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NFL draft grades: Patriots earn high marks for their 2019 rookie class

Read more: Patriots fans love Chase Winovich pick; more critical of Damien Harris and late-round selections

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots made ten selections during the 2019 NFL draft, and the immediate reaction to the haul was a mostly positive one: the team addressed its biggest needs while also being able to grab some developmental upside. But what does the Pats Pulpit staff, its readers, and the general consensus say about the additions? Glad you asked!

Bernd Buchmasser: A-

The Patriots entered the draft with one clear hole on their roster, especially after the retirement of Rob Gronkowski: they needed a physical boundary receiver to complement what Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett bring to the table. With the final selection of the first round, they addressed the need by picking Arizona State wideout N’Keal Harry — a tremendous fit for the team needed and for how its offense is constructed.

Harry was not the only player to address a clear need: Chase Winovich will bring upside to the defensive edge rotation, while Yodny Cajuste and Hjalte Froholdt are quality backups/developmental players along the offensive line. All three of them present tremendous value for their respective draft positions in the third (Winovich, Cajuste) and fourth (Froholdt) rounds. It’s hard to argue against those picks.

Frankly, those selections are straight A material. The selection of quarterback Jarrett Stidham a few picks after Froholdt was also solid considering the upside. And even the more hotly debated picks have plenty of merit: Joejuan Williams offers size and physicality in the defensive backfield, Damien Harris can take pressure off starting running back Sony Michel, while Byron Cowart, Jake Bailey — trading up for a punter is quintessential Bill Belichick — and Ken Webster are low-risk, possible high-reward additions.

Williams might be the most questionable pick of the group, given his status as a second-round investment added to what already was the deepest position on the team. The Patriots obviously feel that he will bring something to the table and trust their board above everything else, but until he takes the field and the plan becomes clear, the pick is a bit clouded in mystery and the thought of “what if... New England had picked a tight end instead?”

Speaking of tight end, the Patriots have a gaping, Gronk-sized hole at the position but obviously did not address it. They apparently did not like the way the board was developing beyond first-round picks T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, so one cannot blame them for not investing in the position. And that is basically the story when it comes to New England’s more polarizing decisions altogether: for one reason or the other, they felt that tight end was not worth investing, cornerback and rotational running back were.

Ultimately, this earns them a A-: they added developmental talent but addressed only some of their needs. This is pretty nit-picky, I know, so don’t be surprised if the grade improves once Williams develops into a Pro Bowler and the Patriots fare just well with the dreaded trio of Matt LaCosse, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Ryan Izzo at tight end.

Rich Hill: B+

The Patriots entered the draft needing a tight end, wide receiver, and offensive tackle. They also could have planned ahead for free agency and added a quarterback, interior lineman, and linebacker. They also could have improved the rotational depth at pass rusher, defensive tackle, and safety. The two positions where the team didn’t have any key pending free agents or a need to upgrade a back-end player or an aging veteran was at cornerback and at running back.

So of course the Patriots used two of their top four picks to add a cornerback and running back. And they added a punter, because, sure, why not?

The team’s first round pick, wide receiver N’Keal Harry is a great fit and a great prospect and it’s hard to argue against the selection. Third round defensive end Chase Winovich could be the steal of the draft and should jump into the pass rushing rotation right out of the gate. Third round offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste and fourth round interior lineman Hjalte Froholdt were great in college, despite being late-comers to the game of football, which makes them ideal players to grow under Dante Scarnecchia’s tutelage. All of these players get a solid A from me and left tight end, quarterback, linebacker, defensive tackle, and safety as the needs.

I can also get on board with second round cornerback Joejuan Williams due to his unique physical build; the team could envision him developing into a Brandon Browner-type cornerback opposite of Stephon Gilmore. With Jonathan Jones a free agent after 2019 and Jason McCourty not a lock beyond the upcoming season, adding another cornerback isn’t bad, it’s just less of a need with J.C. Jackson playing at a high level and the recent investment of a 2018 second round pick in Duke Dawson. The same could be said about running back Damien Harris, who is also a talented running back, but will be joining a crowded position group without a clear pathway to the field as a rookie. He could eventually be the 1B to Sony Michel’s 1A, with James White as the third down and no huddle back, but Rex Burkhead is definitely in the way of that trajectory.

With players like tight end Irv Smith and tight end Jace Sternberger available at Williams’ pick, and linebacker Bobby Okereke, tight end Dawson Knox, and quarterback Will Grier available at Harris’ pick, I thought the Patriots could have addressed their bigger needs at these positions. I like both Williams and Harris, but the need wasn’t great, so they get a B from me.

