The Patriots came away with ten new players after a busy last two days of the NFL Draft, but the story might be the positions they didn’t address rather than their actual haul.
Despite addressing many of their needs, the Patriots didn’t draft a quarterback or wide receiver in this year’s draft, choosing to take fliers on undrafted rookies at those positions instead.
In his post-draft video conference, Bill Belichick gave some insight into why the Pats punted on this quarterback and wide receiver class, putting his confidence in players already on the roster.
“I like both those players,” Belichick said of quarterbacks Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer. “Jarrett had a good year last year. He improved a lot. We’ll see where that takes him. I have confidence in both players.”
By passing over the entire class in the draft, the Pats sent a clear signal that Stidham is going to start and have a chance to solidify himself as the long-term answer at quarterback.
And at wideout, Belichick spoke of a “very good” group already on the roster, and substantial investments a year ago in 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry and Mohamed Sanu via trade.
“I’m sure all our young players will improve in year two,” he said. “Got a first-round pick on N’Keal last year, second-round pick on [Mohamed] Sanu. Obviously have Julian [Edelman] and a number of other young players. I think that will be a very good group.”
Our fear with the 2020 draft class for the Patriots is that it lacks players that can make a year-one impact and blossom into blue-chippers down the road.
Outside of Dugger, who will need time to develop, and maybe Uche, the rest of the class consists of draftees that project as role players.
Players out-perform expectations every year, so we may be too low on our ceiling projections, but we’ll call it as we see it based on the information we have.
Mainly, the Patriots need another “dude” on offense outside of Edelman, and although their new tight end duo offers hope, we don’t see either keeping defensive coordinators up at night.
Based on Belichick’s remarks, the team sees Harry as that “dude” moving forward.
Below, we’ll assign grades on all ten draft picks for New England. For some, grades immediately following the draft might produce eye rolls, but we are basing it off of our pre-draft evaluations to see how the Patriots did in terms of value, plus, we’ll give full scouting reports on each selection:
SECOND ROUND, 37TH OVERALL: S KYLE DUGGER, GRADE: C+
We did a deep-dive into Dugger’s film on Friday night that paints a fuller picture of his versatile skill set, freakish athleticism, and high upside. We like the player, and Dugger’s game should translate from DII Lenior-Rhyne to the pro level, but he gets an average grade because he was a slight reach, and it’s difficult to see a year-one role for him on defense. Dugger was a third-round prospect in our system due to the jump in competition and raw instincts in zone coverage. He is a little slow to anticipate routes and gets pulled out of position by dummy routes designed to entice safeties to take the cheese, creating openings for other receivers. Dugger needs development before he can be a full-time starter. And a depth chart that features veterans Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Adrian Phillips, Terrence Brooks, and Cody Davis makes it challenging to see a significant role on defense as a rookie. Safety was a long-term need for the Pats, and Dugger has tremendous upside, but it’s a tough pill to swallow that this year’s top draft choice will mostly contribute on special teams as a rookie.
SECOND ROUND, 60TH OVERALL: LB JOSH UCHE, GRADE: B+
Josh Uche has a lot of the same traits as Zack Baun but less buzz. Hybrid player at his best rushing the passer but can also play off the line.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 9, 2020
Uche is one of our favorite picks by the Patriots. The Michigan product offers versatility and pass-rush upside with a skill set to play on or off the line of scrimmage and rush from multiple alignments. His first-step explosiveness and flexibility to turn a tight corner as an edge rusher stand out immediately, as does his range and coverage skills from off the ball. Uche is a classic hybrid defender in New England’s system in a similar mold to Kyle Van Noy or Jamie Collins. The only things that kept Uche out of the “A” range were his size (6-1, 245 pounds) for an edge rusher and inexperience. Although he has long arms, bigger tackles swallow him when he doesn’t win with speed, and he needs to learn how to process blocking schemes quicker from inside linebacker. Last season, Uche had 46 quarterback pressures on 206 pass-rushing snaps, a terrific pressure rate, but he only played half the snaps and was a one-year producer. Uche has intriguing skills and was one of the top performers at the Senior Bowl, but we need to see him demand a more significant role with his performance to fall completely in love with the pick.
