Did the New England Patriots get any value out of their rookies this year? The team saw some of their first-year players contribute more than others.
As dominant as the New England Patriots have been over the last two decades, their draft classes don’t often stand out.
After a season filled with positional turnover, did the 2019 draft help their cause at all, or did they actually hurt it in terms of overall depth and quality?
Let’s take a look at all 10 members of the Patriots’ draft class last spring to determine just how useful each of them was to the team as a rookie.
Round 1, Pick 32 : WR N’Keal Harry, Arizona State
Harry was the best rookie on New England’s offense this year… even though that’s not saying much. Touted as the replacement for Josh Gordon, Harry has the build of a strong receiving target (6-foot-4, 225 pounds), but he didn’t get the production many hoped for after the WR corps started shifting around.
He ended the season with 12 catches for 108 yards in seven games, which is a stat-line that Julian Edelman often achieves in a single game. There’s certainly potential for Harry to blossom, but whether the issue is play design, talent, or chemistry with Tom Brady, something has to improve in 2020.
Round 2, Pick 45: CB Joejuan Williams, Vanderbilt
Williams is an interesting case. He’s a rookie cornerback who landed on a New England team with one of the best cornerback squads the NFL’s seen in the last decade.
As a result, he didn’t take the field too often, lining up for 85 snaps all season, registering tackles on four of them, and giving up three completions on seven targets. It’s certainly too small of a sample size to judge his worth yet, but there was just no reason to lean on him when Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and the McCourtys were on the field.
Perhaps the issue here is the fact that New England used a second-rounder to draft a cornerback in the first place.
Round 3, Pick 77: EDGE Chase Winovich, Michigan
Winovich and his luxurious golden locks ended up being a great value for a mid-third-round pass rusher. He racked up 5.5 sacks on the season, which is an exceptional number for a rookie who only took the field on about 1/3 of the total defensive snaps.
He brings energy to the Pats D-line and already seems to fit New England’s roster comfortably. It’s too early to call him the next Clay Matthews, but he looks like he might be a strong player for years to come.
Round 3, Pick 87: RB Damien Harris, Alabama
Here’s where the picks take a turn. Damien Harris looked to be a shifty running back that could fill a Rex Burkhead-esque role to complement Sony Michel’s power running.
However, for whatever reason, he was virtually never used this past season. He had a hamstring injury early on, but came back and took a total of four rushes in two games. For 12 games, he was a healthy scratch.
The team’s stance is that they’re essentially giving him the year off, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear explanation as to why. The team’s rushing attack wasn’t strong in 2019, and there was no precedent for letting rookie RBs sit; after all, the Pats rode rookie Sony Michel to the Super Bowl during the 2018 season.
Unless there’s a story we don’t know, a lingering worry remains. He might just suck.
Round 3, Pick 101: T Yodny Cajuste, West Virginia
When you resort to protecting your quarterback with Marshall Newhouse, you know you need offensive linemen immediately.
Fortunately for the Patriots, they took two straight offensive linemen from the draft.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, Cajuste doesn’t seem like he was the solution.
After undergoing quad surgery during the offseason, Cajuste was listed as a backup O-lineman along with players like Newhouse. He never played a snap. There’s not a lot of information on him, and I doubt that’s a good thing.
Round 4, Pick 118: G Hjalte Froholdt
Did New England’s other offensive lineman provide any help? Well, he was placed on IR after suffering a shoulder injury before he ever took the field. His outlook is still questionable, but he’ll hopefully be a welcome presence next season.
Round 4, Pick 133: QB Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
This is a pick that could potentially define New England’s future. While he was certainly a skilled quarterback coming out of Auburn, it’s difficult to translate college success to the NFL when your position is so tightly rooted to the team’s scheming. Some boom, some bust.
Stidham’s in-game experience? Four attempts, two completions, and one pick-six against the Jets.
It’s a tiny, unlucky sample size that cost Stidham a bit of promise to the Pats fanbase. We don’t know quite how game-ready he is, but his lone appearance on the field wasn’t a great sign.
Teams have been busting out their rookie QBs quite often over the last couple seasons, such as the Giants discovering potential in Daniel Jones and the Chiefs going all-in on Patrick Mahomes. Stidham’s place on the bench and New England’s unwillingness to move on from Brady doesn’t instill a lot of confidence in me.
Round 5, Pick 159: DL Byron Cowart, Maryland
Cowart’s a defensive lineman with a total of two tackles in 43 snaps. There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about his season; he was just a backup who entered the game intermittently. Hopefully Belichick can wring some talent out of him, but for the time being, he might just hold a fringe roster spot for a while.
Round 5, Pick 163: P Jake Bailey, Stanford
New England’s best draft pick in 2019, value-wise, was a punter.
It’s not often that a rookie can immediately take a vital roster spot and perform reliably, but Jake Bailey did just that, outperforming most other punters and averaging 45 yards a boot. Belichick found a solid special teams player for cheap, and he could end up being the longest-tenured player from this rookie class.
Round 7, Pick 252: CB Ken Webster, Mississippi
The Pats immediately waived him, the Dolphins picked him up, and he registered a 51% completion percentage for them when targeted. Oh well.
Given this draft class’ lack of playing time, it’s a little tough to assess how well they might turn out. However, it’s that same lack of playing time that has me concerned about their potential and their success on the practice field.
If players like Damien Harris and Hjalte Froholdt turn out to be studs, it’s a decent class. However, given their lack of use this season, I’d have to give the year’s rookies an overall “C” grade.
All the Pats needed to give their team an extra push this past season was to nail at least one or two of these picks, but they mostly fell short across the board.
If Harry had turned out to be exceptional right away, if Harris stepped in and looked like James White 2.0, or if our offensive line was improved by either one of those two picks at the position, New England potentially might still have been alive and playing in the AFC Championship Game this Sunday.