Exploring some hot topics around the New England Patriots in mailbag form:
Cordarrelle Patterson for real? After all these years? Hard to believe but he's been a pleasant surprise.— Jack Murphy (@Bluesjack7J) August 17, 2018
Jack, here's the way I look at Cordarrelle Patterson after he showed up Thursday night with four catches for 51 yards and a touchdown: He has come as advertised.
When the Patriots traded a fifth-round pick (159) to Oakland for Patterson and a sixth-rounder (210) -- and essentially made a commitment to carry Patterson's $3 million base salary for 2018 -- the projection was that Patterson would be the team's primary kickoff returner and a gadget-type option on offense. The concept on offense would be that coordinator Josh McDaniels' creativity could find a way to get the football in his hands to make things happen, because one thing that has always been consistent about Patterson is that he's dangerous after the catch and returning kickoffs.
So probably the bigger question isn't if Patterson is for real; it's more a question of how large a role he might be able to carve out on offense. To me, that's still in question.
But he's been one of the most fun players to watch in practice, as he's probably the leader in "wow" plays this preseason.
Mike, does the CB play concern you? It looks like all the candidates for the #2, #3 spots are being exposed easily by a 3rd string QB who is throwing under pressure.— Not Theo (@WannabeTheo) August 17, 2018
Theo, that was one area that I'd put in the "needs improvement" category from the Patriots' 37-20 victory over the Eagles, as I didn't think the backup cornerbacks distinguished themselves or created any decisive separation in that competition. It looks like Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe are locked in as the top corners, and when Jonathan Jones is ultimately cleared for action, I project him as the leader for the No. 3 nickel role that is often referred to as the "star" position in the team's scheme. Then it's a cluster for spots 4, 5 and possibly 6.
Here is how I would break down that group:
Duke Dawson (5-10, 198) -- The second-round pick out of the University of Florida will have a spot on the club; the bigger question is what type of role he will carve out for himself. He didn't play Thursday night as he manages an undisclosed injury.
J.C. Jackson (6-1, 198) -- Undrafted out of Maryland, he has been around the ball in practice (intercepting Tom Brady last Monday), although that hasn't necessarily consistently translated to the games. There has been enough promise there to warrant serious consideration for keeping him on the 53-man roster, which would protect him as an asset while allowing him more time to develop.
Jason McCourty (5-11, 195) -- A true professional, he is in a tough spot because backup corners who don't have a big role on special teams often find themselves on the outside looking in. He had a miscue on a touchdown in Thursday's game and also was part of the kickoff coverage unit that lost containment on a 46-yard kickoff return in the first quarter, but otherwise he wasn't heard from because he seemed to have tight coverage.
Ryan Lewis (6-0, 195) -- Physical at the line of scrimmage and in run support, he's also flashed at times in practice with good ball skills. He spent the 2017 season on the practice squad and is the type of player who might not make it through waivers if the Patriots don't keep him on the initial 53-man roster, even though he could benefit from continued development behind the scenes.
Keion Crossen (5-10, 185) -- A lighting bolt of energy, the seventh-round pick out of Western Carolina had some ups and downs Thursday night, showing up positively in run support early but then having some technique breakdowns in pass coverage that led to multiple penalties. He has unique physical traits that are similar to Julian Edelman as a rookie in 2009; my only question is whether the Patriots would risk trying to get him through waivers.
Cyrus Jones (5-10, 195) -- The 2016 second-round pick is coming off a torn ACL and has yet to play in the preseason. He is looking for a comeback type of story, and if it happens, it will likely be because of his work as a punt returner/kickoff returner.
Jomal Wiltz (5-10, 190) -- A hardworking slot option out of Iowa State, he spent last year on the practice squad and faces long odds to stick.
A.J. Moore (5-11, 201) -- An undrafted free agent out of Mississippi, he hasn't shown up much at cornerback, but it wouldn't be a surprise if he carves out a special-teams type of niche in the future. He caught my eye covering punts as a gunner.
How concerned should we be about Sony Michel?— Jason M. Rubin (@JasonMRubin) August 16, 2018
Jason, first-round draft choice Sony Michel left the team's practice on Aug. 1 -- the sixth session of training camp -- under his own power and hasn't practiced since. Shortly after leaving that practice, he had a procedure to have fluid drained from his knee and was expected to be sidelined at least 10 days.
While it isn't ideal that he is missing time, those close to the situation didn't seem concerned from a big-picture standpoint. There was an acknowledgment that he could miss a significant portion of the preseason, but the feeling I got was that it was a situation where you take one step back to ultimately take two going forward. The sense I got was that there wasn't concern about Michel's availability for the majority, if not all, of the regular season.