The goal of the draft is to add young, talented football players who eventually will compete with veterans on the roster and ultimately take their job. The New England Patriots made ten selections in the draft, addressing numerous positions across the board. The Patriots’ picks in the first four rounds are all locks to make the roster as either backups, part-time players, or starters.
Let’s find out which players on the current roster will now enter a competition for their jobs — or lose it altogether — because of the Patriots’ draft choices.
WR: Maurice Harris, Demaryius Thomas, Braxton Berrios, Bruce Ellington
After Julian Edelman and arguably Phillip Dorsett, there is no roster lock at the receiver position. The first round added another player to that group in N’Keal Harry, which gives the Patriots three players I project as locks. The team ended up taking another solid rookie prospect in undrafted free agent receiver Jakobi Meyers. Meyers was a solid target for Ryan Finley at N.C. State, sort of like an N’Keal Harry-lite of a big slot receiver (6’2” 203) who can make the contested grabs and decent run after catch abilities.
The Patriots are electing to go big at the receiver position with four or more players on the current 90-man roster at least 6’2” when you add in Demaryius Thomas and Maurice Harris. Harry, Edelman, Dorsett, and Meyers are all capable of manning the slot receiver position, so there is also no guarantee the Patriots keep a pure slot receiver like Berrios or Ellington either.
CB/S: Keion Crossen, Duron Harmon, Duke Dawson Jr.
The draft pretty much confirms that the Patriots see Dawson as more of a safety with slot coverage versatility than a corner. After picking up Joejuan Williams, a player who will be a match-up receiver on the boundary or slot against bigger receivers and tight ends, the Patriots took a flyer on athletic freak Ken Webster.
Webster was well on his way to become arguably a top-20 pick going into the 2017 draft had he not suffered a gruesome knee injury in the first game of his junior season. Despite not starting all the games in his final two seasons, Webster put up solid ball production numbers overall and has a stronger track record as a cornerback than Crossen, who basically became a ST player by the end of the season. Webster also has experience playing different positions in the secondary: boundary, slot, safety so that type of versatility may be more useful than a 10th of a second in a 40-yard dash (4.33 vs. 4.43). At the end of the day, even with a coach who values special teams, you can only care so many special teams-only players on the roster so Crossen will have to prove himself at CB.
Duron Harmon is another player who might surprise some people here. Harmon was phased out of the game plan against Kansas City when the Patriots opted for a 4-corner nickel package (Jonathan Jones would take Harmon’s snaps in that game) to best limit Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. That’s something I expect the Patriots to unveil again at some point in the 2019 season when they have to play the Chiefs again (although they won’t likely have Hill for that game considering what’s going on with him right now), as well as other teams that have quality tight ends who can catch the ball.
I still think Harmon will make the team as a rotational fifth defensive back with excellent football IQ and a knack for right time, right place interceptions.
DE: Derek Rivers, John Simon, Keionta Davis
The Patriots added Chase Winovich to the edge rusher rotation, likely pushing out at least one of Rivers, Simon and Davis off the roster. Rivers and Davis were both small school prospects who the Patriots heavily valued as prospects in 2017, but both players have done very little to justify a roster spot after two seasons. If the Patriots want to keep more than four edge rushers, that means that Rivers and/or Davis will have to take a big step forward into year 3 considering Simon and Winovich have much more roster security at this point.
I also included Simon in this list because his contract has playing time incentives. The faster Winovich is able to integrate into the defense, the worse it is for Simon — although it’s very much possible for the two players to co-exist on the football field since Simon is more like Rob Ninkovich as a strong-side edge rusher whereas Winovich better profiles on the weak-side edge.
OT: Cole Croston
The Patriots entered the draft with Cole Croston projected as their swing tackle and left the draft with Croston on the outside looking in for a roster spot. The selection of Yodny Cajuste, an athletic left tackle prospect, gives the Patriots a young and moldable talent on the end of the offensive line. The team still has some uncertainty at the position with Isaiah Wynn coming off an Achilles injury, but given Wynn is young and a former first-round pick I’m sure they’re willing to give an opportunity if healthy. Cajuste excels in pass pro, even though he tends to lunge and gets off balance at times as a result, so worst case scenario he’s capable of handling the left tackle spot in a pinch in 2019 better than Croston.
IOL: Ted Karras, Brian Schwenke
The Patriots drafted a future starter at the guard position in Hjalte Froholdt, an athletic lineman with multiple years of experience playing for Bret Bielema at Arkansas. The Patriots don’t need a starter in 2019 with the trio of Joe Thuney, David Andrews, and Shaq Mason about to spend their fourth season together as the starting interior line. However, Froholdt does immediately pressure Karras and Schwenke for the backup role. Like Karras, the rookie has experience at both guard and center. That makes him a valuable backup similar to Ted Karras, who has a younger and cheaper player to challenge him.
QB: Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling
The Patriots drafted Jarrett Stidham with their other fourth round pick, thus giving him the second most roster security at the position after Tom Brady. Depending on which version of Stidham the Patriots get could be the difference between if Stidham succeeds Brady or is just another one of his well-known backups. The 2017 version of Stidham looks like a future NFL starter and certainly capable of manning a backup spot while Brady continues to set the NFL ablaze. It’s likely the Patriots carry three QBs to start the season as I believe Hoyer is the better option to back up Brady in Week 1 of 2019, but not necessarily Week 1 of 2020. The only way I see Hoyer getting shipped out of New England this year is if Stidham turns heads in Foxborough this summer.
DL: David Parry, Frank Herron
The Patriots picked up interior lineman Byron Cowart, although most fifth-round picks aren’t a lock to make the roster in Foxboro. Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio talked about Cowart as more of an early-down run stopper, which is his likely role and something New England likes having with defensive tackles. Parry and Herron both signed future’s contracts with Parry bouncing around the league after a couple seasons in Indianapolis and Herron spending 2018 on the Patriots practice squad after signing as an UDFA last May. Those three players could be competing for the final roster spot on the defensive line.
Punter: Ryan Allen
Allen had a superb Super Bowl performance, which may be the only reason that Jake Bailey has to compete with the incumbent punter for a job this camp as opposed to the Patriots giving him the job right away. The Patriots drafting a punter in the fifth round should always serve notice to any team’s punter. Allen had his statistical worst season as a Patriot, with career worsts in net punting (39.5), the lowest inside-20/touchback ratio (21/5) since his rookie season and the highest punt return average allowed in his career (10.2 yards per punt return).
Jake Bailey, meanwhile, led NCAA punters in hang time and forced 42 fair catches in his last two seasons as Stanford’s punter, often pinning his opponents inside the 20. The Patriots punt coverage unit was less effective as Allen hasn’t been too great the last couple seasons, so getting a better punter will help the field position game.