THIRD ROUND, 87TH OVERALL: LB ANFERNEE JENNINGS, GRADE: B-
Two plays that sum up what Alabama EDGE Afernee Jennings at his best:
1st play – times the snap perfectly, uses hands/length to soften edge and takes down Burrow
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 17, 2020
Jennings offers the more prototypical size for an edge defender than Uche at 6-2, 256 pounds with above-average arm length, so they complement each other nicely. Jennings’s profile resembles past Pats linebackers, and he’s a good edge-setter and timely pass rusher, but he lacks that “wow” gene. He projects as a solid role player in the Patriots’ system, but it’s hard to see him developing into anything more than that. Still, that’s what we expect out of third-round picks, and Jennings’s multiple years as a starter in a big-time program with a similar defensive scheme suggest he can contribute as a rookie. He should fit perfectly in New England’s defense, but he gets a solid B-minus because of limited upside.
THIRD ROUND, 91ST OVERALL: TE DEVIN ASIASI, GRADE: B+
Unless I'm missing it, surprised there isn't a little more buzz about #UCLA TE Devin Asiasi. Game against Utah was one of the better games by a TE in this class.
Good initial burst, quick feet in breaks, nice feel for LB drops in zone. He's got some juice. pic.twitter.com/pbL5VHEIyd
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) March 5, 2020
Asiasi is another pick that we love for New England as a pass-catching tight end that offers a much-needed upgrade over Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo. Asiasi runs well for his size and has some noticeable juice up the seam, testing second-level defenders with his initial burst and makes it difficult on safeties with smooth transitions in his vertical breaks at full speed. He can shake an underneath linebacker, thrive on seams and crossers off of play-action, pick up a few extra yards after the catch, and run routes from multiple alignments. However, his blocking technique needs a lot of work to take on a significant role as an in-line tight end. He gives good effort in the running game and has active feet to sustain blocks, but his hand placement and timing as a blocker need work. Asiasi should contribute in some capacity as a rookie.
THIRD ROUND, 101ST OVERALL: TE DALTON KEENE, GRADE: D+
Virginia Tech TE Dalton Keene had an elite workout at the combine. Tape was a little underwhelming with a limited route tree and poor blocking technique, but he's a problem as a ball carrier.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) March 6, 2020
Our grade on Keene reflects our opinion on the trade up to land him. The Patriots gave up two fourth-round picks and a 2021 sixth-rounder to get back into the third round to select the Virginia Tech tight end. On top of paying a steep price, Keene’s projection into the Pats offense is complicated. Belichick even admitted that Keene’s role for the Hokies was a far cry from anything he’ll do with the Pats saying, “it’s going to be a big transition for him in terms of learning our system.” Keene was seldom featured as a downfield receiver, mostly contributing as a pass-catcher in catch-and-run situations close to the line of scrimmage. Keene’s skills as a ball carrier are extremely impressive, and his athletic profile as the top tight end tester at the combine suggests he can develop as a downfield route runner. Plus, he’s a very willing and capable blocker that delivers some big blocks in a versatile role that saw him play in-line, in the slot, in the backfield, and off the line as an h-back. However, giving up that kind of haul for a player that’s a total project in the system is a tough sell.
