The NFL is one of the most competitive professional sports leagues in the world; one where the average career spans only approximately three seasons. And every year again, hundreds of drafted and undrafted players enter it. A total of 19 joined the New England Patriots in 2018: The team selected nine players during the draft and signed an additional 10 as rookie free agents (one of which has already been placed on the non-football injury list).
In order for them to successfully start life in the NFL, they need to be able to quickly adjust to their new environment. One of the first steps in this process is rookie minicamp, which in New England's case took place last week. While not all first-year players were present – round one selection Isaiah Wynn is still recovering from a shoulder injury – the urgency and competitive nature of playing on the pro level does not appear to be lost on any of them.
“We’ve just been, us rookies, getting in, trying to catch up to all the vets and learn as much as we can and be a sponge,” sixth-round selection Christian Sam told reporters earlier this week when asked about his first impressions of rookie minicamp and getting acclimated to life in New England. “Just get as much information as we can and just work hard and try to find our place in the building with the vets.”
Sam was one of three players – alongside second-round pick Duke Dawson and fifth-rounder Ja'Whaun Bentley – to meet media members on Tuesday and give insight into the rookie class' first days in New England. The overall tenor of the media appearance: While everything is new and exciting, the newest Patriots are well aware that they will have to do their jobs in order to succeed.
“Just come in every day, learn and improve,” Dawson said about the early stages of his transition to the NFL: “It’s going pretty great. It’s great for me.” The 22-year old, who earlier this week became the seventh Patriots draft pick to officially sign a contract, also talked about the next goals in his development – after all, organized team activities will open on Monday and the rookies will join the veterans on the field.
“Just going out and just competing every day, trying to improve myself,” the Florida product said. “Learning from the coaches and the veterans. That’s always how I’ve been when I first went into college, just going in and trying to learn everything with open ears.” He is in a unique spot among the Patriots rookies when it comes to this learning process: As a second-round pick he is a lock to make the team, but he will likely only see defensive playing time as the number four cornerback on the team.
“I just come in every day – open ears, closed mouth – to learn,” continued Dawson. Fellow defensive rookie Ja'Whaun Bentley has a similar approach. “You’ve just got to come out here ready to go,” the Purdue linebacker told reporters before talking about what the first few days in the organization have been like for him: “You’ve got a lot of new players you’re trying to meet, trying to get the playbook down, so that’s all I’m focused on right now.”
Unlike Dawson, Bentley – just like the aforementioned Christian Sam – is no lock to be on the 53-man roster come opening day. However, when it comes to tackling the challenge of playing in the NFL, the linebacker sees no difference between any members of New England's rookie class: “We’ve all been getting along very well. So, we’re all good, we’re all excited to learn and we all are just trying to make sure we get everything down.”
If the Patriots' first-year players are able to do that, they will put themselves in positions to earn playing time and roster spots regardless if they were drafted or not.