The Pats finished 11-5 – their worst regular season record since 2009. Still, the Pats won the AFC East and clinched a first round bye. Obviously, it was not the best season of the Brady-Belichick era. The offense lacked enough receivers to reach its capability with Tom Brady. Josh Gordon had 40 catches until the NFL permanently suspended him. Rob Gronkowski, who could be playing his last season, had only 47 catches and struggled to get open against single coverage at times. Julian Edelman remained an elite receiver who could make tough catches and gain yards after the catch. Sony Michel gave the Pats strong production at running back and James White excels catching the ball out of the backfield.
Defensively, the Pats had a strong secondary by the end of the season with corners Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson. The safety play was respectable with Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon. The run defense struggled at times and the Pats need more pass rush up front. Trey Flowers likely had his best year - a strong force in both the running and passing game. The Pats will face a difficult decision about how much to pay him in the offseason.
Starter – Tom Brady
Backups – Brian Hoyer
Brady’s decision-making at times could have been better and sometimes his accuracy was mediocre. Brady, though, is still a top-five QB who can make great throws. His leadership skills and ability to read defenses is still top-notch. Brady has one-year left on his contract and don’t see him retiring anytime soon. Brady wants to play until 45. That might be a stretch, but he has at least a couple of years left in him. Hoyer is under contract in 2019 and will likely remain the backup given his close relationship with Brady.
Starters – Sony Michel, James White
Backups – Rex Burkhead, James Develin, Jeremy Hill* (UFA)
Everyone expected to the Pats to be deep at running back heading into training camp. Bad luck occurred quickly. Michel, a rookie, missed most of training camp with a knee injury. Hill tore his ACL in the first game and missed the rest of the season. Burkhead hurt his neck early in the year and missed most of the season before returning at the end of the year. Michel finished with 931 yards rushing and was a tough runner who could elude tacklers. White, an excellent pass-catching runningback, slowed down in the second half of the year. Develin is a reliable fullback.
Starter – Rob Gronkowski
Backups – Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister, Ryan Izzo*
This position will likely be overhauled in the offseason. Gronkowski fought injuries to finish with only 47 catches. Gronkowski (ankle/back) often couldn’t get open against single coverage because of his injuries. His blocking ability also started to decline. Allen and Hollister offered little production. Allen is unlikely to return and Hollister likely receives a chance to compete for a roster spot in training camp.
Starters – Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan (UFA), Cordarrelle Patterson (UFA)
Backups – Phillip Dorsett (UFA), Matthew Slater,Braxton Berrios,* Riley McCarron,* Cody Hollister,* Darren Andrews*
This position was a merry-go-round from the beginning of training camp. The Pats didn’t resign Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola in the offseason. The Pats tried about 10 different receivers in training camp and nothing seemed to work out. The team traded for Josh Gordon early in the season. Gordon played in 11 games and had 40 catches before the NFL suspended him again. Edelman, the only receiver under contract for 2019 aside from Berrios (who never played in 2018), had 74 catches after missing the first four games because of suspension. Hogan and Dorsett had their moments, but neither showed enough consistency. Patterson is a fast gadget player, but not a route-running receiver.
Starters - LT Trent Brown (UFA), LG Joe Thuney, C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason, RT Marcus Cannon
Backups – C/G Ted Karras, T LaAdrian Waddle (UFA), G James Ferentz, T Isaiah Wynn,* C/G Brian Schwenke (UFA)* Ulrick John (UFA)*
Pats received a tough break when they lost first round pick Wynn for the year in training camp. The biggest surprise was the ease with which Brown moved from right to left tackle. Brown had only played right tackle before the Pats acquiredhim from San Francisco. The interior of the line played well. Thuney did not miss a snap all season. Andrews and Mason are solid inside. Cannon struggled at times against the run and swing tackle Waddle was reliable. Another masterful job by OL coach Dante Scarnecchia.
Starters – DE Trey Flowers (UFA), DL Malcom Brown (UFA), DL Lawrence Guy, DE Deatrich Wise
Backups – DL Adam Butler, DE Derek Rivers, DL Danny Shelton (UFA), DE John Simon (UFA), DL Ufomba Kamalu (UFA), DE Adrian Clayborn, DE Keionta Davis
Flowers, the best of the group, needs to convertmore pressures into sacks. Flowers had 7.5 sacks - tied for 34th in the league. The rest of the group needs improvement. Simon was a nice additionand passed Clayborn on the depth chart by the end of the season. Clayborn was a big disappointment, as he often rushed past the quarterback. Butler is a reliable third-down rusher. Guy had his moments and Wise keeps on working to get better. Brown, the Pats 2015 first round pick, has been a disappointment. Shelton was inconsistent. Davis and Rivers hardly played.