FIFTH ROUND, 159TH OVERALL: K JUSTIN ROHRWASSER, GRADE: B
Justin Rohrwasser game-winning 53-yard field goal against Western Kentucky last year
He was iced twice before this kick pic.twitter.com/uWBQRxDoMj
— Alex Barth (@RealAlexBarth) April 25, 2020
We are fully aware of Rohrwasser’s racially insensitive tattoo on his right forearm, but we’ll stick to football here. We tried to guess the Pats’ plans at kicker for months, but as you’d expect, they selected someone off the radar. Still, when you read up on Rohrwasser’s career, it feels like the Pats hit the kicker jackpot. At 6-3, 230 pounds, Rohwasser has a massive leg, was 14-14 on field goals in the fourth quarter and overtime in his collegiate career, and made kicks outdoors in inclement weather. We dropped Rohrwasser down a letter grade because the Pats probably could’ve signed him as UDFA rather than wasting a pick on a specialist, but the fifth-round is the right time to do it with the value of picks leveling off at that point in the draft.
SIXTH ROUND, 182ND OVERALL: OG MICHAEL ONWENU, GRADE: A
New #Patriots guard Michael Onwenu currently weighs 344 pounds, played last year at 368. Big-time people-mover and hand power. Playing right guard here. Perfect combo block. Bumps the one-tech who Ruiz buries then fits to the LB at the second level to clear the way. pic.twitter.com/LnbgQk3xSU
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 25, 2020
Onwenu receives our highest grade of any Pats pick, offering terrific value as a player with starter potential in the sixth round. Onwenu was overshadowed by center Cesar Ruiz and left guard Ben Bredeson at Michigan, but he’s a bulldozing guard that played at 368 pounds last season. Onwenu is now down to 344 pounds and says he’s moving better now after the weight loss, and it’s hard to imagine that he lost any of his ridiculous power at the point of attack. The Michigan product has eye-popping knock-back power to displace defenders and dominant engagements in tight spaces, and he’s also a very effective puller despite below-average foot speed. He also has a great anchor in pass protection, stalemating power rushers that should look elsewhere for success. Onwenu will need to prove that he has the agility to stay in front of quicker pass rushers that try to attack his vulnerable edges, but he has tremendous potential if his athletic shortcomings are masked by the types of blocks he’s asked to perform.
SIXTH ROUND, 195TH OVERALL: OG JUSTIN HERRON, GRADE: B-
Unlike Onwenu, Herron lacks the play strength and core power to hold up against NFL defensive tackles. At Wake Forest, Herron played all over the line, starting games at both tackle spots, but projects as a guard due to his size and arm length. Herron has quick feet to mirror pass rushers and redirect agility to match rush counters. He can also climb to the second level with good flexibility and loose hips to adjust on the fly to moving targets. Herron’s lack of functional power to hold up inside and tendency to let defenders into his frame gives us pause about his NFL future, but throw his name into the hat as a potential backup on the offensive line.
SIXTH ROUND, 204TH OVERALL: LB CASSH MALUIA, GRADE: A-
Cassh Maluia plays fast with great click and close. Ran a 4.53 at his pro day and it shows up on tape. Good lateral agility to slip blocks as well.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 26, 2020
Patriots fans were clamoring for Belichick to draft some speed at linebacker, and they did so with Uche and Maluia. At his Pro Day, Maluia ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash, and you see that play speed on tape as he flies around the field with good aggression and play recognition. Maluia clicks into running plays and passes behind the line of scrimmage quickly and has excellent lateral agility to slip blocks and beat blockers to spots to make plays. His athleticism translates in coverage as well with some great highlight plays on the ball, but his awareness and reads in zone coverage are a work in progress. Maluia also struggles to defeat blocks, lacking technique, and upper-body power to punch, separate and shed. If you can keep him clean and let him fly to the ball, Maluia could be one of the steals of the draft for New England, and he’ll be a core special teamer while he develops at linebacker.
SEVENTH ROUND, 230TH OVERALL: C/G DUSTIN WOODARD, GRADE: INCOMPLETE
We would never give a full report without watching enough tape on a player, so the relatively unknown Woodard gets an incomplete for now. We do know that he’s an undersized interior offensive line prospect that made 52 consecutive starts at Memphis. Hopefully, we can find some more tape on Woodard to give a complete report.