While Bill Belichick has earned praise for his successful late-round picks, many of his championship rosters have been predicated on early-round draft selections. However, a pair of recent first-round picks have disappointed during their tenures in New England, and the young duo could find themselves playing elsewhere come the start of the 2021 season.
Erik Scalavino of the Patriots website recently discussed the trade availability of edge rusher Chase Winovich (something we looked at yesterday), and the writer believes that running back Sony Michel and wideout N’Keal Harry could also be on the trade block:
“[Winovich] and a handful of other Patriots (Sony Michel, N’Keal Harry?) could be potential trade prospects come August or early September. As always, what their value would be is impossible to predict, but summertime trades often involve player-for-player swaps between teams needed to strengthen certain positions. Something to keep in mind.”
Let’s start with New England’s 2018 first-rounder (No. 31 overall). Michel actually looked like he was well worth his draft stock during his rookie year. He collected 981 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns in 13 regular season games, and he added another six scores during the Patriots’ run to a championship. Michel’s counting stats went up a bit in 2019 thanks to him appearing in three more games, but his yards per carry dropped from 4.5 (2018) to 3.7 (2019). Michel spent much of the 2020 campaign on the IR and COVID list, finishing with a career-low 563 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns.
Still, Michel has showed plenty of promise (especially when it matters most), and he’s still only 26 years old. Why would the Patriots shop the young running back? For starters, the former first-rounder is an impending free agent after the Patriots declined to pick up his fifth-year contract. Further, the Patriots haven’t shown any trust in the running back’s ability to catch the ball (26 receptions in 38 games), and it’s clear Michel will never be a three-down back. Considering those two factors, it seems unlikely that Michel will be playing in New England beyond 2021. Finally, New England has plenty of depth at the position; 2019 third-rounder Damien Harris is projected to be the starter, James White will be back in his pass-catching role, and the team also added Rhamondre Stevenson in the fourth round of this year’s draft.
Harry’s spot on the trade block makes a lot more sense. Since being selected with the 32nd pick in the 2019 draft, the Arizona State product has struggled to show much during his limited opportunities. Harry couldn’t find a groove with Tom Brady during his rookie season, finishing with only 105 receiving yards. With much less receiving depth in 2020, Harry only saw a slight uptick in numbers, finishing with 309 yards from scrimmage. The Patriots have done some work improving their pass-catching corps this offseason, including the additions of veterans Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. This will only slide Harry further down the depth chart.
We haven’t done a whole lot to inspire confidence in either of these young players…so why would rival squads be interested? Well, both players are still on their rookie contracts, making them relatively inexpensive, (potentially) high-upside reclamation projects. Further, while the Patriots have a bit of a roster crunch at each position, there’s no real urgency nor financial advantage to cut the players. If a rival team is interested in Michel and/or Harry, they’ll likely have to acquire the player(s) via trade. New England obviously won’t come close to recouping their first-round investment, but the team could net a late-round pick.
One thing is certain: 2021 will surely be a make-or-break year for both Michel and Harry. The big question is if that crucial season will take place in New England or elsewhere.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.