We are now just weeks away from the New England Patriots opening training camp and thus sparking a number of questions surrounding this team as we head into the 2021 season. Of course, this is the time of year where various position battles officially come to a head across the league as starting jobs will be won and lost over the next few months. In Foxborough, there are few rather massive battles to keep a particular eye on.
As we continue to count down the minutes until the unofficial start of the year in the NFL, we are going to highlight three key position battles that are set to take place throughout training camp in New England, including the most important position of them all -- quarterback.
QB1: Cam Newton vs. Mac Jones
No real shocker here. This is going to be the story in New England throughout the summer. As things stand currently, Cam Newton should be looked at as having the inside track of winning the Week 1 job. Bill Belichick clearly has faith in Newton as evidence by the head coach never wavering in his faith in 2020, despite there being plenty of opportunities to do so. While it wasn't a drastic financial commitment, the Patriots also brought Newton back this offseason, which is just another indication that the club is intrigued with the possibility of a potential bounce-back year. That said, the job will be handed off to first-round rookie Jones at some point. He's clearly the future at the position, but it still remains to be seen when that changing of the guard will actually occur.
For Jones to truly contend for the Week 1 job, he'd have to not only show that he's well-versed in Josh McDaniels' offense, but Newton would likely also need to flounder. If Jones shows that he's able to play well over the course of the preseason, but Newton holds serve, it wouldn't be surprising to see Belichick lean in the direction of the veteran to begin the year. Really, the Week 1 job may not even be truly up for grabs. So long as the status quo remains, it's likely Newton's job to lose. That said, a strong training camp for Jones likely opens up the opportunity for him to unseat Newton at some point during the regular season instead of the Alabama product effectively going through a redshirt year.
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Who will emerge as No. 1 wide receiver
One of the biggest non-quarterback questions with the Patriots centers around the wide receiver position. Currently, there's no clear No. 1 receiver, especially in the aftermath of Julian Edelman's retirement this offseason. Yes, both tight ends -- Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith -- will be key pass-catching pieces within this offense as they'll likely sit in a 12-personnel base, but the pecking order at receiver still needs to be sorted out. Jakobi Meyers was New England's receiving leader a year ago, so his experience within the offense should give him a leg up over newcomers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne as they both signed with the team at the start of free agency this offseason. All three of these receivers will be involved a healthy amount, but what we see over the course of camp could further give us an indication as to who'll prove to be the de facto No. 1. Agholor may have the clearest path to a starting spot as he brings an ability to stretch the field that neither Bourne nor Meyers truly possesses, but other factors will be at play as well. Meyers has a solid rapport with Newton, so that could be a key element if the quarterback wins the Week 1 job. Meanwhile, Bourne is no slouch either and is coming to New England following a career year in San Francisco.
DT: Davon Godchaux vs. Christian Barmore
Lawrence Guy has one of the starting spots at defensive tackle already locked up: it's that other starting position on the interior -- depending on what packages the team deploys -- that will be up for grabs. Currently, Davon Godchaux and rookie Christian Barmore will likely be the two fighting for it during camp. Godchaux was a part of New England's busy free agency splurge as the Patriots signed the former Dolphin to a two-year deal in March. The fact that Belichick was aggressive in signing Godchaux to a deal worth $15 million suggests the team clearly has a plan with him in mind to help an interior defensive line that struggled against the run last season. Godchaux was limited to just five games in 2020, but was a solid piece to Miami's defensive line prior to that. He started all 16 games for the Dolphins in 2019 and totaled a career-high 75 tackles and two sacks.
Meanwhile, the Patriots traded up in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft to select Barmore out of Alabama. Barmore was looked at as arguably the best pass-rushing interior lineman in his class and could be an instant impact rookie for New England. That said, there were some character concerns surrounding Barmore, which likely contributed to him falling out of the first round. So long as he keeps that in check, this could be quite the battle on the defensive side of the ball.