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2 Patriots named as potential breakout candidates for the 2022 NFL season

NFL: JUL 30 New England Patriots Training Camp Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New England Patriots offense is facing some questions, but its potential being led by sophomore quarterback Mac Jones cannot be denied. Jones is not the only potential breakout candidate on the team’s offensive roster, though.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell recently identified two others: wide receiver Jakobi Meyers and guard Michael Onwenu.

Jakobi Meyers, WR, New England Patriots

Undrafted free agent? This is more like it. The Patriots continually have attempted to add pieces at receiver, but they somehow end up relying more and more on their slot target. They spent big to sign Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith last offseason, but it was Meyers who led the team in most receiving categories. He was targeted on more than 24% of his routes and dropped just one of his 125 targets.

This year, it’s trade addition DeVante Parker and rookie second-round pick Tyquan Thornton, neither of whom play similarly to Meyers. To follow in Hunter Renfrow’s footsteps to go from being a good slot receiver to a great wide receiver, he has to do more in key situations. Renfrow added more after the catch to get above 2.0 yards per route run and became a red zone star, where he scored nine times. Meyers had famously struggled to score before getting in the endzone twice last season.

Camp reports about the Patriots’ offense are ominous, but if anyone is a reliable safety valve the team can rely upon, it’s Meyers.

Meyers finds himself in Tier 3 of the analysis, a category titled “Solid Starter to Pro Bowler.” The third-year man has proven himself the former during his last two years, leading New England in receptions each time.

His status heading into 2022 and beyond is somewhat uncertain — he is entering the final year of his contract — but Meyers still projects as a starter-level player for the Patriots this season.

Mike Onwenu, OL, New England Patriots

Onwenu, a sixth-round pick in 2020, was a revelation as a rookie. The Patriots started him for 16 games and moved him around the lineup, getting solid-or-better play at left guard, right guard and right tackle. He settled in most often at the latter spot, but with Trent Brown returning to the team in 2021, it looked like the 24-year-old would move to Joe Thuney’s vacated spot at left guard.

Instead, Onwenu continued to rotate through the lineup, just without the success. He was forced into work at right tackle for stretches because of injuries, but the Patriots were underwhelmed by his performance. He was close to an every-down player during the first half of the season, but he played approximately 29% of New England’s offensive snaps during the second half of the campaign.

My suspicion is Onwenu will be at his best when he lands at one spot on the right side of the line on a full-time basis. With Shaq Mason traded to the Buccaneers, a spot seemed to open for Onwenu at right guard, but the early training camp reports haven’t been promising. He has split time with James Ferentz and the immaculately named Arlington Hambright this summer, so it doesn’t appear that the third-year player has a starting job locked up.

I’m still optimistic about his chances of being a valuable lineman, but by all accounts, New England is a mess on offense at the moment.

Despite Barnwell raising questions about Onwenu’s status among the Patriots’ offensive linemen heading toward 2022, he is the clear frontrunner to earn the starting right guard spot when all is said and done. Just look at it from this perspective: both James Ferentz and Arlington Hambright saw action in preseason, while Onwenu and the rest of the starters sat out the game.

Onwenu finds himself in Tier 5 among the so-called “Post-Hype Breakouts”. He is seen as a player that has not lived up to the hype he has received just yet.