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#PostPulpit Mailbag: Which under-the-radar player could step up for New England in 2023?

You asked, Brian Hines answered.

New England Patriots v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

As the NFL officially released the 2023 schedule on Thursday and the New England Patriots are set to start OTAs in just over a week, it’s starting to smell like football season.

For now, let’s get into this weeks #PostPulpit mailbag.

@DavNazRuiz We have a crowded RB room as of right now, how many do you think we will carry going into The season?

The Patriots typically enter the season with four running backs on their roster. While Rhamondre Stevenson is a lock, that would mean three spots are up for grabs between Pierre Strong, Ty Montgomery, James Robinson, and Kevin Harris. J.J. Taylor also remains in the mix, but projects best back on the practice squad.

My way-to-early prediction would be Strong, Montgomery, and Harris make the roster to join Stevenson.

@nbriscoe17 Who is an under the radar player you’d love to see pop off this year?

Speaking of running backs: Pierre Strong.

Whether he contributes more on the ground or earns a role in the passing game (or both), New England would benefit from getting his speed on the field more. That athleticism popped in limited time last year.

@Dissolveo Will Kendrick Bourne or Tyquan Thornton get more playing time in the entirety of the 2023-24 season?

They will have every opportunity to do so.

Thornton, who played just over 50 percent of the offensive snaps last season, should get every chance to be a regular contributor throughout the summer. Perhaps New England not adding a wide receiver until the sixth-round signals that.

As for Thornton, it will be exciting to see how Bill O’Brien deploys him. Watching Jameson Williams - who has a similar build as Thornton - at Alabama, O’Brien was able to scheme him away from contact at the line of contact, whether that was using motion, putting him in stacks, etc. This allowed Williams to win foot races and use his speed at all levels to his advantage.

Now, Williams is a better player at this point than Thornton, but it would be no surprise to see a similar plan for Thornton moving forward so he can get to use that 4.28 speed. That should also help open up the middle of the field for players like JuJu Smith-Schuster to operate.

As for Bourne, who played nearly 42 percent of the snaps last year, we know his talent as sort of a ‘move’ wide receiver, as well as his chemistry with Mac Jones. But, there are consistent head scratching moments with him that he needs to eliminate.

@RJF05914332 What happens at Tackle? There are a lot of bodies. Injuries aside, looks like Cajuste, McDermott and Stueber might be on the outside looking in?

If it wasn't clear by now, the Patriots like their current group of tackles - both Belichick and Groh have told us throughout the draft process.

We’d expect them to start with Trent Brown manning the blindside with Riley Reiff on the right. I like the potential Calvin Anderson brings to the table, and perhaps a strong summer could end with Anderson taking over left tackle duties and bumping Brown back to the right side.

As for depth, that leaves them with Yodney Causte, Conor McDermott, and Andrew Stueber. I’d expect one spot to be open for those three on the 53-man roster and my early bet would be McDermott. However, they'll likely try to keep as many tackles on the practice squad as possible to keep bodies/options available. Rookie Sidy Sow - who was drafted as a guard - could also get reps at tackle and serve as a versatile backup.

@NEPatriot_USA Biggest need post the draft and what are they doing to fill it?

The Patriots did a good job in free agency adding veterans across their roster so they do not have any major holes. But, if they were to add bodies at this point it may come at a skill position.

After releasing Lynn Bowden Jr. on Wednesday, the Patriots are left with just seven wide receivers on the roster. Perhaps they plan on giving plenty of reps to rookies Kayshon Boutte and Demario Douglas, as well as Tre Nixon and Tyquan Thornton, but seven seems a bit on the lighter side.

New England did not add at running back or tight end in the draft, but did sign UDFA tight end Johnny Lumpkin. Adding a veteran at some point could be in the forecast when roster movement starts to pick up in the late summer.

Also, it’s important to remember that the Patriots are at the roster limit once they sign all three of their UDFA’s. They will gain at least one open spot when Devin McCourty’s retirement is officially processed.

@Skywa1Thaddeus Is there a chance Belichick signs a big name free agent or makes a trade before Training Camp?

As we just touched on, the Patriots don't have much roster flexibility at the moment to add bodies without a corresponding move. So, that could be a trade but I would not expect anything ‘big’. For the most part, any major contributor to the 2023 Patriots is already on the roster.

@DsThotz Is the video board TOO big?

It is VERY big. It should help keep the noise in, but I do wish you could see more of the lighthouse. We’ll reserve major judgement until we see how it looks during game day.

That’s all for this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag. If you have questions you’d liked to be answered next week, submit them on Twitter using #PostPulpit! Make sure to be following @iambrianhines and @PatsPulpit as well!