BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots offense is going to look a lot different in 2020. It’s not easy to replace a six-time Super Bowl champion and the greatest quarterback to ever launch the pigskin, but that’s the predicament New England finds themselves in following the departure of Tom Brady.
All signs point to second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham being the guy to take the torch, and by all accounts, the Patriots love the 23-year-old out of Auburn. Bill Belichick hasn’t come out and named Stidham the team’s starter for 2020, because the head coach wants the young QB to earn the title whenever training camp and the preseason kicks off, but it sure looks like Stidham will be the guy in all 16 (or so) games this season.
While going from Brady to Stidham will likely lead to a considerable dip in the offsense — an offense that suffered a considerable dip in 2019 with Brady at QB — ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss has a lot of optimism for that side of the ball. As he explained on Sunday night’s Sports Final on WBZ, there is a lot of promising young talent on the New England offense.
“Last year, Tom Brady didn’t have great weapons around him relative to the production, and not much has changed. The running backs are the same, the receivers are essentially the same, and the tight ends — two of the top three are going to be rookies. If the results improve, is that because Stidham is growing with those players around him, and maybe that gap between Brady and his experience and knowledge of the system and all those players around him was just too big? That’s the dynamic that is going to be so compelling to watch,” Reiss told WBZ’s Steve Burton. “To me, Stidham has a great opportunity ahead of him and that is going to be compelling to watch that unfold.”
Reiss noted that Stidham built some solid chemistry with fellow rookies N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers in training camp and preseason action last year.
“It might be easy to forget, but when Stidham came to the Patriots last year as a rookie his roommate was N’Keal Harry. If we go back and roll tape of the preseason last year, Stidham to Jakobi Meyers was an impressive connection, and you could make the case that Stidham was a big reason why Meyers made the team, putting him in a position to show what he could do,” said Reiss. “I think that connection with those young guys has already sort of grown, and was greater than the connection Tom Brady had with them. I think that’s an important point.”
In the preseason last year, Meyers caught 20 of the 28 passes that went his way for 253 yards (an average of 12.7 yards per reception) and a pair of touchdowns. The undrafted free agent struggled to get on the same page with Brady during the regular season, but it looks like he has a head start to connecting with Stidham for 2020.
“Whether that can continue to grow where the Patriots can win games with them when it counts, that’s what we need to see,” said Reiss. “But the older guys, what Stidham did with the Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu and the veterans was he won their respect with the way he went out and worked. Now he needs to catapult forward and win their respect in the huddle in games that matter. That’s what we need to see unfold.”
Stidham is just one of the promising youngsters making up the new-look New England offense in 2020. Of all of the Patriots’ picks in 2019, Reiss said what Harry can bring to the table this year is the most intriguing aspect of that draft class. His rookie season was hampered by an early season injury, but the 6-foot-4 receiver showed signs of what he can do in the NFL over the final seven weeks, snagging 12 receptions for 105 yards and a pair of touchdowns in limited playing time.
“It seems like a lot of their rookie classes, it’s year two where they make their biggest difference,” said Reiss. “They drafted him in the first round for a reason. He got hurt last year and now he’s had a full offseason, working with training coaches on his footwork and foot speed. You want to see if he can make that next jump. If it can be Harry and Edelman as your top two receivers, that’s what you want to see.”
Another dark horse to make an impact on offense is running back Damien Harris, who saw action in just two games as a rookie after being drafted in the third round out of Alabama. Harris was a workhorse for Nick Saban on the Crimson Tide, logging a pair of 1,000+ rushing yard seasons in his four years at Alabama. He ran for 876 yards and nine touchdowns and had a career-high 22 receptions as a senior in 2018.
“He could be a big time addition for them that a lot of people aren’t really considering, because it’s easy to forget him after a year behind the scenes,” said Reiss.
The Patriots focused on defense with their early picks in 2020, but added two tight ends in Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. Reiss said that Asiasi — out of UCLA — has the most potential to make an immediate impact of the 2020 draft class.
“He was the Patriots’ top tight end and the second overall tight end picked in the draft, after Cole Kmet went to the Bears in the second round. But if the Patriots were picking, it would have been Asiasi over Kmet. They like his athleticism. They know there is some development that has to happen, but as far as skills, they viewed him as the top guy,” said Reiss. “I can’t think of another rookie tight end around the league that has an opportunity to elevate up the depth chart like Devin Asiasi.”