The Patriots traded up to draft tight end Devin Asiasi in the third round and hope he can become an impact starter. Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

The 2020 Patriots have arrived.

With the conclusion of the NFL draft, the Pats roster officially has its foundation set, structure in place – and a cloud of questions. Only cosmetic tweaks are left to be made.

Jarrett Stidham is the quarterback who will succeed Tom Brady.

Stidham’s position battle with Brian Hoyer will undoubtedly be hyped, if/when the team holds some form of a training camp. But less than 12 months ago, locked into their first position battle, the rookie Stidham beat Hoyer out. Now, after making the proverbial Year 2 leap, he’s supposed to feel seriously threatened by a graying veteran who was just released by his seventh team?


On the other hand, uncertainty cloaks five other roster positions. Only fierce, on-field competition can sort these out. And the rookies will have their say.

Here are the Patriots’ top five position battles heading into 2020:

1. Wide receiver

Wide receiver N’Keal Harry was the Patriots first-round draft pick last season. He will battle Mohamed Sanu to be New England’s second receiver behind Julian Edelman. Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Nothing’s changed here.

The Pats are waiting – still – for a dependable wideout to emerge behind Julian Edelman. Ideally, Mohamed Sanu or N’Keal Harry seizes the No. 2 role. If the other receiver, or Marqise Lee or Damiere Byrd or Jakobi Meyers can step up as dependable third option, all the better.

The depth chart could conceivably be arranged in any number of ways. But at least compared to last year, the lowest point for Patriot pass catchers in the Bill Belichick era, 2020 offers some promise. In fact, Belichick seems to expect a rebound, telling reporters after the draft he believes last season’s young wideouts will improve.

2. Tight end

Third-round rookie Devin Asiasi can reasonably be projected as the team’s next starter, despite never taking an NFL snap. The Patriots traded up to nab him at 91st overall, where he became the first Pats tight end drafted before the fifth round since Rob Gronkowski in 2010. Of course, Asiasi will first have to prove he belongs and overcome a pandemic-steepened learning curve.

The same is true for third-rounder Dalton Keene. When the Pats struck an unprecedented deal to draft him, packaging two fourth-rounders and a future pick – once believed to be a no-no in the Belichick draft guide – they revealed how highly they thought of him as a prospect. For a third-round pick, it’s damn near sky high.

Keene was regarded as a bit of a project, with elite athleticism but a raw approach and middling college production. The Pats clearly see more. How soon that potential is realized is anyone’s guess. Asiasi projects to see more snaps in the short-term.

Otherwise, Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo offer low-ceiling starters with uninspiring track records. They’ll block well enough and generally catch what you throw them, provided it’s on target and they aren’t asked to gain separation too far downfield.

Kyle Dugger of Lenoir Rhyne can play deep safety and can up to stuff the run. Associated Press/Butch Dill

3. Third safety

Come on down, Kyle Dugger.

Or up, depending on where the Patriots prefer to use him.

Prior to drafting the young safety at 37th overall, the Pats added another box safety in free-agent Adrian Phillips. Like Patrick Chung and Terrence Brooks, Phillips can hang and bang at the second level, tackling like a linebacker and covering like the safety he’s listed as. Perhaps Dugger will do the same.

He’s 6-foot-1 and 217 pounds but he’s also blazing fast and explosive in his jumps and acceleration. If the Pats can harness those abilities as a rotational deep safety, he may simply step in for Duron Harmon, who took more than 60% of the team’s defensive snaps the past three seasons alongside Devin McCourty in three-safety packages.

If not, Phillips may be forced into the deep middle on occasion, a safety out of water until the youngster comes around.

4. Outside linebacker

Exit Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins.

Enter Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings.

The Pats’ new rookie linebacker tandem don’t project as exact replacements for their predecessors, but it’s close. Jennings, a refined edge player who sets a mean presence in the run game and offers a persistent power rush, drew comparisons to Van Noy as a prospect. If all goes well, he could be a mainstay on the edge of Belichick’s defense for years.

As for Uche, a 6-1, 245-pound athletic wonder, his rare blitzing talent should be unleashed across the defensive front. Blitzing suited him best at Michigan, where he only played 52% of his snaps as a senior. But the Patriots clearly see more; a versatile piece who can blitz, drop into coverage with enough reps and cover tight ends and running backs.

He’ll compete for time on the edge, particularly in subpackages; just as former teammate Chase Winovich, Shilique Calhoun, Derek Rivers and Dont’a Hightower will.

5. Punt returner

Dugger, Sanu and Gunner Olszewski are all contenders here. As is perhaps even an undrafted rookie. The Pats scooped up several with return experience after the draft and have consistently given UDFAs a shot on special teams during training camp.

The smart money here is on Olszewski, who essentially won a roster spot last year with his return ability and the progress he showed as a converted wideout. Dugger, though, offers a package of power and speed, in addition to quickness, at almost 220 pounds. And Sanu is the established veteran with sure hands and most recent experience.

Bottom line: The Pats need some juice in their return game. And it’s sure to be a show as we find out who provides it for them in 2020.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.