Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Patriots 2021 Regular Season Awards

After the previous week's abrupt end to the playoff "run," this past weekend's action made it clear the Patriots simply didn't belong with the AFC heavy hitters.

However, that doesn't mean 2021 was without value or accomplishments. Here are my thoughts on the best players, most improved players, and best newcomers in all three phases of the game.


Most Valuable Offensive Player: Damien Harris

Honorable Mention: Mac Jones, Rhamondre Stevenson, and Trent Brown

Harris and Stevenson split being the featured back, depending mostly on Harris' health. But despite missing time, Harris ran for 929 yards and a 4.6ypc average, notching 15 touchdowns and a total of 59 first downs (4 receiving).

The rookie Stevenson played in 12 games and totaled 606 yards 4.6ypc (exactly the average same as Harris), and got 36 first downs of his own. The impressive thing is that he picked up the blocking schemes well enough to get on the field, and his running was impressive once he got playing time.

Jones took over the most difficult position on the field as a rookie and was by-and-large impressive. His command of the offense was better than veteran Cam Newton's, he shrugged off bad plays well enough to keep his team in most games, and he had the second-highest completion percentage of any rookie in NFL history with 67.6%. (Trivia question: which rookie QB had the highest rate at 67.8%? Answer below.)

As for Brown, the offensive line was a mess when he was injured and was between adequate and dominant when he returned. He wasn't perfect and had a few untimely penalties. But with a rookie QB learning the NFL ropes, the last thing you need is a leaky offensive line to compound his troubles.

Most Improved Offensive Player: Jakobi Meyers

Honorable Mention: Brandon Bolden and Michael Onwenu

Meyers was Newton's only reliable target most of last year, yet even with the free-agent offensive weapons (see the next category), Jakobi improved plenty. He went from 59 catches and 729 yards to 83 catches and 866. He had his first pro touchdown catch, after an NFL-record drought to start his career, and was responsible for 42 first downs. The only place he fell back was as a passer, since neither of his two completions went for touchdowns this year :D

Bolden stepped in for James White, who was injured, and had his most rushing yards (226) and first downs (12) since 2013. He showed that with enough playing time he could be a decent fill-in for White, though never up to White's standards.

Onwenu doubled his starts from 8 to 16 this year, and he was one of Pro Football Focus' (PFF) highest rated offensive linemen, even though he rarely got a mention in broadcasts.

Offensive Newcomer of the Year: Kendrick Bourne and Hunter Henry

Honorable Mention: Jones and Stevenson

Bourne became the Patriots lone deep threat, catching 55 passes for 800 yards (14.6ypc), scoring 5 touchdowns, and totaling 10 plays of over 20 yards and 5 plays over 40. He also ran 12 times for an average of over 10ypc, and he made nary a mistake in route-running or blocking.

Henry was the best red zone receiving threat the team had most of the year. He got a first down 34 times on 50 catches and scored 9 touchdowns through the air, far and away the best of any receiver. In fact, the rest of the team had just 13 receiving touchdowns, which shows you how important Henry was.

Jones and Stevenson for the reasons mentioned earlier.


Most Valuable Defensive Player: J. C. Jackson

Honorable Mention: Mat Judon

Jackson has more interceptions than any other NFL player since he entered the league. An undrafted player, he is poised for a huge payday as he is a free agent this year. His impact on the defense looks like Henry's on offense: 8 interceptions versus 13 for the rest of the squad.

He was also the team's 10th leading tackler. And given that the team traded Stephon Gilmore and Jonathan Jones was injured halfway through the year, Jackson's value to the defense was immense.

Judon was running away with this award early in the year. He had 12.5 sacks through 13 games and the team was 9-4 and atop the AFC. But he didn't record a sack after that, missed the Jaguars tilt, and the thinking here is that he was injured. In the Buffalo playoff game he couldn't move laterally to keep up with receivers or quarterback Josh Allen, so something was up.

Most Improved Defensive Player: Kyle Dugger

Honorable Mention: Adrian Phillips and Ja'Whaun Bentley

Dugger started 7 games last year and 14 this year, missing three only because of injury. He had more tackles (78 vs 61), more interceptions (4 vs 0), and way more positive impact for the team. His ability to cover in zone and still come up to tackle much bigger backs and tight ends is impressive.

How unknown was he before this year? I've been misspelling his name in this blog and never even realized it (my apologies).

Phillips' tackle numbers were roughly the same as last year, but his had twice as many interceptions (from 2 to 4) and over twice as many passes defended (from 4 to 9). He understood the defense immediately and with him and Dugger in place the Patriots could be well setup should veteran Devin McCourty retire.

Bentley gets a mention because he led the team in tackles. But he will always be a liability in pass coverage, so unlikely to win defensive MVP any time soon.

Defensive Newcomer of the Year: Judon

Honorable Mention: Christian Barmore

Judon for all the reasons listed above, and for bringing an attitude and edge to the defense. There are lots of cerebral guys on the Patriots, but you still need a few renegades to round things out. Judon and Dugger fill the bill, IMO.

Rookie Barmore got plenty of playing time, despite Bill Belichick's habit of making rookies wait. And according to PFF he was "far and away the most productive rookie interior defender." He played nearly 600 snaps and pressured the quarterback 48 times, second on the team to Judon. 

Special Teams

Most Valuable Special Teams Player: Keith Folk

Honorable Mention: none 

Opening day of the 2020 season, Nick Folk missed a 45 yard field goal. 33 games later he hasn't missed one from fewer than 50 yards -- a streak of 55 straight kicks. He's been money, with some of his misses this year being ridiculous kicks (the 56 yarder in the rain against Tampa Bay comes to mind).

Special teams sucked this year, so no honorable mention :P

Most Improved Special Teams Player: Cody Davis

Honorable Mention: none

Cody Davis changed numbers in the off-season, switching from #30 to #2. It worked.

He led the team with 16 special teams tackles, topping even longtime special teams Pro Bowler Matthew Slater. He had just 9 last season, so apparently the number change helped :D

Special Teams Newcomer of the Year: none

Honorable Mention: none

Again, special teams on the whole were subpar, and terrible for a Belichick coached team. The Patriots spend too much money on special teamers not to get better performance out of this unit. Might be time to hire a ST coach with actual experience... their current one has been in the league about 12 minutes.


2021 was better than 2020 for sure. But if last weekend's games show anything it's that the Patriots have a long way to go to catch up to Buffalo or Kansas City.

Statistical oddity: Folk's streak of 55 straight made field goals of 50 yards or less is just one short of the NFL record, held by Tampa Bay's Ryan Succup. The oddity is that Tampa is the team that cut Folk in 2017, so he could be available to kick for the Patriots.

Non-statistical oddity: There have only been two players in NFL history who's first name started with "Jakob," and the Patriots currently have *both* of them: Jakobi Meyers and fullback Jakob Johnson. In fact, they have both been on the Patriots roster for the last three years.

The odds that a single team would have the only two similarly named players in NFL history on the roster for three consecutive seasons is roughly 0.000000125%, based on 25,682 players who ever played, the number of overall NFL seasons, and the chances the only two of them would be on the same team for three consecutive years.

Maybe some statistician can run the actual numbers for me, but until they do, I'm sticking with that number :D

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 0-0!

PPS. Trivia answer: Dallas' Dak Prescott completed 67.8% of his passes as a rookie in 2016.

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