The New England Patriots’ mandatory minicamp is in the books, and it certainly was eventful as the reigning world champions practiced on three consecutive days. While the drills were held without pads or any live tackling and are therefore impossible to properly evaluate — it is a teaching camp, after all, as Bill Belichick pointed out earlier this week — we still got a first glimpse of what the 2019 Patriots might look like.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at who positioned themselves well over the last three days — and who did not.
Winner: WR Maurice Harris
All but two spots on the Patriots’ wide receiver depth chart are open, and free agency signing Maurice Harris has a strong case to get one of them — at least when judged on his minicamp performances. After all, he was one of the most heavily involved pass catchers over the last three days and used in a variety of ways during team drills: he lined up all over the field, and appeared to be comfortable no matter where he was put. The best sign, however, might be that he was targeted three straight times by Tom Brady during 11-on-11s on Wednesday.
Winner: LB Jamie Collins Sr.
Jamie Collins turned into a star defender during his first stint with the Patriots because of his outstanding athletic abilities and how the coaching staff used them. It seems as if little has changed: Collins was active all during minicamp as a coverage player and pass rusher. He generally was moved around the formation quite a bit, lining up on and off the line, on the interior and the edge. It will be fun to see how his role develops in training camp, but right now the ex-Brown looks like a key piece on New England’s defense.
Loser: WR Dontrelle Inman
While one offseason addition at wide receiver — the aforementioned Harris — stood out for his involvement, another did for being virtually invisible during 11-on-11 drills: Dontrelle Inman failed to catch even a single pass in team work this week. While a lot will change over the next few weeks, especially when pads come on during training camp, the current situation does not look favorable for Inman as he seems to be near the bottom of the position depth chart at the moment.
Winner: TE Matt LaCosse
No position on the Patriots’ roster is undergoing a transformation like tight end: with Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister no longer part of the equation, all of the spots on the position depth chart are up for grabs. Judging by minicamp, free agency addition Matt LaCosse has his eyes set on one of them. The 26-year-old looked comfortable in his new environment and like the best receiving tight end on the team. As things stand right now, he appears to be the number one tight end.
Loser: P Ryan Allen
The incumbent at the Patriots’ punter position was not bad per se during minicamp — it’s just that his challenger, rookie Jake Bailey, was noticeably better in some areas. Ryan Allen never was the most powerful kicker, but the difference in strength between the two players was obvious on all three days and not helping the veteran keep his job. What might, however, is his consistency and overall well-rounded skill set. It may not be flashy, but it is Allen’s best bet.
Winner: P Jake Bailey
While not all was perfect, Jake Bailey still showed why the Patriots opted to invest a fifth-round draft pick in him in April: the rookie punter consistently out-performed Allen when it came to hang-time and also appeared to be comfortable doing some directional kicking. He needs to work on his consistency and situational ball placement, but appears to have all the tools to become a successful punter at the next level. And as such, the winner of the current competition.
Winner: RB Damien Harris
With Sony Michel missing minicamp for reasons unknown at the moment, third-round draft selection Damien Harris saw plenty of action as the ‘big back’. The rookie was used as the lead option during Wednesday’s session that focused more on the ground game, and looked as solid as can be expected given the setting. Safe to say that Harris has taken advantage of Michel being out — and be it just in the form of additional reps.
Loser: QB Danny Etling
After spending his entire rookie season on the Patriots’ practice squad, Danny Etling saw some competition added to the quarterback room this offseason in the form of fourth-round draft pick Jarrett Stidham. And it seems pretty obvious which of the young passers is higher up on the depth chart, as Etling attempted only twelve passes during team drills this week — far fewer than any other quarterback. While things can still trend upwards training camp, Etling appears to be on the outside looking in at the moment.
Winner: CB Stephon Gilmore
Stephon Gilmore is a first-team All-Pro cornerback, so why should he even be mentioned among the winners of minicamp when his value and role are already established? Because he was just that good during all three practices. The 28-year-old’s movements seem effortless and when he was matched up against first-round pick N’Keal Harry, he erased him from the equation. But even when going against more experienced options, Gilmore excelled.