The remaining picks were all about roster churn. Fourth round quarterback Jarrett Stidham is considered to have a lot of “potential,” but I think that just means “looks good in shorts, but is extremely inconsistent and underproduced on the field.” College production represents a player’s ceiling because quarterbacks almost never surpass their college stats in the pros. He has the exact same efficiency stats at Danny Etling. He’ll make the team as a fourth round pick, but I’m not sure if he’s much better than Etling- although he shouldn’t prevent the Patriots from actually addressing the position next year. The same could be said about fifth round punter Jake Bailey; is he any better than Ryan Allen? He does kickoffs, so maybe he’ll take that responsibility away from Stephen Gostkowski and let the aging Gostkowski focus on field goals and extra points. But neither Stidham or Bailey represent a player much better than what New England already has on the roster, so they get a C from me.

And that leaves fifth round defensive lineman Byron Cowart and seventh round cornerback Ken Webster. Cowart was the top high school prospect, but went to a school that saw its head coach depart immediately after signing. He transferred to Maryland, where he put on a ton of weight and converted from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 defensive end. I have no problem with taking a player with so much promise that was potentially moved out of position and actually fills a roster need; I would expect him to compete with Ufomba Kamalu for the fourth defensive tackle spot and jockey with Adam Butler for time on the field. Webster is going to have to be a special teams player as a rookie and will use his athleticism to compete with Keion Crossen for a job. Both get Bs from me.

At the end, the Patriots filled every major need other than tight end in a draft class very light on tight end talent. This is a very strong draft class by the Patriots.

Alec Shane: incomplete

Like the bulk of my college report cards...Incomplete

It’s a copout, I know...but I can never grade a group of kids who have yet to take a single NFL snap. If there’s one thing that remains consistent about the draft every single year - other than Belichick drafting a DB in the 2nd round - it’s that nobody has any clue about anything. Players taken in the first round will do nothing. UDFAs and late-round flyers will become all-stars. It’s nice to have a big-name skill player in Harry to get excited about, as that 1st rounder is usually reserved for a trade-back or a lineman, but it has been 17 years since an early round receiver worked out for the Patriots (hi, Deion Branch!), and they way round 2 corners and safeties come and go through this system, you’d think John Snow was in charge rather than Bill Belichick. So I’ll maintain my usual optimism, and then grade this draft in about a year’s time when the dust has settled a bit.

Michael McDermott: A-

A- for me, only individual picks that wouldn’t get an A would be Joejuan Williams at 45, Damien Harris at 87, Byron Cowart at 163, and Jake Bailey at 167. Those picks though are B picks because those guys have skill sets unique relative to other players at their position on the roster and could end up being 3-4 year contributors in the right situation.

Patriots filled needs at receiver, OL, DL, and edge rusher while adding valuable depth at RB and CB. The obligatory fifth-round special teams pick was a reminder that Bill Belichick was in charge. Pretty much the five players they took in the first three rounds are capable of making significant contributions in their rookie seasons and all project to be future starters by Year 3 except Harris who is really going to be RB 1B to Michel’s 1A. When Mark Schofield did his QB series articles on the Pulpit, the three that had the best responses were Finley, Rypien, and Stidham. Finley got taken at 104 by Cincinnati so they went with the next best guy. Depending on which version of Stidham shows up you’re either getting a future starting QB (2017 version) or a long time backup (2018 version).

I don’t think they ever addressed the safety or TE position in the draft, there probably wasn’t a player at either position the Patriots loved and the one safety prospect I really liked got snatched up by the Lions. The CB picks suggest the Patriots see Dawson more as a safety than corner, because he’s not going to see the field very often as a corner with how deep the group is now.

I believe NFL Network did a segment on which team they said won the draft, Bucky Brooks picked the Patriots to start it off. Although I’m not sure what to think of it.

Matthew Rewinski: B+

Stick with me here, everyone who’s pissed about the tight end position (or lack thereof) this weekend: when Bill had a prime Rob Gronkowski and, um, he who shall not be named, they flipped the offense on it’s head to let the tight ends rain fire and blood on unsuspecting base defenses. Then when Gronk started getting closer to the end as he got closer to 30 (hey man, happens to the best of us), Bill and Josh changed the offense again to....better suit their lack of receiving options and a boatload of talent at running back. Weird, right? It’s almost as if they scheme based on where the talent is and less on trying to cram some dudes into a GronkMossWelkerBranchFaulk prototype mold like we all subconsciously do in our mind.

Anyway, having said that, now I’m going to completely contradict myself and say Mike’s probably right that the Pats see Duke Dawson as the guy to eventually take over Patrick Chung’s “star” role that can cover just as well as they can, to paraphrase another former Patriots great “hit ‘em right in the mouth”, and JoeJuan Williams as a matchup corner to maybe hang a bit better against the Mike Evans and Julio Joneses of the league. Meanwhile, the double-dips at inside OL and defensive line pretty clearly suggests that they did the math on paying everyone and decided Shaq Mason was getting the bag instead of Joe Thuney, same as Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones a few years back.

The need at D-line explains itself; there just weren’t enough dudes on the roster as it was pre-draft. Last but not least: I’m certainly no quarterback analyst, aside from arguing with anyone who dares say Brady isn’t the GOAT, but in SEC country where I currently reside, even ‘Bama fans were fully expecting Jarrett Stidham to be a first-round talent last year before Auburn dipped out of the SEC’s elite this past, there’s that.

