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The best part of every high school yearbook is the superlatives page and with the New England Patriots’ season crashing down in the AFC Wild Card round, the yearbook for their season is complete.
There was plenty to look back on with some players standing out for the right, or wrong, reasons. Here is a look at what fictional awards some players should take home.
Breakout difference-maker: Kyle Dugger
Prior to the season, many pegged Kyle Dugger as a breakout candidate and the second-year safety delivered. Dugger finished tied for second on the team with Adrian Phillips with 92 tackles – Dugger led the Patriots with 70 solo tackles – and he also recorded four interceptions. Dugger’s hard-hitting play set the tone for one of the Patriots’ best wins of the season, a 27-24 road victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. With his blend of speed and physicality, Dugger has solidified himself as a cornerstone piece of the defense.
Biggest disappointment: Jonnu Smith
The first day of NFL free agency should always come with a buyer beware label before teams shell out massive contracts. The Patriots ignored that this offseason and didn’t get a return on investment, at least initially, with the signing of tight end Jonnu Smith to a four-year, $50 million deal.
For a majority of his first season in New England, Smith looked more like a superb athlete than a football player. He seemed lost in the offense even despite the Patriots at times trying to force him into the action. A season after he totaled a career-high eight touchdown receptions with the Tennessee Titans, he hauled in just one this year and finished with 28 catches for 294 yards. Certainly not anywhere near productive enough given what the Patriots are paying him.
Biggest surprise: Kendrick Bourne
Unlike Smith, wide receiver Kendrick Bourne fit right into New England’s offensive system after coming over from the San Francisco 49ers. For Bourne, it led to a career-best campaign with 55 receptions for 800 yards and five touchdowns. He also was one of only a few Patriots that showed up for their playoff matchup against the Bills, reeling in two touchdown passes.
Bourne felt like he would just be a complimentary piece at first but showed he was a playmaking threat on the outside, coming through with a key touchdown reception against the Dallas Cowboys and a sensational scoring grab against the Titans with Pro Bowl safety Kevin Byard draped all over him in coverage. Bourne became such a reliable asset that the Patriots even trusted him throwing his first career touchdown pass against the New York Jets.
Most consistent: Nick Folk
For really the second consecutive season, Nick Folk was Mr. Consistent for the Patriots. He enjoyed perhaps the best season of his 14-year career and has converted 56 straight field goals under 50 yards. He was excellent beyond that threshold as well, tying Stephen Gostkowski’s single-season team-record with five field goals of 50-plus yards.
Folk, who hit 36-of-39 field goal attempts this season, also had a streak of 36 made field goals that was a franchise record and the sixth-longest streak in NFL history.
Best rookie (outside of Mac Jones): Christian Barmore
If trying to search for positives for the Patriots after an abysmal postseason performance, it’s that it hit on a few players in this past draft. Not including Mac Jones, who obviously has a big hand in the Patriots failure and success, defensive tackle Christian Barmore was the most impressive of the rookie class with Rhamondre Stevenson not too far behind.
Barmore, the No. 38 overall pick in the second round, solidified the defensive line with his ability to stop the run and put pressure on quarterbacks. He’s a young player the Patriots can build around up front.
Best free-agent signing: Hunter Henry
The biggest area of weakness from the 2020 season was the lack of production from the Patriots tight end group. Hunter Henry fixed that almost immediately and gave New England a red zone target it hadn’t had since Rob Gronkowski left. Henry found the end zone often, finishing with a career-high nine touchdown grabs to go along with 50 receptions for 603 yards.
He was as sure-handed as a pass-catcher as they come and definitely aided in Jones’ development. Maybe the biggest thing going for Henry was that after sustaining numerous injuries while with the Chargers, he played a full season for the first time in his career.
Team MVP: Mac Jones
This was the toughest one to assign a player to, frankly because not one player elevated themselves with the Patriots collapsing down the stretch. Matt Judon was the favorite to be the team’s MVP midway through the season, but like his on-field play, he faded out of contention. The Heisman Trophy seemingly always goes to a quarterback, so Jones comes out on top with this one.
Jones had his ups and downs as a rookie, but still impressed for the most part by throwing for 3,801 yards with 22 touchdowns compared to 13 interceptions in the regular season. And while he wasn’t always asked to make the toughest throws, his 67.6 percent completion percentage is nothing to sniff at. Jones’ physical attributes might be limited compared to other signal callers across the NFL, but his intangibles are what could make the difference as he looks to cement himself as a franchise quarterback.
Unsung hero: Damien Harris
It felt as though third-year running back Damien Harris got lost in the sizable shadow of Jones. After injuries hampered his first two seasons with the Patriots, Harris became an instrumental part of the offense this year as he rushed for 929 yards and 15 touchdowns – the second-most rushing scores in a single season after LeGarrette Blount’s 18 in 2016.
Even with the Patriots rotating backs, it would be hard to envision where they would be if they didn’t have Harris. With some solid blocking from the offensive line, Harris made a leap that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Biggest loss to injury: James White
This was a two-man race between James White and Jonathan Jones, and while their replacements filled their roles admirably, it would have been nice to see what the dependable White could have done alongside Jones. White went down with a season-ending hip subluxation in just the third game of the season after catching 12 combined passes in the first two games of the campaign.
White was playing on a one-year deal, so it remains to be seen whether he has played in his final snap in New England.
This article originally appeared on The Enterprise: New England Patriots end-of-season superlatives