously close to missing. He even missed an extra point in the Super Bowl, which had the potential of costing the Patriots the game had they not completed both two-point conversions. This season is a chance for him to return to form as one of the best kickers in the league. If this season continues on the same trend as last year, you can expect Bill Belichick to take a good, hard look at kickers in next years draft.
Until next time- B$