The New England Patriots have a proud tradition of signing undrafted rookies and turning them into contributors. Center David Andrews, cornerback Malcolm Butler and punter Ryan Allen have all gone through the draft without hearing their names called and were signed by the Patriots as free agents afterwards. All three will play valuable snaps this upcoming season.
Overall, 16 players on the Patriots’ current 53-man roster were not drafted (of course, not all of them were first signed by New England). Andrews, Butler and Allen went undrafted in 2015, 2014 and 2013, respectively, and the 2016 Patriots will also likely have undrafted rookies on their opening day roster; two to be exact. And if at least one of thm stays on the team until opening day, 2016 will mark the 13th straight season that an undrafted rookie has made New England’s week one roster.
We are talking, of course, about running back D.J. Foster and cornerback Jonathan Jones.
Despite a productive four-year career at Arizona State, the 22-year old Foster went undrafted in May. A position change prior to his senior season – from versatile receiving back to primary slot receiver – might have been part of the reason why, as it did not exactly help him repeat past statistical success. Now, Foster is back at his natural position and wis projected to be the Patriots’ second pass-catching option at running back behind James White, while also possibly working as a kick returner.
Unlike fellow undraftee Foster, Jones’ 2015 season was the best of his college career. He earned second-team All-SEC honors and was invited to both the Senior Bowl and the combine. Yet, despite putting up solid workout numbers and meeting with all but three teams, the 5'9, 190 lbs. corner was not selected on draft weekend. Instead, the 22-year old was signed by New England, where he edged out the competition for the fifth and final cornerback spot on the team.
Neither Foster nor Jones are projected to have a big impact this season, at least early on. However, they will likely take the road many undrafted rookies have taken in New England: their primary job is working on special teams, while they see playing time on offense or defense late in games. If Foster and Jones are able to prove they belong on the team without being liabilities in either role, and if they do their jobs well, they might see more regular playing time as the season progresses – and as a result solidify their roster spots when in-season reinforcements (i.e. suspended players and players on PUP) join the 53-man roster.
Both Foster and Jones been able to take yet another step to prove that teams were wrong to pass on them during the draft. They will be the latest players to keep the proud tradition of undrafted rookies in Foxboro alive, joining the likes of players like Butler, Brandon King or Josh Kline. Whether they will have the same impact as well, remains to be seen – but given their standing near the bottom of the depth chart, they better try.