Coming off a victory in Super Bowl LIII, the Patriots had a bevy of needs to fill in the 2019 NFL Draft. With the departure of Trey Flowers to Detroit, a suddenly thin group of wide receivers, and the retirement of Rob Gronkowski; New England had some definite holes to fill in the April draft.
The Pats wound up walking away from the Nashville event having selected 10 players. They got busy in the third and fourth rounds in particular, selecting five players in total across those two rounds.
I’ve organized the players selected into four tiers:
Tier 1 – Potential starters: these are the guys who could come in and have a role from day one, either starting or making contributions in another way. Remember, draft position does not always equal a starting role.
Tier 2 – High upside: guys who may not play a huge role this season, but could be significant contributors or every day players down the line.
Tier 3 – Projects: guys who need some definite time to develop. Fringe roster players this season and potential contributors in seasons to come.
Tier 4 – The longshots: guys who are unlikely to make the roster at all and could find their way onto the practice squad.
These are just initial rankings based on draft profiles, every player has the chance to play themselves up or down going into training camp.
Tier 1 – Potential Starters: N’Keal Harry (32nd pick, WR, Arizona State); Yodny Cajuste (101st pick, OL, West Virginia).
N’Keal Harry addressed a huge need for the Patriots. From 2000 up until this selection, the Patriots had NEVER selected a wide receiver in the first round on the NFL Draft. It was not the typical “boring” Patriots move of taking a lineman or less flashy position in the early going.
The 6’ 2” and 228 pound Harry should find himself in the mix catching balls from Tom Brady right away if everything goes according to plan. Harry is not a speedster, but he is a big body with great hands.
He has the ability to make back-shoulder catches, contested catches, and come down with jump-balls. He should also be a plus in the run-blocking department. The hope would be that his physical attributes can outweigh his lack of speed.
At the combine, he posted a vertical leap of 38.5 inches and put up 27 reps on the bench press. That physicality and athleticism should make him a threat for jump balls and allow him to make things happen with the ball in his hands after the catch.
After Julian Edelman, the Patriots have a lot of unknowns at receiver. Phillip Dorsett still needs to prove he can be consistent for a full season after a few up and down years, Demariyus Thomas is coming off a blown achilles and may not be ready to go for the start of the year, and new-signee Mo Harris is coming off three years in Washington that culminated in just 432 yards and one touchdown.
Braxton Berrios and Bruce Ellington are two names fans may be familiar with, but they too have yet to show much in the production department.
If Harry comes in and develops good habits, he could immediately find himself on the field as a consistent target. The rook has a big chance to endear himself to Patriots fans, coaches, and teammates right away.
Consider Harry a lock to make the roster, and remain hopeful that he can be establish himself right away as a reliable target for Tom Brady.
Yodny Cajuste was the pick many experts dubbed this as a steal for the Patriots, the classic type of selection that makes other fans lose it because the Patriots have done it again.
For Cajust, he needs to do two things in his rookie season: prove that he can stay healthy and work on refining his technical skills. At West Virginia he lost his 2015 and 2016 seasons to knee injuries.
Since then Cajuste had quad surgery prior to the draft and for players his size health is always a concern. If he can stay healthy Cajuste will need to catch his football ability up with his physical makeup.
The Patriots could go a lot of different ways with the offensive line, but Cajuste could have a chance to play himself into a starting role depending on the performance of his teammates.
A good camp battle could play out between him and Isaiah Wynn after Wynn’s rookie season was lost to a torn achilles.
Tier 2 – High Upside: Joejaun Williams (45th pick, CB, Vanderbilt); Chase Winovich (77th pick, EDGE, Michigan).
Joejaun Williams is a big-bodied cornerback. That is the first thing that will jump out when he is on the field. At the combine he measured in at 6’ 4” with 9 ¾” size hands.
The Patriots gave up their compensatory selection (101 overall) that they got after Malcolm Butler left in free agency to move up 11 spots and select Williams. Like N’Keal Harry, Williams should be a lock to make the roster, though he is far less likely to make actual contributions this year.
A positive for him is that he is going to have the opportunity to get some valuable tutelage from Stephon Gilmore, Devin and Jason McCourty, Pat Chung, and other veteran members of the New England secondary.
As he develops, Williams should be able to dominate other receivers physically with his strength and size. He may even present the ability to cover tight ends (some tips from Pat Chung will help with that). He will need to work on getting quicker and not biting on pump fakes and juke moves, something he was susceptible to in college, but the potential for Williams is there.
In his final season at Vanderbilt, Williams made second-team All-SEC and racked up 61 tackles and four interceptions. The Patriots don’t need that kind of production his rookie year, but some glimpses would be a welcome sight.
Perhaps he can follow the same path as J.C. Jackson did last year and emerge as the season goes on, but right now the Patriots have too much depth to expect anything major from him.
The team did move up 11 picks to get him though, so Belichick and company will find a way to fit him in whether it is this season or down the line.
At first glance, don’t confuse Chase Winovich with Clay Matthews, just hope that someday his production gets to the point of Matthews.
