The New England Patriots’ success in 2022 hinges on a lot of factors. One of the most important is the development of the team’s class of second-year players.
Led by quarterback Mac Jones, defensive lineman Christian Barmore and running back Rhamondre Stevenson, the Patriots will be asking a lot of their sophomores. Jones’ outlook as the starting QB is obvious, while both Barmore and Stevenson will be asked to play bigger roles within their respective position groups as well.
The hope, of course, is that all of them will eventually take the oft-discussed second-year leap. But what exactly constitutes that famous jump in performance? And what are the key factors contributing to it?
Ahead of Tuesday’s joint training camp practice with the Las Vegas Raiders, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick spoke about just that. While he was asked specifically about Barmore’s growth from Year 1 to Year 2, he went on to talk about the general development that most second-year players — including the aforementioned Jones and Stevenson — go through.
“First year to second year, first of all, they have a much better idea of the length of the season, what the pace of the season is,” Belichick said. “The spring, the break, training camp, the length of the regular season, the daily competition. In the NFL, that’s different than college, when most of these guys are just better than everybody else – they’re just better than them. So, it’s a daily competition.
“Understanding what we do, and then understanding what goes on on the other side of the ball, how other opponents play, techniques, schemes, matchups. So, a year of all that is like two graduate courses. It’s like getting an MBA and then a doctorate in football.”
The Patriots were able to get some steady contributions out of their rookie class in 2021 already.
First-round pick Mac Jones won the starting job over the summer and delivered one of the better rookie quarterback seasons in recent memory. Second-round selection Barmore, meanwhile, was a disruptive force along the interior defensive line — one that would have been in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation if not for the Dallas Cowboys’ Micah Parsons. Stevenson, a fourth-round pick, was a productive early-down presence.
Now entering their second year in the system, all of them will be counted on to take command of the team — setting both themselves and the club as a whole up for sustained future success. Whether or not that will indeed happen remains to be seen, but the circumstances and each player’s foundation built in 2021 appear to favor such a development.
Of course, those three are not the only players worth mentioning. Cameron McGrone is competing for a rotational role at linebacker, while safety Joshuah Bledsoe and wide receiver Tre Nixon have flashed at times as well during the summer.
All of them are in the middle of that Year 2 jump as well.
“They grow tremendously” Belichick said about second-year players. “There will still be growth, but it will probably be a little more incremental than that big jump from Year 1 to Year 2. No different than when any of us took our first job and, after a year on the job, you just know a lot more than you did when you walked in there and you don’t know anything. You think you do, but you really don’t.”
While sophomores such as Jones and Barmore are the players most closely associated with a second-year jump, the Patriots also have plenty of veterans falling into a similar category. The team, after all, brought several free agents aboard last season.
The belief is that they will also show some growth this year — albeit, as Belichick mentioned, more incremental. Still, any additional development from players such as Jonnu Smith, Nelson Agholor or Matthew Judon will be big for New England.
At the end of the day, though, the most pressure lies on the shoulders of Christian Barmore, Rhamondre Stevenson and especially Mac Jones.