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Patriots stock up, stock down in 2021 preseason: Cam Newton starting to fall as Mac Jones is hot on his tail

The New England Patriots will put a bow on their exhibition season when they play host to the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium on Sunday. With the preseason nearing its end, we’re only going to get one more look at players before the action unfolds for real in the regular season. This gives some of them one last chance to convince the coaching staff that they are either worthy of being a part of the opening 53-man roster or simply solidifying their role for the upcoming year. 

With two preseason contests in the books already, we do have a good grasp of where things stand with a number of Patriots, which leads us to our experiment for today. As we gear up for the summer finale, we’re going to take a look at where a number of Patriots are trending. Again, this is merely a snapshot of where things stand currently and this final preseason contest could swing the pendulum positively or negatively for these players depending on how they perform. 

If you talked to me a few days ago, Newton would be trending upward. However, with this latest “misunderstanding” regarding the COVID protocols that forced him out of practice for the bulk of the week, it’s hard to look at these developments as anything other than a negative. Newton is coming off a strong preseason performance against the Eagles that should have solidified him the Week 1 job, but he’s now left the door open for rookie Mac Jones to possibly make serious headway in that competition. When on the field this preseason, Newton has been solid, completing 12 of his 16 pass attempts for 152 yards and a touchdown. That Eagles game in Week 2 was specifically strong for Newton’s deep ball, which is encouraging after a 2020 campaign where he struggled in that area. Despite that promise of a more efficient 2021, however, this latest COVID speed bump certainly doesn’t instill a ton of confidence heading into the finale. 

Up: Mac Jones, quarterback

Even without this development surrounding Newton, Jones was putting together an impressive preseason. His solid play in practice translated onto the playing field where he’s completed 26 of his 38 pass attempts (68.4%) for 233 yards through the two contests. You could also argue that Jones should have a couple of passing touchdowns to his name had it not been for his receivers dropping the throw (Kristian Wilkerson in Week 1, N’Keal Harry in Week 2). Jones has also drawn praise from Josh McDaniels for his ability to digest what the Patriots want to do pre-snap, highlighting how far along he already is in leading the McDaniels’ system. With Newton sidelined, Jones will see extended work with the first-team offense, which is something that’s been lacking over his preseason. If he can impress with the ones, it could go a long way towards him eventually leaping Newton on the depth chart, possibly as soon as the opener, given this latest COVID protocol debacle. 

Who will be the Patriots’ starting quarterback this season? Can Mac Jones unseat Cam Newton? And what does it mean for the rest of the Patriots’ players? Download the CBS Sports app to find out! Plus, get insight from our resident Patriots insider, Tyler Sullivan. If you already have the CBS Sports app, make sure to pick the Patriots as your favorite team for up-to-the-minute news.

For a minute, it looked like we have may a kicker competition at Patriots camp. Undrafted rookie Quinn Nordin opened eyes in the preseason opener against Washington, hitting all three of his field goals on the night, which included a 50-yarder. Nordin was unable to transfer that positive momentum heading into New England’s second preseason contest against Philadelphia where he missed one of his two field-goal attempts and two extra points. To make matters a bit more difficult for Nordin, veteran kicker Nick Folk did return to practice this week after missing the first two contests, which will likely limit his exposure in the finale. 

There’s arguably no offensive player that improved his stock more this summer than rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson. Upon arrival to training camp, the early lowlights for Stevenson included him failing his physical and running backs coach Ivan Fears telling reporters that he needed to improve on everything. Fast-forward a few weeks and he’s been dominant coming out the backfield. Through two preseason matchups, the Oklahoma product has collected 193 rushing yards on 7.72 yards per carry and four touchdowns. He also caught one of his two targets in the passing game for eight yards. With Damien Harris and James White also in the fold, it will be interesting to see how the Patriots will decide to divvy up the snaps, but Stevenson’s play this summer has certainly put him in a position to have a role in 2021. 

Down: N’Keal Harry, wide receiver 

N’Keal Harry was one of the more intriguing players to watch this preseason for the Patriots. Not only was the third-year receiver looking to finally live up to his first-round draft status, but he previously requested a trade out of New England prior to camp. No such trade has come about yet and it doesn’t look like one will be sprouting up anytime soon because of the receiver’s health. In the win over the Eagles last week, Harry left the contest due to injury after trying to extend and haul in a deep throw from Mac Jones. Now, it’s being reported that Harry will miss the next four weeks after suffering a shoulder injury. While Harry has shown a bit more playmaking ability in practice, it has yet to truly show up in the preseason. So far, he’s caught two of his three targets for 23 yards. For a moment it looked like he was building towards a strong year in 2021 — no matter where he’d ultimately be playing — but now his future is just as clouded as it was when he first stepped on the field earlier this summer. 

Jakobi Meyers continues to take positive strides in his development. As we near the preseason finale, the Patriots leading receiver from a year ago looks like he’ll keep that upward trajectory going as he heads into his third season in the league. So far, he’s caught four of his six targets for 67 yards and a touchdown. While Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor along with tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry will factor into the Patriots passing attack this season, Meyers should prove to be an extremely important piece, especially early on in the year as those new additions continue to get comfortable in the offense. That fact that he’s already in strong form, should mean another career year for the N.C. State product. 

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