Winovich is a bit of a late bloomer and in terms of physical attributes he is almost the polar opposite of the player the Patriots picked before him, Joejaun Williams. Nothing about his combine sticks out – a 4.59 40-yard dash, 18 reps on the bench, a 30.5 inch vertical, and a 6.94 second time on the three cone drill.
What will jump out about Winovich is his competitive fire and his penchant for getting better every year. The Pennsylvania native was a redshirt his first year at Michigan and started only two games his sophomore year.
By his junior year he was second-team all-conference before finishing out his senior year with an All-American nod and a spot on the first-team All-Big Ten.
What Winovich will excel at right away is playing with effort and going all-out to attack ball carriers and bring them down. Where he could struggle is with nuance, and he will need time to learn some fine tips from his teammates to develop.
The Patriots defensive line was a weak point last year, and that was with Trey Flowers in the mix. Winovich will try to ramp up production and could be a player who comes in for a play or two at a time to give a break to the likes of Deatrich Wise and Michael Bennett.
It will likely be a few years before Winovich is making noise coming off the edge, but this season he should make the roster and he has the chance to make a name for himself on special teams due to his effort and intensity.
Tier 3 – Projects: Damien Williams (87th pick, RB, Alabama); Hjalte Froholdt (118th pick, C/G, Arkansas); Byron Cowhart (159th pick, DT, Maryland).
Damien Williams was a curious pick in the minds of a lot of fans. The Patriots are undeniably loaded at running back.
James White, Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, and Brandon Bolden are all locks to make the final roster and they have clearly defined roles. That doesn’t seem like a position that has space to warrant spending a fourth round pick on.
The Patriots always seem to find ways to involve new running backs though. Harris is not a speed back, he is more of a power runner.
At 5’ 10” and 216 pounds with a 40 yard dash time of 4.57 seconds he will be far better suited to rush between the tackles than on the edge.
Harris likely won’t eat up carries, but he can save the other running back’s bodies for the big games and he will be around if injuries happened. The Patriots wouldn’t have taken him where they did if they didn’t anticipate getting him involved or having an injury policy.
The Patriots stuck with offensive lineman for consecutive picks and went with Hjalte Froholdt to get another guy to ramp up competition in camp.
Froholdt can play both center and guard, and with incumbent center Dave Andrews under contract until the 2020 season, Froholdt’s best shot at playing time might come at one of the guard positions.
Fans shouldn’t expect to see much of, if any, Froholdt time on the field this year. He may find himself grabbing one of the final roster spots or residing on the practice squad. This was a down the road selection by New England.
Byron Cowhart was a good pick by the Patriots. He might be their most physically imposing player from the start and he’ll provide more competition for the defensive line and is another guy for them to evaluate over the course of camp.
Cowhart was at one time a No. 1 recruit coming out of high school, but could never quite get on track at Auburn, so he made his way to Maryland instead.
He has an NFL type body and the potential to be a quality pass-rush guy, but for New England it will be all about developing his confidence and skills to match what his frame makes people think he is capable of.
The defensive line is deep, so Cowart is not a lock to make the roster, but he was a good upside and value pick at No. 159.
Plus last season the Patriots picked up a defensive player from Maryland as an undrafted free agent (J.C. Jackson) and that worked out pretty well. Perhaps they’ll strike gold again here drafting a Maryland product.
Tier 4 – The longshots: Jarrett Stidham (133rd pick, QB, Auburn); Jake Bailey (163rd pick, Punter, Stanford); Keon Webster (252nd pick, CB, Mississippi).
The Patriots drafted quarterback Jarrett Stidham, cue the overreactions.
Tom Brady is retiring, the Patriots got their quarterback of the future, does this pick mean Belichick is ready to move on from Brady, etc.
Stidham is a fine quarterback who had a solid, though not outstanding, college career at Auburn. In his final year at Auburn he threw for 2,794 yards and 18 touchdowns against 5 interceptions.
To put it simply: if Stidham is ever on the field this season for the Patriots during a regular season game something has gone terribly wrong.
Brady will be starting and Brian Hoyer is still under contract and will almost assuredly stick around as QB 2 behind Brady. That means it will be Stidham and Danny Etling battling it out for that third QB spot.
Expect one to make it and the other to find their way to practice squad or free agency. Stidham is fine, but this pick is nothing more than taking another flyer on a quarterback.
Jake Bailey is a punter and he does not punt the ball with his left foot. Yes, Bill Belichick and the Patriots spent a draft pick on a punter who is not left-footed.
It’s not as big of a deal as people make it out to be, but what Bailey will do is provide competition for Ryan Allen who is on a one-year deal in 2019-2020. Hooray for punter battles during training camp!
Keon Webster is a long shot to make the Patriots roster. He has great speed (4.43 40 yard dash) and can jump through the roof (43” vertical), but he comes with some baggage as well.
Webster suffered a tear of his knee ligaments in 2016, and in 2017 he was suspended after a shoplifting arrest. During his time in college he never started a full season of games.
It can’t hurt to take a seventh round flyer on a plus athlete like Webster, but he would need to really show out in camp and the preseason to have a chance of making the roster.
All player measurables courtesy of NFL.com Draft Tracker and all statistics courtesy of ESPN.
All video is courtesy of the New England Patriots YouTube channel.