The New England Patriots, who will return to work when they open their training camp later this week, currently have 89 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with a member of New England’s draft class.
Name: Yodny Cajuste
Position: Offensive tackle
Jersey number: TBD (offseason #54)
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6’5, 310 lbs.
2018 review: Yodny Cajuste entered his redshirt senior season at West Virginia as the Mountaineers undisputed starter at left tackle. In this role, he started in eleven of his team’s twelve games in 2018 — his lone absence was due to a personal decision: Cajuste opted not to participate in West Virginia’s bowl game against Syracuse (a game that was lost 34-18) in order to concentrate on getting ready for the NFL draft.
Before that, he played 708 offensive snaps and showed why he was regarded as one of the top offensive tackles in college football: the second team All-American was a standout pass protector who did not allow a single sack in 2018 and surrendered just 12 combined hits and hurries. Cajuste, who also played 68 snaps on special teams, was a reliable and technically sound pass blocker all season long.
He was competitive as a run blocker as well and delivered his best season to date in the ground game. While not all was perfect — he was ejected during his team’s game against Texas — Cajuste did everything one could ask for from an offensive tackle draft prospect during his final college season: he showcased adequate strength, footwork and hand technique no matter the situation and proved himself a solid developmental option.
What did hurt his draft stock, however, was his injury history: Cajuste missed time in 2015 and all of 2016 due to separate knee injuries, and also had to sit out most drills during the scouting combine because of a quad issue. The latter required surgery and forced him to miss New England’s offseason workout program after the team picked him in the draft.
2019 preview: With the 101st overall selection in this year’s draft, the Patriots invested in Cajuste: he will provide developmental depth behind starting options Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon, and therefore fill the swing/backup tackle role previously held by free agency departure LaAdrian Waddle. As such, the 23-year-old is a lock to make the roster — that is if he is healthy enough to come off the non-football injury list first.
After all, the Patriots placed the rookie on the list ahead of this year’s training camp: four months removed from the aforementioned quad surgery, he is still not yet ready to participate in practice. While he can be activated again at any time, it would not be a surprise to see the club take a more cautious approach and continue holding him out for the foreseeable future and maybe even into the regular season.
If activated sooner than that, Cajuste would be the frontrunner to earn the third tackle spot on the team. As such, he would see regular action not just as an injury replacement if need be, but also a jumbo tight end in goal line and short yardage packages. In this dual role, Waddle started three games for New England in 2018 and was on the field for a combined 348 during the regular season and the playoffs (of 1,371; 25.4%). Cajuste’s playing time would be somewhat similar.
If the third-round pick fails to get healthy soon, however, the Patriots would probably prefer using another player as their number three tackle — at least early on during the regular season. In that case, Cajuste would likely remain on the NFI list all year long or make the roster as a fourth tackle that would only see irregular action during the season. Judging by all that we know about his rehabilitation process so far, this scenario also does not appear to be an unrealistic one.
Ultimately, all that Cajuste can do at the moment is continue his rehab work to get himself in the necessary shape again. And no matter how long the process takes, he does not have to worry about being released off the Patriots’ payroll this season. From the team’s roster construction perspective, on the other hand, a quick recovery would obviously be ideal: New England would not need additional tackle depth with Cajuste healthy.