4 Patriots frontrunners to be in Rookie of the Year conversation this season

UCF v Oklahoma
UCF v Oklahoma / Brian Bahr/GettyImages

The Patriots didn't have the perfect 2024 draft. They seemed to underestimate how much they needed to improve their offensive line. Caedan Wallace was a very good right tackle in college, but New England drafted him as a left tackle.

The team could also have used some of their capital to bolster the defensive front. But they did find some absolute gems who will improve the offense.

How good will these picks turn out to be? Well, a few of them could be in the mix when award season comes around.

WR Javon Baker 

Baker’s college career began in Alabama, where he found himself behind the likes of DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, and Jameson Williams. As a result of that backlog of talent, he only caught nine passes in his two years in Tuscaloosa before transferring to UCF.  

In his first year in Orlando, he found himself behind Ryan O’Keefe in the pecking order, but Baker still caught 56 passes at an average of 14.2 yards per reception. In his senior year, Baker led the team in receptions but caught fewer passes.

The Atlanta native hauled 52 of his targets last year, but he averaged 21.9 yards per reception! Marvin Harrison Jr. only averaged 18.1 yards per reception in 2023.  

The most impressive part of Baker’s senior year was that he stood on a struggling team. In their first season in the Big 12, the Knights went 6-7. It’s easy to play well in a team winning games, but performing in adversity shows real character.

Adversity may well be present in New England this year, so Baker's experience will allow him to adapt. 

Baker’s ability to remain focused and perform amongst any number of distractions is why he could be in the discussion for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. The last Patriots player to win the prize was Curtis Martin in 1995! But two of the last three award winners have been wide receivers.

There is a lot of receiving talent in this rookie class, but when Baker cooks defensive backs, he’ll be in the conversation for the award. 

WR Ja’Lynn Polk 

Polk might be the more obvious pick to win the award, but the Texas native will have a tougher route than Baker. Polk is the headline name from the Patriots' draft class. Everyone knew the Patriots would take a quarterback with the third overall pick.

Most analysts are convinced Drake Maye won’t be ready to start until at least 2025, though. So, second-round pick Polk will be the one under the spotlight this year. 

Polk is an outstanding football player but wasn’t the number one receiver during his time in Washington. He was behind Rome Odunze last year and Odunze and Jalen McMillan in 2022. It will be very interesting to see where he slots into the Patriots' pecking order and how Alex Van Pelt wants to use him.  

Polk’s 2023 season ended in the national championship game for a Washington team with an extremely high-powered offense. It seems very unlikely the Patriots offense will be as explosive in 2024, particularly after Alex Van Pelt told reporters, “I think running the football in this league wins games...”.

Van Pelt’s Browns offense ranked 12th for rushing yards and 19th for passing yards. Jim Schwartz's defense was the key to the Browns’ team success last year. 

22-year-old Polk is bound to play well for the Patriots, but unless they play from behind a lot and throw deep passes, he may be overshadowed by Baker. 

TE Jaheim Bell 

Bell won’t be at the top of the tight end depth chart, but Van Pelt’s desire to build his offense around a strong run game should play into his hands. The former FSU tight end could line up at either running back, tight end or in the slot. A tight end has never won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, although some people will have you believe Brock Bowers will this year.

Saquon Barkley was the last running back to win the award, but he had to carry the ball 261 times to do that.  

The Patriots' seventh-round pick’s combination of versatility and “x-factor” means he will be a matchup nightmare for defenses. He will attract plenty of attention if he is on the field enough and used in the red zone. 

QB Joe Milton III 

Milton III has the talent to be in the mix when it comes to award season. It seems incredibly unlikely that he will see the field enough (or at all) to be featured in the conversation, though. The intriguing part of Bazooka Joe’s selection in the sixth round is a quote from Eliot Wolf that followed it. When talking to Adam Schefter, Wolf said Milton III has “too much talent” for them to pass him up with their 193rd pick.

If circumstances conspire to allow him to get on the field, he will showcase that talent.  

The big knock-on Milton III from scouts before the draft was that he doesn’t throw accurate passes on short and medium routes. That seems to be a prime example of the aphorism “perfect is the enemy of very good.” Milton III will throw those passes to elite receivers who catch some wayward passes.

Rookie quarterbacks' biggest problem is deciding whether or not to throw those short passes. Defenders have more chance of stepping in front of passes to receivers who are running shorter routes. However, judging by how Milton III fired them at receivers during rookie camp, they’ll have to be brave enough to put their hands in the way of his passes.

There’s a reason they call him Bazooka Joe! All quarterbacks are constantly working on their decision-making process. With Van Pelt and Senior Offensive Assistant Ben McAdoo being experienced quarterbacks coaches, Milton III and Drake Maye have an excellent opportunity to refine theirs in New England.

Milton III has the advantage of being a sizeable human (he stands 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 235 lbs.) and can run. He scored seven rushing touchdowns in his 12 games during his final year at Tennessee. 

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