SlotMachinePlayer: A

I love this draft. I’m not going to breakdown all the picks, but I will focus on the first two as they seem to have mixed receptions.

Generally, there’s a run on skill players in the first round which absolutely didn’t happen this year. With the focus on DL, most of the top DL candidates were snapped up early. In response, only one WR was taken before pick 32 (Marquise Brown 5’9” 166), which allowed the Patriots to take “their guy”. While the hit on Harry is top speed and lack of separation, we’ve seen a lot of lack of separation on this offense in the last couple years. What he brings to the table is catching balls DESPITE no separation, which is something only Gronk and Gordon have done of late. There’s no guarantee either of those guys will see the field in 2019, so welcome to the Patriots Mr. Harry!

Joejuan Williams has three strikes against him and two of them aren’t his fault.

  • Strike 1 is his top end speed. He ran a 4.64 40 at the combine, although he re-ran a 4.50 40 on his pro day. If the number is closer to 4.5, he’s plenty fast enough for a 6’4” corner covering taller guys not named Randy Moss.
  • Strike 2 is he’s a 2nd round DB drafted by Belichick and that carries a stigma he personally doesn’t deserve, but is stuck with.
  • Strike 3 is he is perceived as being over-drafted because someone somewhere gave him a late 3rd round draft grade. The fact is every year there’s a run on DB’s. Seven DBs (5 CBs) were selected ahead of him, and 6 DB’s (3 CBs) were selected closely afterward. That’s 14 DB’s before the 64th pick. None of them have his height and size. The closest in size was Lonnie Johnson at 6’2” 213 by the Texans. The chances of Williams being available later was slim to none. In other words, perceived draft position is a bunch of hooey.

Considering our difficulty handling taller players this pick is actually quite amazing. Added to that we have a number of DB’s hitting FA next year, and at least three that are long in the tooth, it makes total sense to keep filtering in quality players.

Ryan Keiran: C+

The Patriots got a number of solid-good players with a lot of questionable value at the spots they took them, with other positions of need on the board (trading up for a punter??). First, a positive note: Winovich was the pick of the draft, someone who was always going to be a great fit in New England and some thought might be their first round pick and they got him in the third. They also reportedly loved Williams so much they were considering him at 32 alongside Harry, and were still able to get him at 45.

However, they completely passed on one of the deepest tight end classes ever the year Rob Gronkowski retires, and despite being in a perfect position to be aggressive this year their trade downs cost them players they wanted. They got sniped at TEs they were linked to three times in the third round, including a Bills trade-up to the pick before them which resulted in an immediate trade down from the Patriots pick. I like Harry, Williams, Winovich, Harris, and Cajuste a lot as day 1-2 players, but the value wasn’t there for me for a lot of them with who else was on the board.

Pat Lane: B+

I’m excited about some of the talent that they’re bringing in. They finally drafted a first round wide receiver, and, hopefully he’ll be able to have an impact on the offense. I’m excited about Williams as well, as he could be a good tool to have in the defensive arsenal. He’s not going to be a starting corner, but, in the right matchup, he could be a valuable piece for them.

I love the Winovich pick, and also Cajuste, they could both have an impact at depth positions this season. Maybe Harris is a good back, but we just used a first round pick on a back last year, and we have other needs. Cowart was a highly touted prospect who never did much in college before last year, so I don’t mind taking a shot. Stidham could be fine, but took a huge step back last season. Maybe that was because of his team being so bad, but it’s not a great sign.

They also traded up for a punter in the 5th. Not sure why they felt that was necessary, but I can’t imagine he makes the team. Allen isn’t getting cut, and they’re not keeping two punters, so everyone in the league will have a shot at him when the Patriots cut him. I guess they just hope no one will take him. Webster is fine, and, if he makes the team, could potentially play special teams.

PatrioticChief: B

Plenty of upside. Some serious risk. I’m growing more pessimistic about the Stidham pick and more optimistic about Harris. I think the Patriots took a lot of guys who are unconventional but hopefully that unconventional element leads them to being NFL successes and not NFL busts. This is the twilight of the franchise. I’m glad Belichick has decided to go out swinging instead of playing it safe. It’s been a hell of a run and we’re looking at one of the last drafts that will have significant relevance to the BB-Brady era. Fingers crossed.

Pats Pulpit readers

After the draft, we asked Pats Pulpit’s readers to grade New England’s haul. Considering that more than 10,000 people participated, you could say that this is a rather representative assessment:

The vast majority of participants — 91% to be exact — gave the Patriots either an A or a B grade, with the As getting over 700 more total votes. Safe to say that New England’s followers liked the team’s picks.

Media consensus

A compilation of 18 draft grade articles was published on Twitter by René Bugner. It reads as follows:

Graphic: René Bugner

As can be seen, New England is tied with Washington for the best-graded draft across the board. Thirteen of the eighteen evaluations compiled give the Patriots some variation of an A-grade, with the worst of all being a straight B.