This offseason felt long.
When training camp began, the Patriots’ offensive struggles began. We quickly learned that replacing longtime offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels would not be easy. Then it didn’t look easy for the Patriots offense this preseason.
Well, it’s a good thing the regular season counts.
The Patriots will begin their 2022 season in the south, where they will face the Miami Dolphins in Week 1. We will learn a lot about this team out of the gate. Who calls offensive plays? Does the attacking formation look different? Is the defense playing faster?
The Patriots have made some strides. After a 7-9 2019 season, Bill Belichick’s Patriots finished 10-7 and returned to the playoffs last season. Of course, with Belichick, there’s no looking back. It’s all about the 2022 season and what this team will accomplish. There are a lot of questions surrounding this Pats team and we think we have some answers.
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Here are five bold predictions for the 2022 Patriots.
McJones becomes a top 10 quarterback
After a successful rookie season, all eyes are on Jones’ sophomore year in New England. A Pro Bowl alternate as a rookie, Jones was a top-15 quarterback last season. This year, we see him take a step forward and finish 2022 as a top 10 player at his position. With a year of experience, Jones should theoretically make fewer mistakes and be more prepared. Offensive weapons around him seem improved. Physically, Jones has looked stronger this offseason and his deep ball has improved.
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After finishing last season with 3,801 passing yards with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, Jones will improve across the board this fall. We envision a season where he throws for over 4,100 yards and connects for 30 or more touchdowns. That would put him in the top 10 at his position.
The biggest question mark with Jones isn’t his talent. It’s the coaching staff with Matt Patricia, Bill Belichick and Joe Judge in charge of the offense. While this is a highly unusual setup, we don’t envision Jones taking a step back in 2022. The quarterback looks too prepared and better prepared this season to let that happen.
Jalen Mills is turning into a legitimate No. 1 cornerback
On defense, there is no clear-cut shutdown cornerback on the roster following the signing of JC Jackson with Los Angeles. Our second bold prediction, however, places Mills atop the Patriots cornerback depth chart. Not only do we think he’s the best cornerback in New England, but we predict Mills will have a great season.
In training camp, Mills looked the part, leading the Patriots with eight pass breakups and three interceptions in 16 open practices. The 28-year-old had some battles with Davante Adams in Las Vegas, but who doesn’t? Before that, he locked up DJ Moore in joint practices with Carolina.
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In case you missed it, Mills was very good last season. Despite his slow start, over the last nine games of 2021, this corner has allowed just 33% of his targets to be caught. This season, if Mills can hold opposing quarterbacks to the low 40% mark, it would make him a legitimate No. 1 cornerback.
Jonnu Smith is having a breakout season
Smith fell short of expectations in 2021. After signing a four-year, $50 million contract with the Patriots, the tight end finished with just 28 catches for 294 receiving yards and a touchdown. Our third bold prediction has Smith breaking out with the best season of his career in 2022.
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Last year, Smith got off to a slow start after skipping OTAs and suffering an injury in minicamp. The late start hurt him as he never seemed to fit into the Pats offense. Smith is not your typical tight end. He is very athletic and moves well with the ball in his hands. This summer, we saw more offensive plays that put Smith in a better position to make plays – short routes that give him the ball with room to run.
When camp ended, Smith finished second on the Patriots in receptions to Jones with 25 catches. It looked like the coaching staff was doing more to get that tight end involved in the offense. That should lead to better production this season.
Kyle Dugger will be the Patriots top defensive player
The Patriots defense has gotten noticeably younger in 2022. Veteran linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and James Collins are gone. Belichick has turned to more youth, sprinkled throughout the defensive unit. Our fourth bold prediction pegs Kyle Dugger as the next great Pats defensive player.
Last year, Dugger finished first on the Patriots with 70 solo tackles and tied for second with 92 total tackles. He also tied for second on the team with four interceptions. Now in his third season, Dugger told the Providence Journal last month that he feels more comfortable in the Patriots’ defense thanks to his sophisticated study habits.
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Dugger rewatched every snap he played last year. His goal was to become more cerebral playing either safety or in the box as a linebacker. We believe he will break out of his shell even more in 2022 and become a household name.
Jakobi Meyers catches over 100 passes
The Patriots offensive weapons look better. Nelson Agholor, Hunter Henry and Smith look more comfortable. Kendrick Bourne is coming off a career year. The Pats added DeVante Parker and Tyquan Thornton.
As things change, they stay the same.
Our fifth bold prediction is that Jakobi Meyers will not only lead the Patriots in receiving, but eclipse the 100-reception mark in 2022. Meyers led the Patriots with 83 catches for 866 yards last season. We see him winning both categories as he still looks like the team’s No. 1 receiver. In 16 open practices this summer, Meyers led all pass rushers with 41 receptions over Jones. Smith was the next closest with 25.
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Jones clearly favored Myers over his other players in training camp. That shouldn’t come as a surprise since Meyers is the Patriots’ slot — a spot made famous in New England and one meant for a quarterback’s security blanket. Meyers is in a contract year and a big season will literally pay off next offseason. We envision it happening.
This article originally appeared in The Providence Journal: New England Patriots 5 Bold Predictions for 2022 NFL Season