The Patriots drafted nine players in the 2018 draft, with all nine of them still being on this year’s offseason roster. The Patriots’ 2018 class was unique in the sense that they opted to completely skip the 3rd and 4th rounds to compile picks for the 2019 draft. They took three players in the first two rounds and did not make a selection until the 5th round. They took six players in the final three rounds. Of the nine players taken, only two of them were active for Super Bowl LIII as the other six ended up spending time on injured reserve and another landing on the practice squad.
1st Round (23rd Overall) OT Isaiah Wynn: The Patriots drafted Wynn to be a tackle despite his lack of ideal height, as he saw action at both LT and RT for the 1 1⁄2 preseason games he played. The media and likely some teams scouting departments likely evaluated him as a guard, which allowed a player with Top 15 upside to slip all the way to the 23rd pick. While blocking defensive end Michael Bennett, who is now his teammate this season, Wynn ruptured his Achilles tendon and sat out his rookie year. As a result of the injury, the 2019 season essentially serves as his rookie season. It’s unlikely that Wynn will start the season as the starting left tackle unless he’s 100% recovered, since offensive lineman need to be able to explode out of a 3-point stance when run blocking or selling the run blocks. Once Wynn is healthy, I see him taking on the LaAdrian Waddle role of backup swing tackle and as a sixth offensive lineman when the Patriots go with 23 personnel on short yardage or goal-line situations. If that goes well, I can see him taking over either the starting LT or RT job in the 2020 season. Time is still on his side, as the Patriots control him for four more seasons unless the 5th year option is not exercised.
1st Round (31st Overall) RB Sony Michel: Michel was a big part of the Patriots’ success on offense, putting up 900 yards in 13 regular season games before dominating in the postseason for 336 yards and 6 touchdowns in 71 carries. Michel’s ability to make smart decisions, maximize the amount of space he has, and finish runs made him one of the top backs at gaining yards after contact in the NFL. Michel is not going to break off one of those 70-yard runs in which he outruns the defense, but he’s rarely going to have runs that end up swinging for losses. There is still more he can improve on in his game, as Michel will need to work on the pass catching part of his game. Michel has the speed and athleticism to separate from linebackers in single coverage, it’s just a matter of understanding the nuances of route running and catching the ball. Knowing the type of player he is, Michel is probably working on that right now. Long term, Michel should put up 1000+ yard seasons every year if healthy.
2nd Round (56th Overall) CB/S Duke Dawson: Dawson had a hamstring injury in training camp and as a result ended up starting the season on IR and did not play despite returning to the 53-man roster during Week 11. That was a result of the emergence of UDFA J.C. Jackson and trade acquisition Jason McCourty turning in another solid campaign. It will be interesting to see how the team views Dawson’s long term fit as Jackson and McCourty figure to be in the team’s plans at CB behind First Team All-Pro Stephon Gilmore. Dawson primarily is a slot corner, where he excelled in his final two seasons in college, so to get him on the field the team will have to explore what other type of roles he can fulfill. One idea is to move him to safety on base downs, especially when the Patriots want to go with the three-safety nickel package. If the Patriots indeed elect to go that route, then Dawson will be covering all types of receivers: slot receivers, tight ends, and even RBs. This upcoming preseason should give a bit of an indication of where the Patriots envision his long term fit being.
5th Round (143rd Overall) LB Ja’Whaun Bentley: Bentley played three games before ending up on injured reserve for a biceps injury. Bentley was mostly overlooked since he fits the mold of a Ted Johnson/Brandon Spikes LB who is more useful as a run defender. He played reasonably well in the limited amount of time he saw, both in the preseason and regular season. For 2019, Bentley is either going to be third or fourth on the linebacker depth chart for base downs when the team will be employing three or more linebackers. I’m not sure if his role will end up expanding beyond that, it will depend on what the team does with Kyle Van Noy. Van Noy is in a contract year and is a candidate for a possible extension given how well he played last season and postseason.
6th Round (178th Overall) LB Christian Sam: I put Sam in a similar situation as Bentley, assuming he sticks around. Sam spent his rookie season on IR, but from preseason tape looked slower than Bentley.
6th Round (210th Overall) SR Braxton Berrios: Berrios had a pectoral injury while doing the bench press at the combine and I think that affected him a bit when training camp rolled along. Berrios fits the stereotypical mold for slot receivers: quick twitch, exceptionally-gifted route runner, and can surprise you with vertical speed. With the Patriots’ lack of receiver depth, there is an opportunity for Berrios to claim a role as a pure slot receiver as well as a punt returner. I wouldn’t be surprised if he carved out a role on the 2019 team.
7th Round (219th Overall) QB Danny Etling: Etling was the only rookie that did not spend the majority of the year on injured reserve or the 53-man roster. He did spend the year on the practice squad, likely assisting backup QB Brian Hoyer in scout team looks. Etling’s long term fit is definitely interesting as I see him more as a career backup at best based off the college and preseason tape. Etling likely doesn’t do anything to prevent the Patriots from expending big resources on getting a backup and/or heir to Brady at the position.
7th Round (243rd Overall) CB Keion Crossen: Crossen was the only other player from this draft class to spend the entire season on the 53-man roster after Sony Michel. Crossen is an interesting fit long term, he has a long special teams career ahead of him due to the combination of 4.3 speed and willingness to be physical on the ball, but was inconsistent with his CB play both preseason and regular season. From a mindset perspective, Crossen is willing to be aggressive and physical despite a 5’9” frame, which bodes well as a potential slot corner or covering smaller boundary receivers. On special teams, a few times I see him playing a bit out of control when covering kicks, which has led to both big stops and missed tackles. If he can clean up the missed tackles, I can see him developing into a key special teams player in the NFL.
7th Round (250th Overall) TE Ryan Izzo: Izzo, not related to former Patriots ST ace Larry Izzo, was reportedly one of the last cuts on the roster after a solid preseason showing. He sits behind future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski and recent free agency pickup Matt LaCosse on the depth chart. Izzo has value as a blocker, outlet receiver, and special teams contributor, so I can see him potentially making the 2019 roster as the #3 TE.
UDFA CB J.C. Jackson: I would be remiss if I did not include Jackson, who has done nothing but take advantage of the opportunities handed to him. The Patriots entered the 2018 season with questions at the CB position after Gilmore, but finished the season with a clear-cut Top 3 and the position itself being one of the deeper units on the 2019 roster. Jackson is 3rd on the CB depth chart behind Gilmore and McCourty, although when all three are on the field, Jackson is outside while McCourty kicks inside to the slot. Jackson has the skills, mindset, and athleticism to be an elite CB, it’s just a matter of learning how to jam, hold, and re-route receivers without drawing flags.