We will be reviewing the New England Patriots rookies as we move towards free agency and it's clear that there are some structural divides in the class.
There's first round star defensive tackle Malcom Brown, the Bill Belichick Special second round safety Jordan Richards, the defensive end duo of Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers, the offensive guard duo of Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason, and then a hodge podge of everyone else.
Let's cover everyone else first.
5th round LS Joe Cardona: Cardona stepped into the special teams unit and was stellar out of the gate. His accuracy on snaps far exceeded his predecessor Danny Aiken, averaging one fewer bad snap per game.
6th round LB Matthew Wells: Traded in August after the draft to the Chicago Bears for offensive guard Ryan Groy. He was cut in early September, before spending the regular season on the Rams practice squad.
6th round TE A.J. Derby: While he was always going to be a project, Derby is a converted quarterback that spent his rookie season on the injured reserve. Will compete to replace Scott Chandler in the offense.
7th round CB Darryl Roberts: Initially emerged as the top option to start across from Malcolm Butler in the defense, but a preseason injury sent him to the injured reserve. Will compete for a roster spot this offseason.
7th round LB Xzavier Dickson: While he stood out in the preseason, he was stuck behind a logjam of Chandler Jones, Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, Geneo Grissom, Trey Flowers, and Rufus Johnson. Signed by the Atlanta Falcons to their practice squad.
UDFA ATH Brandon King: King didn't make the opening roster, but was signed to the team's practice squad until early October when he was promoted to the active roster. King was a jackknife at Auburn, playing everything from defensive tackle to deep safety, so the Patriots found him a home as one of the best special teams players in the league. He'll be around for a long time.
UDFA C David Andrews: Andrews made the opening roster, and an injury to starting center Bryan Stork thrust Andrews into the lineup. He played very well, but faded down the stretch and was overpowered by larger defensive tackles. A full season in the Patriots system could make him a valuable depth player moving forward.
UDFA WR Chris Harper: Harper made the initial roster, but was sent to the practice squad after the season started. Injuries brought him back to the lineup, but #HarperHype disappeared after his muffed punt turned the tide of the regular season against the Broncos that cost the Patriots the win, homefield advantage, and possibly another Super Bowl title. Harper will compete for a roster spot this offseason.
UDFA CB Justin Coleman: Originally signed with the Vikings, Coleman was cut in August, signed with the Patriots in September, was cut the next day, signed with the Seahawks to their practice squad, and then the Patriots signed him back to the active roster. Coleman was the team's primary nickel corner and showed promise through his wrist injury. Head coach Bill Belichick admit that he wanted to cut Coleman for the roster spot when the rookie couldn't play, but deemed the player more valuable. He'll compete for a roster spot this offseason.
UDFA RB Joey Iosefa: The Buccaneers drafted the 6'0, 245 lbs running back in the 7th round, but cut him before the start of the season. He signed with the FXFL Brooklyn Bolts (oh, yeah) before the Patriots snagged him for the practice squad in late October. He was promoted to the active roster in December after an injury to LeGarrette Blount and did this:
IOSEFA HAS NO CHILL pic.twitter.com/OnJHl6GEQf— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) December 20, 2015
He will compete for a roster spot this offseason.
Of the late rounders and undrafted free agents, I would only feel comfortable pointing towards Cardona and King as roster locks. I think that Andrews and Coleman have better-than-50% odds of making the roster, and I think that Roberts is closer to a coin flip. The rest are facing an uphill battle to make the 2016 roster.
And that's okay. While Cardona was taken in the special teams 5th round, Belichick views the 6th and 7th rounds as a means to place dibs on priority free agents. So when we attribute value to the late rounds it's not a stretch to group all of these prospects together.
The UDFA class was pretty solid for New England, with big contributors in King and Andrews, and plenty of potential in Coleman, while the actual draft picks of Derby and Roberts should be fun to watch this offseason. It will be interesting to see if the Patriots can put together an encore late-round performance this year.