How the Patriots’ 2019 draft class can make or break 2020

DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 08: Chase Winovich #52 of the New England Patriots rushes during the preseason game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on August 8, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 08: Chase Winovich #52 of the New England Patriots rushes during the preseason game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on August 8, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images) /

While everyone has their eyes on this year’s draft class, New England’s 2019 draft class could and should have a larger impact on how this season unfolds.

Even though the New England Patriots‘ 2019 draft class has garnered a lot of criticism since the close of the season, the team clearly had a good idea of its own needs at the time.

Multiple offensive linemen, a quick running back, and a pair of wide receivers — these are all the right ingredients for the team this past season, and they should have helped the Pats blow past the competition last year.

However, as we can tell now, they didn’t really pan out.

With the exception of solid additions in edge rusher Chase Winovich and punter Jake Bailey, last year’s rookies seldom saw the field in 2019. Weight was put on wide receiver N’Keal Harry’s shoulders after the receiving corps started crumbling, but with just 12 catches for 108 yards in seven games, he didn’t live up to what the team hoped from their first-round pick.

Undrafted free agent wide receiver Jakobi Meyers quietly had a better season himself, posting 359 yards on 26 catches. It wasn’t a lot, but we had to take what we could get after Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon were let go.

The team’s rookie O-linemen, Yodny Cajuste and Hjalte Froholdt, never took the field at all. Froholdt gets a pass due to an injured shoulder that landed him on IR, but there isn’t a clear reason for Cajuste’s absence other than possible lingering ailments from a summer quad surgery. Some fans are worried he is a complete bust already.

Alabama’s running back Damien Harris seemed like a shifty rusher similar to Rex Burkhead and James White, and in a best-case scenario, the idea was that he could take a lead role with Sony Michel. It was not a best-case scenario, however, for New England… Harris took just four handoffs in 14 games.

The underused rookie with the best promise was the second round cornerback from Vanderbilt, Joejuan Williams. He wasn’t usually a starter, but that’s all right — hardly anyone in the league would start over Stephon Gilmore, JC Jackson, Jason McCourty, and Jonathan Jones.

As you can see, it was quite justified to be disappointed in the rookie class last year. However, as the new season looms, New England can actually take comfort in this group of players.

The team’s greatest needs are wide receiver and offensive line. WRs Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry, while unimpressive last year, still have a lot of potential.

With improvements to his route running and catching, Harry could use his large frame and speed to turn into a strong weapon. Meyers seems like more of a short route option than a highlight producer, but if he and Brady can build a strong relationship, he could become one of No. 12’s “go-to guys”.

Since the two offensive linemen didn’t play, they still technically have the potential to be big additions. Cajuste might simply be a bust, but Froholdt looked great coming out of Arkansas, and he could make a generous donation to the Stop-Using-Marshall-Newhouse fund.

Some say RB Damien Harris’ seat on the bench was just a “redshirt” move to let him get acquainted with the offense as the rest of the team worked.

While the Patriots’ running game this past year wasn’t great, Michel, Burkhead, and White are all decent backs in and of themselves — there was no reason to add a fourth rookie who plays similarly. The fourth-man designation will always proudly belong to Brandon Bolden anyway.

In conclusion, what does 2020 look like for the Pats and this second year crew? In bold, italics, and surrounded in neon lights: it depends.

IF WRs Meyers and Harry can reach their full potential, the WR corps will automatically be in decent shape without any extra help from free agents. If they can’t, then the squad is in deep trouble.

IF O-linemen Cajuste and Froholdt become reliable starters, then the line could be pretty strong with the (hopefully long-term) returns of Isaiah Wynn and center David Andrews. If that doesn’t work out, the line is in deep trouble.

IF we’re hiding a weapon in Damien Harris, then the team has a lot of options at the running back position, including some trade potential depending on the types of talents Harris brings. It pains me to say, but James White would bring valuable trade offers if Harris could compare in the pass-catching game. If not, we’re stuck with Michel for another season.

Oh, and before I forget to mention Tom Brady rumors in a Patriots article, IF second-year QB Jarrett Stidham has promise as a solid starting quarterback, a Brady departure would hurt a lot less.

To sum all that up, the optimist can stay hopeful, and the pessimist can stay frightened. If these rookies come back stronger, the Pats are in great shape. If they don’t, it might be time to panic.

Here’s what we do know: Jake Bailey is a quality punter, even as a right-footer. Linebacker Chase Winovich already exceeded expectations, with 5.5 sacks in limited gameplay.

Linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins are set to be unrestricted free agents, and Coach Bill Belichick is usually timid about handing out large contracts, which both players expect. Assuming one or both leave, New England has a solid second option in Winovich.

Finally, we have cornerback Joejuan Williams, who looked good in the short time he played behind the Pats’ all-star secondary.

Next. Even with free agency looming, Pats defense looks stacked. dark

I’ll end our analysis on a bold potshot idea for New England: If Williams is a reliable pass defender, a trade involving the secondary could be worth a look. Philadelphia has a dreadful secondary and New England has a dreadful TE corps… could we trade a player for Eagles TE Dallas Goedert? I’m no general manager, but something has to be done about our tight ends.

As much stock as the Patriots have in this upcoming draft, the 2019 class could be what decides the dynasty’s fate.