The NFL Draft has come and gone, and the AFC picture has become clearer than ever. The New England Patriots came away from the draft with a really intriguing group of prospects, filling several holes on their roster. Some of these rookies will need to step in right away and produce, while others may take a backseat in their first season. These rookies are just a portion of the players that could have an impact on the 2020 Patriots. The team returns a good amount of interesting young talent that could make or break the team in 2020. With that being said let’s take a look at some of the New England Patriots 2020 X-Factors
New England Patriots 2020 X-Factors
Josh Uche: EDGE, Linebacker
Starting things off is second-round pick, Josh Uche. The Michigan product was one of the most versatile defenders in the 2020 class and can impact the defense in a variety of ways. Uche has the ability to play both as an edge defender and as a linebacker who can drop back in pass coverage. He generated the highest pressure rate in college football last season at 25.4 percent according to Pro Football Focus.
It’s obvious that Uche can create pressure on the edge, but what truly makes him an X-factor on this team is his versatility. In addition to being a hand in the dirt pass rusher, Uche has experience playing outside linebacker. Having this type of positional versatility is a key to succeeding in the Patriots defense, and is a reason why Uche should fit right in as a rookie. If he is able to impact the game by applying pressure on the edge as well as holding his own as a linebacker dropping into coverage then the Patriots defense will have added a really dynamic talent. A lot of voices around the league believe that Uche could be one of the bigger steals of this draft, but his limited college experience is what makes him such an unknown. The little film there is one Josh Uche does demonstrate how he could be a difference-maker on the Patriots defense as soon as this season, making him a definite X factor for this team.
Kyle Dugger: Safety, Linebacker
Next up is the Patriots top pick from this year’s draft, Kyle Dugger. Dugger is a Division II standout from Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina. His excellent performance at this year’s Senior Bowl and incredible Combine performance put him on the radar of NFL teams. Picking a D-II player at 37th overall may seem like a reach, but after doing some research on Dugger, he has the skills to back up his draft spot.
Similar to Uche, Dugger is an elite athlete, with the speed and agility to play at the NFL level. Some concerns still remain as to how he will handle to jump in talent level between D-II and the NFL. From a pure athleticism standpoint, he’ll fit in just fine. Dugger is on the bigger end for a safety at 6’1″ 217 pounds but has shown the ability to play linebacker as well. The team will likely use him as a chess piece on defense, bouncing him around the field trying to maximize his talent. Kyle Dugger is a perfect example of an X-factor, coming from a D-II school. And fans, as well as the organization, have no idea what to expect. The size and athleticism are certainly there, but whether he can adjust to the NFL talent level is still a major question mark. If he makes a smooth transition, then he could absolutely be one of the best players on the defense this season.
Jarrett Stidham: Quarterback
It goes without saying that the Patriots will only go as far as Jarrett Stidham can take them. He is perhaps the biggest X-factor on this list due to the importance of his position. The second-year signal-caller showed that he has the accuracy and makeup to be an NFL starter in last year’s preseason. Coaches in the organization have raved about the progress Stidham has made in his first year as a pro and have praised his ability to pick up the offense.
The absence of starting experience is the biggest question surrounding Stidham. It remains to be seen how Stidham will handle the impossible task of following Tom Brady as the Patriots quarterback. There is little doubt that the talent is there, but whether or not he can handle the pressure makes him an X-factor. His performance will go a long way in dictating how the season goes for New England. He’ll have his work cut out for him with a ton of unproven youngsters and aging vets at the skill positions. The arm strength and accuracy are there with Stidham, but he will still need his receivers to get open which was a major issue a season ago. That coupled with two rookie tight ends and it’s anyone’s guess as to what this offense will look like. With that being said fans should expect at the very least an average quarterback, but anything other than that is a complete unknown as of now.
Jakobi Meyers: Wide Receiver
Moving on with another second-year player, this time it’s wide receiver, Jakobi Meyers. Meyers was an undrafted free agent a year ago and shined in preseason action, but was mostly a non-factor during the regular season. Despite his lack of production as a rookie, Meyers did build a connection with Jarrett Stidham. Meyers put himself on the map with his standout preseason, where he caught passes mainly from Stidham. The progression of this relationship will go a long way in determining how effective Meyers will be this year.
The skill is there with Meyers, and it’s definitely something of a head-scratcher as to how he went undrafted. He is a smart player who runs good routes and has sound hands. While his raw speed and athleticism aren’t anything special, he is a solid and seemingly reliable wide receiver. The biggest question surrounding his success in 2020 is how he continues to build that chemistry with his quarterback.
Chase Winovich: EDGE
Out of everyone on this list, Chase Winovich has the most boom or bust potential. The second-year pass rusher out of Michigan flashed at times during his rookie year both as a defender and on special teams. He recorded one touchdown after recovering a blocked punt and proved himself to be an effective situational pass rusher. Winovich was the leader of a Wolverine defense that boasted first-round picks such as Rashan Gary and Devin Bush, which made him dropping to the third round rather surprising.
What makes Winovich such an X-factor is the fact that his role will likely be increased this year. There just isn’t much telling how he’ll step up and impact the defense with an increased role. There shouldn’t be much cause for concern as he handled his role well a season ago. However, there is the possibility that he could fizzle when asked to take on a more important role on defense. The talent is definitely there, and if he plays like he did at Michigan there should be nothing to worry about. He was a monster of a pass rusher in college and he showed he could be effective in spurts as a pro, it will be all about consistency from here on out. If he does take the next step, then he could anchor the Patriots pass rush for the next several years.