1. Brady has his deepest receiving corps in some time
The addition of speedy wide receiver Brandin Cooks in a trade with the New Orleans Saints gives quarterback Tom Brady one of the deepest receiving corps of his career. It’s so deep, veteran Danny Amendola might find himself sixth on the depth chart. Cooks, 23, is coming off a season in which he caught 78 passes for 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns. He’ll be paired opposite Julian Edelman, who caught 98 passes for a career-high 1,106 yards and three touchdowns.
Second-year wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell emerged in the second half of the season and made big catches during New England’s Super Bowl comeback. He could battle Chris Hogan for the third spot. The acquisition of tight end Dwayne Allen (35 receptions, 406 yards, six touchdowns) from the Indianapolis Colts should offset the departure of Martellus Bennett and take some heat off Rob Gronkowski.
2. New England might have the league’s best CB tandem
Not only did the Patriots lure cornerback Stephon Gilmore away from the AFC East rival Buffalo Bills with a five-year, $65 million contract, but New England also got Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler to stay put. Gilmore, who turns 27 in September, was outstanding in 2016 with five interceptions and 12 passes defended.
Though disappointed he didn’t receive a long-term deal, Butler showed that he isn’t going to let it affect his play. It was a very good sign that he showed up for voluntary team workouts. Gilmore and Butler give coach Bill Belichick one of the best corner duos he has coached.
3. The backfield got a boost from another Bills raid
It’s bad enough that they’ve beaten the Bills 29 of 34 times since Belichick took over the Patriots in 2000, but lately New England also has been poaching their players. Last year, they signed Hogan away from the Bills, and the wide receiver wound up leading the Patriots with a 17.9-yards-per-catch average. This year, New England added former Bills Gilmore and free agent running back Mike Gillislee, who saw plenty of time backing up LeSean McCoy.
In two seasons with Buffalo, Gillislee rushed for 844 yards and scored 11 touchdowns.
4. The defensive line reloaded with young talent
The Patriots lost Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard in free agency, but Belichick is banking on third-year pro Kony Ealy and eventually third-round draft pick Derek Rivers and fourth-round selection Deatrich Wise to fill the void.
New England traded a second-round draft pick to acquire Ealy from the Carolina Panthers after he struggled to live up to his potential, recording 14 sacks in three seasons.
5. Solder’s future remains unclear
Nate Solder is 29 and entering his seventh NFL season, but the left tackle’s contract is up after this season, and it will be interesting to see if the Patriots extend it.
They traded up twice in the 2017 draft to select two tackles — Antonio Garcia in the third round and Conor McDermott in the sixth. Garcia is regarded as a swing tackle with tremendous upside. His development could affect what the Patriots do with Solder.
Source: USA Today
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