NFL Mailbag: Which Patriots will come through with breakthrough seasons in 2021?

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Perry's Patriots mailbag: Breakout candidates starting to emerge originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

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They are where they are at this point. Barring a blockbuster deal involving an All-Pro caliber corner, there's probably not going to be much out there for the Patriots to add at that position. I argued, for a while, they should be interested in Julio Jones. But he was a special case. If their tight ends are healthy, that's the path they've chosen this year. Receivers are going to take a backseat. Nelson Agholor is being paid like a No. 1. Jakobi Meyers is a fine No. 2, in my opinion, and Kendrick Bourne could be as well. That should be a solid enough group if Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry come close to living up to their contracts.

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Nope! Unless they want to run that play where Jakobi Meyers throws back to Cam Newton. Worked well last year. 

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Make it all the way to the last game, Kimberly? No. I don't think so. To get to that point, there are so many critical situations that need to fall your way. A lot of those hinge on your passing game. I think at this stage of his career, Newton just isn't a good enough passer to get them that far. Is Mac Jones? Probably not. Track record of rookies getting that far isn't great. But next year? The year after? The Patriots are of course hoping that's who he can be eventually. 

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If you're hoping for a No. 1 receiver at this point in the year, you're going to be out of luck... again, barring a deal involving Gilmore. But would the Patriots -- with a wideout currently paid as a top-25 player at his position and two highly-paid tight ends -- want to give up arguably their best defensive player for another weapon? Maybe they would. Hard to project where that would come from right now, though. Interesting to me that there's concern with the receivers now, and maybe it's because Agholor has dropped a few. That's who he's always been, and it's who he'll continue to be. Just part of the equation. He is their fastest receiver, though, and he'll be their primary field-stretcher.

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Michel, I could see. Not Asiasi. The Patriots need every healthy tight end they can get at the moment, and I believe that if all were healthy he'd be the No. 3. Michel is more complicated, though. To me, it could come down to which back do the Patriots want more: Michel or JJ Taylor? Taylor is younger and more versatile. Michel is valuable insurance as a Damien Harris replacement. But the team also just drafted Rhamondre Stevenson. In theory, he should be capable of being a No. 2. Is he ready? Is Taylor someone the Patriots could sneak through waivers? How do special-teams roles tip the scales? Taylor and Stevenson could have gigs in the kicking game, whereas Michel might not. Lots to determine when it comes to that running back room. Usually the Patriots like to go younger and cheaper when they can. That's why I wonder if Michel is long for the roster.

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Given what we've seen, not sure Bill Belichick could be thrilled with his corner depth. Joejuan Williams and Jalen Mills have had less-than-inspiring training camps this summer. But I'm not sure that means Belichick is going to rush to give Gilmore what he wants. 

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Corner. Tight end, depending on health. Tackle. Maybe safety, just because there's not much on the roster behind Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger. Plenty of different routes they could take when looking for talent later this summer. We've gone over the names of some potential adds from Washington and Philly in recent Next Pats episodes. (Get it wherever you get your podcasts... or on YouTube!)

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Top five? Might be tough, given his physical skill set. But when he has a clean pocket, he appears to have enough arm. And he's more mobile than he was given credit for in the pre-draft process. But still. Top five? Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Russell Wilson and Tom Brady should have four of the top-five spots locked down for the next five or 10 years. Could be hard for Jones to squeeze in there somewhere. I think Derek Carr would be a pretty good comp for Jones. When he's right, Carr has been a borderline top-10 guy. Maybe Jones ends up even better. For now, that seems reasonable.

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Surprise cut? Man. Not sure if it'll come down to a release for some of these guys. Maybe trades could be squared away. But it wouldn't shock me to see Michel, N'Keal Harry or Chase Winovich left off the initial 53-man roster.

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Tight end is traditionally a very difficult position to learn coming from the college ranks. Oftentimes takes guys years to catch on. Asiasi still has plenty of physical ability. And he made some plays on Tuesday as the lone tight end on the field. His coach, Nick Caley, was fired up for him after one 7-on-7 touchdown. He later caught another on the goal line from Mac Jones. Wouldn't give up on him yet by any means.

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He might be the only tight end who gets meaningful playing time. So if you're in a preseason Week 2 fantasy football contest, and I know you're out there, get yourself all the Asiasi shares you can handle. 

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On the Rome Is Burning scale? There's a bonfire at the foot of the Spanish Steps. These particular injuries aren't deal-breakers. But they've both dealt with injury in the past. And you can't make up for these reps. Tight end can be a tough position to learn in a new offense, and both Henry and Smith are expected to be key pieces of a new offense. It's not ideal. But it's not an emergency, either. 

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I've got a few I like as "breakthrough" types this year, Todd. Kyle Dugger. Josh Uche. JJ Taylor. All second-year guys with tons of physical ability who had no real rookie offseason to prepare them for the pro game. Potential there for them to take off.