ESPN asked their beat writers to highlight the one player on each team that has the most to prove in 2017 and New England Patriots beat writer Mike Reiss shared his thoughts.
Sophomore CB Cyrus Jones
“The team's top draft choice in 2016 (second round, No. 60 overall) had a rocky rookie season that led to his being inactive for the Super Bowl, and he later said that he didn't feel like he was part of the team,” Reiss writes. “The 2017 campaign offers him a fresh start and an opportunity to become the club's top slot corner after Logan Ryan signed with Tennessee as a free agent.”
Cyrus Jones had a rough rookie season where he made multiple unforced errors- such as throwing a punch at a player of the Cleveland Browns and kicking a live ball, leading to a turnover- and he needs to rebound quickly. He gave up his #24 jersey to the newly signed Stephon Gilmore and switched to #41.
With camp practices already underway, Cyrus is needs to climb up the depth chart where he’s already behind fellow sophomore CB Jonathan Jones, who was undrafted in the same class. Cyrus has apparently been struggling with punt returns, albeit in inclement weather.
I think that Cyrus Jones makes the team in 2017, but he has a long way to go if he wants to see the field.
Reiss picked a good option in Cyrus Jones, but I think there are a few other players that could make the list, too.
WR Julian Edelman: Edelman is 31 years old and will be a free agent after this season. He’s produced like a top 15 receiver, but he’s been paid like a journeyman. Edelman has gotten better in each year as a starter and will need an encore performance to lock up his first (and last) “big money” deal.
OT Nate Solder: I think that Solder played extremely well in 2017, apart from the Super Bowl, so it’s up to Solder to show that the biggest game of the year was an aberration. Solder is also a free agent after this season and the Patriots drafted OT Tony Garcia in the third round as a potential replacement.
DT Malcom Brown: Brown has consistently been one of the better run defenders in the league, but he didn’t make a big jump as a player in his sophomore year. Brown isn’t fighting for a roster spot or a future contract, like the other players on this list, but his third-year will reveal a lot about his ceiling in the league.
All the linebackers: The Patriots moved on from Jamie Collins with the expectation that one of the players in-house could replace him. New England didn’t draft a linebacker, which means that Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Shea McClellin, Jonathan Freeny, and, heck, even Harvey Langi have a lot to prove this year.
SS Jordan Richards: Richards enters his third season, like Brown, and has merely been a special teams contributor. While Richards has been stuck behind Patrick Chung, Chung is coming off a rough season after playing lights out in 2014 and 2015. If Chung can’t regain his prior form and Richards can’t emerge as a viable substitute, then the Patriots need to think about finding a replacement next season.
Richards is the only player on the list that I think could compete with Cyrus Jones for the title of “Most to Prove in 2017.” What do you think?