Starters – LB Dont’a Hightower, LB Kyle Van Noy
Backups –LB Elandon Roberts, Albert McClellan (UFA), Ramon Humber (UFA), LB Brandon King, LB Ja’Whaun Bentley,* LB Christian Sam*
The Pats are thin at this position and became desperate after Bentley was placed on injured reserve when the Pats lost to the Lions in Week 3. Bentley impressed teammates and coaches in training camp with his ability to learn the defense and his instincts. Hightower lacks the speed he once did and needs to make more plays. The Pats face a difficult decision regarding whether he should return. Van Noy is a smart instinctive linebacker who is limited by his athleticism. Roberts improved with his ability to correctly find the right lanes in pursuit. He also hits hard so he could be a punishing force in the run game in the future.
Starters - CB Stephon Gilmore, CB J.C. Jackson, CB Jason McCourty (UFA), S Devin McCourty, S Duron Harmon, S Patrick Chung
Backups – CB Jonathan Jones (UFA), CB KeionCrossen, CB Duke Dawson, S Obi Melifonwu, S Nate Ebner, CB Eric Rowe* (UFA)
This unit is the strength of the defense. Gilmore is a shutdown corner who is one of the best in the NFL. Jackson, an undrafted rookie, looks like a steal. He is physical and unafraid to be feisty with elite wide receivers. He shut down Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster. Jason McCourty, when given help is an effective corner, but struggles in space. The safeties need to make more plays. Chungcovers tight ends and tackles well. Devin McCourty has good instincts, but is not the elite player of several years ago. Harmon is effective against the deep ball, but sometimes takes poor tackling angles. Recall Tyreek Hill’s game-tying catch against the Pats in the fourth quarter of the Kansas City game or Brandon Bolden’s long touchdown run in Miami.
K Stephen Gostkowski (UFA), P Ryan Allen(UFA), KOR Cordarrelle Patterson (UFA), PR Julian Edelman, LS Joe Cardona
Allen is an elite punter. He often pins opponent deeps in their own territory. Gostkowski still has a strong leg on kickoffs and only missed four fields/one extra point this year. Patterson had one kickoff return for a touchdown and Edelman is feisty punt returner who doesn’t outthink himself when there is a hole. Hightower also blocked a punt in Chicago.
*Asterisk indicates player ended 2018 season on injured reserve.
2018 Draft Recap
First Round - Isaiah Wynn LT Georgia
Wynn did not play. He was placed on injured reserve in training camp. (0//0)
First Round - Sony Michel RB Georgia
After being labeled a bust early in the year, Michel had a good year with 931 yards rushing. (13/8).
Second Round - Duke Dawson CB Florida
Dawson never played a snap even after being activated from injured reserve late in the year. (0/0)
Fifth Round - Ja’Whaun Bentley LB Purdue
Bentley showed promise, but only played three games before he was placed on injured reserve. (3/2)
Sixth Round - Christian Sam LB Arizona State
Sam never played a snap. He spent the year on injured reserve. (0/0).
Sixth Round -Braxton Berrios WR Miami
Berrios never played a snap. He spent the season on injured reserve. (0/0)
Seventh Round - Danny Etling QB LSU
Etling spent the year on the practice squad and never played a snap. (0/0)
Seventh Round - Keion Crossen CB Western Carolina
Crossen mainly contributed on special teams. He seldom played at cornerback (11/0)
Seventh Round - Ryan Izzo TE Florida State.
Izzo never played a snap and spent the year on injured reserve. (0/0).
SUMMARY: Injuries devastated the Pats 2018 draft class. Michel played well as did undrafted rookie J.C. Jackson.
The drafts over the past five years have been disappointing. The Pats have struggled in the early rounds to find consistent reliable starters. The Pats did not have a first round pick in 2016 and 2017. The Pats first pick in the 2016 draft was Cyrus Jones who is no longer on the roster and in 2017 it was Derek Rivers who only has appeared in six games in two seasons. The Pats, though, have found reliable starters in later rounds like offensive linemen Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason.
Best pick: DE Trey Flowers, R4 2015 – Flowers is a good defensive end who can rush the passer from the inside and has improved a lot against the run. Flowers, a free agent, should receive a large contract in the offseason.
Worst pick: DT Dominque Easley, R1 2014 –Simply put, the worst first round pick of the Bill Belichick era – even worse than Laurence Maroney. Easley lasted only two seasons with the team.
TOP 3 NEEDS
This need will increase if Pats lose Trey Flowers in free agency. More pass rush is needed along with another strong run stuffer.
Pats must decide whether to resign Hightower given the decline in his speed. The Pats could select their future middle linebacker in the 2019 draft.
Pats have only one wide receiver (who played this year) under contract for next year. Pats must find several receivers in the draft or free agency.