Facebook Pixel

    Patriots Training Camp Preview: Drake Maye vs. Jacoby Brissett Headlines Top 5 Position Battles

    With New England Patriots training camp just around the corner, let's look at five positional battles that could generate the best storylines.

    In just a few weeks, the New England Patriots will kick off what should be a fascinating training camp.

    Jerod Mayo will run his first camp as Bill Belichick’s replacement. Drake Maye, the No. 3 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, will see his first padded practices in the pros. A retooled coaching staff will lay the foundation for a Patriots team that, though potentially underrated, is facing low expectations.

    But the positional battles — one in particular — inevitably will dominate the headlines. Let’s look at five that could be the most interesting to follow.

    Patriots Training Camp: 5 Best Position Battles

    Honorable mentions: No. 3 RB (Kevin Harris vs. JaMycal Hasty vs. Deshaun Fenwick), No. 3 TE (Jaheim Bell vs. La’Michael Pettway)

    Starting QB

    Players: Jacoby Brissett, Drake Maye

    This will be the top storyline throughout camp.

    The Patriots signed Brissett to be their Week 1 starter. Maye was drafted to be the QB of the future, but many believe he should redshirt half the season — if not the entire campaign — to iron out some flaws. Brissett took all of the first-team reps during spring practices, establishing himself as the favorite for the job.

    But the narrative changed late in the spring. Maye, showing improved footwork and command of the offense, saw increased reps during mandatory minicamp. He was the best QB on the field for at least one of the two minicamp practices, if not both.

    So, some believe he has a chance to usurp Brissett during August. That still feels a tad aggressive, but Maye will be given every opportunity to win the job — and he’s talented enough to come out on top.

    Still, if the Patriots want to get off to a good start in 2024, they should probably go with Brissett, a savvy veteran who knows how to limit mistakes.

    Early favorite: Brissett

    No. 2 Cornerback

    Players: Jonathan Jones, Marcellas Dial Jr., Alex Austin, Marco Wilson, Isaiah Bolden, Shaun Wade

    Sophomore Christian Gonzalez is locked in as New England’s top outside cornerback. But who’ll line up on the other side?

    Veteran Jonathan Jones would be the obvious choice if he were healthy. But he’ll turn 31 in September, is coming off a minor knee procedure, and didn’t participate in team drills during the spring. Underrated throughout his career, the jury is out on whether Jones still can play at a high level.

    His top competition likely will be sophomore Alex Austin, who flashed after joining the Patriots late last season and popped as the No. 2 corner during the spring. Dial, a sixth-round rookie, is also worth watching, but an undisclosed injury limited his work during minicamp.

    The top dark-horse candidate is Wilson, who was cut by the Arizona Cardinals last season before joining the Patriots.

    With all that said, the eventual winner might not even be on the roster yet. Old friend Stephon Gilmore is still a free agent and is open to a Patriots reunion.

    Early favorite: Jones

    Final Receiver Spot

    Players: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jalen Reagor, Kayshon Boutte, Tyquan Thornton

    This spot might not even exist. The Patriots typically carry five receivers, and DeMario Douglas, Ja’Lynn Polk, Javon Baker, K.J. Osboron, and Kendrick Bourne are all roster locks.

    However, for now, let’s assume a spot is available, via either New England rostering six wideouts or Bourne beginning the season on injured reserve as he works his way back from an ACL tear.

    The Patriots would likely jump at the chance to trade Smith-Schuster’s contract, and he could still be cut before camp. The only argument for keeping him is to give Maye a veteran, surehanded receiver to work with.

    MORE: 7 Lingering Questions for the Patriots Ahead of Training Camp

    Boutte routinely impresses in practice but struggled in games last season. His gambling-related legal issues could also lead to a suspension, but that’s just speculation. Regardless, Boutte just isn’t that talented, and the Patriots shouldn’t bend over backward to keep him around.

    Thornton can’t stay on the field and rarely impresses when he actually plays. The 2022 second-round pick would boost his chances with a resurgent camp, but that might not even be enough to keep him on the roster.

    That leaves Reagor, an infamous draft bust who spent all of last season with the Patriots. He played well late in the campaign and was dynamite as a kick returner, which could intrigue the Patriots as they look for ways to take advantage of the new kickoff rule. Reagor is also regarded as a great practice player and is respected in the locker room.

    Early favorite: Reagor

    Kicker

    Players: Chad Ryland, Joey Slye

    The Patriots would prefer to give this job to Ryland, who was a fourth-round pick in 2023. But the Maryland product was abysmal as a rookie, going 16 for 25 on field goals while missing one extra point. Ryland has a big leg, but accuracy is a major issue.

    As for Slye, he is what he is: a 28-year-old veteran who has plenty of experience but has bounced around the NFL due to inconsistency. He’s converted 92.3% of his field-goal tries and 88.5% of his extra-point attempts.

    Ultimately, the Patriots’ margin for error is too thin, and they can’t afford to roster an unreliable kicker. If Ryland doesn’t take the job and run with it during camp, he shouldn’t be given any preferential treatment.

    Early favorite: Ryland

    No. 3 QB

    Players: Bailey Zappe, Joe Milton III

    This is a weird one. Earlier in the offseason, Mayo told Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer that the Patriots wanted to trim their QB room to three before training camp. That seemingly left the writing on the wall for Zappe, as the Patriots likely would want to continue working with Milton after using a sixth-round pick on him.

    Then we got this exchange between Mayo and a reporter on the final day of minicamp:

    Reporter: “You guys have four quarterbacks on the roster right now. That’s a lot of reps to kind of split up, and two of them are rookies, obviously. Do you envision going into camp with four quarterbacks?”

    Mayo: “Absolutely; absolutely. That’s how I see it right now. We’ll have these conversations as the week progresses, but that’s how I see it right now.”

    Unless Mayo was bluffing, he set the stage for Zappe and Milton to battle for the Patriots’ No. 3 QB spot. Perhaps that’s because the Patriots want a backup with starting experience in the NFL; maybe they just weren’t impressed with Milton during the spring. Either way, it was a surprising and notable change by Mayo, whose candor during media availabilities is jarring when compared to Belichick.

    KEEP READING: 3 Studs and 3 Duds From Patriots’ Spring Practices

    Zappe didn’t play well at all during the spring, whereas Milton barely played and was erratic in his limited opportunities. This job could be up for grabs, although Milton’s pure talent and draft status likely give him an edge. We also can’t rule out the Patriots bringing in a veteran with experience in offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt’s West Coast scheme.

    Early favorite: Milton

    Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast!

    Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Fantasy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review!

    Related Articles