Patriots Report Card: Year-end grades signal need expert offensive mind

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Perry's Report Card: Year-end grades for the 2022 Patriots originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Bill Belichick has said it for years: "Players win games. Coaches lose them."

Pair that with the team's offensive performance this year -- regressing from 2021 in most major statistical categories (touchdowns, red-zone touchdown percentage, third-down success rate, first downs, sacks allowed, success rate, EPA per play, DVOA ranking) -- and it's clear where the team's most pressing offseason need resides. Facts are facts. The numbers are the numbers.

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The Patriots went from being the No. 9 offense in terms of Football Outsiders DVOA to No. 24. They were 24th in EPA per play in 2022 and 10th in 2021. They were 25th in success rate this year and fourth in the same category a season ago.

It should come as no surprise then that the Patriots are looking for a legitimate offensive ringleader (even if the way they announced they'd be looking for an offensive coordinator came as a shock). And they'll have to hope that that adjustment to the sidelines in 2023 will be enough to elevate these season-ending grades.

As one source put it this week, "What are you going to do, fire all the players?" They can't. Nor should they. What they need to do is what they've said they will do. Change the offensive leadership. Add someone with real offensive expertise who's worthy of the "OC" prefix. Hope that's the rising tide that lifts all ships.

As you'll see in our final Report Card of the season, the performance of this year's offensive fleet simply wasn't good enough.

Quarterback: C+

Weekly grades: C, C, C+, B-, B+, A-, D, C, C-, C+, B+, C-, C+, D, B-, B-, C+

Mac Jones' performance slipped. He was frustrated. He let it be known. Eventually that went away -- after what I'd assume was a conversation with someone inside the locker room -- and he finished the season with some solid statistical performances. He ended the season near the top of the list of tight-window testers and safe-with-the-football passers. Not a bad combination. Consistency under new leadership and within a more functional situation in 2023 has to be the focus.

Running back: B

Weekly grades: B, A-, B, A-, A, B, C+, B+, B, B, B+, B, B, A-, F, C+, B

Rhamondre Stevenson was arguably the team's best offensive player in 2022. He's a bully. He's a yards-after-contact machine and a capable pass-catcher. Did he fade a bit down the stretch? He admitted he was worn down. And he had two brutal ball-security moments -- the lateral in Vegas and the fumble against the Bengals -- that might've cost the Patriots a playoff performance.

Plenty of hope here moving forward, even with Damien Harris hitting free agency. But it'd behoove them to find a true third-down back -- maybe it's Pierre Strong -- to help spell their workhorse here.

Wide receiver: C+

Weekly grades: C-, B+, B+, C+, B, B+, B+, C-, D, C-, B, C-, B-, F, B+, B-, B

This group could have a different look in 2023. Jakobi Meyers would be worthy of an extension that keeps him in Foxboro and allows him to usher Jones into a new phase of his young career as his security blanket. But will he get one?

As things stand at the moment, the team will have DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne and Tyquan Thornton. Could there be a bounce-back with Bourne with a different offensive coordinator? Could Thornton make a leap? Yes and yes. But they'll need to add a piece here -- they could re-sign Meyers and draft an early-round talent if they wanted to -- to compete in their division.

Tight end: C

Weekly grades: C, D, D, C-, B-, A-, C, C+, B+, B-, B, D, B, C, C+, B+, C+

This grade may seem high, but a handful of productive games after the bye week from Hunter Henry moved this to more of a passing mark. The team got very little from Jonnu Smith before he suffered a concussion at the end of the season that effectively ended his season.

Can they get more from this group with a new coach? Of course. Should you bank on more from Smith? Would be hard to at this juncture. Given the amount he's set to make in 2023, he'll still be around.

Offensive line: C-

Weekly grades: F, A-, C-, B+, A, C+, D, F, F, D, B+, D, C+, B+, D, C, B-

What a year for this unit. New offense. New language. New coach. Rookie starter at left guard jumping from UT-Chattanooga to the AFC East. Stands to reason they'd have a handful of failing grades this season. Billy Yates began the year as an assistant to Matt Patricia but then eventually, for all intents and purposes, took over the duties of offensive line coach when it became clear the roles of de facto offensive coordinator and offensive line coach were too many for Patricia to handle effectively.

Will Yates be back to lead this group next season? Patricia? And who is the answer at right tackle, with the other four starters under contract for 2023? Plenty of question marks for this group heading into the offseason.

Special teams: C-

Weekly grades: B, C, C-, C, B+, B+, C-, B+, A-, A-, F, C-, B, D, F, D, F

What was one of the strengths of the team at times this year became a liability by season's end. Not having injured (and later suspended) punter and kickoff specialist Jake Bailey hurt. Losing special-teams ace Cody Davis early in the year was a major blow. Not having Brenden Schooler in the season finale as the Patriots gave up two returns for scores didn't help.

It's unclear what the Patriots will do at punter next season. Same goes for their kicker position with Nick Folk closer to the end than the beginning. Matthew Slater could be retired. But Schooler's emergence and a first-team All-Pro returner season from Marcus Jones give this unit some hope moving forward.

Defensive line: B+

Weekly grades: A-, A, B-, C-, A, A, D, B+, A, A, A-, B+, C-, B-, A-, A, B+

This unit helped the Patriots to a top-five ranking in rush yards allowed per carry. Davon Godchaux was steady in the middle of the line of scrimmage. Christian Barmore, when healthy, looked like a force and should only continue to improve going into Year 3. Deatrich Wise came out of the gates flying as a pass-rusher and remained effective as the season wore on. Even lesser-used players like Daniel Ekuale and Carl Davis had impactful moments.

Nice year for DeMarcus Covington's group, and one that should -- so long as Barmore's arrow continues to point up -- trend in the right direction in 2023.

Linebacker: B+

Weekly grades: B+, A, C-, C-, A, A, B-, A-, A, A, C+, B-, A, B+, A-, C+, B

Matthew Judon avoided last year's swoon. Josh Uche caught fire and looked like the most efficient pass-rusher in football for a stretch during the second half. Ja'Whaun Bentley ended up having a career year and Jahlani Tavai was productive enough to earn himself an extension, showing he was capable not only against the run but also in short areas against opposing passing games. If ever there was a group deserving of landing in the "A" range, this would probably be it. Fell just short.

Secondary: B

Weekly grades: C+, B+, C-, B+, A, B+, C, B, A, A-, D, D, B+, B, B, A-, C+

Coming out of the 2022 season, this feels like a unit that could be looking for a couple of key pieces both at corner and safety. Devin McCourty may retire, leaving the Patriots needing a quarterback of their defense on the back end. Is that Kyle Dugger, who played free safety in college? Perhaps it's Marcus Jones, who has the speed and ball skills that would fit there?

Then at corner, there are even more head-scratching problems in need of addressing in the coming months. Will the team extend Jonathan Jones, who could help fill in some of the leadership gaps left behind if McCourty retires? He's one of the few holdovers from the team's last championship in 2018, and he was this unit's best corner in 2022. Meanwhile, where is Jalen Mills? He went missing due to a groin injury late in the year when the team could've used him against bigger-bodied top-end wideouts.

Jack Jones (despite his late-season suspension) and Marcus Jones are viewed by vets as long-term staples at corner for Belichick. But they need more. Should be one of the top-three offseason priorities for this team headed into next season. Here's one name worth considering.