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Three youngsters are currently causing a sensation at the Pats. A wide receiver with quarterback qualities, a cornerback who is gradually becoming an elite, and a running back who takes his chance by injuring a teammate. Jakobi Meyers, J.C. Jackson and Damien Harris are currently partly responsible for getting the New England Patriots back on track - and winning games like that against the Baltimore Ravens. But where do these young shooting stars come from, what story accompanies them and what makes them special? All three have one thing in common: none of them are over 25 years old - which makes them the perfect foundation for a successful future for the Patriots.
Jakobi Meyers: From Quarterback to Wide Receiver - Edelman 2.0?
Jakobi Meyers was fresh out of high school when he and Cam Newton first met. Meyers had been invited to an all-star game by the Newtons charity. His position: quarterback. Newton coached him. An encounter that both stuck in their memories to this day.
Meyers went to NC State College after high school, where he was supposed to exercise his learned position. But in his first year he was retrained to become a wide receiver, but he was out for the entire year. It was not until 2017, his third year of college, that he started regularly in his new position. In 2018 he even cracked the 1,000 receiving yards mark. But that was not enough for a pick at the NFL Draft 2019. Still, he managed to sign with an NFL team: The New England Patriots. The reason for this could have been his qualities in the fight for the ball. For college expert Jim Nagy, formerly Scout of the Patriots, he was "probably the best of his draft year" - better than players like D.K. Metcalf or A.J. Brown.
In his first year in Foxboro, Meyers made it into the 53-man roster. Especially in the 2019 preseason, he triumphed, catching two touchdowns in the first game. In total, he completed 15 games in the regular season, caught 26 passes for 359 yards. He was denied a touchdown. In the 2020 season, Meyers was initially only a substitute, had to queue up and only caught a pass on the 2nd match day. On Matchday 7 & 8, he came to the fore when he led the Patriots in Receiving Yards. Meyers became more and more the favorite stop for quarterback Cam Newton. Meyers then played his best game so far against the New York Jets: 12 catches - and 169 receiving yards. Only Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski broke this mark among the Patriots in the last five years.
When you read the story of Jakobi Meyers, Patriots fans quickly think of his receiver colleague Julian Edelman. He also played as a quarterback before moving to wide receiver. And possibly Edelman could even be the reason Meyers' career is taking a rocket-like surge. The 34-year-old veteran had been struggling with knee problems for a long time and had to take it easy. Before the game against the Bills on Matchday 8, he was on the
Injured Reserve List set. Since then, Meyers has been more and more involved in the game - also with actions that were otherwise taken over by Edelman.
Meyers is at the beginning of his career at the age of 24. In the position of the wide receiver he could still have a lot to learn, which gives him a lot of potential. The connection with quarterback Cam Newton ensures that he will catch some more passes in the 2020 season and that he can develop as a result. The Patriots might well like that - after all, they have been looking for a clear No. 1 receiver for a long time.
J.C. Jackson: Undrafted - and yet one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL
On February 1, 2020, Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore was voted best defender of the past 2019 NFL season. Gilmore had a fantastic season, catching most of the league's interceptions - and teaming up with teammate J.C. Jackson arguably the best pass defender duo in the NFL. This J.C. Unlike Gilmore, Jackson is not a superstar with a top contract, but a no-name not considered in the 2018 NFL Draft - and still almost as important to the team.
Jackson played college football in Maryland before making the decision to join the NFL. None of the 32 teams wanted to select him in the draft. But he, like many players before him, found his luck as an undrafted free agent with the New England Patriots. "He's been able to keep up with the competition the whole time," said Head Coach Bill Belichick in August 2018. J.C. Jackson had a tough training camp and an impressive preseason. So he played himself in the spotlight and was accepted into the 53-man squad. It wasn't long before he caught his first regular season interception. Jackson had no problems gaining a foothold in the Patriots Defense. He was partly responsible for the fact that the Pats made it to Super Bowl LIII - and ultimately won it. In 2019 Jackson took another step forward, increasing his personal record for interceptions from 3 in 2018 to 5 in 2019. Statistics show that he was perhaps even the best cornerback of the season: Jackson had the lowest passer rating of all pass defenders in throws in admitted its direction. In this 2020 season he now seems to have reached the absolute top level of his position. Jackson leads the NFL in interceptions (as of matchday 10) and has caught his 5th interception in the 5th game in a row against the Ravens - Patriots record!
J.C. Jackson is still a relatively unknown name despite his consistently good performances for years - which is sure to change after this season. It impresses with its speed, but still has a good height, which means that it can keep up with almost all NFL receivers. He can read the opposing quarterback well - his number of interceptions speak for themselves. And it's still evolving. "He takes care of important actions on the field and especially improves his versatility," said Bill Belichick about him before the season. Jackson only turned 25 on November 17th - the best years of his career are probably still ahead of him.
Damien Harris: If you get a chance, take it
The game of the Patriots against the Ravens on matchday 10 of the 2020 season was already the third game with over 100 rushing yards for running back Damien Harris. The 23-year-old delivers - just as one had hoped for 1.5 years ago when he was selected in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He played at the College of Alabama, where he was a backup of today's Titans running back Derrick Henry in his freshman year. Henry went to the NFL, which made Harris a starter. Two seasons in a row he exceeded the 1,000 rushing yards and justified a third round pick in 2019. The Patriots wanted to strengthen themselves with him as running back, although a year earlier they had drafted Sony Michel in the first round.
2019 shouldn't be his year yet. Harris was not in the Patriots matchday squad for much of the season, only had 4 runs for 12 yards. Disappointing for the rookie. But he didn't give up, training hard to put pressure on Sony Michel, James White and Rex Burkhead. Before the 2020 season even started, there was the next bad news for Harris: Broken finger. On September 7th he was on the
Injured Reserve List set. Harris had to watch for the first three weeks and only played against the Chiefs on matchday 4 - but he was allowed to start there straight away. The reason for this was the injury of the actual starter of the Patriots, Sony Michel. He sustained a muscle injury and was placed on the IR list at the beginning of October. So Harris got his chance - and took it. In his first NFL start, he ran for 100 yards 17 times. Since then, Bill Belichick has relied on him. "It's nice to see that he gets his chance. He worked hard for it," said the head coach of Harris.
Damien Harris is still unclear what his future with the New England Patriots will look like. Too much depends on how well Sony Michel comes back after his injury. Harris' statistics in his previous missions speak for him. His 121 rushing yards against the Baltimore Ravens were a career high. His aggressive running style also makes him a good match for quarterback Cam Newton - both fight for the necessary yards every time. It will be interesting to see whether he will be more involved in the passing game, where the Pats with James White and Rex Burkhead are already well positioned in his position even without him. But if Harris continues to take his chance in the 2020 season, he will have all the arguments on his side to be the running back of the Patriots for the next few years.
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