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New England Patriots: 2022 Preseason Predictions and Preview

Mac Jones, New England Patriots

Mac Jones and the Patriots look to build off of last year's postseason appearance.

Mac Jones made all the right moves as a rookie — from his first minicamp pass to his final steps of the griddy dance following his Pro Bowl touchdown run.

In between, he threw 22 touchdown passes and led the Patriots to 10 wins and a return to the postseason after a one-year hiatus.

The first-round quarterback also said all the right things. Jones was deferential to Cam Newton during the spring and summer and even after seizing the starting job from the former MVP with a stellar training camp that included an impressive final push.

He refrained from commenting on anything that could cause a controversy — even declining to name a favorite Halloween candy.

Things will be a little different this season. Jones, who plays with a quiet confidence, will need to be louder as he takes on more of a leadership role on a team that added key pieces in all three phases.

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OFFENSE

Jones will have a new voice in his ear calling the shots for his sophomore season. Josh McDaniels, one of the NFL's top play-callers and quarterback whisperers, is now in Las Vegas as the Raiders' head coach. Jones and McDaniels were tied at the hip in 2021, and the results were often spectacular. But for Jones' sophomore professional season, it will likely be a collaborative play-calling effort, with Bill Belichick and offensive assistants Joe Judge and Nick Caley also having input.

Jones will have several new weapons this season, including a bona fide No. 1 receiver in DeVante Parker and a legitimate field-stretching burner in second-round draft pick Tyquan Thornton. Jones did a nifty job spreading the ball around in 2021 (five pass-catchers had at least 400 receiving yards), and that will continue.

New England hasn't had someone of Parker's size and speed since Randy Moss, and if he can stay healthy, he could hit personal bests in catches, yards and touchdowns. If Thornton can get up to speed with the playbook, his on-field speed will stress defenses.

Other receivers include Jakobi Meyers (he continues to get better and is a clutch third-down performer), Kendrick Bourne (he possesses infectious energy and reliable hands) and Nelson Agholor (he draws the biggest check of the group and needs to improve on mediocre numbers from his first season in Foxborough).

Hunter Henry built an immediate rapport with Jones and caught a career-high nine TDs while also providing some savage blocking in the run game. Fellow big-money tight end Jonnu Smith struggled in his first season. He's poised to make a huge jump after a year in the offense.

The offensive line lost both starting guards, but the Patriots have the pieces in place for a seamless transition. Mike Onwenu, who has played multiple spots over his first two seasons, can slip into the right guard spot, replacing Shaq Mason, who was traded to Tampa Bay in March for a fifth-round draft pick. First-rounder Cole Strange should slot right in at left guard, filling the void left by Ted Karras.

David Andrews is one of the most underrated centers in the league. He's smart and quick and knows how to use leverage to hold his ground and execute combination blocks. His experience will help ease the growing pains of Onwenu and Strange.

Left tackle Isaiah Wynn is in the final year of his rookie deal, so this is more or less an earn-a-second-contract season for the 2018 first-rounder. Right tackle Trent Brown has been a stalwart in New England, a place where he hopes to put down roots and play the rest of his career. A battle looms for the swing tackle spot among Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste and rookie Andrew Stueber.

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DEFENSE

The New England defense was one of the league's top units throughout the season and was riding high into a bye week following a win over the Bills in snowy, windy Western New York in early December. It struggled after the break as New England dropped four of its final five games, culminating in a playoff loss back in Orchard Park, where the Bills never had to punt in a 47-17 Patriots loss. New England's lack of speed was exposed over the final month-plus, particularly when facing QBs adept at executing run-pass options. An infusion of youth and speed at the second level could come from Cameron McGrone (he missed his rookie season) and Mack Wilson Sr. (acquired from the Browns) in their Patriots debuts.

The Patriots' initial line of defense will look very familiar. Up the middle, beefy bodies Davon Godchaux and Christian Barmore will look to build on solid first seasons in Foxborough.

Lawrence Guy (who can shift inside), Deatrich Wise Jr. and Henry Anderson are experienced edge setters. Along with Daniel Ekuale and intriguing rookie Sam Roberts, this group needs to set the tone to keep dual-threat quarterbacks Josh Allen, Tua Tagovailoa and Zach Wilson from dictating the pace of the divisional tilts.

The linebacking corps will look different, but Matthew Judon (an outside threat) and Ja'Whaun Bentley (an old-school thumper inside) will help provide some continuity.

Newcomer LB Wilson has exceptional instincts, and McGrone has track-star speed — they will make plays. There's a trio of linebackers facing critical seasons. Josh Uche has shown glimpses of speed and physicality but hasn't settled into a consistent role. Anfernee Jennings had a decent rookie year but sat out last season with injuries. Ronnie Perkins, a third-round pick in 2021, never got in a game. Can any of these guys make an impact?

A name to remember: Raekwon McMillan. The veteran was having a nice camp in 2021 before a torn ACL derailed him. He's back for another shot.

On the back end, the safeties are set with Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger and Jabrill Peppers. The latter signed a one-year deal after suffering a torn ACL with the Giants in 2021. There will be a full-on cornerback competition throughout the summer to see who can claim the starting boundary job opposite Jalen Mills and a bunch of depth spots. Jonathan Jones is among the league's top slot corners.

Veterans Malcolm Butler (yes, that Malcolm Butler) and Terrance Mitchell will compete with Myles Bryant, Shaun Wade, Joejuan Williams and rookies Jack Jones, Marcus Jones and Devin Hafford for jobs and snaps.

SPECIALISTS

The kicking operation returns with stalwarts Jake Bailey (an All-Procaliber punter), Nick Folk (36-of-39 on field goals last season) and Joe Cardona (the long snapper has been flawless for seven seasons). The club let former All-Pro returner Gunner Olszewski walk but addressed that by drafting Marcus Jones — an electric return man — in the third round. Two other coverage stalwarts — Brandon Bolden and Brandon King — must be replaced, and the rookies, particularly Jack Jones and Marcus Jones, should play key roles here because of their speed and tackling ability.

FINAL ANALYSIS

This is Mac Jones' team now. The precocious quarterback led quietly as a rookie, but he'll be more demonstrative now with nobody looking over his shoulder as camp begins. Jones' ability to see the field and communicate to his running mates where he wants them (and when) are skills that take lots of young signal-callers years to develop. Jones, however, had the benefit of playing for Nick Saban at Alabama, and that gave him the foundation that allowed him to hit the ground running in New England. He was a pro before he was a pro. Jones has multiple new weapons in his arsenal, and he'll integrate them into the offense quickly; he won't play favorites. The defense needed to get faster — and did. There's potential for another playoff run, the second of the post-Tom Brady era.

Prediction: 3rd in AFC East