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Progress of “The Packer Way” in New England

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New England Patriots director of scouting Eliot Wolf speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Eliot Wolf talked about doing things “The Packer Way” with the New England Patriots when he met with the media at the NFL Scouting Combine. Many saw this comment as a shot at Bill Belichick. The second half of his statement seemed unnecessary, but the first should not be ignored. Wolf explained at the time what “The Packer Way” meant to him.

“Draft and develop. Extend your core performers from within,” Wolf said. “And again, it’s about honesty, respect, and treating people the right way.”

The last part of the statement felt like a targeted jab and rubbed many the wrong way. Head coach Jerod Mayo did some damage control the next day. But the first half is the focus here today.

Also Read – Best and Worst Case Scenarios for the Patriots 2024 Draft Class

The “draft and develop” portion is still a work in progress. Wolf’s first draft class has yet to participate in their first NFL training camp. In terms of extending core performers from within, Eliot Wolf and his staff have clearly made that an offseason priority. New England either retained in free agency or extended the contracts of 11 Patriots players this offseason.

Returning veterans locked up through the 2026 season now include Mike Onwenu, Christian Barmore, Kyle Dugger, Rhamondre Stevenson, Hunter Henry, Kendrick Bourne, Jahlani Tavai, and Anfernee Jennings. It’s a solid nucleus of “core performers” for the Patriots. Others (Matthew Judon, Davon Godchaux, Jabrill Peppers, Jonathan Jones) may join this group before camp begins.

Which young players will be next?

2020 Patriots Draft

The 2020 NFL Draft class hit free agency in 2024. This was an excellent draft for the Patriots based on player retention. New England had 10 draft picks that year. Two never played in the NFL and four others are no longer with the New England Patriots. However, four players from this group were brought back this offseason. That group consists of Kyle Dugger, Joshua Uche, Anfernee Jennings, and Mike Onwenu.

If the Patriots could “draft and develop” four solid contributors from each draft class they’d be in excellent shape. However, that is already not an option for subsequent drafts.

2021 Patriots Draft

Only three of the eight selections are still with the Patriots. Quarterback Mac Jones, selected in Round 1, appeared to be a “core player” after a solid rookie season. New England traded Jones to Jacksonville after two seasons of regression.

Christian Barmore and Rhamondre Stevenson signed contract extensions this summer before being able to test free agency. Safety Joshuah Bledsoe, who will be fighting for a roster spot in training camp, is the only other player remaining.

2022 Patriots Draft

In another draft with 10 selections, six remain as the Patriots prepare for training camp. This group can determine their fates with a strong showing in 2024. However, most are fighting just to make the 53-man roster out of camp.

First-round pick Cole Strange showed improvement in year two. But just as Strange was playing his best football, a knee injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season. He will likely begin his third consecutive year inactive in 2024. He’s struggled with inconsistencies in his play and his health, making it difficult to feel good about him as a “core player” moving forward. His absence leaves the door open for other players to solidify their roles on the team.

Tyquan Thornton has yet to fulfill expectations for a second-round wide receiver. New England reshaped their wide receiver room this offseason, leaving Thornton’s roster spot in doubt heading into his third season. This is a huge training camp and preseason for him to impress the team’s decision-makers.

Marcus Jones was named first-team All-Pro as a punt returner in 2022. He missed nearly all of 2023 after an early-season injury. Jones should return to returning duties in 2024. Being able to contribute as a slot cornerback would enhance his value considerably. He is the most likely player from 2022 to receive an extension but must prove he has fully recovered and is back to his rookie form in the return game.

Bailey Zappe, Kevin Harris, and Sam Roberts round out this group. Zappe feels like a long shot to stick around in 2024. Harris and Roberts are fighting for reserve roles. Although neither seems like a core player at the moment, neither did Anfernee Jennings a year ago. The opportunity to impress is there.

2023 Patriots Draft

It’s too early to think about extensions for this group. But how they develop in their second season is extremely important. Of the 12 draft picks, only Ameer Speed is no longer with the team. Half of these picks are roster locks (barring injury) for 2024. The other five must impress to return for a second season in New England.

Christian Gonzalez was the Patriots first-round pick. He looked like a franchise corner before being injured last season. Expectations are for him to be CB1 in New England for the foreseeable future. Barring a major setback, New England inking Gonzalez to a lucrative extension in 2026 is likely.

Keion White, DeMario Douglas, Sidy Sow, and Bryce Baringer all showed promise as rookies and should start in 2024. Marte Mapu will also see significant snaps as a hybrid safety-linebacker. Making a jump in production for these sophomores is imperative to join that “core player” group.

Chad Ryland has competition in veteran kicker Joey Slye. Ryland struggled last season. This “open competition” truly feels like one. The best placekicker in camp should stick with the Patriots for Week 1.

Offensive linemen Jake Andrews and Atonio Mafi face competition for interior offensive line spots. Free agent Nick Leverett and rookie Layden Robinson are among those expected to compete for roster spots and possible starting jobs. Wide receiver Kayshon Boutte will also battle to make the team in camp. Moving on from second-year players early is not ideal, but it’s a luxury a new front office has by not being married to previous picks.

Isaiah Bolden spent 2023 on injured reserve. He has NFL athleticism. He’ll attempt to impress at cornerback and on special teams with several core special teams players having departed.

Draft, Develop, and Extend

If the Patriots continue to follow “The Packer Way” in New England, three key elements are drafting well, developing those picks, and extending core players. This year will be a huge test for the 2022 and 2023 New England draft classes. Who will be next to prove themselves worthy of an extension? Who will join other Patriots players as part of the team’s core?

Eliot Wolf got to start “The Packer Way” from scratch with his 2024 draft class. For prior drafts, working on developing and possibly extending players is the priority. Having so few players develop and get extended from the 2016-to-2019 drafts stunted the Patriots’ success of late. Can the 2022 draft class be salvaged? Will 2023’s rookies make a performance leap in 2024? Are the 2024 rookies going to usher in a new era in Foxboro?

The answers to questions about future success and production for the New England Patriots remain to be seen. It is clear that Eliot Wolf had a vision for how he wanted to do things and he stuck by it for his first offseason at the helm. Key players were identified and either brought back or extended. Now the development portion of the plan begins. It’s up to Jerod Mayo, the coaching staff, and the players to make it happen before more key roster decisions are made next offseason. But “The Packer Way” is underway in New England and is here to stay as long as Eliot Wolf is. The one word that should be added to draft, develop, and extend, is patience. Patriots fans should expect to need some for a few more seasons.

Award-winning blogger, Dan's work has also been featured on Fox Sports, Boston Metro, Barstool Sports, MLB.com, and many other outlets.

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